Walter S. DeKeseredy
There is no single critical criminology. Rather, there are critical criminologies with different histories, methods, theories, and political perspectives. However, critical criminology is often defined as a perspective that views the major sources of crime as the unequal class, race/ethnic, and gender relations that control our society. Critical criminologists oppose prisons and other draconian means of social control. Their main goal is major radical and cultural change, but they recognize that these transitions will not occur in the current neoliberal era. Hence, most critical criminologists propose short-term anticrime policies and practices and fundamental social, economic, and political transformations, such as a change from a capitalist economy to one based on more socialist principles.
Carole Gibbs and Rachel Boratto
Environmental crime is a complex and ambiguous term for several reasons. It is sometimes used as an umbrella term for crimes related to biodiversity, wildlife, animals, natural resources, hazardous waste, banned substances, and environmental quality, but scholars have also developed typologies to capture the unique dimensions of each form of environmental crime. Disagreements regarding whether to distinguish violations of environmental laws (addressed via civil prosecution or administrative actions) from environmental crimes (criminally prosecuted), and whether to also consider environmental harms (legal activities that harm the environment) or environmental risks produce further confusion. The range of offenders also complicates this concept, as individuals, groups/networks, and powerful organizations commit environmental crimes. The degree of harm created by each actor may, or may not, be equivalent.
Given the complexities of this area of study, scholars have developed and/or tested a wide range of theoretical perspectives on and interventions to address environmental crime. Consistent with conceptual disagreements, these theoretical frameworks and corresponding interventions vary (arguably the most) based on whether the dependent variable is environmental crime (as defined by law), or environmental harm or risk defined using other criteria. However, multiple theoretical perspectives/interventions are also examined within research on these broad categories of environmental crime, harm, and risk. In order to capture the breadth of research on environmental crime, we narrow the focus of this article to pollution related crimes (e.g., hazardous waste, banned substances, environmental quality). In the following article, we offer further detail regarding conceptual discussions, legal complexities, types of offenders, types of crime, and research on this subset of environmental crimes.
Alistair Fraser and Elke Van Hellemont
It has been a century since Frederic Thrasher researched his pioneering text on youth gangs in Chicago. In it he depicts gangs as a street-based phenomenon that emerged from the combined forces of urbanization, migration, and industrialization—with new migrant groups seeking to find a toehold on the American Dream. Gangs were discrete and highly localized, drawing on names from popular culture and the neighborhood, seeking ways to survive and thrive amid the disorganization of the emerging city. In the 21st century, street gangs have been identified in urban contexts all over the world and have become increasingly viewed as a transnational phenomenon that is qualitatively different from Thrasher’s neighborhood groups. Processes of globalization have created a degree of flow and connectedness to urban life that is unlike any other stage in human history. Yet a close reading of Thrasher shows that some of the key themes in the study of gangs in a global context—urban exclusion, grey economies, human mobility, and cultural flow—were presaged in Thrasher’s work. In a global era, however, these processes have intensified, amplified, and extended in ways that could not have been predicted.
We elaborate the spatial, economic, social, cultural, and technological implications of globalization for gangs across five principle areas: (1) Gangs in the Global City; (2) Gangs, Illicit Markets, and the Global Criminal Economy; (3) Mobility, Crimmigration, and the “Transnational Gang”; (4) Gangs and Glocalization; and (5) The Gang Mediascape. Taken together, these themes seek to offer both a conceptual vocabulary and empirical foundation for new and innovative studies of gangs and globalization. Empirical evidences from Europe, the United States, and beyond, emphasize the uneven impacts of globalization and the ways in which national and cultural dynamics are implicated in the study of gangs in the 21st century.
Brooke B. Chambers and Joachim J. Savelsberg
Genocide and ethnic cleansing are among the most deadly human-made catastrophes. Together with other forms of government violence, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, the death toll they caused during the 20th century alone approximates 200 million. This is an estimated ten times higher than the number of deaths resulting from all violence committed in civil society during the same period. Yet the definition of genocide, its perception as a social problem, and the designation of responsible actors as criminals are all relatively recent. Globalization, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and cultural shifts are interrelated contributors to this process of redefinition.
While genocide and ethnic cleansing often appear to be unpredictable and chaotic, they nonetheless underlie a socio-logic across time and space. As the field of study evolved, scholars debated the role of authority and ideology in enabling violence. Today, consensus has shifted away from deterministic explanations about intrinsic hatred engrained in particular groups to sociological factors. They include the role of political regimes, war, organization, and narratives of ethnic hatred, each of which can play a role in facilitating violence.
