Criminology: Nature, Viewpoint, and Importance

What is Criminology? 

Sociology uses the terms deviance, deviant behaviour, asocial behaviour, anti-social behaviour and many other terms; psychology uses the term abnormal behaviour, while criminology uses words: delinquency, criminal behaviour, criminality, violent or sexual offence and many different terminologies specific to criminology. 

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According to Donald Taft, Criminology may be divided into two branches:

a) General and b) Specific

In a general sense, Criminology is the study of crime and criminals. For a specific purpose, it seeks to study criminal behaviour, its goal being to reform the criminal behaviour or conduct of the individual that society condemns.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "Criminology is the scientific study of crime as a social phenomenon or of criminals and their behaviours and family conditions."

Criminology can thus be an academic discipline that employs scientific methodology to study crime, its primary forms, reasons for existence or causation and how the criminal justice system can respond to crime. In its narrower sense, criminology looks at the criminal behaviour of individuals in society and how they come to be perceived as such i.e.their social, cultural and economic background. In the broader sense, it looks at how the criminal is dealt with, e.g. how he is punished and therefore includes penology.


Criminology borrows heavily from other sciences, including biology (genetical makeup of a criminal), psychology) (thinking process of a criminal mind), psychiatry (mental stability and inclination of a criminal), philosophy, general medicine etc.

The foremost pioneer of contemporary, and particularly American, criminology, Edwin Sutherland, offered what has proven to be a lasting definition, which is most often used to describe the field, in his seminal book Principles of Criminology (1939). According to Sutherland, criminology can be defined as follows:

[Criminology is] the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes making laws, breaking laws, and reacting toward the breaking of rules. These processes are three aspects of a somewhat unified sequence of interactions.

It is interesting to note that whereas criminology is typically considered to study the causes and nature of the crime and is often contrasted with criminal justice, which is concerned with the response to the corruption problem, Sutherland's famous definition clearly emphasised the significance of both. Consequently, criminology today is viewed somewhat dichotomously, with theoretical or sociological criminology denoting a focus on crime causation or the aetiology of crime and applied criminology indicating prevention, enforcement, or treatment-oriented work.


So, Criminology is the study of crime, its definitions, causes and consequences. It seeks to understand the functioning of the criminal justice system, our response to crime and the treatment of both victims and those defined as criminals.

Scholarly definition and Argument in Criminology

George Wilber: He argued that anti-social behaviour in society cannot be scientifically interpreted. According to him, general propositions of universal validity are the essence of science. Such propositions can only be made regarding stable and homogenous units. Crime is not a sturdy homogenous unit but varies from place to place and from time to time. What may be regarded as a crime in one jurisdiction may not be a crime in another, e.g. abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Max Weber: A German criminologist. He argued that criminology as a branch of sociology merely researches components of human behaviour without providing solutions, unlike normal sciences. Thus, an analysis of criminal acts without punitive answers exposes a situation without a key and cannot be called a science. 

(What about penology, which offers solutions and arguments for rehabilitation and reintegration into society, decriminalisation, which is advanced by criminologists, is therefore not entirely true that criminology does not provide answers, in any case, do all sciences offer punitive solutions).

Herman Manheim: He belongs to the school that argues that criminology is not a science as it has no techniques and methods and borrows heavily from others, e.g. medicine, psychology, etc. He argues that so far, criminology has developed no scientific methodology; its research techniques are identical to those used in other social sciences.


Ellenberger: In response to Manheim's arguments, His answer is that: - Even amongst the natural sciences, there are some like botany and zoology, which deal with the study of facts that are not strictly unique and individuals,d not deal with general phenomena. Criminology is based on other social sciences, like medicine is based on anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry, etc. Neither medicine nor criminology is purely theoretical. They have a meaning which derives from their practical application. The justification for treatment lies in therapeutics, public health, and criminology in penal reform, penology, and crime prevention.

