Criminology’s Educational Triad: Theory, Practice and Education

David R. Champion, Todd R. Gibney, and Theodore Shields

Indiana University of Pennsylvania


*This paper represents a work in progress for presentation to the Northeastern Association of Criminal Justice Sciences Twenty Second Annual Meeting, Bristol/Newport, Rhode Island, 11-14 June 1998.

It is anticipated that this project will be continually developed and completed at a future date. Please contact the authors before citing this work.






Criminological literature is comprised of a broad array of perspectives. Theoretical works

dating back to the 18th Century intermingle with up-to-the-minute, directly applicable law

enforcement-oriented articles. Add to this the contributions from feminist criminology,

social and clinical psychology, sociology, public policy, and other related disciplines to

the field, one can readily ascertain why the discipline remains an eclectic mix that

presents unique challenges to classroom instruction. While these works all contribute to

the field of criminology, this presentation will invite us to consider where criminology

stands as a field. It is thus desirable to measure the expectations and aspirations of the

"typical" criminal justice/criminology undergraduate student and compare them to the

multidisciplinary approach to education they receive.


Criminological theory encompasses an array of perspectives. Our aim is to measure how well university educational practices tap the expectations and needs of the undergraduate criminal justice or criminology student. The purpose of this paper is two-fold: (a) to provide a limited overview of the multidisciplinary character of the field and (b) to introduce a survey instrument for use in a future study. For the purpose of this presentation, we shall use the terms criminology and criminal justice interchangeably.

The theoretical education of undergraduates in our field incorporates a palate of varied disciplines and perspectives such as sociology, biology, psychology, feminism, and philosophy, to name just a few. Furthermore, these components are further divided and sub-divided into their own specialized areas of study.

Lanier and Henry (1998) furnish a well-articulated overview of this array of contributions (pp. 115-131). As an example, a limited list of psychology’s contributions alone include Freud’s psychoanalytic model (1915, 1950); the cognitive theories of Yochelson and Samenow (1976, 1977) and Piaget (1923); behavioral learning theories from the works of Pavlov (1906) and Skinner (1953, 1971); Bandura’s (1969, 1973, 1973) social learning theory, later developed by Akers [1977](1985); and ecological or environmental psychological perspectives (e.g. Rappaport, 1977), to name a few (all as cited in Lanier and Henry, 115-131, 1998).

Criminology’s scope includes all aspects of deviant behavior as well as applicable, policy-driven practices in the criminal justice system. Therefore, when criminologists look around at the multitude of other related fields, we tend to tap their relevant aspects and incorporate them as our own. While this propensity makes our discipline vibrant, eclectic, and vigorous, this paper raises the question of how it shapes the educational practices for the criminology or criminal justice undergraduate student. As the field of criminology evolves, so should the approach to the education of undergraduate students.

Criminology, obviously, is about crime. This necessarily makes it also about human behavior, social behavior, economics, history, law, policing/corrections, philosophy, and myriad other subjects. Additionally, research methodologies and policy formulations are explored. Can we effectively translate such a mix into an undergraduate educational program? Does this mix meet the students’ needs and expectations?



The ability to integrate and digest the multitude of theories that attempt to explain crime and deviance may be one of the most important skills for the undergraduate criminology student to develop. Criminological theory incorporates and expands upon the theoretical perspectives of several of the social sciences including anthropology, economics, philosophy, psychology and sociology. These disparate perspectives have contributed greatly to the formation of criminological theory. Undergraduate instruction should be provide a solid theoretical foundation and aid the student in the maturation of his/her critical and analytical thinking.

Criminology’s theoretical perspective is a complex, multidimensional amalgam that assimilates many of the foremost concepts from diverse disciplines, while maintaining its own theoretical outlook. Several areas of a comprehensive undergraduate theory course are:

  1. The Classical School;
  2. The Positive School;
  3. The Chicago School;
  4. Differential Association Theory;
  5. Anomie Theory;
  6. Subculture Theories;
  7. Labeling Theory;
  8. Conflict Theory;
  9. Social Control Theory.

