Criminology Cultural Criminology
Keith Hayward
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0003


Cultural criminology is a distinct theoretical, methodological, and interventionist approach to the study of crime that places criminality and its control squarely in the context of culture; that is, it views crime and the agencies and institutions of crime control as cultural products or as creative constructs. As such they must be read in terms of the meanings they carry. The focus of the field is broad, comprising situated and symbolic meaning; constructed social identity; subcultural analysis; space, place, and cultural geography; the ongoing transformations and fluctuations associated with hypercapitalism; vicissitudes of power, resistance, and state control; and existentialism and concepts of risk, “edgework,” and embodied practice. In all this, cultural criminology attempts to reorient criminology to contemporary social and cultural changes and thus to imagine a “postmodern” or “late modern” theory of crime and control. In this regard cultural criminology is interested in how individuals strive to resolve certain internal psychic and emotional conflicts that are themselves spawned by the contradictions and peculiarities of contemporary life. Put differently, cultural criminology seeks to fuse “a phenomenology of contemporary transgression with a sociocultural analysis of late modern culture” (Hayward 2004, p. 9, cited under Markets, Consumption, and Crime). Although cultural criminology is a fairly recent development (dating from the mid-1990s), it actually draws heavily on a rich tradition of sociologically inspired criminological work, from the early interactionist, subcultural, and naturalistic ideas of the Chicago school to the more politically charged theoretical analyses associated with the British tradition of 1970s Marxist and neo-Gramscian critical criminology. However, while it is undoubtedly the case that many of the key themes and ideas associated with cultural criminology have been voiced elsewhere in the criminological tradition, it is also clear that this dynamic body of work offers something new, primarily in the way it seeks to reflect the peculiarities and particularities of the late modern sociocultural milieu. Such complex foci require the utilization of a wide-ranging set of analytic tools. Not surprisingly, then, cultural criminology is stridently interdisciplinary, interfacing not just with criminology, sociology, and criminal/youth justice studies but with perspectives and methodologies drawn from, inter alia, cultural, media, and urban studies; philosophy; postmodern critical and social theory; cultural geography; anthropology; social movement studies; and other “action” research approaches. The strength of the “cultural approach,” then, is the way it tackles the subject of crime and criminalization from a variety of new perspectives and academic disciplines. In effect its remit is to keep “turning the kaleidoscope” on the way we think about crime and, importantly, the legal and societal responses to it.

General Overviews

Since cultural criminology’s inception in the mid-1990s, a number of books, chapters, and articles have offered overviews of cultural criminology and its general application to the study of crime. The first collection of essays gathered under the rubric “cultural criminology” was the edited collection Ferrell and Sanders 1995. In this work (and in subsequent early review articles, such as Ferrell 1999), cultural criminology is revealed in its original US manifestation, tending to focus on image, meaning, and representation in the interplay of crime and crime control, especially in relation to the stylized frameworks and experiential dynamics of illicit subcultures, the symbolic criminalization of popular cultural forms, and the mediated construction of crime and crime control issues. As the project gathered momentum in the United Kingdom (see Hayward and Young 2004) and Europe (see Bovenkerk, et al. 2009) at the start of the 21st century, a more rounded form of cultural criminology emerged. This more international and interdisciplinary form of cultural criminology includes explicit attempts to graft a more materialist skin onto cultural criminology’s theoretical body, as evidenced in Presdee 2000; Ferrell, et al. 2004; and Hayward and Young 2012. More recently, because of the sustained growth of cultural criminology courses at both the undergraduate and the postgraduate levels, cultural criminology is now in a position to produce bespoke textbooks and readers. Hence works like Ferrell, et al. 2008 and Ferrell and Hayward 2011 provide excellent jumping off points for students to explore the interface of crime and culture through the lens of cultural criminology.

  • Bovenkerk, Frank, Dina Siegel, and Frank van Gemert, eds. 2009. Culturele criminologie. The Hague: Boom.

    First collection of cultural criminology essays in Dutch.

  • Ferrell, Jeff. 1999. Cultural criminology. Annual Review of Sociology 25.1: 395–418.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.25.1.395

    A lengthy journal article that develops some of the putative ideas set out in Ferrell and Sanders 1995. As in that text, the emphasis here is very much on subcultural and media analyses of crime. The author also provides a useful introduction to some of the early core research methods employed by cultural criminologists.

  • Ferrell, Jeff, Keith Hayward, and Jock Young. 2008. Cultural criminology: An invitation. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    Aimed at undergraduate students, this is the most accessible and comprehensive introduction to the field of cultural criminology to date. Engaging, clearly written, and replete with numerous examples and illustrations—even a filmography—this text serves as an excellent starting point for future investigations in the field.

  • Ferrell, Jeff, and Keith Hayward, eds. 2011. Cultural criminology: Theories of crime. Library of Essays in Theoretical Criminology. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

    This volume of twenty-two previously published works consolidates classic precursor works with key examples of contemporary cultural criminology. A one-stop shop for undergraduates and postgraduates alike that also includes a useful introductory essay by the editors.

  • Ferrell, Jeff, Keith Hayward, Wayne Morrison, and Mike Presdee, eds. 2004. Cultural criminology unleashed. London: GlassHouse.

    A useful edited collection of twenty-four essays on cultural criminology that includes research into crime and culture across a variety of local, regional, and national settings.

  • Ferrell, Jeff, and Clinton Sanders, eds. 1995. Cultural criminology. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.

    An early edited collection of thirteen essays on crime and culture that includes key chapters on criminal subcultures, media representations of crime, and various criminalized forms of music and style. This book represents the classic early North American formulation of cultural criminology.

  • Hayward, Keith, and Jock Young. 2012. Cultural criminology. In The Oxford handbook of criminology. 5th ed. Edited by Michael Maguire, Rod Morgan, and Robert Reiner. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This concise chapter by two of the leading figures in the field offers a good synopsis of cultural criminology suitable for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. See also the earlier version of this chapter in the fourth edition, which is useful for comparing cultural criminology’s evolution as a distinct criminological paradigm.

  • Hayward, Keith, and Jock Young, eds. 2004. Special issue: Cultural criminology. Theoretical Criminology 8.3.

    Special issue of the international journal Theoretical Criminology on cultural criminology containing eight articles by leading international figures in the field. More suitable for postgraduate students, although the editors’ introductory essay provides a useful shorthand foreword to cultural criminology.

  • Presdee, Mike. 2000. Cultural criminology and the carnival of crime. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203299142

    This monograph did much to promote cultural criminology in the United Kingdom. It also began to add class concerns to the mix by consciously drawing on British cultural studies, in particular, the work of the Birmingham school. Presdee’s short and engaging text was further influential in its application of M. M. Bakhtin’s work on “carnival” to youth crime (see Emotion, “Edgework,” Experience).

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