Criminology attempts to analyze criminal acts as both an individual and societal phenomenon. Depending upon his area of professional interest, a criminologist may study blue collar crime, organized crime, corporate crime, political crime, or white collar crime. Juvenile delinquency, domestic violence, and vigilantism are also common topics of interest for people with criminology degrees.
Theories of criminology research can be broken into three general areas: social structure theories, individual theories, and symbolic interactionism theories. Within these areas, a criminal act is defined as behavior that either violates a governmental law or an accepted societal belief. This is sometimes referred to as a consensus view of crime.
Social structure theories of criminology research tend to attribute crime to problems within a society. They often link an increase in crime rates to an increase in poverty and the accompanying community deterioration. Strain theory, or social class theory, is a social structure theory that states crime happens when unequal access to opportunities such as higher education and jobs that pay a living wage prevents people from reaching the American Dream of prosperity through legitimate means.
Individual theories essentially attribute the cause of crime to individual deficiencies. Social bond or social control theory, one common example of individual theories of criminology research, states that people commit crimes when they fail to develop belief in the moral validity of rules, commitment to achievement, strong attachment to others, and involvement in conventional activities. Individual theories of criminology research do not claim there is a gene for criminal behavior, but they do investigate the link between brutalization or witnessing criminal acts as a child and subsequent deviant acts. In this way, individual theories hope to explain how criminal behavior tends to continue within families from generation to generation.
Symbolic interactionism theories of criminology research suggest the cause of crime lies in the complex relationship between more powerful and less powerful groups within society. In the area of juvenile delinquency, for example, youngsters labeled as troublemakers by teachers, counselors, and other people in positions of authority have been found to act out at higher rates. Essentially, they turn their label into a self-fulfilling prophesy.
As an interdisciplinary branch of the behavioral sciences, criminology research incorporates elements of theoretical perspectives such as psychoanalysis, Marxism, systems theory, and postmodernism. The classic nature vs. nurture debate is also an important component of study within the field. Although it's difficult to draw definitive conclusions as to the exact cause of crime, criminology research is valuable in that it can help to shape public policies that work towards developing a more lawful society.