Global Criminology

Home Page Multinational Corporate Crime Crimes of the Powerful & State-Routinized Crime Social Justice Theft of a Nation Slide Show Addressing Wall Street Securities Fraud in the 21st Century WikiLeaks--Will the Public Remember? Mass Media & Crime Review Essay on Race Crime and Justice Terrorism Economic Crisis & State-Corporate Crime Crimes of State CSI or Tech Effect? Supranational  Criminology Peacemaking  Criminology Theories  of Violence Newsmaking  Criminology Mediatizing Law and Order Speaking of Class Race and Gender Integrative  Criminology Global  Criminology Transnational  Crime Visionary  Criminology Read About My Books Read About My Anthologies Read About My Two Volume Encyclopedia Book Review of Criminology An Integrated Approach Sexual Serial Killer Jack Unterweger Educational Debt Forgiveness Contact What's New: Racketeering and Trump Blog

Comparative Criminology: A Global View

by Gregg Barak

This essay was originally published in The Critical Criminologist, Vol. 10, No. 2, Winter 2000.


As an academic specialty, the study of comparative, cross-cultural crime and crime control is less than thirty years old. In the late eighties, for example, Neuman and Berger (1988) were arguing that comparative crime theories were immature, and a decade earlier Blazicek and Janeksela (1978:234) were pronouncing that the methods associated with the study of crime control abound with "ambiguity, confusion and misue of the term 'comparative'." To be sure, there are still alternative views, definitions, and theories of as well as approaches to comparative crime and crime control. However, as the number of comparative studies have grown, some clarity of purpose has been established in the field. Then again, "transnationalists" like Paul Friday (1996), Jamieson, South, and Taylor (1997) or Jim Sheptycki (1998), some of whom argue that the nation-state is in demise and some of whom argue that it is obsolete, would contend that before comparative criminology gets its act together, that we will have moved on to doing international and transnational criminology.


When I refer to comparative criminology or to cross-national study, I am referring to the systematic and theoretically-informed comparison of crime and crime control in two or more cultural states as suggested by Beirne and Nelken (1997). More specifically, in Crime and Crime Control: A Global View, the contributors and I surveyed the institutional relationships of crime and crime control for fifteen "nation-states" or countries (Barak, 2000). As part of our global analysis, these countries were grouped into one of three classifications--Developed, Post-traditional, and Developing societies--based on their social, political, and economic development or integration into the 19th and 20th centuries' multinational corporatism and the emerging 21st century's lifestyle consumerism (Waters, 1995).

In these models, the traditional or less developed societies (e.g., Third World, post-colonial, underdeveloped) are characterized by "subsistence economies, underdevelopment, poverty, social inequality, and authoritarian political regimes" (Moaddel, 1994:279). By contrast, the modern and developed societies are characterized by market economies, industrialization, "sustained economic growth and development, mass affluence, declining inequality, and political democracy" (Ibid.). In addition, there are also the transitional or trichotomous models of development, which include a third grouping of societies somewhere between the traditional and the modern societies.

In between the developed core with its relatively specialized and mechanized development, higher profits and higher wages, and more skilled activities, and the less developed periphery with its imposed upon productivity and lower profits, wages and skills, are those regions of development which represent intermediate types of production. These "semi-periphery" nation-state societies represent a third group of socio-economic formations that tend to "exploit" lesser developed nation-states of the periphery, while they are subject to "exploitation" by the more developed nation-states of the core. Trichotomous models of development are sensitive to social change in general and to the inter-working relationships within and between these particular kinds of "countires in transition." To say the least, these are dynamic rather than static models, and they recognize the importance of the transitional or middle stratum societies where development is uneven, present in some sectors of society and absent from other sectors.

For our analysis, if any of the developmental pieces were missing, including the presence of modern institutions and values, industrialization, rapid economic development, and the dissolution of the traditional or repressive social order, then the middle level classification of development was used. If all of the pieces were present, then the upper level classification of development was used. If most of the pieces were missing, then the lower level classification of development was used. Accordingly, the organization of our study was as follows:

Developed Nations

United States, Germany, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Taiwan, Netherlands

Post-traditional Nations

Ghana, Nigeria, Navajo Nation

Developing Nations

Brazil, Poland, Russia, Iran, China, India

Historically, cross-cultural research that embodies a large number of countries, typically employs national or aggregated data sets, such as the United Nations World Crime Surveys, the Comparative Crime Data File, INTERPOL, Correlates of Crime, 1960-1984, or the Human Relations Area Files (which contain numerous data from different countries, past and present). Whereas our study of 15 nations sporadically incorporated findings from some of these sources, there was no systematic undertaking to apply these kinds of data sets to our basic inquiries. Nonetheless, utilizing data that was assessable or made available to them during their research expeditions of 1998, our researchers provided an array of empirical data on crime and victimization. They did so, however, not as investigators systematically collecting the same material for 15 nation-states, but as members of a larger team asked to individually conduct, one nation at a time, simultaneous research on crime and crime control.

