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The history of criminology is examined comparatively for four countries or regions: the United States, Latin America, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom. Each case history considers a common set of analytic dimensions: origin and takeoff (time, discipline, political context); changing shapes (themes, theoretical orientations, data); changing organization (associations, journals, position in universities, government and nonprofit institutes); and the political-economic environment of criminology. Commonalities across national and regional developments and particularities of each region speak to the conditions of criminology. Globalization is at work, partly under US guidance, but academic exports are challenged and adapted to nation-level political, ideological, and institutional contexts.
- Criminology in the United States
- Criminology in Latin America
- Criminology in Scandinavia
- Criminology in the United Kingdom
Criminology, the study of the causes and consequences of crime and societal and governmental responses to crime, is today represented around the globe. Yet, its history and institutionalization vary by country and region. The relative weight of the social science component in this multidisciplinary field has grown over the past century, but its prominence varies as the field cohabits and competes with legally oriented or biologically oriented criminologies. The history and current shape of criminology (from here on referring to social science criminology if not otherwise specified) hinge on economic and political conditions common to all sciences and on the organization of academia within universities, government-sponsored and private institutes, and disciplines already established when criminology emerged.
Four case histories are briefly described below, specifically those of the United States (US), Latin America, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom (UK). They display commonalities and particularities of criminologies across the globe. Commonalities of academic development across countries and world regions then point at global forces that affect criminology irrespective of its geographic location. Particularities speak to national and regional factors that contribute to local distinctions. Examining commonalities and particularities thus helps us understand the social conditions of criminology and its history. As we examine our four countries/regions, each case history considers a common set of analytic dimensions:
- Origin and takeoff: time, discipline, political context;
- Changing shapes: themes, theoretical orientations, data;
- Changing organization: associations, journals, position in universities, and government and nonprofit institutes. Of interest in its own right, the organization of criminology also affects the substance of criminological work. Relatively autonomous academic organizations free scholars from immediate political and economic concerns and allow for the formation of networks of competition and collaboration (Collins, 1998). Within universities, organizational competition shapes the nature of newly emerging disciplinary units as demonstrated for early twentieth century sociology (Camic, 1995). The organization of departments and journals subsequently affects the content of scholarly work (for criminology see Laub and Sampson, 1991; Savelsberg et al., 2004; Short and Hughes, 2007).
- Political-economic environment of criminology: While economic surplus is a prerequisite for the differentiation and expansion of science, political context can be restricting and enabling. Historical research on criminology under totalitarianism depicts limitations, while simultaneously showing niches of free exploration within the specialized academic field (Wetzell, 2000 on Nazi Germany). Under liberal democratic regimes, governments affect the substance of criminology through funding of institutions and research or through the stimulation of demand for professional degree programs (Savelsberg and Flood, 2011).
Criminology in the United States
Criminology in the US emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, accompanying social changes that highlighted the need for scientific studies of crime and criminals. Police departments in rapidly growing cities broadened the scope of public responsibility for crime and made that responsibility problematic. Theories concerned with the effects of prison conditions were hotly debated, and innovations proposed; participants in these debates were part of a social movement to construct ‘asylums’ for criminals and other unfortunates (Rothman, 1971). Concerns for children prompted legal changes, special courts and institutions.
Journalists highlighted the association of crime and social conditions, stimulating government and citizen, as well as scholarly activities. Stirrings of social science concerns with crime in the US are reflected in the 1865 constitution of the American Association for the Promotion of Social Science that referred to goals such as ‘Prevention and Repression of Crime,’ and ‘Reformation of Criminals’ (Lengermann and Neibrugge, 2007: p. 74).
Programmatic scientifically inspired empirical research on the social distribution of juvenile delinquency (Shaw et al., 1929) led to sociological hegemony in criminology, albeit not without challenges from biology (Rafter, 1997), while academic texts marked the autonomy of the field. Criminology was integral to the dramatic growth of social sciences in the US through the 1920s and 1930s (Rice, 1931).
The inherently interdisciplinary nature of criminology created a great deal of theoretical ferment. Robert Merton’s (1938) theory of deviant adaptations to structural limitations on goal attainment marked a shift toward an emphasis on social structure. Advances in survey methodology made study of individual delinquents and criminals more efficient. Individual-level research and theory flourished with advances in psychology and social psychology, and economics brought the rational action paradigm to the field.
