Compares and Contrasts Two of the Theories of Crime and Criminal Activity

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Criminology is the science that studies people’s unique behavior under certain circumstances and their justification for committing crime (Siegel, 2011). Through a deep understanding of the reason, one can be able to initiate the ways of controlling the criminal activities and possibly counsel the criminals. This paper is a comparison and contrast of two theories of crime, explaining the causes of criminal activities. It also gives an account of the historical foundations of the study of criminal behavior. Finally, the paper examines the society response to criminal behavior, in terms of prevention and behavior.

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Causes of Criminal Activities

There are many causes of criminal activities ranging from social, psychological, economic and political injustices among other factors (Siegel, 2011). Ultimately, these factors create tension among the people and act as the major cause of criminal activities either instantaneously or as a result of cumulative affects of injustices, insensitivity, neglect, and marginalization.

On social factors, criminal activities result from the social stratification, where those who fall on the lower stratum think they are disadvantaged and oppressed, thereby decide to revenge (Siegel, 2011). Notably, revenge is criminal and might take any form, including petty stealing, robbery and possibly engage in serial murder.

Psychologically, irrational conditioning that result from neglect and mental disorders may lead to hostility that culminates to criminal activities (Siegel, 2011). Under this category, the criminals are likely to engage in activities such as torturing the victims, bullying and stealing.

Economically, injustices in sharing the national resources could have severe consequences (Siegel, 2011). Here, the people who perceived that they are economically disadvantaged could rise against the tycoons and other institutions to retaliate. Some of the criminal activities, which are associated with economic injustices and marginalization, include corruption, fraud, all forms of robberies with violence, stealing among other crimes (Siegel, 2011).

Politically, oppression, marginalization and other injustices, which the political class might exercise over their subjects, might not go down well with a section of the people, be it gender, ethnic community, youth and other groups (Siegel, 2011). As a result, the marginalized or disadvantaged group might rise against the political leaders and engager in criminal activities such as hooliganism, violent demonstrations, leadership coups, and civil wars.

Theories of Crime and Criminal Activities

There are a number of theories explaining the rise of crime and criminal activities. However, for this case, the two theories of crime and criminal activities to be investigated are the choice theory and the conflict theory. The theories are chosen for the study because they have contradicting arguments on the issue of crime and criminal activities.

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Choice Theory

This school of thought derives its explanation from the classical perspectives of studying crime and criminal activities (Ian, 2006). The choice theorists suggest that the criminals decide to commit unlawful acts after examining the opportunities, which lie before them. In fact, as stipulated in the theory the criminals compare and contrast the benefits against the punishment, after which they choose whether to continue or drop the ambition (Ian, 2006).

Second, the choice theorists believe that the people choose the manner in which they want to behave (Ian, 2006). In this respect, the criminals are motivated by a number of factors such as greed, need, revenge, anger, jealousy, lust, and thrill among others. As a result of the motivation, one chooses to respond to the situation through behaving in a particular way (Ian, 2006). Therefore, the behavior is from informed consent other than being the result of unavoidable circumstances as stated by the conflict theorists.

Third, the choice theorists argue that the choices are within controllable limits (Ian, 2006). Therefore, prospective criminals can control their choices and successive criminal activities through examining the kind of punishment they would receive from committing the crime. In reality, the prospecting criminals would consider the potential benefits of the actions against the punishment that such activities may attract (Siegel, 2011).

If the risks associated with the particular crime is higher than the benefits, then the criminal might decide to drop the unlawful aspiration (Ian, 2006). Here, criminal activities with grave punishment, such as murder, robberies with violent could easily be avoided if the prospective criminals have a concise picture of the consequences. This argument contradicts the conflict theorists’ idea that some criminals do not have control of the unlawful acts which they commit as a result of unavoidable circumstances and way of life.

Fourth, the choice theorists consider that the more swift, severe and certain the punishment, the better its chances of curtailing criminal behavior (Ian, 2006). Here, if the laws outlining the punishment are clear, there would be some level of deterrent to criminal activities as many people would consider them irrational. The punishment for particular crime might be fair, but neither legitimizes nor rationalizes its purpose, thus considered irrelevant and many people may opt to discern the unlawful activities.

