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Routine Activities Flipbook

Sunday, August 30th, 2020

A few months ago (around 6 to be precise) I did a blog post suggesting how you might want to evaluate a Routine Activities approach to crime.

Then I left well alone and went away – not literally because we were well into the Covid lockdown by then – and did a load of other stuff (making films, mostly – all available at very reasonable rates if you’re at all interested in using video in the classroom) before finally getting around to converting the blog text to a Pdf format and, more-interestingly I think, to html5 Flipbook format.

Or, to be very precise, two types of Flipbook:

The first is your bog-standard “Read the text, look at the pictures and flip the pages” version.

The second is as above (text, pictures, flipping…) but with the added bonus of a bit of streaming video that you – or indeed your students – can view if you want. The short clip focuses on explaining Routine Activities in a visual way in case your students need a bit of a recap before considering a couple of ways to evaluate the approach.

And if you like the Flipbook Format (let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) and can’t wait to get your mitts on more to satisfy your hunger (or something) there are loads more available on Research Methods, Sociological Theory, Crime and Deviance, Revision and Mass Media if you follow the link.

Crime as a Cause of Crime? Evaluating Routine Activities

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020
Click to download pdf version

Felson and Cohen’s Routine Activities approach (1979) has arguably been one of the most-influential recent theories of crime, one that sits squarely within contemporary New Right / Realist explanations for crime and deviance.

This post looks at a couple of useful ways students can evaluate the approach.

A Quick Outline…

The main objective of this post is to introduce a-level sociology students to some points of evaluation for Routine Activities and in order to do this, students need to be familiar with the basic approach. If they’re not, this quick outline should bring them up-to-speed.

One advantage of the approach is that it’s easy to describe, at least in Felson and Cohen’s (1979) original argument that crime involves three essential elements:

The Predatory Triangle

1. A Suitable Target

2. A Motivated (latterly, a Capable or Likely) Offender

3. The absence of a Capable Guardian.

This formulation has, over the years, seen various additions (see, for example, Clarke and Eck, 2003) although whether these represent an attempt to refine the approach or merely a papering over of the theoretical cracks, I couldn’t possibly say), but one of the most significant refinements has been to express these elements as part of what Felson and Cohen call “the Predatory Triangle”.

While it might not seem much, this visual representation shows how the three elements are linked, such that, as they argue, a “Lack of any one of these elements is sufficient to prevent the successful completion of a direct-contact predatory crime”.

In other words, for a crime to take place a likely offender needs to meet a suitable target in the absence of a capable guardian. Or, as Felson (1998) puts it, by way of an example:

“A burglary needs a capable and motivated offender to find a suitable and accessible target, in the absence of anyone or anything there to keep the two apart”.

There are a couple of points we can note in this respect:

1. A crime occurs (or, in a weaker formulation, “is likely to occur”) when these three elements meet in time and space.

If you want to give Routine Activities an historical context, in common with other Right Realist approaches such as Broken Windows it’s based on Ecological (how behaviour is influenced by social and physical spaces) and Control theories of behaviour. An element of Rational Choice Theory is often thrown into contemporary versions of the approach to “explain” why offenders are motivated or demotivated in relation to criminal intent.

2. “Routine Activity” is an important part of the overall crime equation because it refers to the idea that “motivated offenders” come to identify suitable targets – and the extent to which they are protected by “capable guardians” – through their everyday experiences.

As with most New Right / Right Realist approaches, the main focus is on crime prevention. While there is necessarily some discussion / speculation about “criminal motives” – Felson and Cohen refer, for example, to “structural conditions” that produce “motivated offenders” – there isn’t a great deal of interest in trying to explain why people are motivated towards crime.

Crime, in this respect, is seen as a more-or-less unfortunate by-product of social and / or psychological background (depending on the particular theorist); crime is a “fact of life” and the best a society can do is to control it.

In this respect the basic “Predatory Triangle” has clear implications for the control of crime:

1. Motivated offenders can be deterred.

2. Suitable targets need to be “hardened” or protected in ways that make them seem unsuitable to offenders.

3. Capable Guardians – from the police, through careful and well-informed populations to various forms of technological guardianship (such as CCTV) – need to be extensively deployed.

