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Use of Criminological Theory to Explain Cause of Engagement in Acts of Youth Violence

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Using one criminological theory, explain why people engage in acts of violence and provide specific research examples.


The criminological sociological theory of socialisation is used to underpin why people engage in acts of violence; identifying the definition of violence and placing the specific context of interpersonal violence will be the focus of this essay. Three individual journal article reports across three different social settings; youth violence, prisons and university programmes to challenge social norms will be focused on to deconstruct the socialisations that influence and normalise engagement in acts of violence. Highlighting that re-socialisation can challenge negative, harmful behaviours if done so on a personal and societal level impacting smaller groups of people.


The definition of violence is described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the following:

“The international use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likely hood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation” (World Health Organisation, 2019)

WHO have listed three sub-categories of violence; self-directed, interpersonal and collective violence. Further split into three sub-divisions of violence; family, community and intimate partner. Throughout this essay the focus of violence will be interpersonal violence, referring to violence perpetrated between individuals within the community; broken into stranger and acquaintance violence which can both include youth violence (Krug. et al., 2002).

One of the most visible forms of violence within society is perpetrated by the youth and most likely for victims to also be adolescents and young adults. Males are the most likely to engage in acts of violence. Media and news outlets report daily on violence within schools or by gangs. Most young people engaging in violent acts continue violent behaviour into adulthood. Risk factors for violence do not sit in isolation with many factors at play at once. It must be noted that people engaging in violence still have a personal choice to do so, with only a minority of the population engaging in violent acts (Krug. et al., 2002; World Health Organisation, 2019).

Socialisation Theory

Socialisation is the life-long process of learning and inheriting social norms, skills and habits necessary to participating in society and social settings. In order for humans to learn and survive, social experiences are needed, those experiences will be relevant for each individual group of people; dependant on social norms and constructions of gender. Social, psychological and cultural streams achieve gender through socially constructed rules of how the sexes should behave. Gender being something we do and have to practice rather than something we are. Enforced constructions of masculinity and femininity influence ‘choices’, behaviours and characteristics (Oakley, 1972; Stoller, 1968; West and Zimmerman, 1987).

Socialization of appropriately considered behaviours and attitudes for both sexes are reinforced throughout countless subtle and non-subtle ways such as parents, friends, school, work and mass media (Henslin, 1999). Behaviours are constructed through adaptation and reproduction according with received impressions that achieve popularity (Adler, and Adler, and Kless, 1992; Corsaro and Eder, 1990).

The psychological concept of ‘the looking glass self’, developed by Cooley (1902) expressed that throughout society’s interpersonal interactions and perception of others, a person’s self grows. The looking glass concept has three stages:

  • How we start to imagine how we appear to others.
  • Judgment of that appearance then starts to be imagined.
  • Our self is then developed based on the judgements of others.

The correlation between personal development is stronger with peer groups rather than parents, as adolescent individuals start to spend more time with peer groups rather than parents. Harris, (1995) proposed that socialisation is context-specific and peer-group socialization of children and adolescence is out-of-the-home socialisation; parental behaviour with wide variations in and between societies do not derail children’s development but personalities developed throughout an intra- and intergroup process, built and modified by environmental influences. Learnt norms within the home may not work outside of the home demanding different behaviours. (Dencik, 1989) Differences in social status are apparent, but not always clear within each group of children or adolescents. Dominance (social power) and popularity both have a vicious circle quality of the rise and fall of social hierarchy (Bussey and Bandura, 1984; Harris and Liebert, 1991; Pettit et al. 1990; Rubin et al. 2005). The nature of an “individualistic view of uniqueness”, and “individual-by-individual basis” ignores “peer group relations” achieving an incorrect view of a person (Asch, 1959; 1987, Corsaro and Eder, 1990, Plomin and Rende, 1991).

Youth Violence

A meta-analysis correlating youth violence in low- and middle-income countries, investigated 48 potential correlates of youth violence reported in bivariate analyses, across 60 countries defined as low- or middle-income status according to the world bank during the period of 1987-2012 with a total of 480,898 individuals aged 10-29 (De Ribera, and Traijtenberg, N, and Shenderovich, 2019). Carrying a weapon, fighting and other interpersonal violent behaviours such as assault were included in the violent outcomes. Sexual assault, intimate partner violence, dating violence and gang involvement were not included in the review. The analysis generated evidence that the strongest correlates of youth violence identified were similar to previously identified correlates for higher income countries; male sex, having deviant/delinquent peers, school and watching violent television were all within the strongest correlation of youth violence. Peer-level factors included having a delinquent or deviant group of peers and community level factors included neighbourhood ‘risk’, ‘problems and ‘crime’. The four following points highlight socialisation theory underpinning the correlations of youth violence found within this study.

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  • All violence associated with peer characteristics. Deviant peers shower the strongest effect size.
  • All education factors showed significant correlations with the all violence outcomes
  • Watching violent TV was moderately associated with all violence.
  • All violence was correlated with low parental supervision/monitoring, with a significant association with low parental monitoring and carrying a weapon

Group socialisation of norms within peer groups has a direct impact on ones sense of self, adapting behaviours that are context-specific. Youths engaging in violence are more likely to engage in acts of violence if this is normalised within delinquent or deviant peer groups. Mass media reinforces socialised, appropriations of constructed behaviours and attitudes are subtle and non-subtle the evidence shown in this report recognises association of violence TV and engaging in violence.


