What is Criminology?

Criminology is the study of crime from a social perspective: the causes of crime, the social impact of crime, and the criminals involved in the crime. Criminologists study criminology in an attempt to better understand what motivates the criminal to act in a criminal manner. Their work is generally focused on the study of:

  • Theories explaining illegal and/or deviant behavior
  • The social reaction to crime
  • The political terrain of social control
  • The effectiveness of anti-crime policies
  • Criminals
  • Crimes
  • Crime victims

Individuals studying criminology often become detectives or federal law enforcement investigators.

Criminologist Jobs: From Criminal Investigations to Public Policy

Many law enforcement agencies routinely seek out criminologists to profile criminals so as to gain a better understanding of their rationale and what motivates their criminal behavior.

Criminologists seek to gain answers to what really happens on the streets, in courtrooms, in police stations, and behind prison bars. These social science professionals use their expertise to systematically evaluate the effectiveness of any number of laws, policies, and proposals.

They also look for answers by studying the socio-cultural, economic, and global roots of crime, the meaning of crime, and crime rates, and by measuring criminal activity and its impact on criminals and on society as a whole.

Criminologists collect much of their information by analyzing data sets, statistical studies, and ethnographic studies on topics such as drug use and homicide rates.

The Theories of Criminology

Criminology attempts to explain crimes within a societal context and the variances between societies and cultures. Within the study of criminology are three, distinct theories that attempt to explain why criminals do what they do:

Classical: The Classical theory of criminology suggests that people commit crimes when they believe the benefits of the crime outweigh the possible costs. Individuals who believe in this theory then likely believe that the logical way to reduce crime is to give criminals harsher punishments.

Positivist: The Positivist theory of criminology attempts to explain that crime is affected by both internal and external factors, both of which are outside of the criminal’s control. In other words, it suggests that a number of biological and social factors may lead to criminal behavior. The Positivist theory suggests that things such as poverty and a lack of education result in higher crime rates; therefore, crime may be reduced if educational and employment opportunities are presented to individuals with socio-economical disadvantages.

Individual Trait: The Individual Trait theory suggests that the most distinguishable differences between criminals and non-criminals are biological and psychological. It therefore suggests that the only way to reduce crime is to limit the interaction of those who have the same biological and psychological traits as much as possible.

Criminology: A Sociological Basis

Criminology is best viewed as a study, not a discipline, which is rooted in sociology and in the intellectual traditions and methodologies of such major thinkers as Marx and Weber. In other words, the study of crime and social control is interrelated and interconnected.

Criminologists, when studying the causes of criminal activity among different groups of people, blend the areas of social science, psychology, and criminal justice. Their work involves investigating how such factors as socio-economic status, race, and ethnicity can influence crime, as well as studying past studies and the success/failure rates of specific law enforcement and sentencing methods.

Other examinations among criminologists include how individuals react to specific types of crimes, how crime affects the American culture, and the consequences of crime on victims, their families, and other citizens.

The Development and Rise of Criminology

Criminology attempts to build theories that explain why some crimes occur and why criminals commit crimes. The theories are tested by observing behavior and studying statistics. Criminological theories are then used to shape how society responds to crime, both in terms of preventing future incidences of crime and responding to criminals who commit those crimes.

The study of criminology dates back to the beginning of the 18th century, when scholars began distinguishing the act of committing a crime from sin by attempting to explain that why crime occurred. This first venture into the study of crime was referred to as classical criminology.

In the beginning of the 19the century, modern criminology began to take shape, with the study of criminology being recognized as a sub-discipline of psychology, sociology, and economics. During this time, criminological societies and journals of criminology began to emerge, and criminologists were conducting observations and experiments based on their theories.

The latter part of the 20th century brought about the third phase of criminology known as independent criminology, which saw this field of study pulling away from the larger disciplines of sociology and psychology and standing on its own as a separate social science. A number of universities began to offer it as undergraduate and graduate programs and professional associations and journals became widespread.

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