‘Criminology is more than just the study of why people commit crime’.

Criminology is not just the study of why people commit crime. In order to understand what Criminology is all about and how it has been improved throughout the years, a number of theories and approaches will be presented and analysed further below. Firstly a brief summary of the definition of criminology will be given, followed by a summary of the history of criminology and how it was created. A reference will be made to the general principles of criminology, at the theoretical approach which support the idea that crime is caused by psychological and social disadvantage.

A reference will also be made to the basic theories which were developed by prominent intellectuals, as for example the Rational Choice theory, the Positivism theoretical movement, Interaction and social reaction theories and the theory of Criminalisation. An attempt to analyse the approach to crime causation, opportunity and motivation will also be discussed. Finally, the need for criminology to be adjusted to technological evolution in order to achieve its objectives will be discussed.

According to Larry J. Siegel (2011, p.4) “Criminology is the scientific approach to studying criminal behavior”. Furthermore, the American criminologists, Cressey and Sutherland stated that “criminology is the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes within its scope the processes of making laws, of breaking laws and of reacting toward the breaking of laws…” (Cited by Siegel, 2011, p.4).

The history and theory texts trace the origins of the discipline of criminology, to the first half of the nineteenth century (McGuire, 2004, p.1). Earlier, on the eighteenth century and specifically during the period of European Enlightenment, many thoughts and established patterns have been re-examined so that moral religious and mystical theories or ideas are balanced with scientific. After that a school of thought known as classical criminology was created that collected ideas and thoughts relevant to the motives causing the crimes and ways for the society to react.

Αccording to McGuire (2004, p.19), the first empirically based studies in what is now called criminology were carried out in France and Belgium in the 1820s and 1930s (McGuire, 2004, p.1, p.18, p.19). “As a result of its origins in sociology, in law and in philosophy-all cerebral disciplines-criminology has defined itself as concerned principally with understanding and explaining crime” (Clarke, 2004, p.57). According to this approach, crime was explained as the inevitable result of psychological and social disadvantage (Clarke, 2004, p.57).

The Enlightenment philosophers Beccaria, Bentham and Kant are often described as the founding fathers of classical criminology. Based on the Rational Choice theory, law and criminal justice systems were reformed in order for punishment to be proportionate to the crime committed (Bowling & Ross, 2006, p.12). Beccaria and Bentham argued that people weigh the benefits and consequences of their future actions before deciding on how to behave.

According to this classical view of crime, for someone to decide to violate the law, he must first carefully weigh the benefits and consequences of criminal behaviours. Most of the criminals would cease their actions if the potential pain associated with a behavior, outweighed its anticipated gain. In his famous analysis ‘Let the punishment fit the crime’ Beccaria stated that, to be effective punishment must be sufficiently severe, certain and shift to control crime.

Trying to give an example he stated that if rapists and murderers were punished in a similar fashion, to death penalty, this might encourage a rapist to kill his victims in order to prevent them from calling the police or testifying in court (Siegel & Welsh, 2008, p.70-71). However American psychologist, Abelson argued that human beings sometimes will behave in ways that defy the self-interest perspective of rational choice theories. “People do not always seek to optimize their material self–interest” (Cited by Siegel & Welsh, 2008, p.91). Abelson also described rational choice theory as manifestly incomplete and seriously misleading (Siegel & Welsh, 2008, p.91).

Classical criminology’s approach to the problem was questioned by the positivist criminologists (Bowling & Ross, 2006, p.12). Positivism theoretical movement first appeared in the late nineteenth century. It began by studying crime as a social phenomenon.

The positivist analysis of crime ,following such disciplines as physics, chemistry and biology, began a process that still continues of uncovering, explaining and predicting the ways in which observable facts occurred in regular patterns (Barak, Leighton & Flavin, 2010, p.6-7). Positivist criminologists argued that “a more scientific and objective approach was required, maintaining that classical conceptions of the subject did not reflect the realities of how crime manifests itself in society” (Bowling & Ross, 2006, p.12). Earliest positivists focused on constitutional characteristics of criminals. Later they keyed with demographic and behavioral considerations (Binder, Geis & Bruce, 2001, p.94).

