Criminology is best seen as a social science, which is concerned with the aspects of human behaviour. Criminology has many meanings but the most commonly accepted is the specific scientific understanding of crime and criminals. It is a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary subject. This is because criminology draws from the works of legal scholars, philosophers, biologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists. Basically, crime appears to be a sociological concept and does not exist as an autonomous entity but is socially constructed.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1.  define extensively what criminology is 
  2. state the extent and nature of criminology 
  3.  understand the societal norms and values 
  4. explain the different categories of values and how it effects crime. 


3.1 What is Criminology?

The term ‘criminology’ is essentially concerned with the scientific study of crime. It should not be confused with the science of criminal detection or forensic science and forensic pathology. There is no direct linkage between the detection of crime by the enforcement agents and the study of crimes and criminal behaviour carried out by the criminologists. Sometimes, however, there may be an indirect connection. The criminologist usually focuses more on ‘how’ and ‘why’ crimes are committed rather than ‘who’ did it, and providing proof of guilt. “Criminology is best seen as a social science concerned with those aspects of human behaviour regarded as criminal because they are prohibited by the criminal law, together with such aspects of socially deviant behaviour as are closely related to crime and may usefully be studied in this connection” (Hall Williams, 1984). Simply put, criminology is the study of crime and criminal behaviour. It is an interdisciplinary field of study which analysis the aspects of a particular human behaviour. This entails the examination of the particular aspects of the behaviour that predispose him to be referred to as criminal. The study recognises what determines and why individuals commit crime and juvenile delinquency; and as well as the steps necessary in controlling crime.

The major branches of criminology are: Penology, the study of penal sanctions or punishment; Victimology, the study and rehabilitation of the victims of crime; Criminalistics, the methods of investigation and detection of crime, especially the job of law enforcement agencies and forensic experts; Administration of Criminal Justice involving the courts and prisons; and Empirical Research, for analysing crime data with regard to arrests, convictions and sentencing. As an academic field of study, criminology includes other disciplines such as law, sociology, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, economics, political science, geography, biology, chemistry, history, public administration and anthropology. To study crime, the criminologist tries to identify the individual and the society. Therefore, the psychological, physiological, social as well as environmental factors are important in determining why an individual exerts criminal behaviour.

In defining criminology as an independent discipline the seventeenth and eighteenth century understanding of crime was regarded as an omnipresent temptation to which all human kind was vulnerable. But the question was, “why some succumbed and others resisted”. The explanation was trailed off into the unknowable resort to fate, or the will of God, or providence. That is, the Christian tradition discusses

individual wrongdoing in explicitly moral and spiritual terms which contradict the systematically controlled empirical evidence. They believed that the invocation of the Devil or divine intervention is a spiritual account for human action. For instance, the story tells us how a woman fell in with bad company and sorely tried by temptation, became too fond of drink, lost her reputation and was driven to crime by lust. Nevertheless this puritan’s tale of sin and repentance is rich in the features with the contemporary criminological theories. Other discourses on crime and criminals are the various writing of ancient and medieval philosophers. These include criminal biographies and broadsheets, accounts of the Renaissance underworld, Tudor vogue pamphlets, Elizabethan dramas and Jacobean city comedies that made rudimentary versions of an understanding of how one becomes deviant. Others are the utopia of Thomas More and the Famous novels of Daniel Defoe especially “Moll Flanders” published in 1722. In fact, what we need to recognise was that there were a variety of ways of thinking about crime, and that criminology is only one version among others. The important connection between the literature of the reformers and the criminology that followed was that the reformers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were writings about a set of legal institutions about the systematic arrangement of social policy goals and order. The Enlightenment writers wrote secular analyses, emphasising the importance of reason and experience rather than the theological forms of reasoning which are dominated by irrational, superstitious beliefs and prejudices. This is based on “unscientific” reliance upon speculative reasoning rather than observed facts.

By the middle years of the nineteenth century the “scientific” style of reasoning about crime had become a distinctive feature of the emergent culture of amateur social science.

The scientific style of reasoning was the Enlightenment thinking about crime. What we saw was a paradigm shift from non-rational thinking to that which is based on the principles of Enlightenment of crime. The cornerstones of such thinking were the French philosophers’ ideologies highlight the importance of rationality. They made a distinctive move away from the systems that were by irrational to a more rational and predictable factors. Reason became a key way of organising knowledge. There was universalism for general laws and the idea of the uniformity of human nature against the view that beliefs of other nations and groups are not inherently inferior to European Christianity. Secularism became opposed to the church. The thinkers include Voltaire, montesquieu, and Rousseau.
In defining criminology as a legal subject, Sykes defines criminology as the study of the social origins of criminal law, the administration of

criminal justice, the causes of criminal behaviour, and the prevention and control of crime. In this definition, the emphasis is on the function of law and the efficacy of the administration of justice in the prevention and control of crime. Sutherland and Cressey define criminology as the body of knowledge regarding delinquency and crime as social phenomena. According to them, criminology includes within its scope, the process of making laws, of breaking laws, and the reacting to the breaking of law. They conclude that criminology consists of the sociology of law, criminal etiology and penology. This is the aspect of the subject of criminology in sociology.

