In the late 1940s Sutherland proposed that explanations of deviance and crime are either situational or dispositional, and that of the two, situational explanations might be the more important. Nonetheless, with a few notable exceptions, for the next four decades sociologists focused on dispositional theories to the near total exclusion of situational variables. However, an increasing awareness of the theoretical limitations of strategies based only on dispositions has begun to encourage researchers to reconsider situational explanations. Most of the research that explicitly examines situational dynamics in producing crime has originated in experimental psychology, symbolic interactionism, or opportunity theories. Experimental research has helped to identify the situational correlates of crime and deviance, but lacks a theoretical framework for organizing its disparate empirical findings. Symbolic interaction research has emphasized the actor's role in defining and interpreting situations but thus far has not provided a theoretical link between motivation, opportunity, and crime. Opportunity theorists, especially those studying victimization, have made the most progress toward developing a situational theory of crime, but their emphasis on the victim rather than the offender imposes serious theoretical and methodological limitations.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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