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Social Bond Theory - The Social Bond theory was created by Travis Hirschi in 1969. Social Bond theory, that later developed into the Social Control Theory, has historically been an interesting way of approaching social problems and how we in turn explain them. Before one can apply the Social Bond theory, they must first have a firm understanding of its definition, which can be accurately described by Hirschi (1969) as, “Elements of social bonding include attachment to families, commitment to social norms and institutions (school, employment), involvement in activities, and the belief that these things are important” (p.16). This theory is rooted and derived from the General Theory of Crime.The basic difference between the General Theory of Crime and Hirschi’s (1969) Social Bond Theory is the focus on peers and peer groups of individuals. The four basic elements of social bond theory are attachment, commitment, involvement in conventional versus deviant or criminal activities, and lastly the common value system within an individual’s society or subgroup. Attachment is described as the level of values and or norms that an individual holds in society. Attachment is especially important when it come to the person’s parental figures. . According to Hirschi (1969) other attachments, such as school, play a tremendous role in conventional society. School has tended to be a middle to upper class involvement since it was first created. The middle class children tend to make fun of or demoralize the lower class children. This treatment also does not just come from the child it also comes directly from the institution, through the teacher. In combination with each other the person starts to resent school at the earliest point. This resentment also hinders the continuation of further education. This comes full circle to the lower class standard of living for generations to come (Hirschi, 1969). Next is commitment, this can be described as the level of commitment that an individual has to abide by legal behavior (Burton, Cullen, Evans, Dunaway, Kethineni, and Gary, 1995). The norms and values taught to us as an adolescent should be to obey how society works in normal terms. From very early in our lives we hopefully learn the difference between “right” and “wrong”. This understanding has an enormous effect on how we turn out and set our place in normal society. For example, if a child is raised in a home where drugs are bought, sold, and used regularly, then that child has a greater chance of having involvement with drugs in the future. Also, the “bond” between mother, father, and child in a normal nuclear family, is very strong, this in turn has made a blue print of an entire adult life on the child. Third, is a person’s choice to get involved in conventional versus deviant behavior. This choice is formed not far after basic rules of life are taught. If no “right and wrong” basis are formed or provided the adolescent will make the decision that tends to make the most sense. This also ties into family involvement in the person’s life. LastlyThis in many ways senses directly correlates many factors or aspects of the four main parts of Hirschi’s (1969) theory. Together they form the backbone of the everlasting “bond” theory. Social Bond Theory has long been a widely accepted among many sociologists for a variety of reasons. The fact that bonds exist in all aspects of society means that the relation of these bonds can be readily discussed. Hirschi (1969) bases his theory on the means that social bonds do exist and when a bond is weakened or broken then unusual behavior for that individual may occur. This brings me to a profound quote by Durkheim (1969):