Recent developments also include the creation of new institutional mechanisms that seek to punish perpetrators and prevent the occurrence of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Among them are criminal justice responses that work potentially through deterrence, but also—more fundamentally—through the initiation of cultural change. Prosecutions, as well as supplemental mechanisms such as truth commissions, may indeed lead to a radical shift in the perception of mass violence and those responsible for it, thereby delegitimizing genocidal and ethnic cleansing campaigns.
Mahesh K. Nalla, Gregory J. Howard, and Graeme R. Newman
One common claim about crime is that it is driven in particular ways by development. Whereas the classic civilization thesis asserts that development will yield declining crime rates, the conflict tradition in criminology as well as the modernization school expect rises in crime rates, although for different reasons. Notwithstanding a raft of empirical investigations into the matter, an association between development and crime has not been consistently demonstrated. The puzzling results in the literature may be owing to the challenges in conceptualizing and operationalizing development. They are also almost certainly attributable to the serious problems related to the cross-national measurement of crime. Given the current state of knowledge and the prospects for future research, evidence reportedly bearing on the development and crime relationship should be received with ample caution and skepticism. Refinements in measurement practices and research strategies may remedy the extant situation, but for now the relationship between development and crime is an open and complicated question.
Keith Guzik and Gary T. Marx
Recent literature at the intersections of surveillance, security, and globalization trace the contours of global security surveillance (GSS), a distinct form of social control that combines traditional and technical means to extract or create personal or group data transcending national boundaries to detect and respond to criminal and national threats to the social order. In contrast to much domestic state surveillance (DSS), GSS involves coordination between public and private law enforcement, security providers, and intelligence services across national borders to counteract threats to collectively valued dimensions of the global order as defined by surveillance agents. While GSS builds upon past forms of state monitoring, sophisticated technologies, the preeminence of neoliberalism, and the uncertainty of post–Cold War politics lend it a distinctive quality. GSS promises better social control against both novel and traditional threats, but it also risks weakening individual civil liberties and increasing social inequalities.
Joachim J. Savelsberg and Suzy McElrath
Structural and cultural changes in the modernization process, combined with contingent historical events, gave rise to a human rights regime. It is codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated after World War II and the Holocaust. Yet, only the gravest of human rights violations have been criminalized. First steps were taken beginning in the 19th century with The Hague and Geneva Conventions, constituting the Laws of Armed Conflict. They were followed by the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), and eventually the Rome Statute (1998) on which the first permanent International Criminal Court is based. Some scholars even observe a justice cascade. Enforcement of the norms entailed in the above legal documents benefits from opportunities such as increases in international interdependencies, the buildup of international organizations, and the proliferation of nongovernmental organizations in the human rights realm. Challenges arise from partially competing principles such as conflict settlement and survival of suffering populations as cultivated by social fields such as humanitarianism and diplomacy and from a lack of law enforcement. While international institutions play a crucial role, much international law is implemented through domestic courts. International penal law pertaining to human rights has affected domestic policymaking in the human rights realm but also nation-level policies pertaining to the punishment of common crimes. Finally, debates continue to rage regarding the effects of the criminalization of grave human rights violations. Proponents have thus far focused on potential deterrent effects, but a new line of thought has begun to take cultural effects seriously. Its representatives identify a redefinition of those responsible for mass violence as criminal perpetrators and substantial representational power of international criminal law against those who bear responsibility for the gravest of human rights violations.
Thalia Anthony and Harry Blagg
Indigenous people have been subject to policies that disproportionately incarcerate them since the genesis of colonization of their lands. Incarceration is one node of a field of colonial oppression for Indigenous people. Colonial practices have sought to reduce Indigenous people to “bare life,” to use Agamben’s term, where their humanity is denied the basic rights and expression in the pursuit of sovereign extinguishment. Across the settler colonies of Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, the colonial drive to conquer land and eliminate Indigenous peoples has left deep scars on Indigenous communities and compromised bonds to kin, culture, and country. Indigenous people have been made refugees in their own countries.
Contemporary manifestations of penal incarceration for Indigenous people are a continuation of colonial strategies rather than a distinct phase. The concept of “hyperincarceration” draws attention to the problem of incarceration and its discriminatory targets. It also turns our attention to the turnstile of incarceration in Western postmodernity. However, the prison is but one form of exclusion for Indigenous people in a constellation of eliminatory and assimilatory practices, policies, and regimes imposed by colonial governance. Rather than overemphasizing the prison, there needs to be a broader conceptualization of colonial governance through “the camp,” again in the words of Agamben. The colonial institutionalization of Indigenous people, including in out-of-home care, psychiatric care, and corrective programs, is akin to a camp where Indigenous people are relegated to the margins of society. We eschew a narrow notion of hyperincarceration and instead posit a structural analysis of colonial relations underpinning the camp.