Evaluating RAT

Visualising Routine Activities Theory

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Routine Activities Theory has been described (by me, just now) as one of the key theoretical contributions to the development of Situational Crime Prevention strategies and techniques. In broad terms it sees crime as the outcome of both “opportunity” (Mayhew, 1976; Clarke, 1988) and “routine activities” (Cohen and Felson 1979) and represents, for Felson and Boba (2010), “A theory of how crime changes in response to larger shifts in society”.

While the general theory can appear quite complex to students – and contains numerous developments and qualifications – at root it offers a fairly simple outline of the relationship between, on the one hand, potential offenders and, on the other, the social controls that may exist to deter offending.

The objective of this PowerPoint Presentation, therefore, is to provide a visual representation of the factors that contribute to both offending and crime prevention, within the context of routine activities theory.

What Works to Reduce Crime?: A Summary of the Evidence

Monday, January 3rd, 2022
Download full Report

It’s probably safe to say that a key driver of crime policy in countries like Britain and America over the past 50 or so years has been the notion of situational crime control. The idea, in a nutshell, that there can be no “solution to the problem of crime”, as such. The best we can do, both individually and as a society, is to limit its extent and impact.

To this end we’ve seen a wide range of theoretical (Routine Activities, Broken Windows…) and practical (from strategies to techniques) ideas and initiatives designed to reduce crime by making it harder to commit and a recent (2014) Scottish Government review of “what works” (and by extension, “what doesn’t work”) in relation to reducing crime and offending – What Works to Reduce Crime?: A Summary of the Evidence – looked at the evidence across three areas of crime control:

  • Targeting the underlying causes of crime.
  • Deterring potential offenders by making the cost of offending greater than the benefits.
  • Increasing the difficulty of offending by reducing opportunities to commit crime.
  • This, as you might expect, is a comprehensive review that covers an awful lot of ground. It runs to nearly 70 pages of text (plus extensive bibliography) lightened only by 4 simple (but nonetheless useful) PowerPoint graphics and, for reasons known only to the authors, a single, forlorn, table on page 24 dealing with “Trajectories of criminal convictions”. And if you’re wondering why this particular topic merited such special treatment, you may want to think about getting out a bit more.

    With the best will in the world, the Report isn’t something that’s likely to be read in full by many – if any – of your students because it’s so densely-packed with all-kinds of information, both statistical and otherwise. It is, however, a document you can mine for all kinds of information about situational crime prevention that can then be condensed and passed-on to your students in a format they’re more-likely to appreciate.

    Or not.

    You never can tell.

    The Crime Collection

    Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

    In a previous post I pulled-together all the free crime and deviance films we have available to create a simple one-stop-shop (so to speak) you could browse, rather than have to search individually for these films.

    I’ve extended this thinking to bring together all the posts we’ve made on Crime and Deviance – and since there’s “quite a few” I thought it might be useful to break them down into rough categories (Notes, Organisers, Activities, PowerPoints and Films) for your viewing convenience.

    Since I’ve discovered this is actually quite a task, I’ll add the different categories “as-and-when” I can, starting with:

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    Of Methods and Methodology: 2. Interpretivism

    Saturday, February 29th, 2020

    A methodology is a framework for research that focuses on how it is possible to collect reliable and valid data about, in this instance, the social world. It’s shaped by two main considerations:

    1. Our beliefs about the fundamental nature of the social world (ontological concerns).

    2. How we believe is possible to construct knowledge about the world (epistemology).

    In turn, these ideas shape our choice of research methods when we come to actually collect data.

    Basic Principles

    Unlike their positivist counterparts, for interpretivists the crucial difference between the objects of study for social and natural scientists is that people have consciousness.

    This is significant because this awareness of both Self and our relationship to Others gives people the ability to act; to exercise what we might loosely call free will over the choices they make about how to behave in different situations, rather than simply react to external (structural) stimulation.

    People, therefore, are “inherently unpredictable” in the sense they do not necessary react in the same way to the same stimuli. Unlike a natural world governed by linear progressions – A causes B causes C – the social world is a non-linear system that makes individual behaviour difficult to predict. The best we can do is suggest a range of probabilities about what will occur in terms of people’s behaviour in the context of different situations.

