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Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency
Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency

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4 Similarities and differences between the approaches

The differences between the psychological approach and the sociological approach are very significant. But the two approaches also share some important things in common.

Activity 10

Can you think of any similarities between these two approaches?


We have identified these common features of the approaches:

  • They share a basic social science approach in which evidence (of different sorts) is assessed and analysed.
  • They share a commitment to treating social phenomena as capable of being analysed and explained systematically.
  • They both involve the use of theories (structured explanations) and concepts (key explanatory ideas) in the construction of an analysis and argument.
  • They understand that presenting an analysis is also to be engaged in an argument (with other approaches and explanations).
  • They share a concern with the problem of understanding contemporary social issues that are seen as being of considerable public importance. In particular, they view delinquency/deviance/disorder as posing vital questions for social science study.
  • Both approaches more often focus on the behaviour of men, rather than women.
  • Both approaches construct analyses using evidence (even if the evidence they use is very different).

Activity 11

Given the way the course is structured, it is probably easier to draw out points of difference between the two approaches. Can you think of any differences?


The differences between the psychological approach and the sociological approach might include:

  • They start from different questions (explaining delinquency versus explaining social control).
  • Psychological approaches see deviancy as originating from the individual, whereas social control theorists see deviancy as originating from social control processes and the creation of rules that classify certain behaviours (and certain people) as being deviant.
  • The psychological approach investigates risk factors for delinquency, such as personality, family background and poverty. By contrast, social control theorists focus on the processes involved for those labelled as being deviant, whether they live up to the label and follow a deviant career.
  • Psychologists assume there are sets of behaviour that are deviant or classified as crimes, and people may have long-term or short-term risk factors to commit crimes. However, social control theorists are interested in how the definition of deviancy may change over time, as societal norms change. Studying control provides an understanding of social order, its rules and norms.
  • The psychological approach assumes that there is a group of people who are deviant or commit crimes, compared to a ‘normal’ group. In contrast, social control analysts suggest that it is not the people who are deviant, rather they have been labelled as deviant, and make a distinction between those labelled as committing deviant behaviour or those who are labelled as being in ‘high spirits’.
  • The majority of psychological research has tended to focus on white, working-class males and to develop theories from their findings. In contrast, the social control approach suggests that children from higher income families may be as likely to commit deviancy or crime (from vandalism, truancy and drug use through to corporate crime), although working-class youth and those from minority ethnic groups may be more likely to be arrested or stopped and searched.
  • According to the ICAP theory, if some people are more at risk of committing crime, then programmes can be developed to try and minimise them and prevent deviancy or crime. In social control studies, we learn about social order by studying the process of making and applying rules. Such studies tell us how society works – especially in how it views and tries to control disorder.
  • They tend to use different methods, and as a result, use different sorts of evidence.
  • The approaches make use of and develop different theories, and perhaps have different views of the uses of social science.

Let us just return to the first point of difference here – that they start from different questions – because many of the other differences flow from this starting point.