In the context of crime, victimization, and immigration in the United States, research shows that people are afraid of immigrants because they think immigrants are a threat to their safety and engage in many violent and property crimes. However, quantitative research has consistently shown that being foreign born is negatively associated with crime overall and is not significantly associated with committing either violent or property crime. If an undocumented immigrant is arrested for a criminal offense, it tends to be for a misdemeanor. Researchers suggest that undocumented immigrants may be less likely to engage in serious criminal offending behavior because they seek to earn money and not to draw attention to themselves. Additionally, immigrants who have access to social services are less likely to engage in crime than those who live in communities where such access is not available. Some emerging research has shown that communities with concentrated immigrant populations have less crime because these communities become revitalized. In regard to victimization, foreign-born victims of crime may not report their victimization because of fears that they will experience negative consequences if they contact the police or seek to avoid legal mechanisms to resolve disputes. Recently, concern about immigration and victimization has turned to refugees who are at risk of harm from traffickers, who warehouse them, threaten them, and abuse them physically with impunity. More research is needed on the relationship among immigration, offending, and victimization. The United States and other nations that focus on border security may be misplacing their efforts during global crises that result in forced migrations. Poverty and war, among other social conditions that would encourage a person to leave their homeland in search of a better life, should be addressed by governments when enforcing immigration laws and policy.
Andreas Hövermann and Steven F. Messner
Institutional Anomie Theory (IAT) was originally formulated as a quintessentially macro-level theory of crime focused on the properties of large-scale social systems. The main substantive claim of the theory is that an institutional structure characterized by the dominance of the economy over other, non-economic institutions tends to be conducive to high levels of crime. Such economic dominance in the institutional structure is theorized to be manifested through three primary processes: the norms and values associated with the economy penetrate into other realms of social life; non-economic roles tend to be accommodated to the requirements of economic roles when conflicts emerge; and non-economic functions and roles are devalued relative to economic functions and roles. Economic dominance in the configuration of social institutions is linked with crime via complementary institutional and cultural dynamics. The enfeeblement of non-economic institutions accompanying economic dominance limits their capacity to perform their distinctive social control and socialization functions, and anomie permeates the culture. The defining feature of such anomie is that the egoistic or utilitarian motives associated with the market economy prevail, and technical expediency guides the selection of the means to pursue personal goals.
IAT has informed a growing body of research dedicated to explaining cross-national variation in crime rates. While empirical studies have generated mixed results, the research literature is generally supportive of the theory. The most consistent conclusion from these studies is that the scope and generosity of the welfare state are associated with reduced levels of crime, especially lethal criminal violence, either directly or by mitigating the effects of other criminogenic conditions, such as economic inequality or economic insecurity. The precise nature of the effects of the different social institutions on crime, for example whether they exhibit “mediating” or “moderating” relationships, remains uncertain. The cultural dynamics informed by IAT have received less attention, but recently some efforts to incorporate culture have been promising. Along with the studies conducted exclusively at the level of nation states, an emerging area of research applies IAT in a multilevel framework. The results have been mixed here as well, but these studies have indicated how structural marketization translates into shared values that help explain individual variation in criminality. Several challenges remain for future research. IAT is cast at a high level of abstraction, which creates ambiguities about the precise nature of any causal structure among variables and the most appropriate procedures for operationalizing the main concepts. Moreover, research indicates that it might be important to focus not only on the strength but also on the content of non-economic institutions as the economy penetrates into non-economic institutions. Another challenge pertains to the role of religion as a non-economic institution, given research revealing that its functioning as a protective non-economic institution deviates from that of other non-economic institutions.
