Sykes and Matza wanted to build upon Arthur Sutherland’s Differential Association theory which states that an individual learns criminal behavior through “(a) techniques of committing crimes and (b) motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes” which go against law-abiding actions (Sykes and Matza, 1957:664).  These techniques reduce the social controls over the delinquent and are also more applicable to specific juveniles.  Neutralization is defined as a technique, which allows the person to rationalize or justify a criminal act.  There are five techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victim, condemnation of the condemners, and the appeal to higher loyalties. 

Denial of responsibility is a technique used when the deviant act was caused by an outside force. This technique goes beyond looking at the criminal act as an accident.  The individual feels that they are drawn into the situation, ultimately becoming helpless.  These juveniles feel that their abusive families, bad neighborhoods and delinquent peers predispose them to criminal acts.  A common statement used  “It was not my fault.”

 

Denial of injury occurs when the criminal act causes no harm to the victim.  Criminal acts are deemed deviant in terms of whether or not someone got hurt.  Using this technique the delinquent views stealing as merely borrowing and views gang fighting as a private argument between consenting and willing participants.  The use of this technique is reaffirmed in the minds of these juveniles when society does not look at certain acts, such as skipping school or performing practical jokes, as criminal, but merely accepts them as harmless acts.  “I assumed that a criminal action meant hurting someone, we did not hurt anyone” (Coleman, 1987:411).




Denial of victim is used when the crime is viewed as a punishment or revenge towards a deserving person.  This technique may be used by those who attack homosexuals or minority groups.  “They deserve it.”  This is also glorified in the stories about the character Robin Hood and his actions involving stealing from the rich.

 

The technique called the condemnation of the condemners, also known as rejection of the rejectors by McCorkle and Korn (1954), places a negative image on those who are opposed to the criminal behavior.  The juvenile ends up displacing his/her deviant behavior on those they are victimizing and also viewing the condemners as hypocrites, such as corrupt police and judges.

 

The appeal to higher loyalties technique is used when the person feels they must break the laws of the overall community to benefit their small group/family.  This technique comes into play when a juvenile gets into trouble because of trying to help or protecting a friend or family member. 

 

Matza and Sykes based their theory on four basic facts seen in society.

 

1)     Many delinquents feel or express remorse and guilt because of the criminal act.

2)     Delinquents frequently show respect for those citizens who are law-abiding.

3)     There is a limit to whom they victimize, they must distance themselves form their victims.

4)     Delinquents can be effected by their surroundings and are susceptible to conformity.

(Sykes and Matza, 1057:665)


 

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