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Differential Association Theory

Differential Association Theory

Author: Zach Lamb

Examine differential association theory and its influence on sociology. 

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. Welcome to Sociological Studies. As always, thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to study society. In today's lesson, we're going to talk about differential association-- the differential association theory of deviance-- and the man who gave it to us, Edwin Sutherland.

Sutherland was a criminologist working in the early 20th century. And he gave us a new way to look at deviance that is slightly different from Merton's and Hirschi's. Sutherland focused in on, really, the group influence, how your peer group can influence deviant behavior. So this is really, when you hear things like, I don't like the crowd you're hanging with, you're hanging with the wrong crowd-- if you heard any of that growing up, that's really the heart of this theory. It's that your peer group has a very strong influence on whether you're going to conform to society's rules or engage in deviant behavior.

Each peer group and subgroup has its own set of mores, norms, folkways, which may or may not align with the mores, norms, and folkways of society as a whole. So like we've talked about, people crave group acceptance. We want to be accepted by a group. So when you fall in with a peer group, you're going to subscribe to their ways of living and their culture. And so this subculture then can be a deviant subculture that runs counter to the culture of society. And so by virtue of participating in this subculture then, that's why you might act out deviantly, Sutherland maintained.

So this theory then helps to explain how people might fall in with gangs and gang activity when they're youthful, because then the group has a strong influence on the behavior. Like we've talked about and as I've said again and again, we don't behave in isolation. We behave with respect to people and groups. It's one of the central tenets of sociology.

So this is really a basic, core insight of deviance that is a little bit different from the more micro focus of Hirschi and the more macro focus of Merton. This one situates right in the middle there. And all three can cause deviant behavior at the same time.

So for instance, groups of people might form around the fact that we don't have opportunities in society-- are restrained, our opportunities aren't there. Similar people rub shoulders or similar circumstances, this can then breed an antagonistic culture to the overriding culture of society. So they all work together, which is what I hope you take away from these lessons.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief tutorial on differential association and Edwin Sutherland. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know
Differential Association Theory

The theory that a person's likeliness to conform depends on how much contact they have with others who reject conventional behavior or who encourage conventional behavior.

People to Know
Edwin Sutherland

An important criminologist credited with developing differential association theory to explain crime and deviance in society.