Durkheim on crime and societal development: The Durkheimian School of Comparative Criminology reconsidered

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Stan C. Weeber


The assumption that crime is associated with urbanization and industrialization has had a strong influence on the development of criminology and especially comparative criminology. Indeed, the idea of a crime-development link guided much empirical study in comparative criminology beginning in the 1960s. The source of the assumption is often attributed to Emile Durkheim, although careful readers recall that Durkheim's original writings on crime and societal development stressed the functionality of crime and its universality as opposed to its socially dysfunctional causes and effects. Thus there is reason to question whether Durkheim was the original source. The purpose of this paper is to review what Durkheim had to say about the link between crime and societal development and then to look at the theoretical arguments of the Durkheim-inspired comparative criminologists to see if the latter's ideas were based upon Durkheim's original works. The analysis shows that the theoretical root of Durkheimian comparative criminology is traced to Modernization theory and to various reinterpretations of Durkheim's classic works. The implication of these findings is discussed as it relates to the formal education of professional sociologists in the new millennium.

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