Ethnographic Criminology: novel insights

Course content

In many ways, crime and deviance defined the very onset of the anthropological inquiry. Emerging as a study of alterity anthropology was, initially, divided between a focus on the exotic and on the intimate Other: that is, the external outsider versus the internal outsider. This interest in the internal other became the very centre of ‘criminal anthropology’, a sub-discipline that, in its time, became almost as big as the mother discipline itself. Since then, the focus on crime and criminalization has changed dramatically. Instead of being criminal anthropology the subfield is currently defined by ethnographic criminology, that is, by an insight into processes of criminalization as well as the social logics and everyday lives of criminal figures and formations.

This course looks at current studies in ethnographic criminology. As we shall see, the sub-discipline is once again gaining ground and yielding an abundance of fascinating insights. Building on recent works, the course will explore the ways crime and criminalization are tied to power and politics. It will look at drug trade, human trafficking, prostitution, violence, deviance and white-collar crime. More generally, the course investigates the ways that crime and the study thereof has developed – becoming increasingly transnational and multi-modal – and the manner in which policing is seeking to keep up with and combat novel kinds of crime and deviance.

The course will enable students to look critically at crime and criminalization as well as to ponder novel developments and future possibilities within ethnographic criminology. It will look at the way crime challenges and is challenged by formations of power and contemplate what this might tell us about larger social, political and global change.

Learning outcome

By the end of this course, students are expected to be able to:



  • identify and define key theories and developments with the anthropological study of crime and criminalization



  • discuss former and current theories and methodologies within the anthropology of crime and criminalization.
  • contemplate how their own data and insights relate to existing research on the issue.
  • put theories and case studies discussed in class into perspective and critically assess the relationship between crime and criminalization.
  • discuss the relationship between structures of power and processes of criminalization.
  • plan, carry out and present findings and ideas related to topics discussed in class.



  • critically reflect on the methodological and ethical challenges in the ethnographic study of crime.
  • formulate an analytical question and propose an exciting answer to a given problem of crime or criminalisation
  • use anthropological analyses to contest normative understandings of the phenomena.

Lectures and seminar.

BSc student: 500 pages selected reading.

MSc students 500 pages selected reading + 200 relevant pages of the student's own choosing.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, .
Essay length: 21,600–26,400 keystrokes for an individual submission. 6,750–8,250 keystrokes per extra member for group submissions. The maximum number of students who can write an essay in a group is four.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcomes.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • English
  • 42