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What Have We Learned from Five Decades of Neutralization Research?

Maruna, Shadd
June 4, 2015

Source: (2005) Crime and Justice. 32: 221-320.

Neutralization theory, though a popular framework for understanding deviant behavior, remains badly underdeveloped. Few attempts have been made to connect
it to narrative and sociocognitive research in psychology and related fields.
From this wider perspective, one reason neutralization theory has received only
mixed empirical support is that it has been understood as a theory of criminal
etiology. This makes little sense (how can one neutralize something before they
have done it?) and makes the theory difficult to test. Neutralization should
instead be seen as playing a role in persistence in or desistance from criminal
behavior. The theory’s central premises need to be substantially complicated.
The notions that all excuses or justifications are “bad” and that reform
involves “accepting complete responsibility” for one’s actions are not tenable. Author’s abstract.


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