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Criminology is the application of the scientific method to the study of crime. While it is primarily a subfield of sociology, it draws from numerous other fields such as criminal law, urban anthropology, and psychology.

Major schools[edit]

Classical School: This school is reminiscent of utilitarian philosophy. Its central tenets are as follows:[1]

  • People are naturally hedonistic, in that they seek pleasure and avoid pain.
  • Criminals make a conscious choice to commit crimes.
  • Therefore, crime can be deterred if the punishments are swift and harsh enough.

Italian School: An early (and largely racist use of biology in criminology, this school was based on the idea that criminals have natural atavistic tendencies towards crime and are "less evolved", making this a form of evolution woo. It has since been widely discarded due to lack of evidence and poor scientific methodology.[2]

Sociological Positivism: The idea that societal factors, such as lack of education, poverty, and population density, substantially encourage and incite crime.[3]

Theories of crime[edit]

Broken window theory[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Broken windows theory

A subset of rational choice theory, Broken window theory claims that urban decay, such as vandalism, poor building maintenance, and undeterred minor crime, can lead to a substantial increase of crime in an area.[4] According to some,[Who?] this theory has a large amount of empirical data to back it up, and was essential in the massive reduction of crime in New York City during the 1990s. Some researchers, like Bernard Harcourt, strongly oppose the idea that the Broken Window Theory and its corollary, the "zero tolerance" policy, have any results, explaining the New York City case by other factors, such as the hiring of more police officers.[5] Furthermore, after the New York City Police Department (NYPD) had to abandon its Stop-and-Frisk policy of indiscriminate (or in over 80% of cases very discriminate[6]) searches of citizens, instituted to reduce minor, so-called quality-of-life offenses (which according to proponents of Stop-and-Frisk represent a gateway to larger and more serious crimes[7]) in 2012, crime rates — concurrent with national trends – continued to go down. Until then, Stop-and-Frisk in one estimate yielded a successful conviction rate of about 3%.[8]

Labeling theory[edit]

Labeling theory[9] speculates that the label of "criminal" leads labeled parties to commit more crimes, and/or causes an increase in activities that are labeled as crimes. The implication is that the entire criminal process in general and risk assessment, in particular, are essentially self-fulfilling prophecies.[10]

Strain theory[edit]

Strain theory[11] holds that crime is primarily caused by individuals being unable to meet their needs, with two primary "flavors" of strain:

  • structural strain caused by social structures that inhibit individuals in pursuit of their goals
  • individual strain caused by problems people create for themselves.[12]

Social bond theories[edit]

Unlike most theories, the Social bond theories assume that all humans are naturally inclined to commit crime, but refrain from it due to being integrated into society. The higher the level of integration in society, the more severe are the consequences of committing the crime for the individual (i.e. loss of relationships, stigmatization), and the lower is the risk of said individual.[13]

Self-control theory[edit]

Self-control theory[14] suggests that crime is committed by individuals who lack the necessary self-control to refrain from it despite the obvious and immediate benefits it (what?) brings. Despite its aspiration of being a general theory of crime, it fails to explain white-collar crimes, which are committed by individuals who often have academic backgrounds and most often lead otherwise normal lives. By regarding self-control as a fixed character-trait, it also fails to explain why most criminal careers eventually end, even those of persistent offenders. Some claim that the theory is tautological in that it regards deviant behavior as the indicator of a lack of self-control while also using this lack of self-control to explain deviant behavior.[citation needed]


Crime has always been of huge interest to the general public. Unfortunately, due to the media's tendency to sensationalize things, criminology is often poorly understood. Unlike in TV shows, most crimes are not solved in a few hours; popularized techniques such as fingerprint analysis and DNA testing, for instance, can take anywhere from hours to weeks.

"Comic book" criminology is also a major contributor to crime woo. Despite what Batman may tell you, criminals are not all simplistic, superstitious cowards; conversely, nor are many of them omnipotent geniuses who publicly mock and outwit the bumbling police force (only to be caught by a few vigilantes every single time).

See also[edit]