On the discussion of criminology as an inter- or intra-disciplinary subject: the modern criminological ideology is composite, eclectic and multidisciplinary. It is a body of systematically transmitted forms of knowledge. The list of its central topics is long and diverse, and each topic breaks down further into numerous sub-topics. The substantive areas have adopted a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods, drawing upon the whole gamut of theoretical perspectives psychoanalysis; functionalism, internationalism ethno methodology, Marxism, feminism, critical ethnic theory, system theory, postmodernism, etc.


Psychoanalysis criminology is the basis of Sigmund Freud’ analysis of crime. According to Freud, crime and delinquency are a consequence of an imbalance between the three factors of the subconscious mind: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id (instinct gratification) is the component of the subconscious mind that is self-serving, egocentric, and concerned with self-gratification. Conversely, the superego is the component of the mind that represents morality and conscience. The ego mediates between the contrasting needs of the id and superego, and attempts to fulfill the desires of the id within the boundaries of social conventions. If the id or superego overpowers the mediating force of the ego, crime, delinquency, and other forms of irrational behaviour may occur.


The functionalism criminology is the structural – functionalism paradigm of Robert k. Merton and Talcott Parsons. They coined this sociological terminology “functionalism” from a type of crime which is characterised as a consequence of societal requirements, customs and institutions. It is a fact that no society exists without crime. Crime is both functional and dysfunctional. It is functional when its society has a normal characteristics and proper actions of a social organisation, but
dysfunctional when it undermines and impairs society’s capacity to provide for the well-being and safety of its members and to maintain their trust.


Interactionalism criminology is the basis of Erving Goffman’ analysis of crime. The central point of the symbolic-integrationist theory is that behaviour should be regarded not so much in terms of what it means to others and society in general but what it means to you, the actors. Also, the way other people react or respond to your behaviour powerfully influences your own perception of reality, response and reaction. It examines the new ways of looking at behaviour, and what the language used symbolises for the actor, as well as how other people’s behaviour is described and interpreted.


The Marxism criminology is the basis of Marxist’ approach to crime. Its thesis is that criminal behaviour arises from the wider social conditions or social structure of political economy. Marx observed that the economic base or the infrastructure determines the precise nature of the super structure.


The feminist perspective is the radical tradition of the feminist criminology by a British sociologist, Carol Smart. Its main focus is that economic disadvantage is the primary cause of crime. She claims that social, economic and cultural liberation of women will lead to an increase in traditional “masculine” behaviour. The feminist crime according to her arises out of frustrations, sub-service and dependency.

Therefore, the main focus of the criminologist is in the main criminal behaviour as an aspect of social behaviour including the way people are perceived and dealt with as offenders. The offenders are the acts or conducts that violate the criminal law of the society. Examples are murder or culpable homicide, robbing or brigandage, stealing and theft. In the same vein, if the act or conduct does not violate the criminal law of society then that act or conduct does not constitute a crime. Example: telling falsehood; gluttony, greed.


  1.  Discuss the inter or intra disciplinary ideology of criminology, pointing out its salient features in the Nigerian context 
  2. Examine the main focus of a criminologist in its investigation. 


Crime is a particular form of deviance. It is a violation of a law. Laws are the most formal of norms. Deviance relates to the violations of folkways and mores, whereas the term ‘crime’ specifically refers to those behaviours that violate norms encoded in the penal code or criminal laws. Punishment for crime is therefore commonly harsher and more formalised than those for breakers of the folkways and mores. But the punishments are not necessarily uniformly applied and the patterns of inequality are quite common.
Crime must be distinguished from sin (immorality) and other acts of wickedness. ‘Sin’ may or may not be regarded as a crime. For example, it is a sin for a Christian to consult “juju”, engage in idolatry or fornication. These acts cannot be considered as crimes because they are not prohibited under purview of punishment in the criminal law or penal code. It must be pointed out that crime is relative in time and place. What is a lawful behaviour in the past may constitute a criminal behaviour due to changing social, economic and political factors. For example, before the advent of the colonial rule in Nigeria, the Ibos, indulged in human sacrifices and killing of twins to appease their gods. But this practice is now a crime. In the same vein, what was criminal behaviour in the past may be viewed as a lawful behaviour today. For two decades ago, wandering was a crime, it’s the Babangida administration decriminalised it. Driving by the right was an often as independence and sometime there after it is the norm today. If we say that crime is relative; it then means that what constitutes a crime in one society may not necessarily be a crime in another society. This is as a result of cultural variability. For example, polygamy (one man marrying more than one wife at a time) is a crime among Christians in Nigeria, whereas it is legitimate for a Muslim to marry one, two, three or four wives. It is an accepted pattern of honoured practice, among traditionalists of no Christian belief.
According to Emile Durkheim (1893); a sociologist, crime is as a result of a necessary consequence of the existence of a collectively supported morality. Crime can be seen as a necessary part of every social order because any social order needs a collectively supported morality. He uses laws as an indicator of moral norms. He divided laws into two kinds:
(a) Criminal Laws and (b) Civil Administrative Laws A violation of criminal laws constitutes a violation of the collective conscience, since it is understood that a person who violates a society’s law invites society’s anger and must be disciplined. Durkheim asserts
that “an action does not shock the common conscience because it is criminal; rather it is criminal because it shocks the common conscience. We do not reprove it as a crime, but it is a crime because we reprove it”.