The founder of the Positivist Criminology was the Italian physician and professor of forensic medicine, Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso maintained that he could identify physical characteristics of criminals and delinquents in terms of facial, cephalic and bodily abnormalities. He believed that offenses against the law were an atavistic form of human behavior. He also insisted that “criminals talk differently from us because they do not feel in the same way…”

(Cited by Binder, Geis and Bruce, 2001, p.95). Lombroso in his later writings granted that not all criminals were born criminals. He came to believe that more than half, were either insane or criminaloids (Binder, Geis & Bruce, 2001, p.95). However Positivist theory lost credibility as crime rate began to climb in the 1970s. Critics of the theory asked why the proactive social programs of the 1960s did not bring about a decrease in criminal activity (Gaines, Miller, 2010, p.42).

Other important theories which were developed through different studies and searches of criminology are interaction and social reaction or labeling. Social reaction or Labeling theories explain how sustained delinquent behavior stems from social interactions and encounters. According to this theory, illegal acts are defined by the social audience’s reaction (Siegel, Welsh, 2010, p.176). As it has been argued by Tannenbaum (1938), deviance, rather than being a self evident behavioral entity, could only be created through a process of social interaction. Certain people many times become deviant through the imposition of social judgments on their behavior.

This approach underlines the importance of viewing rules and regulations not as consensual givens but as sites of negotiation and dispute. Through name-calling, stereotyping and labeling a deviant identity is established and confirmed. As a result deviants accept their deviant status and they reorganise their lives accordingly, becoming more susceptible to criminalisation (Muncie, 2008, p.13). However Lemert (1974), argued that different people will react in different way to different types of crime. He explained that people will behave differently in their reaction based on personal experience and beliefs (Maddan, 2008, p.28).

During the years, society through its law enforcement authorities and courts has reformed legislation and developed new ways to repress criminality in a way that sometimes led to the phenomenon called, Criminalisation. Criminalisation in criminology is the process by which behaviours and individuals are transformed into crime and criminals. Previously legal acts might have been transformed into crimes by legislation or judicial decision.

The power of judges to make new law and retrospectively criminalise behaviour is also discouraged. In the nineteenth century Bentham argued that “certain social reactions to crime, the unreformed prison, for example, were more likely to promote offending than curtail it” (Cited by Muncie, 2008, p.13). The social commentator Mayhew agreed and considered that overzealous policing was a significant factor in the creation of juvenile delinquency in the mid nineteenth century (Muncie, 2008, p.13).

According to the latest researches about crime causation, opportunity and motivation are interdepended. The existence of many easy opportunities for crime draws people into committing crime. Criminological researches will need to focus more on how crime is committed rather than why it is committed (Clarke, 2004, p.59).

Nowadays Criminologists are obliged to accept changes to the main theories of the discipline and at the same time downgrade the importance of theories that define crime as the product of discrimination and disadvantage. According to Taylor (1973), “discrimination and disadvantage do not propel robbers through the doors of the bank…” (Cited by Clarke, 2004, p.58). He also added that such crimes are fuelled by greed and selfishness. Felson (1998), stated about the main theories of criminology that because crime has continued to rise when income and other social indices have improved, this theories have lost credibility.

They certainly cannot explain modern crimes such as internet crime. However criminologists are now asked to seek the help of disciplines such as economics, biology, demography, geography and town planning as well as the help of scientists and engineers in order for criminology to keep up with the evolution of crime through technology (Clarke, 2004, p.58-59).

Criminology is not possible to be described in a few words. It is a complex study and it is certainly much more than just the study of why people commit crime. Various theories and approaches indicate that criminology has passed through many forms before it reached today’s form.

Firstly, there was the opinion that crime had been caused by the psychological and social disadvantage. Then the Rational Choice theory and the attempt for punishment to be proportionate to the crime committed.

