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What is Criminology?

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    Chapter 1
    What is Criminology?
    “Criminology” Frank Schmalleger

    What is Crime?
    Four definitional perspectives
    • Legalistic
    • Political
    • Sociological
    • Psychological

    What is Crime?
    • Perspective is important because it determines the assumptions we make and the questions we ask
    • This book uses the legalistic perspective

    Legalistic Perspective
    • Crime is defined as: Human conduct in violation of the criminal laws of a state, the federal government, or a local jurisdiction that has the power to make such laws

    Shortcomings of the Legalistic

    Yields moral high ground to those with power who ensure they escape the label of “criminal”

    Insists that the nature of crime and the nature of law cannot be separated – not all immoral acts are contravened by statute

    Fails to recognize that formal law did not always exist

    Political Perspective
    • Crime – the result of criteria that have been built into the law by powerful groups and are then used to label selected undesirable forms of behavior as illegal
    • Laws serve the interests of the politically powerful
    • Crimes are behaviors those in power perceive as threats to their interests

    Sociological (Sociolegal)
    • Crime – an antisocial act of such a nature that its repression is necessary or is supposed to be necessary to the preservation of the existing system of society
    • Crime is an offense against human relationships first, a violation of law second

    Psychological (Maladaptive)
    • Crime – problem behavior, especially human activity that contravenes the criminal law and results in difficulties in living within a framework of generally acceptable social arrangements
    • Includes any harmful or potentially harmful behaviors

    Crime and Deviance
    • Deviant behavior – any activity that violates social norms
    • Deviance and crime overlap – not identical
    – Unusual dress styles = deviance
    – Indecent exposure = crime

    What Should be Criminal?
    • Lack agreement about appropriate legal status of many behaviors
    • Two contrasting perspectives
    – Consensus
    – Pluralist

    • Laws are enacted to criminalize given forms of behavior when agreed upon by members of society
    • Most applicable to homogeneous societies

    • Behaviors typically criminalized through a political process, after debate over appropriate course of action
    • Legislation, appellate court action
    • Most applicable to diverse societies

    What Do Criminologists Do?
    • Criminologist – studies crime, criminals and criminal behavior
    • Criminalist – a specialist in the collection and examination of the physical evidence of crime
    • Criminal Justice Professionals – do the day-to-day work of the criminal justice system

    Characteristics of academic and research criminologists
    • Ph.D. in criminology, criminal justice, or
    related field
    • Teach in colleges and universities
    • Most conduct research designed to advance criminological knowledge
    • Most write for publication in journals

    What is Criminology?
    • Text’s definition of criminology:
    An interdisciplinary profession built around the scientific study of crime and criminal behavior, including their manifestations, causes, legal aspects, and control
    • Focus on causes of criminality

    What is Criminology?
    Social scientific discipline


    Criminal Justice
    • Criminal justice:
    – Application of the criminal law and study of
    the components of the justice system
    – Police, courts, corrections

    • Focus on control of lawbreaking

    Theoretical Criminology
    • Subfield of general criminology
    • Primarily found in colleges and universities
    • Posits explanations for criminal behavior

    Theoretical Criminology
    • Theory
    Made up of clearly stated propositions that
    posit relationships, often of a causal sort,
    between events and things under study

    • Criminologists have developed many
    theories to explain and understand crime

    Theoretical Criminology
    • General theory – tries to explain all/most forms of crime through a single overarching approach
    • Integrated theory – tries to explain crime by merging concepts from different sources

    Criminology and Social Policy

    Social policy includes government initiatives, programs, plans to address problems in society

    Should be linked to objective findings of
    well-conducted criminological research

    Social Policy and Public Crime

    Concern about crime not always related to
    actual incidence of crime

    Crime rates declining since mid-1990s
    Polls show majority of respondents believe crime more prevalent today than a year ago Crime, terrorism, national security major concerns in U.S. today

    Concern about crime an important factor in determining public policy – political agendas focusing on reducing crime well-received

    Theme of This Course
    Social Problems

    Social Responsibility

    Crime a manifestation of
    social problems
    Public health model to
    deal with crime

    Large-scale government
    Social programs
    addressing roots of crime

    Macro approach

    People responsible for
    own behavior, choose
    crime over other
    legitimate options
    Personalized crime
    reduction strategies
    Micro approach

