theory | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology / Research Methods

In the criminology context, a theory is a proposed explanation for a particular phenomenon or set of phenomena related to crime and criminal behavior.

A theory in criminology is a proposed explanation for a particular aspect of crime or criminal behavior. Theories in criminology can be broadly categorized into two main types: micro-level theories and macro-level theories.

Micro-level theories focus on individual-level factors that may influence criminal behavior, such as personality traits, psychological disorders, or socialization processes. These theories are often grounded in the fields of psychology or sociology and may include theories such as strain theory, social learning theory, or self-control theory.

Macro-level theories, on the other hand, focus on broader social, cultural, or economic factors that may influence crime and criminal behavior at the societal level. These theories may include theories such as social disorganization theory, anomie theory, or conflict theory.

While there are many different theories in criminology, all theories share certain characteristics. These characteristics include:

      • They are based on empirical evidence: Theories in criminology must be supported by empirical evidence, meaning that they are based on observation, experimentation, or other forms of data collection.
      • They are logically coherent: Theories must be logically coherent, meaning that they are internally consistent and do not contain contradictions or inconsistencies.
      • They are parsimonious: Theories should be as simple as possible while still accounting for the phenomenon they seek to explain. This principle is known as parsimony.
      • They are falsifiable: Theories must be capable of being proven false through empirical testing. This means that theories must make specific predictions that can be tested against observable phenomena.

Theories in criminology can be used to explain a wide range of phenomena related to crime and criminal behavior. Some of the areas of criminology that are commonly studied using theoretical frameworks include:

      • The causes of crime: Theories can be used to explain why certain individuals or groups are more likely to engage in criminal behavior than others.
      • The nature of criminal behavior: Theories can be used to explain the various forms of criminal behavior, such as property crimes, violent crimes, or white-collar crimes.
      • The criminal justice system: Theories can be used to explain the functioning of the criminal justice system, including the role of law enforcement, courts, and corrections.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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