Some of these individuals participated in the ASC Oral History Project. For more information, please go to the Oral History Project page.
TRAVIS W. HIRSCHI
Travis W. Hirschi, Regents’ Professor (emeritus) at the University of Arizona, passed away at his home in Tucson January 2, 2017. One of the leading criminologists of the past century, Travis fundamentally changed the way scholars throughout the world study and think about crime, deviance and conformity.
Born in southern Utah on April 15th 1935, Travis graduated from the University of Utah in 1957 with a B.S. in sociology and history and received a M.S. in sociology and educational psychology in 1958. In 1955 he and Anna Yergensen, also from southern Utah, were married. After college, they moved to Washington, D.C., while Travis served in the United States Army at Fort Meyer, Virginia.
After his military service, Travis enrolled in the Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. This was perhaps the most important and active period in the history of American sociology centered on delinquency theory. It was also the beginning of Travis’s life-long commitment to the idea that both theory and method were crucial in understanding delinquency and crime. At Berkeley, he had the opportunity to study with Erving Goffman, David Matza, Irving Piliavin, Hanan Selvin, and Charles Glock. At the same time, he also fashioned life-long colleagueship with fellow students such as Rodney Stark and John Lofland. Travis received the Ph.D. in 1968.
From the beginning of his graduate studies, Travis was interested in fundamental questions about deviance and conformity, how they were explained by major social theories and how modern empirical research should be used to uncover facts bearing on the theories. Seeking answers to these questions characterized his work throughout his long career.
Recognizing that questions of social responses to crime and violence were at the heart of major theories of society, he, more than most scholars of the day, sought to situate theories of delinquency in the larger landscape of theories of the social order. His deliberations about such matters transformed the way contemporary scholars think about crime and justice and elevated discussions of delinquency to consideration of ideas about human nature and the nature of society.
Remarkably, at the same time, Travis pursued the idea that the important purpose of methodology in the social sciences was to connect theory and data—and that good methods could be judged only to the extent that they allow facts to be explicated by systematic ideas. His first book, written in collaboration with Hanan Selvin, a Tour de Force of research on crime and delinquency, established Travis as a penetrating thinker about the connection between research and its theoretical meaning (Delinquency Research: An Appraisal of Analytic Methods, 1967). It is noteworthy that this book was written while Travis was a graduate student.
After graduate school, Travis joined the faculty in the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington (1967-71). It was there that he published his second book, Causes of Delinquency, (1969). The book, drawn from his dissertation work, established him as one of the most significant figures in criminology. Causes of Delinquency is a work like no other in the field of criminology with respect to its impact on thinking about crime and delinquency: It presented and tested a control theory of crime; it illustrated the power of explicit operationalization of criminological theories; it created contrasts among prominent theories in expectations for data; it helped legitimize survey methods of measuring crime and delinquency as well as key theoretical constructs; it brought the family and the school back into a central role in theory and research. And, it tied delinquency research to the most fundamental questions of social order, human nature, and classic theory.
From Washington, Travis moved back to California and to the University of California at Davis (1971-77) as Professor of Sociology, where he served as Chair of the department. He then moved to the School of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany (first in 1974-75 as a visiting professor; then 1977-81 as professor) where he enjoyed a close collaboration with Michael Hindelang and working with graduate students. His work with Hindelang resulted in fundamental studies of the causes and correlates of crime, including the book-length study of self-report methods for the study of delinquency (Measuring Delinquency, with Michael Hindelang and Joseph Weis, 1981). It is noteworthy that the project helped provide validation evidence for self-report methods but is cited just as often for its substantive contributions about the nature of delinquency. Also while at Albany, Travis and Michael Gottfredson began a decades-long collaboration, continuing a focus on the implications of facts about crime for theories of crime, an interest they both shared with Michael Hindelang. The paper they began at Albany on age and crime, and its derivations, might today be characterized as a “disruptive” event in criminology.
From Albany, Travis returned to the West, joining the University of Arizona in 1981 where he remained through retirement, from the university, in 1997. In 1990, he and Gottfredson (also then at Arizona) published A General Theory of Crime. This book continued the exploration of reconciliation between control theory and the facts about crime and delinquency, in contrast with other theories. The theory (often now referred to as self-control theory) is today a focus of considerable attention in research, theory, and public policy in criminology and criminal justice.
Throughout his career, Travis was highly honored for his contributions to criminology. His work is uniformly praised as “path breaking”, “provocative”, and “vitally important.” (His scholarship is occasionally described as “controversial”, provoking his amusement at how a work could be path breaking and provocative while avoiding controversy). He was elected President of the American Society of Criminology and was also the recipient of the society’s Edwin H. Sutherland Award, the ASC’s highest honor. His book with Selvin was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award and he was elected a member of the Sociological Research Association. The Western Society of Criminology gave him the Paul Tappan Award. In 2016, Travis was awarded the Stockholm Prize in Criminology, honoring his lifelong contributions to our field.
Travis was raised and lived most of his life in the western states and was drawn to the majesty of his surroundings. Camping, driving trips, trout fishing, and gardening were his life-long interests. His love of the southwest was revealed in his large yard planted carefully with native plants. Like many agriculturists, he complained incessantly about the weather, but his skills at creating productive vegetable gardens in the desert environment were unrivaled. Family and friends knew of his culinary skills, especially sourdough pancakes and homemade root beer. He read widely for pleasure, in literature, in science, and in philosophy. For a period he helped repopulate northwest Tucson with the desert tortoise, failing persistently in methods for their incarceration in his yard.
For his many friends, students and colleagues, Travis’s humor and intelligence combined to enhance every personal interaction. His lectures were punctuated with humor and he was drawn frequently to describe the ironies in both everyday occurrences and in professional writings. His students and colleagues uniformly describe him as generous, caring and a delight to be around. There can be little doubt that among his lasting contributions to criminology was his role as graduate teacher and mentor to many students, some of whom have taken their place as among the field’s most accomplished scholars. His closest friends and colleagues knew him to be both erudite and utterly without pretension.
No criminologist is as responsible as is Travis for describing the influential role of the family in the causation of delinquency and crime—from Causes of Delinquency through A General Theory of Crime. His exploration of the significance of the interactions between parents and children for the life-chances of children helped fill a void in the field. It should come as no surprise that attachment and commitment to his own family were the center of his own life. He is survived by his wife Anna (they celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary this fall!); and by their children Kendall, Nathan, and Justine (Van Nimwegen), their spouses Mary, Jan and Phil, and nine grandchildren Quinn, Owen, Candace, Layton, Faith, Sydney, Celeste, Travis and Jack.
Authored by: Michael Gottfredson and John Laub