Major theoreticians may also be investigated to better understand the influences that helped shape their theoretical foci. Theory permeates all facets of criminology and provides a structure upon which practical applications and decisions (e.g. legislation, policymaking, corrections and policing) may be formulated and implemented.

We propose a survey of undergraduate criminology students to assess their satisfaction with their educational experience at a mid-sized Pennsylvania university. It is hoped that the results will provide a baseline for us to examine and develop criminology education. We shall first skim some of the diverse components of what we currently call criminology. This overview is necessarily truncated and does not to purport to do justice to the true breadth and depth of the discipline. The major criminological theories and theorists (denoted above) will be discussed briefly in order to provide some sense of the significance and eclectic nature of criminological theory.




The Classical School is a common starting-point and centers on the criminal justice system and criminality concerns of the 18th Century. Two of the most prominent contributors to what has become known as the Classical School in criminology were Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. Beccaria (1764/1963) and Bentham’s (1789/1948) writings provided the impetus for what in the 19th century became known as Criminology. The Classical School may best be described as structural in that it emphasizes societal institutions as they effect individuals. Even so, these theories may be seen as politically motivated and rooted in legislation of laws directed toward the criminal and not his or her behavior.

As asserted, the theoretical joists of criminology derive from a variety of sources.

Beccaria’s ([1764]), 1963) Classical Enlightenment writing, On Crimes and Punishments, remains an integral work in the field. Beccaria’s positions on the importance of legislative clarity ([1764], 1963, pp. 17-18), evidence and proof ([1764], 1963, pp. 20-22), the cruelty of torture ([1764], 1963, pp. 30-36) and expediency of punishment ([1764], 1963, pp. 55-57) are examples of how his influence remains with the current Western model of criminal justice system.

Rousseau’s The Social Contract ([1762], 1994) has also been cited as an early work with far-reaching influence (Lanier and Henry, 1998, p. 67). Lanier and Henry credit classical theorists such as Beccaria, Rousseau and Jeremy Bentham [1765], cited in Lanier and Henry, (1998, pp. 70-71) with the ideation of humans as rational, freethinking individuals functioning within a democratic society of equitable laws (Lanier and Henry, 1998, pp. 63-90).

The Positive School follows and takes a somewhat divergent path from that of the Classical School in that it recognizes the significance of the behavior of the criminal as an area to be studied. Positivists take a more deterministic view of behavior, therefore, abandoning the Classical School’s view of the human as a rational being in possession of a free will. Positivism is biologically rooted and is considered to originate from the writings of three Italian theoreticians, Cesare Lombroso (1876), Raffaele Garafalo ([1885]1914), and Enrico Ferri ([1881]1917).

The Chicago School takes its name from the University of Chicago where the first sociology department was created in 1892 in order to capture the concerted efforts of such theorists as Robert Park and Ernest Burgess (1924). Here, the sociological influence of criminology is strongest coupled with a hint of psychological influence. Essentially, these theorists were consensus theorists, their assumption of a innate conformity to life’s natural pathways was considered to be the introductory pattern of the behaviors of human beings. Conflict was not ignored by these theorists, who noted that criminal behavior arose when an individual’s actions were in direct conflict with the dominant culture.

Differential Association Theory can not be separated from its originator, Edwin H. Sutherland who, in 1947, offered his final version of the theory (Sutherland and Cressey 1978). Sutherland’s (1939 & 1947) theory maintains that differential group organization may explain variance in criminal behavior and crime rates. This concept is based on the idea that criminal behavior is learned and that the bulk of learning may actually take place through interaction and communication with significant others.

Anomie Theory is a theoretical perspective unto itself based on the labors of two noted theorists, Emile Durkheim (1893/1933 & 1897) and Robert K. Merton (1938, 1957, 1964 & 1968). Merton’s (1938) conceptualization of anomie as the strain resulting from the desire to attain material wealth in the face of illegitimate means to attain it remains one of the most influential criminological theories.

