Out of Control: Assessing the General Theory of Crime

Out of Control: Assessing the General Theory of Crime

Out of Control: Assessing the General Theory of Crime

Out of Control: Assessing the General Theory of Crime


Out of Control promises to be a key supplemental textbook in criminology and sociology courses, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Providing an indispensable overview of Gottfredson and Hirschi's influential self-control theory, this fundamental text evaluates whether the theory truly helps us to understand the facts of crime.

A range of prominent criminologists offers diverse views in fifteen original essays, providing students with the first proper assessment of self-control theory. This lucid book addresses important general considerations relevant to the theory, its relationship to other theories of crime, and its relevance to different types of crime. The book ends with a response from the originators of the theory, who tackle their critics' concerns and offer new explanations and revisions. This compelling text will be an asset for academics, researchers, and students interested in explaining criminal behavior.


More than forty years ago, in the preface to his “discussion and critique” of Robert K. Merton's anomie theory of deviance, Marshall Clinard wrote, “Few sociological formulations have provoked greater interest and discussion than anomie” (1964, p. v). Today, following the eclipse and partial resurrection of anomie theory, the same “greater interest and discussion” description applies to Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi's General Theory of Crime, published in 1990. No book in the field of criminology is quoted, commented on, and critiqued as much as General Theory, and none has been both widely praised and damned as much. Although Merton's formulation argued that “deviant behavior such as crime, delinquency, mental disorder, alcoholism, and suicide arises, in large part, from inadequacies in the social structure” (Clinard, 1964, p. v), Gottfredson and Hirschi reconstituted the relevant dependent and independent variables, arguing that deviant behaviors such as crime—including white-collar and property crime, delinquency, violence, illicit drug use, smoking and alcohol abuse, sexual irresponsibility, reckless driving, poor school performance, and laziness—arise in large part from inadequacies in parenting.

This is an astonishing claim, and for several reasons. For one thing, in our era of specialization it makes a bold, broad, and sweeping claim, seemingly explaining a major swath of human misbehavior. No, a different explanation for a different crime, much of the field argues; each theory should explain a segment of the picture, says common wisdom. Gottfredson and Hirschi reject such qualifications, storming the fortress of criminological theory with a consistent, coherent, and unified theory. Moreover, these investigators offer an empirical, material, eminently generalizable explanation—surely the measure of a positivist theory—in the context of their critique of positivism. And in an age of ever more sophisticated statistical elaborations, Gottfredson and Hirschi's argument is eminently accessible to the nonquantitative reader.

What led me, a constructionist and symbolic interactionist of deviance and drug use, to become sufficiently interested in Gottfredson and Hirschi's general—and positivist—theory of crime as to be moved to edit a collection of original essays on the topic? It would seem that . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.