Situational Action Theory

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Situational Action Theory

Most a-level teachers and students will probably be most familiar with Per-Olof Wikstrom’s work on the Peterborough Adolescent Development Study (PADS), a longitudinal study of youth crime in a “provincial English town”. One that sits mid-way between the teeming Birmingham metropolis and Norwich. Which, with the best will in the world, can neither be described as “teeming” nor metropolitan. Trust me. I’ve been there.

What you may be less familiar with is situational action theory (SAT), the theory that, among other things, underpins the study.

In basic terms, SAT represents an attempt to understand crime and criminality by integrating two levels of analysis:

  • The individual: this refers to the various processes, such as family socialisation and formative experiences that shape individual moralities – the way in which they see and think about the social world.
  • The situational: this refers to the specific social situations through which the individual moves at various points in their life. It represents, as it were, the contexts against which individual moralities are played-out.

Both an awareness of the significance of these two levels and, perhaps more importantly, how they are integrated is, for Wikstrom, the key to understanding youth crime (an idea we explore in more detail in subsequent posts: Situational Action Theory: Crime and Social Disadvantage and Crime and Social Disadvantage: The Evidence).

This short introduction to Situational Action Theory covers the basic ideas involved and includes examples you can use to sensitise your students to how the theory works.

The subsequent posts noted above can be used to show how the theory has been applied to both understand youth crime and the limitations of various New Right crime theories (such as Routine Activities).

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