Neutralization Theory

Heith Copes

in Criminology

ISBN: 9780195396607
Published online November 2010 | | DOI:
Neutralization Theory

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According to Gresham Sykes and David Matza, acts that violate norms or go against beliefs can carry with them guilt and shame, which dissuades most adolescents from engaging in criminal or delinquent acts. Would-be delinquents, therefore, must find ways to preemptively neutralize the guilt and protect their self-image if they choose to participate in delinquent or deviant behavior. One way to do this is by using techniques of neutralization that provide episodic relief from moral constraint and allow individuals to drift back and forth between delinquent and conventional behavior. Drift is possible because neutralization techniques blunt the moral force of dominant cultural norms and neutralize the guilt of delinquent behavior in specific situations. Through the use of these neutralizations social and internal controls that serve to check or inhibit deviant motivational patterns are blocked, thereby allowing individuals to engage freely in delinquency without serious damage to their self-image. Sykes and Matza outlined five neutralization techniques: denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, appeal to higher loyalties, and condemnation of condemners. Research on the theory has generally produced mixed results, leading many to conclude that the theory is not powerful enough to serve as a stand-alone explanation for crime. Still, neutralization theory has been incorporated into a variety of other theories, including control theory, learning theory, and labeling theory.

Article.  5486 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Criminal Justice ; Criminology

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