Revisiting the Generality of Deviance


Thomas, K.J. & Turanovic, J. J. (2022). Revisiting the Generality of Deviance.


The idea that individuals tend to be “generalists” when it comes to offending is widely believed in criminology. This notion of generality is consistent with theoretical perspectives that hold that specific types of crimes do not require special motivations, and assert that “individuals who engage in serious acts are more likely to engage in trivial acts, and vice versa” (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1993, p. 9). The purpose of this paper is to revisit the notion of offender generality. We argue that “specialization” should be defined not by the types of crime an individual is willing to commit but by the types of crime an individual is unwilling to commit, which leads to what we call the “paradox of offending generality.” Using data from the NYS, AddHealth and GREAT surveys, we find evidence that individuals who engage in serious forms of crime have a very high probability of engaging in minor, less serious forms of crime. But individuals who engage in minor crimes have a low probability of also engaging in serious forms of crime. We conclude that the “generality of deviance” is overstated among criminologists, and we discuss the theoretical implications of the paradox of generality.

Reference Type

Conference paper

Book Title

American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting


Thomas, K.J.
Turanovic, J. J.

Year Published


City of Publication

Atlanta GA

Reference ID