skip to content

Institute of Criminology


Optional Courses

We offer a variety of optional (seminar) courses each year, which cover a wide range of criminological topics. **A timetable of Optional Courses being offered for the coming academic year will be circulated to new students at the start of their degree**.

Descriptions of some of these courses can be found below:

Global Perspectives on Violence

In the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations recognised that promoting peaceful societies, reducing all forms of violence, and providing justice for all are core elements of sustainability. This seminars series aims to introduce students to the increasing literature on violence, and violence prevention at a global level. Topics covered in this seminar series include, amongst others:

  • the epidemiology of violence across world regions,
  • the interplay of social, community, and
  • individual factors in explaining interpersonal violence, violence against women in different societies, cultural attitudes to corporal punishment, organised and gang violence, vigilante and police violence.

We will also aim to critically assess the current knowledge about how to achieve substantial reductions in violence. 

History of Violence

The course will cover the following topics:

  • Human nature, violence, and cooperation: The decline of violence debate
  • Bloodfeud, revenge, and private justice
  • Violent death in the late medieval city
  • The power of the word: Insult and its control
  • Punishment and power: The rise and decline of the ‘Spectacle of Suffering’ in early modern Europe
  • Taming the duel: changing notions of honour, manliness and violence in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
  • ‘Mad, Bad or Sad’: Gendered representations of women who kill
  • Four waves of modern terrorism

Organised Forms of Crime

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 drug production and trafficking; cybercrime; human trafficking and smuggling. The course then discusses topics related to gangs, Mafia-like organisations and protection rackets. The course is multidisciplinary and draws on concepts from sociology, law, industrial economics, political economy, and political theory.

People, Places and (the explanation of) Crime

(Renowned US criminologist Frank Cullen has argued that “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”.)

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.

Arguably, the causes of crime are situational. People express their character in actions in response to the circumstances of the settings in which they take part and, therefore, the explanation of why acts of crime happen ultimately depends on understanding the role of the interaction between ‘character’ and ‘circumstances’ (people and places) in crime causation. Arguing that the causes of crime are situational does not mean that cultural and structural and development factors and processes are unimportant in the analysis of crime causation. Quite the contrary, but they are best analysed as ‘causes of the causes’. Such factors and processes do not directly explain what moves people to commit par­ticular acts of crime, but help explain (1) why people develop certain and different crime propensities (based on their personal morals and ability to exer­cise self-control), and why environments develop specific and different criminogenic inducements (depending on the moral contexts of the opportunities and frictions they provide); and (2) why particular interactions between kinds of people (‘characters’) and kinds of places (‘circumstances’) occur creating the crimino­genic situations in which acts of crime may happen.

In this course 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 places 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?



This course seeks to achieve three aims:

  • (i) To explore critically the history of the police and their place in contemporary society;
  • (ii) To introduce students to some of the challenges and debates in the policing of developed and developing societies; and
  • (iii) To encourage students to engage critically with a variety of conceptual and empirical issues in analyses of the police.

Punishment and Mercy

This course is about the ways in which individuals and institutions respond to (perceived) wrongdoing. Amongst several such responses, the course focuses on two: inflicting punishment and granting mercy.

Since whatever else punishment involves, it surely involves the effort to make wrongdoers suffer (in a broad sense of “suffering”) punishment, and is immediately in need of a justification. For millennia, humans have attempted to offer such elusive justification, yet nothing approximating consensus has ever been achieved.

Course Aims: Rather than direct action-guidance, or direct policy recommendations, or direct engagement with current affairs, the course focus will be punishment and mercy in the abstract. Participants will do some intellectual history, and may indeed discuss actual political events, but always in the service of deep analytical points. Wilfrid Sellars once pithily stated: “the aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”. This captures neatly the goals of this course, which will attempt to understand what punishment and mercy are, how they “hang together” with the rest of our worldview (if at all), and what could justify punitive or merciful behaviour, and we will tackle all these questions in their broadest possible senses.

Socio-Critical Perspectives on Criminal Justice: Minority Matters

This course covers sociological and critical perspectives on the treatment and experiences of minority groups in criminal justice systems:

  • Who is recognised as a minority group?
  • What accounts for variations in the visibility of minority groups in criminal justice settings and processes?
  • Who is marginalised?
  • Who is hyper-visible?
  • Which groups receive criminal justice policy attention and why?
  • What are the justice issues?

Drawing on research and theory on the criminal justice experiences of minority ethnic communities, young people, women, LGBTQ populations, and prisoners’ families the seminars examine themes of social control, criminalisation, social exclusion, social justice, equality and citizenship.

Sociology of Prison Life

This course provides an advanced introduction to the field of prison sociology, addressing questions of what prisons are for, how they work, what they signify, and what goes on in them, including the nature and determinants of the prisoner experience. Drawing on recent and classic literature, and on our own empirical research, it explores topics ranging from the aims of imprisonment to prison managerialism, psychological survival and the prisoner social world. The course seeks to explore the connections between penal sensibilities, practices and outcomes. The seminar is highly participatory and responsive, organised around an organised discussion of each week’s key readings.

Victims and Injustice

This course offers an introduction to main themes of victimology:

  • What do we mean when we refer to victims?
  • What makes a person a vulnerable individual likely to be victimised?
  • What theories provide sufficient framework for understanding and preventing victimization of vulnerable individuals?
  • Are different theories necessary for different types of victimization?
  • How have psychological and psychiatric theories of trauma shaped understanding and practice?
  • What are the psychological and social consequences of miscarriages of justice?
  • Is the criminal justice system addressing sufficiently the needs of victims?

These questions are addressed through a critical perspective, using examples from both the UK and abroad and also via a historical perspective.