Geography Geography of Crime
Richard Yarwood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 November 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0122


Crime and the fear of crime are significant aspects of daily life and as such have been studied closely by human geographers who have examined the interactions between crime, space, and society. The occurrence of crime shows strong spatial variations, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, work by geographers was initially concerned with mapping and explaining patterns of crime (see Fyfe 2000, cited under General Overviews), largely in urban centers of the West. The distribution of crime has been explained with reference to theories of human ecology, the built environment, housing markets, and forms of urban management, including policing. While the mapping of crime remains important, especially with the growing sophistication of geographic information science (GIS), the subdiscipline has burgeoned to encompass a wider range of theoretical and empirical concerns. Critical theories have been used to question the nature of crime and the extent to which it reflects wider inequalities in society. Feminist geographers, for example, have examined crimes against women and the ways in which it contributes to their exclusion from society, drawing attention to the often hidden crimes committed in private and domestic spaces (see Valentine 1989, cited under Gender and Crime). Others have examined how crime is policed and, increasingly, how policing contributes to the fragmentation and reshaping of public space, often with exclusionary results. Related to this, some crimes have also been considered a form of resistance and examined in the context of wider social and political changes. Research into the geography of crime occupies something of a niche position; few geographers, for example, would describe themselves as “crime” geographers and may instead identify with the broader strands urban, social, or feminist geographies that inform their studies. Criminology, sociology, and spatial statistics overlap with the geographies of crime and these disciplines inform and have been informed by geographical study. Research into the geography of crime remains diverse and vibrant, cutting across many areas of social and cultural geography as well drawing on and contributing to debates in criminology and other related disciplines.

General Overviews

The 1980s and early 1990s were a rich period for the geography of crime, with several important books emerging that included The Geography of Crime (Evans and Herbert 1989, The Geography of Urban Crime (Herbert 1982), and Crime, Policing and Place (Evans, et al. 1992) that set the agenda for research into the geographies of crime in this period. Perhaps surprisingly, no books have been published recently that provide a general overview on geographies of crime, although research monographs have focused on particular aspects of the subdiscipline. Equally, there is no journal that deals specifically with the geography of crime. This may reflect that research into the geographies of crime has rarely occupied the center stage of geographical research (Fyfe 1991, cited under Geographies of the Police and Policing; Herbert 1976, cited under Mapping Crime). Nevertheless, good introductions to the geographies of crime can be found in generic human geography reference books (Fyfe 2000; Herbert 2009; Koskela 2009); these chart how different paradigmatic approaches have impacted on the way that the geographies of crime have been studied. Accessible introductions can also be found within key textbooks on social and cultural geography (Cater and Jones 1989, Pain 2001) that provide stimulating and well-supported arguments for studying crime within human geography. A contemporary book providing an overview of the geography of crime is long overdue and would be a timely addition to any bibliography on this topic.

  • Cater, John, and Trevor Jones “Crime and Disorder.” In Social Geography. Edited by J. Cater and T. Jones, 79–113. London: Edward Arnold, 1989.

    This is a classic introduction to the sub-discipline written at time when research into crime was a significant part of social geography. It provides a critical overview of the geographies of crime, moving beyond its mapping toward critical interpretations using managerialist and Marxist perspectives. The latter provides great insight into what is meant by a crime and the social implications of these contests.

  • Evans, David, Nicholas Fyfe, and David Herbert, eds. Crime, Policing and Place: Essays in Environmental Criminology. London: Routledge, 1992.

    A series of essays that charts the contribution of geography to criminology. It reflects a time when research into the geographies of crime was vibrant but largely dominated by environmental approaches.

  • Evans, David, and David Herbert, eds. The Geography of Crime. London: Routledge, 1989.

    A collection of essays mainly from the United Kingdom and North America provides a broad overview of research in the geography of crime in the 1980s and 1990s, largely drawing on behavioral and environmental approaches to examine the spatial distribution of crime and its policing.

  • Fyfe, Nicholas. “Crime, Geography Of.” In Dictionary of Human Geography. 4th ed. Edited by R. Johnston, D. Gregory, G. Pratt, and M. Watts, 120–123. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

    This entry provides an excellent overview of the subarea. It traces the history of the subdiscipline and charts how different schools of thought have influenced the study of crime and its spatial distribution.

  • Herbert, David. The Geography of Urban Crime. London: Longman, 1982.

    David Herbert’s work on the spatial distribution of urban crime was influential and insightful. This volume draws together this research and highlights the significance of space to the study of crime patterns. See also Mapping Crime.

  • Herbert, Steve “Crime.” In The Dictionary of Human Geography. 5th ed. Edited by D. Gregory, R. Johnston, G. Pratt, M. Watts, and S. Whatmore, 120. Oxford: Blackwell, 2009.

    The most recent entry to the longstanding “Dictionary of Human Geography” is much reduced in length from the previous edition. It provides a concise introduction to the subdiscipline and charts current directions of travel.

  • Koskela, Hille “Crime/Fear of Crime.” In International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Edited by R. Kitchen and N. Thrift, 334–339. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2009.

    This introduction outlines some of the spatial manifestations of crime before examining the fear or crime in more depth. It charts how the fear of crime impacts at a number of scales and has influenced different forms of policing. The significance of gender is highlighted.

  • Pain, Rachel “Crime, Space and Inequality.” In Introducing Social Geographies. Edited by R. Pain, M. Barke, D. Fuller, J. Gough, R. MacFarlane, and M. Graham, 231–253. London: Arnold, 2001.

    This is a thoughtful and accessible chapter that introduces the geographies of crime by considering its spatial distributions and its impact on different social groups. It is punctuated with vignettes from key case studies.

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