No. XXVI (2002)

Reflections on Some of the Problems of Contemporary Criminology: Invitation to a Debate

Anna Kossowska
Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Department of Criminology

Published 2002-05-05


  • reflections,
  • problems,
  • contemporary criminology

How to Cite

Kossowska, A. (2002). Reflections on Some of the Problems of Contemporary Criminology: Invitation to a Debate. Archives of Criminology, (XXVI), 7–16.


There seems to a pressing need for a discussion about contemporary criminology and the challenges confronting it in today’s world to be undertaken among the practitioners of this discipline. The article signposts some of the many topics around which this discussion should center.

One might, for instance, ask whether the findings of studies carried out to date are still applicable in analysis of contemporary crime which has become different in kind and degree and occurs in an immensely more complicated social reality. Many authors have indicated concern about the standard and range of theoretical discussion in contemporary criminology. Questions are also being asked about the utility of the accomplishments of theoretical criminology for description of contemporary crime and its underlying causes in the societies of late modernity. A feature of contemporary societies is the ubiquity of threats from crime defined as both an objective fact and a subjective element ofthe social consciousness. It is not only that victimization by crime is becoming increasingly widespread (which is an objective fact); a crime-driven sense of menace and fear is also spreading. This is exerting a self-evident influence on the organization of private and communal life and the functioning of formal social control. The ubiquity of fears of crime helps to boost support among the public for the doctrine of law and order in its various forms. In societies afflicted by high crime rates there has been a spread of attitudes of frustration, hostility and anger towards criminality, offenders and so-called “liberal” policies on crime. Acceptance of an expansion of the extent of formal social control (meaning in effect tougher sentencing of criminals) is on the rise. Tendencies toward politicization of the menace of crime can be very clearly observed. The adoption of tougher policies on crimo is leading in many countries to an extraordinary growth of the prison population, but has done nothing to reduce crime or abate fears. Some people talk of a “crisis of penology”. Given this situation (politicization of the problem), it might be asked whether criminology is still a socially useful discipline.

Another question (and source of concern) has to do with criminologists’ ability to analyze crime in circumstances of social change. Misgivings  on this matter are aroused by a tendency to concentrate on description of contemporary crime (e.g. in countries in the process of transition) than on investigation of its causes.

There are, therefore, grounds for wondering about the utility of traditional criminological theories and the possibilities of accounting, at the theoretical level, of the factors underlying contemporary changes in crime. At a time of manipulation of the public’s fears of crime can criminologists make any effective contribution to formulation of policies in this field? What should the research priorities in an age of so-called “new threats” from crime? Is tere still a place for investigation of the issue of norms and values (especially in the context of the differences’ between criminals and non-criminals)? How is the state of criminology affected by internationalization of crime, advances in communications and globalization? It seems obvious that it is time embark on research projects of a cross-cultural nature – but is cooperation between criminologists hailing from decidedly differing cultural backgrounds feasible? Lastly, does criminology’s accomplishments to date entitle us to draw conclusions about contemporary crime?


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