Criminology | Section 1.5

Fundamentals of Criminology

Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.

Scott D. Bransford, Ph.D.


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Classification of Theories

One way to look at the problem is to use the terms classical and positive.  Classical criminology describes theories that focus on legal statutes, the workings of government, and human rights.  Classical criminological theory is generally not considered scientific; they are often considered philosophical.  Positive criminology, on the other hand, refers to efforts at making criminology scientific; that is, positivists use the scientific method.

Macro versus Micro

One common way to divide theories into groups is to consider how abstract a theory is.  The most abstract theories generally fall into a category called macrotheories.  Macrotheories are most often concerned with social structures and the effects of those structures on human behavior.

Macrotheories most often consider society as a whole and give little concern to the individual.  Examples of macrotheory in criminology are anomie/strain theories and conflict theories.

Microtheories, on the other hand, are generally more concrete.  These theories try to explain how individual people come to commit crimes.  The focus may be on small groups of people, such as gangs, or the individual.

Most macrotheories can be described as epidemiological.  Epidemiology in this sense does not refer to the branch of medical science that deals with epidemics.  In criminology, it means that the theory is concerned with overall crime rates.

This is in contrast to etiology, which is concerned with the explanation of criminal behavior in the individual or small group level (In a more general sense, etiology means to specify a cause of something).  Thus, microtheories can be called etiological.

Academic Discipline

Most criminology books will divide the wide world of criminal justice theories into chapters according to the academic discipline they come from.  Theories developed by psychologists are grouped as psychological theories, those developed by sociologists are grouped as sociological theories, and so forth.  This is a very handy way of organizing things for a book, and is the strategy we use for the rest of this one.


Key Terms

Causality, Empirical Validity, Logical Consistency, Macro, Micro, Parsimony, Probabilistic, Scope, Determinism, Soft Determinism, Tautology, Testability, Theory

Modification History

File Created:  08/04/2018

Last Modified:  08/04/2018

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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