Situational crime prevention and ...
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Situational 2007Vol. XXX Original Articles Social Policy & Administration, 41, No. 3, June 2007 Social Policy & Administration, Vol. 41, No. 3, June 2007 Crime Prevention and its Discontents: Rational Choice Theory versus the ���Culture of Now��� Keith Hayward Abstract The rational choice theory of crime and its cognate field of study, situational crime prevention, have exerted a considerable influence in criminal justice policy and criminology. This article argues that, while undeniably useful as a means of reducing property or acquisitive crime, rational choice- inspired situational crime prevention initiatives are limited when it comes to offering protection against a growing number of so-called ���expressive crimes���. Developing this critique, the article will criticize the sociologically hollow narrative associated with rational choice theories of crime by drawing on recent research in social theory and consumer studies. It argues that the growing tendency among many young individuals to engage in certain forms of criminal decision-making ���strategies��� may simply be the by-product of a series of subjectivities and emotions that reflect the material values and cultural logic associated with late modern consumerism. Keywords Criminal justice Situational crime prevention Rational choice theory Cultural criminology Consumerism Introduction According to many criminal justice policy-makers, the migration of rational choice theory (RCT) into criminology has been a major success. Criminol- ogy and criminal justice journals abound with the latest iterative tests of RCTs of offending, and proponents of this approach regularly secure major research grants. Taken together, RCT and its cognate field of study, situa- tional crime prevention (SCP), exert a major influence on contemporary crime reduction practice, with many supporters claiming that such strategies represent the most efficient and cost-effective approach to current crime problems. This article will argue, however, that, despite considerable success in combating certain forms of economic/acquisitive criminality (e.g. Ken Pease���s work on preventing repeat burglary victimization see Farrell and Address for correspondence: Keith Hayward, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, Cornwallis North East, Canterbury, Kent, CT ��� ��� NF. Email: email@example.com
�� ������������ The Author(s) ��������� Journal compilation �� ������������ Blackwell Publishing Ltd S ��������������� P ��������������� & A ���������������������������������������, V ������ . ������ , N ��� . ��� , J ��������� ������������ Pease ������������ for a summary), much of this RCT-inspired SCP lacks reflexivity. More specifically it has failed to pay sufficient attention to the array of criticisms of RCT that have emerged from disciplines such as behavioural psychology, political science and sociology that centre around the simple alternative hypothesis that ���not all actors are economically self-interested���. Developing these critiques, this article will further criticize the rather socio- logically deracinated narrative associated with RCTs of crime by drawing on some of the theoretical innovations that have come to define critical and cultural criminology. Rational Choice Theories of Crime: The Basics There is nothing intrinsically new about RCTs of crime. Indeed, on at least one reading the criminological tradition owes its very origins to the eighteenth- century ���classical��� ideas of Cesare Beccaria ([ ������������ ] ������������ ) and Jeremy Bentham ([ ������������ ] ������������ ), figures who in turn were inspired by the (then radical) utilitarian philosophies of Locke and Hume. Central to these writers��� accounts of criminality was the belief that human nature was predicated upon the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, and that human action was consequently organized around calculative strategies aimed at utility maximization: ���Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do��� (Bentham [ ������������ ] ������������ ). Guided by such principles, ���classical��� scholars employed the new intellectual instruments of modernity, not in a bid to understand the ultimate causes of human behaviour, but rather to initiate new ways of con- trolling behaviour by affecting rational motivation. In sum, the underlying social conditions of crime were unimportant: ���Instead the emphasis was on administration, ordered systems that would free society from arbitrary authority and open it up so that the basic true forms of the human condition would be visible��� (Hayward and Morrison ������������ : ������ ). It was such thinking that ultimately helped create both a legitimated system of criminal justice based on equality and proportionality, and the development of the modern prison as we know it today. Despite its considerable influence on both jurisprudence and criminal justice policy, the classical tradition was largely eclipsed throughout most of the twentieth century by what the American sociologist Edwin Sutherland ( ������������ ) termed ���dispositional theories of crime and deviance���. According to Sutherland���s useful shorthand framework, dispositional theories are all those approaches that seek an answer to that fundamental aetiological question: ���why do some people feel compelled to break rules and transgress social norms?