P A R T
Theories of Crime Causation
An important goal of the criminological enterprise is to create valid and accurate theories of crime causation. A theory can be defined as an abstract statement that explains why certain phenomenon or things do (or do not) happen. A valid theory must (a) have the ability to be able to predict future occurrences or observations of the phenomenon in question and (b) have the ability to be validated or tested through experiment or some other form of empirical observation. So, for example, if a theory states that watching violent TV shows leads to aggressive behavior, it can be considered valid only if careful and empirically sound tests can prove that kids who watch a lot of violent TV in the present will one day become violent in the future. Criminologists have sought to collect vital facts about crime and interpret them in a scientifically meaningful fashion. By developing empirically verifiable statements, or hypotheses, and organizing them into theories of crime causation, they hope to identify the causes of crime. Since the late nineteenth century, criminological theory has pointed to various underlying causes of crime. The earliest theories generally attributed crime to a single underlying cause: atypical body build, genetic abnormality, insanity, physical anomalies, socialization, or poverty. More recent theoretical efforts are more dynamic, incorporating multiple personal and social factors into a complex web to explain the onset, continuation, and eventual desistance from a criminal career. In this section, theories of crime causation are grouped into six chapters. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on theories that view crime as based on individual traits. They hold that crime is either a free will choice made by an individual, a function of personal psychological or biological abnormality, or both. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 investigate theories based in sociology and political economy. These theories portray crime as a...