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Theory, Method, and Data in Comparative Criminology

NCJ Number
Date Published
73 pages
This chapter provides an overview of the recently rejuvenated field of comparative criminology.
The authors begin by considering the context and history of comparative criminology and continue by outlining the contemporary comparative perspective. After identifying several goals for comparative criminology that are often advanced, including theory elaboration and testing as well as policy evaluation and critique, the chapter describes the common approaches to comparative criminological research. The main theoretical traditions of comparative criminology are first examined, with particular attention to metanarratives such as modernization, civilization, opportunity, and world system theories, as well as to structural theories based on culture, social bonds, and the distribution of economic resources. Taking up methodological concerns next, the chapter summarizes some of the more common dependent variables studied by comparative criminologists, noting how these variables have been operationalized in the literature. The chapter then explores the three methodological approaches typically deployed in the field, namely, metalevel, parallel, and case studies. The authors next discuss the three most common types of data on international crime and justice, i.e., official, victimization, and self-report data; the authors describe the threats to the reliability and validity of each type and direct readers to existing sources of data relevant to often-used explanatory concepts. The chapter concludes with the observation that, although comparative criminology is a growing area of study due to the influence of globalization and concerns about transnational crime, the relative neglect of systematic comparative work in criminology throughout the 20th century means that the field is still in its infancy. Growth in this promising area of inquiry should be nurtured with a renaissance in theory, so that research is driven by theory and not by the mere existence of more data. 5 exhibits, 19 notes, and 264 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000