The aim of this article is consider the current constitution, and likely future prospects, of the field of criminology, and to examine in particular how it might be becoming more global in nature. The term ‘criminology’ will be used broadly, referring to the academic field as a whole, and hence including the study of the causes of crime, responses to crime including criminal justice, as well as to the field’s many sub-disciplines. The article begins by considering international and comparative criminology, before reviewing previous work that has raised the prospect of a ‘global criminology.’ The focus then shifts to consideration of the question, ‘what is criminology?’, prompted in particular by the various essays in Bosworth and Hoyle (eds) (2011). It is argued that this question usefully draws attention to certain problems currently facing Anglo-American criminology, and contends moreover that these issues are related in certain respects to issues that will face criminology as it globalises. Drawing from work by Wenger (1999) and others, a novel way of conceptualising the field of criminology is proposed, namely as a group of ‘communities of practice.’ The article shows how not only does this approach help model some of the challenges facing Anglo- American criminology both domestically and globally, but that it also suggests some practical measures that could be undertaken to help overcome these problems.
Background to study
The context and history of comparative criminology Comparative criminology is as old as criminology itself. Beccaria, Bentham, Voltaire, Helvetius, Quetelet, and many others of the 18th-century Enlightenment compared and contrasted their own systems of justice with those of other nations. Their recommendations and findings were often influential in bringing about change in countries other than their own. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution owes some of its language and ideas to the writings of these thinkers (see Granucci 1969; Schwartz 1971). Yet, for most of the 19th century and much of the 20th century, comparative criminology was neglected as nations looked inward for solutions to their specific crime problems. It was not until the middle and late decades of the 20th century that interest again emerged in comparing and contrasting the problems of crime across nations. There are many reasons for this renewed interest. The most obvious is that the latter half of the 20th century saw the world become a smaller place, a transformation initiated by revolutions in communication, transportation, and information technology. At the close of the 20th century, nations are increasingly pressured to account for their actions, and the activities of nations are transparent as never before.
One can reasonably argue that transparency began in economic institutions, where trade and commerce demanded it. But the availability of information about various facets of national social life has flourished as well, some have argued, because of an abiding concern with the health of democracy. Kenneth Prewitt, current Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, has suggested, “A healthy democracy needs a healthy number system, and anything that erodes that number system undermines democracy” (American Sociological Association 1999, 3). Gradually, countries have collected and made available to the international community statistics on a wide range of subjects relevant to the interests of comparative criminologists (see, for example, United Nations Development Programme 1998). Among these data are statistics on crime and criminal justice, which have only recently become widely accessible at the international level (Newman 1999). Although nations formerly guarded information on crime and criminal justice zealously, many nations now provide these data on the Internet, where they are available to anyone with adequate technological resources. The transparency and availability of such information have created a climate in which the promises of comparative criminological research may be realistically pursued.
Although many theoretical, methodological, and philosophical problems certainly have dogged comparative criminology since its inception, there is little doubt that this field of investigation is currently in a state of rapid expansion. While this chapter outlines some of the main problems that confront comparative criminology, the discussion also focuses on what cross-national research has accomplished and what it can do for the field of criminology in the future. We begin with two questions often asked of comparative criminology: What is the comparative perspective, and why employ it? Following this discussion, we move to a consideration of the substantive and theoretical issues that lie at the root of comparative criminological inquiry. We must begin with theory, because the plethora of databases and other information now available from many countries provides an environment that tempts rash comparisons and sometimes unsubstantiated conclusions based on what may be incomparable data. Faced with such a challenge, theoretically informed research supported by sound methodology is the wisest defense. Consequently, we look at the theoretical perspectives that have been brought to bear in understanding crime from a comparative perspective. Following this, we consider crime as a dependent variable in comparative work, then stake out the methodological approaches that are often used in this type of investigation. We then consider the data available to researchers interested in pursuing comparative studies and conclude with some observations about the future of comparative research in criminology.
The impact of globalization on crime and criminal justice is an important consideration from the perspective of comparative research. One reason for this is the link between globalisation and punitiveness, the main point of interest of comparative criminology. Baker and Roberts (2005) point to the various reasons why ‘new punitiveness’ is associated with globalisation. They argue, however, that globalisation does not necessarily cause punitiveness, as it is not a universal trend. Globalisation is a complex phenomenon, which has definitely affected penal policies, privileging punitive responses and facilitating ‘policy transfer’, but it can as well ‘spark diverse, jurisdiction‐specific responses’ (Baker and Roberts 2005: 122).
A further reason is the fact that globalisation, of itself, presents specific challenges to the credibility of nation states: as crime increasingly displays international dimensions, it is becoming more and more difficult for nation states to deal with it. Globalists claim that a global criminology instead of comparative criminology is needed to understand what is happening in this field (Larsen and Smandych in Nelken 2011).