General strain theory. Dr R Agnew. part 1


what cases crime?

criminologits say

background factors. poverty. lack of self control. cannot resist temptation. low parental attachment. poor paternal supervision. low grades.  beliefs favourable to crime. association with delinquents

these factors are assumed to be stable over time. create predisposition towards crime


these propensity factors explain difference in levels of crime

many criminologists say individuals who possess these factors do not engage in crime all of the time. most of the time they conform’ they engage on crime seldom

crime is not only a function of background factor –  due to situational factors

provocation by others – insults

absence of capable guardians, no neighbours police

presence of alluring targets – easily stealable valuables

criminals seldom mention background in saying why they commit crime and rarely mention situation

criminals usually retell a story. describe events and conditions

begin with an event. some even affects them that increase the likelihood

armed robbers –  ”I think the primary factor is being without. Rent is due. I cannot get money no way else. I know I can get money by committing an armed robbery.”

John got involved into fights ”Audrey was being harassed by some boys and girls . For several days they had been bothering her. Upset she called John her boyfriend. He felt compelled as a man to defend her. He would come over and see about it. Young men there had fought with him before. He knew there was a good chance there would be trouble.”

Rapists – ”a precipitating event involving an upsetting event in every day living. over and over these men described themselves as being in an incident with a woman with whom they believed they were in love. He then abducted and raped”

They often focus on events before the crime.

these storylines frequently appear in qualitative accounts.

criminologists ask crims why they engage in crime. Administer surveys to many people – closed ended questions typically

these dominate criminology. Storylines are seldom considered

his central argument is that this is a major shortcoming

background factors and situations are important we need to pay more attention to what offenders says

additional set of factors

what are storylines?

there are several storyline

we can test storylines

central thesis – individuals who more commonly experience these are more likely to commit crime

ways in which storylines can enhance understanding of crime and aid in efforts to control crime

What is a storyline?

It is inter related sets of events and conditions. beginning, middle and end

begin with event. This is usually something extraordinary. deviation from routine.

this event temporarily affects the characteristics of the person and relations with others and settings encountered by the person which increase the chances of crime

leads in strain or stress temporarily

reduction in social control. increase in social learning for crime. leads to opportunity for learning for crime

middle period of storyline

more likely to commit crime. lasts minutes to weeks

some event returns levels to normal

return to prior level. individual loses all money gambling. increase in strain. person starts to steal. individual recovers money. things return to normal

this persons experience gambling losses. get a loan from a friend or get a second job. storylines can end in a non criminal manner

policy implications of storylines

how does this differ from background factors?

these refer to average or typical standing over a period of several weeks or longer

these might include individual traits

interactions with others like parental supervision

association with delinquent peers

average on range of individual and environmental factors

storylines with breaks from average or typical standing

individuals can be subject to a high level of parental superintendence

an event can temporarily reduce this

there can be a temporary loss of self control


level of self control of a person.


varying self control between people. someone’s level fluctuates. this is a function of events to which one is exposed to

a dispute can infuriate someone and this leads to a loss of self control

people keep an eye on them. can people gain more self control than usual for a while

almost crash – the person can be very cautious.

on bad days nothing goes right. You lose it. short fuse

storylines transcend situations. often far removed from the crime. consequences last from hours to weeks

they differ from background and situational factors

they constitute to a new set of factors that contribute to crime

classic study of gangs by short and strawbeck in chicago

they observed gangs

they described one major storyline contributing to crime

status threats. gang leader duke sent to gaol. the gang elected a new president. they diid that with the understanding that when duke got free he would be president again. he was celebrated when he was let go. but they did not acknowledge that he was president again. he then initiated fights for v little provocation. duke then adopted the cool image that distinguished him from the others.

