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What is Criminology?

Criminology is a strange beast. (Newburn, 2007:4) Criminology in its broadest sense is the study of crime. The topic of criminology can be divided into many subcategories, such as the study of criminal behaviour, the causes of crime and the reactions to crime by the general public or institutions of law. In this essay I will be providing a brief overview of Criminology and some of its subcategories. Criminology by nature is a large subject with many links to other branches of scientific theory such as Psychology or Sociology. This in turn makes the topic broad and encompassing of many theories and topics. One of the key areas of Criminology is defining what exactly crime is. What is criminal is an ever changing topic. In some countries some things are defined as legal while in others they are illegal, for instance homosexuality was illegal in Britain until 1967 however it is still illegal in Russia. With this in mind certain areas become unclear. Another aspect of this problem is deviancy. Deviancy is act outside the norms set by society but is this criminal? Some acts of deviancy are undoubtedly criminal, however acts such as vandalism for example may be viewed as criminal by one section of the population whereas another section of the same population view it as merely an expression of art. This can make it tricky to define what exactly is criminal. According to Burke (2009:5) Some might simply define crime as the doing of wrong and it is a commonly used approach related to notions of morality. Yet not all actions or activities that might be considered immoral are considered crimes. Part of Criminology is the defining where these lines lie. Another major aspect of the study of crime in Criminology is what causes crime. There are many disparate and varying theories from Criminologists across history, there is a long, long history of a search for an explanation of the human condition. (Hollin,2012:82) Criminologists seek these explanations. Classicism was a theory developed during the 17th18th century that attempted to define crime. In Classicism everyone is viewed as rational beings and are therefore responsible for their own crimes. Because of this all crimes are punished uniformly. In Classism one of the major theories for the cause of crime is rational choice theory. This theory is the idea that potential criminals view a situation and way up the benefits and costs, implying that all people are potentially criminals and are constantly weighing up whether or not to commit crimes in a completely selfish way. One of the other major theories on crime used for Criminologists is Biological Positivism. In essence its the idea that there are genetic factors that cause some members of the population to commit crimes. Many of these ideas have developed from original theories that associated ugliness with criminal behaviour, an early example of this being witchcraft. This developed into such theories as Phrenology, the idea that the shape of the brain, skull and face could determine whether someone is a criminal and what area of crime they were actually involved in. This theory has since been abolished however other theories were developed such as the effect of genetics on a persons predisposition to commit crimes. There is the theory of the XYY
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male which is supposed link to hyper aggression and lack of intelligence, this theory however has so far been unproven. In more of a sociological perspective there is Durkheims theory of Anomie. Anomie is a sense of normlessness created when the norms of society breakdown and essentially a criminal does not know they are in fact criminal. In fact to Durkheim crime was a necessary evil and was beneficial to society. If anomie is an evil it is above all because society suffers through it since it cannot exist without cohesion and regulation. Thus moral or legal rules essentially express social needs which society alone can identify. as stated by Durkheim (1984) In his view society was interconnected and required crime for two reasons: 1: To create social solidarity and unity through a common enemy and; 2: To create encourage social change by crossing boundaries and challenging rules.

Another major facet of Criminology is the examination of the general publics reaction to crime itself. One of the other major theories on crime is the Chicago school. The Chicago school is a theory based on a zonal hypothesis, the idea that cities are separated into separate zones that each has a level and type of crime associated with them. The areas right near the city centre are the areas most ridden with what most would view as atypical crime (vandalism, mugging, assault, murder.) This in turn suggests a correlation between economic deprivation and crime. In response many cities refurbish areas and build methods of monitoring and dissuading would-be criminals. Part of Criminology is the examination of the effectiveness of such measures using sources such as official statistics. The media is another aspect that is heavily studied. The media is a huge part of our lives and has been only been getting bigger and more intrusive with new technologies. Rather than just being a weekly paper that we got our news stories from, we now get them from TV, the Internet and our mobile phones. This means that media is around us at all times. Because of this media has a huge impact on our perception of the world and crime itself. The media, or at least the press, do distort crime reporting and the public do, to a large extent, rely upon that information to form their picture of crime and criminals.(Williams, 2001:59) This being the case, potentially the media has the power to distort the publics opinions as they are often selective in their reporting, the more outlandish or dramatic tend to get top billing. Another fact that is often the focus of some Criminologists is white collar crime which is often given far less focus than blue collar crime by the media, which affects public focus. Statistics from police records often seem to give the indication that more crimes are committed by ethnic minorities or by those suffering economic deprivation. To understand what Criminology is, one must understand its roots, where it comes from and what it is now. To Quote Newburn (2007:4.) With origins in applied medico-legal science, psychiatry, a scientifically-oriented psychology and in nineteenth-century social reform movements, for much of the second half of the twentieth century British criminology has
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been dominated by sociology. Criminology has gone through a large evolution since its origins. Some of the major theories that have an impact Criminological theory today started from the 17th/18th century. One of the major early theories on crime (as mentioned before) is Classicism. Following this was the rise of Positivism, essentially the complete opposite of Classicism; it focuses on how outside factors affect human behaviour, rather than being a completely personal choice like Classicism. Following these major theories, theories from the 19th century was the Chicago School theory which explored the impact of environment and Mertons strain theory which explored the idea that crime was a method of achieving meritocracy and the American dream. Modern Criminology is a combination of the earlier theories, viewing crime caused by inward and outward factors. To conclude Criminology is an extremely wide and diverse subject that covers a huge amount of materials and a wide variety of topics. As I have covered in this essay Criminology has changed and what Criminology is and what its about has changed. Defining what cr ime is has changed for instance has evolved as laws themselves are in constant upheaval and thats not even looking at other countries in which there are some major dif ferences in policies. Criminologists also have to focus on the causes of crime. Over the centuries many theories have been brought to the table, from Classicism and Positivism to anomie and strain theory. With this in mind its important to realise that to understand what Criminology is, Criminologists themselves have to research and study the topic in a holistic fashion. There is at least some validity in every theory and it is important to examine the importance of every one of these theories. Criminology is a fairly new topic as we know and understand it and as new types of crime and conversely policing methods appear, Criminologists must always be ready to adapt and evolve their theories just as Criminology has done itself.

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Bibliography 1: Burke, RHB. (2009) An introduction to Criminological theory third edition, Devon: William publishing 2: Durkheim, ED. (2003) Preface to the second edition of the division of labour in society in M. Emirbayer (ed.), Emile Durkheim Sociologist of modernity, Oxford: Blackwell publishing 3: Hollin, CRH. (2012) Criminological Psychology in M.Maguire, R.Morgan and R.Reiners, (eds) The Oxford handbook of Criminology fifth edition, Oxford: Oxford university press. 4: Newburn, TN. (2007) Criminology, Devon: William publishing. 5: Williams, KSW. (2001) Textbook on Criminology, Oxford: Oxford university press.

By Jaimie Houston: 665600