9. Learning Theories

Dr. Zachary Rowan, Simon Fraser University

Positionality Statement

We begin this chapter by acknowledging our own positions as authors and presenters of this criminological perspective. As the first of two co-authors of this chapter, it is not lost on me as a white male from the United States, educated mainly by scholars that look similar to me, that I am writing a chapter that aims to engage in a meaningful consideration of an Indigenous[1] and decolonized approach to the study of criminological theory. I grew up in a majority white, middle-class neighbourhood that rarely faced exposure to alternative views let alone challenges to that system. Consistent with the theoretical orientation of this chapter, I attempted to expand my worldview by immersing myself and learning from others at the culturally diverse University of Maryland, where I earned a Bachelor’s, MA, and PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice. It was at University where I experienced my first “othering” experience as my identity grew to include being a member of the LGBT community. These experiences and the privileges afforded by my ability to attend University have informed me and enabled me to research the role that groups, peers, and co-offenders play in facilitating criminal behaviour. I now work at Simon Fraser University on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

Michaela McGuire, M.A., Simon Fraser University PhD Student

Positionality Statement

As the second co-author, I am a current PhD student and my research focuses on the interconnection between belonging and justice. I grew up in Burnaby, B.C., visiting my other home (Haida Gwaii) every summer. I grappled to find my place in this world amongst racism, stereotypes, colonialism, educational streaming, and micro-aggressions. I have often felt as though I was of two worlds – in terms of my ancestry (Haida, Ojibwe, British & Irish), my physical location (the Lower Mainland & Haida Gwaii), and general sense of self. I have come to understand that education is powerful, and it feeds resistance, revitalization, decolonization, and resurgence. Learning about the ongoing impacts of colonialism, genocide, racism, and the complicity of the colonial state in perpetuating harm against Indigenous peoples through its institutions has fueled my desire to seek justice.



This chapter explores differential association theory and social learning theory. We review how learning theories are used to explain various types of crime and the role of different sources of influence, critically evaluate strengths and limitations of the theories, and provide commentary on these perspectives using a decolonial[2] lens. This chapter will also take stock of how these perspectives were largely derived by Western, white, and male scholars who ignore Indigenous peoples’ pre-existence and experience.

  1. Indigenous identity is a colonial construct that “describes… thousands of distinct societies with their own names, governments, territories, languages, worldviews, and political organizations” (De Finney, 2017, p. 11) from hundreds of Nations, peoples, and/or communities. We use the term Indigenous Peoples to recognise the many Nations, peoples, and communities that existed (and still exist) as sovereign Nations prior to European contact. See How to talk to Indigenous People for more information
  2. For the purposes of this chapter we define a decolonial approach as a critical examination of colonialism, including the complicity of the discipline of criminology in the colonial project. A decolonial approach challenges the status quo namely the structures and systems that perpetuate oppression and systemic racism. We do our best to integrate this approach in this chapter; however, we recognise that in this limited space we are unable to grapple with the complexities of colonialism, decolonial approaches and the complicity of the state. See Nikki Sanchez Decolonization Is for everyone.


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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Shereen Hassan and Dan Lett, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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