Essential Criminology


By Mark M. Lanier

By Stuart Henry

By Desire’ J.M. Anastasia

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In the fourth edition of Essential Criminology, authors Mark M. Lanier, Stuart Henry, and Desiré J.M. Anastasia build upon this best-selling critical review of criminology, which has become essential reading for students of criminology in the 21st century.

Designed as an alternative to overly comprehensive, lengthy, and expensive introductory texts, Essential Criminology is, as its title implies, a concise overview of the field. The book guides students through the various definitions of crime and the different ways crime is measured. It then covers the major theories of crime, from individual-level, classical, and rational choice to biological, psychological, social learning, social control, and interactionist perspectives. In this latest edition, the authors explore the kind of criminology that is needed for the globally interdependent twenty-first century. With cutting-edge updates, illustrative real-world examples, and new study tools for students, this text is a necessity for both undergraduate and graduate courses in criminology.


Preface and Acknowledgments

The idea that “the only constant is change” has been around at least since the time of Heracleitus in 500 B.C. Since we first wrote this book in 1997 and subsequent editions in 2004 and 2010, the world has certainly changed. It has become increasingly globalized and we appear more interconnected with others. The Internet, social media, and cybercrime have altered the traditional criminal justice landscape. These changes also include the nature of crime, environmental and financial harms from multinational corporate crimes, global political terrorism and violence at home, work or school—all of which have become more significant than the threat from strangers on the street. The threat of terrorism affects everyone, everywhere. New vulnerabilities have appeared. The means we use to communicate and converse have changed and opened up opportunities for new types of white-collar fraud, sexual predatory practices, and cybercrime. The business community has been wracked by one scandal after another, eroding confidence in our economic and political systems, and even by challenges to the capitalist economy. The nature of war has also changed. Rather than nation-to-nation, wars have become endless and ongoing conflicts between ethnic and sectarian groups, though in 2014 we are seeing strains toward old European war tensions with Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and threats by NATO that it will defend Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania should they be threatened by Russian expansionism. These changes, coupled with many suggestions from the readers and users of the first, second, and third editions, led us to revise and update Essential Criminology. As with the third edition, we revised this book in the spirit of social philosopher Eric Hoffer (1902–1983), who said that “in times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

On the surface, this is still a book about crime and criminality. It is about how we study crime, how we explain crime, how we determine who is—and who is not—criminal, and how to reduce the harm caused by crime. It is also a book about difference. Crime is something we know all about—or do we? You may see crime differently from the way it is seen by your parents and even by your peers. You may see your own behavior as relatively acceptable, apart from a few minor rule violations here and there. But real crime? That’s what others do—criminals, right? You may change how you view crime and criminals after reading this text.

As authors, we also reflect difference; Stuart was raised in working-class South London, England; Mark was a “military brat” living in England, California, Florida, and Alabama during his formative years. Stuart was educated to traditional, long-tested, yet very narrow British standards; Mark studied in a unique multidisciplinary US doctoral program. Stuart seriously questions the utility of scientific methods (positivism); Mark relies on them daily. Stuart rarely does anything outdoors, except watch an occasional rock concert; Mark builds custom motorcycles and jeeps, is an active wake boarder and surfer, and loves the outdoor life.

With this fourth edition we have added a third author, Desiré J. M. Anastasia, who brings an additional dimension of diversity and had the unenviable task of updating much of the text from the third edition. Desiré has a master’s degree in women’s studies from Eastern Michigan University and a doctorate in sociology from Wayne State University in Detroit. Desiré’s dissertation was on extensively tattooed women, which should alert you to her different roots and perspective. She considers herself to be a postmodern feminist who blends a love for science with an interest in the spiritual. Desiré is a reiki practitioner and yoga teacher, as well as an assistant professor of sociology. Yet, despite these differences, we found common ground for our analysis of crime and criminality.

