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date: 18 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

Developmental and life-course theories of crime are collectively characterized by their goal of explaining the onset, persistence, and desistance of offending behavior over the life-course. Researchers working within this framework are interested not just in offending but also in the broader category of antisocial behavior. Their research aims to investigate the development of offending and antisocial behavior throughout life; risk and protective factors that predict this development; the effects of life events; and the intergenerational transmission of offending and antisocial behavior. While there have been a number of developmental and life-course theories of crime, the more influential and empirically tested ones include Sampson and Laub’s age-graded informal social control theory and Moffitt’s typological model of life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited offending. While developmental and life-course criminology has come to be viewed a single type or grouping of criminology, there are distinctions between the more sociological life-course perspectives and the more psychological developmental perspectives. These are a result of the disciplinary training of the individuals working in the field and are reflected in the types of variables examined and the theoretical explanations developed and applied to explain the relationships. The broader life-course perspective focuses on the examination of human lives over time, with an understanding that “changing lives alter developmental trajectories,” according to Glen Elder in his 1998 work. Life-course approaches to studying human development are not unique to criminology and are represented within many disciplines, such as medicine and epidemiology. There are four central themes of the life-course paradigm: the interplay of human lives and historical times; the timing of lives; linked or interdependent lives; and human agency in making choices. Therefore the life-course perspective within criminology focuses on the examination of criminal behavior within these contexts. Given its sociological origins, life-course theoretical explanations tend to focus more on social processes and structures and their impact on crime. Developmental perspectives within criminology tend to be more psychological in nature, and its theoretical explanations tend to focus more on individual characteristics and the impact of familial processes on the individual. Both of these perspectives require longitudinal data, that is, data collected over time for each individual. Collectively, developmental and life-course criminology allow for the examination of: within-individual changes over time; the impact of critical life events; the importance of the social environment; and pathways, transitions and turning points.

Keywords: developmental, life-course, theory, turning points, onset, persistence, desistance

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