UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Modus operandi : crime as work Letkemann, Peter Jacob


This study, based upon interviews with forty-five experienced property offenders, is intended as an addition to the sparse sociological literature having as its focus the description and analysis of criminal behaviour. Detailed attention is given to the technical and organizational dimensions of property offences. In contrast to much of the available literature on crime, this study does not deal with motivational factors but rather with questions as to how crime is committed. The behavioural dimensions of two crimes in particular, namely safecracking and bank robbery, are described in detail. Although it has long been recognized that a criminal's skills are learned, attention to the details of crime makes it possible to document what it is a criminal learns and how such learning takes place. This study shows that some mechanical skills are learned by way of formal instruction from the more experienced, and how and why some skills are more easily taught and learned in prison than other skills. It is indicated that the method of learning criminal skills does not resemble the system of apprenticeship common in legitimate skilled trades; criminals tend to work with equals, whether experienced or inexperienced. The data also indicates that some of the criminal's skills consist of making relevant and explicit such common-sense knowledge as is routinely used in everyday life—the systematic application of such knowledge being best illustrated in the instance of "casing" procedures. The ability to make profitable, albeit illegal, use of everyday knowledge suggests a continuity in the socialization of criminals and non-criminals which is not developed in other literature. Analysis of various types of crime, such as burglary, safecracking and armed robbery, leads to the development of two analytic units: surreptitious and non-surreptitious crimes. The former category is characterized by the criminal's concern with avoiding the victim, and the need of mechanical skills. Non-surreptitious crimes, in contrast, involve victim confrontation--the requisite skills having to do with organization and victim-management. It is argued that these analytic units are more manageable than those typologies and classificatory schemes which are based upon purely legal and career distinctions. In addition, this distinction is based upon the behavioural dimensions of crime rather than the social and personal characteristics of criminals. In this way the sociology of crime is more fully brought under the rubric of the sociology of occupations and hence of social science in general

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