A sociological analysis of violence within prisons was conducted in 1974 with three clear questions to answer:

  • Is there an association between each (group) variable in set of (group) variables alleged to be casually related to aggressive behaviour in prisons?
  • To what extent do these relationships hold when the same variables are properties of individuals?
  • What are the implications of such an analysis for diffusionist (latent role) and prison situational (institutional product) explanations of interpersonal violence in prisons? (Ellis, Grasmick and Gilman, 1974)

55 North Carolina prisons (29 felon and 26 misdemeanant facilities) representative of all prisons within the state, involving 278 inmates informed the analysis. One third of the 7000+ inmates unequally distributed across the facilities were currently serving a sentence for a violent offence. Interviews were conducted to explore how inmates accounted for prison aggression equally across two adult and two youth prisons, with two stratified samples of youth (ages 14-17) and adult (age 18 and over) inmate population.

Variables used in the study are all mentioned within literature as being related to correctional institutional aggressive behaviour such as; inmates under 21yrs, sentenced for violent crimes, and total numbers of activities provided by the correctional facility. Throughout the study aggressive transgression is “any behaviour proscribed by prison rules that harms or injures another person”.

The likelihood of aggressive encounters was greater where there opportunity for both group and individual interaction was greater. Inmates stated that to lower the number of stabbings and fights within the prisons, prisoners need to be separated. Aggressive encounters become a normal reaction to abnormal conditions by normal people; normalised, violent behaviour is one of the most persistent aspects of prison life. Younger inmates were more likely to engage in violence partly to do with the most valued type of identity being based on willingness to both receive and give physical punishment with inmates who are feared given more status. Younger inmates have a greater involvement of both group and individual encounters creating gains and losses of status where likelihood of rewarding aggression with status can be understood through emerging physiological indicators of manhood, aggressiveness and validation of an identity that is based on the reactions of others. The concept of the looking glass self is largely in play with younger inmates.

Young inmates appear to be reacting largely to the situational socialisation within prisons, violence is seen as an acceptable way to resolving conflict amongst the younger inmates. Removing the individual is self-acknowledgment from inmates themselves, however this doesn’t challenge the wider connections of socialization, focusing solely on the individual reacting and surviving in a situation that may enhance the risk of violence being committed. Constructions of gender socialisation of men and that ideas of ‘masculinity’ that influences behaviours and characteristics are adapted and reproduced within prisons with individuals adapting behaviours to receive status based on perceptions of them.

Sexual violence

Evidence pushing a social norm approach to engaging men in ending violence against women highlight the importance of effective preventative strategies to end violence against women by addressing the role of men and the influence they have on each other’s behaviours. Male-only groups to understand the normalisations and commonalities of male socialization and help to enforce intervention to challenge and change their own problematic behaviour and/or intervening and confronting problematic behaviours of other men. Teaching empathy and emphasizing consent. Environmental, large scale media approaches to challenge harmful norms created through socialisation of ‘rape culture’ and influences and acceptance of ‘rape myths’ deeply ingrained in individuals, families and social customs (Fabiano et al. 2003).

A study undertaken in 2002 (Fabiano et al. 2003) with 618 participating students attending Western Washington University (WWU), Bellingham, Washington. A survey was posted with a return self-addressed envelope to randomly selected 2,500 undergraduate students. Respondents sex was controlled in all estimated statistics the study presented in order to remove the influence of bias due to a greater representation of women. The survey focused on two specific categories around consent and willingness to intervene, three individual perspectives were explored to represent actual norms for women and men and perceived female and male norms.

  • personal perspective, and the
  • perspective of the average female
  • perspective of the average female

Findings replicate those of previous research, suggesting a male misperception of peer norms of sexual behaviour being less likely to intervene and concerned less about consent than is really the case. While highlighting the importance of challenging socialisation by promoting healthy, n0n-violent behaviours and attitudes, and supporting values and positive attitudes that may sometimes remain silent due to the normalisation of violent acts within smaller groups within a larger society and the perceived negative response from others for an attitude that differs and challenges these norms of both group and gender socialisation.

The results from this study and previous research located throughout the introduction of the study highlight that the socialisation of individuals engage in violent acts can be positively challenged throughout individual, group and societal applications, supporting a reduction of acts of violence perpetrated. Group and societal responses to challenge push back on the individualistic view of a person, recognising the impact of recognising how an individual is impacted by norms of interpersonal connections and environmental factors recognised in socialisation theory.


The research explored throughout this essay acknowledges the strong influence on others behaviour specifically young adults, fitting in line with context-specific socialisation within groups. Negative peer associations can influence individual and collective rules, expectations of behavioural norms within a cultural or social group which can encourage violence. Media shows to influence norms of violence with peer groups appearing to have a huge influence on acts of violence being committed. Research does show a positive socialisation and challenges to accepted and perpetrated negative behaviours through positively engaging individuals and larger society to challenge these norms and help to support the reduction of people engaging in violent acts.


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Use of Criminological Theory to Explain Cause of Engagement in Acts of Youth Violence. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
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