Robert J. Sampson: The Life Course of Crime and Criminalization

See also: Spring 2017

Date: 

Monday, April 24, 2017, 12:00pm to 1:45pm

Location: 

Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room


Robert J. SampsonHenry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University.

The literature on mass incarceration and the effects of a criminal record on later outcomes is largely disconnected from research on crime and the life course. This presentation unites these research traditions and argues for the importance of studying the process of becoming criminalized among children of the prison boom who are now old enough to have themselves experienced the risk of arrest and incarceration. 

This goal is pursued by analyzing the timing and persistence of arrest in representative samples of multiple age cohorts from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods—birth, 9, 12, and 15—that began in the mid-1990s and that were recently followed up in a fourth wave of interviews. Official criminal histories were also collected through early 2017. 

Based on work in progress, the diverging trajectories of the birth and 9-year old cohorts will be highlighted, especially inter-generational criminalization, contributing a new look at growing up in an era capturing the peak of incarceration, aggressive policing, and sharp declines in violence. 

The results support an age-graded theory of social control over the life course that connects both criminal behavior and its official reaction across generations in a time of rapid social change. Implications for the conceptualization of individual character will be discussed. 

About the speaker

Robert J. Sampson is the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, founding director of the Boston Area Research Initiative, and Affiliated Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation. He served as Chair of the Department of Sociology and taught at the University of Chicago before moving to Harvard. He also taught at the University of Illinois and was a Senior Research Fellow at the American Bar Foundation.  

Sampson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2008 and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Political and Social Science. He served as President of the American Society of Criminology in 2011-2012 and in 2011 he and his colleague John Laub received the Stockholm Prize in Criminology. In 2016, he was elected as Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.

Professor Sampson's research and teaching cover a variety of areas including crime, disorder, the life course, neighborhood effects, civic engagement, inequality, "ecometrics," and the social structure of the city.  He is the author of three award-winning books and numerous articles. His most recent book is Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, based on the culmination of over a decade of research from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, for which Sampson served as Scientific Director. 

Learn more about Robert Sampson's work
scholar.harvard.edu/sampson