Subculture Theories are generally considered to have their roots in the mid 20th century juvenile delinquency concerns of theorists such as Albert E. Cohen (1955, 1958 & 1965), Richard A. Cloward and Lloyd E. Ohlin (1960). In essence, these theorists took an integrative approach in which the theories associated with the Chicago School and Merton’s anomie played major roles. The predominant explanatory focus centered on attempts to outline how subcultures develop and exactly what form they may take.

Labeling Theory is also a mid 20th century theory and it is based in large part on the work of Howard S. Becker (1963) who was influenced by the Chicago School’s Symbolic Interactionism. Societal reaction and secondary deviance are the two core elements of the theory. These seemingly divergent lines of thought encompass both society and the individual in an attempt to explain how societal reaction affects the deviant individual.

Conflict Theory took hold in the 1970s. At this time, the writings of George Vold (1958) emerged as a schema that may be more readily termed a perspective, rather than a theory, due to the influence of several apparently dissimilar theoretical approaches. Common to all of these approaches are the ideas that conflict is a natural condition of man, resources are limited causing competition between individuals, power over others is meaningful, and the use of competition and power in conjunction with the criminal justice system lead to heightened societal positioning. Members of a society attaining high enough levels of resource availability and dominant social position may provide the catalyst for a class system to grow along with an inherent conflict component.

Social Control Theory has strong ties to sociology due to its reliance on causal variables as defined in the sociological perspective (e.g. family, friends, education, and religion). Travis Hirschi (1969) stands out as the theorist who developed one of the most accepted manifestations of social control theory, as well as a concise description of the social bond. Much like Labeling Theory, Social Control takes the view that deviance, therefore criminality, is a natural condition of man with the concept of conformity at the forefront in attempts to explain criminal behavior and crime.


Perspectives: Feminism and Socialism

The feminist perspective represents the rise of the women’s movement in the 1960s. Criminological theory construction and research has long been anchored in androcentric ideology. This patriarchal paradigm has influenced theory construction.

Messerschmidt (1993) provides a cogent overview of this phenomenon in Maculinities and Crime: Critique and Reconceptualization of Theory. Messerschmidt observes that "gender has consistently been advanced by criminologists as the strongest predictor of criminal involvement" (p. 1). Yet, the field had long been stricken by a "gender-blindness" (p. 1), such that traditional criminologists have investigated females only as an anomaly, or "as a special category that allegedly explains the gendered nature of crime." (p. 2). According to Messerschmidt, gender, as applied to criminal behavior, is an issue only when investigating women and girls. Gender was generally ignored as an influence when researching men (1993).

Feminists also decry the Western culture’s glamorization of the violent male criminal. Brownmiller describes the assignation of heroic qualities to masculine criminals as "the myth of the heroic rapist" in her book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975, p. 283). One of Brownmiller’s numerous examples of this inculcated attitude is her description of British author Colin Wilson’s admiration of Jack the Ripper. In his work A Casebook of Murder (1969, cited in Brownmiller, 1975, p. 295), Wilson describes the Ripper, in Brownmiller’s words, as "talented, dominant," and in the "top five percent of the population" (Brownmiller, 1975, p. 295).

Besides the cultural androcentric milieu in which criminological theory construction has been erected, there have historically been problems with gender-blinded research as well. Naffine (1996) takes empirical criminologists to task for their tunnel-vision approach to research samples (p. 25).

The Marxist, socialist perspective of criminology is an economically driven theory of crime. This position is also known as critical criminology, as it opposes and criticizes the prevailing capitalist society. The central tenet of the socialist perspective is that crime is caused by the conflict between the lower and upper classes, and that a socialist society would ameliorate crime. Crime, according to this perspective, is the tool of the powerful to oppress the lower classes. (Lanier and Henry, 1998, pp. 18-19).



While theoretical foundation remains an integral component of criminological education, we contend that works directly applicable to the field are just as important. This literature imparts practical, experiential knowledge to the student, as well as giving him or her the opportunity to see the translation of theory into real world applicability.

Most positions with the criminal justice professions will have such practice literature. We shall mention only two here: law enforcement and policy.

