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Oxford University Press - Online Resource Centres

Hale et al: Criminology 3e

Chapter 1: Chapter synopses

As an intellectual discipline, criminology is often compromised by disputes over its fundamental object of study. Do the terms crime, criminal and criminality refer to 'real entities', in the sense that they exist in the 'real' world in verifiable forms, or are they created by social norms or more rigid legal definitions? If the second case is true, does this mean that criminology lacks a firm foundation, and therefore is it liable to be reduced to the status of ideology or cultural artefact?

In a bid to make sense of the diversity of opinions, definitions and perspectives that surround the question ?what is crime?? this chapter introduces some of the complex interrelationships surrounding the various ways that crime is constructed and objectified.  It sets out some of the different perspectives that people actually take towards defining crime in practice. Many of the issues outlined and discussed in this chapter are picked up in the substantive chapters that follow.

Key themes explored:

  1. How crime is defined ? confronting events and understanding processes
  2. The politics of criminology and the definition of crime
  3. Social construction
  4. Beyond nation-state definitions of crime

In our increasingly globalised world, definitions of crime have become ever more pluralistic, even nebulous. Understanding these different definitions and features of contrasting conceptions of the human condition may provide some orientation for the future.