Situationally Edited Empathy: An Effect of Socio-Economic Structure on Individual Choice

Published: 2006

Mackenzie, S. (2006) Situationally edited empathy: an effect of socio-economic structure on individual choice.Critical Criminology, 14 (4). pp. 365-385. ISSN 1205-8629 (doi:10.1007/s10612-006-9005-1)


Criminological theory still operates with deficient models of the offender as agent, and of social influences on the agent’s decision-making process. This paper takes one “emotion”, empathy, which is theoretically of considerable importance in influencing the choices made by agents; particularly those involving criminal or otherwise harmful action. Using a framework not of rational action, but of “rationalised action”, the paper considers some of the effects on individual psychology of social, economic, political and cultural structure. It is suggested that the climate-setting effects of these structures promote normative definitions of social situations which allow unempathic, harmful action to be rationalised through the situational editing of empathy. The “crime is normal” argument can therefore be extended to include the recognition that the uncompassionate state of mind of the criminal actor is a reflection of the self-interested values which govern non-criminal action in wider society.