We see crime as complex, political, and harmful to victims and perpetrators. We also acknowledge the difference between people, gender, race/ethnicity, culture, and beliefs. Thus, we embrace conflict as not only inevitable but a positive force. Conflict promotes contemplation and understanding of others, including their cultures, education, experiences, and worldviews. Conflict also prompts change and thus provides the opportunity for improving our social world. It presents the opportunity to confront our dissatisfactions and search for a better way.

Most people throughout the world are dissatisfied with how we handle crime and criminals. This dissatisfaction raises questions. Is crime caused by individuals—criminals? Is it caused by the way society is organized? By rule makers? By poverty? By drugs? Is it simply some people expressing power over others? All of the above? Something else? Is crime even caused at all?

We also must question how to deal with crime. Should crime be handled by the criminal justice system? By social policy? By public health officials (did you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] track homicides)? By you and other citizens (“take back the streets” and “neighborhood partnership” programs have become a significant part of community crime control)?

Conflict over these issues and the need for a good (relatively) short criminology text contributed to our desire to write and rewrite this book. At first, we decided to write Essential Criminology as a concise introductory text, aimed at examining the nature and extent of crime and surveying the main theoretical perspectives on crime causation and their criminal-justice-policy implications. We believe the book is written in a clear and straightforward style, yet progressively builds students’ knowledge. Much to our surprise, an analysis of programs adopting the text ranged from graduate programs to freshman courses at community colleges. But as we progressed through editions the book expanded and became more encyclopedic than essential! Thus, in this fourth edition, we have tried to return to the roots and cut many of the elaborations of theory to reduce the detail of the text.

Many users of the text have suggested that we begin by discussing globalization, which is followed by a discussion of the scope of the subject. Essential Criminology guides students through the diverse definitions of crime and provides a brief treatment of the different ways crime is measured. It then turns to the major theoretical explanations for crime, from individual-level classical and rational choice through biological, psychological, social learning, social control, and interactionist perspectives. It explains the more sociocultural theories, beginning with social ecology, and moves on to strain/subcultural theory and conflict, Marxist, and anarchist approaches. We reorganized the few final chapters to better reflect feminist contributions and the exciting new changes in postmodernism, left realism, and integrative theories. We conclude the book with a brief review of the trend toward integrating criminological theory. Background information is provided on major theorists to demonstrate that they are real people who share the experiences life offers us all. We have also tried to cover the theories completely, accurately, and evenhandedly and have made some attempt to show how each is related to or builds on the others. But concerns about length mean that the student wishing to explore these connections in greater depth should consult the several more comprehensive theory texts available. Ours provides the essentials.

Essential Criminology has several unique, student-friendly features. We begin each chapter with examples of specific crimes to illustrate the theory. The book includes an integrated “prismatic” definition of crime. This prism provides a comprehensive, multidimensional way of conceptualizing crime in terms of damage, social outrage, and harm. Our “crime prism” integrates virtually all the major disparate definitions of crime. Throughout the text, we provide “equal time” examples from both white-collar (“suite”) and conventional (“street”) crime, with the objective of drawing students into the realities of concrete cases. We make a conscious effort to include crimes that are less often detected, prosecuted, and punished. These corporate, occupational, and state crimes have serious consequences but are often neglected in introductory texts. We present chapter-by-chapter discussions of each perspective’s policy implications, indicating the practical applications that the theory implies. Finally, summary concept charts conclude each chapter dealing with theory. These provide a simple, yet comprehensive analytical summary of the theories, revealing their basic assumptions.

The book is primarily intended for students interested in the study of crime and its causation. This includes such diverse fields as social work, psychology, sociology, political science, and history. We expect the book to be mainly used in criminology and criminal justice courses, but students studying any topics related to crime, such as juvenile delinquency and deviant behavior, will also find the book useful. Interdisciplinary programs will find the book particularly helpful. Rarely is any book the product of one or two or three individuals. We drew on the talents, motivation, and knowledge of many others. We jointly would like to thank all our teachers inside and outside the classroom: friends (Reginald “Reg” Hyde), students (most recently, Jonathan Reid, Emily Ciaravolo Restivo, Sameer Hinduja, and Jessica Rico), deviants (bikers, surfers and professors mostly), criminals, and law enforcement professionals who broadened and sharpened our view of crime. We would like to commend the external reviewers of this, and the first editions, Mark Stafford of Texas State University, and especially Martha A. Myers of the University of Georgia, who provided a thoroughly constructive commentary that made this book far better than what we could have written without her valuable input. We always appreciate Gregg Barak, René van Swaaningen, Eugene Paoline, John Sloan, Robert Langworthy, Dragan Milovanovic and several anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. Finally, Cisca Schreefel and John Wilcockson from Westview Press did an outstanding job of copyediting—and prodding us to finish!

