In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Social and Intellectual Context of Criminology

  • Introduction
  • Biographies and Autobiographies

Criminology The Social and Intellectual Context of Criminology
Joachim J. Savelsberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0094


A hallmark of established academic fields is systematic self-reflection and scientific thought about the state of the field and the degree of embeddedness in the intellectual and social contexts on which each depends. Criminology, understood here as the scientific study of criminal behavior and its causes and of the constitution and control of crime by states and societies, is a relatively new academic field. It has developed most of its own institutions, undergraduate and graduate programs, scholarly associations, journals, and funding programs in the course of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The call for scientific thought about the nature and environment of criminology as an intellectual and scientific endeavor has been raised with growing intensity, but the scientific study of criminology in this sense is still in its infancy. While some studies of criminology as a scholarly field fit well in the tradition of the history or sociology of science, many contributions are, albeit insightful at times, everyday accounts of criminology’s practitioners (akin to a criminology that seeks to explain crime through narratives of people who engage in it). Risks are increased for at least three reasons. First, such analysts have a vested interest in the institutions of this field. Second, criminology grows in close proximity to the state and its massive institutions of control (as a funding source and supplier of concepts and data). Third, its applied branch supplies government authorities with advice on how to effectively use their monopoly of the legitimate use of force toward citizens. Criminology has distinct roots in different countries and on different continents, and it has undergone massive shifts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These features are reflected in the organization of this bibliography by historic time and places, diverse social forces affecting criminology, and atypical genres such as (auto-)biographies. Many publications could be placed under more than one category of course; in these cases we chose the category that best fits. We did not include newsletter contributions in which some thought about the state of criminology is reflected.

Historic Time and Stages

In the absence of a unifying approach, different contributions present distinct ways in which long-term changes in the field of criminology can be understood in their intellectual and social environment. Short and Hughes 2007 combines insights drawn by the authors from a long career in criminology and impressive credentials in sociology with an effort to draw on promising innovations in the sociology of science, such as found in Abbott 2001. Scull 1988 also draws on insights from the sociology of science to describe the development of social control research. While in need of updating, the Scull 1988 handbook chapter is highly informative and provides a formidable example for a systematic analysis of the unfolding of social control research in its social and intellectual context. Rafter 2010 builds on the author’s long career and her many contributions to the history of criminology (see also the section Origins of Criminology). Determined to put an end to the lack of criminology’s self-reflectivity, Rafter 2010 offers a stage model, as does Laub 2004.

  • Abbott, Andrew. 2001. Chaos of disciplines. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Explores the development of the social sciences, challenging the notion of progress and replacing it with that of cycles around core principles and fractals. Examples include moments in the history of criminology and challenges posed to problem-oriented interdisciplinary fields in establishing new disciplines.

  • Laub, John H. 2004. The life course of criminology in the United States: The American Society of Criminology 2003 Presidential Address. Criminology 42.1: 1–26.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2004.tb00511.x

    Applies the life-course perspective to the development of criminology as a field to equip it with a sense of its own history. Discusses three “life-course” phases of criminology (with associated continuities and turning points) in the United States since the beginning of the 20th century. Available online by subscription.

  • Rafter, Nicole. 2010. Silence and memory in criminology: The American Society of Criminology 2009 Sutherland Address. Criminology 48.2: 339–355.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2010.00188.x

    Discusses conditions and consequences of the paucity of studies of criminology’s past. The author proposes a historical framework reaching back to the late 18th century and focusing on scientific modernism with three main phases: exploratory, confident, and agnostic. Goal is to stimulate study of the history and sociology of criminology. Available online by subscription.

  • Scull, Andrew T. 1988. Deviance and social control. In Handbook of sociology. Edited by Neil J. Smelser, 667–693. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    Traces the development of ideas from those of early-20th-century sociologists, who focused on individual deviants and were concerned with morality and social order, to those of the 1970s, based on structural and cultural conditions of (and reactions to) crime that were more strongly rooted in sociological theory. Recent intellectual debate and disagreement in the field has engendered development of ideas surrounding the state and social control.

  • Short, James F., Jr., with Lorine A. Hughes. 2007. Criminology, criminologists, and the sociological enterprise. In Sociology in America: A history. Edited by Craig Calhoun, 605–638. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    In a chapter partly organized chronologically and drawing on various sources from the sociology of science and disciplines, the authors insightfully dissect, in unusual detail, the shifting relationship between sociology and criminology and the building of niches and growing specialization, but they also deal with the occasional cross-fertilization across the boundaries of subfields and disciplines.

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