AskDefine | Define criminology

Dictionary Definition

criminology n : the scientific study of crime and criminal behavior and law enforcement

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  1. The study of crime and criminals, especially their behaviour.


the study of crime and criminals, especially their behaviour

Extensive Definition

Criminology is the social-scientific study of crime as an individual and social phenomenon. Criminological research areas include the incidence and forms of crime as well as its causes and consequences. They also include social and governmental regulations and reactions to crime. Criminology is an interdisciplinary field in the behavioral sciences, drawing especially on the research of sociologists and psychologists, as well as on writings in law. An important way to analyze data is to look at quantitative methods in criminology. In 1885, Italian law professor Raffaele Garofalo coined the term "criminology" (in Italian, criminologia). The French anthropologist Paul Topinard used it for the first time in French (criminologie) around the same time.

Schools of thought

In the mid-18th century, criminology arose as social philosophers gave thought to crime and concepts of law. Over time, several schools of thought have developed.

Classical school

The Classical School, which developed in the mid 18th century, was based on utilitarian philosophy. Cesare Beccaria, author of On Crimes and Punishments (1763-64), Jeremy Bentham, inventor of the panopticon, and other classical school philosophers argued that (1) people have free will to choose how to act. (2) Deterrence is based upon the notion of the human being as a 'hedonist' who seeks pleasure and avoids pain, and a 'rational calculator' weighing up the costs and benefits of the consequences of each action. Thus, it ignores the possibility of irrationality and unconscious drives as motivational factors (3) Punishment (of sufficient severity) can deter people from crime, as the costs (penalties) outweigh benefits, and that severity of punishment should be proportionate to the crime. (4) The more swift and certain the punishment, the more effective it is in deterring criminal behavior. The Classical school of thought came about at a time when major reform in penology occurred, with prisons developed as a form of punishment. Also, this time period saw many legal reforms, the French Revolution, and the development of the legal system in the United States.

Positivist school

The Positivist School presumes that criminal behaviour is caused by internal and external factors outside of the individual's control. The scientific method was introduced and applied to study human behavior. Positivism can be broken up into three segments which include biological, psychological and social positivism.
Cesare Lombroso, an Italian prison doctor working in the late 19th century and sometimes regarded as the "father" of criminology, was one of the largest contributors to biological positivism and founder of the Italian school of criminology. Lombroso took a scientific approach, insisting on empirical evidence, for studying crime. Considered as the founder of criminal anthropology, he suggested that physiological traits such as the measurements of one's cheek bones or hairline, or a cleft palate, considered to be throwbacks to Neanderthal man, were indicative of "atavistic" criminal tendencies. This approach, influenced by the earlier theory of phrenology and by Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, has been superseded. Enrico Ferri, a student of Lombroso, believed that social as well as biological factors played a role, and held the view that criminals should not be held responsible for the factors causing their criminality were beyond their control. Criminologists have since rejected Lombroso's biological theories, with control groups not used in his studies.
Lombroso's Italian school was rivalled, in France, by Alexandre Lacassagne and his school of thought, based in Lyon and influent from 1885 to 1914 . The Lacassagne School rejected Lombroso's theory of "criminal type" and of "born criminals", and strained the importance of social factors. However, contrary to criminological tendencies influenced by Durkheim's social determinism, it did not reject biological factors. Indeed, Lacassagne created an original synthesis of both tendencies, influenced by positivism, phrenology and hygienism, which alleged a direct influence of the social environment on the brain and compared the social itself to a brain, upholding an organicist position Rawson W. Rawson utilized crime statistics to suggest a link between population density and crime rates, with crowded cities creating an environment conducive for crime. Joseph Fletcher and John Glyde also presented papers to the Statistical Society of London on their studies of crime and its distribution. Henry Mayhew used empirical methods and an ethnographic approach to address social questions and poverty, and presented his studies in London Labour and the London Poor. Emile Durkheim viewed crime as an inevitable aspect of society, with uneven distribution of wealth and other differences among people.

