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Typologies of Criminal Behavior

Typologies In Criminology, Crime-centered Versus Person-centered Typologies, Criteria For Criminal Typologies

Sorting people into types according to distinguishing traits or forms of behavior that are presumed to characterize them is a common social process. For example, high school students often label their classmates as "hoods," "jocks," "Goths," or "brains." These slang terms identify certain students as delinquents, as overly interested in school athletic programs, as disaffected persons who dress in black and affect various deviant styles, or as particularly interested in good grades. Closer to criminology, police officers sometimes speak of "car clouters" (persons who steal packages and other items from cars) or "hubcap thieves." Similarly, prison inmates sometimes single out fellow convicts as "right guys," "outlaws," "wolves," or other types.

Such existential types refer to categories of people or of behavior that arise as persons go about trying to simplify and make sense of people and events they encounter in everyday social interactions. By contrast, constructed types are delineated by sociological theorists. For example, Edwin Lemert drew attention to offenders he labeled as naïve check forgers, but the persons so labeled did not use that label nor did those with whom they associated. Although constructed types are sometimes more precise and explicit than existential types, in many typological classifications the identifying features of specific types are unclear, with the result that researchers have difficulty in assigning persons to them. The following discussion reviews the construction and application of classificatory schemes in criminology.

DON C. GIBBONS

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law