Criminological theory over the past half century elaborates and adds to insights from these disciplines and from advances in the biological sciences, an early precursor of criminology. Social disorganization theory and Sutherland’s (see Cohen et al., 1956) ideas of differential association and differential social organization began a process of formalizing theory in criminology that continues even today. Social learning theory, borrowed from psychology, became a major perspective, as did control and labeling theories, which owed much to their roots in symbolic interaction theory. In recognition of failures to explain variations of regulatory capacities of social relationships and neighborhoods, ‘social capital,’ an addition to human capital, was in turn added to as ‘collective efficacy,’ and social disorganization became systemic disorganization.
While macro- and individual-levels of explanation were strengthened by these developments, situational contexts and group processes received less emphasis. However, methodological and theoretical innovations in network analysis and analysis of spatial relationships, together with new technologies for qualitative data analysis, offer promise of more holistic scholarship in criminology (Sampson, 2012).
Formal organization of criminology came about in conjunction with organizations devoted to law enforcement and corrections. The American Society of Criminology evolved from an organization formed initially for the purpose of professionalization of police. The constitution of one of its progenitors defined ‘criminology’ as ‘the study of the causes and prevention of crime, including, but not restricted to,’ several law enforcement and crime control goals (Morris, 1975: p. 128).
Implications of research for crime prevention and control have been problems for criminology from its beginnings. Debate also centers on whether criminology is a fundamental discipline or a special interdisciplinary field; and/or an applied vs a theoretical- and research-oriented enterprise. Partisans of the disciplinary view argue that criminology’s association with law and its multimethod, theoretical and empirical maturity warrants such recognition. The dependence of criminology on the social science and behavioral science disciplines as well as the influence of extrascholarly influence on the field’s subject matter challenge this view. In either case, the lines between criminology and its supporting disciplines increasingly are blurred, as criminologists continue to benefit from and contribute to developments in theories and methods in the social sciences, law, and other special fields, including comparative criminology and Third World human rights and conflict (Hagan and Rymond-Richmond, 2009; Savelsberg and King, 2011).
Criminology in Latin America
Criminology in Latin America was born when ideas of the Italian ‘Positivist School’ were imported in the 1880s, both in the fields of law and medicine. This importation was stronger in some national contexts such as Argentina, where the Society for Juridical Anthropology was founded in 1888. In the same year, the first Latin American book on criminology was published. Entitled Los Hombres de Presa and authored by Luis M. Drago, it was translated into Italian and published with a highly favorable prologue of Cesare Lombroso. The year 1898 witnessed publication of the first scientific journal on criminology in Latin America, entitled Criminalogia Moderna. In national contexts like Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, or Argentina, between the end of the nineteenth century and the 1940s, Lombrosian ideas about the ‘born criminal’ were widely diffused and associated with strong racist connotations.
In reaction to the biological school, challengers emerged in the early twentieth century. They were inspired by the ‘French School’ that stressed the psychological and sociological dimensions of crime causation (e.g., Debuyst, 1998; Mucchielli, 1994a,b). Most prominent among these scholars was Jose Ingenieros who developed a new classification of criminals. He did not discard the idea of criminals as abnormal, but he explained abnormality entirely in a psychopathological way. Guided by this framework, Latin American universities created first institutional spaces for criminal anthropology and criminology, particularly in Schools of Law and Medicine. Further schools emerged in affiliation with police and prison institutions. For example, in 1907 the Institute of Criminology was created within the National Penitentiary of Buenos Aires, and Ingenieros was appointed its first director. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, positivist criminology was consistently promoted by dictatorial and authoritarian governments – albeit with important differences across national contexts. This movement’s impact on penal laws, culture, and practices was substantial and continues to be recognizable.
This ‘golden age’ of positivist criminology reached its peak during the 1940s. Following trends in post–World War II Europe, psychiatric and psychological approaches were emphasized. The focus was always on the individual. Yet, this era also witnessed a general decay in the volume and quality of intellectual production. In some countries, this moment was even labeled the ‘era of the criminological silence.’ Nevertheless, this psychopathologically reoriented positivist criminology generated new degree programs in criminology. Examples are the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1966 and the University of Nuevo Leon (Mexico) in 1974. These programs, following a medical model, sought to generate professionals for the production of diagnostic and prognostic reports on ‘criminals’ in judicial and prison institutions. Yet, these experts barely influenced the construction of crime control policies, a role that continued to be monopolized by criminal law professors.
Also in the 1960s, some Latin American countries began to import sociological criminology, especially from the US. In a further step, the 1970s witnessed a critical criminology taking hold when new ideas from English speaking countries and Italy were translated into Spanish. Law schools were at the epicenter of this movement, particularly in Venezuela, Mexico, and Colombia. The strong connection of this critical criminology with neo-Marxist political and theoretical languages, however, blocked these developments in countries governed by military dictatorships like Brazil and Argentina.
