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Optional Courses

Optional Courses

A variety of optional courses are on offer each year covering a wide range of criminological topics. What is on offer varies by year, but in recent years has included topics such as criminal justice, policing, crime prevention, organised crime, the sociology of punishment, the sociology of prison life, psychiatry and crime, developmental criminology, neurocriminology, social contexts of crime, and cross-cultural comparative criminology.

Descriptions of some of these courses can be found below.

Character, Criminogenic Circumstances, Crime and Criminal Careers

Course Convenors: Professor Per-Olof Wikstrom and Dr Kyle Treiber

‘Criminology risks being a field of study in which many ideas are developed and all are chosen – in which all theories have equal claim to legitimacy and in which only the most highly specialized scholars can separate the theoretical wheat from the chaff.’ Frank Cullen (2008)                                                                                           

Within criminological theory and research there are dozens of competing explanations of what causes crime (e.g., because people are poor, bored, impulsive, abused, unsupervised, cognitively impaired or undeterred) and as a consequence many conflicting ideas about how to best approach the problem of crime prevention (e.g., welfare provision, leisure activities, architectural design, focused policing, social skills training, parent training, drug treatment, restorative justice, or tougher sentencing). Against this background it is not surprising that policy makers and practitioners may struggle to develop comprehensive crime prevention policies and devise and implement effective interventions.

That people’s acts of crime have some­thing to do with their ‘character’ (their personal morals and ability to exercise self-control) and something to do with the ‘circumstances’ they experience in their daily lives (the moral contexts of the opportunities and frictions they encounter) seems a reasonable proposition. After all, crimes are breaches of rules of conduct about what is right or wrong to do (or not do) in particular circumstances.

In this seminar series we will focus on addressing ‘Cullen’s dilemma’ and take an integrative approach, drawing on different theories, perspectives and interdisciplinary knowledge to comprehensively answer five key questions about crime causation and prevention:

  1. Why do crime events happen?
  2. Why do people vary in their crime propensity?
  3. Why do environments vary in their criminogeneity?
  4. Why does people’s crime involvement vary across the life course?
  5. How do we develop the most effective crime prevention based on knowledge about crime causation?

Criminal Justice: Players and Processes

Course Convenors: Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe and Professor Nicola Padfield

This is a two term course, though M.Phil students are welcome to choose to attend for only one term. In the first term, Part I focuses on the role of the key ‘players’ within the criminal justice process. We will have a number of guest ‘players’ joining the class. In the second term, Part II focuses on key ‘processes’ exploring theory, law and practice. For example, discretion and discrimination; the ethics of plea bargains; sentencing; the process of law reform.

 The course is designed:

  • To enable students to gain a critical and informed understanding of criminal justice processes in England and Wales, and of the institutional and wider social contexts relevant to such an understanding, and to draw appropriate cross-national comparisons.
  • To enhance students’ ability to understand and to apply empirical research; to enable them to appreciate the potential relevance of such research in the study of legal systems.
  • To encourage students to develop the critical skills necessary to evaluate proposals for change.

Criminological and Legal Psychology

Course Convenors: Dr Maria Ttofi and Professor David Farrington

Cross-Cultural Comparative Criminology

Course Convenor: Professor Manuel Eisner

History of Violence

Course Convenor: Professor Manuel Eisner


Course Convenor: Dr Kyle Treiber

Course aims

Neurocriminology is a rapidly expanding area of criminological inquiry which is founded on the notion that biological factors influence the interaction between people and environments which leads to criminal behaviour. It encompasses three main areas of inquiry: neuroscience, genetics and evolutionary science. The aims of this course are to:

  1. Introduce these areas of inquiry and their contribution to our understanding of the causes of criminal behaviour
  2. Equip students with sufficient knowledge to make use of neurocriminological literature
  3. Look at neurocriminology in practice, e.g., research methods, practical and legal applications, and consider its strengths and potential as well as its weaknesses and limitations

Course structure

Seminars will be broken into topical sections allowing time for discussion. The focus will be on fundamental knowledge, common pitfalls, and applications, making neurocriminological knowledge and research accessible to social scientists. No previous knowledge of neuroscience or genetics is required, but a willingness to learn about neuroscience and genetics is!

