Criminology How to Create a Criminal


The following statements are based on the sub-modules HS 1.3.2: Crime analysis and police crime prevention as well as HS 2.1.2: Perpetrators, victims and prognoses

What is criminology?

Criminology is derived from the Latin word 'crimen' (crime) and the Greek word 'logos' (teaching). The "invention" of the term criminology (here: criminologia) is the Italian scholar Raffaele Garofalo who wrote the book "Criminologia: Studio sul Delitto, Sulle sue Cause e sui Mezzi di Repressione" published.

The British criminologist David Garland (2002) states that the historically relatively young discipline of criminology can be characterized by two essential core areas. On the one hand, this is a "governmental project"And on the other hand the"Lombrosian project". Behind the first-mentioned category is a criminology that is dedicated to administrative purposes and records the development of crime in empirical studies and evaluates the work of state institutions such as prisons or the police.

The Lombrosian project goes to the Italian psychiatrist and prison doctor Cesare Lombroso back, who is considered the founder of an empirically founded (positivistic) criminology. Through studies on prisoners, Lombroso wanted to determine the nature of criminals and thus record the causes of crime (see below). Garland also notes that in recent times these two areas have increasingly overlapped and grown together.

Definition I.

Criminology can therefore first be defined as the doctrine of crime.
Criminological knowledge is created both theoretically and empirically (i.e. in the form of scientific studies).

The Latin word crimp not only stands for crime, but can also be translated as indictment or accusation (it derives from cernere - choose, decide - from). Criminology is therefore not only concerned with behaviors that we perceive as crimes, but also with the question of which behaviors, when and why are perceived as criminal. These two perspectives become clearer when we look more closely at the subject of criminology.

What is the subject of criminology? - The concept of crime

The concept of crime from a legal perspective

At first glance, the question of what a crime is seems easy to answer: namely, any act that violates a criminal law. In Germany this is regulated in Section 12 of the Criminal Code. Here it says:

Section 12 Crimes and Offenses

  1. Crimes are unlawful acts with a minimum of one year or more imprisonment.
  2. Offenses are unlawful acts that are at least threatened with a lesser prison sentence or with a fine.
  3. Sharpening or moderation, which are provided for in accordance with the provisions of the general section or for particularly severe or less severe cases, are not considered for the classification.

Laws on the internet

If you now look at individual legal norms, it is clear that, for example, counterfeiting (imprisonment not less than one year) is a crime, pimping (imprisonment from six months to five years) is an offense, etc.
Acts that are not covered by any law (e.g. feeding gremlins after midnight) can be subject to the rule of law nulla poena sine lege following, do not represent a crime or misdemeanor.

Despite its unambiguity, this criminal criminal term is insufficient from a criminological point of view.

The concept of crime from a criminological perspective

The initially plausible definition of crime under the Criminal Code - also known as the formal crime term - but needs to be further differentiated if one considers the subject of criminology - that is, the crime. We all use the term and it initially makes sense to us without us reflecting further on the meaning. If asked to define what a crime is, that person would likely conclude that a crime is an act that violates a criminal law. This legalistic approach, although it can be found in many criminology books, is useless; after all, this definition means that no crime can exist if there were no criminal law. Certain acts, however, seem to us to have a great injustice that, even without legal background knowledge, we would rate these acts as evil, morally reprehensible or unjust. This question refers to the so-called. natural crime termwhich is based on the question of whether there are actions that have been viewed as morally bad and reprehensible at all times and in all cultures. Raffaele Garofalo has already dealt with this question and asked whether not delicta male per se of delicta mere prohibita would have to be distinguished. The former category includes actions that are inherently bad (times, Latin: bad, bad, immoral), while the delicta mere prohibita (prohibita(Latin: forbidden) denote actions that are forbidden and whose meaning is congruent with the formal term of crime. But even this distinction turns out to be useless on closer consideration. Even in the case of a homicide, the moral judgment about the act and the perpetrator does not always turn out to be clear from all perspectives. For example, the verdict on a so-called honor killing is very different depending on the cultural point of view. From the perspective of the perpetrators and their families, this is an honorable act that is capable of restoring the tainted dignity of the family. However, in the eyes of most members of Western societies, honor killing is considered a vile act. Despite their (apparent) sharpness in defining the formal and the natural concept of crime, these definitions prove to be unsuitable when it comes to defining the subject area of ​​criminology. A clear definition extension of the subject area is required here, as described in the so-called material or sociological concept of crime Applies. All actions that are considered socially harmful and deviant fall after this.