Duke was upset that he was not seen as president on his release. he was compelled to demonstrate that he was the toughest. the gang then hailed him as president. He calmed down.


part 4


control theory. social learning theory.

when you ask crims why they commit crime they relate tales.

there are certain commonalities.

elements conducive to crime. reduction in control. opportunities to commit crimes

break with conventional institutions

desperate need for money. person’s business is about to go bust.

event. middle period – repercussions of the event.

three elements – something happens that creates a temporary but urgent need for cash

there are no good legitimate options to obtain this dosh

commonly cited events – unexpected expenses, poor budgeting, losing jobs, gambling, drug binges, pressure to pay fines, loss of financial support


self control is lowered. one acts impulsively.

”I was working long hours and not getting along with my wife. We had a lot of bills. next thing I know I am stealing things.”

research on street level drug use – associated with increase in crime.

prostitution to earn cash – t0 pay debts to state. pay attorney

defendant in cheque kiting – had to keep business open

unresolved dispute

four key elements – someone that the person hates

the person blames the other person for this treatment

person experiences negative emotions- anger, humiliation

crime is seen as best response

several types of negative events that cause this. abusive behaviour, theft, accusations, ridicule unreasonable demands, romantic disputes, status threats, infidelity, jilted, discrimination

these actions lead to fury . strain and stress

reduction in self control. reduce ties to others

boy is home made oblique threat to people who murdered their friend.. a deadly feud may start

gang member becomes victim. vengeance is exigent

someone had drugs stolen. the subject staked out before he caught the thief – made the thief take me to his home where I found the narcotics

woman said male female relations are a source of conflict. girls fight over a boy

a brief but close involvement with a criminal other

people develop close association with criminals. these are sometimes fleeting



someone models crime. prevents them with beliefs favourable to crime. become romantically involved with a crime.

hang out with non criminal friends

people drift in and out of the crime

increase the likelihood involved with crime

girl of 16 started busting cheques over several states

one person who had not committed armed robbery – strated to commit robbery he did so to help[ a friend who had helped him

street life is most attractive to female hustlers when involved with a man who was doing this and pulling off scams without being apprehened

brief but tempting opportunity

something happens and this increases the attractiveness of crime

one sees cost as low and benefoits as huge

a man delivers meat prodycs. he went ariund the place asking people if they knew something

his pal committed theft

in drugs  – women are used when men are in prison or under suspicion

persistent thieves work as units in cycles

convert counterfeit money – forged travellers cheque – passing bad cheques

stealing id

steal a car then commit stick ups using it before it is wanted

temporary break with conventional break with others or institutions

break with parents or school

parents go away

laid off

relationship break up

person leaves temporary institutons – skip school, spring break

5 major storylines

each begins with event with consequences.

something happens to end the story.  could be a non criminal event to bring propensity to criminality back down to normal

central point –

desperate need for money

heated argument



this is why a person is more likely to commit crime at certain times

periods of high criminality and periods when they commit no crime

situational variables

background factors – low self control, low parental supervision

delinquent peers mistreat others and disputes arrive

low in self control – waste money, you cause rows, you do not plan, you are impulsive, if something comes along that you want you spend unwisely or you steal when the chance presents itself

people with the situational factors are more likely to experience crimogenic storylines

policy implications – focus on high risk individuals

monitor their behaviour

look at those points when they experience a storyline – we can intervene. emergency loan, ending dispute, reconnect person with convention,

someone commits a crime placed on probation , someone out of prison is on parole – parole officer checks in and ask if this person is experiencing things – do you have $

if the persons says he is in a dispute

persons really needs cash

we can teach these high risk people to identify these stories how to deal w ith this or seek help

in some cities gang workers help. they are trying to keep tabs on gangs to see if they are in storylines

if someone has a beef with someone else they mediate




we understand causes of crime better










About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

5 responses »

    • Dear Michael, I am grateful for your flattering remarks. This piece was a summary of a lecture. Kindly draw my blog to the attention of all and sundry. Yours most sincerely, Portley.

  1. very interesting…this is a good way to re-present lecture materials. I have some papers I wrote when in university that could make good blog articles, minus footnotes and academic phraseology 🙂 Also I recently bought a computer program that can read typewritten pages, turn them into PDFs, and produce a form that can be edited. I did try it out on a couple of things…works nicely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s