Toward a Unified Criminology: Integrating Assumptions about Crime, People and Society

Toward a Unified Criminology: Integrating Assumptions about Crime, People and Society

Toward a Unified Criminology: Integrating Assumptions about Crime, People and Society

Toward a Unified Criminology: Integrating Assumptions about Crime, People and Society

Synopsis

Why do people commit crimes? How do we control crime? The theories that criminologists use to answer these questions are built on a number of underlying assumptions, including those about the nature of crime, free will, human nature, and society. These assumptions have a fundamental impact on criminology: they largely determine what criminologists study, the causes they examine, the control strategies they recommend, and how they test their theories and evaluate crime-control strategies. In Toward a Unified Criminology, noted criminologist Robert Agnew provides a critical examination of these assumptions, drawing on a range of research and perspectives to argue that these assumptions are too restrictive, unduly limiting the types of crime that are explored, the causes that are considered, and the methods of data collection and analysis that are employed. As such, they undermine our ability to explain and control crime. Agnew then proposes an alternative set of assumptions, drawing heavily on both mainstream and critical theories of criminology, with the goal of laying the foundation for a unified criminology that is better able to explain a broader range of crimes.

Excerpt

This book has its origins in an earlier book I wrote, Why Do Criminals Offend? A General Theory of Crime and Delinquency (Agnew, 2005). I have long felt that each of the major theories in criminology has something useful to say about the causes of crime, and this book was my effort to integrate them into a general theory. The theory I developed is quite solid, but I have since come to realize that it is built on a weak foundation. While the general theory does a good job of pulling together the core arguments from several theories of crime, it does not devote sufficient attention to such foundational issues as the nature of crime, people, and society. For example, the theory barely discusses the nature of crime; instead, it focuses on the street crimes that dominate mainstream research in criminology. As a result, there is some uncertainty about whether the theory applies to other types of crime (and what those types of crime might be). The theory implicitly assumes that crime is determined by forces beyond the individual’s control; it does not discuss whether people exercise free will and, if so, how that might affect the arguments that are made. Likewise, the theory says little about human nature, despite the fact that the causes it examines are derived from theories that make different assumptions about the nature of people. And the theory devotes little attention to the nature of societies and how variation in societal characteristics affects the causes that are described. Like many mainstream criminologists, I ignored or took a lot for granted in my attempt to better explain crime.

As a result, I started to think and read about the underlying assumptions on which crime theories are based, particularly assumptions about the nature of crime, people, society, and reality. For example: Are people naturally selfinterested, socially concerned, or “blank slates” shaped by the environment? Is society characterized by consensus over core values and interests or by conflict, with some groups oppressing others? And is there an objective reality that can be accurately measured, or are there multiple subjective realities? It quickly became apparent that the assumptions that criminologists make in . . .

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