Criminology Modules

Just as you guys probably have work to do this Christmas, so do we! University students work hard over the Christmas break to prepare for assessments and write up essays. In for next term I’ve a 3000-word essay on environmental crime, a 1750-word essay on policy networks, and a portfolio (3 600-word mini-essays and a compilation of notes from the term) on the British criminal justice system to submit. In other words, I’m somewhat occupied!

Now seems like a good time to discuss modules – the component parts of any degree. The modules I’m taking in my second year are:

  • Understanding Criminal Justice (a non-stop tour of our criminal justice system, from arrest through to resettlement)
  • Social Research Methods (an introduction to quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as SPSS software)
  • Crime, Culture and Social Change (relating to cultural criminology and covering topics such as green crimes and terrorism)
  • The Policy Process (my optional module, exploring the policy process at macro, meso and micro levels and including topics like globalization, welfare states and policy networks)

While it will be changing around a little and might not be the same for you, last year the modules for first year Criminology students included: Introduction to Sociological TheoryIntroduction to Social PolicySociology of Crime and Deviance, and Ways of Knowing. The first two in particular demonstrate the dual-department nature of the course here at York (being split between the Sociology and Social Work & Social Policy departments). SCD (Sociology of Crime and Deviance) gave an overview of some major criminological theories and approaches, whilst WOK (Ways Of Knowing) honed in on our (grim) penal history in the first term, followed by detailed analysis of antisocial behaviour policy.

My favourite weeks for the IST (Introduction to Sociological Theory) module assessed the works of Auguste Comte – the founder of Sociology who stressed its place as a “queen science” (you can probably guess why some sociology students are particularly appreciative of his points). He argued that we ought to use social science to shape how we live (positivism). The ISP (Introduction to Social Policy) module was slightly easier to grapple with, though no less complex once understood!

For example, it had never struck me before just how important pensions are – in terms of population sustainability, or how they relate to gender issues (e.g. perpetuating reliance on a partner, or reflecting different work patterns). The WOK (Ways of Knowing) module centred on different approaches to research. The first term focussed on developing a historical perspective to explore the history of our prisons and the second and third terms focussed on a contemporary analysis of (failure with) ASBOs.

The SCD module was probably the juiciest to delve into. I was particularly interested in biological approaches to criminology (look up any “Adrian Raine” lecture on YouTube – it’s fascinating, if not questionable, stuff), but my favourite overall topic, labelling theories, demonstrates the educational linkage between each of the modules.

In short, the basic labelling idea is that “crime” is constructed to describe behaviour considered undesirable by the dominant groups in society (for example until the 1960s homosexuality was a crime, but today few sane people would define it as such). This relates to sociological theories, such as Durkheim’s argument that crime is not pathogenic but something to be expected – societies need ways of defining acceptable behaviour to maintain group cohesion. It relates to social policy in terms of legislative responses, when we consider how political parties react and how their policies develop. With the perspectives developed in the WOK module, we can think of ways to either approach or apply the problem – an example being how people with ASBOs are treated in the media, and whether this is an aim of policymakers.

If you’re consider taking Criminology at another University, it’s worth noting how the courses are structured differently so that you can choose what’s best for you. Some focus more on the legal side, or slant it towards psychology. Here at York the split between two major departments really does set the course apart, and that’s before considering the various options you can take, including Criminology, Criminology & Sociology, Criminology & Social Psychology…….

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Second year Criminology undergraduate with a strong "get involved in everything" philosophy, and proud member of Derwent College.