1. What are the main differences between positivism and interpretivism in terms of how they seek to explain crime?
In order to identify the main differences between positivism and interpretivism, it is important to have a good understanding of how each position views the social world we live in. It is there that we can locate their differences.
Positivism argues that our social world can be objectively studied, measured and categorised in the same way the natural world is. In contrast, interpretivism views the social world as subjective, holding different meanings to different people. These contrasting views entail different research methodologies. A positivist investigation into the causes of offending would typically employ quantitative research methods, such as experiments, seeking to build statistical associations between, for example, impulsivity, truancy and youth offending. On the other hand, an interpretivist investigation would typically employ qualitative research methods, such as interviews, to uncover people’s motivations to commit crime. In viewing the social world differently and employing different methods of investigation, positivism and interpretivism produce different bodies of knowledge that are useful in their own right.
2. What are some of the main issues we must address in order to identify the causes of crime? Illustrate your answer with reference to a specific criminological theory.
Searching for the cause of crime is an impossible goal in the strictest sense, because there are simply too many unknowns and unmeasured dark figures of crime and explanation to enable us to draw definitive conclusions from research. Criminologists should pursue sensitive, specific, contingent, dynamic, and reflective explanations of different crimes at different times by different kinds of people. In particular, criminologists should have sensitivity to and critical reflection on the roles of subjectivity, supposition, and study on the production of explanatory knowledge of the causes and explanations of crime. With these broad points in mind, you can now work through some of the main issues to address related to your chosen theory.
3. What is the main difference in focus between the realistic evaluation approach of Pawson and Tilley, and the theory of change approach by Connell and others?
The realistic evaluation approach of Pawson and Tilley (2009, 1998) and the theory of change by Connell et al (1998) are concerned with the evaluation of crime prevention initiatives. The realistic evaluation approach is concerned with individual-based measures, whereas the theory of change model focuses on large-scale, community-based measures. Both are located within the positivist perspective whilst trying to address some of its traditional limitations (e.g. reductionism). They try to do that by taking into account the context of a measure, its working method and aims, and the outcomes of its working method.
4. How does the concept of ‘chaos theory’ pose a challenge to the deterministic arguments made by positivists?
Chaos theory, otherwise known as ‘complex systems science’, highlights the inherent dynamism of the social world, human nature and behaviour. In doing so, it essentially argues against the positivist assumption of linear, stable and proportionate relationships between variables. It sets out to prove this by demonstrating the difficulties in achieving reliable measurements, due to the very unreliability of the concepts utilised (e.g. risk factors and causal variables) and the lack of sophistication in what is measured and when.