The table below compares the advantages and disadvantages of the different crime terms.

Crime Term
Crime Term
material / sociological
Crime Term
objectbased on the legal definition of crimes / offenses
(in Germany: StGB)
oriented to morality
(delicta male per se)
oriented towards deviant behavior
Benefitsdefinitional selectivity(supposed) universal validityBroad term that enables cross-cultural and historical comparisons (de- / criminalization)
criticismtoo narrow, as only actions that are currently punishable are made the subjectuniversal validity of delicta male per se questionable lack of definitional selectivity

Crime as a result of social attributions

But where is the line between actions that are criminal and actions that are simply undesirable? What quality do actions have to have in order for them to be considered a crime, misdemeanor or merely socially undesirable? Whose value judgment do we take into account - that of the majority of society, that of the smartest, richest, loudest members of a community?

Crime has no ontological reality, so no fixed and unchangeable nature. Unlike, for example, a table, which can be described as a physically present object by a table top, four table legs and an established purpose and use, the term crime is one Attribution. The table has its own "table-like" character - regardless of whether it is designated or used as such. A crime, on the other hand, only becomes a criminal offense through the designation and that people behave accordingly. Certain acts are called a crime or criminal. However, this is not a quality of the corresponding actions per se and not a judgment that can be deduced a priori. The acts that are designated as crimes are subject to historical and cultural change. Crimes are therefore social constructs. This thought, which may initially appear abstract, becomes clear when we look at examples:

  • From 1920 to 1933, alcohol prophylaxis was in force in the USA. The manufacture, transport and sale of alcohol were prohibited. Anyone who circumvented prohibition committed a crime and was threatened with punishment. Despite the prohibitions, many Americans did not want to give up alcohol and found themselves in so-called whisper bars (speakeasy), which illegally served alcohol or burned their own schnapps (moonshine). The supply of the willing to drink Americans turned out to be a financially lucrative field of employment for them Organized crime. Men like Meyer Lanski or Al Capone became rich through alcohol smuggling and became public enemies across the country.
    From today's perspective, alcohol prohibition is difficult to imagine. Alcohol consumption is widespread in our culture and a ban would be difficult to enforce (just as it was eighty years ago in the United States). Based on the example, however, it becomes clear that it is not the intrinsic quality of an act (drinking alcohol) that constitutes a crime, but the social attribution (alcohol is bad, ergo: alcohol is prohibited from now on).

  • Other examples show that a cultural change has also taken place in Germany, which is reflected, among other things, in a change in actions that were or are perceived as crimes.
    Section 175 of the Criminal Code, which existed from 1871 to 1994, made homosexual acts between men a criminal offense. In the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, during the Nazi era and also in the Federal Republic of Germany, tens of thousands of men were criminalized, persecuted, punished and (during the Nazi era) deported to concentration camps. It is obvious that sexual preference is not a crime per se. A look at history shows that moral ideas are often the subject of social controversy and continuous change in the area of ​​sexuality (e.g. so-called pleasure boys - puer delicatus, but also with regard to prostitution, extramarital relationships, polyamory, etc.).

This perspective on crimes as the result of an attribution process is particularly widespread in so-called critical criminology. In contrast to an etiological perspective, which is in the tradition of the Lombrosian project (see above), the labeling or labeling approach developed in the 1950s and 60s. Here crime is not viewed as a consequence of an individual pathology, but the focus on that criminalization deviant behavior.

Definition II

Criminology is the body of knowledge regarding juvenile delinquency and crime as social phenomena. It includes within its scope the processes of making laws, of breaking laws, and of reacting towards the breaking of laws. These processes are three aspects of a somewhat unified sequence of interactions.

