Individual Theories of Crime

The aim of theories is, to explain and understand the world around us. As far as, theories of criminology are concerned, they explain the working mechanism of criminal justice and the actors in the system. They tend to be realistic and show what the real situation is, not the ideal situation that ought to be. These theories not only explain crime at macro level but, also explain them at micro level. As the center of these theories is human behavior; they are not concrete and absolute. These theories are clear, logical, parsimonious, practical, testable, empirical and, valid and have wide scope. There are various theories, which explain the causes of individual crimes like: Social Bond Theory, Differential Association Theory, General Strain Theory, Low Self-control, etc. but, Social Bond Theory and  General Strain Theory stood out among all of them (Lilly, Cullen & Richard, 2014).

Social Bond Theory

Travis Hirschi (1969) created Social Bond Theory on the roots of General Theory of Crime; which later developed into Social Control Theory. This theory believes that socialization and formation of personal relationship significantly affects human development and restrains a person from committing any crime. For instance, when a person forms many relations throughout the course of his life like: friends and family; he indirectly shows his acceptance for the social norms and expectation, and would not do anything that would draw him away from those relations. The social bond theory explains this phenomenon as when the person has strong bonds in the society; he is prone to accept the social values and norms and thus, restrained from crimes. When the person has weak or no bonds in the society then, there are more frequent chances that he would become deviant. To explain this deviant behavior; Hirschi (1969) has identified four major elements. These elements tend to influence and sometimes overlap each other.

Attachment. This element refers to one’s sensitivity towards the approval or opinions of others. When a person feels attached, he would not do anything that is disappointing and would automatically be restrained from crime or deviant behavior.

Commitment. When a person feels attached; he commits all of his time and energy for his interpersonal relations. He also realizes that any unacceptable or deviant behavior can risk his relationship. That is why he does not indulge himself in any criminal activity.

Involvements. When a person is committed and attached, he does not have time for any delinquent behavior or crime. His all energies and resources are focused on his relations and the social norms and values.

Beliefs. When a person feels attaches, committed and involved then, he tends to accept and believe the social customs, norms or values. He is prone to abide them and decreases the chances of deviant behaviors (Hirschi, 1969).

The social bonds reduce the chances of deviant or criminal behavior. If the youth is engaged in attachments, commitments, involvements and, belief system; then they tend to enjoy strong interpersonal relations and remain in struggle to ensure a respectable position in the society. This conventional activity restricts the youth from crime (Hirschi, 1969). Thus, it can be concluded that the social bonds as the independent variable effects the actions of the individuals and tends to suggest that strong social bonds can reduce the crime rate in the society.

Research on Social Bond Theory. One of the important points, that increase the accuracy of the social bond theory is, its practicality for every society and can its testability. The theory was tested on juvenile delinquency of the high school students of Ankara, Turkey (N= 1,710) through stratified-cluster two stages sampling. The delinquency and social bonding was measured through self-developed items which were later factor analyzed and proved to be appropriate tools for measurement. The findings validated the accuracy of the theory and showed that social bonding plays a vital role in all aspects of delinquency and can be applicable in Turkey as well (Özbay & Özcan, 2006).

Identification of Social Bond Theory. Now, I have come to realize that one of the famous movies from my childhood, “Falling Down” is based on social bond theory; in which the character of D-Fens was just an ordinary rule-obedient conventional man but when his social bonds like his wife and boss left him alone; he does not find anyone to attach or commit with; he turns into slaughter-trek. This movie proves that when D-Fens had nothing to involve with he had retaliate himself from the social norms and ended up as a criminal.

General Strain Theory

            The failure of classic strain theory gave birth to general strain theory (Agnew, 1992). This classic theory proposed that, failure in the achievement of the desired goals would lead the adolescents towards crime and delinquent behaviors. Thus, in 1992, Agnew extended the classic strain theory and emphasized on the possible causes of the strains; while, strain was referred to the situation or conditions that are not desired by individual. He mentioned three major sources of strains: 1) the failure to attain positively valued goals, including the incoherence between expectations and actual outcomes 2) the removal (or threat of removal) of positively valued stimuli that the actor already possesses; and 3) presentation with noxious or negatively valued stimuli.

Agnew (1992) claimed that majority of the strain develops from negative relationships that a person has with others and the negative emotions like: frustration, resentment and anger that are aggravated from these relationships. These negative relationships and emotions leads towards crimes. Generally, one finds solutions to his problems in instrumental, retaliatory, or escapist behavior.

Dealing with Strains. Agnew (1992) suggested that effective coping mechanism can restrain the strains. He also argued that one’s self-concept, social support, problem-solving skills; self-efficacy can play a moderating role in dealing with strain. Furthermore, he also highlighted the role of peers in handling strains; if the peers are prone towards deviant behavior then the chances of criminal activities increases.

This theory can be concluded in a way that, personal or social strains play the role of independent variable and affect the criminal behaviors but with effective coping mechanism the affect can be controlled or reduced with the help of above mentioned moderators.

Research on General Strain Theory. This research investigated the role of general strain theory in the commencing of crimes among Latino and White delinquents. The secondary data from the National Survey of Adolescents was used. The finding supports the accuracy of the theory that, strains cause delinquent behaviors but, at the same time highlights the importance of coping mechanisms and shows that Latino adolescents faces more strains but their family support system restrains their behaviors while, White adolescents face less strain but have no support and ends into criminal activities (Rodriguez & Belshaw, 2010).

            Identification of General Strain Theory. One of the famous award winning Bollywood movie 3idiots highlighted the general strain theory in a very effective way; the character Joy Lobbo was the student of final year of engineering and was the first engineer from his village. He had many strains like completion of the project, idealistic goals and family pressures. When he came across a dilemma he committed suicide rather than finding any coping mechanism. At the same time the character of RajuRatugi commits suicide as he also could not bear the strain of family responsibilities, fare of failure and desire of accomplishments but his friends moderate between his strains and coping mechanism and drive him back to life.

By summing up, the application of the above mentioned and other theories in the society can control crimes in the society. The judiciary system needs to make their rules and regulation for the society in the light of these theories.



Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30(1), 47-88.

Hirschi, T. (1969).Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lilly, J. R., Cullen, F. T., & Ball, R. A. (2014). Criminological theory: Context and consequences. Sage Publications.

Özbay, Ö., & Özcan, Y. Z. (2006). A test of Hirschi’s social bonding theory juvenile delinquency in the high schools of Ankara, Turkey. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology50(6), 711-726.

Rodriguez, J. J., &Belshaw, S. (2010). General strain theory: a comparative analysis of Latino & White youths. Southwest Journal of Criminal Justice7(2).