Criminology: Overview and Brief History.   no comments

Posted at 3:50 pm in Criminology

I have decided to start by learning the principles which underlie criminology and philosophy. I start by asking, what is criminology? Then I go on to give a brief history of criminology.
After trawling the net for some time, paying particular attention to university websites, I decided to use “The Oxford Handbook of Criminology” by Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan and Robert Reiner as my core textbook, almost everything below is indebted to them.
What is Criminology?

Criminology draws from an amalgam of subjects such as law, sociology, phycology, psychiatry, history and anthropology in order to answer questions like, what are the causes of crime? What are the ethnographic s of certain deviant groups? What can we learn from case studies of individual criminals? Can we predict future crimes and future perpetrators of crime? Why are some people criminals and others not?

This begs the question, why did Criminology become a discipline in its own right? Maguire, Morgan and Reiner suggest that it was contingent upon the exertions of discipline forming institutions and dominant individuals.
They then go on to discuss the emergence of criminology as a discipline. It is suggested that criminology is the synthesis of two schools of thought. The first is government – who want to know how to best create laws and govern with respect to crime and criminals. The other school of thought comes from an Italian anthropologist Cesare Lombroso(1835-1909) who thought that people could be divided into two category, criminals and non-criminals, Lombroso went so far as to claim that there is a biological difference between criminals and non-criminals.

With a hard science a scientist or group of scientists produces a theory and evidence to back it up. Then they write it down in the form of a paper which is peer reviewed and then either accepted or not accepted into the scientific community. If a theory is accepted within the scientific community it is then accepted in the general public for example the theory of Black Holes. On the other hand a scientific theory accepted in the criminology community is not always accepted by the general public. The “common sense” view of the world is often much more powerful.
In order to understand the principles of Criminology it is useful to detour into some History.

A Brief History of Criminology

The history of criminology turns out to be a fiercely contested, vague and ugly. In fact the word criminology was only coined in the 1890’s and what we think of as criminology today (the current paradigm if you like) only crystallised in the 1960s and 70s, and even that’s debateable. The history of criminology is further confused, because what was thought of as “criminology” differed in France, Germany, England, Italy and the U.S.

To illustrate the history of criminology I have created a timeline with significant events and the socio-economic backdrop for these events. My apologies, especially to Paul and Javier that it’s not fantastically beautiful! Hopefully the timeline helps to elucidate the history of criminology, which is contingent upon sociological events. For example, criminology, it is argued by Maguire, Morgan and Reiner, really started in the 18th century, which was also the time when a network of insane asylums and doctors attending these asylums emerged in Europe. Maguire, Morgan and Reiner further argue that since a significant proportion of inmates in the asylums were also criminals, for the first time doctors were concerned with understanding the criminal mind.

Then throughout the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th prisons were invented and governments became stronger. As a result governments, especially in the UK, became interested in how to control their citizens and demanded reports about criminal behaviour, crime rates prisons and laws. As a result most of the work done in the UK was modest and respected legal principles.

Then WW2 happened and shortly afterwards the modern British welfare state was created. There was a political move towards greater social and economic equality. Coupled with this many great crime researchers came to Britain from Germany where ideas about social demographics and crime were far more advanced. Add into the mixing pot a government and public fear about juvenile delinquents in the 50s and it should come as no surprise that criminology entered the academic arena in 1961 in Cambridge.

Since then criminology has pulled away from a study into how to cure/correct a criminal towards a more interdisciplinary subject concerned with social, philosophical and psychological aspects of crime.

Written by dm1x07 on November 1st, 2011

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