History of the Self-Report Delinquency Surveys Research Paper

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Criminologists use survey methods in order to study the full extent of crime, including both unrecorded crimes and crimes recorded by the criminal justice system and related official agencies. The self-report delinquency survey is one of the two major survey instruments currently used by criminologists to that effect (the other one being the victim survey). This research paper presents a history of the offender-based self-report delinquency survey. The invention of the research method is described. In addition, the rise of the self-report survey is explained by reference to internal and external factors influencing criminology.

The main scientifically internal factor was the problem of unrecorded crime which haunted the age of moral statistics (early criminology) from 1820s to 1930s. The researchers of this era despaired over the impossibility of breaking the official control barrier of crime measurement. The barrier was finally broken by the groundbreaking self-report delinquency survey studies published in 1943 by Austin Larimore Porterfield, professor of sociology at the Texas Christian University. This moment signifies the end of the moral statistics era and the beginning of scientific criminology because with the survey method criminology became independent of the official control and medical agencies.

While the current use of the self-report method is based on research showing its reliability and validity, the initial rise of the method took place in a specific historical context. Its rise was influenced by the following external factors: religious practices and ideologies, populist perception of hidden depravity among the middle classes, the legislative activism of the Progressive Era, suspicion of control biases in an ethnically diverse society, and the largely successful attempt of sociology to take over the field of criminology from the previously hegemonic psy-sciences. Inspired by this historical context of discovery, the first generation of self-report researchers sought to normalize crime by redescribing it as normal, thus giving empirical support for E´ mile Durkheim’s notion that “crime is normal.” In addition to these cultural factors, there were also a number of necessary conditions for the widespread deployment of the quantitative and typically self-administered delinquency survey, such as mass literacy and compulsory basic education.

Of the three basic quantitative methods of measuring crime independently of the criminal justice or clinical statistics, the offender-based self-report survey (asking offenders to tell about their crimes) preceded the rise of the victim survey (asking victims to tell about their experiences) but came after various proxy report methods (asking someone who knows offenders) were tried. The modern self-report delinquency survey has three basic features. First, it is based on standardized questions which are identical for the respondents. Second, the instrument is used to produce quantitative data in samples systematically selected by the researcher according to a clearly defined procedure; the samples are not self-selected (as in clinical data), selected by control agents (as in official control data), or unsystematically selected (as in qualitative studies or journalism). Third, the self-report survey is based on confession: the respondents are asked to report, typically anonymously, about the crimes they have committed. This research paper presents the history of the modern self-report delinquency survey (for a more detailed description, see Kivivuori 2011).

Moral Statistics And The Official Control Barrier

Within criminology as a discipline, the history and invention of the self-report delinquency is intimately related to the problem of unrecorded crime. That problem was born in the early nineteenth century when European states started to publish the so-called moral statistics, including crime statistics. It was immediately recognized that a major problem with such crime statistics was that they excluded undetected and unrecorded offenses. The immediate solution was the so-called constant ratio doctrine. Formulated by Adolphe Quetelet, this doctrine stated that the ratio of hidden crime to known crime was stable, meaning that official statistics was a valid proxy measure for real crime (Beirne 1993, p. 80).

The moral statisticians were never na¨ıve about the problem of hidden crime; they intensely felt that reliance on official statistics was a serious limitation. The concept of “dark figure,” coined by the Japanese lawyer Shigema Oba in 1908 (Oba 1908), was thus a continuation of long self-critical reflection in the then almost century-old moral statistics tradition. What ensued was a gradual shift of emphasis in the kind of official statistics which was seen as most valid: the craft of moral statistics moved down the ladder of criminal justice institutions in search for more valid indicators of criminal behavior: from the courts and prosecutors to the police, and within the police statistics, from ascertained to reported crimes and to arrests. Thus, the researchers of the moral statistics era were moving closer to the offense as it looked for means to measure the extent and patterns of crime more precisely. Towards the 1920s and 1930s, the police statistics were prevailing as crime indicators, but this appeared to be the end of the road. There appeared to be no way of proceeding even closer to the offense. By the early decades of the twentieth century, it was typical of crime researchers to despair about the impossibility of direct measures of crime. In recent historical scholarship (Kivivuori 2011), this obstacle and the associated sense of despair has been described as the official control barrier of crime measurement. That barrier was almost like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics: empirical observation seemed to be fundamentally warped by it.

