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criminology, the study of crime, society's response to it, and its prevention, including examination of the environmental, hereditary, or psychological causes of crime, modes of criminal investigation and conviction, and the efficacy of punishment or correction (see prison) as compared with forms of treatment or rehabilitation. Although it is generally considered a subdivision of sociology, criminology also draws on the findings of psychology, economics, and other disciplines that investigate humans and their environment.

In examining the evolution and definition of crime, criminology often aims to remove from this category acts that no longer conflict with society's norms and acts that violate the norms without imperiling society, although decriminalization of certain acts may be accompanied by attempts to enforce codes of morality (as, for example, in the response to pornography). Criminologists are nearly unanimous in advocating that acts involving the consumption of narcotics or alcohol, as well as nonstandard but consensual sexual acts (known among criminologists as crimes without victims) be removed from the category of crime. In dealing with crime in general, the emphasis has gradually shifted from punishment to rehabilitation. Criminologists have worked to increase the use of probation and parole, psychiatric treatment, education in prison, and betterment of social conditions.

The Nature and Causes of Crime

Many criminologists regard crime as one among several forms of deviance, about which there are conflicting theories. Some consider crime a type of anomic behavior; others characterize it as a more conscious response to social conditions, to stress, to the breakdown in law enforcement or social order, and to the labeling of certain behavior as deviant. Since cultures vary in organization and values, what is considered criminal may also vary, although most societies have restrictive laws or customs.

Hereditary physical and psychological traits are today generally ruled out as independent causes of crime, but psychological states are believed to determine an individual's reaction to potent environmental influences. Some criminologists assert that certain offenders are born into environments (such as extreme poverty or discriminated-against minority groups) that tend to generate criminal behavior. Others argue that since only some persons succumb to these influences, additional stimuli must be at work. One widely accepted theory is Edwin Sutherland's concept of differential association, which argues that criminal behavior is learned in small groups. Psychiatry generally considers crime to result from emotional disorders, often stemming from childhood experience. The criminal symbolically enacts a repressed wish, or desire, and crimes such as arson or theft that result from pyromania or kleptomania are specific expressions of personality disorders; therefore, crime prevention and the cure of offenders are matters of treatment rather than coercion.

Prevalence of Crime

Crime rates, although often blurred by the political or social agenda of those recording and reporting them, tend to fluctuate with social trends, rising in times of depression, after wars, and in other periods of disorganization. Particular types of crime may be prevalent in response to specific conditions. In the United States organized crime became significant during prohibition. Within cities, poverty areas have the highest rates of reported crime, especially among young people (see juvenile delinquency).

One major category that was relatively ignored until recent decades is that of white-collar crime, i.e., property crimes committed by people of relatively high social status in the course of their professional or business careers. The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in 1967 concluded that about three times as much property is stolen by white-collar criminals as by other criminals outside organized crime.


See S. Glueck and E. Glueck, Criminal Careers in Retrospect (1943, repr. 1966); H. Mannheim, ed., Pioneers in Criminology (2d ed. 1960, repr. 1972) and Comparative Criminology (2 vol., 1965); R. Hood, Key Issues in Criminology (1970); E. Sutherland and D. Cressey, Criminology (8th ed. 1970); S. Schafer and W. Knudten, Reader in Criminology (1973); E. Sutherland, White Collar Crime (1983); L. Ohlin, Human Development and Criminal Behavior (1991).

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A branch of study which has traditionally focused on a number of aspects of the nature and causes of CRIME and the criminal element in society. It is debatable whether this area of study may be called a discipline in its own right as it has tended rather to focus only on one problem andits ramifications from a variety of disciplinary and epistemological perspectives.

Interest in crime and the infraction of rules is found throughout written history. Morality tales about the effect of lawbreaking are found in ancient Greece and, before that, in pre-Hellenic Babylon in legal codes established around 2000 BC. In modern times, a systematic interest in crime grew with the massive social changes associated with the take-off of capitalism in the 18th century. The break-up of traditional societies, the dislocation of forms of social control effective in small-scale and rural societies, and the emergence of new property and class relations, reflected in the political revolutions of the time, all led to a growth of interest in the conditions of social order, and its obverse. Interest in crime was a corollary of this.

In the 18th-century, the ‘classical’ school in law assumed the existence of human rationality and free will, and therefore the rational calculation of the costs and benefits of any action. The implication for criminal policy was to make the cost of infraction greater than the potential benefits. (This model has much in common with more recent deterrent theories.)

