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Using Social Bond Theory to Analyse Causes of Youth Violence

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This paper will focus on Social Bond Theory as a specific type of Control Theory. The lead theorist for this theory is Travis Hirschi. The objective will be to identify Social Bond Theory and how it relates to criminal deviance as explained in his work. Furthermore, the empirical status in support of this theory will be discussed as well. Hirschi was a scholar of social control theory like many of his peers. It was very important for Hirschi to have legitimate backing for his Social Bond Theory as it challenged differential association theory (DAT) and strain theory. Hirschi’s empirical research was nothing short of informative.

The goal of Social Bond Theory was to challenge differential association theory and strain theory (Costello, 2010). Hirschi’s goal was to make a statement. DAT suggested that individuals learned deviant behavior from those they associated with while strain theory suggested that individuals in the transitional zone resulted to criminal deviance once the conventional pathway to achieve success was blocked thus causing frustration. These delinquents resulted to crime as a means of survival. While these theories were widely accepted and went unchallenged for quite some time, Social Bond Theory wasn’t like either of the two. Social bond theory presented the idea that juvenile delinquency occurred when social bonds are weakened. The focus was on why people broke the law and what differentiated offenders from non-offenders. Hirchi’s focus was to identify social controls that regulated crime. This was his Social Bond Theory. Everyone in society has a level or certain degree of a socially bound connections which varies from person to person. These four social bonds are attachment, commitment, involvement and belief. When it comes to Hirschi’s empirical research, it’s important to note that Hirschi’s first test was from a sample of four thousand seventy seven students (Costello, 2010). These students were cherry picked from 11 junior and senior high schools in Richard California in the year 1964 just five years before the release of his book “Causes Of Delinquency” in 1969. It should be noted that although Hirschi’s sample included white and black girls and boys, his empirical test only used white boys (Costello, 2010).

The first social bond is attachment to which there are several aspects. How strong is the connection that children or youths share with their parents, school, and peers? It’s important to start with attachment to conventional parents as they are the primary bond between youths. Parents and children share an intimate communication or so they should. Through this connection, a parent can foster virtual supervision, the intimacy of communication with the child, and affectional identification. Affectional identification is the desire of a child to relate to their parents through an emotional connection in which they represent them. The stronger this connection, the more likely that children would want to be like their conventional parents. A child would be less likely to engage in criminal deviant behavior if they value the opinions of their parents and hold them in high reverence. Through this type of connection, parents are able to exert what is called indirect control. Hirschi also refers to indirect control as virtual supervision. This essentially means that if the bond of attachment is strong it makes parents psychologically present. This is what prevents youths from offending or engaging in criminal behavior when parents aren’t around. The child will carry themselves in conjunction with the conventional values instilled by the parent. In contrast, direct control is when a parent can discipline a child because they are physically present. Hirschi says “So-called “direct control” is not, except as a limiting case, of much substantive or theoretical importance. “The important consideration is whether the parent is psychologically present when temptation to commit crime appears. If, in the situation of temptation, no thought is given to parental reaction, the child is to this extent free to commit the act” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 88). What Hirschi is suggesting is that as long as a parent is present psychologically, then the temptation to commit crime is weaker. However, if that bond of attachment is weak or barely exists, this increases the possibility of criminal offending. While James Chriss supports Hirschi’s parental attachment bonds, in respect to direct control, he chimes in by saying: “Granted being attached or bonded to a parent means that the child is likely to be more heavily supervised and more often in the presence of parents than children with weaker bonds. However, delinquent acts do not take much time to commit, so this sort of “direct control” explanation is only partial at best” (Chriss, 2007, p. 697). He’s conveyed that direct control only needs to be absent for an instant in order for an adolescent to engage in delinquent acts because it only requires a short amount of time to commit a delinquent act.

Another interesting aspect of parental attachment is the attachment to unconventional parents. This suggested that although the initial concept was delinquency based on a lack of attachment to conventional parents, Hirschi also focused on attachment to parents who upheld unconventional values that led to delinquency. His empirical research that supported this was constructed into a table that focused on the intimacy of communication, parents with no history of welfare or unemployment, and parents with a history welfare and/or unemployment. This unconventional attachment concentrated on lower-class fathers. Accordingly, “boys strongly attached to a lower-class father are as likely to be delinquent as boys weakly attached to a lower-class father, with boys moderately attached to a lower-class father somewhat less likely to commit delinquent acts. It thus appears to support both the lower-class culture thesis and the view that lack of attachment to lower-class father is conducive to delinquency. Attachment to a father who in effect encourages delinquency is conducive to delinquency” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 95). Essentially, children unattached to a non-conventional father isn’t any more different than the child unattached to a conventional father who is free to commit criminal delinquent acts without giving much consideration to consequences.

