1. Describe what theories do and how they can be tested.
A theory is a way of explaining aspects of our world. In criminology, most theories try to answer a particular question or set of questions. Most criminological theories have elements in them that are useful to our understanding of crime, though no single theory answers all the questions.
To assess a theory, you first need to make sure you understand what questions it is trying to answer. Then you can move on to examine a series of other points. Are the theory’s concepts, claims and arguments clear and relevant to the question it aims to answer? Does it address all important issues and avoid irrelevancies? Does it acknowledge and state its limits? Can it be tested in a controlled experiment? Does it offer evidence to support its claims and arguments? Does it critically engage with how power is exercised politically and economically, and how the exercise of power influences the issues that it examines? Does it engage with its position in the context of other theories and existing ‘knowledge’? Ultimately, is the theory useful – can it inform policy and practice?
2. Explain the main aspects of classical criminology and consider to what extent they are valid in the modern world.
Dating back to the 18th century, classical criminology sees people as free rational agents who choose how to live and behave. Employing reason, each individual decides which action would be most beneficial for them. If they choose something which harms others, it should be criminal and they should be punished, but only after a fair trial. This chapter sets out many of the criticisms of classical criminology. To consider to what extent classical criminology is valid today, work through the following prompts (discussed in the section Limitations of classical criminology): culpability, intentions, timing, and power structure.
3. Explain the term ‘bounded rationality’ and give examples of how it might operate.
‘Bounded rationality’ refers to the idea that a person’s rationality may be ‘bounded’ or limited by the information they have available to them, their mental state (e.g. due to drug/alcohol intoxication, sleep deprivation, and mental health issues), or by the time available to make the decision (many decisions to offend are impulsive).
Even when the crime is planned, the offender may have to adapt their plans due to unforeseen circumstances, drawing upon previous experience and instinct. Their renewed choice of action is rational but nevertheless constrained by the new circumstances they encountered in which they may not have had enough time and the mental strength to weigh up the consequences of their actions.
4. What is a ‘crime script’? Choose a crime type and construct a crime script for it.
‘Crime scripts’, first used by Cornish (1994), describe actions and decisions taken before, during and after a crime is committed. They work in the same fashion as any other action and decision taken to accomplish any other task. For example, the script for eating in a restaurant might be: enter the restaurant; get shown to a table; study the menu; order; be served; eat; get the bill; pay; and leave the restaurant.
Likewise, crime scripts signpost us and explain the rational choices made to complete the activity. They often provide information on who, what, when, where, why, and how, so they can help inform decisions on how to predict and prevent crimes from occurring.
The crime script for a pickpocket might be:
- Preparation: choose a general area in which to pickpocket; dress and behave appropriately for that environment.
- Pre-activity: arrive at the location; observe people’s interactions and try to blend in; identify a suitable target; approach and create an opportunity, for example bump into them.
- Activity: take hold of the target goods – wallet, purse, mobile phone, etc.
- Post-activity: remove yourself from the area discreetly; find a secure place for important items such as cash, phones and cards; dispose of unwanted items such as the wallet; sell items such as cards and phones.
5. Explain the three things necessary to for a crime to be committed, according to routine activity theory.
Cohen and Felson (1979) argued that for crime to occur, three things were necessary: a motivated offender; a suitable target (it might be a human victim or an object such as a car or a house); and the absence of guardians (as well as the police, this includes other people who might see what happens and surveillance systems such as CCTV).
6. How could you use both routine activity theory and situational crime prevention to reduce crime on a university campus?
The logical outcome of routine activity theory is to work to reduce criminal opportunities by avoiding the three pre-conditions for crime to take place, as set out in the guidance to question 6. This leads us into situational crime prevention and ideas of ‘defensible space’. Under situational crime prevention, the environment and particularly possessions should be managed so as to reduce opportunities for crime or to deter criminals. The idea is that by removing the opportunity for criminal behaviour, we can make the costs of crime outweigh the benefits, so that individuals will not choose to offend. Universities could therefore: design ways of making things harder to steal (such as better bike locks); persuade people to be more responsible about their possessions and themselves; and install CCTV to make it harder to commit a crime or more likely that the offender will be seen and caught.
In this context, Coleman (1990) suggested three aspects of our living and working spaces to be looked at, and you could consider these in terms of a university campus: 1. Reducing the number of anonymous spaces. 2. Increasing surveillance – this involves designing buildings so that they overlook each other and so that shared spaces can all be seen and so guarded. This might mean removing hedges and other barriers to guardianship. 3. Removing the possibility of easy escape without being seen.
7. How is situational crime prevention related to rational choice theory and routine activity theory and what is its function?
Situational crime prevention developed out of rational choice theory and routine activity theory. It is questionable whether situational crime prevention is really a theory; it is more of an idea, which pulls on other theories – particularly rational choice theory and routine activity theory – to provide a logical way to prevent or avoid criminal activity.
Under situational crime prevention, the environment and particularly possessions should be managed so as to reduce opportunities for crime or to deter criminals. The idea is that by removing the opportunity for criminal behaviour, we can make the costs of crime outweigh the benefits, so that individuals will not choose to offend.
8. How do the neo-classical ideas or modern classical theories link to the traditional classical school of thought?
One way to address the question is to examine how classical criminology and neo-classical criminology view the offender and their offending, as well as responses to that. We have seen that classical criminology views human beings (and therefore offenders) as free, rational agents who weigh up the consequences of their actions before they proceed to do something. If the benefits outweigh the negatives, offenders will proceed to commit the crime; if the negatives outweigh the benefits, they will abstain from committing the crime. Neo-classical criminology shares this view (though recognises that some factors might inhibit the exercise of free will). As a result, it largely agrees with classical criminology that since the offender knows that what they are doing is wrong, they are responsible for their actions and therefore deserve to be punished.