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Toward a Unified Criminology

Toward a Unified Criminology: Integrating Assumptions about Crime, People and Society

Robert Agnew
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Toward a Unified Criminology
    Book Description:

    Why do people commit crimes? How do we control crime? The theories that criminologists use to answer these questions are built on a number of underlying assumptions, including those about the nature of crime, free will, human nature, and society. These assumptions have a fundamental impact on criminology: they largely determine what criminologists study, the causes they examine, the control strategies they recommend, and how they test their theories and evaluate crime-control strategies. In Toward a Unified Criminology, noted criminologist Robert Agnew provides a critical examination of these assumptions, drawing on a range of research and perspectives to argue that these assumptions are too restrictive, unduly limiting the types of "crime" that are explored, the causes that are considered, and the methods of data collection and analysis that are employed. As such, they undermine our ability to explain and control crime. Agnew then proposes an alternative set of assumptions, drawing heavily on both mainstream and critical theories of criminology, with the goal of laying the foundation for a unified criminology that is better able to explain a broader range of crimes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0790-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 A Divided Criminology
    (pp. 1-11)

    This book is about the underlying assumptions that criminologists make about the nature of crime, people, society, and reality. I describe the assumptions that different groups of criminologists make in each of these areas, noting that they are often opposed. For example, some criminologists assume that people are naturally self-interested; others that they are socially concerned; and still others that they are “blank slates,” shaped by their social environment. This opposition makes it impossible to integrate the different approaches in criminology or develop a unified criminology. I draw on recent work from several disciplines to suggest an alternative set of...

  5. 2 The Scope of the Discipline: What Is Crime?
    (pp. 12-43)

    Simon Pemberton (2007:27–28), a critical criminologist, discusses his visit to the American Society of Criminology (ASC) meetings in the following quote, with the ASC being the leading organization for academic and research criminologists in the world.

    It was my first visit to the ASC, as well as my first visit to Los Angeles. . . . The ASC meetings should not have surprised me—I had been forewarned. However, there is probably no better place than the discipline’s largest annual conference to confirm your suspicions about its parlous condition . . . . During the conference one afternoon, I...

  6. 3 Determinism versus Agency: Is Crime the Result of Forces beyond the Individual’s Control or Free Choice?
    (pp. 44-71)

    Once criminologists have described the nature of crime, they are in a better position to examine its causes and make recommendations for its control. In particular, what causes individuals and groups to intentionally harm others without legitimate justification or excuse, to risk public condemnation, and/or to risk state sanction? Related to this, what actions can be taken to reduce such behavior? The answers given to these questions depend on the assumptions that criminologists make about the nature of individuals and society. This chapter focuses on the assumptions that criminologists make regarding the ultimate origin of crime: do individuals freely choose...

  7. 4 The Nature of Human Nature: Are People Self-Interested, Socially Concerned, or Blank Slates?
    (pp. 72-117)

    Given that crime is at least partly caused by forces beyond the individual’s control, it is critical to ask about the nature of these forces. In particular, what individual and environmental forces increase the likelihood of crime? There are literally thousands of characteristics thatmightimpact crime. These characteristics include aspects of the individual’s biology (e.g., physical size and strength, level of lead in the body, heart rate). They also include psychological factors (e.g., cognitive abilities, emotions, personality traits, beliefs and values, goals, identities). They include the many components of the social environment (e.g., family, school, work, peer, religious, neighborhood,...

  8. 5 The Nature of Society: Is Society Characterized by Consensus or Conflict?
    (pp. 118-166)

    Criminologists not only make assumptions about the nature of people but about the nature of society as well. Some assume that society is characterized byconsensus. People hold similar values, have compatible interests or goals, and generally get along. Others assume that society is characterized byconflict. People in different groups hold different values, have incompatible interests, and often harm one another as they promote their values and pursue their interests.¹ Not surprisingly, these assumptions also have a large effect on the causes of crime that are considered and on the crime control policies that are recommended.

    To elaborate, criminologists...

  9. 6 The Nature of Reality: Is There an Objective Reality That Can Be Accurately Measured?
    (pp. 167-190)

    Previous chapters have dealt with the assumptions that criminologists make about the nature of crime, people, and society. As indicated, these assumptions have a fundamental impact on the causes of crime that are considered and the crime control strategies that are recommended. Once these causes and strategies are identified, criminologists must determine whether they affect crime. This is accomplished through a process of empirical research, with criminologists collecting and analyzing data from the larger world. Criminologists, however, take two rather different approaches to the collection and analysis of data, and these different approaches are rooted in the different assumptions they...

  10. 7 A Unified Criminology
    (pp. 191-202)

    I began this book by stating that criminology is a divided discipline, comprised of theories and perspectives that are at odds with one another. These theories and perspectives focus on different types of crime, identify different causes, employ different methods, and/or make different recommendations for controlling crime. Criminologists have responded to this division in several ways. They test these theories and perspectives, hoping to identify those that are true and those that are false. As Bernard and Snipes (1996) point out, this effort has largely failed: one would be hard pressed to identify a theory that has been falsified. Most...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 203-216)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-240)
  13. Name Index
    (pp. 241-248)
  14. Subject Index
    (pp. 249-252)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 253-253)