Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology

Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology

Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology

Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology


Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology brings the history of criminological thought alive through a collection of fascinating life stories. The book covers a range of historical and contemporary thinkers from around the world, offering a stimulating combination of biographical fact with historical and cultural context. A rich mix of life-and-times detail and theoretical reflection is designed to generate further discussion on some of the key contributions that have shaped the field of criminology. Featured profiles include:

  • Cesare Beccaria
  • Nils Christie
  • Albert Cohen
  • Carol Smart
  • W. E. B. DuBois
  • John Braithwaite.

Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminologyis an accessible and informative guide that includes helpful cross-referencing and suggestions for further reading. It is of value to all students of criminology and of interest to those in related disciplines, such as sociology and criminal justice.


The history of criminology is a fascinating one. It is a story of humankind’s attempts to systematically study and understand the human capacity for crime and transgression. It provides a moral account of modernity and as such offers insight into the core meaning and value of humanity in our times. It is strange, then, that the story of criminology that unfolds in so many textbooks is often a rather formulaic, almost soulless one. This being the case, the invitation to edit this book was a difficult one to refuse. Our goal is to help enliven and humanise the story of criminology through the power of intellectual biographies, mixing life-story detail with analytical reflection on the contributions of 50 of criminology’s important thinkers. We hope that this alternative introduction to criminology is of value to new students of the subject, and those in cognate areas of study like sociology, psychology, social geography or history, seeking to grasp the ‘lay of the land’ in our somewhat exotic field of research. Equally, we hope the book will also inspire debate and discussion within criminology itself. The major works of those thinkers profiled herein will be largely familiar to those with expertise in criminology, but the stories behind the ideas may be less so. These profiles may change the way some of us think about our field of study and the ideas that have shaped it.

A reasonable criticism of our approach to the story of criminology is that it contributes to the unfortunate (and largely discredited) tendency for histories that lionise the ‘great white men’ (or occasionally ‘great white women’ and ‘great non-white individuals’ as well). In other words, it presents an individualistic picture of criminology as being shaped by a select group of geniuses rather than a messy, dynamic intellectual process characterised by collaboration and cross-fertilisation. After all, the social science of criminology is a necessarily collective enterprise. The French physician Claude Bernard framed this concisely in his famous quote, ‘Art is I, science is we’. Bob Bursik might have put this argument even more eloquently in a soon-to-be-legendary Presidential Address to the American Society of Criminology in 2008. Bursik argued . . .

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