The central thesis of Seductions of Crime is that situation-specific emotional and sensual sensations play an important role in the commission of crime. It is not a complete theoretical construct, 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 future victim violates fundamental, unassailable values. The perpetrator feels challenged and humiliated by the victim, and feels that the most elementary social imperatives – such as respect for other people’s property or the duty of marital fidelity – are at stake. “Mundane” 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 in defense of “the good” (in defense of the eternal good), even sanctioned, physically marked or “sacrificed” (sacrificial violence), although killing itself need not be a direct goal. The offense arises spontaneously from the situation, the perpetrator acts emotionally determined, is not deterred by severe punishment, and usually makes no serious attempt to flee.
The term “sneaky thrill” refers to the illicit or forbidden excitement that individuals experience when engaging in deviant or risky behavior. Katz explores the subjective experiences and motivations of individuals involved in criminal activity, seeking to understand the emotional and psychological dimensions that draw them to these actions.
“Sneaky thrills” capture the sense of exhilaration, anticipation, and pleasure that individuals derive from engaging in activities that are socially prohibited, morally questionable, or outside the bounds of societal norms. This thrill is often associated with the risk of being caught or the feeling of breaking rules and challenging authority. Examples include property offenses such as occasional shoplifting, vandalism, or joyriding, which are typically committed by adolescents (theft especially by females).
By engaging in activities that are considered deviant or forbidden, individuals may experience a heightened state of excitement, arousal, and even a temporary sense of empowerment. The element of secrecy and the anticipation of potential consequences can add to the allure and intensify the thrill.
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 desire to enrich oneself or of material misery. Shoplifting, and the thrill it provides, has a special fascination; it is committed in a playful spirit. Shoplifting is an emotional roller coaster: the challenge of acting 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 fooled everyone.
A central emotional moment is the act of being seduced: The product develops a life of its own, it exerts a special charm, it stands out in an inexplicable way from the mass of goods, it lures you (“take me”), and there is a complicity between the thief and the goods. The opportunity seems to present 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. When the seriousness of the situation is made clear through exposure, those caught usually stop the criminal behavior.
Ways of the Badass
In his exploration, Katz argues that individuals who commit crimes, particularly street crimes, often possess a certain allure or charisma that comes from their perceived control over situations, their defiance of societal norms, and their ability to transgress boundaries. He sees this as a way in which individuals, often marginalized or disadvantaged, assert power and agency in their lives, albeit in unconventional and often unlawful ways.
Katz suggests that these “Ways of the Badass” involve a complex interplay of emotions, desires for respect or recognition, and a desire to overcome powerlessness. It’s a sociological analysis aiming to understand the motivations and experiences of those engaging in criminal activities from their perspective rather than solely labeling them as wrongdoers.
According to Katz, street elites are highly experienced and skilled criminals who have developed a sophisticated understanding of the criminal world. They are individuals who have spent considerable time on the streets, engaged in various illegal activities, and navigated the complexities of the criminal subculture.
Katz suggests that street elites are not simply passive products of their environment or victims of social circumstances. Instead, they actively embrace the seductive allure of crime and immerse themselves in its lifestyle and culture. These individuals are driven by a desire for excitement, power, and autonomy, and they have a deep understanding of the rewards and risks associated with criminal behavior.
Street elites possess a number of street-smart skills, such as the ability to read situations, anticipate potential threats or opportunities, and manipulate others to their advantage. They often have well-developed strategies for avoiding detection and navigating law enforcement efforts. Katz argues that their expertise and adaptability make them highly effective in their criminal pursuits.
The term “doing stickup” refers to a specific type of criminal activity, namely armed robbery, or the act of robbing someone or a place with a gun. Katz explores the subjective experiences and motivations of individuals involved in such criminal activity.
Katz’s central argument is that traditional criminological theories often focus on structural factors such as poverty or lack of opportunity to explain criminal behavior. However, Katz seeks to understand the immediate gratifications and subjective rewards that draw individuals into criminal activity, including the act of robbery.
When Katz refers to “doing stickup,” he delves into the phenomenological aspects of armed robbery, examining the emotional and experiential dimensions of the criminal act. He explores the motivations, decision-making processes, and intense experiences that perpetrators may have while engaging in armed robbery.
Katz suggests that during the act of committing a robbery, individuals may experience a heightened state of awareness, excitement, and a temporary sense of power or control. This act can provide a sense of transcendence or liberation from societal norms and constraints. Katz seeks to understand the seductive elements that make armed robbery appealing to individuals, particularly in the “pleasure of the moment” that offenders may experience.
By examining the perspectives of those who engage in armed robbery, Katz challenges conventional criminological theories and aims to gain insight into the motivations and subjective experiences of offenders. His work highlights the importance of understanding the immediate gratifications and seductive allure that draw individuals into criminal activity, including the act of robbery.
Cold-blooded senseless murder
The term “cold-blooded senseless murder” refers to a specific type of violent crime characterized by a lack of emotion or empathy and a seemingly irrational or inexplicable motive behind the act.
Katz explores the subjective experiences and motivations of individuals involved in criminal activity, including violent acts such as murder. He seeks to understand the psychological and emotional dimensions of these acts, going beyond simplistic explanations that attribute them solely to social or economic factors.
When Katz speaks of “cold-blooded, senseless murder,” he emphasizes the absence of any apparent provocation or rational motive for the act. He suggests that the perpetrator commits the murder without any apparent emotional connection to the victim or any clear rational justification.
