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PSF 3551 Integrated Theories of Crime

Course Description

Explores the basic questions concerning human nature, human behavior, crime, and criminality from the perspective of sociological, psychological, and criminological theories.

Course Objectives

After completing this course, students will be able to

  • Develop an understanding of the scientific approach to developing and testing theories
  • Understand the role theory development and evolution in public policy
  • Recognize the historical roots and development of various theories related to free will and determinism
  • Examine the extent of interplay between biology and environment and criminal behavior
  • Explore crime from a psychological perspective and how it relates to understanding behavior overall
  • Develop an appreciation and understanding on the various sociological theories at both the micro (individual) and macro (group) levels and how they relate to criminal behavior
  • Understand how social and individual reactions to crime can shape future behaviors
  • Explore critical theories and how they attempt to explain how power and control shape laws and eventually human behaviors
  • Understand the differences among conflict, Marxist, and radical schools of criminology
  • Examine theories regarding race, gender, ethnicity, and crime
  • Explore the current and future research trends related to criminal behavior
  • Examine the various types and utility of integrated theories

Week 1

Module: What is Theory?
Lecture: Introduction
Lecture: Theory - Part 1
Lecture: Theory - Part 2


  • Explore the components of scientific theories
  • Discuss legal and social elements that define what a crime is and who is a criminal
  • Explain how theorizing as a process compares to other forms of human inquiry
  • Explore why theories must be held to higher standards than other forms of conjecture about human behavior
  • Define various parts of theories – how they fit together and how they yield insights into crime and criminals
  • Discuss linkages between theorizing about and researching crime, and the role of ethics and government in these important processes
  • Define roles played by different philosophical perspectives in shaping both crime theories and crime control policies

Week 2

Module: Free Will or Determinism
Lecture: Free Will or Determinism – Part 1
Lecture: Free Will or Determinism – Part 1
Lecture: Free Will or Determinism – Part 1
Lecture: Free Will or Determinism – Part 3
Lecture: Free Will or Determinism – Part 4
Lecture: Free Will or Determinism – Part 5
Lecture: Free Will or Determinism – Part 6 


  • Discuss the origins of ideas about deterring criminals
  • Define the ties between classic deterrence theory and modern versions
  • Distinguish that for some people, crime is but one of many choices and, given a particular set of circumstances, a reasoned and reasonable choice
  • Explain the routine nature of some offending, and the role opportunity plays in the routine
  • Discuss the role of positivistic determinism in shaping contemporary criminology
  • Explain the appropriate historical and social context for biological theories of crimes and criminals, past and present
  • Discuss the nature and extent of genetic theories of crime, particularly how these theories answer criticisms leveled against earlier biological crime markers
  • Discuss whether scientific advances can confirm the role of biology in crime
  • Provide examples of the extent to which chemicals shape human actions

Week 3

Module: Psychology and Crime
Lecture: Psychology and Crime – Part 1
Lecture: Psychology and Crime – Part 2
Lecture: Psychology and Crime – Part 3


  • Distinguish between psychology and psychiatry, and the importance of those distinctions for criminology and criminal justice
  • Discuss psychoanalytic origins of human internal conflicts
  • Explain the unique role played by psychometric testing, both for diagnosing and classifying offenders and for selecting and promoting criminal justice personnel
  • Compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of psychopathy, a term rich in visual imagery but poor in definitional preciseness
  • Explain the history and use of IQ testing
  • Define the complex biological, psychological, and sociological interconnections that determine measured intelligence
  • Explain the various specifications of the IQ-crime link
  • Describe the development of behaviorism and psychological learning theory
  • Apply both behaviorism and learning theory to the explanation of crime and delinquency

Week 4

Midterm Exam and Project Due This Week
There is no lecture this week

Week 5

Module: Sociological Theories
Lecture: Macrosociological Theories – Part 1
Lecture: Macrosociological Theories – Part 2
Lecture: Macrosociological Theories – Part 3


  • Describe social-ecological roots of social disorganization, an outlook on criminality with practical implications
  • Discuss society’s formal structure, its roles and statuses, and provide unique insights into all behavior, including crime and deviance
  • Discuss two distinct ways used by criminologists to understand the crime and delinquency of groups called subcultures
  • Describe how in the twentieth century, macrosociological theories shaped local and national policies, and how these ideas still intrigue criminologists and policy makers
  • Explain how social processes create or work against crime problems in society
  • Explain how offenders learn crime propensities, including the various mechanisms involved in the learning process
  • Compare and contrast how society’s control mechanisms, ranging from individual to group controls, collectively and individually can prevent or deter criminal behavior
  • Define various expansions on the social control theme, including the effects of effective (and ineffective) parenting and too little self-control

Week 6

Module: Social Reaction Theories
Lecture: Social Reaction Theories


  • Explain the processes by which society comes to define certain people as criminals
  • Describe the significance of criminal labels for both those doing the labeling and those being labeled
  • Discuss how the role of shaming in controlling crime is complex, and how it can result in various outcomes, depending on whether the goal is to bring those persons being shamed back into the community or further isolate them
  • Discuss how shaming and labeling work for and against society’s interests

Week 7

Module: Critical Theories
Lecture: Conflict and Radical Marxist Theories – Part 1
Lecture: Conflict and Radical Marxist Theories – Part 2
Lecture: Conflict and Radical Marxist Theories – Part 3


  • Discuss why conflict is multilayered and contextual: An individual, group, value, idea, or relationship may create conflict
  • Discuss when responding to the threat of conflict or actual conflict, the more powerful group may criminalize the “offending” party – the weaker group
  • Discuss why social facts – language, religion, culture – that define who we are as a community can and often do serve to create conditions that are divisive and even destructive
  • Explain why laws embody the interests and values of powerful groups in society, sometimes to the detriment of less powerful groups
  • Explain whether a law receives full enforcement, or whether those convicted of violating it, who are given a severe penalty, may depend on the threat posed by offenders to those making decisions about the level of enforcement and types of sanctions
  • Define social, political, economic, and historical contexts of Marxist theorizing about crime
  • Discuss why not all Marxists are strict followers of Karl Marx, as some contemporary Marxist-oriented criminologists have modified his nineteenth-century philosophy to fit today’s multilayered society, a social system not predicted by Marx
  • Explain why some Marxist-criminologists wearied of idealizing criminals and began to work toward a more realistic view of crime and criminals
  • Discuss ways that criminologists apply peacemaking as a philosophy and practice to crime and justice issues
  • Discuss the central definitional, measurement, and theoretical issues that drive the search for explanations that are sensitive to offenders’ gender, race, or ethnicity
  • Explain the extent to which mainstream crime theories have ignored or downplayed the impact of both gender and race as causal or even mediating factors
  • Discuss the types of theories that have explicitly included either gender or race or, in some cases, have included both as key features in their causal explanations
  • Discuss the breadth of feminist- and race-inclusive theorizing about criminality, and the insights such theorizing provides about the criminal activities of men compared to women, and ethnic minorities compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Week 8

Module: Integrated Theories and Future of Crime Theory
Lecture: Integrated Theories and Beyond


  • Discuss the outcomes associated with shifting research priorities and the use of different methods on crime studies
  • Discuss criminological efforts and how they create new theories and re-examine old ones
  • Relate how the search for knowledge about crime and criminals is both academic and political
  • Define crime-related challenges and opportunities that await criminologists and the nation in the twenty-first century
  • Examine the various types and utility of integrated theories

The course description, objectives and learning outcomes are subject to change without notice based on enhancements made to the course. November 2013