(Sutherland & Cressey, 1978, p. 3)

In summary, it can be said that criminology, as a doctrine of crime, deals with all behaviors that are viewed as socially deviant. This includes historical and cross-cultural perspectives on the different and changing normative standards (criminalization and decriminalization).

Does the typical criminal exist?

Our knowledge about crime is essentially based on two sources: on the one hand, on official crime statistics and, on the other hand, on surveys of perpetrators and victims, which are examined in the course of so-called dark field research. The international state of criminological research on crime is summarized by the Australian criminologist John Braithwaite in the following 13 theses:

  1. Crime is committed disproportionately by males.
  2. Crime is perpetrated disproportionately by 15-25 year olds.
  3. Crime is committed disproportionately by unmarried people.
  4. Crime is committed disproportionately by people living in large cities.
  5. Crime is committed disproportionately by people who have experienced high residential mobility and who live in areas characterized by high residential mobility.
  6. Young people who are strongly attached to their school are less likely to engage in crime.
  7. Young people who have high educational and occupational aspirations are less likely to engage in crime.
  8. Young people who do poorly at school are more likely to engage in crime.
  9. Young people who are strongly attached to their parents are less likely to engage in crime.
  10. Young people who have friendships with criminals are more likely to engage in crime themselves.
  11. People who believe strongly in complying with the law are less likely to violate the law.
  12. For both men and women, being at the bottom of the class structure - whichever measured by personal socioeconomic status, socioeconomic status of the area of ​​residence, being unemployed or belonging to an oppressed racial minority - increases rates of crime offending for all types of apart from those for which opportunities are systematically less available to the poor.
  13. Crime rates have been increasing since the Second World War in most countries, developed and developing. The only case of a country which has been clearly shown to have had a falling crime rate in this period is Japan.

(Braithwaite, 1989, pp. 44-49; quoted here from: Walklate, 2007, p. 8)

Founding fathers of criminology

Criminology is a comparatively young science, the exact "hour of birth" of which cannot be precisely determined. In criminological textbooks, however, a number of founding fathers are always named, whose work can be viewed from today's perspective as the cornerstone of the discipline of criminology. The most important personalities and their work and ideas are outlined below.

Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) was an Italian legal philosopher and criminal law reformer. Characterized by the Age of Enlightenment, Beccaria appears in his main work "Dei delitti e delle pene" (German: "Of the crimes and the punishments") advocate legal principles such as the proportionality of the penalty, the abolition of the death penalty and an end to torture. Beccaria's work could today be assigned to the criminological sub-discipline of poenology. His ideas had a lasting impact on European legal history. Beccaria is considered a representative of the so-called. Classical school of criminology. This school of thought is characterized by utilitarianism as a purpose-oriented ethic. According to this, action is to be advocated if the benefit outweighs the whole.

The Briton Jeremy Bentham, another representative of the classical school of criminology, described the good as "the greatest happiness of the greatest number". The individual is out to maximize his personal benefit. Therefore man would always try to increase his personal benefit and avoid suffering. Bentham advocated a criminal policy based on utilitarianism, for which the deterrent character of a high threat of punishment as well as the sanctioning itself is characteristic. At the same time, Bentham rejected the death penalty as inhuman. Bentham also advocated reform of the penal system. He designed the Panopticon as a penal institution perfecting surveillance.

It was not until half a century after Beccaria that the Italian jurist and legal scholar made his mark Raffaele Garofalo by publishing his book "Criminologia: Studio sul Delitto, Sulle sue Cause e sui Mezzi di Repressione " (1885) used the term criminology. Garafalo was a student with the Italian coroner and psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso (1835 – 1909).

Lombroso's merit for criminology lies in the establishment of the so-called Positive school of criminologywho advocated empirically based criminology. Using the medical / scientific methods at his disposal, Lombroso systematically investigated convicted criminals to whom he had access as a prison doctor. In his major work published in 1876 L’Uomo delinquente (The criminal) he was of the opinion that criminals had psychological and mental anomalies, which also showed up in certain physical features and were also hereditary. Because of this biological disposition, criminals are to be distinguished from respectable citizens. His research results are known today as the anthropological (anthropogenetic) theory of crime and his assumption of the “born criminal”, which was controversially discussed during his lifetime (now rejected), is the subject of every criminology textbook.

