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.

Criminological Theory does not require any prerequisite modules or parallel course of MA study. In this sense, this module exists as a true ‘option’ – both for postgraduate student lawyers and for interested postgraduate students from other disciplines. The course will be taught in either two or three-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:

2. The Criminal before Criminology: Early Theories of Crime

Part A: The Established Theories

3. Criminological Positivism: Then and Now

4. Criminological Classicism: Then and Now

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

6. “The Sick Society”:  Anomie and Strain Theory

7. Subcultural theories of Deviance

8. The Labelling Perspective

9. Power, Inequality and Crime: Radical and Critical Criminology

10. Control theories

Part B:  New Developments in Criminological Theory

11. The Gendering of Criminology: Feminist criminology

12. Realist criminology

13. Crime Mapping and the ‘New Geography of Crime’

14. Cultural Criminology

15. Crimes against the ‘Biosphere’: Green Criminology

16. Theories of Cybercrime

17. Victimology: a Theoretical Introduction

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

19. Theories of State Crime and Genocide

20. The Seductions of Crime: Existentialist and Narrative Criminology

21. Theorising ‘the Crime Drop’

22. Conclusion

Learning outcome

Knowledge: at the conclusion of this course, students will have/be able to:

  • an advanced knowledge of the key theoretical debates in criminology and criminal justice;
  • the ability to analyse 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;
  • analyse popular discourses, texts or programs on the matter of crime and deviance.

Skills/Competencies: at the conclusion of this course, students will have/be able to:

  • demonstrate skills commensurate with postgraduate study in presentation and debate, both verbal and written, and in utilization of research and empirical data;
  • synthesis complex theoretical items of knowledge from different schools and disciplines of enquiry, thus gaining an appreciation of inter-disciplinarity ;
  • gather library and web-based resources appropriate for postgraduate study; make critical judgments about their merits and use the available evidence to construct a developed argument to be presented orally or in writing;
  • conduct research by using library e-journals and other on-line resources;
  • competencies in regard to the organisation of information in a clear and coherent manner through essay writing and seminar-based group discussion;
  • gained a clear understanding of the relationship between theoretical work and problem solving/policy making;
  • real world conference presentation skills

• In-class presentations involving either: a) a group paper presentation to the class; or b)
an individual student contribution in terms of the formulation of a question from the
floor to the panellists;
• The use of artworks and filmic imagery as pedagogic learning tools to elucidate and
explain criminological theory;
• The use of complimentary contemporary media reportage, documentary film, and
embedded links to YouTube and news websites, from Al Jazeera to BBC News in
• The use of music (e.g. Nick Cave on crime prevention, and US and UK Rap and
Grime videos on street culture etc.) to provoke seminar discussions;
• The possible use (depending on availability) of visiting scholars. Here, the plan is
to bring in one criminologist per term to deliver an informal paper related to one of
the core criminological theories listed in the course content. This different
academic setting will hopefully encourage student centred, open, dialogic
exchange, and provide a break from the normal teaching dynamic.

The following title is the required book for the course:

Hopkins-Burke, R. (2013) An Introduction to Criminological Theory, London: Taylor and Francis.

Available at the South Campus bookstore.


The following titles are recommended texts:

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

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

McLaughlin, E and Muncie J (eds) The Sage Dictionary of Criminology, London: Sage.

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

All these titles are available at the South campus bookstore.


The following supplementary texts will also be of use:

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

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.

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

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.

Type of assessment
Written examination
Individual written assignment
(Note: the assignment must be submitted individually)
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Seminar
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 356,5
  • English
  • 412,5