“The more weakened the groups to which [the individual] belongs, the less he depends on them, the more he consequently depends only on himself and recognizes no other rules of conduct then what are formed on his private interests” (p.17).Like I have previously discussed, there are many positive aspects of Hirschi’s (1969) bond theory. However, like many things there are weaknesses in it. One element of weakness of Hirschi’s (1969) bond theory is that he makes little or no distinction of importance of each of the elements of his social bond. Some recent research suggests that there may be differences between each of the elements that he names. A number of adolescents that are involved in criminal activity report high levels of “involvement”, which according to Hirschi (1969) are supposed to reduce delinquency. When young adults are involved with criminal behaviors outside of the home it is possible that parental control weakens or that young adults just have more opportunity to commit crime. Following this are deviant peers and parents. Hirschi (1969) concludes that any type of social attachment is beneficial, event to deviant peers and parents. In contradiction to himself this in turn supports and nurtures antisocial behavior. Michael Hindeland (1973) found that attachment to delinquent peers escalated rather then restricted criminality. Many studies have even gone to prove that young adults with drug abusive parents have a greater chance of being abusers them selves (Burton; Cullen; Evans; Dunaway; Kethineni; Payne, 1995). If an individual has peers, family members, or associates that are deviant this may motivate youths to commit crimes and also facilitate an antisocial behavior (Cullen; Carrozza; Wright, p.253). The simple fact that bonds change over time has been overlooked by Hirschi (1969) on many occasions. Weak bonds shared with parents lead to delinquency, while strong bonds to peers lead to also lead to delinquency (LaGrange and Raskin, 1985). Some other bonds that come to mind might be the family structure that America shares in contemporary society. We now see more and more single family households, and same sex households. An indirect result of how certain households affects an individual have just began to been studied, there are conflicting views as to whether these certain households are beneficial or deleterious. This is a weakness because the ideas are skewed in both directions and a consensus has not been reached. It is a fact that many different races and ethnicities exist in America today and that there are many different ways to live life. When Hirschi (1969) conducted his research and recorded his findings he based it upon what he thought the typical family was which was white. Different cultures have different beliefs and what might be predictable or normal to one might not in another. Since bonds are stronger in certain kinds of lifestyles the affects will be different in all cases. The results of family ties will result in different “blueprints” of different people. A strong family could keep them going in the right direction but, too strong could also cause adverse affects. Like many studies these results have to be taken into a case by case basis. Another one of the major weaknesses of Social Bond Theory is the definitions that are used to describe the main concepts of the theory. The empirical effects of a skewed definition or biased definition could alter all results that come directly from it. How one definition is represented and another definition is seen can make all the difference in the world. Tof substances in these homeless people’s lives are a normative occurrence. As described above this is a study done entirely on the homeless in America and those of which who suffered from substance abuse. According to Burt (1992), it is estimated that 20 out of every 10,000 of the homeless in America have substance abuse problems with either drugs or alcohol, and 15 of those are lifelong. In recent findings, according to the Nationhe topic of journal selection is a study done by Stephanie Hartwell (1999) of the University of Massachusetts. The studies will focus on the characteristics of the homeless populations in America. Hartwell (2000) has estimated that between 20% and 80% of the homeless in America has a substance abuse problem. Throughout Hartwell’s (year) article she applies Hirschi’s (1969) Social Bond Theory in a qualitative study of a total of 31 homeless male substance users from New Haven. The participants were interviewed twice, once in 1992 and a second time in 1993. Basically the results showed a non-normative attachment to families, friends, and institutions where little or no commitment to conventional goals or norms. The conclusion of the study found that the uses al Institute of Health (NIH 1988) and the Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism approximately 20 million Americans abuse drugs and or alcohol (Fisher, 1989; Fisher and Breakey, 1991; Institute of Medicine, 1988; Spinner and Leaf, 1992; Stahler and Cohen, 1995; Susser et al., 1989). The conclusion of this article stated that members of the homeless society have utilized elements of Hirschi’s (1969) social bond theory long past their adolescent years. Consistent evidence shows that attachments to the families are primary and shape the commitment to activities, social life, and social location (Hartwell, 1999). Basically, the homeless men could have chosen many paths in their younger years but, because of a volatile family structure they choose the “wrong” path. The home was not considered a shelter for the young men and for this reason they spent more time on the streets. After growing for some time, the men began to participate less in leisurely activates but drug use. When the men were asked of friends they tend to always associate them with either drugs or alcohol experiences they have had not healthy social bonds with peers. In most of these men’s lives they were at one point or another failing as a father, brother, etc. relationship figure and because of the stresses this causes they revert back to the substance abuse. Based on the findings and the direct relation to Hirschi’s (1969) Social Bond Theory, one can make a decision that there is a supportive correlation between the two. A few ideas can be proposed to either control or improve the current homeless agenda in America. The first would be to create more employment opportunities and employment options for the underprivileged. The society as a whole should make more of an effort to strengthen the family ties we share and therefore strengthening society as a whole. Next the schools need to encourage and engage children in all aspects. The government can do its part to focus on improvement of schools in poverty ridden areas (Hartwell, 2000). The earlier the children are approached in some fascists of life the stronger impact we can have on them. The resources given to the poorer schools can be considered an “investment” of sorts, you invest into the children while they are young then as adults you get a great return. Adults that were predestined to continue a poor lifestyle have a much greater chance of breaking the forces pulling them down and keeping them down. The last improvement that can be implemented would be to offer lower costs and still decent housing. Hartwell (2000) proposes that we examine our current role of emergency shelters. Shelters provide great places for educational forums and those that stay in shelters could benefit from health, job training, and money management programs. As good as Hartwell’s (1999) is it like most has some weak points, first would be the location of the study. The sample size is very small and not enough long term results were taken into account. A remedy to this might be to do small studies like this all around the U.S., you then can get a much greater census of the overall populous.


References*Burt, M. (1992). Over the Edge: The growth of homelessness in the 1980s. New York: The Russell Sage Foundation Urban Institute Press.

  • Fisher, P. (1989). Estimating prevalence of alcohol, drug and mental health problems in the contemporary homeless population: a review of the literature. Contemporary Drug Problems 16:333–390.
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  • Hartwell, S. W. (1999). The working life of homeless street addicts. The Journal of Substance Use 4(1):10–15.
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  • Hartwell, S. W. (2000). Not all work is created equal: homeless substance abusers and marginal employment. Research in the Sociology of Work 9:115–125.
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  • Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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  • Institute of Medicine. (1988). Homelessness, Health, and Human Needs. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
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  • Leaf, P. J., Thompson, K. S., Lam, J. A., Jekel, J. F., Armand, E. T., Evans, A. E., Martinez, J. S., Rodriguez, C., Westman, W. C., Johnston, P., Rowe, M., Hartwell, S., Blue, H., Harp, T. (1993). Partnerships in recovery: shelter-based services for homeless cocaine abusers: New Haven. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 10:77–90.
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  • Susser, E., Struening, E. L., Conover, S. (1989). Psychiatric problems in homeless men. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 46:845–850.
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  • Vander Ven, Cullen, Carrozza, and Wright, “Home Alone”: The impact of maternal employment on delinquency,”p.253.
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  • Velmer Burton, Francis Cullen, T. David Evans, R.Gregory Dunaway, Sesha Kethineni, and Gary Payne,” The impact of Partial Controls on Delinquency,” Journal of Criminal Justice 23(1995):111-126.
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  • Michael Hindelang,”Causes of Delinquency: A partial Replica and Extension,” Social Problems 21(1973):471-487.
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  • Randy LaGrage and Helene Raskin White,” Age Differs in Delinquency: A test of theory,”Crininology 23 (1985):19-45.
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