Subject Matter of Criminology

Criminology is a subject, therefore, deals with:
a) Criminal acts;
b) The criminal;
c) It indirectly deals with the victim of  the crime;
d) Crime causation and theory;
e) Crime prevention and detection of potential offenders;
f) The efficacy of the criminal justice system.


Nature and Scope of Criminology

Criminology is an interdisciplinary field of study involving scholars and practitioners representing a wide range of behavioural and social sciences and numerous natural sciences. Sociologists played a significant role in defining and developing the field of study, and criminology emerged as an academic discipline housed in sociology programs. However, with the establishment of schools of criminology and the proliferation of academic departments and programs concentrating specifically on crime and justice in the last half of the 20 century, criminology emerged as a distinct professional field with a broad, interdisciplinary focus and a shared commitment to generating knowledge through systematic research.

One ultimate goal of criminology has been the development of theories expressed with sufficient precision that they can be tested, using data collected in a manner that allows verification and replication.

As a subdivision of the larger field of sociology, criminology draws on psychology, economics, anthropology, psychiatry, biology, statistics, and other disciplines to explain the causes and prevention of criminal behaviour. Subdivisions of criminology include penology, the study of prisons and prison systems; bio-criminology, the study of the biological basis of criminal conduct; feminist criminology, the study of women and crime; and criminalistics, the study of crime detection, which is related to the field of Forensic Science. Much research related to criminology has focused on the biological basis of criminal behaviour. In fact, bio-criminology attempts to explore the biological basis of criminal behaviour. Research has focused on chromosomal abnormalities, hormonal and brain chemical imbalances, diet, neurological conditions, drugs, and alcohol as variables that contribute to criminal behaviour.


Criminology has historically played a reforming role in Criminal Law and the criminal justice system. As an applied discipline, it has produced findings that have influenced legislators, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, Probation officers, and prison officials, prompting them to better understand crime and criminals and develop better and more human sentences and treatments for criminal behaviour.

Criminologists also study a host of other issues related to crime and the law. These include studies of the Victims of Crime, focusing upon their relations to the criminal and their role as potential causal agents in crime; juvenile delinquency and its correction; and the media and their relation to crime, including the influence of Pornography.

The significance of criminology

Criminology studies crime, criminal behaviour, and the criminal justice system. While this captures the essence of the discipline, there has been considerable debate about what constitutes criminal behaviour and how it differs from other behaviours widely held to be socially deviant. This debate has produced five types of definitions of criminality: natural law explanations, moralistic explanations, labelling explanations, social harm explanations, and legalistic explanations. There are several reasons why criminology is essential:

Criminology aids society in understanding, controlling, and reducing crime. Studying crime aids in discovering and analysing its causes, which can then be used for policies and efforts to reduce crime.

It aids in understanding criminal mindsets: Criminology aids in understanding criminal attitudes, why they commit crimes, and the elements that influence them. This aids in the efficient allocation of resources in the fight against corruption.

Criminal reform: In addition to controlling and reducing crime, criminology can also provide practical strategies for criminal rehabilitation.


You'll discover how crime and criminal behaviour can be influenced. Using accurate local and international statistics, you'll investigate rising crime rates and the "who, what, when, where, and why" of criminal offences.

Crime, criminals, and the legal system are all studied in criminology, including everything from crime detection and prevention to courts and the legal system and jail and rehabilitation programs.

"Depending on your specialisation, you'll learn how to conduct police work, investigate significant crimes, examine key justice system issues like processing and false confessions, and engage with persons who have been through the justice system," adds Dr Keatley.

Dr Keatley believes Murdoch's course provides students with a unique opportunity to understand the motivations and patterns of criminal behaviour in Australia by allowing them to specialise in various areas such as criminal behaviour, white-collar and corporate crime, and legal studies or crime science.

Beyond criminology, you'll gain important communication and writing skills, allowing you to communicate your thoughts to various people, crucial for presenting your case and evidence.

