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The Connection Between Criminal Studies and Politics


The development of criminological theory occurs with the transformation of the political and social system. Since the judicial system is an instrument for ensuring public order and stability, it primarily responds to the current needs of society. Historically, the criminological theory has shifted its focus from studying crime and its causes to developing critical criminology, which problematizes the system.

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This view is associated with the proliferation of more liberal individual ideas that view the member of society as a holistic entity responsible for society. This development process also correlates with the increasing complexity of political systems, which seek not to unify but to diversify society (Miller & Wozniak, 2017). Thus, political authority has always been the basis for determining the direction of the development of criminology, which can be traced to its historical development.

Criminology Theories

Criminology is based on ideas and constantly transforms with them. This process is continuously associated with political events, as the focus of public and political attention is gradually shifting. This transformation is well traced through the study of the history of the development of criminology and those ideas that served as triggers for change. The transition from the rationality and expertise of the Enlightenment to a more liberal narrative focusing on individual values allows judging that not only the view of criminology but also its functions have transformed. Crime is seen as a form of violation of social order, which needs a legal framework.

However, depending on the ideas that dominate society, there is a choice of criminological tools that could meet its needs. Different pieces of legislation are designed to prevent or control crime rates using different techniques.

Criminological research throughout the history of its development has been associated with the perception of crime within the political system. The basis of criminology is the ideas of the Enlightenment, which subsequently determined how the view of crime was formed. Classical criminology or deterrence criminology theory is based on the ideas of the Enlightenment about human rationality (CRI389). The main idea of that time was the intention to make crime an irrational act in society. This assumption is based on the belief that criminals are extremely rational actors who constantly calculate profits.

Therefore, “lawmakers must ensure that the pleasure derived from crime is outweighed by the pain of punishment” (Brisman et al., 2017). The second important idea that influenced the formation of the early criminological system is the notion that humans are reformable (CRI389). The interaction of these two points made it possible to create prisons that were aimed at both punishment and behavior correction.

Nevertheless, the created system did not appear to be effective since, despite the irrationality of the crime and the methods of correcting deviations, no significant changes occurred. In response to this situation, positive criminology arose, which explained crimes through the structural characteristics of a person (Brisman et al., 2017). This theory has led to the development of criminology in relation to the analysis of the causes of crimes rather than its fact. The new view suggested that “good policy involves understanding the causes of crime and tailoring the operation of government and the criminal justice system in line with this knowledge” (CRI389, p. 5).

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Within the framework of these ideas, crime becomes a violation of the social contract that ensures the comfort of society. Crime has become a public concern, making it one of the most important agendas in political discourse (Fairchild & Webb, 1984). This situation led to the development of administrative criminology, focusing on “preventing crime towards reducing and manipulating opportunities for it” (Mayhew, 2016, p. 1). This approach is at the heart of considering the criminological system and government as the basis for the effective diminution of crime.

Critical Criminology

Administrative criminology viewed government as a source of control and prevention of crime and stabilization of public order. However, within the framework of this theory, crime and criminals were still the central focus of researchers and lawmakers. After the Second World War, a different approach to criminology began to develop, which is based on the problematization of the criminal justice system, not crimes (CRI389). Within the framework of these ideas, many directions have arisen that consider the system from the point of view of various social aspects. Pavlich (2001) notes that, for example, deviance critique seeks to “problematize dominant (normal) patterns of academic knowledge to contemplate alternative social interactions” (p. 154).

The same goals are pursued by other areas of critical criminology, which, through the analysis of the historical context, seek contradictions in the theory that would explain the presence of alternative possibilities “to current patterns of beings” (Pavlich, 2001, p. 159). note that this discourse is opposed to conventional criminological notions, which are based on neo-classical and positive principles. This diversity of views, which had formed within criminal justice, now needed a more progressive agenda.