Since the 1980s criminology’s opening toward social science and critical theory, in a field previously dominated by positivist criminology, was promoted by the processes of democratization. Critical vocabulary was diffused and institutional spaces multiplied in law schools across Latin America. Nevertheless this intellectual movement did not translate into the creation of new criminology degree programs, while earlier degree programs in the tradition of the positivist school declined and, in some cases, were closed.
At the beginning of the 1990s, building on initiatives of the preceding two decades, numerous researchers from different social sciences (sociology, anthropology, and political science) began to conduct research on crime and crime control, in many cases beyond the label ‘criminology’ as an institutionalized academic field. These scholars contributed new theoretical perspectives and empirical research. New institutional spaces were opened in schools of social sciences. In general, the relevance of these types of studies increased significantly, beginning in the second half of the 1990s, as issues of crime and crime control moved center stage in political and public debates.
As a consequence, this field of studies assumed, during these last 20 years, a polyvalent and complex structure. Many researchers today produce knowledge in the name of ‘criminology,’ others work on similar themes but under different disciplinary labels. Again, as empirical research and theoretical discourse expanded, many Latin American universities created new master’s degrees in criminology. Law Schools continued to be their prime institutional location. Simultaneously, scientific journals emerged such as Capítulo Criminológico (1973) and Delito y Sociedad (1992). In short, the newly emerging field of criminology in Latin America is a growing, complex, and polyvalent field. It entails strong contradictions and debates within and faces substantial challenges regarding both knowledge production and policy relevance.
Criminology in Scandinavia
Criminology in Scandinavia, in its intellectual development, conforms to the overall Continental European patterns. Before the establishment of an independent social science criminology, studies of criminal behavior, policy, and law were conducted by scholars with background in psychiatry or law. Yet, after World War II, criminology took off as an independent social science discipline, as distinct from law and psychiatry.
In terms of core ideas and orientations, the Scandinavian development similarly followed the general shifts of twentieth century criminology from the abnormality to the normality paradigm: While earlier scholars considered crime as a manifestation of individual physical or psychological abnormality, criminologists in the postwar years increasingly redefined it as a normal social phenomenon. The aim of understanding crime as a societal phenomenon was adopted early on by progressive lawyers who established so-called associations of criminalists in Denmark (1889), Norway (1892), Sweden (1911), Finland (1934), and Iceland (1949). In the early phase, the gradual ‘sociologization’ of criminology was spearheaded by socially minded lawyers. In the postwar era, sociologization gathered momentum as sociology proper emerged as the intellectual backbone discipline of criminology. During the 1960s and 1970s, the profession of psychiatry was sidelined from the core of criminology, while criminal law experts have remained central.
Two factors help explain the postwar modernization and empirical sociologization of Scandinavian criminology. First, World War II implied a drastic break and cultural reorientation from the Continental European tradition to the Anglophone world. Most scientific influences came from the US, and Nordic social science rapidly became ‘Americanized’ (Haney, 2009). Second, since the early 1960s the Nordic governments created a new international organ of cooperation, the Scandinavian Research Council for Criminology (SRCC). Established in 1961, the SRCC has for more than 50 years channeled government funding for social science criminology. In contrast, the weight of university-based criminology varies between the Nordic countries, ranging from Sweden with a very strong university-based criminology to Finland where criminology is nearly nonexistent in universities.
After the late 1960s, the uniformly ‘Americanized,’ quantitative and positive approach of Nordic criminology ended as the critique of positivism inspired some criminologists to abandon quantitative criminology for the benefit of qualitative and critical approaches. To some extent, national criminology cultures diverged as a result of this antipositivist turn. Over the recent years, the internal cleavages of Scandinavian criminology have widened, a process that culminated in Sweden’s secession from the SRCC in 2012.
Irrespective of such rifts, government support remains the most important source of research funding in Scandinavia. It is channeled through the SRCC, government research institutes, government grants toward evaluation studies, and publicly funded universities. An important outlet for publications is now the Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention (founded in 2000).
