SA in criminology

An excellent paper by Paul Knepper applies Popperian Situational Analysis to criminology. The paper appeared in the Review of Austrian Economics.

He provides an introduction to Popper’s ideas about social sciences and the methodology of situational analysis (SA) plus the rationality principle (RP). He described how Popper turned to the social sciences after 1935 and he speculated about the way that Menger’s ideas and others from the Austrian school of economics and social thought impacted on his thinking.
Interestingly he cites a 1994 reference by Peter Boettke to the effect that Popper’s SA corresponds to the praxeology of Mises. That is a significant insight but it does not appear that PB or any of his US colleagues in the Austrian economics movement have made much out of it, possibly because the logical empiricists created such a hostile cliamate to Popper and his ideas.

The paper contains five sections. The first concerns Popper’s views on the natural and social sciences. The second compares Popper’s approach with the Austrian economists, and the third deals with situational analysis. The fourth shows how SA and economic thinking has been applied in criminology and the fifth looks at the logic of situational crime prevention.

He began with a comment on the debate with the Frankfurt School, noting that Popper was described as a positivist because he defended some similarities between the natural and the social sciences, especially the way they both begin with problems. He could have referred to the hyothetico-deductive method as the common methodology (or meta methodology). He noted Popper’s rejection of some of the trappings of “scientism” including the over-emphasis on mathematics and precision in measurement and he went on to write “Social scientists cannot predict a singular event with reference to universal laws and initial conditions because there are no empirical laws in social science”.

Actually Popper in The Poverty of Historicism did believe in the existence of universal laws in the social sciences, and not just in economics, and he postulated some possibilities. Later on he decided that there are no universal laws but I am not sure if he ever wrote up the reason for that change of mind (which he gave in private correspondence) – he and a student spent some time looking for laws but there were always exceptions and so they gave up.

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One Response to SA in criminology

  1. Elliot says:

    Looking for universal laws, and being thwarted by exceptions, is a common story.

    The solution is to instead look for general purpose *explanations* rather than laws.

    When an explanation doesn’t apply to a situation that isn’t an exception in the explanation.

    Seeking universal laws is a bit like trying to find one short answer that works for all questions. What we need are a variety of good explanations which we can apply to find answers to our questions.

    Another of the differences is that laws are designed to be simple and give a clear answer. Or in other words, one can use the law without thinking. But with explanations, it is expected that one has to think to use them.

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