Non-Survey Responses To The Problem Of Hidden Crime

There were however no shortage of attempts at breaking the official control barrier. The self-report survey was not the only (or first) attempt to that effect. Various methods which were subsequently eclipsed by the survey were tried. Often these methods were based on proxy reports by informants who for some reason knew about crime; such informants included the police, philanthropic services, medical sources, insurance companies, banking associations, and private firms as sources of information. Some of the proxy report solutions were developed very early; thus, in the 1880s Charles Booth conducted the first “social survey” of the London poor by employing school board visitors as proxy reporters; the social survey tradition was also interested in the morals of neighborhoods. In the early part of the twentieth century, multiple local crime surveys were conducted in various areas of the USA. It is important to observe that in these early stages, the word survey (as in “social survey movement” or “Illinois crime survey,” etc.) stood for local fact-finding missions using multiple data sources but not anything like the modern self-report or victim surveys. They were thus non-survey methods of crime measurement. Some proxy report studies used the reporting propensity of institutional victims to derive a multiplier which was then used to estimate the true crime rate from the number of recorded crimes. Other methods included direct observation as in the UK Mass Observation project during the 1930s (Willcock 1949). Some of the early qualitative sociology in the Chicago School style was similarly a means of studying deviance directly, without any intermediaries, following the example of earlier social reports by continental European intellectuals giving first-hand descriptions of “underworlds.”

Early Attempts At Systematic Use Of Self-Reports

The above-described early solutions to the riddle of the official control barrier often resulted in an anecdotal style of reporting. In contrast, the distinctive feature of the modern criminological self-report delinquency survey is that data collection is based on standardized (identical) questions and clearly defined target group selected by the researcher. Before the first deployment of the full-blown modern self-report survey in 1940, there were occasional incidents were such standardization was attempted.

The surveys of W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) in Atlanta are among the “anticipators” of criminological surveys. In the 1904 Atlanta survey, he asked young people about their contacts with the courts and the police (in any role). While there was no explicit or stated aim of measuring the extent of unrecorded crime, the Du Bois survey represents an early attempt to bypass the criminal justice system in gathering criminological data (Du Bois 1904). At the same time, important developments were taking place in Europe. The surveys of homosexual behavior conducted in Amsterdam (1901) and Berlin (1903–1904) by Lucien von Ro¨ mer (1873–1965) and Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935), respectively, are among the more important anticipations of the discovery of the systematic self-report delinquency survey. Today of course homosexuality is not a crime in most developed nations, but a century ago it was, making the von Romer and Hirschfeld surveys count as among the earliest systematic self-report delinquency surveys. Both the Dutch and the German surveys were connected to the activities of Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, a liberal pressure group which aimed at normalizing sexual deviance by showing its huge prevalence. Romer and Hirschfeld were both trained in medicine. Interestingly, Hirschfeld referred to the Catholic practice of confession as a source of inspiration in the development of the self-report survey. Other sources of inspiration included early US educational sociologists making surveys in schools. Typically for self-report delinquency research, both pioneers used student samples, but Hirschfeld additionally surveyed blue-collar workers by mail survey. Fifty years later, the Kinsey research team observed that Hirschfeld deserves “considerable credit for having tried on a larger scale than anyone had before to ascertain the facts on a matter that has always been difficult to survey” (Kinsey et al. 1948, p. 620).

Within psychology, the 1920s witnessed the development of what is today called the social desirability scale. The social desirability scales are used to control for the validity of survey responding. However, the development of the social desirability measures remained largely separate from the work that led to the modern self-report delinquency survey.

