Theory analysis Essay Example

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2007CCJ Sociology of Crime

Assignment 2

Sykes and Matza’s Techniques of Neutralisation

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Number of Words: 1,180

Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralisation in relation to domestic violence

Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralization (1957) is a theory that claims delinquents hold conventional beliefs and values that their behaviour is wrong, but they justify their deviant behaviour through unrecognized extension of defences. The offenders maintain that there is no much difference between the cultural universes of the delinquent and the law- abiding, between the ‘deviant’ and the ‘normal’. Any thrall of conventional values is neutralized by a series of normative techniques outlined by Sykes and Matza in 1957. This essay examines how Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralisation can be applied in explaining domestic violence. It begin by outlining Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralisation, then discusses what constitutes to domestic violence, and finally applies the techniques in explaining this delinquent behaviour.

According to Ferrell, Hayward & Young (2008, p. 39), the techniques enable the potential deliquescent to set aside the conventional values for a while, to temporarily loosen their bond to the social order and thus engage in deliquescent acts. They include: denial of responsibility — a claim that their acts were simply not their fault; denial of injury — a claim that their acts did not harm anyone; denial of the victim – a claim that victimization was deserved; condemnation of the condemner – a claim that authorities are hypocritical and are more corrupt than the offender; and appeal to higher loyalties – a claim that the offence was essential in defence of their gang. After creating such rationalization, individuals feel free to engage in delinquent acts without any serious damage to their self image or conscious.

What constitutes to domestic violence?

Domestic violence refers to a pattern of behaviour ranging from emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse to economic abuse and even homicide (Rapp-Paglicci, Roberts & Wodarski, 2002, p. 71). This delinquent behaviour is perpetrated by partners, husbands, wives in all sectors of the community and cuts across cultural, racial and economic strata. However, Jewkes (2002, p. 1423) argues that it is more prevalent against women than men. The ideologies of male superiority legitimise the disciplining of women since men regard them as appropriate vehicles through which they reconfirm their male power.

According to UNICEF (2000, p.2), domestic violence is one the most pervasive human rights violations that denies individuals security, equality, dignity, self-worth, and the right to enjoy their fundamental freedoms. Even though the causes of domestic violence seem to be complex, (UNICEF 2000, p.2; Jewkes 2002, p. 142) widely recognize it to be associated with relationship pressures such as unrealistic marriage expectations, jealousy and sexist attitudes; social pressures such as financial stress, unemployment, gambling and alcohol; and individual pressures such as inability to express feelings, inability to control anger and low self esteem.

Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralisation applies to domestic violence

The Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralisation constitute to a cultural work that is necessary for committing crimes, and create a narrative that particularizes and justifies a given act while leaving the larger moral prohibition in place. Thus, a delinquent motivation for domestic violence, for example, would not likely involve a sense that it should be universally accepted, but rather a sense that in particular circumstances a partner deserve the violence. Offenders in domestic violence can justify their deviant behaviour by using the five neutralization techniques (Walsh & Hemmens, 2010, p. 153).

Denial of responsibility: in this technique, the offender may claim to commit a crime due o forces beyond his or her control, and therefore, they are not accountable for the behaviour (Tibbetts & Hemmens, 2009). For instance, a man may excuse his behaviour of battering his wife by claiming that she usually abuses him.

Denial of injury: this is a neutralization technique where one claims that no one was hurt by the deviant behaviour and, therefore, it is of no concern to the community. Cahn (2009, p.55) gives an example of a man who denies hitting his wife. He says “Hit her? I did everything but I did not hit her.” The man denies injury of his behaviour. Another example is where an individual fails to acknowledge violence by ignoring the partner or cancelling allowances.

Denial of the victim: criminals neutralize their behaviour by maintaining that the victim was the wrong-doer. The offenders in domestic violence believe that if a person disrespects or disses the other partner, he or she deserves avenge even if it may cause a serious injury. According to (Walsh & Hemmens, 2010, p. 153), offenders admit that their actions involve injury but they justify them in the light of circumstances. For example, I beat her because she ‘cheated’ on me.

Condemnation of the condemner: the offenders claim that authorities are hypocrites and are motivated by their self righteousness and self-interest. By doing so, they repress their feelings that their own behaviour is wrong (Lilly, Ball & Cullen, 2010, p.104). One may argue that condemners are also involved in domestic violence since, for instance, it is common for a man to dominate a woman physically, sexually, economically or emotionally. According to Mildorf (2007), it is the ideology of male dominance which resort them into anger and frustration and ultimately lead them to engage in acts of domestic violence.

Appeal to higher loyalties: the offenders usually overlook the conventional norms and values of the society in favour of the beliefs or rules they have in their group (Lilly, Ball & Cullen, 2010, p.104). For instance, one may say ‘She misbehaved and so I beat her to maintain my status as the head of the house in accordance to our culture.’

Problems in the application of Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralisation to domestic violence

Whilst Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralisation can generally justify reasons for individuals engaging in domestic violence, it does not explain the cause of the antisocial behaviour. According to Burfeind & Bartusch (2010, p.156), the set of justifications only lessen the moral constraints, and thus, enabling the offender to drift in and out of the delinquent behaviour because they are able to rationalize these constraints.

Empirical tests carried out by researchers such as Agnew indicate that neutralisation theory is inconsistent (Tibbetts & Hemmens, 2009). Firstly, researchers and theorists note that some of the neutralisation techniques are difficult to measure as opposed to the commitment to unconventional norms and attitudes. Secondly, it may be possible that the criminal does not use the neutralisation techniques prior to their committing of the crime but rather after the criminal act.


Sykes and Matza’s neutralization theory is very useful in making justifications or rationalizations why individuals engage in deviant behaviours. Specifically, the theory is useful in explaining domestic violence because the offenders of can use the neutralization techniques such as denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of the victim, condemnation of the condemner, and appeal to higher loyalties to rationalize their delinquent behaviour. Regardless of its failure to discuss the causes of domestic violence, the theory gives justifications for the deviance as seen valid by the offenders and not by the legal system or the society.


Burfeind, J. & Bartusch, D. J. (2010). Juvenile Delinquency: An Integrated Approach. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning

Cahn, D. D. (2009). Family Violence: Communication Processes. Albany, NY:
SUNY Press.

Ferrell, J., Hayward, K. &Young, J. (2008). Cultural Criminology: An Invitation. London: SAGE Publications.

Jewkes, R. (2002). Violence against Women III: Intimate partner violence: causes and prevention, The Lancet 359 1423-1429

Lilly, J., Ball, A. & Cullen, F. (2010) Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. London: SAGE Publications.

Mildorf, J. (2007). Storying Domestic Violence: Constructions and Stereotypes of Abuse in the Discourse of General Practitioners. Nebraska, NY: U of Nebraska Press.

Rapp-Paglicci, L. A., Roberts, A. R. & Wodarski, J. S. (2002). Handbook of Violence. New York:
John Wiley and Sons.

Sykes, G. M. & Matza, D. (1957).Techniques of Neutralisation: A theory of Delinquency. American Sociological Review, 22 664-670.

Tibbetts, S. G & Hemmens, C. (2009). Criminological Theory: A Text/Reader. California: SAGE, 2009.

UNICEF (2000). Domestic Violence against Women and Girls. Innocenti Digest No. 6, 1-30.

Walsh, A. & Hemmens, C. (2010). Introduction to Criminology: A Text/Reader. California: SAGE Publications.