The primary focus of our nation-state studies were also "localized." In other words, these studies were keenly historical and concerned with telling the developmental stories of crime and crime control for particular countries. What were developed were rich narratives that describe the contemporary scene, grounded not only in historical accounts, but also in profiles of each nation and its public perceptions of crime and crime control. In different ways, these national studies were comparative in the sense that they not only explored crime and crime control in two or more historical settings, but, at the same time, they examined these relationships in terms of their changing political, economic, and social contexts.

Ideally, it has been my assumption that some kind of integrative macro/micro level of analysis of crime/criminals is perferable to either/or macro versus micro analyses (Barak, 1998). Nevertheless, our cross-cultural comparative study was mostly concerned with the historical records and territorial developments of crime and crime control at the macro or institutional levels (e.g., political, economic, social) of analysis. Moreover, our comparative analysis moves back-and-forth between the national and global perspectives, appreciating the importance of locally changing conditions, such as ethnic diversity, population growth, poiticalization, urbanity, economic development, marginality, inequality, and so on, as well as the importance of the developing process of globalization.

For each of the nations studies, the researchers agreed to present reviews of the same essential materials. These included: (1) quantitative data provided on the trends and rates of crime and victimization; (2) qualitative presentations on the historical development of crime and crime control, incorporating a profiling or conceptual framework of the changing demographics, politics, economics, and cultural styles of living and consumption; (3) a discussion on the general causes and responses to crime and on the circumstances concerning the legal and policy developments; and (4) a speculative discussion on the future trends in crime and crime control.


Even when dividing 15 countries into differentially classified nation-states as was done in our study, it was still very hard not only to generalize about particular social and state formations and their relationship with the patterns and trends in crime and crime control, but also to provide findings that definitively resolved the theoretically raised questions about the similarities and differences in crime and crime control for our developed, post-traditional, and developing nation-states. Nevertheless, we could conclude with relative certainty that both crime and crime control are growing and expanding enterprises worldwide. This was generally true for developing, post-traditional, and developed countries.

As found in our study and in other studies as well, as nations and inequality develop, crimes against property expand more rapidly than crimes against the person (Beirne and Nelkin, 1997; Frae et al., 1993; Neapolitan, 1997; Newman and Berger, 1998). In many ways, the expressions of crime and criminality were more uniform between the three types of nations than were the responses to crime or the expressions of crime control. That is to say, trends in crime within and between the different kinds of nation-states were more alike than were the trends in crime control and criminal justice (See also, Ebbe, 1996; Newman, et. al., 1995).

For example, within the developed nation-states, while there has been a great deal of "risk analysis," "acturial examination," and "legal rationalization" of the criminal justice system, there has not been clear-cut directions toward either "repressive" or "social" justice in general, or of trends in sentencing and punsihment in particular. So, on the one hand, we witness the USA and the UK experiencing tougher and longer sentencing schemes; whereas, on the other hand, Germany and the Netherlands have resisted such tendencies, keeping their punishment schemes in line with their more welfare-oriented practices of the post World War II period.

Similarly, the former countries have started to privatize some of their responses to crime, whereas the latter countries have not. At the same time, all four of these developed nations have been experimenting with restorative forms of justice and with victim compensation schemes, not to mention other forms of community law enforcement and corrections, reminiscent of some of the practices characteristic of post-traditional countries. Unlike the post-traditional nations, however, these developed nations have also increased their surveillance and prosecutorial capacities, at the expense of liberty and the expansion of law and order.

In post-traditional societies like Ghana, the Navajo Nation, or Nigeria, there have been attempts to balance the values and practices of traditional and post-colonial forms of law enforcement and adjudication. But the similarities of poverty and gross inequalities in these peripheral societies express themselves differently in the various forms that their criminality takes. At least in part, this is a result of each nation's unique economic relationship with other countries of the core and semi-periphery. Hence, the forms of crime that are manifested there will vary as was revealed by the self-abuse, battering, alcoholism, and other forms of domestic violence perpetrated among residents of the Navajo Nation as contrasted with the vast amounts of graft and corruption engaged in by the politicos and organized crime interests, alike, found in Ghana's fledgling democracy and Nigeria's repressive regime.

