In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Criminology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Reference Resources
  • On Public Intellectuals
  • Examples of Public Criminology
  • Public Sociology Debate
  • Public Criminology Debate
  • Public Criminology in Action
  • Public Criminology and Public Policy
  • Studies of Public Criminology

Criminology Public Criminology
Michelle Inderbitzin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0137


Public criminology means different things to different people, and some scholars use the plural term public criminologies to indicate that there are multiple publics and many possible interpretations of how to bridge the gap between academic criminology and public discourse. The current discussion of public criminology shares many ideas and points with the debate over public sociology, which Michael Burawoy has championed in a number of forums. To distinguish public sociology from other forms of sociological work, Burawoy divides sociology into four broad categories: professional sociology, critical sociology, policy sociology, and public sociology. While he uses a two-by-two table to conceptualize the different cells academics might work in and move through, Christopher Uggen and Michelle Inderbitzin prefer to represent the corresponding areas of criminology as a Venn diagram, where categories may overlap and individuals may be involved in professional, critical, policy, and public criminology to varying degrees. While the practice of public criminology will not appeal to all scholars in the field, those with the interests and skills to carry criminological theories and research into the public debate offer an important service. Among other tasks, they may debunk myths and help to reframe the cultural image of the criminal, they may offer social facts on crime and punishment and bring context to highly sensationalized cases, they may work with communities to compile data and answer pressing questions, and they may bring the best available evidence to conversations and debate on issues of criminal justice public policy.

General Overviews

Although the field of public criminology as an area of study is a fairly recent one, there are several articles exploring, defining, and addressing the varying roles criminologists may choose to play in public work, including Uggen and Inderbitzin 2010 and Loader and Sparks 2008. The first book devoted solely to public criminology is Loader and Sparks 2010, while the journal Theoretical Criminology devoted a full issue to the topic of public criminologies in 2007 (see Chancer and McLaughlin 2007). Also included in this section are two well-written histories of the field of criminology: Laub 2004 and Sherman 2005. Both are helpful in understanding the current context and fresh interest in public criminology.

  • Chancer, Lynn, and Eugene McLaughlin. 2007. Public criminologies: Diverse perspectives on academia and policy. Theoretical Criminology 11.2: 155–173.

    DOI: 10.1177/1362480607075845

    This essay introduces a special issue on public criminologies in Theoretical Criminology and provides an overview of academic criminologists’ views on the discipline’s relationship to public status and public policy. The authors offer some history of the public criminology movement and an overview of the articles in the special issue. List of all articles in the issue available online.

  • 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

    Not specifically about public criminology, but offers useful background information and a very good overview of the history and development of the field of criminology.

  • Loader, Ian, and Richard Sparks. 2008. What are we gonna do now? Revisiting the public roles of criminology. Criminal Justice Matters 72.1: 18–19.

    DOI: 10.1080/09627250802057898

    This article discusses the paradox of “successful failure” in criminology, where the academic field of criminology is booming, even as criminological knowledge and recommendations are largely marginalized in the public sphere.

  • Loader, Ian, and Richard Sparks. 2010. Public criminology? London: Routledge.

    The first book devoted to the topic of public criminology; offers a broad overview and suggests that criminologists’ public purpose is primarily to engage in improved politics of crime and responses to crime.

  • Sherman, Lawrence W. 2005. The use and usefulness of criminology, 1751–2005: Enlightened justice and its failures. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 600.1: 115–135.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002716205278103

    Thoughtful recounting of the birth and development of criminology; Sherman provides an interesting history of the field, its founders, influential studies, and key figures. He argues for more use of experimental methods in hopes of building better evidence and more public interest in the practical value of research.

  • Uggen, Christopher, and Michelle Inderbitzin. 2010. Public criminologies. Criminology & Public Policy 9.4: 725–750.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9133.2010.00666.x

    An essay discussing public criminologies’ relationship to public sociology as well as the field’s own historical development and present status. The authors argue that public criminology is important both for the publics it seeks to educate and learn from, and for the scholars who wish to work in the public arena.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.