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Week 1: Introduction to Comparative Criminology

Page history last edited by Belinda Child 5 months ago

This project is an initiative between Franklin University and the University Centre at Blackburn College that offers all of its participants the chance to engage with comparative criminology and criminal justice education. Researchers and scholars working in this field seek the knowledge and understanding for answering the BIG questions in the academic discipline of criminal justice/criminology, such as: “can studying criminal justice comparatively help in reducing crime?” (Nelken, 2017: 417).


In trying to answer such challenging questions, scholars may take an interest in studying differences in social, political and legal culture. These differences can inform perceptions of crime which in turn, influence the role of criminal justice agencies in responding to it.


Throughout this project we hope you reflect on the following stimulus: to what extent do known differences in legal, political and social culture influence perceptions of crime and its responses from criminal justice agencies?


How does comparative criminal justice seek enhanced knowledge and understanding?


This question is something to remember as this project aims to develop the abilities needed for answering these two questions of perceptions and responses in both the USA and UK. A classic text in this area is “Comparative Criminology”, as written by Hermann Mannheim in 1965. It has been widely acknowledged for recognising the importance of the proximities between the approaches of both countries with regard to researching about crime: 


"The text which heralded British criminology’s coming of age was Herman Mannheim’s remarkable two-volume Comparative criminology published in 1965, in which he draws  heavily from the flourishing American sociology of crime and deviance and begins the reconnection with classical sociology" (Young, 2003: 98). 


Mannheim’s text was published in two volumes with the second now available as an open access resource at:




Young’s article was published in the academic journal Punishment & Society which is an international, interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal. It is a well-respected journal that publishes research and scholarship on issues dealing with punishment, penal institutions and penal control. The article from Young (2003) attested to the enhancement of research potential by engaging in comparative inquiries. It is therefore hoped the Franklin/Blackburn project will provide you with experience of ‘doing transnational criminology’:


"Critical analysis of similarities and differences [that] helps to produce richer theories with stronger external validity and wider applicability (Mannheim 1965, Sheptycki and Wardak 2005, Larsen and Smandych 2008, Nelken 2009). Transnational criminology goes beyond comparative analysis to explore problems that do not belong exclusively in one place or another and can therefore only be understood by analysing linkages between places. The key to this is the observation that things happening in one locality are increasingly shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa (Held and McGrew 2002). Transnational networks have become more extensive, intensive and faster-flowing as the world economy has integrated and as transport and telecommunications technologies have created a sense of global interconnectedness (ibid.). It is a fair assumption that growing world trade has been accompanied by an increasing global flow of illicit goods and services and of the people buying and selling them (Bowling 2008). Global interconnectedness through travel, trade and telecommunication creates new opportunities for illegality and criminal conspiracy, but it also opens up new possibilities for cooperation and collaboration among criminal justice agents and criminologists" (Bowling, 2011: 2).


This extract is taken from a chapter in “What is Criminology?” which is a book edited by Mary Bosworth and Carolyn Hoyle. The book was published in 2011 and Bowling’s chapter is also available at: http://www.academia.edu/590461/Transnational_Criminology_and_the_Globalization_of_Harm_Production


The global connections referred to above, facilitate new methods of education and so the teamwork required from you and your fellow participants in this project, will provide you with experience of this kind of collaborative work. It is also hoped your views of criminology and criminal justice will be developed by your critical evaluation of similarities and differences in the two detailed comparative case studies put forward in the project.


The two possibilities of resemblances and dissimilarities need to be at the forefront of your mind in this project as they are fundamental to doing comparative criminology. There are many conflicting opinions on the ‘right’ approach to responding to crime related problems but appreciation of ‘similarities and differences’ is essential for your role in this project.


Three important questions for comparatively studying responses to crime have been posed in the latest edition of the influential UK text, the Oxford Handbook of Criminology. These questions encourage research and scholarship on:


(i) Why should we compare?


(ii) How do we compare?


(iii) What data should we use?

(Nelken, 2017: 416).  


NB. The resource http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/statistics.html can provide many forms of interesting data.



What is ethnocentrism?


Ethnocentrism is a belief in ones’ own cultural superiority and according to some scholars has limited the advancements in criminological knowledge:


"Few people on their first trips to ‘foreign’ countries, try as they might, can resist being critical and judgmental about things that are done differently than at home. After a few trips, most people come to understand they are simply other ways to do familiar things, and are inherently neither better nor worse, just different. Probably no one ever completely overcomes a tendency to evaluate new things within learned and unconscious frames of reference, but a bit of traveling encourages efforts to avoid parochialism and ethnocentrism" (Tonry, 2015: 508).


Comparative criminal justice/criminology can test this bias as, "By posing fundamental questions of understanding the ‘other’ it challenges scholars to overcome ethnocentrism without denying difference or resorting to stereotypes" (Nelken, 2012: 139).


The denial of difference and use of stereotypes implies a universal ‘right way’ and could mean the disregard of important issues. For example, the country of Switzerland is known for its proportionately low crime rates and this immediately marks it as different to either the USA or UK. However, similarities appear when the Swiss gun laws are factored in to your thoughts. 


It is hoped this project will enable you to answer some of these questions and therefore please read pages 138-140 of Nelken (2012) for an account of some of the difficulties faced by comparative criminologists.


Throughout this project your work should include what you consider to be the important sources for your perceptions (e.g. traditional sources such as textbooks, academic journals, web resources, film, television, newspapers), and how this collaborative project provides a new perspective. 



Task One Individual Submission – 250 words (24th February 2020)


Individual submission - 250 words in total


According to Nelken, comparative criminological research can identify four systematic differences in acquiring the knowledge and understanding for effectively responding to crime related problems:  


(i) Relationships between law and politics in the USA and UK;


(ii) Use of legal and lay actors in the two justice systems;


(iii) Levels of leniency in UK/USA responses to crime related problems; 


(iv) Degrees of delay in responding to crime related problems in the UK/USA.


Therefore, you are required to pick one of these themes and use your critical thinking to address two points:


(a) Explain how this issue applies in your 'home' country.


(b) Appraise how this issue applies in the 'other' country in the project? (So, UK students consider the USA and vice versa) 


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