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Criminology Violent Crime
Richard Rosenfeld
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0001


Violent crimes are violations of criminal law that involve the intentional use of violence by one person against another. Social scientists do not agree on a single or unified definition of violence, however. Criminologists tend to favor narrow definitions of violence, focusing on physical harm or threats. Many, but not all, criminologists accept the definition provided by an influential National Research Council study, which defined violence as “behaviors by individuals that intentionally threaten, attempt, or inflict physical harm on others” (Reiss and Roth 1993, p. 2; see General Overviews). This definition includes a diverse assortment of behaviors, including homicide, assault, robbery (theft accompanied by force or threat), rape, torture, capital punishment, and boxing. But it excludes many acts that are encompassed by other, equally reasonable definitions. How one chooses to define violence prefigures the types of behavior that are counted as violence, the levels of violence observed across place and time, the theories that make sense of violent behavior, and the social response to violence.

General Overviews

Very few general texts on violent crime are available. Alverez and Bachman 2008 and Reidel and Welsh 2008 are similar in their coverage of topics, theories, and data sources. Either source can be used as a stand-alone text on violence in survey courses in criminology or criminal justice or as the anchor text in more specialized courses on violent crime. For graduate students and researchers new to the area, Riedel and Welsh 2008 offers a comprehensive topical overview and an excellent discussion of data strengths and limitations. Heitmeyer and Hagan 2003 and Krug, et al. 2002 include research and theoretical perspectives on violence, broadly defined to include warfare and intergroup violence, as well as interpersonal violence, across the world. Despite its aging, Reiss and Roth 1993 remains important for both established researchers and those new to the field.

  • Alverez, Alex, and Ronet Bachman. 2008. Violence: The enduring problem. Los Angeles: Sage.

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    A broad and accessible overview of major theories, types of violence, and research findings. Suitable for undergraduate courses.

  • Heitmeyer, Wilhelm, and John Hagan, eds. 2003. International handbook of violence research. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, and Boston: Kluwer.

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    Exceptionally comprehensive edited volume with a strong international emphasis. Covers research on the development of violent behavior in individuals, patterns of violent crime, warfare, and state violence.

  • Krug, Etienne G., Linda L. Dahlberg, James A. Mercy, Anthony B. Zwi, and Rafael Lozano. 2002. World report on violence and health. 2 vols. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

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    Provides an extensive summary of perspectives and research on interpersonal and intergroup violence worldwide.

  • Reiss, Albert J., Jr., and Jeffrey A. Roth, eds. 1993. Understanding and preventing violence. Vol. 1. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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    An authoritative overview by a National Research Council expert panel on violent behavior from social, psychological, and biological perspectives.

  • Riedel, Marc, and Wayne Welsh. 2008. Criminal violence: Patterns, causes, and prevention. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A comprehensive text suitable for upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses.

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