Approaching Takeoff: The Sutherland Experiments

In 1931, Thorsten Sellin formulated the axiom which later became known as Sellin’s law, stating that “Due to a number of variable elements represented by changes in administrative policies and efficiency, the value of a crime rate for index purposes decreases as the distance from the crime itself in terms of procedure increases” (Sellin 1931–1932, p. 346). At about the same time, a century of reliance on official criminal justice statistics climaxed in a sequence of local crime surveys in various US cities and states. These were surveys in the old meaning of the word (fact-finding missions), but they were all “moving towards the offense” as stipulated by Sellin. In many ways, the most sophisticated old-style local delinquency survey was the one conducted in New York by Sophia Moses Robison, published as Can Delinquency Be Measured (1936). Her idea was to collect statistics from all kinds of control and philanthropic institutions, not only the police. She thus shifted the boundary of recorded and unrecorded crime by including more records, a strategy that still remained within the paradigm of moral statistics. Sophia Moses Robison (1888–1969) was however aware of these limitations; she suggested that delinquency data could be collected by asking people about it; indeed, it was known to her that Edwin H. Sutherland was trying to do something like that.

It is apparent that Sutherland (1883–1950) was conducting self-report experiments among his students. Throughout the mid-1930s his writings and speeches occasionally refer to efforts at breaking the official control barrier of crime measurement. Speaking to the Milwaukee police in 1936, he described one such experiment as follows: “Of a class of forty, ten did not hand in papers, and since I had no signatures, I could not tell whether they were lily whites or had so many and so serious thefts that they refused to tell. Of those who did hand in reports, only one insisted that he could remember no thefts” (Sutherland 1936, in Snodgrass 1972, p. 222). This experiment had most aspects of the standard SR survey: standardized question, researcher-selected population, and confessional logic. The results revealed a very high lifetime prevalence of theft (97 %, N ¼ 30). Sutherland used these survey experiments to press the point that crime was very prevalent and therefore normal (see also Sutherland 1973 [1936], p. 143 and 1972 [1937], p. 213).

Breaking The Official Control Barrier Of Crime Measurement

Austin Larimore Porterfield

The first modern criminological self-report delinquency survey was conducted in 1940–1941 by the Texan sociologist Austin L. Porterfield (1896–1979). The year 1940 can thus be seen as the moment when the official control barrier of crime measurement was finally broken. The result of the survey was first published as the article “Delinquency and Its Outcome in Court and College” (Porterfield 1943) but became more widely known as part of his monograph Youth in Trouble (1946). Porterfield’s discovery marks the moment when the discipline of moral statistics was transformed into the science of criminology, because at that point the empirical study of crime became independent from data created by agencies of the state.

Porterfield tried to make his questions about crime as similar as possible to the repertory of the offenses defined by the law. In two consecutive data collections in three Texan educational institutions (1940–1941 and 1941–1942), he targeted both precollege and college students about their crimes; the total number of respondents was 337. The results showed a “universal prevalence of past delinquency among college men and women” (Porterfield 1946, p. 38). More than one in five males had driven when drunk, while 62 % had participated in ordinary fighting. Ten percent had shoplifted. At the time, these figures where shockingly high. Like Hirschfeld, Porterfield interpreted his findings by underscoring the high prevalence and hence normality of crime. Delinquents were “not a sub-species of Homo Sapiens”; they were like all of us (Porterfield 1946, p. 45). Anticipating problems related to this interpretive frame, he however noted that incidence measures of crime might show different results, marking essential differences between nondelinquents and delinquents (Porterfield 1946, p. 42). Otherwise his take-home message was that delinquency was normal. He rejected the notion that delinquents are fundamentally different from the “law-abiding” citizen. He was a strong critic of what he called the “we-they” fallacy, the tendency to see a black-and-white distinction between supposedly “abnormal” criminals and a (putatively) law-abiding majority (Porterfield 1957, p. 46). The great importance of Porterfield’s work was not immediately recognized, but already in the 1950s his work became known as the initiator of the self-report delinquency survey tradition.

