Criminology: Overview & History of the Field

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  • 0:01 What is Criminology?
  • 1:14 The Four Perspectives…
  • 4:23 History of Criminology
  • 7:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn about what constitutes criminology. Review the four perspectives of criminology and work a case yourself. Then, examine the history of crime as it relates to the field of criminology.

What Is Criminology?

From CSI to Law and Order, it seems that there is always a crime show available to watch on TV at all times around the clock. In addition, there are always crime and horror movies to thrill and entertain us. We just can't get enough of our serial killer protagonists on the big screen.

Moreover, the media is constantly feeding us crime stories in real time. Everywhere you look, stories and issues of true crime exist and confront us. We end up searching for answers and explanations for the offender's motivations. For example, how can a murderer kill his victim and leave him on the side of the road without any remorse? Why did a murderer act a certain way? These are the types of questions which are examined in the field of criminology.

So, let's imagine that you are the criminologist for a moment. Imagine that you have been called in to consult on a murder case. The victim is a young woman, who was found in a marshland next to a river. She has multiple stab wounds to her chest and neck. She is also holding a note which reads, 'My husband did this to me.' You are asked to give an opinion about the case. Let's look at criminology in a deeper way in order to determine your opinion.

The Four Perspectives of Criminology

Criminology is the study of crime from four different perspectives. These include legal, political, sociological, and psychological.

Initially, criminology examines crime from a legal point of view. This means that the criminal behavior is examined as it is in violation of the law. Sometimes this means that criminologists will evaluate the laws themselves, while other times this means that criminologists will examine how criminal laws are created by criminal activities.

In your case, the victim was murdered. You can see that from the multiple stab wounds to her neck and chest. You review the murder statute and ascertain that it would appear that this looks like it falls within the first-degree murder statute because of the note pointing to her husband as the killer. Therefore, under the legal point of view, your opinion is that the appropriate law is first-degree murder.

Next, criminology looks at crime from a political perspective. In this regard, crime is deemed to be caused by breaking laws created by powerful political groups. These laws indicate illegal behavior. Those who support this point of view indicate that laws exist to further the interest of the politically powerful; crimes consist of activity that the powerful believe to be a threat to their interests. As a result, the laws do not always relate to what one might naturally think of as right and wrong.

In your case, you believe that the laws created for murder were in fact created by the politically elite; however, after reviewing the facts, you also believe that these laws are appropriate for this particular case of murder.

Another criminology point of view is the sociological perspective. The sociological perspective focuses on the social, political, and economic problems which give rise to the crime. For example, this perspective considers an offender's home situation, employment, race, education level, social situation, and more in order to assess why an offender committed a crime.

In your case, you gather information about the victim's husband. You learn that the husband had a history of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and he had recently stopped taking his medications. In addition, you learned that he lost his job and was estranged from the victim. You strongly suspect that these factors played into the victim's murder.

The last perspective of criminology is the psychological perspective. Under the psychological point of view, crime is viewed as a form of problem behavior which is due to an offender's inability to live in harmony with the environment.

In your case, you review the past behavior of the husband. You review his psychiatric notes and see that he has a violent history, including domestic abuse of the victim. You also see he has spent time in and out of jail as well as psychiatric facilities for treatment of his schizophrenia. You deduce that the husband's psychological background contributed to the crime.

Congratulations! Your work as a criminologist is complete. You are ready to turn in your report, which covers the four aspects of criminology. Great job!

The Historical Aspect of Criminology

Now, let's turn to the history of crime and how that impacts the work of criminology.

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