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Sociological Theories of Crime

6. Rational Choice Theories

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In this lecture, we think about rational choice approaches to crime, focusing in particular on: (i) the origins of rational choice criminology in the works of Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham; (ii) Gary Becker’s notion of the expected utility of crime – that the decision to commit crime is determined by a rational calculation of whether the rewards outweigh the risks; (iii) Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson’s routine activity theory, which argues that risk and reward calculations have changed in modern society; (iv) rational choice-based crime reduction policies, notably those offered by James Q. Wilson and situational crime prevention.


In this course, Dr Francesca Menichelli (University of Surrey) explores sociological theories of crime. In the first lecture, we consider early approaches to explaining crime, particularly those from a Functionalist perspective, including Émile Durkheim’s concept of anomie and Robert Merton’s strain theory. In the second lecture, we look at subcultural theories, such as Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin’s notion of illegitimate opportunity structures. In the third lecture, we look at the relationship between crime and place through the ideas of the Chicago School and broken windows theory. Next, we examine labelling theory and moral panics – approaches which look less at explaining why people commit crime and more at how crime is defined by society. In the fifth lecture, we outline three theoretical perspectives influenced by Marxism – radical criminology, critical criminology and left realism. In the sixth and final lecture, we explore ideas grounded in rational choice theory, such as Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson’s routine activity theory.


Dr Francesca Menichelli is Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Surrey. Her research focuses on crime prevention, policing and social control, and her teaching covers a broad range of criminological issues. She is author of Order and Conflict in Public Space (2016).

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APA style

Menichelli, F. (2022, April 29). Sociological Theories of Crime - Rational Choice Theories [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Menichelli, F. "Sociological Theories of Crime – Rational Choice Theories." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 29 Apr 2022,

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