Organised Forms of Criminality

Course Convenor: Dr Paolo Campana

Course aims

The course offers an analytical exploration of organised forms of criminality. It adopts a comparative approach to tease out similarities – and differences – between phenomena operating in different settings, i.e., countries and markets. Particular emphasis will be placed on the mechanisms underpinning organised crime operations.

The course begins by discussing the concept of organised crime and its (contested) history. Next, it looks at the specificity of criminal firms, including the constraints under which such enterprises operate. The course then discusses topics related to drug trafficking as well as human trafficking and smuggling. The following three seminars will focus on Mafia-like organisations and protection rackets, discussing the parallels with states as well as Mafia activities both locally and globally.

The course is multidisciplinary and draws on concepts from sociology, law, industrial economics, political economy, and political theory.


Course Convenor: Dr Peter Neyroud

Teaching aims:

  • To explore critically the history of the police and their place in contemporary society;
  • To introduce students to some of the challenges and debates in the policing of developed and developing societies

Programme Evaluation and Crime Prevention

Course Convenors: Dr Maria Ttofi and Professor David Farrington

Socio-Critical Perspectives on Criminal Justice

Course Convenors: Dr Caroline Lanskey and Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe

What are the social and cultural drivers of criminal justice? How does society define and respond to offending by various social groups?  What are the social consequences of this? This series of eight seminars introduces sociological and critical perspectives relating to punishment and criminal justice. Focussing on criminal justice responses to young people, families, women, and minority ethnic communities the seminars examine different policy trends towards welfarism and punitivism, management and the marketisation of justice services, and issues of criminalisation, social exclusion and citizenship.

Teaching aims:

  • To articulate some of the key influences on the shaping of punishment in late modernity (especially the move towards ‘zero tolerance’ and towards managerialism).
  • To understand the changing shape and use of custodial and community penalties in late modern society.
  • To examine differences in punishment approaches towards women, ethnic minorities, families and young people.
  • To critically assess alternative conceptualisations of ‘young offenders’ in public opinion and the media and criminal justice policy.
  • To develop a comparative knowledge of contemporary youth justice policy and practice in the UK and internationally.
  • To develop a critical appreciation of different approaches to criminal justice and their social consequences e.g. criminalization, social exclusion.

The Sociology of Prison Life

Course Convenors: Professor Alison Liebling and Dr Ben Crewe

What are prisons for and what goes on in them? How do they work, what do they signify, and what is it like to be held or to work within them? How do we explain the changing shape, impact and role of the prison? Prisons have become ‘deeper’ and ‘heavier’, and yet the language of rehabilitation is also in use. Severe budget cuts, private sector competition, a longstanding but unprecedented rise in the size of the prison population, longer sentences, and increased attention to risk, have led to a current period of strain and crisis under which essential questions about what prisons are for, and what they do, need asking afresh. Under this ‘crisis of modern penality’, what has happened to prisoners? How do they relate to each other and to the prison institution? How do they experience and resist new governance techniques, and the everyday pains and burdens of confinement? Who are prison staff/governors and how are they responding to the modern challenge? What kind of research is necessary to answer these questions? We shall explore these issues using recent and classic literature, and drawing substantially on our own empirical research.

Course aims:

  • To stimulate theoretical and empirical interest in the area of prisons, penality and prison sociology;
  • To introduce students to contemporary problems and theories relating to prison life;
  • To understand what shapes prison life, and the role of staff and prisoners in that process.

Course objectives:

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  • identify and appreciate major texts in the above areas;
  • understand the complexities of contemporary prison life and management;
  • be able to apply theoretical ideas to the prison world;
  • reflect upon and develop their own position on most of the major issues covered during the course;
  • know where to find relevant information, and
  • be aware of classic and contemporary research relating to prison life.