Integrative Theories, Integrating Criminologies


The following unedited or draft essay by Gregg Barak, “Integrative Theories,” was published in the Encyclopedia of Crime & Punishment (Sage, 2002).

Over the past couple of decades, theories of crime and punishment have blossomed in their diversity. Not only has the study of crime and punishment broadened throughout the behavioral and social sciences, but, increasingly criminologists have adopted perspectives that are no longer grounded in “classical” versus “positivist” views of human nature and social interaction. In today’s postmodern and multicultural worlds of criminology and criminal justice characterized by post-structuralism, post-Marxism, post-affirmative action, and post-feminism, criminologists from a variety of schools of thought, including but not limited to critical, constitutive, positivist, and integrative, have come to appreciate, in different and in related ways, the numerous limitations of simple or “non-integrative” theories. In short, the traditional or one-dimensional accounts, models, and explanations of crime and/or punishment that have tended to divide human beings and society into biological, cultural, psychological, or sociological entities, at best, are partially correct. At worst, these analyses are very inadequate as they typically ignore more factors than they consider.

In response to the limited range and application of most non-integrative theories of crime and punishment, more and more criminologists, theorists and non-theorists alike, are embracing integrative and/or interdisciplinary frameworks of examination. Like theories in general which have diversified in kind and approach, the same has been true of integrative theories, perhaps more so. What makes integrative theories especially appealing is that the diversification of models is liberating to the extent that they allow for a creative plurality of knowledge based frameworks. This is the case, both within and across disciplinary boundaries, as well as within and across modernist and postmodernist modes of thought. At the same time, some integrative theories focus on criminal behavior and criminal activity, others focus on punishment and crime control, still other focus on crime, justice, and social control. Moreover, some integrative theories are formalistic and consist of propositional statements stemming from two or more theories usually within the same discipline; other integrative models or theories are less formalistic and consist of conceptualizing the reciprocal or interactive relations between various levels of human motivation, social organization, and structural relationships. Hence, when one thinks of integrative models one must realize from the beginning that there are many interpretations of what it means to be “doing” integration.

Ways of Seeing Integration

Just as there are multiple ways of doing theory, or of building simple, one-dimensional models of crime production, there are, even more ways of constructing complex models of criminal behavior or of integrating criminologies. Most integrators of crime and/or punishment agree that integration involves connecting, linking, combining, and/or synthesizing the relations and fragments of other models and theories into formulations of crime and crime control that are more comprehensive than the more traditional and one-dimensional explanations that have been perpetually elaborated on for some forty years. Despite this abstract agreement on the meaning of integration, actual approaches to integration vary significantly. In other words, the ways of seeing or constituting criminological integration differ in both theory and practice. As a consequence, the development of integrative theories and practices has, thus far, “proceeded in a somewhat anomic fashion with no [one] viable framework for synthetic work” having emerged in the study of crime and punishment (Tittle, 1995: 115). Nevertheless, much of the impetus for integration in criminology, at least early on, beginning in the 1970s, was grounded in the disciplines of psychology or sociology, and occasionally from the perspective of social psychology.

For example, the criminological literature on theoretical integration reveals a strong reliance on learning and control theories, a weaker reliance on strain theory, followed closely by subcultural, conflict, and Marxist theories. These sociological biases at work in criminological integration have traditionally marginalized theories and models of biology, evolution, history, gender, communication, economics, and law. In contrast to the more sociologically- and psychologically-based positivist and modern stances toward integration, are the eclectically-based constructivist and postmodern stances toward integration.

Both modernist and postmodernist approaches to integrative theories can be broken down further into a variety of explanations of crime and punishment. Moreover, integrative or integrated theories, may be specific or general. Whereas the specific integrated theories have focused on a single form of criminality, such as rape or battering, the general integrated theories have attempted to make sense out of a relativley broad or inclusive range of harmful activities, including interpersonal, organizational, and structural forms. Whether these attempts at integration have been modernist or postmodernist, some have confined themselves to criminality while others have focused more broadly on deviance and non-conformity. Finally, modernist forms of integration emphasize the centrality of theory in scientific endeavors and in the construction of causal models capable of predicting transgression. Postmodernist forms of integration emphasize the ever-changing voices of plurality that provide meaning for the local sites of crime, justice, law, and community as these are constituted by harmful personal and social relationships (Barak, 1998a and 1998b; Henry and Milovanovic, 1996).

