Department of Criminology

Research Program

The Department of Criminology strives to be a source of novel ideas that help drive the field forward and to be a global hub for interdisciplinary research. The research program is structured along three different axes or key areas of scientific interest: 1) Theoretical Innovation, 2) Methodological Innovation & Technology, and 3) Putting Crime Science into Practice.

1. Theoretical Innovation

Drawing from different disciplines, the field of criminology is empirically vibrant and theoretically rich. Yet its greatest strength, diversity, may also be its Achilles’ heel due to the risk of theoretical and empirical fragmentation. One of the main challenges confronting criminology regards bridging one of its main divides—that between dispositional explana­tions, which attribute criminal behavior to stable individual differences, and sociogenic perspectives, which identify criminogenic environments and situational factors as the principal causes of crime. Cumulative evidence suggests that both are important. Hence, scientific perspectives that can link these findings are crucial for arriving at a comprehensive picture that encompasses the causes, development, and persistence of criminal conduct. This key area of interest is dedicated to developing theory from an integrative and interdisciplinary perspective—for example, by examining the interrelation between contextual factors and individual-level factors in the explanation of crime. Research in this area draws from rich empirical and theoretical traditions in criminology, yet extends them by also drawing from other fields such as evolutionary and personality psychology, behavioral economics, and computer science, which, in spite of their potential, have seen only limited application in criminology to date.

2. Methodological Innovation & Technology

Carefully constructed questionnaires, cleverly designed observation and interview schemes, and large-scale registration and longitudinal data have long been the commanding approaches to data collection in empirical criminology. The field has made tremendous progress in improving our understanding of criminal conduct through the use of such meth­ods and has reached an impressive degree of both qualitative and quantitative sophistication. However, the traditional meth­ods of data collection are particularly suited to study factors relating to characteristics of delinquents that propel them into and out of crime, such as their dispositions, the families and neighborhoods they come from, their social networks, and their educational and criminal trajectories. But by design they offer little insight into offender behavior and the decision-making that underlies it.

Importantly, the field’s emphasis on these largely retrospective methods has led to a fundamentally skewed knowledge base. We know a lot about offender characteristics, life events that contribute to criminal careers, what predicts the choice for crime, how criminals journey to their crimes and what makes them desist, but we still know comparatively little about the offending process itself. Research in this key area of interest is premised on the assumption that advanc­ing our understanding of crime and its prevention may require not more of the same but rather the exploration of novel approaches. Technologies such as virtual reality, intelligent machines, sensors, smartphones, and the Internet are quickly becoming an increasingly influential part of people’s daily lives. Despite often being highly accessible and rele­vant for research, these technologies are rarely utilized by criminologists. To fill the current hiatus in the field, this key area of interest is dedicated to the application of new technologies and innovative methods in crime research.

3. Putting Crime Science into Practice

There is an important disconnect between theory and practice in criminology. Crime research and theorizing regularly proceed without taking much notice of what happens “on the ground.” Criminal justice and rehabilitation practices on the ground in turn often pay little heed to evidence-based interventions or theory. Following Kurt Lewin’s maxim that there is nothing as practical as a good theory, the third key area in the Department of Criminology seeks to connect theory, innovative methods, and technology to policy and practice. Ultimately, criminology is an applied science seeking to understand not only the occurrence of crime but also to provide concrete input as to how to prevent it from happen­ing and to minimize its harmful consequences. Research in this area applies state-of-the-art knowledge to generate solutions of an applied nature, for example by providing input for the training of practitioners in the criminal justice system (e.g., police, youth care workers, probation services, magistrates), developing tools for crime prevention, and devising evidence-based rehabilitation instruments.

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