On the other hand, civil and administrative laws represent a lesser expression of collective conscience in view of the nature of the consequences that flow from them. A violation of criminal law calls for punishment, but a violation of a civil law requires compensation of the victim by the offender. For example, if a person fails to pay a debt, he is called upon to pay it, and may be required to compensate his creditor. Criminal laws call for retribution whereas civil laws seek to restore parties to their status quo ante.

Durkheim found that the proportion of the two types of law changes as societies move from mechanical to organic solidarity. Societies with mechanical solidarity – with the solidarity of alikeness – are noted for higher proportion of penal or retributive laws, which stipulate rules of correct behaviour and are backed up by “repressive sanctions”. But as the Division of Labour increases and as society becomes integrated by organic solidarity, civil, commercial, procedural, and administrative laws become prevalent, the enforcement of which is “restitutive sanctions”. Thus, mechanical solidarity is associated with a society with little Division of Labour while societies with high Division of Labour are bound by organic solidarity. Here people are engaged in a variety of occupations; relations are in the form of exchanges of services with each other through an intricate economic market.
Paul Tappan, lawyer and sociologist defined law as an intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law (statutory and case law) committed without defence or justification and sanctioned by the state as a felony or misdemeanor. A person may not be punished for his or her thoughts. There must be a prescribed act or omission proven to be committed. Words may tantamount to an act as in treason, aiding or abetting. But to think about community a crime is not punishable. Failure to act is not a crime unless there is a duty to act; a mere moral duty to act would not suffice. An act or omission, in order to be criminals, must be voluntary; and that presupposes that the actor considers his or her actions. Hence, a crime is an act or omission defined by law and unless the elements specified by statutory or case law are present and proven beyond a reasonable doubt there may be no finding of a “crime” and a person may not be convicted of a crime.


What is crime?

3.1.1 Social Norms and Values


Social norms are concrete behavioural rules or guidelines that specify appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. They tell us what we should, ought to, and must do as well as what we should not, ought not, and must not do. In other words, they not only tell us the “thou shalts” but also “thou shalt nots”. They are expectations shared by the members of the society-at-large or by the members of the particular groups within the same society. Values are the abstract, general concepts, central beliefs or ideas that provide a standard by which norms are judged. Values are thus widely held beliefs for the maintenance of social order. They tell us about what is good, desirable, and important. They are expressions of preference, with some distinct moral overtones. For example, marriage institution remains a value for every young man in Nigeria. Others are values in education, morality, generousity, etc. If values operate as general principles, norms are specific rules which govern human behaviours in particular situations. Once again, these differ from one society to another and from community to community. Examples include appropriate behaviour while eating. In Africa, talking while eating is a bad habit.
Sociologists see the breakdown of social norms as the underlying cause of social problems. This social disorganisation approach has the assumption that the society is a relatively persistent, stable structure, well integrated, with every element having a function that helps maintain the system. But if people deviate from the social norms and values, they create disharmony to the social structure, and definitely, they should be labeled “criminals”. This is because they are certain ways and standards of behaviour expected of people in the society.

There are three elements of social norms, namely:

  •  folkways 
  •  mores 
  • law 

(i) Folkways Folkways are approved ways of behaviour which are passed from one generation to another. They are norms that are looked upon by the members of a society or a group within the same society as not being extremely important and that may be violated without severe punishment from the society or group. That is, folkways are the least important norms which involve in everyday conventional routines. They belong to the category of behaviours that “should” and “should
not” occur, as specified by the society or a social group. An example of folkway is the rule that forbids eating without having a mouth wash particularly in the morning. Amongst the Yorubas where you are not to have a handshake with the Oba but should instead prostrate before him.

