Monday, January 5, 2009

Lloyd E. Ohlin: 1918-2008

Some sad news to start the year on. Lloyd Ohlin, a giant in the field of criminological theory (and someone whose work is covered in every class I teach, every semester) has died.

Lloyd E. Ohlin, a prominent criminologist who explored both the social underpinnings of crime and the social consequences of punishment, especially as they related to youthful offenders, died Dec. 6 at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 90.

Trained as a sociologist, Professor Ohlin helped illuminate sociological conditions that gave rise to crime, chief among them poverty and the entrenched obstacles to upward mobility that many poor people face. He also studied the extent to which correctional institutions actually correct.

Professor Ohlin was known in particular for his work on the causes of juvenile delinquency, a much-ballyhooed but little-understood subject in the 1950s and afterward. With Richard A. Cloward, he wrote “Delinquency and Opportunity: A Theory of Delinquent Gangs,” a seminal study of the wellsprings of delinquency among urban youths.
Most students know him only as the other half of "Cloward and Ohlin" and their much-discussed Differential Opportunity theory, but Ohlin's impact was far greater than just this theory on delinquency and crime.

In other titles (listed left) such as "Prisoners in America" and "Sociology and Corrections", Ohlin draws together the best of structural and process theories to examine the role of the crime and punishment in society. In fact, when you scroll through the various obituaries on his death, Ohlin is being called everything from a symbolic interactionist to a functionalist in the Durkheim tradition.

Not to mention, the most vaunted sociologists and criminologists are usually the most colorful. As New Soc Prof notes on his blog:
How many criminologists today can report doing counter-intelligence work in the Army, employment in the department of corrections, and planning for $13 million dollar anti-poverty programs. He was also one of the few non-lawyers on the faculty of Harvard Law School — not too shabby.
Indeed. When I was in grad school, I can remember always being as interested in the major theorists we discussed and their personal lives as much as the theories we were being tasked to learn. Ohlin's life was as rich and colorful as his contribution to the discipline which will be studied for generations to come.

Global Sociology has more.

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