Applying Life Course Theory to City of God




Applying Life Course Theory to City of God


The life course theory is a micro theory that looks into a subject’s past to interpret present deeds of a subject and possibly even predict future conduct. It is a road map of an individuals expected behavior and provides reasoning for a persons life choices not only in relation to crime and criminal behavior but also to milestones such as choice of spouse and their ability to sustain relationships they have. The film City of God discerns the progression of individuals and their life choices based on the history of their lives.

Part 1

Life course theory was pioneered in the 1920s in the works of Thomas’ and Znaniecki’s “The Polish Peasant in Europe and America”. More recently, similarities have been found in those studies and in those of Wolfgang, Figlio & Sellin- 1945 and those of Wright, Tibbetts & Daigle (2008). The similarities that accrue are that the subjects are usually assertive, impulsive and have aggressive tendencies. This seems to be understandable in relation to the conditions of lower income households where these mindsets are encouraged due to the harsh nature of the conditions one has to deal with.

Wolfgang, Figlio, and Sellin’s (1945) research on 9945 boys, showed that, in the communities, the definition of normal stands relative as the commission of minor acts of delinquency was considered the normal and did not raise any red flags. This was despite the fact that these “normal” acts were gateways to becoming career criminals later in life or did lead to the commission of what was that society would consider “abnormal” delinquency. This presents a problem because each child on an individual level acquires the notion that they are the pioneers of the acts they perpetrate forgetting that the very same scene has played out numerously in their very own community. This may give them a perception of uniqueness leading to a persistent in their disruptive behavior.

Moffitt (1993) offers a different interpretation of the theory. She posits that the basis of crime rests in environmental factors and separates offenders between those with temporary and those with persistent anti-social behavior. Temporary here is taken to mean behavior that does not extend past adolescence. She posits that those with temporary anti-social behavior only commit offences when they deem it advantageous thus; it seems likely that they should continue their delinquent behavior into adulthood.

Part 2

The film City of God clearly brings out the Life Course Theory through its presentation of individuals whose lives of crime are hailed as necessary for their own survival. The film shows the progression of a group of kids who move up the ranks as either “hoods” or “cops”. These two seem to be the only to choices available in order for one to make something of themselves in the City of God. This brings out the theory in that as time passes children are born into harsher and harsher conditions due to the fact that the ones who make it promptly move out creating a city of those who have been “left behind” which has a compounding effect on the safety and security of the city.

The films main antagonists Lil’ Ze is a prime candidate for Moffitt’s (1993) interpretation of the life course theory. Lil’ Ze is a hood who chose his path early in life displaying all the characteristics described b y Moffit i.e. he is antisocial with his only friend being Benne another hood. He continues this behavior later on in life ostracizing himself even more by killing anyone he considers to be a nuisance or a threat to his existence even at one point in the film finding it odd that he did not kill a kid who crossed his path even going back to finish the deed.

Further examination of the film shows that the fashion in which the above scenario played out is not unique as most antagonists in the film share similar histories in that their wrongdoing is in large part due to the environment they inhabit in which crime is considered an integral part of their identity conceivably since they were younger. One could map out their past and from there calculate a trajectory where they keep escalating the commission of their misdeeds.

The film shows Wolfgang, Figlio, and Sellin’s (1972) distinction between “normal” and “abnormal” delinquency. Normal delinquency in the film includes acts such as consummation of marijuana in which everyone seems to indulge in staggering amounts even to the extent that the main character Rocket is willing to traverse long distances to obtain a “joint” for his girlfriend. Assault and battery is considered normal going by the numerous beatings that follow in the films and the indifference towards acts of aggression by the locals. Abnormal delinquency is presented in acts of murder, which is rampant throughout the film with numerous killing carried out for territories and during robberies. The police themselves also seem to have a shoot first policy with very few offenders being subjected to the appropriate criminal justice proceedings. The link to the life course theory is that the persons committing these acts have a level of comfort with these gruesome acts that could only come because of having either witnessed or partaken in many similar activities when they were younger.

The incidents and occurrences that ultimately shape future conduct and determine the possibility of a person’s involvement in crime do not automatically proceed in a chronological order, but rather make up the sum total of the individual’s actual experience.


Clark, M. C., & Caffarella, R. S. (2011). An Update on Adult Development Theory: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Greenspan, S. I., & Pollock, G. H. (1989). The Course of life. Madison, Conn: International University Press.

Pratt, M. W., & Fiese, B. H. (2004). Family stories and the life course: Across time and generations. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.


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