Developed by Edwin Sutherland in
the 1930's, differential association was a radical explanation for criminal behavior since it argues that crime, like any social behavior, is
learned in association with others. The phrase Differential Association simply means that
people have different social situations and thus learn different things.
What is learned is cultural
material. If the individual regularly associates with criminals, and is relatively
isolated from law abiding citizens, then they are more likely to engage in crime
themselves as a result of such differential association. Here differential association
first leads to learning some specific skills needed to commit crime (how to open a locked
vault), and next, leads to ideas that justify and normalize crime.
This differential association
concept leads directly to a crime subculture that asserts
that not all groups in society (sociology of groups)
uphold the same values or norms and for
some groups crime is normative.
An Examination of Differential Association Theory
with Different Social Contexts: Urban, Suburban, and Rural Areas - Kim, Young
S.., Lo, Celia. and Church, Wesley T - Paper presented at the annual meeting of the
American Society of Criminology
Abstract: According to Sutherlands differential association theory, an individual
becomes delinquent because of an excessive definition favorable to violation of law which
is learned through social interaction with
significant others. We examined the propositions of the differential association theory
with different social contexts: urban, suburban, and rural areas.
An Examination of Differential Association and Social Control Theory
Wesley T. Church, II, Tracy Wharton, Julie K. Taylor, Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice,
Vol. 7, No. 1, 3-15 (2009).
This study applies differential association and social
control theory to juvenile delinquency. Using a path analysis model, relationships
between family, self-image, and behavior are explored. Analyses suggest that positive
self-image leads to decreased delinquency, and association with delinquent peers is the
greatest predictor of deviant behavior, regardless of race.
Reporting Police Misconduct: Differential
Association/Social Learning Among Police Officers
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CRIMINOLOGY
Abstract: Police misconduct has important theoretical and policy implications, but
measuring its scope and extent is problematic, particularly
when relying on officers to report incidents involving their colleagues. Few studies have
examined why officers fail to report other officers, and scholars have been similarly slow
to provide a theoretical lens through which to view such behavior. Drawing on differential
association or social learning theory as a conceptual framework, I argue that an
officers failure to report misconduct is learned through social interaction among
officers and reflects the important role of peer influence. Using ordinary least squares regression analysis and structural equation models with
unique data from thirty agencies in the United States, I examine whether the likelihood of
reporting for an individual officer is shaped by social learning mechanisms. Consistent
with differential association and social learning, the expected behavior of an
officers peers and an officers perception of offense severity have the
strongest effects on whether or not an officer feels they would report a colleague engaged