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Conflict Theory

This approach of studying criminology heavily relies on the Marxist point of view. Here, the theorists argue that crime and law arose from conflicts between two, or among the different social classes, which exist in a capitalistic community (Wright, 2009). According to this theory, the proponents argue that crime necessitated societal laws, which acted as a recipe of the conflicts (Wright, 2009). However, the theorists here do not believe that the laws were arrived at through consensus, but because of circumstances. They justify this claim through a number of viewpoints as discussed here.

Second, the societal laws are enacted by the leaders to restrain the activities and behavior of the public (Wright, 2009). Often, the leaders violate the laws without being subjected to justice, whereas the public normally face the full force of law for any breach of the same law.

The third view is that, some criminals do not display distinct characteristics from other members of the public (Wright, 2009). Since unlawful activities are organized in secluded places, criminals walk freely and carry out other duties normally as any other person. Therefore, the proponents of this theory believe that the aspect makes it difficult for the authority to deal with the criminals in advance, if it does not have intelligent information (Siegel, 2011).

In criminology, the conflict theory rejects the idea that community could have two distinct divisions of criminals and the non-criminals (Wright, 2009). They theorists regarded this notion as a mere fallacy. In this regard, the theorists argued that separating the criminals from other community members depend on the societal responses to the people who disobey the universally accepted communal norms.

Furthermore, the conflict theorists believe that the people regarded as minorities and the ones in destitute conditions have higher chances of being branded as criminals, than the group considered as living among the majority or the ones whose life are under convenience circumstances (Wright, 2009). Apparently, this proposition draws sharp contradiction to the current trends of crime, where many criminals live luxuriously and do not display any form of desperation.

In the contrary, the choice theorists believe that the criminals commit the unlawful activities, after having knowledge of consequences, regardless of one’s status in the society.

The table below shows a comparison of the arguments presented by the proponents of the two theories;

Table 1

Choice Theory Arguments Conflict Theory Arguments
Criminals examining the opportunities before committing the unlawful act. Crime necessitated societal laws.
People choose the manner in which they want to behave. The leaders enact laws to restrain the activities and behavior of the public.
The choices are within controllable limits. Generally, criminals do not have distinct characteristics from other members of the public.
Swift, severe and certain the punishment, curtail criminal behavior. No clear distinction between criminals and the non-criminals.
Minorities and destitute have higher chances of being branded as criminals.

Historical Foundations of the Study of Criminal Behavior

The study of criminal behavior started with the pursuit of psychological factors affecting human behavior. Historically, the use of psychological inferences in studying civil justice and criminal activities, which is generally called forensic psychology started at around (1863 – 1916), by Hugo Munsterberg (Bartol & Bartol, 2005).

In 1889, a number of psychology students started studying criminology related courses, in many institutions (Bartol & Bartol, 2005). Indeed, the scholars helped in developing relevant theories and models, which explain the origin and characteristics of crime and criminal activities. Towards the middle and late twentieth century, the criminologists realized that sociological approaches in studying criminology were becoming acceptable and efficient in studying criminology (Bartol & Bartol, 2005). Through the examination of sociological structures and their impacts on the people, it becomes easier to study crime and criminal activities.

Societal Responses to Criminal Behavior

In terms of prevention and punishment, the society has acted responsibly and irresponsibly while responding to criminal activities. On responsible responses, the traditional society responded to criminal activities by outlining norms, which the people were to observe. Each community or group of people formulated acceptable codes of behavior that the people had to embrace for peaceful co-existence (Siegel, 2011). However, with new development and lifestyle, independent countries started making conventional laws to restrain behavior. In essence, this was done through making law that governed behavior. The laws depicted universally acceptable standards, though not unilaterally agreed. Both the traditional and modern societies had informal and formal court system respectively, for punishing offenders.

The society has also acted irresponsibly by killing suspected or arrested criminals as opposed to handing them to the authorities to face justice according to the legal stipulations, thus breaching the law. In this sense, the society creates fear disrespect to the laws of the land.


In summary, there are many theoretical frameworks, which have been put forward by the scholars to explain the genesis and characteristics of crime and criminal activities. Some of the causes of criminal activities include social, psychological, economic and political injustices and neglect among others. In terms of prevention and punishment, the society has acted responsibly and irresponsibly while responding to criminal activities.


Bartol, M. & Bartol, C. (2005). Criminal behavior: A psychosocial approach. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Ian, M. (2006). Theories of Crime. London: Routledge.

Siegel, L. L. (2011). Criminology: The Core, (4th Ed.). New York, NY: Wadsworth Publishing.

Wright, C. (2009). Socio-Criminology. Web.

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