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For Edwin Sutherland (in Principles Of Criminology, 1939 and White-Collar Crime, 1940), the individual, far from being born a criminal, or inheriting or imitating socially reprehensible behavior, learns to be a criminal. Sutherland, in his research on white-collar crime, concludes that deviant behavior cannot refer to dysfunctions or maladjustment of individuals of the lower class, but to the effective learning of criminal values that could occur in any culture.
The assumption of learning theory is given by the idea of differential social organization, which, in turn, will be connected with the conceptions of social conflict. In other words, Sutherland conceives of society as a conflictive and non-harmonious society, in what constitutes a no-minor finding in North American sociology.
A differential social organization means that in every society there are various associations structured around different interests and goals. The bond or nexus of the union that integrates individuals into such groups constitutes their real psychological substratum by sharing interests and projects that are freely communicated from one member to another and from generation to generation. Given that existing divergence in social organization, it is inevitable that many groups subscribe to and endorse criminal behavior models, that others adopt a neutral, indifferent position; and that others (the majority), face criminal values and profess the majority values of due compliance with the rules.
The so-called "differential association" will thus be a logical consequence of the learning process through associations of plural and conflictive society.
Sutherland, thus, subscribes to the interactionism of Mead and Dewey, rejecting the previously hegemonic behaviorism and basing learning on a process of interaction.
And it refers in practice to the theory of social conflict, which will later be developed by critical criminology, also from its studies on white-collar crimes, the first conceptual approach to the infractions of the powerful.
Sutherland, in short, evokes the theory of social conflict, which will later be developed by critical criminology.
In this logic, he maintains that crime is not inherited or imitated, but rather learned.
There are nine propositions that Sutherland handles regarding this learning:
1) Crime is learned, in the same way, and through the same mechanisms that virtuous behaviors are learned.
2) Criminal behavior is learned by interacting with other people, through a communication process.
3) The decisive part of this learning takes place within the most intimate relationships of the individual with his family and friends. The criminogenic influence depends on the degree of intimacy of interpersonal contact. Depending on this communication process that occurs within the framework of intimacy, the influence of the media is very relative, since family relationships are daily experiences that are interpreted through constant interaction and contribute more importantly. Effective for the individual to overcome the barriers of social control and assume criminal values.
4) Learning criminal behavior includes the techniques of committing crimes (be they simple or complex), motives and impulses, language -argot- and other symbols and instruments of communication in the criminal world are also learned, as well as the own rationalization of the "neutralization techniques".
5) The specific direction of motives and impulses is learned from the most varied definitions of legal precepts, favorable or unfavorable to them.
6) A person becomes a criminal when the definitions favorable to breaking the law outweigh the unfavorable ones that tend to comply with it.
7) The associations and differential contacts of the individual may be different according to their frequency, duration, priority, and intensity. These are complex processes of interaction and communication, for which, logically, lasting and frequent contacts have a greater, pedagogical influence than other fleeting or occasional ones. The younger the age of the socialized and the stronger the prestige of the socialization agents, the more significant the learning.
8) The learning process of criminal behavior implies and entails that of all the mechanisms inherent to any learning process.
9) Although criminal conduct is an expression of general needs and values, however, it cannot be explained as the realization of them, since conduct by law also responds to identical needs and values.
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