Integrating Bodies of Theory

Whether discussing various forms of delinquency integration that hook theories together sequentially (Cloward and Ohlin, 1960; Colvin and Pauly, 1983; Elliott, Huizinga, and Ageton, 1985; Elliott, Huizinga, and Menard, 1989), of learning or reinforcement forms of integration that bring theories together by focusing on a central causal process (Glaser, 1978; Akers, 1985; Pearson and Weiner, 1985), or of macro- and micro-level forms of integration that link theories together by combinations of interdependencies (Hagan, 1988; Kaplan, 1975; Tatum, 1996), these approaches to integration have engaged in three basic types of positivist integration: structural, conceptual, or assimilative. The structural integrations can be either “end-to-end” or “side-by-side” integrations. Structural integration links existing theories, or at least their main components in some kind of sequence, either by conceiving of the causal variable/s in some theories as outcome variables in other theories, or by theorizing that under certain conditions the causal processes of one theory interlocks in particular ways with those of other theories. End-to-end conceptualizations, such as those of mainline delinquency integration tend to give no preference to the various components involved and assume some kind of linear effect is in operation, so that different theorists might order the elements in different sequences (Elliott, Ageton, andCantor, 1979; Johnson, 1979). By contrast, side-by-side integrations, provide a firmer basis for the sequencing of theoretical ingredients, in that later outcomes are conditional on earlier outcomes (Braithwaite, 1989).

Conceptual and assimilative integrations assume one of two kinds of abstract causal processes. In the conceptual types of “up-and-down” integration, pre-existing theories are brought together that are saying more or less the same types of things, only at different levels of analysis, or related theories are brought together and blended into new theoretical products. By contrast, the assimilative type of “kitchen sink” integrations employ abstract causal processes that do not consume other theories one way or the other, but rather allow different theories to be united into larger, abstract conceptual frameworks without respect to the interactive relationships and conditional effects that these theories may have on each other.

Modernist constructions of integrative theories may also be thought of or described in other related ways. These approaches may be divided up into those that emphasize kinds-of-people (social process-micro models), kinds-of-organization (social structure-macro models), and kinds-of-culture (micro-macro models)explanations of crime and punishment. The following represent a few brief examples of each of these types of modernist integration:

Wilson and Herrnstein (1985:195) in Crime and Human Nature provided a specific micro-social process theory of interpersonal, “aggressive, violent, or larcenous behavior” that focuses exclusively on predatory street behavior while ignoring white-collar, corporate, and governmental misbehavior. Their theory is an eclectic, social learning-behavioral choice formulation that relies on both positivist determinism and classical free will as it claims various linkages between criminality and hereditary factors, impulsivity, low intelligence, family practices, school experiences, and the effects of mass media on the individual. Krohn (1986) bridged together theoretical propositions from the delinquency-enhancing effects of differential association and the delinquency-constraining effects of social bonds, as these interact with social learning and social control. His network theory maintains that the lower the network density in relationship to population density, the weaker the constraints against nonconformity, and the higher rates of delinquency.

In Class, State and Crime, Quinney (1977) provided a general and integrative theory expressed through the contradictions and development of capitalism. His political economy of crime and crime control articulates a class-structural analysis where two interconnected sets of criminality, the crimes of domination and repression are committed by capitalists and agents of control, and the crimes of accommodation and resistance are committed by workers and ordinary people. This social structure- macro model argues that not only are the differential opportunities for crime class specific, but so too are the accompanying motivations for both crime and punishment. Stark (1987) introduced an integrated set of thirty propositions as an approximation of a theory of deviant places. His “kinds-of-place” explanation or ecological theory analyzed the traits of places and groups rather than the traits of individuals. It contends that the deviant behavior of the poor varies in relation to population density, poverty, mixed land use, transience, and dilapidation.

In Power, Crime, and Mystification, Box (1983) provided a conceptual integration of how corporate crime overcomes environmental uncertainties by illegally reducing or eliminating competition through fraud, bribery, manipulation, price-fixing, and so on. Box employed anomie and strain as the motivational sources behind corporate crime. He argues that “motivational strain” is translated into illegal acts through differential associations and corporate subcultures where elites learn to rationalize and neutralize their infractions with social and moral contracts. Pearson and Weiner’s (1985)model of integration is derived from identifying concepts that are common to particular theories and, in turn, structures these concepts within a general framework. This model searches for common vocabulary in which terms from one theory have analogs in other theoretical formulations. The central organizing concept of their model employs a social learning theory of crime, and incorporates micro-social factors, macro-social structural factors, and behavioral consequences or feedback factors.