Mark M. Lanier, Stuart Henry, Desiré J. M. Anastasia

March 20, 2014


What Is Criminology?

The Study of Crime, Criminals, and Victims in a Global Context

“There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.”

—Thornton Wilder, Pullman Car Hiawatha

The horrendous events of September 11, 2001, in which the World Trade Center in New York City was totally destroyed, and the Pentagon in Washington substantially damaged, by hijacked commercial airliners that were flown into them, killing 2,982 people, have proved to be the defining point of the past decade, and perhaps for decades to come. Clearly, the nature of war, the American way of life, what counts as “crime,” and how a society responds to harms, internal or external, changed on that day. This act of terrorism was undoubtedly aimed at the American people. The terrorist organization al-Qaeda, whose members were predominantly from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, claimed responsibility. As recently as April 15, 2013, two pressure-cooker bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring an estimated 264 others. The suspects were identified as Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who were allegedly motivated by extremist Islamist beliefs as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Interestingly enough, both men were residents of the state of Massachusetts at the time.

The purpose of this introductory chapter is to show how the changing geopolitical landscape and other factors shape our renewed discussion of crime and its causes, as well as possible policy responses. Six fundamental changes can be identified that demonstrate the changed nature of our world. These changes all move toward increasing interconnection and interdependence. They are: (1) globalization; (2) the communications revolution, particularly the Internet; (3) privatization and individualization; (4) the global spread of disease; (5) changing perceptions of conflict and national security; and (6) the internationalization of terrorism.


Globalization is the process whereby people react to issues in terms of reference points that transcend their own locality, society, or region. These reference points include material, political, social, and cultural concerns that affect the planet, such as environmental challenges (e.g., global warming or overpopulation) and commercial matters (e.g., fast food, in particular so-called McDonaldization [Ritzer, 2009; Pieterse, 2009], which describes the rationalization of culture along the lines of fast-food restaurants depicted by the spread of McDonald’s throughout the world’s economies). Globalization is a process of unification in which differences in economic, technological, political, and social institutions are transformed from a local or national network into a single system. Globalization also relates to an international universalism, whereby events happening in one part of the world affect those in another, none more dramatic than the collapse of world financial markets (Stiglitz 2002, 2006), which went global in September 2008. Indeed, the emergence of worldwide financial markets and under- or unregulated foreign exchange and speculative markets resulted in the vulnerability of national economies. In short, “‘Globalization’ refers to all those processes by which peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society” (Albrow 1990, 9). Conversely, while globalization relates to the way people in different societies identify with values that cut across nations and cultures, it also relates to the recognition of different cultures’ diversity of experience and the formation of new identities. As globalization integrates us, these new identities and our sense of belonging to differentiated cultures are also driving many of us apart (Croucher 2004, 3). We argue that globalization is particularly pronounced in the areas of communications, privatization, and individualization, health, conflict, and terrorism; each of these has relevance for the study of crime and deviance.

