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Question: Discuss the pros and cons of rational choice theory, routine activities theory, and cultural criminology.Returning to Classic
Assumptions of Human Nature
 One of the principal complaints made b
by more
conservative criminologists such as Hirschi and
Hindelang (1977), Wilson (1976), and Wilson and
Herrnstein (1985) was that many criminological
theories wanted to trace “root causes” of crime to
society and to exonerate delinquents and
criminals from any blame for their actions.
Chapter 5
○ Criminals are eager to accept authorita-tive
pronouncements that excuse their behavior, and
defense lawyers are equally quick to argue them in
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Returning to Classic
Assumptions of Human Nature
Returning to Classic
Assumptions of Human Nature
Th fforeground
d off crime
iis d
fi d as th
immediate situation and the thought
processes of the individual criminal at the
time of the crime
 The background of crime refers to everything
that person is (age
(age, race
race, gender
gender, impulsive
drug abuser) or has experienced (abuse,
poverty, broken home, drugs) that may have
led him or her to think that way.
 Two popular theories based on neoclassical (a term

meaning revival and/or new interpretation of the
classical school) ideas of human nature are rational
choice theory and routine activities theory.
 A theory called cultural criminology directly opposes
both these theories, and it emphasizes the role of
emotions in instigating criminal behavior rather than
○ Maintains that criminology (and social science in
general) has had a much too rational view of human
beings and their behavior and that it has seriously
neglected the role of emotions (Ferrell, 2004)
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Rational Choice Theory

What is Rationality?
R ti
l choice
h i th
i t are ““soft
determinists” because while they believe that
criminal behavior is ultimately a choice, the
choice is made in the context of personal
and situational constraints and opportunities

R ti
lit iis a d
i bl quality
lit said
id tto b
inherent in human beings
 Basic notion is that rationality is the state of
having good sense and sound judgment
 Goal is self-interest
 Human agency is a concept that maintains
humans have the capacity to make choices and
the responsibility to make moral ones regardless
of internal or external constraints on one’s abil-ity
to do so.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
What are the Constraints on
What is Rationality?

W b conceived
i d off ttwo broad
b d ttypes off
Rationality is subjective (personal and biased) and
bounded (it has limits)
○ We do not all make the same calculations or arrive at the same
plan when pursuing the same goals
 Zweckrationalitat (“purpose” or “instrumental”

○ Rationality is a part of human nature pressed into
service to assure we meet goals that serve our interests.
 Wertrationalitat (“value” rationality)
Rather than focusing on the nature and backgrounds of
criminals, rational choice theorists simply assume
criminally motivated offenders will always be with us and
focus on the process of their choices to offend (the
foreground rather than the background of crime).
 This process is known as choice structuring and is defined as
“the constellation of opportunities, costs, and benefits attaching
to particular kinds of crime” (Cornish & Clarke, 1987, p. 993).
 This type of rationality is related to a value such as honor, or to
duty to some revered entity (one’s nation, group, God) or idea
(patriotism, ideology, religion), which may appear to observers
to be antithetical to instrumental rationality.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Routine Activities Theory
Routine Activities Theory
Th th
i db
h and
○ The
theory was d
by L
Lawrence C

Marcus Felson (1979) in the tradition of rational
choice theory and attempts to explain crime rates in
different societies and neighbor-hoods without
invoking individual differences in criminal propensity
○ Routine activities are defined as “recurrent and
l t activities
ti iti which
hi h provide
id ffor b
population and individual needs” (Cohen & Felson,
1979, p. 593).
lt of moti
ated offenders meeting
Crime is the res
suitable targets that lack capable guardians.
 Motivated offenders are individuals willing and able to
commit crimes.
○ Suitable targets are persons that offenders view as vulnerable
or attractive who possess something they want or are objects
they want to possess.
○ Capable
bl guardians
are persons ((mates,
t lli police,
concerned neighbors, and so on) or things (alarms, locked
doors, well-lit streets, and so forth) that deter criminal activity.
 If these three elements do not converge in time and space,
crime is not likely to occur.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Evaluation of Rational Choice
and Routine Activities Theory

Rational Choice Theory
Evaluation of Rational Choice and Routine
Activities Theories

