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The scholarly field of criminology is dedicated to the study of crime. The foundation of criminology is the work of numerous academic fields, including sociology, psychology, biology, law, and ethnography. In the modern world, it is significant because it can influence public policy, particularly in the area of criminal justice.
In his work "Principles of Criminology" from 1939, Edwin Sutherland provided the most widely used definition of criminology. According to Sutherland, criminology is a body of knowledge that examines crime as a societal phenomenon and encompasses all aspects of lawmaking, lawbreaking, and response to lawbreaking. In the modern world, there are two perspectives of criminology:
Theoretical/ sociological criminology- Focuses on the nature and causes of crime.
Applied criminology- Concerned with the prevention of crime.
Scientific Research and Criminology
As a science, criminology is subject to the classic rules of scientific research which involves the formulation of theories and the empirical confirmation of the same. The general nature of scientific theories, therefore, applies to the field.
A theory can simply and precisely be described as an explanation. As such, a scientific theory is a means of explaining natural occurrences through statements about the relationships between observable phenomena. Variables (cause and effects) are responsible for the aforementioned observations. The relationship between variables, usually dependent and independent variables, is presented as a hypothesis which predicts the nature of the said relationship.
In the context of criminology, the first dependent variable is crime. Scientific research in criminology seeks to account for variation in crime which can be in terms of two aspects:
Criminality- the extent and frequency of offending by a certain group in the society
Crime rate- the level of crime in a particular location.
The data collected in a criminology study is then subjected to correlation analysis, which determines the nature of the relationship between the tested variables. Operationalization in criminology research refers to the transformation of independent variables from a nominal/ categorical level to a level that is measurable.
Criminology as a Social Science
Criminology employs various research methods in the practice of social inquiry. The investigation of causality, therefore, guides criminologists in their quest to answer various research questions. In the formulation of a scientific theory that explains causation, it is imperative to demonstrate four primary elements:
Logical basis- A theory should be based on sound reasoning with a clear logical basis for believing that a causal relationship exists between observable phenomena.
Temporal order- Causal factors in the theory must always come before outcomes.
Correlation- There must be a relationship between study variables which can be described in terms of strength and direction.
A lack of spuriousness- The researcher must ensure that the cause and effect can be determined.
The History and Evolution of Criminology
The impact of criminology on public policy means that the history of criminology encompasses a look at both internal and external factors that have shaped the discipline over the years.
In today’s world, three major themes define the field of criminology:
The steady movement toward a more rigorous science.
A commitment to rigorously tested theories of crime and criminal behavior.
The establishment of a demand for evidence- based crime control and justice assurance policies and practices.
The mainstream academic inquiry into the causes of crime can be traced back to 1876 when Cesare Lombroso wrote a book on the observation of criminals at a prison. His explanation was biological since he argued that criminals had physical characteristics that more closely resembled animals lower in the evolutionary chain than man. He concluded that crime was the result of inferior development. This approach was rejected by Charles Goring after he carried out a comprehensive empirical study to determine whether physical differences could differentiate between convicts and non- convicts.
The Emergence of Criminology as an Independent Field of Study
The 19th century saw the emergence and growth of the science and the establishment of separate disciplines and research areas. Criminology, however, took longer to establish itself as a unique field of study. Despite a series of criminology books towards the end of the 19th century, the field was not recognized in universities. Criminology really entered the academic realm in the 1940s when the American Society of Criminology was formed. The first School of Criminology in the United States was opened in 1950 at the University of California, Berkeley.
Criminological Theories of Crime
Single- Factor Reductionism
This school of thought was introduced by Lombroso in 1876. He argued that all crime could be explained by one factor: a failure of evolution. As such, no other dimension needed to be considered to understand the range of crimes and/ or the type of criminals. However, with continued research in crime causality, other explanations to crime began to appear. Moreover, researchers realized that a wide range of characteristics appeared to distinguish criminals from non- criminals. As such, this approach collapsed.
This approach tried to explain crime from a single knowledge system or discipline perspective. The knowledge system, in this case, was sociology since it dominated criminological theory at the time. The biology and psychology of crime were greatly minimized, and instead crime was seen as a function of community, family, school, and the other socializing institutions. This approach ignored the influence of factors such as personality and biology in crime. According to systemic reductionism, the individual offender was considered a reflection of his or her social situation.
The multidisciplinary approach developed due to the introduction of perspectives other than sociology that offered reasonable explanations of crime. This approach argues that people become criminals because of a set of explanations drawn from all of the social and behavioral sciences, including biology, psychology, anthropology, economics, and sociology. Only by using all of these perspectives can one understand criminal behavior.
This approach assumes that more than one discipline is needed to explain criminal behavior. Any approach to explanation that is built on one discipline is by definition incomplete. An interdisciplinary theory goes beyond the assembly of contributions of different disciplines and integrates the contributions of these different disciplines into a coherent theory of criminal behavior. As such, biological, psychological, social, and cultural explanations are all included in an interdisciplinary theory.
The life course theory is an example of an interdisciplinary theory since it offers biological, psychological, and social explanations of crime in the human society.
The Future of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Criminology has emerged as a fast- growing and dynamic social science over the past 40 years. Today, it stands on clear foundations of commitment to scientific rigor, interdisciplinary theory of crime, and improving the operation and “justness” of the criminal justice system. Criminology has made a difference in criminal law and criminal justice as is illustrated by initiatives such as problem- oriented policing, crime mapping and analysis, and specialized courts. As long as it continues to be rigorous in methods, interdisciplinary in approach, and guided by a commitment to justice, it will flourish and continue its emergence as a vital scientific enterprise.
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