In terms of research substance, Nordic criminology is characterized by the paradigm shift from abnormality constructions to the normality perspective. This shift was heavily embedded in the corresponding shift of the preferred data basis of criminology: away from official statistics to survey data on crime. The very first project of the SRCC was the Nordic Draftee Research (NDR) project (1961–64) that also marks the world’s first internationally comparative crime survey. The NDR was launched to show empirically that crime was very prevalent and, therefore, statistically normal (for an in-depth history of the normality paradigm shift in US-Scandinavian criminology, see Kivivuori, 2011). Since then, crime measurement and analysis of real trends, apart from recorded changes, have remained a central concern of Nordic criminology. Victim surveys and self-report surveys have therefore remained favored data sources (Kivivuori and Bernbrug, 2011). The Nordic homicide research tradition has also been strong. It includes groundbreaking internationally comparative work of Finnish criminologist Veli Verkko (1893–1955) who created the world’s longest uninterrupted national homicide time series for Sweden and Finland (since 1754). Throughout, Nordic criminology has been concerned with the practical goal of supporting an evidence-informed and nonpunitive penal regime (Kyvsgaard, 2012). Much of the internal cohesion and emotional energy of the Scandinavian criminological research community derives from this motive.
Criminology in the United Kingdom
Criminology in the United Kingdom is an activity with extended antecedents but a relatively short history. As Garland (1988) has shown, the scientific, clinical, and reformist interests of a wide range of practitioners, but initially perhaps especially psychiatrists and social workers, long predated the development of research institutes, or university degree programs, or conferences devoted to the promotion of criminology as a ‘subject.’
The generative context for the formation of criminological discourse in Britain thus includes the activities of a range of (mainly quite gradualist) movements for social reform and ‘improvement,’ often of Protestant religious affiliation; the widespread and intensifying attachment of respectable opinion throughout the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to science; and the specific development of a range of institutions and practices aimed at correcting the habits, morals, and lifestyles of the disreputable poor. Emblematic here are such innovations as the Probation of Offenders Act (1907) with its resonant injunction to ‘advise, assist, and befriend’ the wayward, the ‘delinquent,’ the inebriated.
In its articulations with the emergent ‘penal welfare complex’ (Garland, 1985) criminology in Britain thus begins both within and outside ‘the state.’ These pluralist and interventionist characteristics help to explain why there has never been a predominance either of Beccarian ‘Classicism’ or of programmatic Positivism in British criminology despite its attachments to science and its proximity to clinical practices. Neither do the textbook oppositions between such ‘paradigms’ very well describe its eclectic, pragmatic, empiricist, and reformist preferences.
The institutionalization of criminology as a fit subject for study in British universities was profoundly influenced and advanced in the mid-twentieth century by a number of key European émigré intellectuals. Hermann Mannheim established the presence of criminology at the London School of Economics, the single most vital site for social science research in the UK for much of the century, and one with a close set of associations with influential policy communities especially in the Labor and Liberal parties. Mannheim’s scholarly work, including the brilliant but now little-consulted Dilemma of Penal Reform (1939) and the prescient Comparative Criminology (1965) were among the most substantial, and certainly most sociologically informed, of the period. Meanwhile in Cambridge, Leon Radzinowicz set about developing a permanent institutional home for criminology in the unlikely setting of the Law Faculty of Cambridge University. In an autobiography published as late as 1999, Radzinowicz recalls his attraction to English political culture as he encountered it in and after the 1930s. It was, in his eyes, “down to earth, practical, observant, critical” (Radzinowicz, 1999: p. 376). ‘England,’ he asserts, “made me a realist and a pragmatist” (see further Sparks, 1999: p. 454).
The influence of Radzinowicz on the subsequent development of the subject was distinctive and substantial but nowadays culturally remote. Radzinowicz set out to create an academic field in the image of the virtues that he attributed to British institutions – thoroughness, decency, probity, and a lack of ideological enthusiasm. The formation in 1960 of the Institute of Criminology, with significant and sustained backing from the Home Office, was a watershed in the institutionalization of British criminology. It marks a transition from amateur enthusiasm and ‘cottage industry’ (Downes, 1988) to academic enterprise. What might seem more unfamiliar to observers beyond the UK (and frequently lamented nowadays by many within it) is the extent to which during the same period the internal research branch of government, the Home Office Research and Planning Unit, also became a major producer of criminological research (Walker, 1988; Newburn, 2011).
Yet even if the ‘pragmatic frame of reference’ seen as characterizing these institutions (Cohen, 1988: p. 39) was initially dominant it did not take long for it to receive certain significant shocks and challenges. Indeed, criminology rapidly became a focal site for the political and intellectual debates and conflicts that gripped British society in the 1960s. A new generation of social scientists, embarking on academic careers in newly founded universities, engaged with the political and cultural tumult of that decade, and freed from the direct dependency of bodies like the Cambridge Institute on short-term government research funding, brought new objects of inquiry to the fore: deviance, social control, political conflict and state violence, police power, ideology, and the manufacture of news, not to mention the reflexive and intentionally subversive reexamination of the claims and effects of criminology itself.
