What is Criminology?Criminology is the study of crimes, criminals, crime victims, theories explaining illegal and/or deviant behavior, the social reaction to crime, the effectiveness of anti-crime policies and the broader political terrain of social control. Therefore criminology involves research to discover what really happens in the streets, in police stations and courts, behind prison bars, in board rooms, and on battlefields. Its practitioners are likely to engage in the systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of criminal justice policies and proposals, as well as the discovery of the socio-cultural, economic and global roots of crime, rates of crime and meaning of crime, or the diverse ways of measuring criminal activity and its impact. Criminologists typically collect and analyze data sets that may be quantitative, for example statistical studies on the rise and fall of crime rates, and/or qualitative, for example ethnographic studies on street subcultures and drug use.
However, criminology is not a discipline in itself but rather a sphere of study. Its major intellectual traditions, methodologies and epistemologies come out of sociology where European thinkers such as Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel and Foucault have been so influential alongside the United States social science traditions of the Chicago School. Today, the practice of criminology includes a wide range of perspectives evidenced by the more than six hundred program sessions offered at the last annual meeting (2006) of the American Society of Criminology and the dozens of peer-reviewed journals dedicated to the study of crime and social control. The Department of Sociology houses a number of faculty members whose work focuses on the tension between orthodox and critical criminological approaches. Whereas orthodox criminologists accept the state’s definition of crime as normative without examining the power relations in which all acts of transgression are situated critical criminologists start from the premise that crime (and deviance) can only be understood through the prism of asymmetrical power relations which characterize all current societies (e.g. as manifested in classism, racism, sexism and homophobia). Examples of issues which require a critical criminological lens might be the global war on terror, environmental destruction by multinationals, the international proliferation of zero tolerance, the social autopsy of Hurricane Katrina, youth gangs and moral panics, the rise of the prison-industrial complex, and the prevalence of white-collar crime and corporate corruption.
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