What Are the Branches of Social Process Theory Used in Criminology?


Vincent White

What Are the Branches of Social Process Theory Used in Criminology?

In the field of criminology, social process theory is a prominent framework used to understand the causes and dynamics of criminal behavior. This theory posits that individuals become criminals as a result of social interactions, learning, and their environment. Social process theory encompasses several branches that provide different perspectives on how these processes occur.

Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory focuses on how individuals acquire criminal behavior through observation and imitation. This branch suggests that people learn criminal attitudes, values, and behaviors by observing others, particularly those they admire or respect. These learned behaviors may be reinforced through rewards or punishments, shaping an individual’s propensity for criminal activities.

Social Control Theory

Social Control Theory examines why individuals conform to societal norms and rules, focusing on the factors that influence self-control and conformity. This branch proposes that individuals who have weak bonds to conventional society are more likely to engage in criminal behavior. These bonds include attachment to family, commitment to education or career goals, involvement in community activities, and belief in moral values.

Labeling Theory

Labeling Theory explores how societal reactions to deviant behavior can contribute to the development of criminal identities. According to this branch of social process theory, when an individual is labeled as a deviant or criminal by society, it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where they internalize this identity and continue engaging in criminal behaviors.

Differential Association Theory

Differential Association Theory emphasizes the role of peer groups and social interactions in shaping an individual’s propensity for crime. This branch suggests that individuals become criminals when their associations with others who engage in criminal behavior outweigh their interactions with law-abiding individuals. The frequency, intensity, and duration of these associations are crucial factors in influencing criminal behavior.

Routine Activities Theory

Routine Activities Theory examines the convergence of three key elements that contribute to criminal opportunities: a motivated offender, a suitable Target, and the absence of capable guardianship. This branch suggests that crime occurs when these three elements intersect in time and space. Changes in societal patterns, such as increased urbanization or a rise in technological advancements, can influence the occurrence of criminal activities.


In summary, social process theory is a multifaceted framework used in criminology to understand how individuals become involved in criminal behavior. The branches of social process theory provide different perspectives on the processes through which criminality is learned, reinforced, and perpetuated within society.

Social learning theory focuses on observation and imitation, social control theory examines conformity and self-control factors, labeling theory explores societal reactions to deviant behavior, differential association theory emphasizes peer influence, while routine activities theory analyzes the convergence of criminal opportunities. By studying these branches collectively, criminologists gain valuable insights into understanding and addressing the complexities of crime.