Porterfield’s style of writing and analysis was satirical. He critiqued the hypocrisy of the local elites by first exposing how their punitivity was compromised by their hidden delinquency. Characters such as store managers, middle-class parents, drunken police chiefs, and members of the Ku Klux Klan were satirically exposed as hypocrites. The breakthrough phase of the self-report delinquency survey thus combined quantitative analysis and social critique.

The Randen Foundation Crime Survey

Apart from Porterfield’s groundbreaking studies, the second most important early self-report delinquency survey was Randen Foundation Crime Survey, the results of which were published in 1947 by James S. Wallerstein (1910–1990) and Clement J. Wyle (1903–1991). The title of their seminal paper was typically satirical, like many other early self-report studies: “Our Law-abiding Law-breakers” (Wallestein and Wyle 1953 [1947]). This study expanded the application of the newly invented method to adult population in contrast to student samples used by Sutherland and Porterfield. The data collection took place in the state of New York, with 1,698 respondents in the final dataset (response rate not known). As in other pioneering self-report surveys, the main finding was that lifetime participation in criminal activity was much more prevalent than typically expected. Nearly half of the male respondents reported “assault,” while one in six admitted to burglary. Wallerstein and Wyle duly noted that some of the high figures may have reflected people’s broad conceptions as to what “assault” means. However, the main finding was that unrecorded criminality was very prevalent in the population. Like other pioneers of the self-report survey, Wallerstein and Wyle underscored the high prevalence and therefore the normality of (occasional) crime. They also developed the random control argument, suggesting that being registered for crimes might reflect chance events more than criminality as such. Like Porterfield, they also critiqued the punitive mind-set of the putatively law-abiding people. During the late 1940s, Wallerstein published several articles using the normal-because-prevalent argument to critique punitivist attitudes.

Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study

When the early tradition of self-report delinquency surveys was shaped, a third important study was the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study (CSYS). Its main goal was to asses in an experimental setting the efficacy of social work in the prevention of crime (Powers 1949). During the course of the project, much first-hand information was collected from the boys who participated in the experiment. In an article published in 1946, the CSYS workers reported the very high prevalence of unrecorded crime among the project subjects (Murphy et al. 1946). They concluded that because of the great frequency of undetected crime, changes in the efficacy of social control could drastically influence crime trends based on official statistics. In so arguing they thus presented a strong empirical critique of the constant ratio doctrine. Later on these findings were also interpreted from the point of view of normal-because-prevalent argument (Powers 1949, p. 82). While the Murphy et al. study was and is often cited as one of the first hidden crime studies, it remains a borderline case with respect to the modern self-report delinquency survey. Based on the psychiatric case worker data collection, its level of standardization remained comparatively obscure. The inclusion of boys who were known to come from disadvantaged backgrounds was also unique for this project. This was important because it enabled the CSYS researchers to conclude that boys with higher intensity of offending were more likely to be prosecuted and convicted. This finding was a crack in the moral framework based on the alleged normality of offending, something that was immediately recognized by Porterfield (1947, pp. 425–426).

External Factors Influencing The Rise Of The Self-Report Survey

From the perspective of the internal development of criminology as a science, the self-report survey was a way of breaking the official control barrier in crime measurement. The survey enabled the systematic quantitative study of offenses which are not known to criminal justice or medical authorities. The invention of the self-report survey in 1940 thus marks the moment when moral statistics was transformed into scientific criminology because at that time criminology became independent of the control system of society.

Like all scientific innovations, the invention of the self-report delinquency survey took place in a specific historical context involving a constellation of social, cultural, technological, and policy-related influences. In science studies, the difference between internal scientific developments and external influences is often conceptualized with the so-called context distinction which separates the context of justification and the context of discovery when explaining an innovation in science (Schickore and Steinle 2006). The context of discovery captures all external influences which are not strictly internal to science. In what follows, the major external influences defining the context of the rise of the self-report delinquency survey are described.