Importance of studying Criminology

The need for the study of criminal science (which includes criminology, penology, and criminal law) essentially emanates out of the psychological apprehension about the insecurity of life, liberty and property of the people. It is the lust for wealth, the satisfaction of baser urges, hatred or suspicion for one another that tends people to follow criminal behaviour and leads them to commit crimes.


The science of criminology, therefore, aims at taking up a case to case studies of different crimes and suggesting measures so as to infuse the feeling of mutual confidence, respect and cooperation among the offenders. The recent penological reforms have achieved considerable success in this direction.

The criminal law has been adequately modified to adapt itself to the modem reformative policies. Liberalisation of punishment for affording greater opportunities for rehabilitation of offenders through intensive after-care programmes has been accepted as the ultimate object of penal justice. Some of the significant attributes of criminology are noted below:

1. The most significant aspect of criminology is its concern for crime and criminals. It presupposes the study of criminals with the basic assumption that no one is born a criminal. It treats reformation as the ultimate object of punishment while individualisation is the method of it. Most criminologists and penologists generally agree that every criminal is corrigible if offered adequate opportunities through treatment methods.

2. As Donald Taft rightly puts it, the study of criminology also offers a background for the profession and an opportunity for social workers. The police, the lawyers, attorneys, judges, jurors, probation officers, detectives and other specialists such as psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists, etc., need perfect knowledge of criminology and administrative machinery for the criminal justice system for their professional pursuits.

3. Criminology also seeks to create conditions conducive to social solidarity in as much as it tries to point out what behaviours are obnoxious and anti-social. It tries to convince the offenders through punitive sanctions that anti-social conduct on their part is bound to entail punishment, misery, misfortune and disrepute in society.

4. The reformative treatment offered to first offenders, juvenile delinquents and insane criminals is intended to reform them as law-abiding members of society. Various correctional methods are devised to achieve this purpose. The ultimate objective is to render a crime-free society as far as possible with a view to attaining social harmony.

5. It is further to be noted that with the advance of scientific knowledge and technology the complexities of life have also considerably multiplied. This has led to an enormous increase in the crime rate and many new crimes which were hitherto altogether unknown, have emerged. Thus, thefts of automobiles, shoplifting, smuggling, cheating, financial scams, bank robberies, scandals, terrorist activities etc., have become too common these days.

6. It is important for lawyers (when dealing with criminal clients it helps to understand their mindset and particular circumstances for purposes of giving proper legal advice as well as for pursuing a logical line of defence), judicial officers (for purposes of awarding appropriate sentencing, it is important for a judicial officer to not only understand the offender, but the society/community’s perceptions and emotions on given offences), law enforcement officers (for purposes of investigations, prosecutions, surveillance and crime prevention, for those holding criminals such as prison officers), social workers, psychologists, etc. to understand the criminal more.

7. It enhances official understanding of criminals, offenders, the types and prevalence of offences committed, generally or specifically by a class of people or in certain localities.  This kind of understanding supported by data is important for crime detection and control.  The government is enabled to plan better in terms of allocation of resources toward fighting different types of crimes.  

8. The ultimate object of criminology is to render a crimeless society. (This is of course a very remote possibility especially considering how crimes are created and the fact that sometimes very legitimate behaviour i.e. changing as drinking is criminalized).


Again, white-collar crimes have attracted the attention of criminologists in recent years. This, in turn, has led criminal law administrators to devise new methods and techniques to tackle these problems through intensive scientific research. Modern computer-related crimes have thrown new challenges before criminal law administrators throughout the world.

Besides internet gambling, online pornography, the menace of drug trafficking through computer shopping and illegal downloading of money in transit are some of the cyber-crimes which are come to light in recent years. Thus, modem criminologists keep themselves acquainted with the new criminological developments and work out strategies to tackle these intricate problems for the protection of society.

