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Radical Theories of Crime

Authored by- Shreya Yadav

Keywords- #Theories #Crime #Sociological #Biological #Psychological #Socio_Psychological


The Oxford Dictionary of Law defines crime as being: “An act (or sometimes a failure to act) that is deemed by statute or by the common law to be a public wrong and is therefore punishable by the state in criminal proceedings.”[1]

As we know crime is something unacceptable by law or in contradiction of the law. We know when the crime is said to be committed it is against the laws made by the society, as in India when a crime is committed it is against the Indian penal code but do we know why such crimes are committed? Why criminals choose to behave in a particular manner! All these questions were tried to be answered by criminologists in a way that devised certain theories of criminology which dealt with the aspect of why criminals committed crimes and the reasons why the criminals choose to commit a crime. In these theories of criminology, basic notions such as social behavior, contact, involvement and social surroundings have been

integrated and sometimes been blamed as a reason for the criminal behavior of offenders.


Psychologists argue that in order to do something about the crime problem, we must first understand its causes! Their aims are in conformity with that of ‘Criminologists’. So as to find the solution to the crime problem various theories of crimes were advocated but once a crime is committed no single theory can be applied to that crime as different aspects may have effected and caused the crime to happen. Even every theory has its gaps and criticisms, all are argued by various criminologists for their merits and demerits. Majorly dividing the theories of crime five theories can be devised, such as;

1. Biological theory of crime

2. Psychological theory of crime

3. Sociological theory of crime

4. Social- psychological theory of crime

Biological Theory of Crime

This theory was developed to correlate biology and crime committed by the offenders. Firstly, an Italian prison psychiatrist, Caesar Lombroso stated through physical features of the criminals, by a research conducted by him in a prison, in which criminals having a certain head shape, jaw structure, etc were claimed to be potent of having criminalist behavior. However, it was rejected later on a larger basis as many criminologists criticized it widely. But it gave the stepping stone fort the biological theory of crime as later on; the following ways were adopted rejecting the approach of physical features:[2]

· Biochemical conditions (e.g. linked to poor diet or hormone imbalance)

· Neurophysiologic conditions (e.g. learning disabilities caused by brain damage)

· Genetic inheritance and/or abnormality

· Intelligence

Psychological Theory of Crime

Psychological theory of crime is said to be the theory that is related to the psychic of an individual many attempts have been done to prove that there is an IQ difference between those of criminals and non-criminals; however, the difference is very minimal. Nietzel in 1979 stated[3] when a person possesses a different personality attribute from the others he is inclined to be an offender. Some criminologists even state that the psychological theory of crime deals with a very personal characteristic that is closely related to the family, which means that when family relations, attachment, family background, etc relate to the psychological behavior of the criminal.

For example, when a person has a difficult family or background which was abusive in nature or similar situations lead to the criminal behavior of an individual. The psychopathic, sociopathic and anti-social behavior of an individual is also linked with the criminal behavior of an offender under the psychological theory of crime.

There are different traits of psychological theories that are mentioned below:

· Criminal thinking pattern

· Personality defect

· Psychoanalytic explanations

Sociological Theory of Crime

The sociological theory of crime deals with the surroundings that are the society around which a person resides. Sometimes it can be a violation of laws for a greater cause or for the benefit of the society as an example of Bhagat Singh and several others could be taken; they violated the laws laid down by the British who colonized India or Mahatma Gandhi who is now considered freedom fighter once broke the laws of the British for the freedom of India. Criminal behavior is a social phenomenon which is affected by society and its cultures. Sociological theory has two important subcategories:

· Structural explanations

· Sub-cultural explanations

Structural explanations under the sociological theory of crime state that there are structural disparities in society, as some have access to more opportunities than others it creates a structural pyramid. This leads to the lower strata individuals becoming deviant in their ways of achieving the goal, which means that their goal is to succeed but the means they choose to achieve that goal may be illegal or deviant.

Sub-cultural explanations states that in a society under major cultural groups exist sub-cultures that may be a part of the same culture but have their own norms in the society or different cultural groups one may be in majority and other in minority. The case in which minority sub-cultures exist they tend to believe that they are being oppressed and no equal opportunities being provided to them as they are minorities. Therefore, they tend to deviate and bring upon their own norms to sustain which may be illegal in society.

Social- Psychological Theory of Crime This theory can be said as the wider ambit of sociological theory and psychological theory, it covers the areas in which both of the theories leave untouched. As this theory advocates criminal behavior to be a learning process of an individual, there are two major classifications:

· Control theory

· Social learning process

Control Theory states that the relationship, bond and type determines the behavior of an individual; whether a deviant or not. Through certain examples such as attachment, commitment, involvement and belief all these are a determining factor under the control theory. This theory does not define why a person commits a crime rather it tells us about why a person does not. As empathy and compassion towards other people can be a major reason one has control over its action and it comes across when a person has healthy relations with his family and the society at large.

Social Learning Process, this theory read in connection with the Edwin Sutherland’s differential association theory can be explained as deviance is a learned process by an individual through the type people with whom the person resides or interacts. So, if the person is interacting and residing with criminals there is the most likely chance for that individual to be a deviant.


For discovering the causes why a person commits a crime, the criminologists have devised many theories from biological to environmental which describes why a person may or may not commit a crime. No one single theory can be said to be wholesome for a case scenario but two or more theories can be applied in one case scenario. Each and every theory has its merits and demerits.

[1] SSCJR, “what is crime?” (2019), [2] SSCJR, “theories and causes of crime” (2016), [3] Nirmala K., Glory, Criminology, (2009)


Nirmala k., Glory. Criminology. Justice and Legal System Research Institute, 2009.

Poulose, V.T. "theory of crimes." Shodhganga. 2006.

The Scottish centre for crime and justice research. "Theories and causes of crime." SSCJR . 2016.

The scottish centre for crime and justice research. What is crime? 2019.

"Theories of the causes of crime." strategic policy brief. 2009.




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