In This Article Integrated Theory

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Critical Critiques of Integrated Theory

Criminology Integrated Theory
Del Elliot
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0135


Integrated theories are theories that combine the concepts and central propositions from two or more prior existing theories into a new single set of integrated concepts and propositions. Integration can take several forms. Conceptual integration involves an absorption strategy, arguing that concepts from one theory have the same meaning as concepts from another theory and combining them into a common language and set of concepts. Propositional integration involves combining or linking propositions from one or more theories into a single, unified and consistent set of propositions. Conceptual integration is very common in theory development and a review of this type of integration essentially would involve a general review of criminological theory. Propositional integration, as a distinct development strategy is relatively rare and recent and is the subject of this online bibliography. In some instances propositional integration is based on theory commonalities and in others it involves integrating competing theories. The number of theories combined currently ranges from two to four and there is substantial variation in the structure of the proposed integration. Structural arrangements typically take one of four forms: arranging theories (propositions) end-to-end, side-by-side, up and down, and some combination of these forms. The most common form of integration involves combining social control and social learning theories. Proponents view theory integration as an alternative strategy for theory development and testing that addresses some of the limitations of the more traditional competition strategy. They also claim increased levels of explanatory power compared to that of the individual theories combined and greater inclusiveness in types of criminal behavior explained. There is a lively debate about the nature and efficacy of this strategy, the structure and coherence of specific formulations, and the level of empirical support for specific integrated theories.

General Overviews

Introductory criminology texts typically include a chapter or major part of a chapter discussing the integrated theory strategy and specific theories. Brown, et al. 2010 provides a good overview of integrated theory for undergraduates. Akers and Sellers 2004 and Kubrin, et al. 2009 provide a deeper review and critique more suitable for graduate-level courses. The chapter in Kubrin, et al. 2009 is the most detailed overview of integrated theory. The collected papers from two conferences on integrated theory have been published. Messner, et al. 1989 provides the most complete single source of information about integrated theory, including critical reviews, new proposed theoretical formulations, and an analysis of theoretical integrations at different levels (micro, macro, and cross-level) of explanation. The second collection of papers in Farrington, et al. 1993 focuses more narrowly on cross-level integration. Both of these volumes are appropriate for graduate-level courses. Muftić 2009 provides a comprehensive review of the history of theory integration, including conceptual as well as propositional forms. Liska, et al. 1989 discusses different integration strategies and provides in-depth reviews of more specific issues raised about the general assumptions and objectives of the integration strategy, and Thornberry 1989 compares the advantages and disadvantages of the integration strategy and provides a key definition of integrated theory.

  • Akers, Ronald, and Christine Sellers. 2004. Criminological theories, introduction, evaluation and application. 4th ed. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

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    Chapter 12 provides an overview of the integration strategy, a description and critique of specific integrated theories, and an overall assessment of how successful this strategy has been in criminology

  • Brown, Steven E., Finn-Aage Esbensen, and Gilbert Geis. 2010. Criminology: Explaining crime and its context. 7th ed. New Providence, NJ: Matthew Bender.

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    Chapter 10 presents one of the more comprehensive reviews of the integration strategy and several specific theories in an introductory text. It also discusses the policy implications and applications of integrated theories.

  • Farrington, David P., Robert J. Sampson, and Per-Olof Wikström, eds. 1993. Integrating individual and ecological aspects of crime. Revised papers presented at a workshop held at Johannesburg, Sweden, in September 1992. Stockholm: National Council for Crime Prevention.

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    A collection of papers from a workshop in Sweden in 1992 focusing on the integration of individual social developmental and ecological theories of crime. Specific papers review the evidence for individual-level developmental and macro-level ecological theories, propose new attempts to integrate individual and ecological theories, discuss methods for achieving this type of cross-level integration, and identify the key issues involved in this type of integration.

  • Kubrin, Charis E., Thomas D. Stucky, and Marvin D. Krohn. 2009. Researching theories of crime and deviance. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A general review of criminological theory. Chapter 10 is devoted to integrated theory and provides an intellectual history of theory development and the different strategies used for testing theory that led up to the integration strategy. Different structural arrangements employed by integrated theories are described and examples of each are provided along with a review of the debate about the value of the integration strategy.

  • Liska, Allen E., Marvin D. Krohn, and Steven F. Messner. 1989. Strategies and requisites for theoretical integration in the study of crime and delinquency. In Theoretical integration in the study of deviance and crime: Problems and prospects. Edited by Steven F. Messner, Marvin D. Krohn, and Allen E. Liska, 1–19. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    This introduction to the collected papers in Messner, et al. 1989 raises some concerns about the integration strategy, defines integration and then reviews the rationale for integration, describes different types of structures employed in integrated theories, and discusses integration at and across different levels of explanation.

  • Messner, Steven F., Marvin D. Krohn, and Allen E. Liska, eds. 1989. Theoretical integration in the study of deviance and crime: Problems and prospects. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    A collection of papers from a 1987 conference in Albany, New York, on theoretical integration, organized around the theme of integration at different levels of analysis. Specific chapters provide critiques of integration at each level of explanation, new proposed integrated theories, and prospects for the future of this strategy in criminology.

  • Muftić, Lisa. 2009. Macro-micro theoretical integration: An unexplored theoretical frontier. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology 1:33–71.

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    A historical review of integration efforts in criminology with a focus on the potential value of multilevel integration. Reviews the goals of integration, alternative construction strategies, advantages and disadvantages of integration, and types of integration. Notes that conceptual integration is very common, but propositional integration is relatively recent.

  • Thornberry, Terrence P. 1989. Reflections on the advantages and disadvantages of theoretical integration. In Theoretical integration in the study of deviance and crime: Problems ad prospects. Edited by Steven F. Messner, Marvin D. Krohn, and Allen E. Liska, 51–60. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    Raises the question whether conceptual overlap or absorption is enough to claim theoretical integration has occurred, then defines theoretical integration as the combining of two or more sets of logically interrelated sets of propositions. Proposes theoretical elaboration as another alternative strategy to theoretical integration.

  • Vold, George B., Thomas J. Bernard, and Jeffrey B. Snipes. 2002. Theoretical criminology. 5th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Chapter 17 discusses theoretical integration. The falsification (competition) versus integration debate is reviewed, several specific integrated theories are described and critiqued, and the authors’ approach to integrating theories is presented.

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