Sykes & Matza, Techniques of Neutralization

Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency (Irvington Reprint Series in Sociology)

Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency (Irvington Reprint Series in Sociology)

Social controls that serve to check or inhibit deviant motivational patterns are rendered inoperative, and the individual is freed to engage in delinquency without serious damage to his self image.(p667)

We call these justifications of deviant behavior techniques of neutralization; and we believe these techniques make up a crucial component of Sutherland's "definitions favorable to the violation of law."(p667)

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The Denial of Responsibility
As a technique of neutralization, however, the denial of responsibility extends much further than the claim that deviant acts are an "accident" or some similar negation of personal accountability.(p667)

The Denial of Injury
that is between acts that are wrong in themselves and acts that are illegal but not immoral--and the delinquent can make the same kind of distinction in evaluating the wrongfulness of his behavior.
wrongfulness may turn on the question of whether or not anyone has clearly been hurt by his deviance.(p667)
Just as the link between the individual and his acts may be broken by the denial of responsibility, so may the link between acts and their consequences be broken by the denial of injury. (p668)

The Denial of the Victim
By a subtle alchemy the delinquent moves himself into the position of an avenger and the victim is transformed into a wrong-doer.(p668)

The Condemnation of the Condemners
A fourth technique of neutralization would appear to involve a condemnation of the
condemners or, (snip) a rejection of the rejectors.(p668)

  • e.g.
    Police, it may be said, are corrupt, stupid, and brutal.
    Teachers always show favoritism and parents always "take it out" on their children. (p668)

The Appeal to Higher Loyalties
internal and external social controls may be neutralized by sacrificing the demands of the larger society for the demands of the smaller social groups to which the delinquent belongs such as the sibling pair, the gang, or the friendship clique.(p669)

the most important point is that deviation from certain norms may occur not because the norms are rejected but because other norms, held to be more pressing or involving a higher loyalty, are accorded precedence. (p669)


"I didn't mean it." "I didn't really hurt anybody." "They had it coming to them." "Everybody's picking on me." " I didn't do it for myself." These slogans or their variants, we hypothesize, prepare the juvenile for delinquent acts. (p669)


As more information is uncovered concerning techniques of neutralization, their origins, and their consequences, both juvenile delinquency in particular, and deviation from normative systems in general may be illuminated.(p670)