Sociology : Criminology. Criminological theory and research

Essay by beepydave August 2004

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Criminology can be defined as the multidisciplinary study of crime (Bartol, 1999, p. 3). As the definition suggests, many disciplines are involved in the collection of knowledge about crime, including psychology, sociology, psychiatry, anthropology, biology, neurology, political science and economics (Bartol, 1999 p. 4). Over the years criminology has been dominated by three disciplines - sociology, psychology and biology. Criminology needs all the help it can get in its struggle to understand, explain and prevent criminal behaviour and an integration of the data, theory and general viewpoints of each discipline is crucial (Bartol, 1999 pg. 4).

While interest in crime has always been high, understanding of why it occurs and what to do about it has always been a problem. Public officials, politicians and 'experts' offer simple and incomplete solutions for obliterating crime, whereas academe invariably offers abstract interpretations and suggestions that often have little practical value. As in most areas of human behaviour, there is no shortage of experts but there are very few effective solutions (Bourne and Russo, 1998 p.52)

Criminologists develop theories and conduct research to understand and explain criminal behaviour. A theory attempts to make sense out of many disparate observations (or facts) by stating a general principal that connects, integrates and explains them. A good theory is extremely valuable in that it extends our knowledge beyond the facts in front of us (the raw data), enabling us to predict how others might behave at another time and in another place (Bourne and Russo, 1998 p. 33). Criminological theories based on biology, psychology were both, at one stage dominant in the field, however the vast majority of current criminological text employs sociological theory and research. Biological and psychological explanations will be examined in the following essay, however there will be a focus on sociological theory.