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Academic Direction
Laws Consortium
Modes of Study

This module concentrates on criminological theory as a discipline and challenges students to confront the presuppositions they have about crime and offenders.

The module aims to develop a criminological imagination that enables you to successfully engage critically with both your presuppositions and acquired knowledge and develop a global perspective. You will develop a sense of intellectual integrity that acknowledges the limits of what we know and the need for further research.

Topics covered

  • Objectives and methods of criminology. The idea of a science of criminology. Basic dichotomies/controversies on nature and scope of criminology, crime as a social problem versus crime as inevitable and a reflection of social order. Developing a criminological imagination in conditions of globalism. Defining crime (legal and sociological conceptions, the role of the nation-state and the need for different focus, social harm and violations of human rights). Historical development of criminology (in outline only). Classical and positivist schools. Criminology beyond the nation state and the case of state crime. Sources of data: official statistics and alternatives (e.g. self-report studies and victimisation surveys); media images of crime and offending and ‘moral panics’. Uses, defects and limitations of official data for purposes of research. Challenges of gender, transnational crime and trafficking.
  • Criminological theory. Orientating perspectives in studying crime such as correctionalism and appreciation, crime as an individual phenomenon versus crime as a social product: legacies of classicism and positivism, rational choice, biological, psychological and psychiatric explanations, including idea of psychopathy, the importance of the situation. Crime as a social phenomenon: anomie theory, Durkheim and Merton. Social disorganisation and social ecology. Concept of spatial justice. Matza, techniques of neutralisation and ‘drift’. Interactionist perspectives. Labelling theory. Control theories. Marxism. Feminism. Crime as a cultural phenomenon: cultural criminology, moral panics and the media, Katz and seductions of crime, existentialism.
  • Institutional framework of law enforcement. Philosophy and aims of punishment, including deterrence, treatment, ‘justice’, communicative and restorative models. Whether actual systems of punishment can be explained by philosophical justifications or sociological approaches (in outline). Community and official attitudes to punishment and treatment of offenders.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the module successfully you should be able to:

  • Understand the inter-disciplinary heritage of criminology and the influence this has had on the various schools of thought
  • Describe the different sources of information available to academics, policy makers and the public on crime
  • Understand the contested nature of what is (and is not) considered to be ‘crime’
  • Describe the main arguments of the various schools involved in explaining crime and critically analyse their differences
  • Describe perspectives on the role of punishment and the different functions that it might be thought to serve
  • Distinguish between different conceptual frames of reference and compare and contrast their strengths and weaknesses
  • Engage with definitional and conceptual issues relating to crime, deviance and control
  • Analyse popular perceptions of crime and punishment and subject these to critical analysis
  • Utilise a range of tools and resources available for the study of crime and its control.


4hr 15 mins unseen examination

Essential reading

  • Hopkins Burke, R. An introduction to criminological theory. (Routledge: London, 2018) fifth edition [ISBN 9781138700215].