Critically measure the effort made by criminologists working within both the ‘positivist’ tradition and the ‘interpretative’ tradition to cover with the relationship between ‘theory’ and ‘method’ . Use illustrations from criminological research to exemplify your statement

Before get downing our analysis of the built-in ideological differences between the rationalist and the interpretive traditions of criminology we ought to take a minute to analyze some of the built-in complexnesss within the subject of criminology itself so as to set up a conceptual model for the balance of the treatment. Unlike some other topics, which have a long, deep-rooted academic tradition, criminology is a comparatively recent signifier of rational enquiry. In footings of the generation of the topic, we ought with some strong belief to look back to the Enlightenment of the late 18th century as the period which marked modernity’s specific involvement between the nature of the relationship between offense and society. However, within the rigorous conceptual confines of the modern-day ideal of criminology, we should observe that the Chicago School of the early 20th century marks the beginnings of criminology as we understand it today, underscoring as it did the modern-day demand to understand the intrinsic relationship between offense and capitalistic station industrial society so as “to develop policies to pull off the worst effects of it.” [ 1 ]

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

Therefore, we should, from the beginning, highlight the brevity of criminology as an academic subject and, furthermore, we should observe the manner in which criminology is, by its really nature, a multi-disciplinary topic: one which has been created by the convergence of a assortment of other, sometimes viing, subjects in response to a corporate concern about the negative impact of offense upon modern-day society. Historians, politicians, societal scientists, head-shrinkers, attorneies, philosophers, and a assortment of other professionals and faculty members were all portion of the ideological thrust to larn about offense and how best to battle it. Criminology is, accordingly, something of an rational loanblend straddling the hitherto independent domains of scientific discipline and sociology ; of theory and method. “Thus, criminology’s claim to be an through empirical observation grounded, scientific set abouting sets it apart from moral and legal discourses while its focal point upon offense differentiates it from other societal scientific genres.” [ 2 ]

This unconditioned sense of dichotomy which resides at the historical epicenter of modern impressions of criminology is perfectly important to our apprehension of the built-in differences between the rationalist and the interpretive criminological traditions because, as we shall see, while one follows the broader scientific jussive mood, the other follows the broader sociological and, progressively, psychoanalytical jussive mood. It is the declared purpose of the following essay to chart the ways in which this is so, foregrounding how the divergency in theory and method represents a wider split between those who seek a statistical apprehension of the relationship between offense and society, and those who seek a more causal, socially realistic apprehension of the relationship between offense and society. In this manner, we will try to make a more rounded, subjective apprehension of our capable affair. Before we begin though, we need to offer brief definitions of both the rationalist and the interpretive traditions.

The rationalist tradition has its roots in the groundbreaking philosophical and sociological penetrations provided by the Gallic rational Auguste Comte whoseThe Positive Doctrinewas foremost published in 1853. It is within the text ofThe Positive Doctrinethat we can first see science merge with the embryologic development of the empirical survey of society with the writer believing that “the societal universe of human relationships could be treated as though it is similar to the natural universe of inanimate objects.” [ 3 ] This, in kernel, is to province that Comte and the rationalist tradition that he would ideologically give birth to believed that it was possible to develop a scientific survey of society as though analyzing ‘social physics.’ Thus, human existences, their behavior and interaction, were to be treated as scientific variables. The deductions that this new manner of sociological analysis had for criminology are clear: offense, condemnable behavior and the condemnable himself were henceforward all to be studied in strictly methodological footings as quantifiable informations that was able to be both survey and predicted at the same clip. In this manner, the rationalist tradition sought to set up a better, more accurate apprehension of the socio-economic grounds why some vicinities and societal environments appeared to hold an about organic relationship with offense, anarchy and community upset. Furthermore, in this manner, the rationalist tradition hoped to convey a gloss of scientific stableness to what was, basically the survey of the “concept of societal disorganisation.” [ 4 ]

The interpretive tradition, on the other manus, seeks to encompass the construct of societal disorganization while endorsing off from the effort to follow a more methodological, scientific lens through which to analyze and analyze both offense and society. Society, every bit far as the interpretive tradition has historically been concerned, is non comprehendible through such a constricting ideological lens ; society is, by definition, inherently contestable, subjective and, of class, opens to a broad assortment of different readings. Human existences and their alone single lesson, economic, societal, cultural and political fortunes can non, harmonizing to the interpretive tradition, be understood as facts, figures and as scientific variables. There is, hence, no remarkable cohesive ‘truth’ that the positive tradition can reason with respects to the relationship between offense and society. Therefore, “because we are locked into our society, because our journey of cognition occurs within the journey of our societies, we can non cognize things about society with absolute certainty – the ‘truth’s of the societal scientific disciplines are interpretative.” [ 5 ]

