The Comparative Method In Globalized Criminology

Project and Seminar Material for Criminology And Security Studies

The Comparative Method In Globalized Criminology


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.

Chapter One


1.1 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).

1.2 Statement of Problem

Comparative criminologists have defended their discipline, pointing to differences between countries due to local features, values and cultures. Further, it has been argued that, for every global model explaining levels of punitiveness, there are exceptions, as will be discussed later in this contribution. In addition, there is at the same time the contradictory process of glocalisation: the persistence of national and even regional autonomy in the face of global pressures (Meyer and O’Malley 2005). Globalisation doesn’t spell convergence, according to Lacey (2011); therefore, comparative research on national and regional levels is crucial to understand the mechanisms by which master narratives affect penal policy in different ways, in different countries.

Meaningful comparative research needs to move back and forth between the global and the local, refining the global model with local empirical data and findings, as features within individual countries might explain how and why they deviate from the leading pattern. Along the same lines, Savelsberg (2011) concludes that both the study of globalisation and cross‐national comparative research are needed, and that they need to be closely linked, as global trends are translated in a nation‐specific way and filtered through local institutions. Nelken (2011) agrees with this view, pleading that comparative research is particularly well placed to study the interaction between the global and local forces and the ways how to best do this. Therefore, and according to these authors, despite globalisation, comparative research still has a place within criminology, identifying local dynamics and ways out of the doom scenario of mass imprisonment (Lacey 2008). To contribute to this existing body of literature is the major goal of this research.

1.3 Objective of the Study

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 subdisciplines.

1.4 Scope of the Study

The scope of this article is focused on examining international and comparative criminology, before reviewing previous work that has raised the prospect of a ‘global criminology’.

1.5 Significance of the Study

In this regard our significance of study will be both on the theoretical levels and practical levels. Theoretically, this study seeks to highlight and widen scholarly perceptions of criminology, practically, the study will be a response to the intellectual challenges involved in the extent of the application of comparative method in globalized criminology. Also this study will be of vital importance to scholars on criminology, law and other researchers serving as a further take off point for future inquiry in the study under review.

1.6 Research Methodology

The study is more descriptive than analytical. An assessment the scope of global criminology and the current state of comparative criminology carried out. The information relied on for these works are sourced from secondary sources. In this connection, journals on legal system among others serve as major secondary source. The include-materials on the internet, books, essays, journals and articles published on the subject matter was also used together with the opinions of the courts in judicial decisions.

Chapter Five

Conclusion: Agility in Comparative Research

Contrasting community safety in Amsterdam and Rotterdam allows me to make a number of points regarding the comparative method in globalised criminology. The big narrative is one of globalisation. Comparative enquiry needs sight of that narrative and sensitivity to its local impact. Globalisation is patterned and has affected Amsterdam and Rotterdam differently. Because of that, their ‘safety talk’ differs and so do their conceptualisations of the problems to be tackled and the perception of results. What that means is that to discuss the ‘Dutch’ approach to community safety as if it were a monolith is ineffective. It is not only that what citizens experience in Rotterdam is different from what happens in Amsterdam; from an epistemological point of view, what community safety is, differs in the two contexts.

The nature in which Rotterdam is a ‘victim of globalisation’ (Cavadino & Dignan, 2006) differs from its rival Amsterdam. In Rotterdam the perception is that the blue-collar population is more at risk of losing jobs and of threats to their ways of life. The city, partly due to the structure of its housing market, tends to attract poorly educated, poorly skilled ethnic minority groups who are perceived to disrupt the city’s social organisation. Leefbaar went to the polls and won on a ticket of stopping immigration from Muslim countries and an impossible plan to spread ethnic minorities throughout the city so as to stop ghetto formation: ‘We cannot be the country’s social waste bin’.

Amsterdam’s community safety approach, in contrast, does not tackle so much a global as a transnational problem: a problem of organised crime intermingled with local concerns on the sex trade. By parading the term ‘seediness’ it can avoid allegations of overzealous prudishness by emphasising that it is not the sex trade per se that is targeted and by highlighting the fate of women victimised in the sex trade, it legitimises an operation that goes much beyond that.

Interestingly, the BIBOB legislation, perfectly suited to Amsterdam’s purposes, has been extensively used in Rotterdam as well. But Tops (2007), in his detailed chronicle of the Rotterdam community safety transformation, only mentions it in an appendix. BIBOB is part of practice in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but only in Amsterdam is it part of the discourse. In Amsterdam the area suffers from the wrong sort of entrepreneurs. In Rotterdam, the narrative is one of a lack of entrepreneurship, hence the Rotterdam Law, that equally applies in Amsterdam but fails to enter the local discourse there. Uitermark (2006) reported a similar finding: Rotterdam frames its measures as tough, whereas Amsterdam emphasises them as ‘social’, but in fact they may not be all that different. Engbersen, Snel and Weltevrede (2005) even argue that, despite their differences, the Amsterdam and Rotterdam approach can both be characterised as ‘social reconquest’. Be that as it may at one level, the talk is different, the imagery is different and as regards the extent to which citizens are exposed to intrusive measures, the differences are stark. The outcome of comparison is usually a blend of similarity and contrast but it is the latter that is most significant in this case.

Such comparative enquiry needs agility; we need to be adept at examining movement at the level of local areas, but with the big narratives bearing down on them. We need to be able to jump through and beyond conceptual and organisational layers in order to find meaning in messy and unorthodox arrangements. The state is perhaps the comfort zone of comparative research and comparatists may have leant too comfortably against the bedrock of the nation-state. The international context is ever-changing and at times intractable, but the local context is possibly even more so. That requires an agile mind. Where Heidensohn (2007) discusses comparative enquiry in light of finding new frontiers, it is the ping-pong between layers and levels that comparative researchers need to master. Below the city and above the state, there is a lot of exploring still to do.

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