ESSAY: Applying Criminological Theories
Your writing assignment for this course is to write a 4-6 page paper based on one of the films assigned: “Over the Edge,” “Parasite,” “Office Space,” or “Boyz in the Hood.” Your job is to take one (or, at most, two) of the crime theories we learned about in class, and apply it/them to the events depicted in the film you choose. To do this, you must consider and understand the theories we discussed in class (review the materials from the lecture, the handout provided in class on the different theories, and descriptions of the theories in course readings).
After you’ve developed an understanding of the theories we’ve discussed in the course, you will want to consider which theory you would like to use. First, you’ll need to decide if you think the events in the film are better explained by an individual theory or a structural theory. For example, if you think that parenting is an important part of what happened in the film, you may wish to choose an individual-level theory.
On the other hand, if you think there is something overall about the people in the neighborhood that is the main reason for the criminal activity, you may want to choose a structural theory. If you choose an individual theory, focus only on one (or at most, two) of the characters depicted. Second, you’ll want to consider whether you think the criminal activity in the film is due to a lack of control (control theory), or because crime is being learned (learning theory).
Those things should help guide your choice of a theory. In addition, you should keep in mind that some theories are harder to categorize, like Labeling or Strain Theory. Some theories may explain the events in the film better than others. However, even if you feel the theory you’ve chosen does a good job of explaining what happens in the film, you will still need to critically analyze the theory: Does it perfectly fit the crime(s) shown, or are there parts of the theory that do not apply or work correctly?
Here are some suggested theories you might use:
Social Control, Self-Control, Differential Association/Social Learning (for these two, it’s probably best to just use Social Learning Theory, which incorporates DA), Labeling, Seductions of Crime (“Sneaky Thrills,” specifically), Social Bonds, Adolescence-Limited/Life-Course-Persistent, Strain
Subcultural theories—Choose one of the three theories we covered in lecture— Cohen (Delinquent Boys), Anderson (The Code of the Street), or Wolfgang & Ferracuti (Seven Principles of a Subculture of Violence)—(but if you use W & F, please incorporate the additional reading posted below the film instructions on Moodle, which provides more information about that theory, since we didn’t have an assigned reading on it).
The point of this paper is to be creative. I’m mainly interested in seeing you try to use a crime theory to analyze the events in the film. Thus, this paper is NOT an essay about the film.
Criminological Theory Essay
An ideal way to organize your paper would be as follows: A. Introduction: A brief, general summary of what you’ll be doing in the paper—“In this paper, I will use events in the film to analyze ___________ theory. I will… .” You do not need to summarize the film’s events or its plot. Assume the reader has seen the film, knows the general plot, and is simply interested in how you are going to apply theory to the events you see in the film.
- Description of the Theory: A description of the theory you intend to use—what does the theory say? What are its key elements or premises? Who created the theory? C. Critical Application of the Theory: A critical application of the theory that takes the elements or key premises/parts of the theory, and uses examples in the film to indicate whether each element/key premise is supported by the events in the film. Make sure you evaluate all elements and key premises/parts of your theory (this is why I advise choosing just one theory). Please also make sure you provide examples from your film to illustrate your points!
For example, if you wanted to use Self-Control Theory, you might consider an individual·character and assess how that character reacts to perceived insults from others. Does the character seem especially concerned about whether their actions cause suffering to others? Are they more physical than mental, etc.?
The elements of a theory are the theory’s key parts. For example, a key part of the structural theory on a “Subculture of Violence” is that you can tell how strong the subculture is by the extent to which it is “diffuse” (adhered to by lots of people in the·
area) and “penetrating” (how deeply people seem to believe in and abide by its rules). If you think that a “Subculture of Violence” may be present in the film, you would want to explain how many of the people shown—of all different types/genders—seem to “buy into” it, and follow its rules without question.
Consider Social Control Theory (Hirschi, 1969). It has four elements, remember? If you wanted to use that theory, you’d want to discuss each of those elements and any other important aspects that you read about in the chapter on that theory (pp. 169-177 in the text). To what extent do those 4 elements seem to play a role in the crime (or obedience!) you see in the film?
While considering your theory, you may find that you don’t have clear evidence one way or the other to help you decide whether all of its key parts apply. (For example, we don’t know for sure what happened with the characters in early childhood, so if you choose a theory that thinks early childhood is important, you will need to address that.) If you run into this type of situation, just go ahead and tell me what other information you’d need to “make the call” about whether the theory does a good job of explaining the events in the film.