Two major aspects to study Criminology

Each discipline is unique and has special value and importance. Some disciplines have value and importance primarily in the theoretical sense, whereas others are important for their practical value. The science of criminology is important and valuable both in practical and theoretical senses. The science of criminology is related to society and society has been likened to an organism. This fact makes plain and evident the value and significance of the science of criminology. The scope of criminology is the various social crimes and disturbances in each and every aspect. As the science of medicine studies various ills and their cures which afflict the human body, in the same manner, criminology studies ills and their cures for society. The value and significance of the science of criminology are theoretical as well as practical. Its theoretical importance lies in the fact that it investigates and determines the cause of social disintegration. The practical or applied aspect of this science is that besides determining the factors and causes of social disintegration, it also studies the ways and means of preventing or eradicating these evils, that is, remedial measures. This multifaceted value and significance of criminology are brought out by the following facts.


The theoretical significance of Criminology

Explaining the theoretical significance of the science of criminology the eminent criminologist Sutherland writes; “This knowledge will contribute to the development of other social studies and through other social studies it will contribute to efficiency in general social control.”

The foregoing observation of Sutherland is extremely significant as it brings into relief the theoretic importance and value of the science of criminology. The chief theoretic benefits of criminology are the following:

Knowledge of Crime-Data

In every social community and group, there are always some criminals and the incidence of crime. It is not humanly possible to bring about an ideal republic or perfect society in which every chance of criminal behaviour has been eliminated. The nature of crime and criminals may undergo sea-change, but the very existence of crime cannot be uprooted. This is not difficult to appreciate. In crime psychosis, we have two kinds of factors: personal and social. It is not possible to eliminate the aggressive and acquisitive tendencies of man and, again, it is equally impossible to eliminate all inequalities and anomalies from any society. 

This is borne out by the fact that even under communist regime crimes are not non-existent. Therefore, given the kinds of men and societies known to man, we can safely say that each society, even a social group, harbours some criminals. A systematic, scientific and unbiased study of criminology furnishes us with factual, true and realistic data about crimes and criminals; this results in an increase in our knowledge. By studying criminology we also learn about the kinds or types of crimes and criminals and also about the 'modus essendi' as well as modus operandi of crimes. This enables us to compile what may be called a taxonomy of crime, that is, an extensive and deep classification of crimes. We also learn about the causes and reasons for criminal are behaviour.


Penal Legislation

The science of......upon the penal legislation, that is, it helps formulation of rational and humane laws regarding crime and punishment. Criminology attempts both extensive and intensive study of crime from all perspectives and by taking into account every possible viewpoint. Thus its analysis and description of crime are scientific, authentic and reliable. This analytical description helps in the determination of the exact causes of various categories of crime, and this information, in turn, helps to formulate preventive and remedial laws regarding crime. Besides helping to make laws, criminology also carries out extensive surveys regarding the impact of various laws on the actual incidence of crime. It is found that particular law, instead of curbing crime, encourages it, and the law is amended in the light of fresh evidence. Thus, the various laws regarding prohibition and narcotics are cases in point. In the light of modern knowledge gained by extensive surveys and in-depth studies, there are proposals to declare suicide not criminal. In Denmark and many other civilized nations, pornography has been declared non-criminal. This has had a salutary impact on society. In England, homosexuality among consenting adults is now no longer criminal. Thus we find that constant review of the relationship between crime and law helps to make penal laws more and more rational and humane. Even in a highly orthodox society like India, abortion has been made non-criminal. There is also growing public opinion in favour of the relaxation of obscenity laws in India. Kissing and nudity on the screen should be permissible in the view of the G. D. Khosla Commission. The rationale behind all such moves is the discovery by Criminologists that the greater the repression of natural instincts, the greater the thwarting of sensuous pleasure, greater is the incidence of perversions and sadistic crimes. It is better to let people decide what is good for them and as long as this “good” does not contravene the rights of others, it must be allowed. From the above discussion, it is plain that the science of criminology goes a long way in rationalizing and humanizing penal legislation.