The Positivism theoretical movement supported that crime is a social phenomenon and that it was necessary for criminology to become a more scientific study in order to succeed. Interaction, Social Reaction or Labeling were found to be some of the main reasons for increased criminality. In the mid-nineteenth century criminalisation was found to be a major cause of criminality. Another important point is that criminology must follow the evolution of technology in crime in order to be able to control it. To conclude it can be said that criminology’s mission needs to be redefined in order to focus on finding ways to control crime.


Clarke R.V. (2004). Technology, Criminology and Crime Science: European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research. Bowling B. and Ross J. (2006). A Brief History of Criminology: Criminal Justice Matters. Muncie.(2008). The Theory and Politics of Criminalisation: Criminal Justice Matters. James McGuire.(2004). Understanding psychology and crime. UK: Open University Press. Larry J. Siegel.(2011). Criminology,(11th Ed). USA: Linda Scheiber - Ganster.

Siegel, Welsh.(2008). Juvenile Delinquency: theory, practice and law. (10th Ed). Canada: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Siegel, Welsh.(2011). Juvenile Delinquency: theory, practice and law.(11th Ed). Canada: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Barak, Leighton, Flavin. (2010). Class, Race, Gender, and Crime:The Social Realities of Justice in America. USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Binder, Geis, Bruce. (2001). Juvenile Delinquency: Historical, cultural and legal perspectives. (3rd Ed). USA: Anderson Puplishing Co. Gaines, Miller. (2010). Criminal Justice in Action, (6th Ed). USA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning Sean Maddan. (2008). The Labeling of Sex Offenders: The Unintended Consequences of the Best Intentioned Public Policies. USA: University Press of America

REFLECTIVE COMMENTARY After reading the subject I realised that I was required to write an essay on what criminology study is all about and what it actually covers. I decided that I firstly had to make a reference on the definition of criminology and also a referral to its history. In order to find the necessary information for my essay I firstly got hold of the three required sources indicated by the university.

Then I decided to ask some older students to share with me their academic knowledge on the subject matter. They suggested some books which could help me find what I was looking for. Then I proceeded by choosing seven out of about ten books the students suggested. I bought three and I borrowed the others. The books I chose are the following: 1. James McGuire. (2004). Understanding psychology and crime. 2. Larry J. Siegel. (2011). Criminology, Eleventh Edition.

3. Siegel, Welsh. (2008). Juvenile Delinquency: theory, practice and law.(10th edition). 4. Siegel, Welsh. (2011). Juvenile Delinquency: theory, practice and law. (11th edition). 5. Barak, Leighton, Flavin. (2010). Class, Race, Gender, and Crime: The Social Realities of Justice in America. 6. Binder, Geis, Bruce. (2001).Juvenile Delinquency: Historical, cultural and legal perspectives (3rd edition). 7. Sean Maddan. (2008). The Labeling of Sex Offenders: The Unintended Consequences of the Best Intentioned Public Policies. I started my reading by firstly going through the three required sources indicated by the university. I went through them a couple of times, each time taking notes of and highlighting the most important points.

Then I carefully read the contents of the abovementioned books and I chose the titles that I believed were more relevant to the subject. I proceeded by reading the chosen chapters taking notes. After collecting the necessary information I planned the structure of my essay. In my introduction I decided to make a brief summary on what would be analysed in the main body. In the main part of the essay I wrote a brief definition of what criminology is and I also referred to its history. Then I analysed some of the main theories of criminology starting from the oldest to the more modern ones. Each theory was analysed in separate paragraphs.

Finally, I set up my conclusion in which I referred to the most important points of my essay and I also gave my personal opinion. To make my essay look more “academic” in style, I often used the passive voice and to make sure my final draft contained no errors I used the Microsoft Office Word corrector. The things I learned from writing this essay is that it is very important to make good use of your available sources and make notes along the way.

It is also important to go through the sources many times in order to make sure you understand what a paragraph says and extract the most relevant points. Also I learned that it is imperative you prepare a structure for your main body, apart from deciding on an introduction and a conclusion. Once the structure of the main body is prepared, then it is easier to fit in the essay, the information extracted from your sources. This helps you be more precise and avoid repetition.