Crime, the Concept versus Its Measurement as a Violation of the Criminal Law

Criminologists should not assume that there is a universal understanding of crime. Though the legal definition of crime dominates criminological research, criminologists who write about the causes of crime may not always be referring to the criminal-law definition of crime—and because notions of crime vary across time and space, this is certainly understandable. As a result, criminologists must pay attention to metaphysical issues (Dupre 1995; White- ley 1959). Metaphysical issues are important because defining crime is part of the metaphysical side of criminology—that is, metaphysics is where the concepts of criminology are identified, the nature of things in the universe is explored, and the nature of crime is spelled out. Unfortunately, criminologists do not always pay attention to metaphysics. Since criminologists do not often consider metaphysics, they also—as we have already suggested—tend to ignore the need to analyze the definition of crime. Metaphysical analysis and discussion precedes epistemological stances, and historically, metaphysics preceded epistemology (Bartley 1968; Gruner 1975; see also Popper 2002).

We have already briefly engaged in some discussion of these metaphysical aspects of criminology but provide some additional explanation of those issues at the beginning of this chapter.4 The purpose of this chapter, however, is to focus on the contradiction between the concept of crime and the measurement of crime—as a violation of the criminal law in microlevel studies. As previously noted, microlevel studies compose the majority of explanations of crime in criminology. We divide microlevel explanations into two broad types to demonstrate what we call the explanation-measurement contradiction or EMC for short. This contradiction appears in (1) explicit definitions of crime that apply to a particular study and (2) implicit definitions of crime that often are described as applicable to criminology in general.

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