Jack Katz

Cover of Jack Katz

Seduction, the Street and Emotion



Table of contents

(9 chapters)

This chapter is a transcript of an informal conversation between Jack Katz and Keith Hayward that took place in Rome in August 2019. It covers a number of subjects linked to Professor Katz’s academic career, as well as some personal biographical reflections on how his upbringing shaped his sociological thinking about the ‘seductive’ nature of crime and transgression. The chapter also discusses Professor Katz’s various contributions to qualitative research methodology (specifically ‘analytic induction’ and ‘social ontology’), before concluding with a summary of his latest research for the ‘Hollywood neighborhoods’ project and some brief thoughts about future research trajectories.


We discuss the contributions of Jack Katz to the field of criminology with a particular focus on his 1988 book, Seductions of Crime. This book emerged out of a time in American history when criminal justice policy was shaped in part by moral panic over the 1980s’ American crime wave. We argue that SOC’s pragmatic approach to phenomenology owes much to this historical context. The vision outlined in the book represents an ideal foundation on which to build a future criminology in tune with the direction of innovation in the field. In making this case, we review the core contributions of the work from our perspective. We then explore the complicated “politics” of Katz’s argument – defying easy labels of left and right, and discuss the significance of a growing divide between the opinions of lay persons and expert accounts of crime. The modes of inquiry that Katz reawakened with his analysis have many as of yet untapped riches to offer, not only to criminological theory but also to criminal justice reform. In particular, we argue that urgent contemporary trends toward “public criminology,” “convict criminology” both could find, in SOC, an ideal epistemological starting place.


Published over 30 years ago, Seductions of Crime has transformed criminology as a discipline, the foreground factors that make criminal behavior a morally alluring endeavor deemed an important point to consider in accounts of criminal action by those even in mainstream criminology. In this chapter, we provide an update and revision to Katz's theory of righteous slaughter in an institutional context. We argue that killing is an overcoming, a negotiated and contingent outcome that is accomplished through the emotional and behavioral management of the self, the killing a reflexive reaction, driven by fear and excitement of the situation, peppered with a heavy heaping of moral agonizing. We argue that the killings and refrained killings carried out by soldiers and police are negative character, lacking the sensuous and affirmative character of an ontological project that Katz described.


In his important text Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil Katz (1988) provides a powerful phenomenological description of the experience of crime, which is ontologically situated within the social world from which it emerges. As such, the experience of crime is viewed as neither the exclusive psychological artifact of a self-enclosed and finished rational actor or as the epiphenomenal conclusion of a process of a structurally imposed determinism (Katz, 1988). From this perspective, the experience of crime emerges from its specific co-constituted encounter with the social world that both constructs and is constructed by this intertwining of self and the world.


In this chapter I argue that intimate massacre and home-grown jihadi terrorism can be explained similarly through the concept of the Doomed Antihero. In both forms of public mass killing the perpetrator has subjectively experienced a long period of humiliation; he has slowly converted humiliation into rage; he has adopted an antiheroic style from a culturally available catalog to channel his rage; he has identified a symbol of his humiliation for attack; he has become determined to permanently destroy the symbol by killing people inhabiting it; and he sees “his” attack as a final act that will erase his past and reify his future.


This chapter draws upon empirical data collected with former violent extremists in the UK to address the phenomenological attractions of engaging in terrorism. We argue that there needs to be more consideration of the attractions of belonging to a terrorist organization and a more thorough appreciation of the experiences that attract people to acts of terrorism. This chapter begins to address these issues by engaging with Jack Katz's (1988) research on the phenomenological foreground, the compelling and seductive qualities of engaging in criminal acts. Katz's highly original and influential research shifts attention away from traditional criminological approaches that emphasize structural background factors such as class, unemployment, gender, poverty, or education. As Katz argues, this structural level of analysis overlooks the subjective phenomenological feelings that accompany criminal behavior. We argue that this is a serious omission as it is precisely the search for thrill, risk, and intense excitement that can serve to motivate further acts of criminality.

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