Routine Activities, Activity Spaces, and Situational Definitions into the Social Schematic Theory of Crime" by Ronald Simons, Callie Burt, et al. is actually an extension of a previously-published theory of crime posited by Simons and Burt in an early 2011 article. In their earlier work, Simons and Burt advanced what they call the "social schematic theory (SST) of crime" in which they posit that the linkage of criminal offenses to "adverse social factors" hinges upon a "set of social schemas" such as "criminogenic knowledge structure" which they abbreviate as "CKS" (2014, 655-6). The expansion of Simons and Burt's theory in the 2014 article hinges upon "extend[ing] the SST model by incorporating the role of contexts for action" (655). As a result, the 2014 article does not really posit a new hypothesis, but instead the authors pat themselves on the back a little by presenting new information to offer additional confirmation of an earlier 2011 hypothesis, while expanding their model somewhat. The overall approach hinges upon Simons and Burt's earlier definition of a "social schema" -- which sits basically at the heart of their hypothesis -- which is basically a revisionist approach of Akers's 1985 "social learning theory," which looks for the roots of criminal behavior in "operant learning principles"; for Simons and Burt, a "social schema" is essentially a form of learning by way of "repeated patterns of interaction that occur in an individual's social environment" (656). The factors that are correlated with criminality -- such as "harsh parenting, racial discrimination, and community disadvantage" -- are well-known, and are hardly a new discovery that is being promoted by Simons and Burt. Instead, the novelty comes in the way in which they advise their readers to understand the way in which these things are correlated to criminality: they wish to emphasize that, effectively speaking, these adverse conditions constitute a sort of educational system, a school of hard knocks perhaps, in which the adverse conditions result in individuals essentially learning "social schemas involving a hostile view of people and relationships, a preference for immediate rewards, and a cynical view of conventional norms," although they define this school of hard knocks as the "criminogenic knowledge structure (CKS)" which ultimately results in "legitimating or compelling criminal and antisocial behavior" (656). In the view of the authors, "persistent exposure to particular social contexts during late childhood and adolescence…shapes criminogenic schemas" (666).
Because this is largely a paper that expands a previously advanced theory, the larger thrust of Simons and Burt's argument here is about advancing the theory, and the data and variables only exist to show how they support the theoretical model. Obviously there is data that is analyzed in this paper, and there are variables that have been operationalized by the authors, but they do not begin to approach it until they have offered ten pages of theoretical analysis. The data analyzed in the article comes from "the latest four waves of data from the FACHS, an ongoing investigation of the life-course trajectories of several hundred African-American youth and their families, all of whom were living in Iowa or Georgia at the initiation of the study" (664). In other words, these young people were all black, and were drawn from two specific states (although follow-ups indicated if the subjects had moved) -- the "waves" of data indicated periodic follow-ups by researchers at timed intervals, where the subjects were given a series of questions (presented by computer-screen because many of the questions involved "illegial behavior or potentially embarrassing sexual activities" (664). If one of the initial subjects from the first wave was unavailable or unwilling to be questioned in the second wave, they were not dropped from the data-collection process but retained in the study and questioned in the next wave. The dependent variable presented was, of course, crime itself: "respondents' engagement in crime was assessed at Wave VI using self-reports on a series of questions regarding how often in the previous year they had engaged in 11 illegal acts" (664). But the larger issue that Simons and Burt are investigating is whether they can bolster and expand their earlier 2011 theory of criminogenic behavior. As a result, they have to quantify the somewhat nebulous social problems that they posit as playing a role in the development of criminal behavior. As a result, they offer description and justification for their means of quantifying such things as "supportive parenting," "community context," or "racial discrimination" (666-8). In terms of analyzing this article, we must acknowledge that the most basic problem in social science interviewing is potentially operant in the material that the authors are reviewing -- namely, whether we can trust the respondents being studied by the authors. The authors offer all the customary social science assurances that they have done their best to ensure that respondents will tell the truth -- for example, the use of a computer to ask the questions rather than the use of an actual interviewer asking the questions verbally -- but this seems to open up a host of questions about how trustworthy some of this data might actually be. For example, the issue of "racial discrimination" was quantified using a "revised" version of the "SRE" or "Schedule of Racist Events" initially developed for surveying African-American adults -- the revision of the SRE was geared to recognizing the much younger age of the population studied here. We may very well ask if African-American teenagers are being asked about the degree to which they have encountered racial discrimination whether the answers might have been conditioned by their previously-established internal mental paradigms, true or false in themselves as the case may be, asserting the ubiquity of racism, the willingness to blame numerous counter-intuitive things on racism, or larger community attitudes about racism. We may recollect the somewhat notorious incident that occurred a few years back, when the African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested by a white police officer while attempting to gain access to his own home after having locked himself out -- in the popular imagination, Gates had been "profiled" simply by being black in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but anyone who has any experience of actual policework would understand that Gates had been handcuffed not because he was black, but because he was verbally obnoxious to the investigating officer. The fact that the ubiquity of racial discrimination is confidently asserted by so many people does not make racial discrimination an easily quantifiable variable, or one in which the methods of quantification should not be viewed with a certain degree of skepticism. When Simons, Burt et al. are relying for their data largely on self-analytical accounts being given by African-American teenagers, we may ultimately have reservations (beyond the assurances offered by Simons, Burt et al.) as to how intrinsically reliable such data is.
Simons Burt et al. attempt to counteract this potential deficiency in their study by offering a survey of prior literature in which previous social scientists have endorsed or justified the various methods of data collection being utilized here. The survey of prior literature is relatively comprehensive, at least insofar as the smaller issues of data analysis are concerned. So for example, their measurement of self-reported racial discrimination is discussed by means of surveying prior work by Landrine and Klonoff (who developed the original version of the SRE used to assess adults) and also with reference to an earlier paper by Simons, Burt, and a different team of collaborators, bolstering the revision and use of Landrine and Klonoff's schedule. However, as noted earlier, the overall thrust of Simons, Burt et al. In this paper is theoretical, and by no means do they offer a full survey of various competing theories of criminogenic behavior -- instead, the survey of prior literature relating to the theoretical issue is mostly restricted to recent, and similar, theoretical approaches that Simons, Burt et al. hope to supplant with their own Social Schema Theory.
However their overall findings here suggest that crime should be understood essentially as a problem of education, and that education should be understood as a problem of environment. This seems like a rather roundabout theory for analyzing where criminal behavior comes from -- if crime stems from a problem of education, then we might very well ask why Simons Burt et al. do not seem particularly interested in the education system that actually exists, and in which presumably the young people who were included in this study must have been enrolled. Instead, the question of actual educational environments is left almost undiscussed in favor of redefining "educational environment" as "social schema." It is perhaps beyond the scope of what Simons Burt et al. are doing in this article to expect that they might take some interest in the actual education that young people are receiving in actual schools rather than the metaphorical school of hard knocks, but nevertheless it seems like a distinct flaw in their approach if crime is to be blamed on education, but no alternatives or…