 The most glaring criticism is the assumption of
○ It is assumed that everyone agrees that all humans of
sound mind are rational in the classical sense of wanting
to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain.
Routine activities theory is a different
proposition because it makes no explicit
assumptions about offenders other than that
their motives are to “gain quick pleasure and
avoid imminent pain” (Felson, 1998, p. 23).
 Because the theory
y concentrates on crime as a
 But if everyone is rational
rational, rationality is a constant and thus
process of unfolding events rather than the
motivated offender, it appeals to those who see
individual dif-ference explanations as stigmatizing
and wish to avoid them.
cannot by itself explain something as variable as human
 Criminals are rational from their own limited point of view, and
they do weigh costs and benefits but few of us routinely take
time to weigh the pros and cons of their every move.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Cultural Criminology
Cultural Criminology
Cultural criminology (sometimes called anarchic
criminology) is a relatively new theory that
seemingly attracts disenchanted members of
the radical left (thus the anarchic label). This
the-ory is included here for two major reasons:

Tend to be politically engaged radicals who
attack theories favored by conservatives and
liberals alike and who have a special distaste
for viewing criminals as rational calculators
 To explain the kind of psychology underlying
the cultural degradation that cultural
criminologists perceive, they introduce the
concept of anelpis, a Greek term meaning
“without hope.”

○ (1) it positions itself in direct opposition to rational
choice theory,
y, and
○ (2) it provides an opportunity to discuss a prime
motivator of behavior that is emphasized by cultural
criminology but is seriously neglected in mainstream
criminology— emotion.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
The Relationship of Rationality
and Emotion

Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Evaluating Cultural Criminology
If criminologists
the role
i i l i t thi
k about
b t th
l off
emotions at all, they tend to see them as
having no positive adaptive function.

 Emotion is seen as intervening between a

perception and an action as follows:
l i d
i i → resentment/envy
○ relative


 Cultural criminologists view emotions as primary
causes of a great deal of criminal behavior
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
We need to understand the foreground of crime
emphasized by this theory as well as the
background of crime emphasized by other
Looking at crime from offenders’ subjective
points of view allows us insight into their thought
d emotions.
processes, motives,
“Anarchic criminology” is thus a more apt
description for this brand of criminology than
“cultural criminology.”
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Emotions and Their Functions
Emotions and Their Functions

E ti
bj ti ffeelings
 Emotions
are subjective
off varying
 Primary emotions (e.g., anger, fear, disgust, joy)
○ Have been enormously useful in the evolution of our
 Secondary (often called the “social” emotions) are
strength prompted by nervous system arousal in
response to some perceived event.
○ Modern neuroscience has demonstrated time and
again that emotion and rationality, far from being
antagonists as often assumed, are two inseparably
linked components of all that we think and do.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
mixtures of the primary emotions just as the
secondary colors are mixtures of the primary colors
○ The social emotions, such as empathy, shame,
embarrassment, and guilt, are retrofitted to the primary
emotions as a mixture that broadens rather than narrows
our focus and are integral to developing and
strengthening social bonds (Fredrickson, 2003).
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Important Crime-Preventing
Crime Preventing Social Emotions
 Empathy channels helping behavior in social species
because it moves us to rapidly access a situation and
respond to it without having to rely on time-consuming
conscious reflection to determine our response
(Roach & Pease, 2013).
 Guilt is other-centered because it focuses our
on recognizing
and respect
g the rights
others and how we have violated them.
 Shame, on the other hand, is more self-centered
because it involves an appraisal of self-worth in light
of what one has done to be ashamed of.
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Policy and Prevention:
Emotions and Their Functions

Primary and Secondary Emotions

Th kkey tto preventing
ti crime
ffrom these
theories is reducing criminal opportunities by
minimizing the occasions where potential
offenders and suitable targets intersect.

Rational choice and routine activities
theories thus shift the policy focus from large
and costly social programs such as
antipoverty programs to target hardening
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Policy and Prevention:

Policy and Prevention: Implications
of Cultural Criminology
Environmental design is primarily concerned
with defensible space, defined as “a model
for residential environments which inhibit
crime by creating the physical expression of
a social fabric that defends itself” (Newman,
1972, p. 3).
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
 When writing about crime prevention, cultural
criminologists are more likely to point out the
pitfalls of situational crime prevention (such as
criminals moving to less guarded areas—crime
displacement—when they perceive crime in one
area is too difficult and risky) than to offer their
own preventative suggestions (Hayward, 2007).
Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.
Open-Access Student Resources
Q i
 Flashcards
 SAGE Journal Articles
 Multimedia Resources
sagepub com/Walsh3e
 And more at: study

Walsh, Criminology 3e. SAGE Publishing, 2018.

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