Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

How Criminology Can Engage in the Theorizing on Genocide?

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

How Criminology Can Engage in the Theorizing on Genocide?

Article excerpt


There are few criminological theoretical approaches to genocide. This lack of engagement persists even though the field of criminology has many relevant insights to the study of genocide. However, the discipline has failed to engage these insights in the study of the "crime of crimes" (Day & Vandiver, 2000; Laufer, 1999; Morrison, 2004; Rothe & Friedrichs, 2006; Rothe & Ross, 2008; Yacoubian, 2000). These areas need to be explored in more depth to grow the criminological approach to genocide. This article aims to highlight the areas within criminology that could be utilized to theorize genocide (such as state crime, organizational crime, and collective violence), discuss the latest attempt to do so by Hagan and Rymond-Richmond (2009) and offer some modifications to the work of Hagan and Rymond-Richmond based on the existing criminological literature.

An early approach to criminological theorization of genocide was conducted by Brannigan and Hardwick (2003) who applied Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime (GTC) to genocide. They argued that if the general theory of crime is truly general, then it should be able to explain all crime including genocide. The authors believe that the GTC is more than just low self-control, but a combination of low self-control and social circumstances that either constrain or expedite behavioral outcomes (Brannigan& Hardwick, 2003). Basically, crime is the product of the actor (low self-control) and opportunity.

Brannigan and Hardwick believed that génocidaires exhibited a lack of self-control, but this was different than the similar condition found in other criminals. Primarily, genocide reflects the vulnerability and defenselessness of the targeted group especially when the state fails to instigate peace in conflicts between competing racial or ethnic groups. These situations can be monitored and controlled, but if left unchecked then the opportunity to commit genocide arises (Brannigan & Hardwick, 2003). Using the general theory of crime they find it unlikely that all those involved in genocide suffer from low self-control, however, this does not mean that the trait of low self-control is irrelevant. It is less important to match the profile of low self-control to individual actors, than it is to apply it to the understanding of the mechanisms that create the opportunity for such behavior to flourish.

From this early attempt to integrate crime theory and genocide, there has been little discussion of genocide within criminology. When discussion has occurred it is generally within the sphere of critical criminology, which is a subfield within the discipline of criminology. As the name implies, critical criminologists tend to be critical of the field and of society. As such, they "take the field to task rather than tinker with its parts" (Martel, Hogeveen & Woolford, 2006, p. 635). According to critical criminologists, the field of criminology, unlike many other academic fields, has failed to examine its own basis of knowledge and other important self-reflexive processes (Martel, Hogeveen & Woolford, 2006). This lack of self-reflection was highlighted at the 2009 American Society of Criminology conference when Nicole Rafter called on the field to pay scholarly attention to its own history (Rafter, 2010). The critical criminologist steps into this gap in an attempt to go where others have not.

To begin, critical criminologists do not automatically accept state definitions of crime; they often prefer to define crime in terms of social harm and/or violations of human rights (Einstadter & Stuart, 2006). This preference for defining crime as violation of human rights and not merely accepting state definitions is very useful when studying state crime and genocide. A state is unlikely to define its own actions as a crime, including atrocious acts like genocide. For most criminologists, if the act is not deemed a crime by the state, then there is no reason to study the phenomenon; critical criminologists do not face such constraints. …

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