Consequently, whereas the positive school sees informations as certain and certainty as comparing to a discernibly scientific sort of truth, the interpretive school rejects the very impressions of certainty and truth within the domain of the survey of human behavior and modern-day society. This, so, constitutes to a difference non merely of criminological and sociological sentiment but besides a difference associating to the really intent of criminology as an academic subject. While the positive tradition looks to analyze the effects of offense, the interpretive tradition looks to analyze the causes of offense. This constitutes a considerable difference that we can clearly see meted out in the differences that these two traditions have historically harboured with respects to chasm between ‘theory’ and ‘method.’

Equally far as the rationalist tradition is concerned, there has historically been a heavy trust on the method in order to work out scientific jobs ( of which offense was merely one of many sociological jobs to be studied ) . For rationalists, the method constitutes the cardinal ideological anchor of both sociology and criminology, supplying a agencies through which societal scientists can through empirical observation prove hypotheses. As a consequence, the method should be understood as the gum that binds together the many disparate elements of both sociology and criminology. If, for case, human intelligence could be understood in footings of the scientific method of an IQ trial, so so offense and criminalism could be understood in footings of such scientific methods as “criminal anthropology.” [ 6 ]

Viewed from this position, the positive tradition can be seen to be a discernibly Darwinian tradition whereby the rules that Charles Darwin foremost applied to the natural universe in order to understand the generation and development of world could in many ways be applied to the societal universe of human existences in order to understand the generation and development of offense, anarchy and societal decomposition. For this ground, so, the scientific method has ever been a cardinal characteristic within the broader context of the positive tradition with rationalist criminologists seeking to understand behavior in these discernibly methodological footings.

Similarly, we should understand that the rationalist tradition rests to a great extent upon the scientific hypotheses and theories which it promulgates as a starting point for any methodological, scientific probe. Early rationalist bookmans such as the Gallic academic Emile Durkheim, for case, began their methodological enquiries foremost by set uping a fixed sociological theory, which, every bit far as Durkheim was concerned, was that offense was a ‘normal’ and ‘necessary’ residue of modern society brought approximately by “the possible pandemonium that the capitalist industrialist system could produce” [ 7 ] . Therefore, by utilizing this theory as his get downing point, Durkheim was able to methodologically foreground how the development of industrial capitalist society and its incumbent stiff category system was responsible for making pockets of offense within the most socially and economically deprived vicinities. In this manner, theory and method were able to meet within the positive tradition in order to ease a clearer, more concise apprehension of the relationship between offense, society and what we now know today as ‘social exclusion.’ Without the heavy accent upon both method and theory that the discernibly scientific point of view adopted by the rationalist tradition entails, there would be no manner of scientifically seeking out the empirical sociological ‘truth’ . Science can non, in the concluding analysis, exist outside of the frontiers of facts, figures, informations and variables. Therefore, theory and method remain built-in parts of the rationalist tradition.

The interpretive tradition, on the other manus, straight challenges the rationalist premise that offense and society can be understood in such stiff conceptual footings. Positivism, every bit far as the interpretive tradition has historically been concerned, is “too inactive in its vision of human nature, the societal order and societal change.” [ 8 ] Crime can non be understood by mention entirely to the accretion of informations and the perusal of economic, societal and political variables within specific geographic venues ; instead, offense, regulation breakage and aberrance must, the interpretive tradition believes, be explained by mention to the built-in diverseness within the human status and because diverseness is the merchandise of so many, entwining and frequently incomprehensible and unrelated phenomena, offense can non be understood have oning the ideological straitjacket of scientific discipline and methodological analysis. As a consequence, we should do a point of observing how the interpretive tradition seeks to understand the broader sociological ‘meaning’ of offense and societal upset as an rational springboard upon which the academic subject of criminology can understand the root causes behind anarchy and deviancy in modern-day society.