Prior to 1985 global communication was largely restricted to the affluent. The advent of the personal computer and the development of the Internet transformed the way we communicate. Now people connect daily with others all over the world at little or no expense. At the same time, the development in global communications has led to a massive shift of jobs from manufacturing into service, communications, and information (called the postindustrial society), and because the latter jobs require higher education and training, increasing numbers of people the world over are underemployed or unemployed. Increased global communication has also brought a rush of new crimes that are perpetrated on and via the Internet, such as fraud and identity theft, drug smuggling, and bomb making. The growing dependence on global communications has also made national infrastructures and governments vulnerable to Internet terrorism through hacking and computer viruses. Consider the case of Aaron Swartz. Swartz was a cofounder of the news website Reddit, which aims to make online content free to the general public and not the exclusive domain of the affluent. In 2011, he was charged with stealing millions of scientific journal articles from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to make them freely available. Just weeks before his federal trial began the twenty-six-year-old hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment. Swartz faced thirteen felony charges. David Segal, the executive director of Demand Progress, an Internet activist organization founded by Swartz, stated, “It’s like to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library” (

Related to globalization and global unemployment are two trends: a decline in collective social action and increased economic polarization. Increasingly, we are seeing the “death of society,” that is, the decline in collective action and social policy requiring some to give up part of their wealth to help the less fortunate or to increase the public good. The 1980s and 1990s saw massive deregulation and privatization, from transportation, communications, and energy to finance, welfare, and even law enforcement. We have also seen the increasing tendency for family members to stay at home, not as families but as appendages to technology, such as televisions, computers, and video games. The result is an impersonal society, one where we are living in isolation from other real people, “bowling alone” (Putnam 1995), where media images and game characters become interspersed with real people who are seen as superficial objects, like caricatures. Moreover, because of the impact of globalization on the economic structures of societies, there has been a polarization of rich and poor, with numerous groups excluded from opportunities (J. Young 1999). In their relatively impoverished state, these groups are vulnerable to violence, both in their homes and in their neighborhoods.

Although epidemics such as the black death, smallpox, and polio have demonstrated that throughout human history disease can be a global phenomenon, the systemic use of hygienic practices, including clean water and effective sanitation and sewerage, and the discovery and use of antibiotics, vaccines, and other drugs meant that for much of the twentieth century the global spread of disease was seen as a thing of the past, or at least occurring only in underdeveloped countries. But by the end of the twentieth century, through the advent of increased global travel, the terror of disease on a global scale was given new meaning, first with HIV/AIDS, then with mad cow disease, West Nile virus, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and resistant strains of tuberculosis. In 2014 Ebola became a threat. Worse was the fact that, unlike times past, groups could potentially introduce disease, such as smallpox or anthrax, on a global scale as part of a terrorist operation against individuals or governments. Like the previous developments, the dual effect was, on the one hand, to render people increasingly fearful of contact, especially intimate contact with strangers, tending to undermine interpersonal relations, while, on the other, demonstrating just how interconnected we have become. Disease pathogens can now be used as criminal attack tools or threats.

The single most feared event, and according to surveys of public opinion the “crime” considered most serious, is a terrorist attack. Events such as the September 11, 2001, suicide airliner bombings and the Mumbai hotel takeover in December 2008 illustrate that the threat of terrorism on a global scale has become part of the daily fear of populations around the world, not least because of the ways these events are instantly communicated to everyone, everywhere, as they happen. No longer restricted to the tactics of a few extreme radical or fringe groups in certain nations, terrorism has become the method of war for any ethnic or religious group that does not have the power to succeed politically. It has been facilitated by developments in communication, transportation, and technology that have enabled explosives and other weapons to become smaller and more lethal. Whether there is an interconnected web of terrorism around fundamentalist Muslim religious extremism (such as that claimed by followers of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda), an Arab-led terrorist movement opposed to Western culture, more specific actions such as those in Northern Ireland by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and splinter groups against Protestants and the British government, or in Indonesia or Bali against supporters of the West, it is clear that terrorism has become a global threat. Data assembled by the Center for Systemic Peace show that, since 2001, both the number and the severity of terrorist incidents have increased.

However, what is less heralded, but which presents an even greater and more realistic threat, is the threat posed by cyber terrorists and cyber criminals. Computers, cell phones, and things such as electronic banking now dominate virtually every aspect of modern society. The use of cyber devices has far exceeded the law and technology required to combat and prevent this type of crime. Nation-states, such as China, reportedly devote considerable resources to infiltrate computer systems in other countries; corporations engage in corporate espionage on an unprecedented scale; and terror organizations rely on the Internet to recruit, raise funds, and organize. Other countries such as Iran and the United States have already been successfully targeted by cyber attacks. So far, many governments have been slow to adapt to this emerging and present crime threat. Criminologists have also been slow to develop theories to explain the characteristics of people likely to engage in cybercrime or cause harm from within—so-called insider threats.

