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SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY AND PRACTICE: THE CASE OF CRIMINOLOGY Ronald L. Akers University o Florida f ABSTRACT Issues in the application o sociological...

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SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY AND PRACTICE: THE CASE OF CRIMINOLOGY Ronald L. Akers University of Florida ABSTRACT Issues in the application of sociological theory to practice in the control, prevention, and treatment of criminal and delinquent behavior are reviewed. The validity of the distinction between applied and pure sociology in the case of criminology is questioned. Application of theory occurs not only in the formal criminal justice system but also in the informal system of private and public practice directed toward criminal and deviant behavior. Moral and ethical values are necessarily implicated in any policy orpractice, as illustrated in a hypothetical program for segregation and insulation of youth for delinquency prevention. An outline, with some examples, of what would be involved in reviewing the application of theory to the control, prevention, and treatment of criminal or delinquent behavior and the implications ofpractice for theory is given. A very basic, perhaps the basic, question in applied sociology or applied criminology is how do theory and practice inter-relate? By practice I mean any more or less systematic efforts to change or modify individual or group behavior, social situations, or social systems whatever its form --- policy, procedures, treatment, therapy, correction, or reform by any public, governmental, or private organization or entity. I focus here on the application of theories of crime and deviance to do something about criminal, delinquent, or deviant behavior, including efforts to control, prevent, modify, or change offending behavior andor the behavior of the law, criminal justice, and social control systems. However, the analysis could be relevant to any area of theory and practice in sociology, criminology, or other socialhehavioral sciences. The intent here is to review and clarify some long-standing issues surrounding the application of sociological theory in criminology, in criminal justice, and to prevention and treatment of criminal and deviant behavior. Journal ofApplied Sociology/Sociological Practice, Vol. 22 No. 11 Vol. 7 No. 1, Spring 2005: 24-41 0 Society for Applied Sociology and the Sociological Practice Association 24 at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on April 25, 2016 Downloaded from
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Akers: Theory and Practice HOW VALID IS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN APPLIED AND PURE SOCIOLOGY? As a sociologist of crime and deviance one of the claims that I have often been confronted with from some academic colleagues is that criminology is “too applied.“ It is cops and robbers and really just “criminal justice.” It is not real sociology, they argue, because it involves no basic theory and research.’ One colleague made the distinction by regularly referring to himself as “a thinker not a tinkerer,” with the former clearly preferred to the latter. My response to these kind of remarks has always been that, on the contrary, criminology is very theoretical (perhaps the most theoretical of all of the sociological specialties) and that research on criminal behavior and the criminal justice system is basic socialhehavioral science research. A colleague once told me, “YOU are an applied sociologist while I am theorist who is interested in basic theory and explanation of society and behavior.” He said this because to him any criminologist, by definition, is an applied sociologist. I responded that I would be glad to compare his research and writing with mine, or any number of other criminologists, at any time so that he could enlighten me as to how our sociology was applied and non-theoretical and his was basic and theoretical. He refused the invitation. But truly, I have never considered it to be a major issue and have no problem with being defined as an applied sociologist. Further, I agree that criminology may be fairly characterized as applied in the sense that any time one studies a social problem that can be approached from any number of disciplines and perspectives one is applying abstract knowledge to a substantive problem. If theory is to earn its bread and butter, it should be applied and if practice is to earn its bread and butter, it should be theoretically informed. Sound practice draws upon abstract knowledge and theory, which in turn is informed by that application. On the other hand, I have had police officers, correctional personnel, probation and parole officers, and sometimes even treatment staff complain that the academic side of the field is too abstract, too theoretical, and has nothing practical to contribute toward knowing what to do about crime and criminals. In fact, some academic colleagues and students tried to draw a division between criminology as purely sociological explanations of criminal behavior and criminal justice as addressing the real world of crime and its control. At one institution to which I was invited as a short-term visiting professor some years ago, the graduate students and some of the faculty drew a clear distinction between graduate studies in “criminology” and graduate studies in “criminal justice.” The two were defined as separate fields of study, and the 25 at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on April 25, 2016 Downloaded from
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The article was written by Ronald Akers who examines or reviews how
sociological theories are put in practice to control, prevent and treat
delinquent and criminal behaviour. The basic question in...

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