This research paper discusses the origins and development of the discipline of criminology and addresses the questions of where criminology is today and where it is going. In large part, criminology is a history of the ideas that have informed the evolution of criminology and that stand as the intellectual foundation of one of the fastest growing academic disciplines of the last 40 years.
No history of criminology can ignore the political forces that impact any attempt to address a set of behaviors that stir so much public concern. Although all science is subject to such influences, it is important to recognize that the object of criminological study, more than most social phenomena, produces public images of crime and criminals and ways to respond to them that can constrain and influence their study. Therefore, a history of criminology must also consider the external influences that have affected its development.As these issues are addressed, the internal dynamics of the discipline as well as the external forces that have sometimes changed the course of criminology and its focus are examined.
Any intellectual history is, in part, informed by where we understand ourselves to be today. Today, criminology finds itself defined by three major themes: (1) the steady movement toward a more rigorous science, (2) a commitment to rigorously tested theories of crime and criminal behavior, and (3) the establishment of a demand for evidence-based crime control and justice assurance policies and practices. This was perhaps best expressed by Edwin Sutherland (1934), who defined criminology as the study of the making of law, the breaking of law, and the reaction of society to lawbreaking. However, this is not always how criminology understood its scope. So let us return to one beginning before we consider the beginning that is now defined as the foundation for our field.