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Routine activity theory is a sub-field of rational choice criminology, developed by Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen.

Routine activity theory says that crime is normal and depends on the opportunities available. If a target is not protected enough, and if the reward is worth it, crime will happen. Crime does not need hardened offenders, super-predators, convicted felons or wicked people. Crime just needs an opportunity.

The basic premise of routine activity theory is that most crimes are petty theft and unreported to the police. Crime is neither spectacular nor dramatic. It is mundane and happens all the time.

Another premise is that crime is relatively unaffected by social causes such as poverty, inequality, unemployment. For instance, after World War II, the economy of Western countries was booming and the Welfare states were expanding. During that time, crime rose significantly. According to Felson and Cohen, this is because the prosperity of contemporary society offers so much opportunities of crime: there is much more to steal.

Routine activity theory is controversial among sociologists who believe in the social causes of crime. But several types of crime are very well explained by routine activity theory including copyright infringement, related to peer-to-peer file sharing, employee theft, and corporate crime.


  • Marcus Felson, Crime and Everyday Life. Insight and Implications for Society, Thousands Oaks : Pine Forge Press, 1994
  • Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson, « Social Change and Crime Rate Trends : A Routine Activity Approach », American Sociological Review, 44 (4), 1979, pp. 588-608
  • Ronald V. Clarke and Marcus Felson M., 1993, « Introduction : Criminology, Routine Activity, and Rational Choice », Advances in Theoretical Criminology : Routine Activity and Rational Choice, vol. 5, pp. 1-14


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