So how do societies reconfigure their vision of crime to deal with its global dimensions? Should acts of terrorism and acts of war be considered crimes? What about the actions of states that abuse human rights? Are there new criminologies that can deal with these more integrated global-level forms of harm creation?

What do these various crimes have in common? What kinds of cases grab media attention? Which do people consider more criminal? Which elicit the most concern? How does the social context affect the kind of crime and the harms suffered by its victims? How are technology and the media changing the face of crime? What do these events have to do with criminology? How does globalization affect the way we conceive of crime, punishment, and justice? (See Box 1.1.) After reading this book, you should have a better understanding of these issues, if not clear answers.

BOX  1.1    The Global Market Context of US Crime and Punishment

                  ELLIOTT CURRIE

The United States was distinctive among the advanced nations in the extent to which its social life was shaped by the imperatives of private gain—my definition of “market society”—and it was not accidental that it was also the nation with by far the worst levels of serious violent crime because a market society created a “toxic brew” of overlapping social effects. It simultaneously created deep poverty and widened inequality, destroyed livelihoods, stressed families, and fragmented communities. It chipped away at public and private sources of social support while promoting a corrosive ethos of predatory individualism that pitted people against each other in a scramble for personal gain. . . . The empirical research of the past seven years . . . confirms the importance of inequality and insecurity as potent breeding grounds for violent crime, so does the evidence of experience, as the spread of these problems under the impact of “globalization” has brought increased social disintegration and violence across the world in its wake. . . . Violence has been reduced in many other advanced capitalist societies, without resorting to correspondingly high levels of incarceration, to levels that seem stunningly low by US standards. The variation among those societies in street violence remains extraordinary, and I’d argue that it is largely due to the systematic differences in social policy that can coexist within the generic frame of modern capitalism. It is true that some of these differences in levels of crime (and in the response to crime) are narrowing, especially to the degree that other countries have adopted parts of the US social model. But it also remains true that the United States isn’t Sweden, or even France or Germany, when it comes to violent crime, or rates of imprisonment. And this difference isn’t merely academic. It translates into tangible differences in the risks of victimization and the overall quality of life. . . . Social policy in the United States, and in many other countries too, has, if anything, gone backward on many of the issues raised by this line of thinking about crime. We continue to chip way at our already minimal system of social supports for the vulnerable while pressing forward with economic policies that, by keeping wages low and intensifying job insecurity, foster ever-widening inequality and deepen the stresses on families and communities that many of us have singled out as being crucial sources of violence. We continue to rely on mass incarceration as our primary bulwark against crime despite an abundance of evidence that doing so is not only ineffective but also self-defeating. . . . These tendencies are especially troubling because they are increasingly taking place on a worldwide scale. What we somewhat misleadingly call “globalization”—really the spread of “market” principles to virtually every corner of the world—threatens to increase inequality, instability, and violence wherever it touches, while simultaneously diminishing the political capacity for meaningful social change. Formerly stable and prosperous countries in the developed world are busily dismantling the social protections that traditionally helped to keep their rates of violent crime low: parts of the developing world that were once relatively tranquil are becoming breeding grounds for gang violence, official repression, and a growing illicit traffic in drugs and people. The world will not be able to build enough prisons to contain this volatility. The future under this model of social and economic development does not look pretty. Fortunately, it is not the only future we can envision.

Source: Extracted from Elliott Currie, “Inequality Community and Crime,” in The Essential Criminology Reader, edited by Stuart Henry and Mark M. Lanier (Boulder: Westview Press, 2006), 299–306.

Elliott Currie is a professor of criminology, law, and society in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California-Irvine.

What Is Criminology?

