Criminology as Social Science


I. Introduction

II. Defining Criminology

III. The Origins and Scientific Maturation of Criminology

IV. Theory: Methods Symmetry and Criminology’s Disciplinary Status

V. Criminology as Social Science

VI. Theoretical Praxis and the Future of Criminology

I. Introduction

Criminology is the study of crime, as indicated by the formative Latin terms crimin (accusation or guilt) and -ology (study of). As an intellectual domain, criminology comprises contributions from multiple academic disciplines, including psychology, biology, anthropology, law, and, especially, sociology. Although the defining statements of criminology are rooted across these diverse areas, contemporary criminology is becoming ever more intertwined with still additional sciences and professional fields such as geography, social work, and public health.

This plurality of influences, often referred to as multidisciplinarity, is altogether logical given the complex subject matter and diverse nature of crime. Scholarly attention to crime from various perspectives allows for an extensive range of research questions to be addressed, making possible a fuller understanding of the criminal mind, the nature of crime, and social control processes. Legal scholarship, for example, ranges from philosophical attention to social justice issues to technocratic factors determinant of case outcome. Alternatively, psychology approaches the topic of crime with a focus on individual-level maladjustment and behavioral abnormality. Sociological criminology differs still by concentrating on the multiple causes and nature of crime, as well as society’s reaction to it.

The individuals who study crime, criminologists, engage research on virtually every imaginable aspect of illegality and society’s reactions to it, ranging from the development of theories of crime causation, the roles and uses of social control (e.g., police, courts, and corrections), crime prevention, and victimization. Of course, criminologists have also developed substantial knowledge bases on specific offenses, which are often categorized as (a) crimes against property (e.g., burglary, theft, robbery, and shoplifting); (b) crimes against a person (e.g., homicide, assault, and rape); (c) morality/social order crimes (e.g., gambling, prostitution, substance offenses, vandalism); and now (d) technology crime/cybercrime, which overlaps with and often facilitates crime in each of the other categories. The collective basic knowledge that criminologists have generated through the scientific process has great potential for informing social policy and criminal justice practice through enhancement of the effectiveness and efficiency of prevention, intervention, enforcement, and rehabilitative strategies and practices in the 21st century.

This introductory research paper quickly surveys the emergence and evolution of criminology, from seminal contributions to its contemporary state in academe. While tracing criminology’s history and acknowledging its intellectual diversity (these matters are more fully addressed in Research Paper on History and Evolution of Criminology), it is contended that criminology is correctly understood and best practiced as a social science. Furthermore, as a field of scientific inquiry criminology is no longer a specialty area of other established disciplines, such as deviance within sociology or abnormal psychology, but instead is a new and steadily growing independent academic discipline in its own right. Last, the rise of academic criminal justice is acknowledged as a shaping force on criminology that is steadily moving the discipline toward greater interdisciplinary status and public policy utility (the focus of Research Paper on Criminology and Public Policy).

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