Gottfredson and Hirschi’s Theory


Which part of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory do you find the most believable? Which part of their theory do you think is incorrect? Explain why


Gottfredson and Hirschi’s Theory

            The General Theory of Crime advanced in 1990 by Gottfredson and Hirschi posits that the most crucial factor behind the crime is the lack of self-control by an individual. This theory further asserts that the common factor behind the lack of self-control is parenting techniques. It has been observed that children who are exposed to poor parenting before attaining the age of ten are more likely to develop low self-control as opposed to those who are brought up with better parenting (Giever, 1995). However, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) also studied the factors that affect the level of self-control and acknowledged that it improves with age due to the interplay of several determinants. Among these factors are socialization, hormonal development, and increasing opportunity costs of losing self-control (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). This theory, however, sparked a lot of controversy among criminologists since it claimed that all other theories were null and had no basis as far as examining the relationship between crime and delinquent behavior was concerned. As such, it has become quite a renowned theory over the past two decades since it paved the way for meaningful discussions to be presented by different scholars.


            I find several aspects of this theory appealing and to some extent, practical, despite the controversies around them. To begin with, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) have successfully managed to distinguish and draw a line between “crime” and “criminality.”  The latter refers to the propensity to offend whereas the former is the actual event in which the law is broken.  Looking closely at this statement reveals that there is indeed some degree of truth to it. They further argue that the predisposition cannot be accomplished if an opportunity to do so is inexistent.  Even so, this theory is highly accurate in stating that crime is a by-product of individuals with low self-esteem coming into direct contact with illegal prospects.  From a practical standpoint, the opportunities for one to commit crime are persistently available and most offences are easy to commit. Therefore, it follows that as time progresses, individual with low self-control will eventually be drawn deeper into the allure of criminal behavior considering the numerous chances available.Unnever, Cullen and Agnew (2006) concur with this statement in totality and assert that self-control is, in fact, the main contributing factor of peoples’ involvement in crime throughout their lives.

            Another aspect that I find plausible about this theory is that the origins of self-control are in fact social factors. The variations in the levels of self-control exhibited by different individuals are mainly due to several determinants. Regardless of this, the issue of low self-control stems from inadequate parenting practices (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). They found out that parents who fail to monitor their child’s behavior, who do not recognize the markers of deviant behavior and proceed to punish such behavior tend to end up with children who lack self-control. Contrary to this, guardians who adhere to these three parenting techniques usually end up with children with higher levels of self-control.  This is what actually happens in today’s society! Children who are not attached to their parents have a higher likelihood of developing poor self –control. Much to it, lack of self-control can occur naturally in a child if effective measures are not taken to counteract this development (Giever, 1995; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). This theory acknowledges that crime is not only a product of lack of self-control but is also influenced by the interaction of social factors. Consequently, the theory is consistent in bringing out the association between the dynamics of self-control and criminal behavior.  There is a positive correlation between these two aspects as far as delinquency is involved.


            On the other hand, there are some certain paradigms presented by this theory that I find to be incorrect and thus, inconclusive. First, the theory is reiterative especially around the issue of low restraint. Initially, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) advanced that littleself-will is regarded as the failure to refrain from indulging in criminal behavior yet they propose that the low self-control is considered as a vital predictor of criminal behavior. Thus, there seems to be some form of circular reasoning behind the theory and this renders it contradictory and quite vague in explaining the causes of crime. Theoretically, the definition of self-control presented here is used as a hypothesis for testing the relationship between crime and self-control yet the same has been used to fully define this concept. This implies that the hypothesis will always be taken to be true at all times and cannot be proven otherwise. This is improper because the theory itself posits that the principal factor behind the cycle of criminality is low self-discipline.

            Finally, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) fail to adequately define the concept of self-control from the propensity towards criminal behavior. Instead, they employ the use of “low” and “high” self-control to explain the affinity of individuals to either yield to delinquency or abstain from it completely. In essence, the theory does not provide sufficient information on the operational processes of low self-control and how they differ from the predisposition to commit a crime that low self-control is supposed to elucidate. This provides grounds for questioning the validity and practicality of this theory since low self-control and the affinity to commit crime are one and the same thing.


Giever, D. (1995). An empirical assessment of the core elements of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime. Web.

Gottfredson, M. R. & Hirschi, T. (1990). A General Theory of Crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Unnever, J. D., Cullen, F. T., & Agnew, R. (2006). Why is “bad” parenting criminogenic? Implications from rival theories. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice4(1), 3-33.

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