Religious Influences

Previously, it has been suggested that the rise of the self-report survey was linked to the punitivist mind-set of the American Puritan tradition, which would have made scholars very interested to study minor infractions. Recent historical research (Kivivuori 2011) has definitely refuted this thesis by showing that the first-generation self-report researchers were typically liberals attacking punitivist attitudes by empirically showing the high prevalence and hence normality of crime. But it is correct that there is a religious substratum in the relevant paradigm shift. Hirschfeld’s early work was inspired by confession as a religious practice. But more importantly, the generation of US scholars who pioneered the self-report method came from backgrounds influenced by the so-called Christian Sociology and the Social Gospel movement. From the end of the nineteenth century, these traditions sensitized scholars to the notion that seemingly law-abiding persons could be hidden offenders. In the beginning, this was associated with corporate offenders and “criminaloids” who were later renamed as white-collar offenders. Books such as Sin and Society (1907) by the sociologist Edward Alsworth Ross were influential bridges between religious and secular types of populism (see below). More generally, the critique of hypocrisy was based on the latent religious notion that since we are all offenders, it is wrong to judge harshly those who are detected offenders. Thus, many first-generation self-report researchers were inspired by the Biblical dictum “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone” (John 8:3–7). This is pronounced in writers such as Porterfield, Wallerstein, and especially among the Nordic pioneers of the self-report survey.

Populist Traditions

The US populist tradition, which can be seen as a secular offshoot of the Social Gospel movement, was also an important part of the context which sensitized a generation of sociologists to see hidden criminality. The critique of “robber barons” transformed into the study of (the largely unrecorded) crimes of the white-collar offenders. It is no coincidence that Sutherland continued this tradition in his classic White Collar Crime (1948) while simultaneously experimenting with the self-report method. Both endeavors were based (or intended to show) that crime was committed by persons who were psychologically perfectly normal. Indeed, in its early phases, the self-report delinquency survey was regarded as part of the more general subfield of “white-collar crime studies”, and this lasted at least until the 1950s. The US populist and Progressive Era also impacted criminology by initiating a period of intense legislative activism. As new behaviors were defined as crimes, the need to replace official statistics as the most important data source of criminology became very acute.

Suspicion Of Biased Control In Ethnically Diverse Society

One of the contextual factors that sensitized US scholars to the artificiality of the official crime data as a social construction was the treatment of minorities. Scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois wanted to know whether rising figures of recorded crimes reflected the increasing “efficacy of the judicial system in ferreting out and punishing crime” and concluded that crime statistics are “too mingled with extra-moral causes to be trustworthy” (Du Bois 1904, p. 10; Du Bois and Dill 1914, p. 11). Thorsten Sellin was also motivated by the same problem in his efforts to improve crime indexes.

Disciplinary Conflict

A very important external factor in the rise of the self-report survey was the disciplinary warfare between sociology and the psy-sciences (psychiatry and psychology). The abnormality paradigm of the psy-sciences had been hegemonic in criminology since the times of Lombroso. In contrast, the self-report survey was invented and supported by sociologists. They used this new empirical instrument to show that criminal behavior was so prevalent that it was impossible to see it as a sign of abnormality. This gave empirical boost to E´ mile Durkheim’s early notion of crime as a “normal” social phenomenon. Sutherland especially was known as a long-standing critic of psychiatry and psychology; his link to normal-because-prevalent argument is part of that picture. Key sociological mandarins of the mid-twentieth century period, such as Robert K. Merton, used the earliest self-report surveys in arguing against psychology and psychiatry. The high cultural salience of Freudian psychoanalysis during the Post-War era in the USA probably helped to disseminate the notion that deep down, every person is deviant. This may have supported the acceptance (though not the invention) of the self-report delinquency survey. Indeed, it can be argued that the normality notion was the single most important part of the context of discovery in which the self-report delinquency survey was invented. This was so especially in the original discovery and in the second phase when the Nordic countries applied the method from the late 1950s.