Sanctions imposed on the violation of folkways are often relatively mild expressions of reprimand, such as, frowns, throat- clearing or tongue-clucking. Sanctions are reactions that convey approval or disapproval of behaviour. The violator undergoes a “culture shock” where he violates the expected social behaviours of defined roles. It could be alternatively interpreted that the violator’s behaviour is rude, curious, eccentric, deranged, aggressive or hostile.
The principal characteristics are that folkways are fairly weak norms sometimes called “conventions” which are passed down from the past. The violation of folkways is generally not considered as serious within a particular culture. For instance, despite public expectation, that university student should be reasonably dressed in the campus; it is common to find some students in cut-off T-shirts. Even in Lagos roads, one usually sees bus-conductors going without proper dressing on hot periods of the day. These are examples of Nigerian folkways. An early U.S. sociologist, William Graham Summer (1959), used the term folkways to designate a society’s customs for routine or causal interactions.
He sees folkway as drawing a line of relationship between right and wrong.
The moral significance is observed in the notions about proper dressing appropriate greetings, and common courtesy.

(ii) Mores These are norms that are looked upon by the members of a society or a group within the same society as being extremely important and the violation of which will normally result in severe punishment from the society or group. They are norms which reflect moral and ethical behaviours. They generally include behaviours defined as those that absolutely “must” or “must not” occur.
Transgressors face the imposition of shame, ostracism, and sometimes exile. Mores may include rules governing marriage partner selection. For example, many societies require that mates must not be selected from the same parents or family. Such marriage may be subjected to a range of sanctions, including ex-communications from a church, and a refusal to acknowledge the marriage as legitimate. To William G.
Summer, mores are society’s standard of proper moral conduct. He observed that mores essentially maintain a way of life. This is related to the emotional attachment which they build themselves upon. It could be an unacceptable conduct in a particular culture, an example, is a student from the National Open University of Nigeria attending the tutorial class in tatters. Summer sees mores as drawing a line of relationship between right and wrong. For example, a banker who does not wear a coat and a tie at the counter of the office is guilty of a breach of banking etiquette. Take another instance, the former Chairman of Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Mr. Nuhu Ribadu was summoned to a disciplinary panel of the Nigeria Police Force on December 2008. The reason was that he went to Aso Rock to see President – Musa Yar’Adua in mufti rather than putting on the Nigerian Police uniform. This is a challenge of social mores which attempts some serious sanctions. In the same token, some police constables were sanctioned because they attended the Court of Appeal during the Governorship ruling between Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress (AC) and Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on November, 2008 in Benin for improper dressing. They were not in official police uniforms. So, mores are strongly held norms whose violation would seriously offend the standards of acceptable conduct.

(iii) Law Laws represent formalised norms that may derive from folkways or mores and are enacted by lawmaking bodies in response to new or newly recognised developments or needs. That is, laws are the folkways and mores deemed so vital to dominant interests that they become translated into written, legal formalisations that even non-members of the society are required to obey. Sanctions are formally enforced and are carried out by special officers who are charged with the purpose of maintenance of social order in the society. In Nigeria, there are customary laws backed with formal sanctions. They include the proscription of nudity in public places. These are derived from the basic ideas about what is good or bad. These formalised principles of law are normally enforced through the formal agencies of social control. Others remain as general organising principles for life and are fostered through the agencies of socialisation. So, when laws are not firmly based on norms shared by the majority, they are difficult to enforce. An example is the proscription of smoking of cigarette in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The enforcement of such a ban remains a mirage. Yet in many Northern states of Nigeria, the sales and consumption of alcoholic beverages is a crime in the states. These laws are difficult to enforce because of the private nature of the act and because the laws are so commonly violated (Neubeck, 2005). The law criminalising the possession and use of marijuana is another. There
remains a schism in the social cohesion underlying the law and it is continually challenged. Marijuna, a type of the Cannabis sativa is locally called eegbo, wee-wee, kaya or stone. It is consumed everyday in the streets as though were not proscribed. But one latent consequence of these sanctions is the reproduction of class and racial inequality (Neubeck, 2005).


Explain the three elements of social norms


In this unit, we have examined that, crime depends on the norms that people develop and use to judge others. It is an established fact that what constitutes a crime in one society may not be regarded as a crime in another. Nevertheless, crime is used as a tool for the maintenance of social order in the society and as such every society experiences crime and at the same time has criminals.


In this unit, we have discussed what criminology is and what constitutes a crime. We also studied social norms as a phenomenon of criminology.


  1. . Criminology is the scientific study of crime and criminal behaviour, including the ways it occurs, the causes of crime, legal aspects and control as well as possible solution to the crime problem (Schmallleger) .Do you agree with this definition? 
  2. Explain the functions of cultural variability in the study of crime? Give 3 examples. 


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