Kai Ambos and Alexander Heinze
International Criminal Justice is a controversial concept, and there is a burgeoning body of literature on its exact contours. Understood broadly, the term “international criminal justice” covers a broad category, integrating international criminal law (ICL) within an overarching interdisciplinary enterprise also “incorporating philosophical, historical, political and international relations, sociological, anthropological and criminological perspectives” (Roberts, 2007). International criminal law consists, at its core, of a combination of criminal law and public international law principles. The idea of individual criminal responsibility and the concept of prosecuting an individual for a specific (macrocriminal) act are derived from criminal law, while the classical (Nuremberg) offenses form part of (public) international law and thus the respective conduct is directly punishable under ICL (principle of direct individual criminal responsibility in public international law). The dualistic base of international criminal law is also reflected in the reading of the mandates of the international criminal tribunals; one can either take a “security, peace, and human rights”–oriented approach or a “criminal justice”–oriented approach, either of which may entail a paradoxical goal or purpose ambiguity of international criminal law. In any case, the strong grounding in criminal law, together with the actual enforcement of international criminal law by way of international criminal proceedings and trials, converts international criminal law into criminal law on a supranational level and thus entails the full application of the well-known principles of liberal, post-enlightenment criminal law, in particular the principles of legality, culpability, and fairness. These principles constitute the minimum standard of any criminal justice system based on the rule of law and thus must also apply in an international criminal justice system. The adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998 and the effective establishment of the Court in 2002 have led to an institutionalization of international criminal law, turning the page on ad hoc imposition in favor of a treaty-based universal system. In addition, the Rome Statute provides for the first codification of international criminal law, with a potentially universal reach. Therewith, international criminal law was not only united into a single penal system of the international community, but it was also extended beyond its fundamental core areas of substantive and procedural law into other branches of criminal law (law of sanctions, enforcement of sentences, and judicial assistance).
Gema Varona and José Luis de la Cuesta
In a broad sense, international criminology can be described as the set of activities related to crime prevention and control, coming from the academia, public and private institutions and agencies, to join efforts to debate and publish and make policies, addressed to a global audience beyond a single country. This process of internationalization of criminology, started since its beginnings as a science, at the end of the 19th century through important congresses and meetings developed in Europe, where public officials and academics met. In the 21st century we can talk of a global or globalized criminology around the world, expressed also via websites on the Internet. Together with international crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of war and, to a lesser extent, aggression as crime against peace), transnational crimes (corruption, financial crime, terrorism, organized crime, and its different modalities of illegal trafficking, cyber-attacks, and crimes against the environment), as well as crimes of abuse of (political and economic) power (enforced disappearances, summary executions, torture) are the subject matter of international criminology. However, the concept of international criminology is elastic and welcomes any international approach to other topics, traditionally thought domestically; in any case from the international perspective the social-political dimension of criminality appears as a much more relevant issue than the criminal’s personality (and treatment) and protection of victims and the community become the focus of interest.
Within the internationalization of criminology there are at least two trends that deserve further analysis. The first one is how to balance the cultural differences among all the countries and the myriad of interests involved in the construction of an international criminology. Some criticism is heard in the sense that international criminology is influenced by American or Anglo-Saxon views. From this perspective it is observed a risk of producing academic, legal, and policy criminological transplants without considering the cultural and socioeconomic context of every country and the voices of their inhabitants. The second trend refers to the role of international criminology in relation with the increasingly diffuse borders between police, intelligence agencies, and military forces; crime control and war; or internal and external security. Even though international crimes have always been a core topic, war and political and economic abuse of power across borders have been quite forgotten in the agendas of both national and international criminology. Today there are different forms of cooperation among countries in conflict situations, (e.g., terrorism, border controls, and the so-called refugee crisis) where the military, intelligence agencies, police forces, and private corporations of different countries work together, providing international criminology new topics for critical reflection and action.
As the most serious crime, homicide is both relevant and suitable for cross-national comparisons. The global homicide rate of ca. 6 per 100,000 people is an average of hugely diverging national rates ranging from 0.25 in Singapore to ca. 100 in El Salvador. The validity of global homicide statistics suffers from various differences in definitions as well as reporting and registration processes. Both criminal justice and causes of death statistics are used by the World Health Organization to construct rates, yet these are available only for a minority of countries. An overview on homicide in history and non-state societies shows that violence levels were considerably higher compared to those in today’s developed world and have dropped dramatically in Europe and North America during the early modern period. The rates first increased and then declined between ca.1960 and today in most developed nations in a synchronized manner, hinting at common influences. In recent years, homicide trends have shown a polarizing pattern, with increasing rates in Latin America and decreasing rates in most other world regions, especially East Asia and the Pacific, where rates have fallen below the European average concurrent with rising scores on the Human Development Index. Except in Eastern Europe, the frequency of homicide is strongly linked to the use of firearms, which account for 44% of homicide cases worldwide.