    Social Context of Crime
    • Each crime has a unique set of
    – Causes
    – Consequences
    – Participants

    • Some people more affected than others
    • Crime provokes reactions from many

    Making Sense of Crime
    Crime is a social event
    • Crime is not an isolated individual activity
    • Crime is a social construction
    • Crime may have many causes and many

    Social Relativity
    • Crime is socially relative:
    Social events are interpreted differently
    according to the cultural experiences and
    personal interests of the initiator, observer,
    or recipient of the behavior
    • Crime means different things to different

    Causes and Consequences of

    Causes and Consequences of
    Crime results from the coming together of
    inputs provided by
    • Offender
    • Justice system
    • Victim
    • Society

    Offender Contributions
    • Background features
    – Life experiences
    – Biology and personality
    – Values/beliefs
    – Skills/knowledge

    • Foreground contributions
    – Motivation
    – Intent
    – State of mind (drug-induced)

    Justice System Contributions
    • Background contributions – failure to:
    – Prevent crime
    – Identify/inhibit specific offenders
    – Prevent release of recidivists

    • Immediate contributions – features of situation

    Presence/absence of police officers
    Availability of official assistance
    Willingness of officers to intervene pre-crime
    Response time

    Victim Contributions
    • Background contributions
    – Passive presence
    – Active contributions through lifestyle

    • Victim precipitation
    – Active victim participation in initial stages of
    criminal event
    – Victim instigates chain of events resulting in

    Society’s Contributions
    • Background contributions
    – Generic social practices and conditions
    – Socialization process

    • Foreground contributions
    – Distribution of resources
    – Accessibility of services

    Immediate Effects of Crime
    • Outputs affect all parties involved
    • Impact affected by perceptual filters
    – Results in ongoing interpretations before,
    during, after crime
    – Everyone associated with a crime engages in

    Integrative Approach to Crime
    • Attempt to identify and understand multiple
    causes of crime
    • Highlight the processes involved in the
    criminal event as it unfolds
    • Analyze the interpretation of the crime

    Integrative Approach to Crime
    Crime viewed along a temporal continuum
    as an emergent activity that:
    • Arises out of past complex causes
    • Assumes a course that builds upon
    immediate interrelationships among
    everyone involved
    • Elicits a formal response from the justice
    system, shapes public perceptions, and
    may give rise to changes in social policy

    The Primacy of Sociology?
    Most criminologists operate primarily from a
    sociological perspective
    • Many theories of criminal behavior based
    in sociology
    • E.g., the social problems/social
    responsibility dichotomy

    The Primacy of Sociology?


    Crime is a social phenomenon
    Much contemporary criminology rests on tradition of
    social scientific investigation


    Reluctant to accept findings from other disciplines
    Frequently unable to integrate these findings into
    existing sociological understandings of crime
    Unable to show effective ways to control crime

    • Crime an “emergent phenomenon” – very complex
    • Criminology must focus on understanding the social phenomenon of crime
    • Crime includes many different forms of behavior, each subject to personal, political, definitional vagaries

    Sociology of Crime
    Criminology and Sociological Theory

    Powerpoint presentation prepared by
    Dr. Mine Özaşçılar

    • The study of crime
    • The nature of Crime
    • Crime – an act that violates the criminal law and is punishable by the state.
    • Criminal laws

    The Characteristics of Crime
    • Criminal intent – “mens rea”
    • Excuses
    • Justification

    The Sociological Perspective
    • Sociological Criminology
    – Poverty
    – Race
    – Gender
    – Class

    The Sociological Perspective
    • Social beings
    – Think the social

    • Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917)
    – Suicide

    • Social structure

    The Rise of Sociological

    Social control
    Classical school of criminology
    Adolphe Quetelet (1796 – 1874)
    Emile durkheim
    W.E. B: Du Bois
    Chicago school
    – Edwin Sutherland – differential association
    – Robert K. Merton – anomie theory

    Criminal Law
    • Two related questions about criminal law
    – Why do criminal laws get established?
    – Whom do criminal laws benefit?

    • Consensus theory – Durkheim
    • Conflict theory – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

    Goals of Criminal Law
    • Help keep the public safe from crime and
    • Prevent and control crime and criminal
    • Articulate our society’s moral values and
    • Protect the rights and freedoms of the
    nation’s citizenry by protecting it from
    potential governmental abuses of powe

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