Understanding Criminal Behaviour: Psychosocial Approaches to Criminality

Jones, David W (2008). Understanding Criminal Behaviour: Psychosocial Approaches to Criminality. Abingdon: Routledge.

Abstract

This book is an attempt to invigorate criminological thought by presenting the case for the proper integration of psychological theorising within mainstream criminological theory. Our understanding of criminal behaviour and its causes has been too long damaged by the failure to fully integrate the emotional, psychological, social and cultural influences on people’s behaviour. This book is therefore proposing a psychosocial model of approaching understandings of criminal behaviour.

As it developed during the latter half of the 20th century, criminology became a discipline that was dominated by sociological thinking that has emphasised socially structured inequalities as the chief causes of crime. The rejection of the psychological dimension was part of this political viewpoint. Meanwhile, much academic psychology did little to construct dialogue. Psychology’s focus on the individual appeared to consist of a circular exercise of blaming the criminal for their own criminal propensities. Few psychologists engaged with criminological theory, and the discipline of psychology was dominated by methodological concern to mimic the success of the natural sciences and study people using experimental methods. Questions about the messy lives of those who end up on the wrong side of the law, and how they got there, do not lend themselves well to the methods of experiment and the laboratory.

This schism is no longer tenable. Criminology without the tools to grasp the significance of the internal and emotional worlds of individuals has reached a dead end. In contemporary social conditions understanding the way that individuals construct their selves and moralities have become ever more pressing. To understand the impact of social structure on people’s lives we often have to understand the relationships that they have with others and the histories of those relationships. This book is proposing a model for understanding criminal behaviour in terms of a better understanding of the link between emotions, morality and culture. It will be argued that crime can often be viewed as emerging from disordered social relationships. In order to understand the roots of those disorders we need to be able to explore the emotional worlds of those individuals and how morality, crime and violence are hewn from feelings of anger shame and guilt that develop in relation to others.

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