Longitudinal studies have produced robust evidence for the pivotal role of deprivation and inequality in fostering lethal violence and of social welfare policies in reducing it. Although the transition to democratic political systems seems to increase homicide rates temporarily, the legitimacy of state institutions and the suppression of corruption are connected to lower homicide rates. Because of conceptual and methodological problems, questions concerning the generalizability of effects across space and time remain. Nevertheless, the research findings are sufficiently robust to draw important conclusions for violence prevention: reductions in poverty and income inequality, investments in welfare policies and gender equality, and improvements in the legitimacy of state institutions will help to bring homicide rates down.
Moral panics refer to cultural and social situations where heightened and exaggerated attention is given to a moral issue, accompanied by inflated demands to activate and practice steps to control what is portrayed as the challenging and threatening danger to morality. The nature of the threatening challenge materializes characteristically with the emergence of increased anxiety and fear from the moral threat to the well-being and future of a culture, or part of it. Down-to-earth representatives of such threats are epitomized by folk devils. These folk devils can be drug users, those who supposedly practice witchcraft or Satanism, sex traffickers, drivers involved in hit and run car accidents, muggers, AIDS carriers, terrorists, immigrants, asylum seekers, and—obviously—criminals. The concept of moral panics left its convenient zone in sociology and criminology to become extremely popular. It has been applied to such diverse fields as global warming, child sexual abuse, trafficking in women, soccer hooliganism, 9/11, and more. Many panics are short-lived, but such panics can also linger for longer periods. Moral panics are comprised of five basic building blocks: disproportionality in portraying the moral threat and the requested responses, concern about an issue, consensus regarding the threat, and hostility towards the folk devils. Moral panics do not stand alone and need to be understood within larger cultural and social processes composed of negotiations, struggles, and conflicts focused on moral codes. Indeed, while folk devils are typically vilified, stigmatized, and deviantized, complex cultures also enable folk devils to fight back. Moral panics are thus significant and important occurrences in the social construction of moral boundaries. These panics represent reactions, counter-reactions, and moral challenges—presented by folk devils—to cultural cores, which form central symbolic structures of cultures and societies.
Narrative criminology is a relatively new theoretical perspective that highlights the influence of stories on harmful actions and patterns of action. Narrative criminology researchers study stories themselves, rather than what stories report on, for effects. Narrative criminology takes a constitutive view of stories as opposed to the representational view that is rather more common within criminology. Hence a hallmark of the perspective is its bracketing of the accuracy of the stories under investigation. Stories legitimize conduct, compel action, and induce detachment, however fanciful they may be. Narrative criminologists analyze the role of stories in active harm-doing, passive complicity, desistance from offending, and resistance to harm. The field of narrative criminology has evolved rapidly.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Please check back later for the full article.
Police corruption is a serious problem for numerous reasons. One is that police officers are often armed, and can therefore pose a physical threat to citizens in a way that most other state officials do not. Another is that citizens typically expect the police to uphold the law and be the “final port of call” in fighting crime, including that of other state officials: if law enforcement officers cannot be trusted, most citizens have nowhere else to turn to when seeking justice. Third, if citizens do not trust the police, they are much less likely to cooperate with them, resulting in higher crime rates. Finally, and in extreme cases, low levels of citizen trust in law enforcement agencies can undermine a state’s legitimacy, with all the negative knock-on effects of this.
Yet according to Transparency International’s 2017 Global Corruption Barometer, more people pay bribes to law enforcement officers globally than to any other state officials, rendering the police the most corrupt branch of the state in many countries. Police corruption comes in various forms, from relatively benign but irritating demands for bribes from motorists to improper procurement procedures and—most dangerously—collusion with organized crime gangs in the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and humans, and sometimes even in contract killing. One other form of miscreancy was identified in the 1980s as largely peculiar to the police, viz. “noble cause corruption.” This term, also known as the “Dirty Harry syndrome,” is applied when police officers deliberately bend or break the law not for personal benefit but in the belief that this is ultimately for the good of society. Many factors drive police corruption, including inadequate salaries, frustration with the leniency of the courts, opportunity, envy (of wealthy criminals), and simple greed. Combating it is no easy task, but methods that have significantly lowered corruption rates in countries such as Singapore and Georgia include reducing discretionary decision-making, radical re-structuring, risk assessments, greater use of psychological testing, improving working conditions, lifestyle monitoring, and introducing anti-corruption agencies that are completely independent of the police.
