Crime and crime stories hold a morbid fascination for many people. In many popular narratives, crime stories are the ultimate manifestation of a binary worldview: victim or perpetrator, guilty or innocent, good or bad.

Research complicates these “absolutes” when crimes and punishments are studied in the context of society, history, and geography. Using a broad array of analytical strategies, criminologists, historians, economists, journalists and law scholars untangle the threads of actions, reactions, intentions, harms, motivations, and societal influence to create a fuller picture of how crime and its punishment impacts us.

Defining crime, defining our values

The most basic questions can be the hardest to answer. When does an act become a crime? What kinds of punishments are appropriate? What punishments are actually effective?



Petter Asp, Professor of Criminal Law and Supreme Court Justice (Sep 2016-Feb 2017), investigates how the law expresses societal values. The study of criminal law bridges the divide between fragmented laws and everyday practices to tease out the connections between the two.

Hate, crime, fear, and terrorism

Does it matter what someone is thinking when they commit a crime?



Professor of Criminology Eva Tiby has written widely about hate crimes, involving sexual orientation, gender and religion. She describes how hate crime intersects with the triad of likely offender/suitable target/no-one-stopping-it from “routine activity theory.”

Hate crimes are meant to create fear. While investigating the crimes can reproduce that fear, there is also a benefit. Victim studies that use self-reported data as well as official data can help us better understand how hate crimes occur; potentially, this information could be used to prevent similar crimes and lessen the impact of these crimes on their victims.

The power to lock and unlock

The “punishment” part of the equation is just as complicated as “crime.” The central question here is how to treat people who have committed crimes in a way that makes society stronger and safer.



Tove Pettersson, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Criminology, researches youth incarceration. She wants to find the balance between the different costs of incarceration – personal freedoms, potential threats, justice, and the futures of all involved.

Crime, punishment, justice, and the relationships between them become more nuanced and complicated the closer they are examined. A broad methodological toolbox and a mindset at once deeply compassionate and dispassionate is the key to addressing these issues.