Attack Against Punitivity

The first generation of self-report researchers used quantitative social analysis to attack notions which would today be described as “right wing” or “punitivist.” Porterfield, Wallerstein and Wyle, and especially the Nordic self-report pioneers strongly critiqued harsh punishments. They argued that since everyone commits crimes, it is unjust to be harsh towards the few who are detected. This argument was intimately connected to subterranean religious traditions, and it was also possible to combine it with populism. From the perspective of disciplinary conflict, the empirical proof of the normality of crime was used both against the psy-sciences (crime is normal) and lawyers (punishments are unfair and ineffective). In critiquing outdated normative and repressive regulation with reference to high prevalence of “deviant” behaviors, the first generation of self-report delinquency researchers spearheaded the kind of argumentation which was also evident in the more famous Kinsey report of sexual behavior (Kinsey et al. 1948).

Other External Preconditions

The self-report survey was a means of breaking the official control barrier of crime measurement. Its success in this task was context dependent and socially embedded in multiple ways. First, the deployment of the survey in large populations required the rise of mass literacy. The historical link of the survey with educational institutions is thus very strong: the rise of basic education created the conditions of the survey by disseminating literacy and by additionally constituting an institutional basis for the survey as much of the early work was targeted at students. The crucial importance of the rise of the state-sponsored literacy is testified by Hirschfeld’s ability to conduct a self-report mail survey among German blue-collar workers in the early years of the twentieth century.

Later on, the closely related development of newspaper publishing, opinion survey techniques, and improvements in sampling theory further helped in the creation of techniques that would later be applied in criminology as well (Converse 2009). An important precondition was also the existence of a critical mass of empirically oriented social science researchers and sufficient research funding. These factors were probably decisive in explaining why the official control barrier was broken in the United States as opposed to Europe.

In sum, the slow development of crime indicators during the long century of moral statistics from 1820s to 1930s cannot be attributed to a lack of insight among the moral statisticians. For much of that period, the necessary external preconditions of quantitative and literacy-based mass surveys were simply not in existence. When the required conditions emerged, cutting-edge scientists were quick to break the official control barrier. The time and place where this happened (the USA in the 1930s) was additionally influenced by the cultural movements described above.

Developments After Initial Discovery

The above narrative describes how the self-report delinquency survey was initially invented as response to an internal problem of crime measurement. The breakthrough took place roughly between 1930 and 1950 in the United States. While there were multiple external factors which influenced this process, it is important to underscore that the continued scientific use of the method was soon disconnected from the heavily morally driven context of its original historical discovery. Today criminologists use the self-report delinquency survey because its reliability and validity is ascertained in independent methodological research. Indeed, recent historical research has shown that much of the post-1950 development of the survey ironically produced results which were not expected nor anticipated by the generation that first started using the method. The notion of normality is a case in point. When the incidence measures of the surveys were improved, the small minority of “abnormal” or “chronic” offenders made a spectacular comeback, and this time his existence could not be denied by the claim that he was a social construction created by biased control. This shows that it is important to use the analytic distinction of context of discovery and context of justification in the historical analysis of science.

Mainstream Departs From The Normality Framework

The Post-War era witnessed what has been described as the Americanization of social sciences (a process that took place in the USA and elsewhere, see Haney 2009). This process involved a detachment from moraland politicsoriented research and a move towards a more positivist style research based on incremental accumulation of knowledge. The development of the self-report delinquency survey since the 1950 was no exception to this trend. The work of James F. Short and F. Ivan Nye concentrated on the scale development of self-report instruments and then moved towards analysis of delinquency causation. Harrison Gough, Walter C. Reckless, Simon Dinitz, and others also shared these goals. Starting from this period, validation studies increasingly suggested that official control may be biased but not random with respect to criminality.