In regards to attachment as it relates to school, children are set in a middle class environment. In order for a child to do well in school, the attachment to school must be strong. “The better a student does in school, the less likely he is to have committed delinquent acts and the less likely he is to have been picked up by the police” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 115). Often children are discourage from having an attachment to school due to their negative experiences in school. For the lower-class student, school can be unpleasant, demoralizing and degrading. While they can face rejection from their peers, the inability to succeed academically can lead to a detachment from school putting students on a trajectory path towards delinquency. Hirschi’s research led him to examine the relationship between grades and delinquency among those students whose behavior was prudent. Through a chart he created that compared delinquent acts to average marks, Hirschi found that “the relationship between average grades in mathematics and delinquency is identical; the off-mode students are consistently more likely to be delinquent; in any event, the collapsing procedure does not misrepresent the strength of the relation” (Hirschi, 1969, p.115).

When it comes to delinquents and the attachment of peers, most often their peers are also delinquents that also share unconventional values. Hirschi composed a chart that supported this view with the emphasis on how many close friends of an individual have ever been picked up by the police. Hirchi’s research showed that “three-fourths of those boys with four or more close friends who have been picked up by the police have committed delinquent acts in the previous year, while only slightly more than one-fourth of those with no delinquent friends have committed delinquent acts during that same period ” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 135). This is very strong evidence that there is an attachment bond to peers that suggest that delinquents most often associate with those who are involved in the unconventional values of criminal behavior as well.

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Commitment is the second social bond. This bond centers around commitment to conventional lines of action. It is understood that an adolescent concurrently completes their education, begins the occupational career that they desire, and then acquires adult status (Hirschi, 1969). An individual must value the rewards that follow conventional values. They know that choosing to deviate from these values comes with punishment in society. How much a person is committed to the conventional values of society will determine their level of criminal deviance. For example, if an adolescent excels in school and has conventional goals, the less likely they will be open to offending as they would not want to throw their promising future away. Youths realize the consequences of criminal actions and would not want to risk the future that they are working so hard towards. In order to reach that occupational career and then adult status, they understand that they must remain steadfast to their educational studies. They’ve invested in their individual self-interest and therefore will not jeopardize it. The relationship between the cost and benefit calculation is recognized. There are two authors by the name of Marvin D. Krohn and James L. Massey who suggested that commitment in this fashion is directly related to the bond of involvement. “We assume that the temporal dimension of involvement is inextricably tied to other factors which produce commitment, making it in most respects an indicator of commitment. As such, it does not warrant treatment as a separate element of the bond” (Krohn, Massey, 1980, p. 531). Unlike Hirschi, they suggested that under these circumstances, commitment bond and involvement bond, which will be discussed shortly, should not be separated as they coincide with one another.

The research that Hirschi conducted to support his bond of commitment was research that focus on the commitment to educational and occupational goals. When youths are invested in these two aspects of commitment bond, the less likely they are to become criminally deviant. These aspirations where negatively associated with delinquency. Hirschi’s constructed a chart that focused on committing one or more acts based on the educational aspirations of both white and black boys. This research supported the idea of commitment in that no matter the race, educational aspirations do have a negative affect on delinquency. The higher the level of education ranging from less than college, some college, and college graduation, the less self-reported delinquent and official acts were reported. “The higher the student’s educational aspirations whether he be white or Negro, the less likely he is to commit delinquent acts (by both the self-report and official measure)” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 171) Costello also backs the research that Hirschi conducted saying: “Overall, then, Hirschi's findings provided strong support for the notion that those who desire to achieve some occupational or educational goal, and those who are actively working toward their goals, are less likely to be delinquent” (Costello, 2010, p. 456). Costello suggested that Hirschi believed that the commitment bond in control theory that portrays the delinquent as having little investment in immediate or future endeavors, is more consistent with his data than what strain theory suggests. Strain theory suggest that delinquency is a result due to the frustration of being unable to achieve goals in a conventional manner which Hirchi did not concur with.

The third social bond is the bond of involvement. This is widely accepted among most control theorist. “Many persons undoubtedly owe a life of virtue to a lack of opportunity to do otherwise” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 21) This is the way that the involvement bond presents itself in control theory. As long as individuals are occupied with conventional activities, the opportunity to engage in criminal behavior weakens. Individuals who can relate to this social bond of involvement are preoccupied with working hours, making plans, deadlines, appointments and the like. There is simply no available time to get involved in delinquency. When it comes to adolescents, conventionally structured activities that are supervised by adults include activities such as after school programs, a sports team, church etc. The main implication here is that as long as youths are involved in a positive association with their peers, the more likely there are to stay out of trouble. This limits the access to criminal opportunities that youngsters can fall victim to. If youngsters are kept busy and off the streets, the likelihood of them turning to criminal deviance is low. “In the end, then, the leisure of the adolescent produces a set of values, which, in turn, leads to delinquency” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 23). On the other hand, when compared to unstructured activities without adult supervision, youths were more likely to get into trouble. These activities range from going to the mall, underage drinking in public spaces, or riding around in an automobile.

