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Theoretical criminology

Offer semester
2nd semester

Lecture time
Thursday 6.30pm – 10pm

Lecture venue

Course description

The course aims to introduce students to the broad traditions of theoretical enquiry that constitute criminology. We will begin by looking at some of the now classic approaches to thinking about crime, social disorder and punishment by sociologists and criminologists from the nineteenth centuries.

Although much of their work has been criticized and subsequently modified, it does still provide very useful road maps into contemporary thinking about the problem of crime and what is to be done about it. We will then move on to more recent accounts of crime that came into prominence during the latter part of the twentieth century, largely but not exclusively in the USA and the UK, and assess the limits and possibilities of criminological theorizing in the current global and local contexts. Many of these numerous and diverse approaches to crime and crime control can be seen as a response to earlier theories – challenging them, debating them, extending them.

Finally, the course will encourage students to see the relevance of criminological perspectives to their field research and prepare them for their group dissertations.

Course learning outcomes

  • An ability to understand main criminological concepts and debates about crime and social problems and associated key works.
  • An ability to critically assess the diverse and competing assumptions and rationales in the study of crime and criminality.
  • An ability to identify the key debates and implications surrounding the application of ideas about crime and criminality to contemporary criminal control policies.
  • An ability to develop a reasoned argument and to present ideas in a clear and concise manner in oral presentation and in written work.


Group Presentation10%
Two Individual Essays50%
Written Examination40%

Required reading

There is no single text that covers all the themes and issues examined. Nevertheless, you may find E. McLaughlin et al. (2013) (eds), Criminological Perspectives: Essential Readings (London: Sage) and E. McLaughlin and T. Newburn (eds.) (2010), The Sage Handbook of Criminology Theory (London: Sage) particularly useful as key texts.

You may also find McLaughlin and Muncie (2013), The Sage Dictionary of Criminology (3rd edition) useful as a reference book.

There are other recommended books in the list of recommended texts below, and you may find it useful to consult some of them (either individual chapters or whole books).

Recommended reading

The following journals are also relevant to the course (there are many others):


Theoretical Criminology

British Journal of Criminology

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Punishment and Society

Policing and Society

Crime, Media, Culture

Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency

Social Problems

Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Crime and Delinquency

Criminal Justice



There are many books which are useful starting point for students new to criminology. M Bosworth and C Hoyle (eds) (2011), What is Criminology? (Oxford: Oxford University Press), Newburn, T. (2007), Criminology (Cullompton: Willan) and Newburn, T. (2009), Key Readings in Criminology (Cullompton: Willan). Maguire et al. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (various editions) comprises a collection of excellent summaries of research and has useful chapters across the spectrum from theory through to practice. There are several general criminology texts (almost all of U.S. origins) to be found in the library which contain sections on theory if the recommended texts are unavailable or in closed reserve. For example, Charles Tittle’s Theoretical Criminology and Shelley’s Criminology are usually on the shelves. Other useful general series include the Crime and Justice: An Annual Review of Research series edited by Michael Tonry and the new series Advances in Criminological Theory.

Course co-ordinator and teachers