Law Enforcement

Literature that addresses law enforcement issues may be found in journals such as Police Chief and FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Criminal investigations and profiling are well represented by authors like Robert Ressler, Anne Burgess, and John E. Douglas (in their work Sexual Homicide: Patterns And Motives (1988)) and Janet L. Jackson and Debra A. Bekerian (in Offender Profiling: Theory, Research and Practice (1997)). Books such as Bennett and Hess’s 1998 Criminal Investigation furnish directly applicable policing techniques. Douglas, Burgess, Burgess and Ressler offer their Crime Classification Manual (1992) as an aid to the explanation and categorization of crimes, as well as investigative implications. Kamisar, LaFave and Israel’s Modern Criminal Procedure: Basic Criminal Procedure (1985) detail law enforcement issues such as basic legal tenets and interrogation techniques.

There are numerous such examples of directly applicable policing literature in criminal justice. Such works are valuable resources to the student who seeks a direct law enforcement position upon graduation. In addition, they serve as a framework of applied, experiential knowledge for the student who wishes to continue his or her education in graduate or law school.

We recognize that the university classroom is not a law enforcement academy. However, we believe that instruction in investigative procedures, search and seizure legalities and police tactics deserve a place in criminal justice education.


Criminal justice education includes instruction in policy: its impact, formulation, and evaluation. Patton and Sawicki’s Basic Methods of Policy Analysis and Planning (1993) is an example of a work that explores public policy in general. Criminal justice policy works, such as Strecher’s Planning Community Policing (1997) or Alleman and Gido’s Turnstile Justice (1998) serve to familiarize the student with basic policy issues they may later face in their professional or graduate careers.




We intend to gauge how the undergraduate criminology or criminal justice student rates the field’s plasticity. A survey was prepared to measure student satisfaction with and expectations about their classroom instruction (see Appendix).

The survey is intended to make general decisions about who is a typical undergraduate criminology student, what that student desires from his or her educational experience, and how well these needs are being met. We understand that students will exhibit bias in their selections, and that what they want to learn is not necessarily all they should learn. Therefore, this survey should not be construed as a means to control curriculum (the authors have no such decision-making authority at any rate). Rather, we wish to examine how the multidisciplinary character of criminology is integrated into education. The scale is adapted from earlier student satisfaction surveys (Hanrahan, 1997).

As this paper represents a work in progress, we currently have no specific information on sample size (it will be over 300). The scale may yet be modified before use. We intend to survey undergraduate students enrolled in criminology classes at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As this university has an undergraduate criminology program of over 1200 students, we anticipate a rich and diverse sample source.

It is hoped that our findings will give us a clearer picture of what the typical criminal justice undergraduate student expects from the classroom experience. We are curious to see the direction in which these students wish to take their education, and how they believe they are being prepared for it. We hope to apply these findings to our own academic teaching careers in integrating theory and practice into the classroom.





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Criminology Undergraduate Survey


This survey is intended to help us assess and improve classroom instruction for undergraduate Criminology students. We want to determine which areas and activities are most important to you and to hear how the criminology department has been doing in respect to such.


Please answer all questions candidly and record your answers on the scantron sheet using a #2 pencil


The following survey is divided into five short sections and should take approximately ten to fifteen minutes to complete.


SECTION 1: We want to know what areas you value most regarding your criminology education. Please indicate to what extent the following activities or types of information are important to you. Rate each activity or type of information in one of the following categories:


(a) Top priority (b) Priority (c) Not a priority


  1. Courses that explore the legal/law related aspects of the Criminal Justice System.
  2. Courses which focus intently on corrections, probation, and parole.
  3. Instructors that explore potential career choices.
  4. Instructors that explore long-range educational goals with classes.
  5. Courses which focus on the U.S. Judicial System.
  6. Courses which focus on the Juvenile Justice System.
  7. Courses which prepare students for a professional career in law enforcement.
  8. Courses which prepare students for a professional career in corrections, probation, and/or parole.
  9. Courses which prepare students for a professional career within the judicial system.
  10. Courses that adequately prepare students for further education (i.e. graduate school, law school).
  11. Courses which focus on legislation and policy making.
  12. Courses which focus on theoretical aspects (potential explanations) of crime and criminal activity.
  13. Courses which focus on crime, law enforcement, and corrections in a historical context.
  14. Courses that focus on philosophical/moral issues as related to crime and the Criminal Justice System.


