Theories of Crime and Criminality

Module code: CR1001

Module co-ordinator: Dr Matt Hopkins

Understanding why people commit crime has been a focus of academic study for over 200 years. It is a subject that raises debate amongst academics, politicians and the general public and theories have been forwarded that emphasise factors such as biology, psychology and rationality as causes of offending.

Some of the earliest theories of why people were ‘bad’ focused upon ideas around spirituality, witchcraft and demonology, yet these were superseded by ideas that placed ‘rationality’ at the centre of understanding the causes of crime.

While some criminological theories may today seen implausible, study of the history and development of criminological theory is essential for any serious student of the discipline. Such study not only enables us to grasp key ideas that have shaped the discipline, but also to appreciate how various methodologies have been used to develop theories and how these have refined over time.    

This module will introduce you to various criminological theories and perspectives. We will not only identify the various theoretical perspectives that help us to understand and explain crime/criminal behaviour, we will also evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different criminological theories and perspectives. As part of this, we will consider the wider social and political contexts in which crime occurs and can be explained and understood.

Topics covered

  • Classical theory
  • Neo-classical theory
  • Early biological theory and modern biosocial theory
  • Psychological theory and social learning theory
  • Sociological theories: strain theory and criminal subcultures/labelling theory
  • Critical theory
  • Realism


  • 18 one-hour lectures
  • 8 one-hour seminars


  • Essay, 4,000 words (100%)