Positivist criminology may be seen, in part, as a reaction to the ‘classical’ tradition, but also as part of the general growth of positivist explanation in the 19th century. Its best-known exponent was Cesare LOMBROSO, an Italian physician. Lombroso and his followers espoused a biological determinism opposed to the notion of free will. On the basis of measurements of prison inmates and the postmortem examination of some convicts, he argued that criminality was associated with ‘atavism’ – by which he meant the survival of traits characteristic of a more primitive stage of human evolution. These genetic ‘throwbacks’ were associated with ‘the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals’. By the early years of this century Lombroso's work was thoroughly discredited. However, genetic/biological explanations have recurred from time to time, for example, in psychologists’ contributions to criminology.

There is a variety of sociological approaches to crime and criminality, most of which are opposed to individualistic and biologistic accounts.

One tendency, incorporating a number of theoretical traditions, is ‘social pathology’. The basic theme here is that, rather than problems with individuals, it is social problems which cause criminal behaviour.

Classical Marxist accounts (e.g. by Engels and Bonger) relate crime to inherent features of CAPITALISM, including poverty and the degradation of the working class, and the effects of greed and exploitation in creating a ‘criminogenic’ culture. This emphasis re-emerged in sociology in the 1970s with the growing influence of Marxism on the discipline. In the US, there has been a long-standing interest in the sociological explanation of crime, much of it influenced by the CHICAGO SCHOOL. Early Chicago school authors developed the notion of ‘cultural transmission’. Studying high-crime areas in Chicago between 1900 and 1925, they argued that in such areas delinquency was a tradition. Delinquent values were transmitted by PEER GROUPS and gangs. Individuals were effectively socialized into delinquency. There is also a well-established interest in the broader explanation of DEVIANCE, e.g. in ANOMIE theory and in LABELLING THEORY.

These arguments were expanded in DELINQUENT SUBCULTURE and in DIFFERENTIAL ASSOCIATION theories. Attempts have also been made to synthesize these different theoretical tendencies by Cloward and Ohlin (1960) in particular, who brought together cultural transmission and anomie theories. They showed how ‘structures of opportunity’ for legitimate or illegitimate use of resources vary Cloward and Ohlin identify one section of the ‘lower class’ as particularly likely to take up the chances available for delinquency: those ‘seeking higher status within their own cultural milieu’ and an alternative to a middle-class lifestyle, an illegal route to affluence within ‘lower-class’ culture (compare MERTON's use of ANOMIE).

Approaches such as these have been criticized on a number of grounds. For example, that they generally accept the legitimacy of‘legitimate’ means and ends and assume that everyone else does likewise. Also the focus has been exclusively on lower-working-class males, with little examination of female criminality, WHITE-COLLAR CRIME, or ‘crimes of the powerful’.

In the 1970s, in the UK and the USA, sociologists returned to a blend of labelling theory and Marxism, and issues of crime, social class and capitalism. In the UK, work in this style is exemplified by the ‘critical criminology’ of Taylor, Walton and Young (1973). Radical criminologists were united by a common ethos rather than an agreed theory. They were critical of positivist, functionalist, and labelling approaches, and offered instead a criminology which located the analysis of crime and law in the wider understanding of the CAPITALIST STATE and social class relations. Thus criminal law, policing and the prison system were portrayed as aspects of class domination. There is a clear legacy of labelling theory in this approach, but with an emphasis on the labelling of particular acts as ‘deviant’, as grounded in the logic and needs of capitalism. The radical perspective has been important in reviving sociological interest in the detailed analysis of aspects of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM – policing, courts and sentencing, and prisons.

Further development since the 1970s has been in the growth of feminist contributions to the study of crime and deviance. Apart from the resurgence of the Women's Movement, this interest has owed much to the development of radical criminology, but with an increasing recognition that gender issues cannot be simply incorporated within a class-based perspective. Work on criminal statistics, SUBCULTURES, violence against women, female criminality, sentencing, PRISONS and other issues all demonstrated the importance of gender as a specific issue and in informing general theoretical and empirical debates in criminology. A further development in recent years has been a shift in emphasis from a concern only with offenders, to a concern with the victims of crime (see VICTIMOLOGY).

Beyond the more conventional, predominantly empirical, grounded theoretic or critical Anglo-American approaches to the study of crime, the influence of the work of FOUCAULT has also had a major influence.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the science that studies crime, its causes, and the personality of the criminal and works out methods of preventing crime. Soviet criminology is an independent field within the legal sciences, closely related to criminal law, criminal procedure, corrective-labor and administrative law, and criminalistics. Criminology studies the processes and phenomena associated with crime in a socialist society and works out measures for crime prevention applicable both to society as a whole and in special instances. It also outlines methods of eliminating crimes and studies the prevention of various types of crime and of crimes in a particular area or environment. Soviet scientists devote much attention to studying crime in capitalist society and to a critical analysis of the antiscientific conceptions of bourgeois criminology. Using such concepts as “crime,” “the criminal,” “guilt,” and “motive,” which have become established in criminal law, Soviet criminology employs specific sociological research methods: analysis of statistical data and establishment of correlations between crime and various social processes; study of criminal cases and materials; conducting surveys interviews, and inquiries in order to comprehensively study the criminal personality, the conditions of its formation, and the situations in which crimes are committed; and comprehensive criminological studies of particular objects, areas, or groups. Data from demography, economics, psychology, and other sciences are also used in criminological research. Crime and its causes are studied in their development, taking into account the historical conditions of the particular period.