    A further complication here is that behaviour is not simply a condition of the Self: that is, someone choosing to do – or not to do – something. Rather, it’s also a condition of the Other. How other people define and interpret someone’s behaviour is just as – if not – more important.

    Read on MacDuff…

    Sociology Flipbooks

    Saturday, April 20th, 2019

    A Flipbook is a way of displaying a pdf document online so that it has the look-and-feel of a paper-based magazine, one whose pages you can turn using a mouse (desktop) or finger (mobile).


    A Flipbook.
    Not Actual Size.
    Unless you’re using a mobile.
    Then it might be.

    That’s it, really.

    I could talk about stuff like whether this creates a greater sense of engagement among students than the bog-standard static pages of a pdf file, but since I’ve got no idea (and I don’t know of anyone who’s bothered to try to find out) that would just be me trying to find a deceptively- plausible way to encourage you to try them.

    So, if this Big Build-Up has piqued your curiosity and / or whetted your appetite for Flipbooks you’ll be pleased to know I’ll be adding a variety of the little blighters to this page on what might be charitably termed an ad-hoc basis (translation: whenever I can be bothered or can find the time).

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    Rational Choice Theory | 2

    Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

    This second (of two) posts evaluates Rational Choice Theory and, by extension, any New Right / Right Realist theories based on the notion of rational cost-benefit analyses of criminal motivation.

    Digested Read

    A list of all the relevant bits to save you having to read through the rest of the post…

    • Rational Choice Theory (RCT) reminds us that an understanding of social action – how and why people make certain choices – is important for an understanding of criminal behaviour. It also focuses our attention on crime as a rational process.

    • A cost-benefit analysis of offending fits neatly with a common sense understanding of criminal behaviour. It also underpins a range of contemporary crime theories – such as RCT, Broken Windows and Routine Activities – that can be generally characterised as Right Realist. It has, however, serious limitations related to how offenders receive and process information, particularly in time-limited situations.

    • An alternative and, according to Simon (1956), more realistic way to understand the behaviour of offenders, is to see it in terms of a bounded rationality. Interview evidence, for example, suggests burglars evaluate alternative forms of behaviour within what Walters (2015) calls “the limits of their knowledge and abilities”. Offenders, in this respect, seem to make “rational enough” decisions based on a range of “rule-of-thumb” beliefs and experiences.

    • If a cost-benefit model of criminal decision-making is invalid, this has important ramifications for both crime-control theories and situational crime prevention techniques and strategies. More specifically it suggests that if offenders do not rationally weigh likely benefits against potential costs any attempt to lower the former and raise the latter will have only a limited long-term effect on crime.

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    Rational Choice Theory | 1

    Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

    This first of two posts on Rational Choice Theory (RCT) provides an overview of a key New Right theory whose central argument about criminal rationality underpins a range of later Right Realist explanations for crime.

    Rational Choice Theory (RCT) is one of a group of theories – including Broken Windows and Routine Activities Theory – that applies ideas developed to explain economic behaviour – in particular the idea individuals are rational and self-interested – to the explanation of criminal behaviour. The theory reflects, as Wilson (1983) puts it, the idea that “some scholars, especially economists, believe that the decision to become a criminal can be explained in much the same way as we explain the decision to become a carpenter or to buy a car”.

    Gary Becker

    While ideas about individual self-interest and rational choices in economic behaviour are well-established, their application to crime and criminal motivations, initially through the work of economists such as Becker (1968), gives them a contemporary twist that can be outlined in the following way:

    1. Offenders are not qualitatively different to non-offenders

    There’s nothing in the sociological or psychological background of offenders that either causes or explains their offending. To take a simple example: while many poor, deprived, individuals commit crimes, many more from the same social background do not.

    A key concept here is agency: the idea people make choices about their behaviour that are neither determined nor necessarily influenced by their social and / or psychological backgrounds. Rather, choices are made in the context of particular situations – particularly the opportunities that are available for the commission of crimes.

