The crime theories represented here understand criminal behaviour as a pleasure-oriented activity whose meaning and significance can be explained by the concrete action situation. These theories thus distinguish themselves from explanatory approaches that understand criminal behaviour alone as an expression of a class-specific condition and the associated social and economic deprivation or even as an expression of pathological behaviour. According to the theories presented here, criminal behaviour is above all always social action (in Max Weber’s sense) and is sensibly related to other actors. Cultural Criminology aims to be an “understanding” science (again in Max Weber’s sense of “Verstehende Soziologie”). It thus explicitly refers to the labeling approach, but broadens its analyses with a view to media-mediated processes of attributing meaning to crime and crime control. Actions labelled as criminal (primarily committed by juvenile subcultures or other marginalized minorities) are the expression of a “transgression” – the desire to consciously transcend normative boundaries.
Criminal behaviour is an emotional activity whose meaning and significance can be deduced from the concrete action situation. Both this behaviour, which is stigmatised as criminal, and the forms of crime control can only be understood from the respective cultural context.
Both Jack Katz and Stephen Lyng explicitly refer with their respective theories to the emotional component of criminal behavior. Criminal behavior is an emotionally charged activity whose meaning and significance can be deduced from the concrete action situation.
In Seductions of Crime, Jack Katz creates a new emotion-centered classification of crime, which is based on the following: the criminal, stigmatized behaviour and the forms of crime control can only be understood from the respective cultural context. Not the rationally acting homo oeconomicus but the angry, sad, humiliated, panic-stricken, joyfully excited person is the focus of the explanation. Crime can neither be traced back to a biologically determined pathology nor to a relative poverty (determined by the social class situation).
Stephen Lyng’s Edgework concept is not limited to the explanation of crime alone. Edgework includes all voluntarily undertaken risky activities that could harm the actor. The harm is accepted knowing and trusting in one’s own abilities to master the danger. From this perspective, deviant behaviour presents itself above all as an escape from everyday life and the search for the thrill.
The terms culture, emotion and situation play a central role in many crime theories. The anomie theories (but above all the General Strain Theory) understand crime as the consequence of insufficient coping with emotional pressure. In demarcating this pathologization of negative emotions, the theories listed here understand emotions as a value-neutral category that helps to explain behaviour.
All three of the theories presented here are sharply distinguished from rational choice approaches. However, these also explain crime as a phenomenon to be understood as situational: certain factors (e.g. the presence of a control actor) determine the result of a cost-benefit assessment to be made situatively, in which – depending on the cost-benefit ratio – crime becomes probable or not. The exclusively calculative view of the situation, however, contradicts the understanding of a classification of crime phenomena in the overall social context.
The concept of culture is most prominently represented in subcultural theories, which understand crime as the result of a process of learning and influencing that takes place within subcultures. The subcultural theories of the 1950s and 60s assume a network of norms and values throughout society. Criminal behaviour is caused by deviant ideas of morality and norms learned and shaped in the subculture.
Postmodern cultural criminology, on the other hand, recognizes that modern societies are necessarily shaped by different ideas of norms and values. From this perspective, the criminalization of certain behaviours and social groups presents itself as an attempt to protect a hegemonic social order and maintain positions of power.