Ironically, although there was virtually no solid evidence to support his hypothesis of involvement bond. However, Hirschi did have data that did show a relative relationship between the increase of delinquency among those adolescents who ride around in an automobile. It suggested that the more hours a delinquent spent riding around in an automobile, increased the rate of getting involved in delinquent behavior. The hours ranged from no hours to five or more hours a week. Twenty eight individuals were involved in criminal acts with no hours spent in a car and fifty nine were involved in criminal acts having spent five or more hours in a car. “Among those who spent who spent five or more hours a week riding around in a car, the proportion having committed a delinquent act is more than twice the proportion among those who spend no time in this activity” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 194). Costello goes on to say that although there was no support for his hypothesis that involvement in conventional activities kept delinquency at bay, studies by others researchers have supported this notion. “Researchers have found relationships between deviance and free time, feelings of boredom, involvement in sports and youth clubs, and involvement in school-based activities. In contrast, some studies find no relationship between delinquency and extracurricular activities at school, community activities, hobbies and recreational activities, and even involvement with school work” (Costello, 2010, p. 456). In contrast, there are some studies that find no relationship between delinquency and these same activities in addition with school work.

The last bond in Social Bond Theory is belief. It focuses on how an individual views the rules that govern society that they live in. If an individual has a strong attachment to the beliefs in society and accepts the values and norms, the individual would be more likely to follow suit in regards to those social standards. Of course this opinion differs across society among individuals who have different cultural beliefs. On the contrast, if a youngster does not have a strong belief in conventional values or norms, the more unlikely they would be willing to conform or submit to them. If the traditional norms that are projected upon them are seen as unfair or unacceptable, this weakens the bond of belief which increases the opportunity for criminal behavior. “If the deviant is committed to a value system different from that of conventional society, there is, within the context of the theory, nothing to explain” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 23). This means that as long as delinquents conform to a different value system other than the conventional values in society, they simply will not confirm. These two parallel cultures running side by side are bound to clash at some point and time. Those who had a strong belief in certain norms and values set forth by society were more likely to conform to them. It is also important to realize that we live in an ever changing society. What may be accepted today may not be accepted tomorrow and vice-versa. Couple this with various individual beliefs and differences, delinquency would be more prone to follow. Where does the inception of belief take place? “The chain of causation is thus from attachment to parents , through concern for the approval of persons in positions of authority, to belief that the rules of society are binding on one’s conduct” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 200). This is a compelling statement because at this juncture, attachment bond and the bond of belief intertwine. Belief in society’s rules and laws stem from attachments to parents. Parents want their children to gain the approval from people in society especially those in positions of authority. These parents believe in rules and laws and through that attachment bond, they instill these same values in their children with the hope that they will dictate they way their children carry themselves in society. Hirschi quotes McKinley and Nye as mentioning “The emotional bond between the parent and the child presumably provides the bridge across which pass parental ideals and expectations. If the child is alienated from the parent, he will not learn or will have no feeling for moral rules, he will not develop an adequate conscience or superego” (Hirschi, 1969, p. 86). As a result, there’s no adherence to rules and laws that are conventional. It will only go to the extent to which youngsters or adolescents see the validity in the recognized laws in society through the influence of parents. Crime occurs when people aren’t properly socialized to those traditional beliefs. The more that a youngster detaches from that parental attachment bond, the more difficult it would be for a parent to instill those beliefs that should eventually develop into a direct belief bond to the norms in society. “A child who asks himself or herself “What will my parents think?”, - at the moment of temptation, tends to exhibit more strongly the moral components of attachment than a child whose conscience does not prompt him or her in the same way” (Chriss, 2007, p. 697).

For his empirical data on belief, Hirschi conducted a study that focused on delinquent behavior and the respect that those delinquents had for the police. It showed that the more self reporting acts that an individual had, the more that they did not have respect for the Richmond police and vice-versa (Hirschi, 1969). Hirschi also conducted a study where he posed the question in another chart with a statement being “It’s alright to get around the law if you can get away with it”. Those individuals who strongly agreed or agreed with this statement, had two or more self-reported acts while those who disagreed or strongly disagreed had far less (Hirschi, 1969).

In conclusion, the goal was to explain what Social Bond Theory is as a specific type of control theory. Travis Hirschi led the pack with Social Bond Theory and ironically other theorist were able to use his work as they were able to make a relative comparison to their own work in some cases. As previously mentioned, the supportive and empirical evidence of this theory was very important because Hirschi introduced his Social Bond Theory at a time where differential association theory or DAT and strain theory dominated the field as traditional theories. For this reason, it was important to include the works of other authors that supported Hirschi’s theory and held it in high esteem even if their were subtle disagreements. This theory is more alive today that it as when Hirschi first conducted his research in 1964 and subsequently his work “Causes of Delinquency” in 1969. The main purpose was to bring Social Bond Theory to the forefront as the leading theory in juvenile delinquency. The empirical research virtually supports all of the aspects of his Social Bond Theory hypothesis which should frankly help it to be accepted or understood at the least.

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