Professor at UCI - Department of Criminology, Law & Society

Explaining Criminalization: From Demography and Status Politics to Globalization and Modernization 

By Valerie Jenness


Explaining Criminalization explained from Demography and Status Politics to Globalization and Modernization provides a review and critical evaluation of the literature that examines factors explaining criminalization.

The first part of the paper examines three streams of inquiry and theorizing: (a) classic work that has shaped decades of scholarship explaining criminalization by focusing on the relationship between demographic changes, material and symbolic politics, and the emergence of criminal law; (b) contemporary work that unpacks the nature of the relationship between organizational, social movement, and state-related factors that structure and mediate the outcome of definitional and political processes involved in efforts to criminalize elements of social life; and (c) more recent work explaining criminalization as a social process intimately connected to, and indeed arguably derivative of, larger processes of institutionalization, globalization, and modernization. The discussion and conclusion section summarizes the consequences of these three streams of inquiry and theorizing for our collective understanding of the structures and processes that underlie criminalization. Thereafter, the article concludes with a proposed agenda for subsequent research explaining criminalization and related topics. 

Although few of them offer a clear or precise definition of criminalization , it is clear that their conceptions extend conventional scholarly definitions. Criminalization traditionally connotes the development and diffusion of criminal law that ‘targets a set of activities perceived to be attached to a social group’ in need of control. Because studies of school criminalization do not focus on the origins or consequences of any new criminal laws, they fall outside of the traditional scope of ‘criminalization studies’. 

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