Chicago School

The Chicago School arose in the early twentieth century, through the work of Robert Ezra Park, Ernest Burgess, and other urban sociologists at University of Chicago. In the 1920s, Park and Burgess identified five concentric zones that often exist as cities grow, including the "zone in transition" which was identified as most volatile and subject to disorder. In the 1940s, Henry McKay and Clifford R. Shaw focused on juvenile delinquents, finding that they were concentrated in the zone of transition.
Chicago School sociologists adopted a social ecology approach to studying cities, and postulated that urban neighborhoods with high levels of poverty often experience breakdown in the social structure and institutions such as family and schools. This results in social disorganization, which reduces the ability of these institutions to control behavior and creates an environment ripe for deviant behavior.
Other researchers suggested an added social-psychological link. Edwin Sutherland suggested that people learn criminal behavior from older, more experienced criminals that they may associate with.

Theories of crime

Theoretical perspectives used in criminology include psychoanalysis, functionalism, interactionism, Marxism, econometrics, systems theory, postmodernism, etc.

Social structure theories

Social disorganization (neighborhoods)

Social disorganization theory is based on the work of Henry McKay and Clifford R. Shaw of the Chicago School. Social disorganization theory postulates that neighborhoods plagued with poverty and economic deprivation tend to experience high rates of population turnover. These neighborhoods also tend to have high population heterogeneity. As working and middle class people leave deteriorating neighborhoods, the most disadvantaged portions of the population may remain. William Julius Wilson suggested a poverty "concentration effect", which may cause neighborhoods to be isolated from the mainstream of society and become prone to violence.

Strain theory (social class)

Strain theory, (also known as Mertonian Anomie), advanced by American sociologist Robert Merton, suggests that mainstream culture, especially in the United States, is saturated with dreams of opportunity, freedom and prosperity; as Merton put it, the American Dream. Most people buy into this dream and it becomes a powerful cultural and psychological motivation. Merton also used the term anomie, but it meant something slightly different for him than it did for Durkheim. Merton saw the term as meaning a dichotomy between what society expected of its citizens, and what those citizens could actually achieve. Therefore, if the social structure of opportunities is unequal and prevents the majority from realizing the dream, some of them will turn to illegitimate means (crime) in order to realize it. Others will retreat or drop out into deviant subcultures (gang members, "hobos": urban homeless drunks and drug abusers).

Subcultural theory

Following on from the Chicago School and Strain Theory, and also drawing on Edwin H. Sutherland's idea of differential association, subcultural theorists focused on small cultural groups fragmenting away from the mainstream to form their own values and meanings about life.
Albert Cohen tied anomie theory with Freud's reaction formation idea, suggesting that delinquency among lower class youths is a reaction against the social norms of the middle class. Some youth, especially from poorer areas where opportunities are scarce, might adopt social norms specific to those places which may include "toughness" and disrespect for authority. Criminal acts may result when youths conform to norms of the deviant subculture.
Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin suggested that delinquency can result from differential opportunity for lower class youth. Such youths may be tempted to take up criminal activities, choosing an illegitimate path that provides them more lucrative economic benefits than conventional, over legal options such as minimum wage-paying jobs available to them.

Control theories

Another approach is made by the social bond or social control theory. Instead of looking for factors that make people become criminal, those theories try to explain why people do not become criminal. Travis Hirschi identified four main characteristics: "attachment to others", "belief in moral validity of rules", "commitment to achievement" and "involvement in conventional activities". The more a person features those characteristics, the less are the chances that he or she becomes deviant (or criminal). On the other hand, if those factors are not present in a person, it is more likely that he or she might become criminal. Hirschi expanded on this theory, with the idea that a person with low self control is more likely to become criminal. A simple example: someone wants to have a big yacht, but does not have the means to buy one. If the person cannot exert self-control, he or she might try to get the yacht (or the means for it) in an illegal way; whereas someone with high self-control will (more likely) either wait or deny themselves that need. Social bonds, through peers, parents, and others, can have a countering effect on one's low self-control. For families of low socio-economic status, a factor that distinguishes families with delinquent children from those who are not delinquent is the control exerted by parents or chaperonage.

