What Have We Learned in Five Decades of Neutralization Research?

Shadd Maruna, H. Copes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

401 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-320
Number of pages100
JournalCrime and Justice
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Law


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