New theoretical perspectives and concepts took center stage: appreciation, labeling, moral panics, symbolic interactionism, Marxism, and feminism. New institutions were assembled to provide a platform for these perspectives and to build alliances with radical social workers and lawyers, students, prisoners’ organizations and campaigns against state violence. Foremost among these were the National Deviancy Conference (1968–79) and the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control (founded in 1973 and still in existence). The radical movement sought to extend criminology’s intellectual range and reach, its theoretical ambitions and disciplinary frame of reference as well as adding hugely to its scholarly productivity. For example, in an emblematic contribution The New Criminology (Taylor et al., 1973) set out a bold and influential prospectus for a ‘fully social’ theory of deviance. The new generation also promoted a more cosmopolitan approach, forming connections with European abolitionists, antipsychiatrists, and a range of other activists and social movements. The small, somewhat insular, rather atheoretical world of ‘mainstream’ British criminology had been subverted almost as soon as it had been established (see further Loader and Sparks, 2012).
The resulting ironies and fissures are never far to seek in the subsequent development of criminology as a ‘discipline.’ As the most acute of its radical observer-practitioners notes: “The more successful our attack on the old regime, the more we received PhDs, tenure, publishers’ contracts and research funds, appeared on book-lists and examination questions, and even became directors of institutes of criminology” (Cohen, 1988: p. 8). Thus, in one of the places in the world where criminology has expanded most rapidly, allegations of its failure, or betrayal or irrelevance are most persistently debated (Loader and Sparks, 2010: Chapter 1). There is a great deal more that might be said – not least that Britain is not now, and has really never been, a single place; and that the criminological cultures of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland merit attention that space here forbids (see, e.g., McAra, 2008).
Criminology in Britain appears to have become one of those academic formations whose ‘health’ thrives upon what are often negative developments in the institutions it studies – their politicization, the repeated shocks to their legitimacy. It exhibits a permanent duality, as both a critical and a governmental discourse (Garland and Sparks, 2000; Garland, 2011), and to invite takeover bids and denunciations from partisans on either side. Its relationship to government and public policy remains integral, yet unlikely ever to recapture the intimacy, or easy alignment of worldviews, that characterized its birth.
Examining the history of criminology in four countries or regions shows common patterns and differences. Common trends during the twentieth century include shifts away from biologically and psychiatrically toward sociologically inspired ways of thinking and conducting research on issues of crime and crime control. They also include an increasing institutionalization of the field, with its own departments, degree programs, journals, and funding sources.
Despite such secular commonalities, differences in the course of these developments and in the current state of criminology are substantial. A social scientifically oriented criminology emerged first and most prominently in the US, reflective of a weak central state in times of rapid societal transformations and massive social problems (Hamilton and Sutton, 1989). Its emergence in Europe coincides only with the end of World War II, and its establishment in Latin America lags even more. The country/region accounts speak to potential explanations. The political context of an academic field with applied leanings obviously matters. A sociologically oriented criminology had chances in Latin America only with the demise of military dictatorships. In Scandinavia, criminology with its centralized government funding takes on a particular character, with specific methodological and thematic foci to reflect concerns of the Scandinavian welfare states. Also in the UK government funding contributed to the establishment of major research initiatives and institutions – even if an academic counterculture soon reacted to this alliance between government and the academy.
We see further that academic fields do not exist in national isolation. The stories about Scandinavia and Latin America are stories of a movement toward globalized criminology, to some degree an example of ‘Americanization.’ In the UK, given its close historical and linguistic associations with the US, there have also been profound influences, but these have been mediated by markedly different origins, and sharply distinct institutional and political conditions. In short, globalization leaves different traces in different national contexts. Latin American criminology appears to supplement the ‘American’ type of sociological criminology with a critical criminology that was inspired by translations of Italian and British writings with neo-Marxist leanings. Counterhegemonic movements in Latin America and the massive tensions and inequalities in its countries appear to inspire this trend within academia. In Scandinavia, American criminology was incorporated in the welfare state concerns of the Nordic countries.
In short, a comparative study of the history of criminologies across countries and regions shows common trends and remarkable distinctions. Economic-political contexts, the nature of academic institutions and of the linkage between political-administrative systems and academia contribute to shaping the specific character criminology takes in each country and region. Globalization is at work, partly under US guidance, but academic exports are challenged and adapted to nation-level political, ideological, and institutional contexts.
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