Saturday 30 January 2010

Applying Contemporary Criminological Theory to HIstorical Research

Amy Burrell 'Applying Contemporary Criminological Theory to Historical Research'

Visiting from the School of Psychology, Amy presents her research into serial robbery, and how you might be able to link offences together based on behavioral consistency. Interesting for the historical researcher in many ways, I would think.

A number of criminological theories are discussed. The "Opportunity Theory" is perhaps the simplest. If the opportunities occur, crime will rise. Consistency in patterns of theft and crime is clearly related to geographical and contextual contingencies. Street sex workers are more likely to be murdered than women who don't. They are available - and they make themselves so.

Routine Activity Theory builds on this, positing that there are particular situations that create those opportunities. You need a motivated offender, a suitable victim and the lack of guardianship. It also talks about awareness space - that we are more likely to see crime opportunities in the places and spaces with which we are familiar.

The Rational Choice Theory assumes that offenders are seeking benefit from their crime, portraying them as active decision makers.

The CRAVED model suggests that there has to be some kind of value to an item that might be stolen. They must be concealable, removable, available, valuable, enjoyable and disposable.

Such modes of enquiry might well be applied to gain a deeper understanding of historical actions and perhaps to establish behavioral consistency for individuals, whose roles in events around them may be subject to debate. The patterns of violence inflicted upon the 5 victims who have been officially recognised as related to Jack the Ripper, the geographical location, the time frame, and the nature of the work of the women, have all been shown to have a level of consistency which doesn't quite apply to the other possibilities, of which there were at least 13. Certain behaviors - in the case of Jack the Ripper, the removal of organs, and in the case of the Suffolk Ripper the posing of the bodies - are very rare, and can almost act like identity tags. Using the 'Consistency Hypothesis' might well be useful for establishing historical characters and identity.

These issues are pertinent not only to the historical researcher, but to the cultural heritage protection sector. Identifying the opportunities and the motivations that people may have for perpetrating crimes against cultural heritage - looting in war-torn and physically devastated areas springs to mind - and the patterns of behavior that certain individuals and organisations might exhibit, we can work to protect those items and institutions which are vulnerable, and work towards identifying the people responsible. Clearly, the motivations for crime change over time - the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in the early 20th century might well be less likely to occur now given the changed political circumstances and attitudes.