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Criminology beyond crime
Criminology beyond crime

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Supranational criminology

The concept of harm has added much to the branch of the discipline often referred to as supranational criminology. The pertinence of this branch of criminology has become more striking with the onset of globalisation. The growth of world-wide communication systems and the rapid rise of instant information sharing has created, according to Marshall McLuhan (1962; 1964), a ‘global village’ which is, in part, characterised by heightened awareness of the breadth of human responsibility and the potential consequences of human activity. At the same time, this global village – and the increasing connectedness of ideas and trade through multilateral agreements and communication technologies – has provided new international contexts for criminality that criminology cannot ignore. The trafficking of human beings and human body parts; the smuggling of wildlife, drugs, weapons and antiquities; the laundering of money and the theft of biodiveristy; and the contamination of air, soil and water from pollution are some examples of the ways global trade networks provide contexts for new and emerging forms of criminality. While international criminal organisations are involved and profit from such actions, it is democratically elected governments that often facilitate, contribute, justify or ‘turn a blind eye’ to behaviours that result in widespread social injustice.

One of the founders of supranational criminology, Annette Smeulers summarises it as follows:

Supranational criminology is thus an interdisciplinary research area with close links to criminology, sociology, psychology, history, philosophy, political science and law, amongst them. This extremely broad research program can be split into several core issues and central questions, which all signify a specific research area. The six main research areas are:

  1. Define and conceptualize international crimes
  2. Measure and map international crimes
  3. Estimate social costs of international crimes
  4. Investigate the causes of international crimes
  5. Define and analyze ways of dealing with international crimes
  6. Develop preventive strategies in order to prevent international crimes.
(Smeulers, 2006, p. 3)

Key features of supranational criminology

  • Supranational criminology was officially launched on 2 September 2005 at the European Society of Criminology conference in Krakow
  • Examines international crimes and gross human rights violations
  • Emphasises the need of an interdisciplinary approach to examining international crimes
  • International crimes differ from ordinary crimes in the sense that they are committed systematically and often on a very large scale
  • May include political crimes, ideological crimes and crimes of obedience (following orders)
  • Key theorists who are concerned with supranational criminology:
    • Gregg Barak
    • Caitrien Biljeveld
    • Penny Green
    • Roeloff Haveman
    • Alette Smeulers
    • Rene van Swaanigen.