CJCCJ/Volume 64.4 (2022)
The Development of Antisocial Behavior and Crime. Replications with
the Montreal Cross Sectional and Longitudinal Studies
Marc Le Blanc
Switzerland: Springer Nature. 2021. 246/221 p.
In a sub-discipline and field largely dominated by empirical research from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, Marc Le Blanc makes an important methodological contribution to the growing branch of developmental criminology/behavioural science and to our understanding of the mechanisms underlying antisocial behaviour and official offending. He draws on 50 years of rich data collected from Québec/Canadian samples, using cross sectional and longitudinal study designs, with cohorts born in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The Development of Antisocial Behavior and Crime: Replication with the Montréal Cross Sectional and Longitudinal Studies is an immensely valuable book and resource for scholars, researchers, practitioners, and students, as well as general knowledge-seekers interested in exploring how the developmental approach informs our current understanding of delinquency, antisocial behaviour, and contact/conflict with the justice system, throughout the life stages. Le Blanc’s work represents a multidisciplinary approach integrating psychological, sociological, and developmental criminological perspectives to define and explore nine distinct periods that comprise the life cycle, and that appear and are explored throughout the book, beginning in childhood and moving to age 60 years old. He provides important replication studies/comparisons to examine these phenomena across samples, generations and phases in the life span, and boys and girls.
Le Blanc frames this work around the identified limitation of the current criminal career paradigm that has focused on behaviours that are defined as “crime.” As introduced in Chapters 1 and 2 and demonstrated throughout, this book uniquely examines the two forms of behaviours (i.e., official offending [OO] and self-reported antisocial behaviour [SRAB]) side-by-side to make important assertions about the role of key explanatory risk and protective factors for the development of both “antisocial behavior” and “crime,” investigated at each age period across the life course.
Chapter 1 examines and makes important empirical statements about the nature of these two defined sets of behaviours and their relationship, supporting some of the author’s/researcher’s hypotheses related to their overlap, while noting that further research is needed to better understand some patterns of self-report antisocial behaviour (SRAB) and to further clarify the operationalization of antisocial behavior within the presented hierarchical structure (pp. 32-33).
Moving from definitions and measurement to epidemiology, Chapter 2 explores the use of official crime data to measure “problem behaviour” and offers new conclusions and recommendations for future research about the peak of the age-crime curve (i.e., after the legal cut-off for young people of 18 years old; p. 63), and new and corroborative findings about the gender gap, the generation gap (pp. 63-65), as well as key differences between representative adolescent samples and “delinquent” adolescent samples, and the combination of antisocial behaviours that cluster together over time/life (p. 65).
In Chapter 3, Le Blanc builds upon Chapter 2’s overview of the unidimensional characteristics in the development of official offending and self-reported antisocial behavior. He presents the quantitative (i.e., activation–deactivation) and qualitative changes (i.e., switching and aggravation) that represent the developmental mechanisms that contribute to antisocial behavior and crime, continuing to trace and highlight some of the early developments in the identification of these mechanisms that comprise the developmental system and age cycle of antisocial behavior and crime, as measured by OO and SRAB (pp. 67-68). In this chapter, Le Blanc draws on his rich data to propose three additions to the empirically supported and agreed-upon set of seven generalizations regarding the agreement between official records and self-reported measures of offending (p. 70) with respect to there being similar developmental processes for both official offending and self-reported behaviours, the consistency of this across two generations, and the applicability of quantitative and qualitative processes for forms of both official offences and antisocial behavior. This section concludes with a call for further research and replications of the aggravation-disaggregation mechanisms, particularly in other communities, countries, and with girls/women (p. 104).
Le Blanc then introduces antisocial behavior and crime (ABC) in Chapter 4, mapping out how the development of this phenomenon is an autodynamic, systemic developmental process (p. 105). After summarizing the nine theoretical statements about the development of any form of antisocial behavior and their adaption to crime (pp. 106-107), the author presents the crime system as autodynamic through five parameters examined in the previous chapters, i.e., age at onset, participation, variety, frequency, and duration, also referred to as career span (p. 109), to apply this to a global crime model (p. 110). The chapter then comments on distinctions in the longitudinal crime model and self-reported antisocial behaviour, and reviews the models on SRAB and self-reported delinquency (SRD) to make statements about “the antisocial behaviour system,” with particular attention to the relationship and distinctions in onset and offset between SRPB and SRD (pp. 119-123). Le Blanc draws on his data and findings to conclude that antisocial behavior and crime are authentic systems; however, that they are impacted by complex developmental mechanisms that are still not yet clear and ultimately require replication with more diverse samples (p. 124).
