Universities and Colleges
Request Access
Day One
Review Copies
Custom Solutions
Day One
Day One
Author's Corner
Universities and Colleges

Nelson Education > Higher Education > Criminology in Canada: Theories, Patterns, and Typologies, Fourth Canadian Edition> Student Resources > Synopsis of Criminal Theories
Untitled Document

Synopsis of Criminological Theories

The following is a synopsis of the most influential theories in criminology. Most theories of crime causation have arisen from these four major perspectives.

Classical Theory

Marxism / Conflict Theory

Biological Positivism

Sociological Theory

Critical Criminology



classical theory Origin About 1764
Founders Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham
Most Important Works Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments (1764); Bentham, Moral Calculus (1789)
Core Ideas People choose to commit crime after weighing the benefits and costs of their actions. Crime can be deterred by certain, severe, and swift punishment.
Modern Outgrowths Rational Choice Theory, Routine Activities Theory, General Deterrence Theory, Specific Deterrence, Incapacitation.


marxism Origin About 1848
Founders Karl Marx, Willem Bonger, Ralf Dahrendorf, George Vold
Most Important Works Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848); Bonger, Criminality and Economic Conditions (1916); George Rusche and Otto Kircheimer, Punishment and Social Structure (1939); Dahrendorf, Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (1959).
Core Ideas Crime is a function of class struggle. The capitalist system's emphasis on competition and wealth produces an economic and social environment in which crime is inevitable.
Modern Outgrowths Conflict Theory, Radical Theory, Critical Criminology, the New Criminology, Radical Feminist Theory, Left Realism, Deconstructionism, Peacemaking


positivism Origin 1810
Founders Franz Joseph Gall, Johann Spurzheim, J.K. Lavater, Cesare Lombroso, Enrico Ferri, Raffaele Garofalo, Earnest Hooten, Charles Goring
Most Important Works Lombroso, Criminal Man (1863); Garofalo, Criminology (1885); Ferri, Criminal Sociology (1884); Goring, The English Convict (1913); William Sheldon, Varieties of Delinquent Youth (1949); Eleanor Glueck and Sheldon Glueck, Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency (1950)
Core Ideas Some people have biological and mental traits that make them crime-prone. These traits are inherited and present at birth. Mental and physical degeneracies are the cause of crime.
Modern Outgrowths Biosocial Theory, Psychodynamic Theory, Cognitive Theory, Behavioural Theory, Evolutionary Theory.


sociological theory Origin 1897
Founders Emile Durkheim, Robert Park, Ernest Burgess, Clifford Shaw, Walter Reckless, Frederic Thrasher
Most Important Works Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society (1893), and Suicide: A Study in Sociology; Park, Burgess, and John Mackenzie, The City (1925); Thrasher, The Gang (1926); Shaw et. al., Delinquency Areas (1925); Edwin Sutherland, Criminology (1924)
Core Ideas A person's place in the social structure determines his or her behavior. Disorganized urban areas are the breeding ground of crime. A lack of legitimate opportunities produces criminal subcultures. Socialization within the family, within school, and the peer group controls behavior.
Modern Outgrowths Social Ecology Theory, Strain Theory, Cultural Deviance Theory, Learning Theory, Social Control Theory.



Influences Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Giorgio Agamben, and Jacques
Most Important Works Foucault, Discipline and Punish (1975), and
Society Must be Defended (1975-1976); Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of
Practice (1977); Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998)
and State of Exception (2005); Derrida, Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences (1966).
Core Ideas An approach to criminology that challenges exclusionary social conditions of poverty, racism, and sexism. It emphasizes the importance of interrogating conventional criminological discourses and the preconceptions of law, justice, crime and order contain therein.  
Modern Variants Cultural Criminology, Left Realism, Post Structuralism, Feminism.


Student Resources

Chapter Overview

Learning Objectives

Test Yourself

Key Terms, Flashcards

Crossword Puzzles




Degrees and Careers

Study Resources

Web Resources

Diversions and Pastimes

New Legal Landmark Timeline

Terrorism Reviewed

Criminal Justice Lecture Series

Current Events

Synopsis of Criminal Theories

Faculty Resources