Even during Lombroso's lifetime, the biological determinism he postulated was controversial. Especially French scientist from the field of doctors and criminologists Alexandre Lacassagne advocated the thesis that it is social environmental factors that are responsible for crime. Laccassagne coined the phrase "Every society has the criminals it deserves." Criminology was shaped by the quarrel between the so-called Italian school and the so-called French school. While the first-mentioned crime attributed solely to individual factors and a biological predetermination, the representatives of the French school believed that only the social environment would exert a physiological influence on the brain.

The Austrian-born lawyer who teaches in Germany Franz von Liszt finally settled this dispute with the so-called unification thesis of peace. Von Liszt advocated onePlant environment formula, according to which the crime is the result on the one hand of the character of the perpetrator and on the other hand of the external influences surrounding him at the time of the crime.

Timeline on the history of criminology

Criminology in the context of forensic science

Alongside criminology, criminology is one of the non-legal criminal sciences. This allows criminology and criminalistics to be distinguished from legal criminal sciences (e.g. criminal law and other areas of law).

legal criminal sciences e.g.non-legal criminal science
Criminal lawCriminology
Criminal Procedure Lawcriminology

Both criminology and forensics deal with crime. But while the criminologist is primarily concerned with solving crimes, the criminologist devotes himself to researching the causes, identifying reasons for becoming a criminal and dealing with processes of social norms change.

Sub-disciplines of criminology

Criminology is divided into different sub-disciplines, whereby the distinction here is not always clear and there are overlaps between individual sub-disciplines.

Sub-disciplines of criminology
(Criminal) phenomenologyDoctrine of the manifestations of crime
(Criminal) etiologyDoctrine of the Causes of Crime (see here)
Crime statisticsDoctrine of the dissemination / statistical recording (see here)
VictimologyDoctrine of the victim and the effect of his behavior (see here)
Criminal psychologyOffender psychology
Criminal PsychiatryForensic psychiatry - treatment of the perpetrator
Instance researchStructure, effectiveness and work of institutions in the fight against crime (see here)
PoenologyDoctrine of punishments, their nature and effect
Criminal geographyDoctrine of the factors influencing geography on crime

Sources and general introductory literature

  • Braithwaite, J. (1989). Crime, shame and reintegration. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bruinsma, G. & Weisburd, D. (2014) Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. New York and others: Springer.
  • Garland, D. (2002) Of crime and criminals: The development of criminology in Britain. In: Maguire, M .; Morgan, R. & Reiner, R. (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (3rd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Hayward, K., Maruna, S., & Money, J. (Eds.). (2010). Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology. New York: Routledge.
  • Kaiser, G. (1997) Kriminologie (10th ed.). Heidelberg: C.F. Müller.
  • Kaiser / Kerner / Sack / Schellhoss (eds.) (1993) Small criminological dictionary (3rd edition). Heidelberg: C.F. Müller.
  • Klimke, D. & Legnaro, A. (Eds.) (2016) Basic criminological texts. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  • Kunz, K.-L. (2011). Criminology: A Foundation (6th Edition). Stuttgart: UTB.
  • Neubacher, F. (2017) Kriminologie (3rd ed.). Baden-Baden: Nomos.
  • Newburn, T. (2017) Criminology (3rd ed.). London, New York: Routledge.
  • Pientka, M. (2014) Criminal Sciences II. Munich: C. H. Beck.
  • Sutherland, E. H. & Cressey, D. R. (1978). Criminology (10 ed.). Philadelphia, New York, San Jose, Toronto: J.B. Lippincott Company.
  • Walklate, S. (2007). Understanding criminology. Current theoretical debates. (3rd ed.). New York: Open University Press.

Additional information

Criminologia blog

Criminological and criminological research center of the LKA NRW


Crime media

Link collection Kriminologie / Criminology and Criminal Justice Links (curated by the Institute for Criminology at the University of Tübingen)


Category: CriminologyTags: Cesare Beccaria, History of Criminology, Criminology, Lombroso