Criminological Theory

Course content

Criminology is a dynamic discipline that straddles more than two centuries of intellectual thought and a range of academic influences.  This course offers those new to criminology a very general introduction to the subject by concentrating on some of the main criminological theories that have sought to explain and account for crime and deviance in the modern age. Proceeding in two parts, the course starts by reviewing and critiquing the classical ideas in the field, before moving on to engage with the most up-to-date debates in criminological theory.  Drawing together a diverse array of studies on deviance, violence, transgression, and harm, Criminological Theory provides postgraduate students with a range of explanations of crime that span from the micro-realm of the ‘personality disorder’ to the macro-realm of the ‘crimes of the state’.

Importantly, whilst criminological theory is often thought of as an abstract, even esoteric enterprise, in reality its impact over the last century in areas such as crime control, juvenile justice, sentencing, and public and penal policy has been profound and far-reaching. One need only think of the role played by criminological theory in such diverse policy initiatives as the ‘welfarist’ movement within youth justice during the 1970s, and the ‘zero tolerance’ policing phenomenon of the 1990s to recognize the influential, indeed potent, force of criminological theory. In this sense, theoretical criminology should be seen as a vital, living subject, and not some historical or intellectual fancy.

The course will be taught in two-hour lecture blocks, with a final lecture reserved for questions and answers in relation to assessment. The lectures will cover the following subjects: -

Lecture Content

1. Introduction: the Criminal before Criminology

Part A: The Established Theories

2. Criminological Positivism: Then and Now

3. Criminological Classicism: Then and Now

4. The Chicago School: Social Ecology and Crimes of Place

5. “The Sick Society”:  Anomie, Strain and Subcultural Theory

6. The Labeling Perspective

7. Power, Inequality and Crime: Radical and Critical criminologies

8. Control theories

Part B:  New Developments in Criminological Theory

9. The Gendering of Criminology: Feminist criminology

10. Realist criminology

11. The Search for the “Criminal Man” revisited: Biosocial and Conservative Criminology

12. Cultural Criminology

13. Crime Mapping and the “New Geography of Crime”

14. Crimes against the ‘Biosphere’: Green Criminology

15. The Seductions of Crime: Existentialist and Narrative Criminology

16. Conclusion

Learning outcome
  • An advanced knowledge of the key theoretical debates in criminology and criminal justice;
  • The ability to analyze and critique notions of crime and justice in a variety of different social and international contexts;
  • Critically evaluate the social, political and cultural dimensions of crime from both a historical and contemporary perspective;
  • Understand the theoretical foundations of orthodox and critical forms of criminology;
  • The ability to apply research evidence to understandings of deviance, social control, and related social problems;
  • The ability to synthesize items of knowledge from different schools and disciplines of enquiry;
  • Be capable of analyzing popular discourses, texts or programs on the matter of crime and deviance.

Henry, S and Lanier, M. (2015) Essential Criminology, Boulder: CO: Westview Press.

Lilly, R. et al (2010) Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. London: Sage.

Hopkins-Burke, R. (2013) An Introduction to Criminological Theory, Cullompton: Willan

Hale, C, Hayward, K, Wahidin, A, and Wincup, E. (2013) Criminology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hayward, K, Maruna, S, and Mooney, J. (eds) (2010) Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology, London: Routledge

Jones, S. (2013) Criminology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Downes, D. and Rock, P. (2011) Understanding Deviance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carrabine, E., et al (2014) Criminology: A Sociological Introduction, London: Routledge.

Vold, G, Bernard, T, and Snipes, J. (2002) Theoretical Criminology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ferrell, J, Hayward, K, and Young, J. (2015) Cultural Criminology: An Invitation, London: Sage.

McLaughlin, E and Newburn, T. (2010) The Sage Handbook of Criminological Theory, London: Sage.

If, after familiarizing yourself with some of these texts you feel you wish to explore the most up-to-date developments in the field of theoretical criminology, the following international journals provide some of the most exciting and cutting edge examples of contemporary criminological theory:

Theoretical Criminology: Creditably diverse in scope and content, Theoretical Criminology is a major interdisciplinary and international journal ‘for the advancement of the theoretical aspects of criminological knowledge’.

Punishment and Society: A theoretical and empirical journal providing an ‘interdisciplinary forum for research and scholarship dealing with punishment, penal institutions and penal control’.

Crime, Media, Culture: A cross-disciplinary journal that publishes research on the relationship between crime, criminal justice, media, and culture.

With the possibility of a collective paper.

Type of assessment
Written examination
Individual written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Seminar
  • 34
  • Preparation
  • 241
  • English
  • 275