Defining American and European Criminology

Posted on May 21, 2012 by


How Others See Me

What is a criminologist, anyway?

Put away your grin, wiseacre, if you were planing to say, “someone who practices or studies criminology.”

As a member of the American Society of Criminology, the largest and most respected professional organization of criminologists in the world, I receive a subscription to ASC’s newsletter titled The Criminologist. Normally, there’s a feature article with academic-y, ivory tower kinds of ruminations, along with news and happenings in the field, job listings, and teaching tips for the professorial types.

Occasionally, there’s a tantalizing morsel of awesome-sauce.

Buried in the May-June 2012 issue is a worthwhile discussion of what it means to be a criminologist. Miklós Lévay and Henrik Tham, of the European Society of Criminologists, compare the definitions of criminology from our respective organizations.

ESC definition: “The term criminology, as used in this Constitution, refers to all scholarly, scientific and professional knowledge concerning the explanation, prevention, control and treatment of crime and delinquency, offenders and victims, including the measurement and detection of crime, legislation and the practice of criminal law, and law enforcement, judicial, and correctional systems.”

ASC definition: “The American Society of Criminology is an international organization whose members pursue scholarly, scientific and professional knowledge concerning the measurement, etiology, consequences, prevention, control and treatment of crime and delinquency.”

On the whole, Lévay and Tham conclude that we’re largely talking about the same thing from our respective shorelines of the great planetary pond.  But they also argue for some differences.

  • Americans have a stronger emphasis on criminal justice (think: nuts and bolts of the system)
  • Americans have a stronger emphasis on evidence-based criminology
  • There is greater attention paid to race and ethnicity in the United States
  • Europeans pay more attention to history and structural causes of crime
  • Criminologists in Europe play a greater role in policy development
  • Europeans are conscious of the East and Central European states, and how criminology and political ideology intersect

There are, of course, many potential avenues for fruitful collaborations between European and American criminologists.  These relationships haven’t developed very well over the years, not just because of language and cultural differences, but because crime is so fundamentally different here and there.  The American criminal ecology is, when viewed from a global stage, bizarre.

Our best hope for collaboration is through comparative criminology, in which we might, just might, learn a lesson or two about how to fix the madhouse currently known as the American criminal justice system.


Related articles:

Posted in: Academia