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On shoplifting and tax fraud: An action-theoretic analysis of crime


  • Kroneberg, Clemens

    () (Sonderforschungsbereich 504)

  • Heintze, Isolde

    (Administrative District Spree-Neiße, Coordination of Social Planning)

  • Mehlkop, Guido

    (Institut für Soziologie, Lehrstuhl Makrosoziologie, Technische Universität Dresden)


The article evaluates different theories of action in the area of crime research. A narrow version of rational choice theory assumes actors to choose in an instrumental, outcome-oriented way. It hypothesises that individuals weight the costs and benefits of criminal acts with subjective probabilities. In contrast, a wide version of the theory allows individuals to derive utility directly from choosing certain actions. Previous studies either do not directly test these theories or yield inconsistent results. We show that a meaningful test of these rival rational choice explanations can only be conducted if a broader view is adopted that takes into account the interplay of moral norms and instrumental incentives. Such a view can be derived from the Model of Frame Selection (Kroneberg 2005) and the Situational Action Theory of Crime Causation (Wikström 2004). Based on these theories, we analyze the willingness to engage in shoplifting and tax fraud in a sample of 2,130 adults from Dresden, Germany. In line with our theoretical expectations, we find that only respondents who do not feel bound by moral norms consider instrumental incentives. Where norms have been strongly internalised and in the absence of neutralisation techniques which legitimise norm-breaking, instrumental incentives are irrelevant.

Suggested Citation

  • Kroneberg, Clemens & Heintze, Isolde & Mehlkop, Guido, 2008. "On shoplifting and tax fraud: An action-theoretic analysis of crime," Sonderforschungsbereich 504 Publications 08-16, Sonderforschungsbereich 504, Universität Mannheim;Sonderforschungsbereich 504, University of Mannheim.
  • Handle: RePEc:xrs:sfbmaa:08-16
    Note: The authors would like to thank Rolf Becker, Stefanie Eifler, Hartmut Esser, and Per-Olof Wikström who provided helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Financial support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, SFB 504, at the University of Mannheim, is gratefully acknowledged. Moreover, the survey on which this research is based was financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft whose generous support is greatly appreciated.

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