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Travis Hirschi-The Author

Travis Hirschi, the author of the social bond theory, proposed that delinquency and social bonds are inversely related and that the concept of social bonds have 4 elements that restrain criminal conduct: attachment, involvement, commitment, and belief (Hirschi, p.169). He suggested that the more attached people are to people/society, the more involved and committed in conventional activities, and the more they believe in the values of conventional society, the less likely they are to deviate.

The Social Bond Theory states that crime occurs when a person’s bond to society is weak or broken (Shannon, 10/19/18). The first element, attachment, states that if a person disregards the expectations of people and is insensitive to others’ opinions, then that person is not bound by the norms and is free to deviate. Commitment states that because most people acquire goods and reputations that they do not want to risk losing, this creates insurance that they will abide to society’s rules. Involvement states that when a person involved in conventional activities, he/she is tied to a busy lifestyle, creating little to no opportunity to commit deviant acts. The last element, belief, states that we not only assume the deviant has believed the rules, but we also assume that person believes the rules even as they violate the rules (CAW, p.171).

When relating the theories to ‘The Wire’, Michael seems to be detached from most people in his life. Although Michael has some attachment with his peers and sibling, Hirschi argued that the relationship with parents is most crucial (CAW, p.169). Michael despises his heroin addicted mother and his step-father, who is assumingly sexually abusive. He has no parental or adult role models in his life that has control over him, thus leading to Michael giving no thought to parental reaction when committing deviant acts. He distances himself from Cutty even though Cutty offered to take care of him and instead chose to become attached to Chris who encouraged Michael into a criminal career. Michael also has low commitment in his life and has nothing much to lose. He doesn’t value his education and doesn’t seem to believe that he has any bright prospects ahead. So far, he only benefitted from engaging in crime such as monetary gain and protection from a family, making it easier to commit crime. With involvement, besides school, Michael spent his day with peers, at the boxing gym, or at home making sure his younger brother was well taken care of. However, near the end of the season, he was kicked out of the gym for fighting with Namond, which gave him more free time. This led to Michael spending time with bad influences such as Marlo’s group. In the beginning of the season, Michael acknowledged that crime is wrong and even shied away from becoming a drug dealer. However, as the show progressed, his belief in social norms faded, and he even commits murder with no hesitation.

Namond, on the other hand, is attached to many adult figures such as his parents and his teacher, Colvin. He is attached to his parents even though they both push him into a criminal career. Namond is also attached to his teacher, Mr. Colvin, who, on the contrary, influences him to be a better student and person. In the beginning of the show, Namond did not show any commitment to anything. He did not value his education and constantly acted out in order to get suspended. When asked about his future, he said that he would “probably be dead in ten years’ time”, showing that he didn’t believe that he had a bright future ahead of him. However, as time passed, he began to value his education, which is evident when he showed leadership and participation during class. Namond also gained the chance to join Colvin’s healthy and caring family, which also is something he would not want to risk losing, therefore decreasing his likelihood of committing crime. Namond’s day isn’t very involved in conventional activities that facilitate control and his idle day presents opportunities for crime, however, he doesn’t seem interested in violence or crime. He hesitated in getting involved in the revenge plan against Officer Walker, and refused to beat Kenard, who allegedly stole Namond’s package. However, he is forced by his mother to spend his free time selling drugs. Lastly, Namond used to believe that he should not obey the rules when there are so many examples of others profiting from wrongdoing. However, now, he doesn’t engage in crime and seems to believe in social norms, which is shown when he doesn’t want to sell drugs and when he refused to beat Kenard.

Considering all the elements in the theory, Namond seems to have a stronger bond to society than Michael does. Mr. Colvin became a role model for Namond, guiding Namond into smarter choices, which eventually helped Namond avoid a life full of crime and violence. Michael, however, distanced himself from Cutty, who was the only person in his life that could have shaped him into a healthy non-criminal life. Instead, he turned to Chris for help, and since Chris got rid of his biggest problem, his step-father, this further advanced Michael’s attachment to Chris. Namond also had much more to lose than Michael did, creating a difference in the levels of commitment. Namond could have lost a chance at a good family and life by involving himself in more crime, but Michael only had things to gain from engaging in crime such as money. Namond and Michael had similar levels of involvement, both mostly free during the day besides hanging out at the boxing gym. However, after Michael was kicked out of the gym, he had more opportunities to engage in crime than Namond did. Also, Namond had higher levels of belief than Michael did. Namond consistently hesitated in engaging in crime and ran away from every opportunity for violence, but Michael increasingly engaged in more crime and violence.

II. Criticisms

The Social Bond Theory has many strengths that well explains the behaviors and circumstances of both boys. The attachment and commitment element especially explained the boys well. For example, the show portrayed Namond’s gain of commitment that rooted from Colvin, which further encouraged Namond to stay out of trouble. Michael, on the other hand, had much lower levels of commitment which makes him more likely to engage in crime, as the theory explains. Also, compared to Michael, Namond had much more adult figures that he was attached to, which highlights the contrast between both boys.