��� Without going into detail, one could say that dispositional theories of crime (whether genetic, psychological or socio-cultural) have comprised the standard reference points of the criminological enterprise, from Lombroso to Durkheim, from Marxist criminology to the most recent work on the possible genetic basis of antisocial behaviour. Certainly, dispositional theories of crime have held most sway in terms of shaping Western govern- ments��� thinking regarding the twentieth-century crime problem, influencing
��������� �� ������������ The Author(s) Journal compilation �� ������������ Blackwell Publishing Ltd S ��������������� P ��������������� & A ���������������������������������������, V ������ . ������ , N ��� . ��� , J ��������� ������������ such diverse policy initiatives as the ������������ s ���welfarist��� movement within youth justice, to recent interest in restorative justice programmes. However, by the ������������ s, many policy-makers had grown disillusioned with the dispositional approach and especially its failure to isolate the specific causes of criminality. With crime rates rising throughout the ������������ s and ������������ s, and recidivism rates similarly increasing (despite attempts by most Western governments to implement prison regimes based ��� albeit in piecemeal fashion ��� around welfarist ideals), there was, as Garland ( ������������ : ��������� ) suggests, a palpable lurch within mainstream criminal justice away from theories of crime based on notions of social deprivation, towards ���explanations [of crime] couched in terms of social control, and its deficits���. These factors, alongside the rise of the conservative right, saw many criminologists revisit the fundamental principles of the ���classical school��� (Clarke and Cornish ������������ Cornish and Clarke ������������ a, ������������ b). Importantly, these ���neo-classical��� criminologists were not interested in simply resuscitating old utilitarian calculations of pleasure versus pain. Rather, their aim was to update the model by considering more recent theoretical research into rationality undertaken within disciplines such as economics (Becker ������������ , ������������ ), economic psychology (Tversky ������������ Kahneman et al. ������������ ), law (Posner ������������ , ������������ ) and sociology (e.g. Coleman ������������ Heath ������������ ). The result was a reasonably eclectic amalgam that drew together the utili- tarian ideas of Beccaria and Bentham with more recent ���deterrence��� theories (Gibbs ������������ Zimring and Hawkins ������������ ), and (related) economic theories of crime (Becker ������������ Hirschi ������������ ). Consider, by way of exposition, the fol- lowing definition by Ken Pease, one of the high priests of the neo-classical revival: ���The starting point of RCT is that offenders seek advantage to them- selves by their criminal behaviour. This entails making decisions among alter- natives. These decisions are rational within the constraints of time, ability and the availability of relevant information��� ( ������������ : ��������� ). This reliance upon ���cost���benefit��� constructs such as the homo economicus model of human action led to the creation of a series of (deliberately) aetio- logically impoverished models of criminal behaviour in which, just like classic control theory (Gottfredson and Hirschi ������������ ), there is no special deviant/ pathological criminality. Reaching its highest form in sophisticated algebraic expressions, contemporary RC theorists of crime now test the efficacy of crime prevention initiatives by reducing the mind of the potential offender to a statistical formula: e.g. Yi = �� + �� ��� (X bi ) + �����(Xci) + ��i, (as utilized, for example, in Exum ������������). Under the rubric of RC, the human purposes and existential meanings of crime are thus literally banned from the equation. Thus is the intractable question of criminality reduced to a two-inch formula ��� at least for the purposes of statistical policy analysis. Situational Crime Prevention: The Basics At this point, it is important to acknowledge the convergence that took place between RCTs of offending and a number of other related areas of theoret- ical and practical criminological inquiry ��� not least, of course, SCP, which, as Pease (������������: ���������) points out, is tightly bound up with the RCT of crime.