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Crime in Developing Countries - Information On Crime And Criminal Justice, Crime Rates And Trends In Developing Countries, Explaining Crime In Developing Countries

development comparative developed world

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the prevalent conception of societal change is still encapsulated by the term development (Escobar). Definitions vary, but many emphasize a relatively optimistic view of history (often called modernization) in which development refers to the increased use of technology, increased generation of wealth, and increased attention to democratic procedures and human rights in government. Even critical visions of history recognize the semantic dominance of the term, while disputing its content: Marxist scholars typically refer to underdevelopment to describe the negative consequences generated by the exploitative links between richer and poorer countries. Since the 1990s, much attention has focused on rapid increases in global interconnection, but the attendant conceptual framework—globalization—has yet to dethrone development as the dominant perspective on societal change.

When understood as modernization, development includes the growth of science, and therefore criminology. Indeed, historical and contemporary descriptions show that the evolution of criminology closely parallels the process of economic growth. Thus, the discipline came into existence as the industrial revolution was being born in western Europe, and subsequently spread as other parts of the world achieved economic progress. Social control, of course, is found in every society. But criminology—the application of scientific methods to the crime problem—has developed unevenly around the world. The bulk of research on crime is to be found in the wealthiest nations, although wealth is not a perfect correlate of criminological activity.

The concept of development not only serves to illuminate the history of criminology, but also provides a lens through which many criminologists see the world. Given the widely embraced goal of producing general explanations of crime, which hold across time and place, the comparative dearth of information on the poorer countries is a problem. In the rudimentary regional terminology common to developmental perspectives, explanations originating in the developed countries might not be valid in the developing countries; hence the need to test theories there. However, different levels of development also provoke an alternative approach to theorizing because they focus attention on the association between societal change and crime. Cross-national studies of development and crime offer the tempting possibility of theoretically significant findings based on samples of developed and developing countries, thereby avoiding the parochialism that apparently plagues much of the discipline.

Nevertheless, the cumulative result of criminological inquiry over the last twenty years reveals the problems of adopting a developmental perspective on crime. The simple division of the world into developed and developing countries is now beginning to look simplistic; the theoretical utility of development as an explanatory concept for crime seems limited. While the process of development is of central importance for understanding the rise of criminology, the concept of development is not of central importance for understanding crime. The continuing global diffusion of the discipline may be relatively unobjectionable, but the conceptual framework of development is likely to be discarded in the future.

CHRISTOPHER BIRKBECK

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