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Differential Association Theory

Edwin Sutherland’s differential association theory marked a watershed in criminology. The theory, which argues that criminal behavior, like any behavior, is learned in interaction within social groups, dominated the discipline for decades and brought sociology to the forefront of criminology. This entry reviews Sutherland’s theory of differential association, discusses attempts at revision, and assesses the empirical status of the theory.

The Theory of Differential Association

In 1947, Sutherland stated differential association theory as a set of nine propositions, which introduced three concepts—normative conflict, differential association, and differential group organization—that explain crime at the levels of the society, the individual, and the group.

Normative Conflict: The Root Cause of Crime in Society

At the societal level, crime is rooted in normative conflict. For Sutherland, primitive, undifferentiated societies are characterized by ...

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