Through the lenses of differential association theory, Brandi’s behavior is not deviant or moral on itself. More specifically, Brandi’s behavior is perceived as problematic because the social group that is in power at that moment in time defines smoking as a deviant act (Tittle, Burke & Jackson, 1986), more importantly, smoking on the school territory. Brandi thus is just the part of the group that is in the position of subordination and the activities she engages in are defined as deviant. The theory is helpful in terms of explaining why specific behaviors are defined as deviant, yet the differential association theory cannot provide theoretical explanation of why certain types of behaviors have been defined as deviant universally throughout the history, regardless of the social group that was in power at that time.
As to social learning theory, Brandi’s behavior should be explained as a result of her observing and learning the environment that encourages anti-social and deviant behavior (Houts & Kassab, 1997). As it has been mentioned in the case study, Brandi, regardless of being a straight-A student and a helpful daughter, was friends with two girls who demonstrated deviant behavior. As a result of her socialization in this group, she adopted some anti-social behaviors herself. While social learning theory might explain how individuals ‘learn’ to become criminals, it does not focus on individual variations in criminal involvement. Specifically, the theory does not explain why some individuals do not commit crimes, regardless of being socialized in the environment that encourages criminal activity.
In my opinion, social learning theory’s focus on peer pressure explains juvenile delinquency today better, if compared to differential association theory. From this perspective, in order to tackle the problem of high crime rates among young people, it might be helpful to pay a closer attention to media content given that media is an important channel of socialization today.
- Houts, S., & Kassab, C. (1997). Rotter’s Social Learning Theory and Fear of Crime: Differences by Race and Ethnicity. Social Science Quarterly (University Of Texas Press), 78(1), 122-136.
- Tittle, C. R., Burke, M. J., & Jackson, E. F. (1986). Modeling Sutherland’s Theory of Differential Association: Toward an Empirical Clarification. Social Forces, 65(2), 405.