    SECTION 2: Please reread the same 18 statements (reprinted below), and evaluate each one by how descriptive it is of your overall experience in your Criminology classes. The rating scale this time is:


    (a) Highly descriptive (b) Descriptive (c) Not descriptive


  16. Courses that explore the legal/law related aspects of the Criminal Justice System.
  17. Courses which focus intently on corrections, probation, and parole.
  18. Instructors that explore potential career choices.
  19. Instructors that explore long-range educational goals with classes.

  21. Courses which focus on the U.S. Judicial System.
  22. Courses which focus on the Juvenile Justice System.
  23. Courses which prepare students for a professional career in law enforcement.
  24. Courses which prepare students for a professional career in corrections, probation, and/or parole.
  25. Courses which prepare students for a professional career within the judicial system.
  26. Courses that adequately prepare students for further education (i.e. graduate school, law school).
  27. Courses which focus on legislation and policy making.
  28. Courses which focus on theoretical aspects (potential explanations) of crime and criminal activity.
  29. Courses which focus on crime, law enforcement, and corrections in a historical context.
  30. Courses that focus on philosophical/moral issues as related to crime and the Criminal Justice System.

    SECTION 3: Which would you prefer:


  32. (a) Program/major which stresses or (b) Program/major devoted to the
  33. professional issues/training. understanding of crime,

    criminals, and related social




  34. (a) To complete your undergraduate or (b) Complete your undergraduate
  35. major with a general understanding major with the training and

    crime, theories of crime, the understanding necessary to

    criminal justice system, and law secure employment in a specific

    enforcement in the United States. criminal justice arena.



    SECTION 4: Experience Questions


  36. Have you participated in the internship program offered by the Criminology


    1. Yes
    2. No


  1. Have you ever worked part-time or full-time within the Criminal Justice System

(local, state, or federal level)?

    1. Yes
    2. No


  1. Have you ever served in the Armed Forces?
    1. Yes
    2. No


  1. Overall, how do you rate the classroom instruction within the criminology major?
    1. Very good
    2. Good
    3. Not very good
    4. Unable to judge


  1. Overall, how do you rate the courses required to complete the criminology major?
    1. Very good
    2. Good
    3. Not very good
    4. Unable to judge


  1. Overall, how do you rate the courses offered within the criminology department?
    1. Very good
    2. Good
    3. Not very good
    4. Unable to judge


SECTION 5: Demographic Questions


37. Age: (a) 17 - 19 (b) 20-21 (c) 22-24 (d) 25-30 (e) 31 and over


38. Class: (a) Freshman (b) Sophomore (c) Junior (d) Senior


39. Gender: (a) Female (b) Male


40. Race: (a) African-American (b) Asian-American (c) Caucasian

(d) Native-American (e) Other


  1. Did you transfer to IUP from another college or university?
    1. Yes

b. No


  1. Are you a (a) Criminology major, (b) Criminology/Pre-law major,

(c) Criminology minor, or (d) other.


43. Did you declare criminology as your major when you first entered IUP?

    1. Yes
    2. No, I started in another major


44. Have any members of your immediate family ever worked within the criminal

justice system?

    1. Yes
    2. No


  1. If you had to choose one, which of the following most closely describes your

future (after graduation) aspirations:

    1. Graduate school
    2. Law school
    3. Law enforcement position
    4. Corrections position
    5. Probation/parole position
    6. Government employment (local, state, or federal)
    7. Position within the Judicial System

h. Other


46. Approximate number of credits in Criminology (including Spring 1998)

    1. 6 or less
    2. 7 - 15
    3. 16 - 24
    4. 25 - 33
    5. 34 or more


47. Student status

    1. Part-time

b. Full-time


  1. Approximate G.P.A./Q.P.A
    1. Under 2.0
    2. 2.1 to 2.49
    3. 2.5 to 2.99
    4. 3.0 to 3.49
    5. 3.5 to 4.0




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Thank you for your participation and your assistance in building a better Criminology Department.