Two recent integrative theories that can also be described as providing micro-social process and macro-social structural analyses are Tittle’s Control Balance: Toward a General Theory of Deviance and Colvin’s Crime and Coercion: An Integrated Theory of Chronic Criminality. Tittle’s “synthetic approach” is a carefully articulated blending of structural, conceptual, and assimilative methods of integration. His control balance theory contends that the “amount of control to which people are subject relative to the amount of control they can exercise affects their general probability of committing some deviant acts as well as the probability that they will commit specific types of deviance” (Tittle, 1995: 142). It also argues that individuals’ control ratios or that the control balancing process is subject to a host of internal and external contingencies that can vary over time.

Colvin’s (2000) differential coercion theory combines elements from Robert Agnew’s general strain theory, Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi’s self-control theory, Ron Akers’ social learning theory, Francis T. Cullen’s social support theory, and Tittle’s control balance theory. His socially and psychologically dynamic theory is relevant to both the production and reduction of crime and punishment as it focuses on four dimensions of control–or degrees of coercion and consistency–that have had profoundly different effects on criminal and non-criminal outcomes, whether applied to chronic street criminals, exploratory offenders, or white-collar rule breakers. His integration at both the inter-personal and macro-social levels reveals how “differential levels of coercion and consistency appear in micro processes of social control and at the macro level involving larger economic and cultural forces in society” (Colvin, 2000: 141). Equally as important, Colvin’s theoretically-driven responses to crime reduction or his policies toward a “non-coercive society” are aimed at preventing and altering the erratic coercive dynamics in the foreground and background of most criminality, especially in its more chronic or habitual forms.

Integrating Bodies of Knowledge

Postmodern integrationists are concerned less about theories per se than they are about knowledges. Rather than pursuing the cause-and-effect predictions of theoretical integration within, or even between disciplines, these criminologists are creating explanatory models of crime and crime control that make connections or linkages through and across the entire range of interdisciplinary knowledges (Barak, 1998a). For example, Vila’s (1994) evolutionary ecological theory presented in “A General Paradigm for Understanding Criminal Behavior: Extending Evolutionary Ecological Theory” is consistent with the spirit of integrating criminologies as it incorporates a multiplicity of disciplinary causal factors and bases of knowledge. Vila reconciles or integrates, at one level of analysis, such theories as strain, control, labeling, and learning primarilly derived from the disciplines of social psychology, and at another level, he examines over time and across disciplines, the changes that are derived in the “resource-acquisition” and “resource-retention” behaviors of social actors, from parental through early adulthood. In a few words, this model of synthesis not only “has its roots in the ‘interdiscipline’ of evolutionary ecology, but [it] uses a problem-oriented, rather than a discipline-oriented approach to understanding criminal behavior” (Vila, 1994: 315).

Whereas modernist integrations focus on linear causality and multiple causality, postmodernist integrations focus on interactive causality or reciprocal causality and on dialectical causality or codetermination causality. The latter forms of causality not only raise questions about whether modernist theorists have correctly ordered their causal variables, but, more fundamentally, they question whether there is a correct ordering of causal variables in the first place. In fact, certain things may happen simultaneously, while other things may not, and these things or relations may not be constant over time.

Some of the synthetic models of integrated knowledges can be classified as “transdisciplinary” or as post-postmodernist integrations that strive to combine principles, facts, and values from both modern empiricism and postmodern reconstructionism. In terms of soft determinist, neopositivist, and post-postmodernist integration, “cause” may refer to the influences and variations that are possible in the context of the multiple interrelations of discourses, ideologies, imaginations, unconsciousnesses, histories, and political economies, all of which are never fully separated from each other (Henry and Milovanovic, 1996). In any case, these models represent a hybrid of the methods of both modernism and postmodernism, or a third way of seeing integration.

A developing means of bridging or integrating knowledges across modernist and postmodernist divides has been established through the use of texts and narratives. As sociologist Richard Harvey Brown (1989: 1) has maintained: “the conflict that exists in our culture between the vocabularies of scientific discourse and of narrative discourse, between positivism and romanticism, objectivism and subjectivism, and between system and lifeworld can be synthesized through a poetics of truth that views social sicence and society as texts.” According to this view, language is neither a reflection of the world or of the mind. It is, instead, a social historical practice where the meaning of words are not taken from things or intentions, but arise from the socially coordinated actions of people.

For example, the “life-course” criminology of Sampson and Laub in Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life, and their development or “stepping stone” approach to delinquency and crime is located in the narrative data of life histories and in the social (re) construction of crime. Sampson and Laub’s (1993: 18) explanation of crime emphasizes “the role of informal social controls that emerge from the role of reciprocities and structure of interpersonal bonds linking members of society to one another and to wider social institutions such as work, family, and school.” As the authors have informed their readers: “Integrating divergent sources of information on life histories, the qualitative analysis supported the central idea of our theoretical model that there are both stability and change in behavior over the life course, and that these changes are systematically linked to the institutions of work and family relations in adulthood (Sampson and Laub, 1993: 248).

