Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) general theory of crime claims to be applicable across time and space. This claim is evaluated using data from three types of Nigerian crime: normal, political-economic, and riotous. The theory’s logical, empirical, and theoretical flaws are identified and discussed. In reality, many people who act recklessly (and criminally) in Nigeria do not appear to fit the theory’s low self-control characterization. Unacknowledged value assumptions built into the theory undermine its claim to universality, both logically and theoretically.




Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) assert that their general theory of crime has universal status, meaning that it is applicable across time and space. They observe that cultural imbalance theories, which they define as theories that only apply to one culture, predominate in traditional comparative criminology. According to proponents of such theories, each culture has its own definition of crime as well as historically specific root causes of criminality and deviance. As a result, it is impossible to develop a theory that explains common criminogenic factors across cultures. Defying this logic, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) contend that: cultural variability is unimportant in the causation of crime, that we should look for consistency rather than variability in the definition and causes of crime, and that a single theory of crime is inadequate. can take into account the reality of cross-cultural differences in crime rates. 174-75 (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990) In Nigeria, there is no reliable and valid data on the patterns of crime and deviance. As a result, statistical analyses and tests of specific empirical claims and propositions within the theory cannot be used to evaluate the general theory. Rather, a broad critique is presented, examining how well the theory’s assumptions and logic fit the contexts and patterns of crime in Nigeria. This article contends that the universality claim is unsubstantiated for two reasons: (a) The diversity of crime in Nigeria makes it highly unlikely that one explanation fits all (except at a level of abstraction that cannot distinguish between types of behavior and, thus, does not apply). have a defined dependent variable); and, more importantly, (b) the theory’s basic concepts — force, fraud, opportunities, social consensus, deviance, prudence, and self-control — are saturated with culturally specific meanings. After being expelled from the theory by fiat, cultural imbalance creeps back in through the back door on many little definitional feet, like Robert Frost’s fog. To make this case, three broad categories of crime in Nigeria (normal, political-economic, and riotous)1 will be defined first. Second, the theories and explanations commonly associated by researchers and pundits with each type of crime will be evaluated, as will the ability of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) theory to explain the three types of crime. Finally, some of the general theory’s underlying limitations will be identified, and An integrated approach to crime research will be required.


1. Does the general theory of crime explain the crime patterns observed in Nigeria?
2. What does it explain and where does it fall short?
3. Which of its claims is more universalistic, and which more accurately reflects the contexts in which it was developed — observations of American crime and delinquency?
4 In short, do the general theory’s assumptions and logic support a claim to universality when examined in the context of a developing country (Nigeria in this case)?


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