chapter  5
A Symbolic Interactionist Theory of Role-Transitions, Role-Commitments, and Delinquency
ByMatsueda Rose L., Heimer Karan
Pages 52

Recent criminological research has emphasized the importance of viewing crime and delinquency within the framework of the life-course or life-span development (Hagan and Palloni 1988; Elliott, Huizinga, and Menard 1989; Loeber and Le Blanc 1990; Sampson and Laub 1992, 1993; Farrington 1992). A life-course perspective opens new puzzles and questions for the study of deviance, such as the role of pathways, trajectories, and life-course transitions in deviance, hypotheses about duration-dependent processes, questions about ontogenetic versus sociogenic causal mechanisms, and issues in modeling longitudinal data. The empirical research on these topics suggest that trajectories, pathways, and transitions are important, and that a general theory of crime should incorporate a life-course view (Sampson and Laub 1992, 1993; Farrington 1992; Hagan and Wheaton 1993). This chapter explores the potential contribution of symbolic interactionism to a life-course theory of crime. We argue that such a view provides a theory of the meaning of life-course transitions and a situational theory of the mechanisms by which such transitions translate into criminal acts. It also provides a slant on 164 the ontogenetic-sociogenic debate, and can help specify duration-dependent hypotheses about crime. The remainder of this chapter is divided into three parts: First, we briefly review the importance of a life-course perspective in crime and delinquency, highlighting important issues, theoretical questions, and tentative empirical findings. Next, we sketch a symbolic interactionist approach to crime in the life course. Third, we apply the theory to three stages of the life course: early child development, adolescence, and adulthood.