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The Development of Persistent Criminality$
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Joanne Savage

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195310313

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195310313.001.0001

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What Drives Persistent Offending? The Neglected and Unexplored Role of the Social Environment

What Drives Persistent Offending? The Neglected and Unexplored Role of the Social Environment

Chapter:
(p.389) CHAPTER 19 What Drives Persistent Offending? The Neglected and Unexplored Role of the Social Environment
Source:
The Development of Persistent Criminality
Author(s):

Per-Olof H. Wikström

Kyle Treiber

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195310313.003.0019

The role of the social environment in causing stability and change in offending had been largely unexplored in criminological theory. This chapter presents a case for the importance of the social environment in explanations of crime involvement. The chapter begins with a review of three current theories (Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime, Moffitt's dual developmental taxonomy, and Sampson and Laub's general theory of social control) and discuss how each fails to fully develop the explanation of crime in context. It then discusses how Wikström's situational action theory of crime causation may address this deficiency by taking an ecological developmental approach. The chapter argues that the situational action theory presents a better description of what is to be explained by defining crimes as acts which break moral rules. Moral rules apply to specific settings, therefore explanations of crime must take into consideration the context of action. We argue that the situational action theory provides a clearer depiction of the nature of human behavior by viewing individuals as rule-guided (rather than self-interested) actors who exhibit agency through deliberate and habitual choices. Individuals may choose whether to act in accordance with a moral context, but they must first perceive that moral context and consider breaking one of its rules. Thus to explain why individuals choose to commit acts of crime, the chapter must first explain what features of a setting lead them to perceive crime as an alternative for action. Finally, the chapter argues that the situational action theory provides a more robust explanation of crime involvement by positing a situational mechanism by which individuals' propensity to offend interacts with their exposure to criminogenic settings. The expression of propensity depends upon the characteristics of the settings to which an individual is exposed. Thus to explain why individuals commit acts of crime, the chapter needs to explain both the propensity to offend and what triggers its expression. The chapter concludes that what drives persistent offending is therefore both stability in individuals' propensity to offend and their exposure to criminogenic social environments, and recommend innovative methodological approaches for studying these important variables.

Keywords:   situational action theory, crime, chronic offending, morality, environment, neighborhood, life-course criminology, criminal propensity, self-control, criminological theory, integrated theory

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