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The Tattoo and Social Learning Theory

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‘The tattoo’ is a novel which was written by Chris McKinney about a young adult named Ken ‘Kenji’ Hideyoshi who was sent to the Halawa Correctional Institute. Inside he tells his personal struggle of living life as a Japanese male being brought up in Hawai’i, being exposed to poverty, colonialism, violence, urban gangs, and drugs. In this essay, I will argue that one can learn criminal and violent behaviour by those who they hold close interpersonal relationships with, for example, family and friends. In saying that, I will be using the social learning theory looking in particular at Edwin Sutherland and his notion of differential association and Akers concept of differential reinforcement to explore the relationship between Ken Hideyoshi and Koa Puana.

In The Tattoo, we were introduced to Koa Kauhi Puana who originates from Kahaluu on the Windward side of the island and also a boy who Ken had met in his English class at King Intermediate School. Koa comes from a line of royalty, where his dad was the king of Puana Castles which meant that in the future he had the potential to follow his father’s footsteps, but due to the fact that Koa had fallen in to the trap of all of the societal influences around him, he began to change and lost that opportunity. In saying that, although Ken and Koa did not start off on the best of terms, they began to form a close bond to the point where they considered one another best friends and even brothers. Furthermore, this was just the beginning, adding on to Ken’s exposure of violence, gambling, alcohol and drug dealing.

When referring to the social learning theory, it is a very broad term in a way that there are many different meanings behind it. Bandura (1977) defined the social learning theory as new behaviours which can be acquired through direct experience or by observing others behaviours whereas in a criminal sense, Bradley & Walters (2011) defined it as being a term where crime is the result of a process of learning criminal values, norms and behaviour. Those who we associate with on a daily basis like the family and peer group create a huge impression in terms of what we learn. However, we must not forget that an individual does not have to be in contact with others to learn from them. An example of this is shown where an individual can learn to participate in violence simply from what they are exposed to in the media. Moreover, when looking at crime, social learning theorists believed that those who engage in criminal activity were due to their association with others who also follow crime. Furthermore, this essay will look deeper in to the social learning theory, breaking it down further by using theorist Edwin Sutherland and his idea of differential association and Akers and his concept of differential reinforcement.

The differential association theory became a huge contribution toward Sociology and Criminology. This concept was coined by Edwin Sutherland in 1939 where he believed that “crime was not a result of socio-economics nor individual pathologies but it more so a product of learning ( Bradley & Walters, 2011, p. 125).” Additionally, Sutherland argued that “we learn to become a criminal in much the same way as we learn other vocations or professional activities (Sutherland & Cressey, 1974, pp. 75-77).” Growing up, Ken and Koa (after their first introductions in intermediate) did everything together, spent most of their time drinking alcohol, doing drugs and causing havoc all throughout the island. According to ( Bradley & Walters, 2011), Sutherland argued that criminal behaviour is learned within relationships with intimate companions. The interactions that one has with the people whom they feel they are closest with (whether it be family or friends), and how they influence the learning of criminal behaviour and the attitudes that come with it. In The Tattoo, the way that this first principle was being demonstrated would be with Koa and Ken and their friendship. Hanging around each other majority of the time, Ken and Koa would have gathered a number of habits off of one another. An example of this would be seen in a way where Koa played a major part in Kenji’s journey through life. In addition, when Koa introduces Ken to Freddie (who is their main drug supplier), he becomes exposed to drugs like weed and coke which they begun to smoke daily. This illustrates the fact that if you are exposed to things like drugs and alcohol daily through societal influences (that being your peers), you are more likely to be prone to learning these exact same things and as if it is like a daily routine. Another example that was seen in the novel was that not only did Ken’s father encourage Ken to become violent but so did Koa in a way where he used alcohol, his physical strength and drugs as an excuse to beat these two marine men, just because they were Haole’s, they were confronted about

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