Viewed from this position, we should understand the interpretive tradition more in footings of ‘cultural criminology’ as opposed to the unquestionably scientific criminology championed by the rationalist tradition. As a consequence, the interpretive tradition adopts a more emotional point of view in order to underscore the interpretive qualities of human action, reason, offense and aberrance. This has needfully impacted upon the ideological capital ascribed to both theory and method within the interpretive tradition, which stresses “the foreground of experience and the experiential psycho-dynamics of the histrion, instead than on the background factors of traditional positivism ( e.g. unemployment, poorness, hapless vicinities, deficiency of instruction etcetera. ) ” [ 9 ]

Therefore, the stiff scientific trust upon theory and method that constitutes such an of import portion of the rationalist tradition is basically bypassed in the interpretive tradition with offense and felons being understood non as variables but as single emotional entities that can merely be studied, analysed and comprehended by following a subjective attack with a heavy accent upon psychological science, depth psychology and an interpretative apprehension of the beleaguered human status. Therefore, whereas the scientific method and theory represent the ideological epicenter of the rationalist tradition, the interpretive tradition relies to a great extent upon “the interpretative expertness of the analyst in badgering out the peculiar nexus between the condemnable act and the concealed unconscious drive.” [ 10 ] Once more, so, we can see how the interpretive tradition places the importance of people ( be they felons or criminologists ) over and above theory and method. This, in kernel, constitutes the cardinal difference between the two schools of criminological idea.

None of this, of class, is to declare that the interpretive tradition has in any manner divorced itself from the impressions of method and theory. The heavy trust upon depth psychology suggests a deep-rooted ideological confederation with method and theory with the bite of cognitive responses by take parting histrions necessitating interpretive criminologists to follow a discernibly methodological attack to informations and findings. Furthermore, the built-in hunt for a societal ‘meaning’ to offense and aberrance, which is such an of import characteristic of the interpretive tradition, can non take topographic point without resort to such theories as, for illustration, Kohlberg’s theory of ‘moral development.’ [ 11 ] Just because the interpretive tradition seeks to turn up the causes of offense within the psychological confines of the person does non intend that scientific method and theory are in any manner rendered disused.


Analyzing the built-in differences between the rationalist and the interpretive traditions has served to foreground the intercrossed nature of the academic subject of criminology, which is a convergence of a assortment of different and frequently viing rational domains. Whereas the rationalist tradition draws to a great extent upon its scientific beginnings, utilizing theory and method as a agency of understanding facts and figures refering to offense and society, the interpretive tradition has a deep-seated misgiving of figures associating to offense as these can be doctored and edited to accommodate a assortment of alternate methodological analysiss that have small or nil to make with understanding the root causes behind offense. Therefore, method and theory are, every bit far as the interpretive tradition is concerned, obstacles that base in the manner of achieving a more subjective analysis of offense and the human affectional jussive mood that resides at the ideological epicenter of condemnable behavior.

Clearly, we ought to reason by saying that neither of these traditions is ‘right’ . Both have conspired to revolutionize the really thought of criminology, affording the subject a scientific every bit good as an interpretive quality. We should, hence, in the concluding analysis, expect to witness a prolongation of this convergence of academic subjects within the domain of criminology over the extroverted old ages and decennaries, making an inevitable sense of struggle and disparity between viing traditions which all, finally, seek to encompass the construct of the new in chase of understanding that which is ever unfinished [ 12 ] .


Coleman, C. and Norris, C. ( 2000 )Introducing CriminologyUffculme: Willan Printing

Cordella, P. and Siegel, L.J. ( 1996 )Readingsin Contemporary Criminological TheoryBoston: University Press of New England

Einstadter, W.J. and Henry, S. ( 2006 )Criminological Theory: An Analysis of its Underlying PremisesLondon and New York: Rowman & A ; Littlefield

Hayward, K. ( 2005 )Psychology and Crime: Understanding the Interface, in, Hale, C. , Hayward, K. , Wahidin, A. and Wincup, E. ( Eds. )CriminologyOxford: Oxford University Press

Hayward, K. and Young, J. ( 2007 )Cultural Criminology, in, Maguire, M. , Morgan, R. and Reiner, R. ( Eds. )TheOxfordHandbook of Criminology: Fourth EditionOxford: Oxford University Press

Joyce, P. ( 2006 )Condemnable Justice: An Introduction to Crime and the Criminal Justice SystemUffculme: Willan Printing

Morrison, F. ( 1995 )Theoretical Criminology: From Modernity to Post ModernismLondon and New York: Routledge

Murfee Lanier, M and Henry, S. ( 2004 )Essential Criminology: Second EditionBoulder, CO: Westview Imperativeness

Newburn, T. ( 2007 )CriminologyUffculme: Willan Printing

Walklate, S. ( 2005 )Criminology: The BasicssLondon and New York: Routledge

Young, J. ( 2002 )Critical Criminology in the Twenty First Century: Critique, Irony and the Always Unfinished, in, Carrington, K. and Hogg, R. ( Eds. )Critical Criminology: Issues, Debates and ChallengesUffculme: Willan Printing