The world of Crime Science and situational crime prevention has often drawn on technology for practical purposes. This will increase as the world in which crime is committed and prevented becomes ever more technologically based. However, with some notable exceptions, there has been little attempt to explicitly theorise about the role of technology in situational crime prevention.
The material on this page is intended to correct this deficiency – to relate technology to key concepts in situational crime prevention, with the aim of giving us a more self-aware and detached view of what technology is, and how it fits with Crime Science.
Publications and presentations are listed below, covering both material and cyber domains. There is also a special focus on drones.
The relationship between technology, crime and security is discussed further on the Design, Innovation, Crime and security futures pages. Arms races are covered on the Evolution, crime and security pages.
Technology is a rich and complex aspect of human life. But even here, in this very practical domain, theory is important. It aids the efficient generation of innovative solutions that are plausible (rather than random and likely to fail), and can guide development, testing and refinement. Somewhat surprisingly, until recently the field has had few theorists of its own. Two exceptions are Mitcham and Arthur.
Mitcham (1979) identifies four dimensions: artefact (tools, manufactured products etc.), knowledge (scientific, engineering, technological know-how, plus insight from social and physical sciences), process (problem-solving, research and development, invention, innovation), and volition (ethics, technology as social construction).
Arthur’s (2009) seminal attempt to provide a theory of technology characterises it on different scales: as a means to fulfil a particular human purpose; an assemblage of practices and purposes; and the entire collection of devices and engineering practices available to a culture. These levels interact with each other and the entire economy: “As the collective technology builds, it creates a structure within which decisions and activities and flows of goods and services takes place.” (p.194).
For Arthur, technology starts with phenomena — natural effects (e.g. gravitation or electricity) that exist independently in nature. Technology is organised around central principles, which are the application of one or more phenomena for some purpose; principles in turn are expressed in the form of physical or informational components which are combined, often hierarchically, to meet that purpose. Technological domains are toolboxes of potential, which are clustered around some common set of phenomena or applied principles such as movement of mechanical parts, or of electrons.
The above two theories equally apply to technology in the field of crime and crime prevention, but need particularisation. Mitcham’s volitional dimension for example, could include the social institution of crime and the social forces of conflict between individuals, or between individuals and wider social groups like the state. Arthur refers to multiple purposes; extending these to the multiple stakeholders that hold them is especially important in the case of criminal conflicts. The adversarial nature of crime requires special qualities of technology in crime and security, in terms of resistance to diverse forms of attack, resilience and upgradeability.
A major review of technology, crime and crime prevention is in this article:
Ekblom, P. (2017e). ‘Technology, opportunity, crime and crime prevention – current and evolutionary perspectives’ in B. Leclerc and E. Savona (Eds.) Crime Prevention in the 21st Century. New York: Springer.
Ekblom, P (2008a). ‘Crime and Communication Technology’, In W. Donsbach (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Communication. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. [also 2nd Edn. 2014.]
The first presentation below focuses on drones, but with general lessons to be drawn. The rest cover the field of technology, opportunity and crime in general.
‘Thinking about Drones, Crime and Security‘, European Forum on Urban Security web conference 2021.
‘Crime, situational prevention & technology: The nature of opportunity
and how it evolves.’ Dept of Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology, University of Southampton 2016.
‘We have (nicked) the technology: Exploring its relationship with crime and situational prevention‘ – Stockholm Criminology Symposium 2015.