Katz’s goal in examining these types of crimes is to explore the subjective experiences and psychological processes of offenders who commit seemingly senseless acts of violence. In doing so, he seeks to gain a deeper understanding of the motivations, decision-making processes, and emotional states that may drive individuals to commit such heinous acts.
It is important to note that Katz’s exploration of “cold-blooded, senseless murder” is not intended to justify or condone these actions. Instead, his goal is to provide insight into the complex interplay of psychological, emotional, and situational factors that contribute to extreme violence.
Implication for Criminal Policy
Jack Katz’s book “Seductions of Crime” has important implications for criminal policy and interventions. By exploring the subjective experiences and motivations of individuals involved in criminal activities, Katz offers insights that can inform the development of more effective strategies for crime prevention and intervention. Here are some implications of his work:
- Focus on Subjective Experiences: Katz emphasizes the importance of understanding the subjective experiences of offenders, going beyond traditional sociological explanations that primarily focus on structural factors. This suggests that criminal policy should consider the emotional and psychological dimensions of criminal behavior and develop interventions that address the underlying motivations and seductive appeal of crime.
- Targeting Specific Moments: Katz highlights the significance of specific moments of criminal activity and the intense experiences that offenders may have during these moments. Criminal policy can benefit from this insight by focusing on interventions that disrupt or modify the seductive aspects of these moments, aiming to prevent individuals from being drawn into criminal behavior.
- Personalization of Interventions: Recognizing that criminal behavior is not solely determined by external factors, Katz’s work emphasizes the need for personalized interventions. Understanding the unique experiences, motivations, and decision-making processes of offenders can help tailor interventions to address individual needs and circumstances more effectively.
- Holistic Approach: Katz’s exploration of the seductive allure of crime suggests that criminal policy should adopt a holistic approach that considers multiple factors, including social, economic, psychological, and situational aspects. Rather than relying solely on punitive measures, policies can incorporate prevention strategies that address the underlying seductions and motivations associated with criminal behavior.
- Long-Term Solutions: By understanding the immediate gratifications and rewards that draw individuals into crime, criminal policy can focus on long-term solutions that address the root causes and provide alternatives to criminal behavior. This may involve investing in education, employment opportunities, rehabilitation programs, and community support systems.
Overall, Katz’s “Seductions of Crime” challenges conventional approaches to criminal policy by highlighting the importance of subjective experiences and motivations. It suggests that effective interventions should address the seductive allure of crime, focus on specific moments, personalize approaches, adopt a holistic perspective, and promote long-term solutions. By incorporating these insights, policymakers can develop more nuanced and effective strategies to prevent crime and promote social well-being.
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. Rational choice theory posits that individuals engage in criminal behavior after weighing the costs and benefits of their actions. Katz’s work adds a valuable dimension to this theory by exploring the subjective experiences, emotions, and immediate gratifications that individuals derive from criminal acts. It emphasizes that the allure and seduction of crime can outweigh rational calculations, providing insights into the motivations and decision-making processes beyond mere cost-benefit analysis. 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).
Other theories have in common with Katz’s theory that they also rely on personal, emotional experience to explain crime. One example is cultural criminology. Both Katz’s work and cultural criminology stress the importance of understanding the subjective experiences and meanings attached to crime and deviance. Katz explores the immediate gratifications, emotional states and seductive aspects that draw individuals into criminal behaviour. Cultural criminology also emphasises the importance of individual experiences, emotions and the cultural meanings that individuals attach to deviant acts.
Both Katz and cultural criminology are concerned with the concept of transgression and liminality. Cultural criminology examines how individuals and groups challenge or subvert societal norms through deviant behaviour, exploring the liminal spaces where social boundaries are blurred. Similarly, Katz’s work addresses the temporary suspension of societal norms during criminal acts, providing insights into the transgressive and liminal nature of such behaviour.
Finally, another theory that shares some similarities with Katz’s Seductions of Crime is Stephen Lyng’s concept of Edgework.
While both concepts emphasize the subjective experiences of individuals who engage in deviant or risky behavior, Katz’s focus is primarily on criminal behavior and the seductive allure of crime, while Lyng’s concept of edgework extends to various voluntary risky activities and the pursuit of intense experiences beyond crime (e.g., extreme sports).
- Jack Katz (1988). Seductions of crime: moral and sensual attractions in doing evil. New York: Basic Books.
- Ferrell, J. (1992). Making Sense of Crime: A Review Essay on Jack Katz’s “Seductions of Crime”. Social Justice, 19(3). S. 110-123.
- Frank, Robert H. (1989, 5. März). Why Do Criminals Do It? SEDUCTIONS OF CRIME. Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil by Jack Katz. Los Angeles Times. Online unter: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-03-05-bk-86-story.html
- Maurer, N. (2021, 1. August). Interview with Jack Katz (Part 1/3): „Enigmas Attract Me“. Criminologia. Online unter: https://criminologia.de/2019/08/interview-with-jack-katz-part-1-3-enigmas-attract-me/
- Maurer, N. (2021, 6. August). Interview with Jack Katz (Part 2/3): On Fieldwork, Data, and Writing. Criminologia. Online unter: https://criminologia.de/2019/08/interview-with-jack-katz-part-2-3-on-fieldwork-data-and-writing/
- Maurer, N. (2021, 8. August). Interview with Jack Katz (Part 3/3): Confrontation with Chaos. Criminologia. Online unter: https://criminologia.de/2019/08/interview-with-jack-katz-part-3-3-confrontation-with-chaos/