Information about White-Collar Crime 

To an average man, the nature and number of crimes are quite definite. Asked to enumerate crimes, he will name only murder, assault, dacoity, rape, loot and arson, burglary and theft, sodomy and reduction as the only instances of crime. He may have difficulty appreciating that maltreatment of one’s battles, and bestiality with them are criminal. But he will certainly be baffled if he is told that misuse of power, nepotism etc.; are criminal and equally, if not more, harmful to society than other crimes. However, the not easily recognizable crimes are not considered crimes by an average person because they are committed by a well-to-do, upper-bracket persona and normally involve little violence. But such acts, whosoever may commit them, are very much criminal. For example, if a man earns a huge ransom by letting out the secrets of someone, he is indulging in blackmail. The private secretaries and eyalets of top political and finance magnets usually have access to many intimate secrets and there is a strong temptation to earn big money by the threatening exposure. Many innocent persons are made victims of these vicious commercial malpractices, for example, under-invoicing, graft etc. 

To gain some advantage by the production of false testimonials is an act of forgery and the crime of forgery is quite widespread. Again, sexual abuse of private secretaries is fairly common in advanced countries. All these are white-collar criminals and their crimes are really a criminal activity. The Watergate scandal threatening the office of President Nixon is a classic instance of white-collar crime.


The Practical Importance of Criminology

Apart from having theoretical value and importance, criminology also has much practical use and importance. In the words of Sutherland, “Criminology is concerned with the immediate application of knowledge to the programmes of social control of crime.” Following are some of the specific practical uses of criminology.

Elimination of Crimes

The elimination of crime is one of the specific aims of criminology. It helps society in controlling and eliminating crime both directly and indirectly. It is most obvious that if one knows the cause of a malady, its cure becomes easy. It is a truism in medical practice that correct diagnosis is more than half the cure. The same holds good in regard to the phenomenon of crime. With the knowledge of the causes of the crime, we can undertake specific measures to remove them. 


Helpful in understanding the Psychology of the Criminal

Criminology is practical study. With the help of its knowledge, we can easily assess the attitudes and opinions of the criminals. The study of criminology helps us to pinpoint the factors responsible for the various crimes, that is, we learn how a particular crime is generated. Thereby we are able to correlate a specific crime with a specific set of circumstances. Apart from learning about the psychology of crime, the knowledge of criminology helps us to classify the criminals, that is, we are enabled to correlate personal factors like age, family and social background, education and physical environs, and physical and mental traits with different types of crime. Thus, for example, it may be revealed traits with different types of crime. Thus, for example, it may be revealed that sexual crimes are committed, contrary to the general impression, by persons with low sex drive rather than by highly-sexed persons. A prostitute-monger may be consorting with different women so as to cover up the self-consciousness and guilt over inadequate performance or he may be doing so in order to receive the thrill of personal quirks and varied techniques of arousal exercise by the professional sex vendors. These facts make it abundantly clear that the study of criminology goes a long way in helping us to appreciate the psychology of crime and criminals.


Reforms of Criminals 

Besides controls, prevention and elimination of crime, it is the important task and responsibility of the science of criminology to devise and suggests measures for the reforms and rehabilitation of the criminal. For example, to wean a prostitute from the sale of her bodily wares, we must know how and why she has taken to this profession. In societies that do not stigmatize such persons and are prepared to accept them, the task is relatively easy. Again, it is easy if the prostitute has taken to this profession from economic hardships and other compulsions but is disgusted with what she is doing. But if, on the contrary, either the society is orthodox or the prostitutes like and enjoy what they are doing, the task of reform is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Reforms of Evil Forces

Every society is under the influence of certain evil forces and their removal is the concern of every well-meaning member of society. The science of criminology helps us a great deal in appreciating and understanding these evil forces and, thus, enables us to devise ways and means for the effective check of those forces.


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