Arrigo (1995) has argued that the key to postmodern integration is in the production of nontotalizing analyses and nonglobalizing assessments. His form of integration does not “presume to understand the conditions or the causes of criminal or legal controversies by offering either a homeostatically based integrative model or a rigidly specialized theory” (Arrigo, 1995: 465). Rather postmodernist integrations like Arrigo’s (1995: 465), prefer to think of synthesis as referring to the “relational, positional, and provisional function to interpret, reinterpret, validate, and repudiate multiple discourses and their expressions of reality construction in divergent social arrangements.” Accordingly, he is able to synthesize a conceptually rich narrative that incorporates such diverse knowledges as psychoanalysis, semiotics, post-structuralism, deconstructionism, human agency, role formation, social change, and more.

Messerschmidt (1997), in Crime as Structured Action: Gender, Race, Class, and Crime in the Making engages in a grounded social constructionism that evolves not only through discourses, but also, more importantly, through the ways in which people actively construct their own identities, masculine and feminine, in relationship to crime and particular social contexts as these are differentiated through time and situation as well as through class, race, gender, and so on. These types of integrative analyses that go beyond postmodernism argue that crimes are recursive productions, routinized activities which are part and parcel of historically- and culturally-specific discourses and structures that have attained a relative stability over time and place. Materialistically rooted, these discourses of structured inequality, for example, “become coordinates of social action whereby ‘criminals’ are no less than ‘excessive investors’ in the accumulation and expression of power and control” (Henry and Milovanovic, 19996: X).

Barak and Henry (1999), for example, in “An Integrative-Constitutive Theory of Crime, Law, and Social Justice,” provided an examination of the co-production of crime and consumption and of crime and justice (both “criminal” and “social”). Their theory “links the study of culture with the study of crime. It is a theory that maintains the diversity of vocabularies through which different people experience violence and different criminal justice organizations exercise their power. It is a theory that integrates each of these points of view into a more complete, more robust regard for law, crime, and deviance” (Arrigo, 1999: 151). In the end, this kind of synthesis attempts to bring the intersections of class, race, and gender together with the dynamics of social identity formation and mass communications (see also Barak, Flavin, and Leighton, 2001).


Integrative theories or integrating criminological perspectives is not a particularly new endeavor. It dates at least as far back as Merton (1938), Sutherland (1947), and Cohen (1955). However, it was not until the 1970s and the 1980s that integrative models began to “take-off” and challenge the non-integrative or one-dimensional theories and models of crime and/or punishment. Throughout this developing period of integration, many criminologists remained skeptical about the merits and potentials of integrative models. Some turned to the “vertical” elaboration of older one-dimensional theories, others abandoned theory altogether in preference for the “horizontal” bits and pieces of knowledge that come from multiple disciplines that study crime and punishment. Nevertheless, by the turn of the 21st century, the integrative paradigm had become the newly emerging paradigm in criminology and penology. As for the future, this integrative paradigm looks strong and holds out the promise that the study of crime and punishment will, sooner than later, become the truly interdisciplinary enterprise that most criminologists have always claimed it to be.


Akers, Ronald L. 1985. Deviant Behavior: A Social Learning Approach. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Arrigo, Bruce A. 1995. Social Justice/Criminal Justice: The Maturation of Critical Theory in Law, Crime, and Deviance. Belmont, CA:West/Wadsworth.

Barak, Gregg. 1998a. Integrating Criminologies. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Barak, Gregg (ed.). 1998b. Integrative Criminology. Aldershot, England: Ashgate/Dartmouth.

Barak, Gregg and Stuart Henry. 1999. “An Integrative-Constitutive Theory of Crime, Law, and Social Justice.” In B. Arrigo’s edited Social Justice/Criminal Justice: The Maturation of Critical Theory in Law, Crime, and Deviance. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth, pp. 152-175.

Barak, Gregg, Jeanne Flavin, and Paul Leighton. 2001. Class, Race, Gender, and Crime: Social Realities of Justice in America. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

Box, Steven. 1983. Power, Crime, and Mystification. London: Tavistock.

Braithwaite, John. 1989. Crime, Shame, and Reintegration. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, Richard Harvey. 1989. “Textuality, Social Science, and Society.” Issues in Integrative Studies 7:1-19.

