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Institute of Criminology


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, History of Violence, the Sociology of Punishment, the Sociology of Prison Life, Developmental Criminology, Neurocriminology, Social Contexts of Crime, and Cross-Cultural Comparative Criminology.

Descriptions of some of these courses can be found below:

Characters, Criminogenic Circumstances, Crime and Criminal Careers

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”. In this seminar series we will focus on addressing ‘Cullen’s dilemma’ taking an integrative approach. We will draw particularly, but not exclusively, on Situational Action Theory (SAT) and its tests through the prospective longitudinal Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Developmental Study (PADS+) to comprehensively answer key questions about crime, its causes and prevention including:

  • What is crime?
  • Why do crime events happen?
  • Why do people vary in their crime propensity?
  • Why do environments and places vary in their criminogeneity?
  • What drives stability and change in people’s criminal careers? and
  • What are the implications for creating effective crime prevention policy and practise?

Criminal Justice: Players and Processes

This course is shared with those studying for the LLM.  It involves a critical look at the functions of (and the challenges faced by) key agencies in the criminal justice system in England and Wales. The programme includes one weekly pre-recorded lecture, and one other weekly session which will include guest speakers from different agencies:  a senior police officer, a defence lawyer, a judge, magistrates and so on.  The course aims to enable students to gain a critical and informed understanding of criminal justice processes in England and Wales, and of the institutional and social contexts relevant to such an understanding, and to draw appropriate cross-national comparisons.

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 seminar aims to introduce students to the increasing literature on violence at violence prevention at a global level. Topics covered in this seminar 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. 

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.


The Policing 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.

Programme Evaluation and Crime Prevention

This course offers an introduction to main issues of crime prevention:

  • What do we mean when we refer to intervention research?
  • Is it indeed ‘never too early, never too late’ to prevent crime?
  • Is it possible to effectively prevent criminal offending?
  • Is it possible that intervention strategies may cause harm and lead to increases of crime?
  • Do we need different types of programmes for different cultures and countries?
  • What role should mental health interventions and services have in public protection?

These questions are addressed using examples from international strategies that fall within individual, family, school and community intervention programmes. Issues relating to situational crime prevention are also addressed.

Socio-Critical Perspectives on Criminal Justice: Minority Matters

This series of eight seminars 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.

The 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.