Criminal Justice Degree Guide: Criminology Resources
What makes a criminal? Is the criminal defined by his or her personality? By an irreconcilable difference between mind and society? By a system of class oppression? These are some of the many hypotheses offered by criminologists, those theorists who study the notion of criminality. In this student guide to criminology resources, we explain the field of criminology and lead the way to further reading on the web.
The Criminologist’s Task
Criminology is the academically fertile meeting ground of sociology and criminal justice. Generally, it’s more on the sociology side. While criminologists frequently make use of statistics from the field of criminal justice, criminology is a much more academic discipline. Rather than establishing police policy and developing pragmatic tools for fighting crime on a day-to-day basis, criminologists look at crime on the theoretical level. They ask questions like “what is crime?” and “what is a criminal?”
History of Criminology
The term “criminology” didn’t enter the academic vocabulary of the West until the late 19th Century, but theories about criminology had been around for some time. In the 18th Century, utilitarian philosophers helped to extend philosophy into the social arena. Thinkers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill proposed a theory in which people, acting in rational self-interest of their own free will, act in a way that will increase their own pleasure and reduce their own pain. They argued that criminals violated a social contract in which members of a society have implicitly agreed to act in a certain way to reduce strife and improve harmony. This has since been regarded as the “classical” school of criminological thought.
19th and early 20th Century theorists of the positivist school questioned the utilitarian view. New models of human behavior in the young disciplines of sociology and social psychology suggested that humans were shaped more by the social forces around them than anything else. These were the thinkers who really shaped criminology as a separate area of study. The Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso is noted as the first thinker to use the term “criminology.” Believing that certain evolutionary features were linked to crime, he pioneered an “anthropological” approach to the study of crime.
A group of American thinkers, associated with the Chicago School of sociology, looked at the role of specific environments in the formation of crime. More specifically, they identified certain types of built urban environment as being more conducive to criminality than others. Slums, they argued, led to dysfunctional institutions (including the family and the school), which in turn led to the inability to regulate deviant behavior.
Since the end of World War II, the discipline of criminology has ballooned, and modern rival theories constantly compete with each other. As with most social sciences, the practice of criminology has a necessarily political edge, and many schools of criminology expressly identify themselves as “left” or “right.” Left-leaning criminologists are more likely to oppose the death penalty as inhuman, decry three-strikes laws as witch hunts, and argue that jail terms for minor drug offenses are socially disruptive in poor communities. Meanwhile, right-leaning criminologists view these practices as necessary deterrents– harsh, perhaps, but an effective tool in the suppression of crime.
Beyond the express political dimension, schools of criminology have generally mirrored broader trends in the social sciences. As mentioned, “classical” and “positivist” schools developed in the 18th and 19th Centuries, reflecting the overwhelming tendencies in those eras. As the 20th Century has developed, criminologists have been strongly influenced by the major intellectual currents: American pragmatism, behaviorism, existentialism, symbolic interactionism, Marxism, French postmodernism, and actor-network theory have all exuded their influence on the field.
We’ve linked to a number of academic resources on criminology, including university-hosted sites and peer-reviewed journals.
- The American Society of Criminology is the principal scholarly organization of criminologists in the United States.
- The U.S. Department of Justice’s official website.
- The U.S. has made their law enforcement crime statistics standard from state to state and locality to locality since 1960. They’re available online here.
- The University of Ottawa hosts the Institute for the Prevention of Crime.
- The International Centre for the Prevention of Crime is a larger-scale academic forum discussing crime prevention.
- The Jill Dando Institute uses scientific techniques to prevent crime.
- Tilburg University hosts a research group on victimology, the criminological study of crime victims.
- Utilitarian philosopher Cesare Beccaria discusses crime and punishment in this classic 18th Century essay.
- Crimetheory.com is an educational portal on criminological thought, maintained by a professor at Ohio University.
- Criminal Profiling Research is a Swiss website covering the controversial practice of criminal profiling.
- The Center for Law, Justice, and Culture at Ohio University is an interdisciplinary research group.
- The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation examines issues of criminology within a criminal justice context.
- A short biography of Cesare Lombroso.
- The University of Maryland, Baltimore County discusses the Chicago School of sociological thought.
- Criminology is the journal affiliated with the American Society of Criminology.
- The British Journal of Criminology is the principal journal covering criminology in the UK.
- The European Journal of Criminology covers criminology in continental Europe.
- The Law and Society Review studies the relationship between law and sociology, an area that necessarily includes criminology.
- Deviant Behavior is a sociological journal discussing behaviors that violate social norms.
- Online lectures on criminology designed to accompany texts by Oxford University Press.