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    Crime Displacement PowerPoint

    Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

    Over the past 50 years it’s probably fair to say that a great deal of the sociology of crime and deviance in both America and, to a lesser extent, the UK, has been orientated towards situational crime prevention techniques and strategies in terms of both practical strategies and theoretical explanations (such as Routine Activities Theory).

    Part of the reason for this preoccupation with both building better – and trying to strengthen existing – mouse-traps is that there’s quite a bit of evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of various crime prevention strategies in reducing crime. Painter and Farringdon’s Stoke-on-Trent Street Lighting study, for example, is a case in point if you want to illustrate this idea.

    However – and you probably knew there would be a but – when you’re looking at situational crime prevention in a-level sociology it’s always useful to have something up your sleeve for evaluation purposes and, in this instance, there are a couple of different types of “Yes, but…” evaluation you might want to consider.

    T6: Types of Crime Displacement

    The first focuses on six practical criticisms of SCP put-forward by Reppetto (1976) and Barr and Pease (1990) that describe various ways crime may be displaced by crime prevention techniques; that is, although a crime may be “prevented” it’s possible the offence is simply committed elsewhere, at a different time or by different people. In other words, while SCP strategies may give the appearance of “preventing crime” they may not be successful in every instance.

    An obvious example here might be the presence of a burglar alarm on a property. This may deter an offender but if they simply move to burgle another, unprotected, property in the next street has a crime actually been prevented?

    If you want to display the 6 types to your class I’ve put them into a simple Crime Displacement PowerPoint Presentation that should do the job adequately. If you’re not a PowerPoint Person the 6 types of crime displacement are:

    1. Temporal: The crime is committed at a different time.

    2. Tactical: The crime is committed using a different method.

    3. Target: The crime is committed against a different target.

    4. Territorial: The crime is committed in a different area.

    5. Type (or Functional): A different type of crime is committed.

    6. Transgressors (or Perpetrator Displacement): Prevented crimes are committed by different offenders.

    While the types are, I trust, fairly self-explanatory you might want to think about examples you could use to illustrate each type (or maybe suggest one example if needed and ask your students to think of others). A relatively simple example of Territorial crime displacement, for example, might be something like prostitution or drug-dealing.

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    Situational Crime Prevention: The (New Right) Theory

    Monday, July 10th, 2017

    In two previous posts (Categorising Situational Crime Prevention Strategies  and Categorising Situational Crime Prevention: Techniques and Exampleswe looked at some examples of situational crime prevention strategies and techniques and this third post examines the theoretical background to situational crime prevention in a couple of ways:

    Firstly, by looking at the broad background in terms of a general “environmental discourse” that encompasses both cultural and physical environments.

    Secondly by looking at a couple of specific New Right approaches – Control Theory and Routine Activities Theory – that flow from this general discourse.

    SCP and the Craving for Hot Products

    Saturday, July 8th, 2017

    An important dimension of Routine Activities Theory is the element of target suitability and selection. Even in situations where a motivated offender is somewhere that lacks active guardians, how and why they select one target rather than another is an important question in relation to situational crime prevention.

    This was directly addressed by Felson and Cohen (1979), for example, in their “VIVA” mnemonic (Value, Inertia, Visibility, Accessibility) but Clarke (1999) has taken these general ideas further by arguing that some potential targets have what he calls “choice structuring properties”.

    That is, rather than thinking about crime conventionally in terms of an offender setting out to commit a criminal act, arriving in a place where the act can be committed and then selecting a suitable target some targets – what Clarke terms “Hot Products” – have characteristics that may:

    • Suggest the idea of theft to potential offenders and
    • Encourage them to seek out settings where desired products may be found.

    In other words, the existence of “hot products” contributes to various forms of both opportunistic and carefully-planned crime and if we understand the characteristics of these products – the things that make them desirable objects (in both the manifest sense of their value and the latent sense of motivating individuals to possess them) – this will contribute towards an understanding of the situational controls that need to be developed around such targets.

    Clarke, in this respect, developed the mnemonic CRAVED to define the characteristics of hot products and I’ve developed two PowerPoint Presentations identifying each element in the mnemonic.

    This version simply displays the mnemonic as a self-running presentation – you can use this version if you simply want to present these ideas to students.

