Notes on Thorsten selling’s Theory of Crime
Thorsten selling’s Theory
Thorsten Sellin in his article “Culture Conflict and Crime” (1938) presented an analysis of the role of culture conflict in crime causation. Sellin says that crime is caused by conflicts among norms.
He suggests that criminologists should study crime not as ‘violation of law’ but as ‘violation of conduct norms’, which are the rules that prohibit persons from acting in a certain specified way in certain circumstances.
Such norms are not necessarily embedded in the criminal law, and if they are not, their violation should not be termed crime. Sellin says: “This extension of the meaning of the term is not desirable.
It is wiser to retain the term ‘crime’ for the offence made punishable by the criminal law and to use the term ‘abnormal conduct’ for the violation of norms whether legal or not” (ibid.-. 30-32).
Sellin has further said that in the study of conduct, it is necessary to think of culture conflict as a conflict of conduct norms. Such conflict may arise as a result of a process of differentiation within a cultural system or area or as a result of contact between norms drawn from different cultural systems or areas.
We may study these conflicts either by an investigation of the person in whom the conflict is assumed to be internalised or by a study of violations in groups or areas within which the conflicts are assumed to occur.
Sellin distinguished between ‘primary conflict’ and ‘secondary conflict’. The former is the conflict of culture norms when two different cultures clash, while the latter occurs within the evolution of a single culture. The first is illustrated by a man from Italy who, while living in America killed the man who seduced his adolescent daughter.
The father was surprised to be arrested because in his country, such an act by a father was the expected behaviour for the purpose of defending the honour of the family. But in the United States, it was a crime.
This is a case of conflict between the norms of two different cultures. The second type of conflict occurs during the normal growth of cultures from homogeneous to heterogeneous.
The criticism against this approach is that identification and measurement of such conduct norms is very difficult.