In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section State Crime

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Anthologies
  • State-Corporate Crimes
  • Nuclear Weapons
  • US Government Case Studies
  • Non-US Case Studies
  • Crimes of Globalization
  • Victimology
  • Genocide
  • Pedagogy

Criminology State Crime
Christopher Mullins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 June 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0014


The focused academic study of crimes committed by nation-states is now more than two decades old, spanning several generations of scholars and increasingly drawing on multiple theoretical positions. At its root is the attempt to push the boundaries of both academic and political discourses to provide a recognition of the most harmful actions as states as criminal in nature and to bring social scientific theories of crime and criminality to bear in the identification, analysis, and control of these events. The subfield developed out of white-collar crime studies, as a group of mainly critical scholars applied and revised conceptual and theoretical materials developed in the study of crimes of corporations (and their actors) to the behavior (and agents) of nation-states. Of course, not all scholars who approach the study of crimes committed by nation-states are tied to critical criminology. Some work has been published that looks at law violation by states criminologically from mainstream theoretical perspectives. As this article is situated in the discipline of criminology, there are some threads of research that it does not index. Criminologists are not the only scholars to research crimes committed by nation-states. Even though the field is highly interdisciplinary, areas of overlap with history, political science, and legal studies exist. While these bodies of work are beneficial and illuminating, this bibliography limits itself to work that has an explicit or implicit criminological foundation. While a section is included here on genocides and other mass atrocities, sources included are limited to those that somehow work within criminological theories or approaches. Thus, the massive literature on the Holocaust is excluded (save for the few criminological explorations), as is political science–based work on state violence and repression (i.e., the work of Gurr or Rummel).

General Overviews and Anthologies

Since the late 20th century, a number of books have been published that provide a conceptual and empirical overview of the field. Some have taken the form of anthologized collections; others are monographs. All represent an attempt to define and overview the breadth and depth of the field. Most anthologies represent multiple positions on Definitions and Conceptualizations. Barak 1991 represents the earliest statement of the field and its concerns, while Friedrichs 1998, a two-volume work, is the most extensive. Green and Ward 2004 and Rothe 2009 are both excellent overviews. Two recent anthologies are both strong contributions, with Chambliss, et al. 2010 focusing more on issues of neo-empire and state crime and Rothe and Mullins 2011 providing a broader presentation of the field as a whole.

  • Barak, Gregg. 1991. Crimes by the capitalist state: An introduction to state criminality. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

    This early anthology pulls together a number of disparate views and conceptual frameworks. The uniting factors are the attempts to define state crime and to apply basic conceptual and theoretical positions from criminology (especially critical criminology) to specific cases of state crime.

  • Chambliss, William J., Raymond Michalowski, and Ronald C. Kramer, eds. 2010. State crime in the global age. Collumpton, UK: Willan.

    Anthology of essays examining many current expressions of state crime. Integrates issues on globalism and internationalisms throughout. Strongly focused on issues of empire and state imperialism. An excellent presentation of this vein of state crime thinking and scholarship.

  • Friedrichs, David O., ed. 1998. State crime. 2 vols. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

    Anthology of state crime and legal studies pieces that attempt to identify and understand violations of law by nation-states. An invaluable resource for the serious scholar of the field. Includes numerous pieces from law, political science, and other disciplines not typically read by criminologists.

  • Green, Penny, and Tony Ward. 2004. State crime: Governments, violence and corruption. London: Pluto.

    Provides an overview of the nature and types of state crime. Becker-influenced audience-based definition is central. Suggests that state acts are criminal when social audiences define them as such. Involves actions typically defined as criminal, but also governmental responses to natural disasters, maintaining services, and similar realms of state responsibility.

  • Rothe, Dawn L. 2009. State criminality: The crime of all crimes. Lanham, MD: Lexington.

    Subfield overview suitable for students and scholars. Covers and classifies numerous cases of crimes and controls. Expands the boundaries of state crime to include violations of international law. Stands as the best assimilation and presentation of work in the field to date.

  • Rothe, Dawn L., and Christopher W. Mullins, eds. 2011. State crime: Current perspectives. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

    Presents updated versions of several classic essays in the field, as well a few new works. It covers the more traditional orientations of state crime as well as the two new threads of crimes of empire and the push into supranational criminology. Valuable as an introduction or for experienced scholars.

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