Criminology is mostly straightforwardly defined as the systematic study of the nature, extent, cause, and control of law-breaking behavior. Criminology is an applied social science in which criminologists work to establish knowledge about crime and its control based on empirical research. This research forms the basis for understanding, explanation, prediction, prevention, and criminal justice policy.

Ever since the term criminology


  • "Essential Criminology is essential reading for anybody-student, scholar, or lay person-who is curious about crime and the world in the 21st century. In this new and revised edition, Lanier and Henry incorporate significant changes that are occurring in an age of globalization. Changes that even since the first edition was published in 1997 are affecting the way in which we see and study crime today. Employing an historical and comparative framework, these authors have also expanded upon their original theses and analyses for examining the evolving field of criminology, yielding what I would contend is the most inclusive and balanced theory text available."
    Gregg Barak, Eastern Michigan University

    "Essential Criminology is a wonderful introductory textbook, and should one desire a more in-depth study of criminology, it offers 43 pages of reference materials."
    Wisconsin Lawyer

    "Represents the first important shift in the content and presentation of introductory criminology textbooks in over 29 years. Students at the college level receive an introduction to the past wealthy of criminological thought as well as new ideas on the topic. This simplifies arguments and perspectives yet contains all the overview of important issues central to criminology theory.
    The Bookwatch
  • Praise for previous editions:

    "Comprehensive, accessible, engaging, and concise, covering key theories from conservative to critical with very useful early chapters on defining criminology, crime, and crime data. Each subsequent chapter includes a succinct overview of a set of core theories, an illuminating section on limitations and policy implications, and a precise summary of key points (including basic idea, human nature, society and social order, causality, criminal justice policy and practice, and evaluation). Unlike many texts, this inclusion provides the student and the well-versed abundant opportunities for engagement and critical dialogue. No text on theories of crime on the market can compete with the extensive and precise coverage of core theories in crime causation along with the seductive encouragement to actively engage the respective theories. Essential Criminology is also futuristic, providing the grounds for constructive critical engagement with emerging perspectives. This will not only appeal to students but also to those well-versed seeking a comprehensive, critical reference text. Three cheers for the innovative and comprehensive exposition and critique!"
    Dr. Dragan Milovanovic, Justice Studies, Northeastern Illinois University
  • "Essential Criminology represents a significant advancement in our approach to educating students about the definition and use of different criminological perspectives. By presenting the major theoretical perspectives in simplified language and by the use of modern-day examples and current research findings, students are able to develop a more meaningful understanding for the role that theory plays in the development and implementation of crime policy."
    Lynette Lee-Sammns, California State University, Scaramento

    "Essential Criminology is the first important shift in the content and presentation of introductory criminology textbooks in over two decades. Survey textbooks should do two things: teach students the basics and discuss where future directions are leading us. The majority do the former but ignore the latter. Lanier and Henry accomplish both. Comprehensive and future-oriented, the book provides the introductory student the broad brush of criminological thought within the context of new and expanded ideas. Students will enjoy Essential Criminology because it makes difficult concepts easy to understand without leveling down, uses examples akin to today's student's experience, and carries the theme of crime as harm in any kind across every page of every chapter. A first-rate textbook."
    John Ortiz Smykla, University of Alabama

On Sale
Nov 18, 2014
Page Count
464 pages

Mark M. Lanier

About the Author

Mark M. Lanier is professor and the Dean’s Assistant in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alabama. He is the author or editor of 12 books on crime and research methods, including Research Methods in Criminal Justice and Criminology: A Mixed Methods Approach (Oxford University).

Stuart Henry is professor of Criminal Justice and Director of the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University. He is the author of over twenty books including the classic work, The Hidden Economy.

Desiré J. M. Anastasia is assistant professor of sociology at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

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Stuart Henry

About the Author

Mark Lanier is professor and chair of the department of Criminal Justice at the University of Alabama.  He is the author or editor of multiple books on crime, including The Essential Criminology Reader (with Stuart Henry).

Stuart Henry is professor of criminal justice and director of the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University and visiting professor of criminology at the University of Kent, Canterbury, England. He is the author of more than twenty books including the classic The Hidden Economy.

Learn more about this author