Ethnographic Research on Criminal Careers: Needs, Contributions, and Prospects

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3 Scopus citations


Pioneering research on “criminal careers” changed the course of criminology, reviving, and invigorating preexisting strands of inquiry while opening the door for the emergence of the developmental and life-course perspective that has become one of the dominant paradigms in recent criminological research. A persistent concern in this tradition has been the search for mechanisms connecting one stage of life to another. While qualitative methods are ideally suited for discovering and describing these mechanisms, there is far more published research based on quantitative longitudinal data. Calls for more qualitative work have become routine. This article first briefly describes the history of qualitative research on criminal careers and then discusses how a focus on changes in individual offending patterns over time emerged during the inductive theory-building process that produced the book Getting Paid, which began life as a comparative community study. Subsequent qualitative work is then discussed, with a focus on studies of desistance from crime. The conclusions address the problems and prospects for integrating qualitative and quantitative research, within or across projects, in ways that better connect social processes to life-course outcomes. Seeing how lives are embedded in community context is crucial to this endeavor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)392-405
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


  • causes/correlates
  • communities and crime
  • crime
  • criminological theory
  • developmental theories


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