In the developing nations, there is even less uniformity in the expressions of crime and crime control, as these have varied to the extend that the political, economic, and social institutions have been democratically freed from autocratic or fundamentalist rule. In contemporary Iran, for example, just about every kind of non-conformist behavior is a crime, from etiquette and sin to actual violence against the person and thefts of property. In most of these developing nation-states, especially those from the former Eastern block nations, criminal "epidemics" revolve around hard-to-get goods and services. In other words, in Russia and Poland, the underground economies compete head-to-head with the above ground economies, making it a situation where bribes, corruption, and other felonies and misdemeanors pay better than legitimate work or no work at all.

In short, while there do seem to be trends and patterns, if not general laws, for the origins and development of crime, especially with respect to the production and reproduction of criminal formations, the responses in crime prevention and social control seem to be less uniform across nations. Compared to crime, crime control is more variable and subject to the perceptions, discourses, philosophies, and cultural attitudes of particular societies. But even these have begun to homogenize as evidenced by the contemporary movements in Zero Tolerance, in of all places, those countries with little crime, such as Finland. But generally responses to crime have ranged according to the way in which nations view criminals and think about crime, punishment, and society. In those societies like the United States or the United Kingdom, where criminals are frequently viewed as enemies, they have been isolated and excluded; in other societies like the Netherlands or the Navajo Nation, where criminals are viewed as vulnerable persons worth saving, they have been brought back into the community fold.

From a global point of view, a negative outcome of the thawing of East/West relations has been the influx of conflict and crime worldwide. During the past decade, one consequence of the end of the Cold War has been the international increase in transnational or border crimes, especially those involving the smuggling of goods and services out from and into various nation-states. For example, as late as the 1980s, the majority of stolen cars in the United States were hot-wired for "joy riding" or for domestic "chop shops" to sell the dissassembled parts locally. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the loosening of border controls across Eastern Europe, and the opening up of the "free market" in the early 1990s, the international demand for stolen cars (as operating vehicles) has increased and expanded worldwide. As a result, and in less than one decade, both the business of stealing cars and of protecting cars in the U.S., and elsewhere, has been completely transformed (Brahser, 1999).

Finally, as we enter the 21st century, the internationalization of markets in all kinds of criminal contraband, including weapons, drugs, sex, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, PCs, etc., and the international efforts to combat this activity, is but one illustration of the globalization of crime, surveillance, and control. Yet despite the development of transnational crime, the bulk of crime, violent and property, individual, organized, corporate, or governmental (state), is still usually confined within the geographic boundaries of the existing nation-states.


Barak, Gregg. 1998. Integrating Criminologies. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Barak, Gregg. (ed.) 2000. Crime and Crime Control: A Global View. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

Beirne, Piers and David Nelson. (eds.) 1997. "Introduction" to Issues in Comparative Criminology. Aldershot: Dartmouth/Ashgate.

Blazicek, D. and G.M. Janeksela. 1978. "Some Comments on Comparative Methodologies in Criminal Justice." International Journal of Criminology and Penology 6:233-45.

Bradsher, Keith. 1999. "For Car Thieves, a Technological Arms Race." New York Times (Sunday, March 21:1F).

Ebbe, Obi. (ed.) 1996. Comparative and International Criminal Justice Systems: Policing, Judiciary, and Corrections. Boston: Butterman/Heinemann.

Frate, Ann A. Del, Uglgesa Zvekic, and Jan J.M. van Duk. 1993. Understanding Crime: Experience of Crime and Crime Control. Rome: United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute.

Friday, Paul. 1996. "The Need to Integrate Comparative and International Criminal Justice into a Traditional Curriculum." Journal of Criminal Justice Education 7:227-39.

Jamieson, Ruth, Nigel South, and Ian Taylor. 1997. Economic Liberalisation and Cross-Border Crime: The North American Free Trade Area and Canada's Border with the US. Salford Papers in Sociology, No. 22: The University of Salford, UK.

Moaddel, Mansoor. 1994. "Political Conflicts in the World Economy: A Cross-National Analysis of Modernization and World-System Theories." American Sociological Review 59 (April: 276-303).

Neapolitan, Jerome L. 1997. Cross-National Crime: A Research Review and Sourcebook. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

Neuman, W. Lawrence and Ronald J. Berger. 1988. "Competing Perspectives on Cross-National Crime: An Evaluation of Theory and Evidence." The Sociological Quarterly 29 (2): 281-313.

Neuman, Graeme, Debra Cohen, and Adam C. Bouloukos. (eds.) 1995. International Fact Book of Criminal Justice Systems. Washington, D.C.: United States Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Sheptycki, James W.E. 1998. "Policing, Postmodernism and Transnationalization." British Journal of Criminology 38, 3 (Summer): 485-503.

Waters, Malcolm. 1995. Globalization. London: Routledge.