Chapter 5 begins by distinguishing criminological typologies and behavioural trajectories, tracing the work of leading developmental theorists and researchers. To contextualize this work in the broader developmental theoretical literature, Le Blanc briefly describes the five typologies that contributed to the identification of ABC behavioural development. He first presents his Montréal Two Samples Four Generations Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Studies (MTSFGCLS) Typologies (pp. 126-127), followed by Loeber’s Pathways (p. 127), the Cambridge (Study) Classification (pp. 127-128), Moffitt’s Developmental Taxonomy (pp. 128-129), and the Patterson Onset Trajectories (contrasting this to the MTSFGCLS; p. 129-130). Building on Chapter 4, Le Blanc then discusses the universal age–crime curve and age–antisocial behaviour curve as a universal meta-trajectory (p. 130), and that an individual’s course of ABC is dependent on the previously introduced (Chapter 3) quantitative and qualitative changes. This then opens into his examination of meso- and micro-trajectories, which Le Blanc asserts are layers between the ABC general or meta-trajectory and all the individual trajectories (p. 130). Chapter 5 continues with a discussion of the universality of the general observed trajectory, looking specifically at official, self-reported official, and self-reported antisocial behavioral trajectories as identified with data sets from the MTSFGCLS to answer the book’s central question of whether “the number, the shape, and the nature of the trajectories [can] be replicated by generations, genders, types of samples, and forms of ABC” (p. 125)? This chapter concludes by supporting a multilayer composition of the ABC trajectories and also noting that these trajectories are not absolute (p. 158).
In his Conclusion, Chapter 6, Le Blanc emphasizes for readers that the empirical results examined in this book are concerned with within-individual behavioural changes, as a central focus of developmental criminology (p. 159). He clearly presents a review and analysis of his own (and colleagues’) past empirical research and work in developmental criminology on the criminal career paradigm, while also demonstrating how future longitudinal research can and should be situated and designed (pp. 160-162). Le Blanc is calling on developmental criminologists and researchers to be particularly attune also to measurement (pp. 162-164) and replication in these studies (pp. 164-168). Le Blanc states, “Criminology rarely produced replications of research results and formalizations of theories, two signs of maturity in hard science” (p. 168). He then draws on Gibbs (1985) to share with the reader a method for developing a descriptive theory (rather than an explanatory one) comprised of two parts: the extrinsic part (i.e., the dictionary of the theory; pp. 168-170), and the intrinsic part (i.e., empirical statements, assertions, or hypotheses that can be empirically tested with replications; pp. 170-173). Here, Le Blanc revisits some earlier themes explored in the book, including the gender, normative, and generation gaps as part of his exploration of the developmental system that has been demonstrated to contribute to antisocial behaviour, and also official offending/“crime.”
Overall, the book is well organized and provides a number of useful tables, figures and, appendices to support the author’s ideas and research. Although the nature and content of this work and related models can be complex, Le Blanc provides a thoughtfully organized, relatively accessible narrative of the trajectory of developmental criminology itself, to move beyond the criminal career paradigm, and applying similar constructs and processes to the development of general antisocial behaviour. The longitudinal research design is expertly applied and showcased as a developmental methodology for understanding how delinquent or antisocial behaviour and official offending develop, decline, and desist across different ages and life phases, and through generations. Le Blanc situates his own research well within the work of other leading developmental scholars, including some of his collaborators, from Loeber, Farrington, Moffitt, and Patterson, and the book implicitly underscores the value of replicating this research.
Le Blanc does a fine job at examining these trajectories across different groups, including girls, or sometimes referred to as “females.” While this is a critical consideration and important distinction between this work and some of the other developmental research, this does raise a few challenges as our society and population becomes more diverse and gender, race, ethnicity, and other social factors are becoming central variables to identify, define, and tease out within the nuance of these trajectories. The terms gender and sex should not be used interchangeably, and more precision should be added to these measures (e.g., moving away from binary categories). More critical data and research is also needed on differences that may exist across race and ethnicity, including culturally appropriate inclusion of individuals with an Indigenous identity, as this group is overrepresented in many justice systems and samples. Future researchers may also wish to further explore and unpack the domains that have been widely accepted as true/real through and in this work, applying a more critical lens, to consider – quantitatively and qualitatively – how these measures and other sociological / systemic and institutional factors can impact life experiences and events and ultimately trajectories. As Le Blanc also acknowledges, more research is also needed outside the countries/regions and communities specified above and in this book. And finally, while the development of ASB and OO may occur similarly, their treatment or response within society and our justice system are not necessarily as alike. It will be interesting to see continued research in this area as we consider how certain behaviours are addressed, and importantly, how it impacts future involvement/ engagement in those behaviours/activities, particularly as many of the current youth justice systems move away from criminalizing young people.
From the very first sections of the book, in the Dedication and the Forward, the reader can sense the deep connection between the author/researcher(s) and the young people who participated in the studies. Le Blanc’s Development of Antisocial Behavior and Crime: Replication with the Montréal Cross Sectional and Longitudinal Studies has advanced the DLC literature generally and from a Canadian-based perspective specifically. The use of multi-wave longitudinal data sets is an incredible yet difficult research objective to access and/or achieve, and researchers from around the world would benefit from more space, funding, and opportunity to engage in this type of work and research, which would benefit from additional qualitative complements as well. This is an area in which more research is drastically needed, especially if we wish to understand and support young people and individuals in an ever-diversifying society and world.
Marc Le Blanc, through all of his committed work to understanding the developmental mechanisms and trajectories of these behaviours, is a leading Canadian developmental researcher and scholar.