Soviet criminology rejects bourgeois conceptions of innate criminality, of biological predisposition to crime, and of the decisive influence of various psychological anomalies and temperament on criminal behavior, which distort the social nature of crime as a historically transitional social phenomenon that arose in exploitative societies. In socialist society, where criminality is a vestige of the past, biological characteristics, age, sex, and other factors influence formation of the personality to a certain extent, but correct upbringing gives everyone an equal opportunity for positive social behavior.

There are general and specific aspects of criminology. The general aspect concerns the subject and method of criminology and its history; criminology’s basic concepts and its links to related sciences; the concept of crime and related social processes; the criminological theory of personality and behavior prediction (including typology); the theory of crime prevention, including early prevention, in society as a whole and in specific circumstances; and problems of ensuring legality in crime prevention and of using the methods and data of criminology in social planning and forecasting. The specific aspect of criminology includes the comprehensive study and prevention of particular types of crime (violent, mercenary-violent, mercenary), of crimes in various groups (minors, “young adults”), and of recidivism.

Soviet criminology developed as a science in the 1920’s, when agencies, universities, and specialized scientific establishments (offices for the study of crime and the criminal) began to conduct selective research and the State Institute for the Study of Crime and the Criminal was established. Between 1957 and 1963 systematic development of the methodology of criminological research for scientific and practical purposes was carried out by the Institute of Criminalistics of the Procuracy of the USSR. In 1963 the institute was succeeded by the All-Union Institute for the Study of the Causes of Crime and Development of Measures to Prevent Crime. Theoretical problems of criminology are also worked out at institutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences, in the law departments of many universities, and at a number of institutes of legal expertise.

In foreign socialist countries there is considerable criminological research, built on the same theoretical and methodological principles that are used in the USSR. In all these countries either specialized research institutions for criminology or specialized research subdivisions in ministries and government departments have been established. (Specialized institutions include the Council of Criminological Research in Bulgaria, the Institute of the Procuracy in Hungary, the Institute of Criminology under the general procurator in Czechoslovakia, and the Institute of Research on Criminology and criminalistics in Yugoslavia.) Questions of criminology are studied in law departments at the universities of all the socialist countries.

In the bourgeois countries criminology as an independent science developed in the 1870’s. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the Enlightenment thinkers, the Utopian socialists, and the revolutionary democrats held progressive views on crime as a phenomenon related to social inequality and therefore requiring social preventive measures and a restructuring of society. Bourgeois criminology, however, did not accept these views, instead searching for “explanations” of crime that would not challenge the essence of the capitalist system. Despite the conceptual differences that have arisen in bourgeois criminology, all are intended to substantiate the “eternal nature’* of crime, supposedly inherent in any social system. Questions of crime prevention are studied only within the framework of special measures to combat crime, and the studies are based primarily on material dealing with crimes against persons, larceny, robbery, and so forth. Crimes committed in the state administrative apparatus and in the business world are little studied. In fact bourgeois criminology replaces the problem of establishing the causes of crime with a search for the factors influencing the commission of crimes by specific persons. All schools of bourgeois criminology reject “traditional” measures of criminal law and replace them with “security measures” or “a system of social protection,” thereby significantly increasing opportunities for arbitrary actions by the police and judicial agencies.


Boldyrev, E. V. Mery preduprezhdeniia pravonarushenii nesovershennoletnikh v SSSR. Moscow, 1964.
Gertsenzon, A. A. Vvedenie v sovetskuiu kriminologiiu. Moscow, 1965.
Gertsenzon, A. A. Ugolovnoe pravo i sotsiologiia. Moscow, 1970.
Sotsiologiia prestupnosti (Sovremennye burzhuaznye teorii). Moscow, 1966.
Kriminologiia (textbook), 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Kudriavtsev, V. N. Prichinnost’ v kriminologii. Moscow, 1968.
Karpets, I. I. Problema prestupnosti. Moscow, 1969.
Orlov, V. S. Podrostok i prestuplenie. Moscow, 1969.
Prestupnost’ nesovershennoletnikh v kapitalisticheskikh stranakh, part 2. Moscow, 1970.
lakovlev, A. M. Prestupnost’ i sotsial’naia psikhologiia. Moscow, 1971.
Sakharov, A. B. Prichiny prestupnosti i lichnost’ prestupnika v SSSR. Moscow, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the scientific study of crime, criminal behaviour, law enforcement, etc.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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