The central thesis of Seductions of Crime is that situation-specific emotional and sensual sensations play a major role in the committing of crimes. It is not a complete theoretical building, but rather the sensual experiences and emotional states of the perpetrator that are brought to bear in various forms of crime – from occasional shoplifting to cold-blooded robbery.
Instead of attributing crime to background factors such as low socio-economic status, the US sociologist Jack Katz draws attention to the positive stimuli of crime or the “experience” of crime from the perpetrator’s point of view, i.e. to the emotions and sensory impressions that lead to or arise during the crime.
Conventional categorizations of crimes follow the requirements of prosecution rather than asking how the offender experiences the crime. In “Seductions of Crime” (1988), Katz (re-)orders “criminal projects” on the basis of the emotional states that are decisive in each case:
The term righteous slaughter describes the motivation behind impulsive homicides, which (seemingly paradoxically) are committed because, from the perpetrator’s point of view, the later victim violates fundamental, unassailable values. The perpetrator feels challenged and humiliated by the victim and has the feeling that the most elementary social imperatives – such as respect for other people’s property or the duty to marital faithfulness – are at stake. “Banal” everyday conflicts such as a driveway blocked by a stranger or an argument between spouses can trigger a strong sense of humiliation in the perpetrator that turns into anger. The victim is attacked in the name of the values he violates and to defend “the good” (in defense of the eternal good), even sanctioned, physically marked or “sacrificed” (sacrificial violence), whereby the killing itself does not have to be a direct goal. The offence arises spontaneously from the situation, the perpetrator acts emotionally determined, is not to be deterred by severe punishments and usually makes no serious attempt to flee.
The sneaky thrills include property offences such as occasional shoplifting, vandalism or joyriding, which are typically committed by juveniles (theft especially by women).
In contrast to professional theft, in which the stolen goods are resold on the black market, casual theft is a widespread phenomenon among all classes and is not the result of a simple willingness to enrich oneself or material misery. Shoplifting and the associated thrill exert a special fascination, it is committed in a playful spirit. Theft is an emotional roller coaster ride: the challenge of behaving as “normal” and inconspicuous as possible despite all the excitement, the fear of being caught and finally the euphoria of having made it and successfully deceived everyone.
A central emotional moment is the act of being “seduced”: The product develops a life of its own, it exerts a special charm and stands out from the mass of goods in an inexplicable way, lures you (“take me”), and there is a complicity between the thief and the goods. The opportunity seems to offer itself in a magical way: “It would be so easy!
This playful or sexual metaphor is also supported by the fact that occasional theft does not lead to the assumption of a criminal identity. If the seriousness of the situation is made clear by uncovering it, the caught usually stop the criminal behaviour.
Ways of the Badass
Doing Stickup (Raub als erlerntes Verhalten)
Cold-blooded senseless murder
Implication for Criminal Policy
Critical Appraisal & Relevance
Jack Katz criticises that in criminology the explanatory potential of psychological, social and economic background factors is overestimated. Many people who fall into the conventional risk categories never become criminals. Others, to whom the relevant circumstances do not apply, still do. Even with predisposed individuals, it is unclear what exactly is decisive for them to conform most of the time before a criminal act occurs a moment later. The background variables are therefore insufficient to explain the actual motivation to commit an offence.
Jack Katz also explicitly distinguishes himself from Robert K. Merton’s anomie theory, which can at best explain professional property crimes committed by adults. And even in this area, according to Katz, the attainment of material wealth is not the only motive for the perpetrators to act. Jack Katz’s approach can also be seen as a counterpoint to the Rational Choice paradigm, which sees the individual as an actor acting rationally in economic terms, orienting his actions towards pragmatic cost-benefit calculations. Nonetheless, it can be argued that “senseless” acts such as vandalism do seem to have a positive impact in the eye of the perpetrator (e.g. gaining respect within the peer group).
- Jack Katz (1988). Seductions of crime: moral and sensual attractions in doing evil. New York: Basic Books.
- Robert H. Frank (05.03.1989): Why Do Criminals Do It? SEDUCTIONS OF CRIME. Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil by Jack Katz. Los Angeles Times