Later ideas that affected the development of criminology were based on the needs of individuals to a greater extent. The most influential for the new stage of criminological study were the ideas of Foucault. Foucault viewed criminology as a self-critical discipline that is based on government interventions (CRI389). These concepts, in turn, return to the ideas of Enlightenment about expertise and rationality but do not repeat them completely.

This view is based on the recognition of the identity of a member of society as an entity capable of self-regulation and self-surveillance. Since the progressive era of criminology was marked by bureaucratic complications and the emancipation of the judicial system from the political, modern criminology must be based not only on politics but also on public control (Fairchild & Webb, 1984). In particular, Foucault does not offer a methodology for reforming the existing order but describes the philosophical foundations for its construction. The new system can be built on individual rationality, within which criminology is an advisory function.

Foucault Ideas

Foucault presents a logical but, at the same time, oppositional view of the adopted system. Previously, criminology was concerned with the study of human behavior and functioning on the basis of these observations. In the new system, “power emerged as a set of relations, apparatuses, knowledge, techniques, architectures, and so on that came to be epitomized by discipline” (O’Malley & Valverde, 2014, p. 317). In the modern world, people can receive information from criminologists and, on the basis of this data, shape their behavior. In particular, they can act as individual experts in guiding their own lives (CRI389). This view is similar to critical criminology but touches on the more internal aspects of society, which uses politics to create order rather than being governed by it.

Criminology and Ideology

Thus, the development of criminology is based on the interaction of historical and political contexts. Different views on crime and the role of the criminal system are fundamental aspects of the transformation of criminological research. Critical criminology is the most important factor in the development of this field, as it allows one to determine the goals and effects of criminology. In particular, it considers how society, politics, and criminology are related. In association with ideology and political regimes, criminology is both a tool and a reflection of the existing system.

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In this respect, the main division is the focus of the consideration of this area. In particular, depending on the political regime, the focus of the subject of criminology also changes. For example, within a more liberal ideology, criminology may pay more attention more on individual needs and interaction between society and the judicial system. With a more realistic ideology, criminology comes to the fore as a tool for controlling society rather than studying it. The political regime thus shapes the research agenda of criminology and which aspects are most significant from the moral standpoint (Menzies & Chunn, 1999).

Parallels can also be drawn with the system of self-government that Foucault describes. The judicial system can be used to develop social discipline within which each member of society takes responsibility for preventing crime on an individual level. Ideology, in this case, can act as a determinant of what will be the basis of this discipline. It can be a collective consciousness and responsibility for others, or a focus on individual security, which also influences the formation of a criminological system.


The connection between politics and criminological theory is clearly traced in the history of the development of this field. From a system of rationalizing crime in society, it has progressed to a structure that can respond to the behavioral patterns of members of society. In particular, this is due to the individualization and diversification of society, which needs more flexible and complex tools to ensure order. Political power, in this case, has transformed from the legislator of the norm to the observer of public discipline.


Brisman, A., Carrabine, E., & South, N. (2018). The Routledge companion to criminological theory and concepts. Taylor & Francis.

CRI389: Rights, freedoms and responsibilities in criminal law. Class 9.

Fairchild, E. S., & Webb, V. J. (1984). The politics of crime and criminal justice. Publications Archives, 1963-2000, 97, 1-236.

Mayhew, P. (2016). In defence of administrative criminology. Crime Science, 7, 1-10. Web.

Menzies, R., & Chunn, D. E. (1999). Discipline in dissent: Canadian academic criminology at the millennium. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 285-297. Web.

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Miller, L. L., & Wozniak, K. H. (2017). Criminology and political science. Oxford Bibliographies. Web.

O’Malley, P., & Valverde, M. (2014). Foucault, criminal law and the govermentalization of the state. In M. Dubber (ed.), Foundational texts in modern criminal law (pp.317-334). Oxford University Press.

Pavlich, G. (2001). Critical genres and radical criminology in Britain. The British Journal of Criminology, 41(1), 150-167. Web.

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