Cloward, Richard A. and Lloyd E. Ohlin. 1960. Delinquency and Opportunity-A Theory of Delinquent Gangs. New York: Free Press.

Cohen, Albert K. 1955. Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Colvin, Mark. 2000. Crime and Coercion: An Integrated Theory of Chronic Criminality. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Colvin, Mark and John Pauly. 1983. “A Critique of Criminology: Toward an Integrated Structural-Marxist Theory of Delinquency Production.” American Journal of Sociology 89:513-551.

Glaser, Daniel. 1978. Crime in Our Changing Society. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Elliott, Delbert, Susan Ageton, and Rachelle Cantor. 1979. “An Integrated Theoretical Perspective on Delinquent Behavior.” Journal of Research on Crime and Delinquency 16:3-27.

Elliott, Delbert, David Huizinga, and Susan Ageton. 1985. Explaining Delinquency and Drug Use. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Elliott, Delbert, David Huizinga, and Scott Menard. 1989. Multiple Problem Youth. New York: Springer Verlag.

Hagan, John. 1988. “Feminist Scholarship, Relational and Instrumental Control, and a Power-Control Theory of Gender and Delinquency.” British Journal of Sociology 39 (3):301-336.

Henry, Stuart and Dragan Milovanovic. 1996. Constitutive Criminology: Beyond Postmodernism . London: Sage.

Johnson, Richard E. 1979. Juvenile Delinquency and Its Origins. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Kaplan, John B. 1975. Self-Attitudes and Deviant Behavior. Pacific Palisades, CA: Goodyear.

Krohn, Marvin D. 1986. “The Web of Conformity: A Network Approach to the Explanation of Delinquent Behavior.” Social Problems 33:81-93.

Merton, Robert K. 1938. “Social Structure and Anomie.” American Sociological Review 3:672-682.

Messerschmidt, James W. 1997. Crime as Structured Action: Gender, Race, Class and Crime in the Making. Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage.

Pearson, Frank S. and Neil A. Weiner. 1985. “Toward an Integration of Criminological Theories.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 76:116-150.

Quinney, Richard. 1977. Class, State, and Crime. New York: David McKay.

Sampson, Robert J. and John H. Laub. 1993. Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points Through Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Stark, Rodney. 1987. “Deviant Places: A Theory of the Ecology of Crime.” Criminology 25:893-909.

Sutherland, Edwin H. 1947. Criminology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott.

Tatum, Becky. 1996. “The Colonial Model as a Theoretical Explanation of Crime and Delinquency.” In Anne T. Sulton’s edited African-American Perspectives on Crime Causation, Criminal Justice Administration and Crime Prevention. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, pp. 35-52.

Tittle, Charles R. 1995. Control Balance: Toward a General Theory of Deviance. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Vila, Bryan. 1994. “A General Paradigm for Understanding Criminal Behavior: Extending Evolutionary Ecological Theory.” Criminology 32:311-360.

Wilson, James Q. and Richard J. Herrnstein. 1985. Crime and Human Nature. New York: Simon and Schuster.

These recent books provide an excellent overview of integrative approaches to the administration of justice in relation to crime, culture, and production:


Michael L. Benson & Francis T. Cullen, COMBATTING CORPORATE CRIME: LOCAL PROSECUTORS AT WORK (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998).


Drew Humphries, CRACK MOTHERS: PREGNANCY, DRUGS, AND THE MEDIA (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999).

Susan L. Miller, GENDER AND COMMUNITY POLICING: WALKING THE TALK (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1999).


Livy A. Visano, CRIME AND CULTURE: REFINING THE TRADITIONS (Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press,1998).


Integrative Approaches to Violence:

Lonnie Athens, Violent Criminal Acts and Actors Revisited (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997).

Joel Best, Random Violence: How We Talk about New Crimes and New Victims (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

Henry Brownstein, The Social Reality of Violence and Violent Crime (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000).

James Gilligan, Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic (New York: Vintage, 1997).

Peter Iadicola and Anson Shupe, Violence, Inequality, and Human Freedom (Dix Hills, NY: General Hall, 1998).

Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Childrearing and the Roots of Violence (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990, 3rd ed.).

Laura L. O’Toole and Jessica R. Schiffman, ed., Gender Violence: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (New York: New York University Press, 1997).

Christopher Sharrett, ed., Mythologies of Violence in Postmodern Media (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1999).

Mark D. Totten, Guys, Gangs, & Girlfriend Abuse (Petersborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2000).

Jennifer Turpin and Lester R. Kurtz, eds., The Web of Violence: From Interpersonal to Global (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997).