Nordic Revival Of The Normality Framework

The first geographical dissemination phase of the self-report delinquency survey involved the Nordic countries. For a long time and until the early 1980s, it was possible for observers to comment that “most studies of self-reported delinquency have been American or Scandinavian” (West 1982, p. 20). Ultimately, this reflects the close ties of Nordics with the USA after the Second World War. The first pilot studies were initiated in 1959 by the Norwegians. Soon after that the Nordic Research Council of Criminology created an ambitious all-Nordic effort known as the Nordic Draftee Research project. The NDR project was globally the first internationally comparative self-report delinquency survey and kept this pioneering position for a very long time. The findings of the NDR were similar to the US precedents, and the Nordic scholars enthusiastically underscored the normal-because-prevalent argument, using it to critique the psy-sciences and the old-school lawyers for ungrounded punitivism. Today, self-report delinquency research remains one of the focal areas of Nordic criminology (Kivivuori and Bernburg 2011).

Subsequent Developments

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the self-report delinquency survey started to spread to areas outside the US and the Nordic area. The sheer volume of research increased as its flexibility in testing theories was fully recognized (Krohn et al. 2010). The 1960s witnessed several countries making efforts towards nationally representative youth samples, and self-report measures were being incorporated to longitudinal projects such as the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (West and Farrington 1973). After that, there was a period of slower dissemination and, in some countries, even stagnation (Aebi 2009, pp. 31–32). This partially reflected the reemerging interest in register-based studies. After all, the self-report delinquency survey had itself corroborated that the frequent offender existed and that, furthermore, the frequent offender was more likely to be arrested than others. This result supported the feasibility of register-based data in crime analysis. The classic monograph Delinquency in a Birth Cohort by Wolfgang et al., published in 1972, is a case in point. Additionally, for some time since the late 1960s, the energies of survey-based researchers were directed to the development of the victim survey as distinct from the offender-based self-report survey. These developments may partially explain, for instance, why the first full-blown international self-report project became reality only in the early 1990s when the International Self-Reported Delinquency Survey was launched at the initiative of Josine Junger-Tas. With the partial exception of the Nordic experience in the 1960s, all these developments took place in the neutral framework of crime measurement. The offender-based survey had become a regular and objective methodological tool of criminology with no connections to the morally loaded period of the initial discovery phase.

Further Readings And Research Needs

The history of the self-report delinquency survey method in criminology has been recently described in greater detail in the monograph Discovery of Hidden Crime (Kivivuori 2011) which covers both the original discovery phase in the US and the Nordic sequel. Krohn et al. (2011) provide an insightful overview of how the self-report delinquency survey has influenced theoretical developments in criminology. An in-depth description of the first internationally comparative self-report delinquency survey, the Nordic Draftee Research program, is also available (Kivivuori and Bernburg 2011). While the history of criminology has evoked more scholarly interest over the recent years, several important research problems call for further scrutiny. The prehistory of the self-report delinquency surveys probably goes further back in time than the von Romer and Hirschfeld studies and remains to be charted. Studies of survey history would also benefit from a closer look at the relationship of sexology and criminology because before the historically recent relaxation of moral legislation, sex surveys may have contained questions on criminalized behaviors. It is also known that the Kinsey survey influenced US criminologists. While the Kinsey report came after (1948) the key breakthroughs of criminological self-report studies, there were earlier sex surveys which may have influenced criminologists. The criminological work also influenced sex research as scholars like Porterfield were active in both fields.

Furthermore, more historical and archival work is needed on the period which immediately precedes the Porterfield breakthrough. Furthermore, it might be of some interest to know more about the strange role of the polymath and novelist James S. Wallerstein whose article “Our Law-abiding Law-breakers” (1947), coauthored with Clement J. Wyle, was very influential in criminology. On a more general level, an indepth history of the victim-based survey remains to be written; such an enterprise might benefit from explicit comparison with the (historically earlier) rise of the offender-based self-report delinquency survey. The history of the self-report delinquency survey provides an important lesson generally for science studies: while the discovery of the method was strongly embedded in specific moral and policy framework (normality of crime), its deployment yielded empirical results which partially contradicted that very framework. Observation was initially theory laden, but empirical findings forced researchers to modify their theoretical framework. This also means that “theory history” and “methods history” cannot be separated.


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