Symbolic interactionism

Symbolic interactionism draws on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and George Herbert Mead, as well as subcultural theory and conflict theory. This school of thought focused on the relationship between the powerful state, media and conservative ruling elite on the one hand, and the less powerful groups on the other. The powerful groups had the ability to become the 'significant other' in the less powerful groups' processes of generating meaning. The former could to some extent impose their meanings on the latter, and therefore they were able to 'label' minor delinquent youngsters as criminal. These youngsters would often take on board the label, indulge in crime more readily and become actors in the 'self-fulfilling prophecy' of the powerful groups. Later developments in this set of theories were by Howard Becker and Edwin Lemert, in the mid 20th century. Stanley Cohen who developed the concept of "moral panic" (describing societal reaction to spectacular, alarming social phenomena such as post-World War Two youth cultures (e.g. the Mods and Rockers in the UK in 1964), AIDS and football hooliganism).


Rational choice theory

Rational choice theory is based on the utilitarian, classical school philosophies of Cesare Beccaria, which were popularized by Jeremy Bentham. They argued that punishment, if certain, swift, and proportionate to the crime, was a deterrent for crime, with risks outweighing possible benefits to the offender. In Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crime and Punishment, 1763-1764), Beccaria advocated a rational penology. Beccaria conceived of punishment as the necessary application of the law for a crime: thus, the judge was simply to conform his sentence to the law. Beccaria also distinguished between crime and sin, and advocated against the death penalty, as well as torture and inhumane treatments, as he did not consider themselves rational deterrents.
This philosophy was replaced by the Positivist and Chicago Schools, and not revived until the 1970s with the writings of James Q. Wilson, Gary Becker's 1965 article titled "Crime and Punishment " and George Stigler's 1970 article "The Optimum Enforcement of Laws ." Rational choice theory argues that criminals, like other people, weigh costs/risks and benefits when deciding whether or not to commit crime and think in economic terms. They will also try to minimize risks of crime by considering the time, place, and other situational factors. Rational choice theories also suggest that increasing risk of offending and likelihood of being caught, through added surveillance, police or security guard presence, added street lighting, and other measures, are effective in reducing crime. A crime opportunity requires that elements converge in time and place including (1) a motivated offender (2) suitable target or victim (3) lack of a capable guardian. A guardian at a place, such as a street, could include security guards or even ordinary pedestrians who would witness the criminal act and possibly intervene or report it to police.

Types and definitions of crime

Both the Positivist and Classical Schools take a consensus view of crime — that a crime is an act that violates the basic values and beliefs of society. Those values and beliefs are manifested as laws that society agrees upon. However, there are two types of laws:
  • Natural laws are rooted in core values shared by many cultures. Natural laws protect against harm to persons (e.g. murder, rape, assault) or property (theft, larceny, robbery), and form the basis of common law systems.
  • Statutes are enacted by legislatures and reflect current cultural mores, albeit that some laws may be controversial, e.g. laws that prohibit marijuana use and gambling. Marxist Criminology, Conflict Criminology and Critical Criminology claim that most relationships between State and citizen are non-consensual and, as such, criminal law is not necessarily representative of public beliefs and wishes: it is exercised in the interests of the ruling or dominant class. The more right wing criminologies tend to posit that there is a consensual social contract between State and citizen.
Therefore, definitions of crimes will vary from place to place, in accordance to the cultural norms and mores, but may be broadly classified as blue-collar crime, corporate crime, organized crime, political crime, public order crime, state crime, state-corporate crime, and white-collar crime.


Areas of study in criminology include:
Comparative criminology is the study of the social phenomenon of crime across cultures, to identify differences and similarities in crime patterns.



External links

criminology in Arabic: علم الإجرام
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