    This version offers the same information but can be used if you want to involve your students a little more. The presentation displays the CRAVED mnemonic but in order to display the meaning of each letter it has to be clicked. If you wanted to see if your students could work-out the characteristics of a hot product (such as a mobile / cell phone) this is the version to use.

    If you want to look in more detail at either the CRAVED mnemonic or Clarke’s ideas about hot products you can download his 1999 chapter “Hot Products: understanding, anticipating and reducing demand for stolen goods”.

    Crime Statistics

    Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

    In many nations around the world – particularly Britain and America – a 50-year overview of crime sees much the same kind of general trend:

    A strong and consistent rise in crime Click to download Reportfrom the 1980’s that peaks in the mid-1990’s and then generally falls over the next 25-years.

    In England and Wales, for example, this is something that has been broadly demonstrated by both Official Crime Statistics and British Crime Surveys and new(ish) Home Office research suggests a possible explanation.

    Nick Morgan’s (2014) “The heroin epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s and its effect on crime trends” looks at variety of UK crime trends and offers a useful – and short – overview of different kinds of sociological explanation (Economic explanations, Offender-based theories, Opportunity and security theories, such as routine activities, changes in the stolen goods market, and security improvements and Substance abuse theories) that both teachers and students will find useful.

    The main interest here, however, is the claim that the generational fall in various types of crime is closely linked to changing patterns of drug use, with the rise and fall of heroin abuse being particularly pertinent as one explanation for falling crime.

    It’s an interesting argument, albeit one you will probably need to precis before you present it to your students…

    Reflective Revision Diaries

    Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

    A Reflective Revision Diary is a way to organise student revision: to make it more manageable and, with a bit of effort and dedication, easier, less boring and consequently more effective.

    Diary Templates

    Although ideas about revision – what it involves and how to do it – have generally moved-on over the past 25 years or so, one idea that has tended to persist is when to revise.

    For most students (and probably teachers too) “revision” is something that’s (reluctantly) done between the end of a course and the start of their exams. For A-level students this optimistically means 9 – 12 weeks to revise 3 subjects that have been studied for 2 years. In Sociology, for example, this may come down to 3 weeks to revise 6 modules.

    This, by any stretch, is a lot of work.

    And too much work + too little time leads to the adoption of revision techniques – such as passively reading through folders of Notes – that take the path of least resistance. They give the impression of covering the required work while not being particularly effective as a way of actually remembering stuff. Which, when all’s-said-and-done, is probably the point.

    One way to resolve this problem is that rather than condensing a large amount of work into a small amount of time is to spread revision out over the duration of the course. In other words, to encourage students to start their revision at the start of their course and carry it through until the end of the course. At this point they’ll already have done two year’s worth of revision for A-level and they can use the time until the start of the exam much more productively polishing-up on what they already (mostly) know rather than trying to relearn something they did 18 months ago and haven’t looked-at since.

    In a nutshell, the idea here is that when it comes to revision “little and often” pays much higher dividends than “a lot all at once”.

    To understand this involves grasping a couple of important ideas:

    Firstly, the need to change how teachers and students perceive the status of revision: to see it as an integral part of day-to-day teaching and learning rather than something discrete tacked-on at the end of the course once official teaching is over.

    Secondly, the need to operationalise this idea through a coherent and consistent approach to the place of revision in the curriculum. In other words, just as general teaching is organised in particular ways to help students grasp key ideas, revision needs to be integrated into the teaching programme as part of the daily routine.

    Both of these ideas involve teachers and students working together to develop an organised approach to revision.

    And this is where a Revision Diary could help.

    Revision Diaries…

    Postmodernity and Sociological Theory

    Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

    This is the second of a two-part series looking at the relationship between modernityClick to download as pdf, postmodernity and the development of sociological theory. If you want to “Start at the Start”, so to speak, with Modernity, feel free to access these Teaching Notes.

    Otherwise, if you’re just here for the Postmodernity stuff, in this set of Teaching Notes the focus is on two main areas:

    1 Identifying the basic economic, political and cultural characteristics of postmodernity.

    2, Outlining a range of sociological theories we can loosely associate with postmodernity.

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