criminology

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criminology Most literally, the study of crime, its perpetrators, and its causes; and, relatedly, an interest in its prevention, and in the deterrence, treatment, and punishment of offenders (see G. M. Sykes et al. , Criminology, 2nd edn., 1992
).

Approaches and theoretical traditions are diverse. Thus, criminology as the study of crime will be interested in the distribution of crime, and in the techniques and organization of crime. Criminology as the study of criminals might seek explanations for criminal behaviour in biology, psychology, or in the political economy of society. The related sociology of law may be interested in the processes of making and breaking laws and in issues such as proportionality—making the punishment fit the crime. During the 1960s and early 1970s, a sociology of deviance developed as a source of sociological opposition to the law-enforcement and establishment-orientation or traditional criminology, and as an epistemological critique of unquestioned assumptions about what constitutes crime or deviance. In the 1970s and 1980s external and internal influences on criminology encouraged the development of critical criminology and feminist criminology (see CRIMINOLOGY, CRITICAL and CRIMINOLOGY, FEMINIST). The latter drew attention to the near invisibility of women in criminological work and gave significant impetus to rectifying the past neglect of victims of crime. Generally speaking, the politics of these new positions has been identified with supporting and asserting the rights of minority groups.

Sometimes seen as a sub-field of sociology, sometimes as a discipline in itself, criminology is clearly a mixed but dynamic enterprise, drawing on (among others) sociology, economics, history, psychology, and anthropology. It can be criticized for its inability to produce an overall explanatory theory; nevertheless, the subject continues to develop. Some commentators have suggested that its principal concern ought to be the study of the production and disruption of order—in other words control rather than crime—while critics have invoked a postmodern vision of the death of criminology. Yet others argue that such announcements are premature, and are promoting new directions in crime prevention, and critical and realist criminology (see CRIMINOLOGY, REALIST). John Hagan et al. , Criminological Controversies (1996
), provides an excellent introduction to the theoretical and empirical issues that dominate the field. See also BROKEN WINDOWS THESIS; CRIMINAL STATISTICS; CRIMINOLOGY; LABELLING; CRIMINOLOGY, POSITIVIST.

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criminology, classical Originating in eighteenth-century philosophy, classicism views both criminality and the administration of criminal justice as premised upon principles of rationality, choice, responsibility, and the deterrent power of punishment. It is usually associated with the work of Cesare Beccaria (1738–94; for example, see his Dei delitti e delle pene, 1764
) and conventionally interpreted as the advocacy of a humane alternative to the arbitrary and unjustly severe sentencing and punishment of offenders. Underpinning this rationalist approach was an attempt to achieve administrative uniformity; a scale of punishments proportionate to the objective harm caused by the offence; and a belief in the aim of punishment as deterrence not retribution. A social contract is held to be agreed between the individual and society—and deemed to be a rational agreement in everyone's interest. To break the contract, and in so doing the laws of society, demonstrates free will and choice; but it is also a failure to meet one's social responsibilities, which must be met by appropriate punishment on behalf of society, in order to deter others.

Orthodox classicism was criticized for not taking account of circumstances, either of the offender, or in which the offence itself was committed. Critics maintained that, for this reason, punishment that is unvarying, or laid down according to a fixed scale, will be unjust. In this way other considerations are raised, for example the issue of causation (whether environmental or biological), and classicist free-will rationality comes eventually to be replaced by nineteenth-century positivist criminology (see CRIMINOLOGY, POSITIVIST) as a dominant perspective. However, the classical perspective has been adapted over time, and a contemporary neo-classical form remains influential in some areas—for example in debates about responsibility for crime. The best recent appraisal of the tradition is Bob Roshier's Controlling Crime: The Classical Perspective in Criminology (1989).

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classical criminology, classicism See CRIMINOLOGY, CLASSICAL.

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