The theory, however, does not explain the requirements in order for an individual to succumb to engaging in crime. The theory does state that every individual may vary in terms of how individuals fit the elements, but it does not consider if an individual fits two out of the four elements, and whether that can lead to crime or not. It also does not give any further explanation on which elements are more crucial than others in weakening social bonds. Relating this criticism to ‘The Wire’, Namond fits every element well except ‘Involvement’. Namond is not involved in conventional activities, yet still hesitates in engaging in crime and only engages because he is forced by his mother.

Another criticism of the theory is that it doesn’t take into account any motivational factors of engaging in crime. If an individual did not fit any of the elements, but had to engage in crime in order to achieve goals or necessities, the theory does not explain that behavior. Michael had to take care of his younger brother and mother, and it became his everyday duty to find the money for food and school supplies. In order to get this money, Michael resorted to selling drugs for a period of time, because it was readily available for him to learn and engage in. For Namond, his mother constantly pressured and berated him into selling drugs even though he morally did not want to. These boys both went through strains and in order to achieve their goals of obtaining money to provide for their families, they resorted to crime.

The theory also only focuses on why an individual is less likely to deviate, but doesn’t acknowledge the fact that people can desist from criminal behavior on their own. Desistance is defined as a long-term abstinence from criminal behavior (Shannon, 10/16/18). People can desist from crime even though they fit all of the elements of the social bond theory. However, the social bond theory does not acknowledge this fact and does not explain self-control that people may have that controls their temptations into committing crime.

III. Theoretical Perspectives

Both boys’ lives changed drastically throughout the season even though they both started out similarly. In the beginning, Michael seemed like he wanted to do the right thing by refusing Marlo’s money, taking care of his brother, and by declining Bodie’s offer. However, near the end of the season, he became increasingly violent and audacious. Michael’s trajectory altered when Bug’s father came back into their lives, creating an insolvable strain for Michael. This led to Michael asking for help from Chris, which now tied Michael to Marlo. Namond was the leader of the friend group since he was the most privileged with money and the family name. Because his family was well off, Namond was free to do whatever he pleased. However, his original trajectory was altered when his family was financially cut off, which forced Namond to go out to the corner and sell drugs. Another alteration was when Michael attacked Kenard and Namond got scared and ran away, it is evident that the criminal life is not for him.

There are many theoretical perspectives that can also help explain change and/or continuity in each boy’s criminal behavior. Laub and Sampson’s Theory of Persistent Offending and Desistance from Crime explains Namond’s criminal behavior the best. The theory offers four features argues that offenders can come to change their life course and desist from crime. The theory states that first, the offender experiences a turning point. Then, as a result of the turning point, the offender is subjected to social control that offers support. Third, the routine activities of the offender are transformed from oriented toward deviant locations to being filled with prosocial responsibilities. Lastly, a commitment to a new life prevents a criminal adventure because sacrificing the new relationship and lifestyle will be too costly (CAW, p.523)

This theory fits well with Namond because he was surrounded by crime. His father was a major key player in the Barksdale drug organization and his mother constantly pushed him to go out on the corner and sell drugs. His life was revolved around crime, but he found a turning point once he was put into the school’s pilot program. There, he met Mr. Colvin, who constantly encouraged him to make smarter choices. Mr. Colvin watched over him, showing him that he has potential in him. Like in the theory, this relationship offers Namond support and increased the bond of attachment to each other. Namond grew attached to Mr. Colvin and slowly, Namond began to realize how much he did not fit into the life of crime. Also, Namond’s routine activities were transformed from unstructured and deviant to being structured and filled with prosocial responsibilities. Near the beginning of the season, Namond spent his day selling drugs and trying to get suspended from school. However, at the end of the season, Namond was seen doing his homework before school and nodding to his old friend, as if saying goodbye to his old criminal life. Also, just like the last feature of the theory, Namond is committed to his new life which makes sacrificing everything for a criminal adventure too costly.

For Michael, the Continuity theories apply to his criminal behavior the best. The authors of the theory, Gottfredson and Hirschi, argue that criminal behavior is stable over time and that the individuals carry low self-control with them where-ever they go. They believe that once established, low self-control is highly resistant to being altered- even if the individual experiences fortuitous change or interventions (CAW, p.491). The theory observes 4 things: Individuals cannot escape their low self-control, low self-control is not due to biological deficiencies or psychological dysfunction, weak social bonds and crime are both caused by low self-control, and that crime increases in the teenage years and declines as people grow older. Not much is known about Michael’s childhood, but we can see that in the beginning, he works hard to keep his younger brother well fed and educated. This seems contradictory to the theory, however, the theory also stated that individuals can change their low self-control for periods of time, but only because opportunities to express their low self-control have been limited. Because Michael was so focused on keeping his brother safe, his opportunities to act out were limited. Michael’s social experience was also very deficient, such as bad parental monitoring skills. Good parental monitoring skills instill self-control, but Michaels’ mother was a heroin addict that he also had to take care of. He was the man of the family and had to make the money and provide food for the family. Like in the theory, Michael’s self-control is resistant to being altered. Even though he could have had a better life, he rejected people who offered to guide him. Cutty, who could have been a positive and healthy role model, offered to take care of him, but Michael distanced himself away.

Throughout the season, Namond and Michael’s lives begin to separate into crossroads, one into regeneration and one into degradation. With theories such as Social Bond Theory and various types of Life Course Theories, their behavior is well explained and understood

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I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.

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