Natti Ronel and Ety Elisha
Positive criminology is an innovative perspective that underlies existing theories and models emphasizing the positive forces that influence and assist individuals at risk and offenders in their recovery process. The theories and models included in positive criminology (e.g., peacemaking criminology, social acceptance, crime desistance, restorative justice) are not new; its novelty lies in their inclusion in a unique and distinct conceptualization. This has led to a shift in discourse and research in criminology, which goes beyond focusing on risk and criminogenic factors while focusing on the positive factors and strengths that help individuals to rehabilitate and successfully integrate into the community.
Studies and practices developed over the past decade have confirmed and reinforced the assumptions of the positive criminology perspective. Despite its specific limitations, positive criminology provides a promising platform for further developments and innovations in research in theory (e.g., positive victimology, spiritual criminology) and in practice (e.g., restorative justice, problem-solving courts, community policing).
Sentencing is a complex task that involves judicial officers imposing sentences in the first instance and deciding appeals from those judges in certain circumstances. Both trial and appellate courts are usually invested with some discretion as to the nature and quantum of sentence that may be imposed. Appellate jurisdiction varies widely between countries reflecting disparate approaches to discretion, differences in the grounds of appeal, in the deference paid to trial judges and the role of prosecution in the appellate process. While most jurisdictions give defendants the right to appeal against sentence, they differ in the ability of prosecuting authorities to appeal against sentence. In some jurisdictions there is considerable asymmetry between defendants’ and prosecution’s appellate rights.
Historically, defendants’ rights of appeal preceded, and have been more extensive those of the prosecution, and traditionally, the balance has been tilted in favor of defendants. However, in a number of jurisdictions, this imbalance has been questioned. The principal arguments against prosecution appeals have centered on the concept of double jeopardy, which has long applied in substantive criminal procedure. Since the early 1980s the analogy with substantive double jeopardy has been questioned or rejected as has the double jeopardy principle itself. Justifications for the principle such as the anxiety and distress suffered by the defendant, the need for finality, the possibility of double punishment, and the abuse of power have all been re-assessed.
The case for equal or symmetrical rights rests on the basis that the law requires that error, whether in favor of the defendant or the prosecution, should be corrected as a matter of justice. A balanced appellate process can ensure consistency in, and the adequacy of, sentencing standards, provide guidance to sentencing judges, and increase victims’ and public confidence in the criminal justice system.
Although the field of international criminology has mostly employed quantitative methods to test universal theories, there is a growing recognition of the potential value of qualitative methods in understanding crime and criminal justice in a globalizing world. The difficulties in developing this field are partly practical and financial. It is difficult visiting different countries and overcoming language barriers. But there are also conceptual challenges. Criminology generally is only just starting to understand and engage with the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research methods and to discover the wide range of qualitative methods employed in interdisciplinary fields, such as education, health, environmental, media, and management studies, and to recognize that theories are important in this field.
Jonathan Grossman and Ami Pedahzur
Since 2001, unprecedented resources have been invested in research into global terrorism, resulting in a dramatic rise in the number of academic publications on the topic. Works by scholars from predominantly quantitative disciplines predominate in this literature, and the unfolding development of data science and big data research has accentuated the trend. Many researchers in global terrorism created event databases, in which every row represents a distinct terrorist attack and every column a variable (e.g., the date and location of the attack, the number of casualties, etc.). Such event data are usually extracted from news sources and undergo a process of coding—the translation of unstructured text into numerical or categorical values. Some researchers collect and code their data manually; others use an automated script, or combine the efforts of humans and software. Other researchers who use event data do not collect and process their data at all; rather, they analyze other scholars’ databases. Academics and practitioners have relied on such databases for the cross-regional study of terrorism, analyzing their data statistically in an attempt to identify trends, build theories, predict future incidents, and formulate policies.
Unfortunately, event data on terrorism often suffer from substantial issues of accuracy and reproducibility. A comparison between the data on suicide terrorism in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in two of the most prominent databases in the field and an independent database of confirmed events reveals the magnitude of these problems. Among the most common pitfalls for event data are replication problems (the sources that the databases cite, if there are any at all, cannot be retrieved), selection bias (events that should have been included in the database are not in it), description bias (the details of events in the database are incorrect), and coding problems (for example, duplicate events). Some of these problems originate in the press sources that are used to create the databases, usually English-language newspaper articles, and others are attributable to deficient data-gathering and/or coding practices on the part of database creators and coders. In many cases, these researchers do not understand the local contexts, languages, histories, and cultures of the regions they study. Further, many coders are not trained in qualitative methods and are thus incapable of critically reading and accurately coding their unstructured sources. Overcoming these challenges will require a change of attitude: truly accurate and impactful cross-regional data on terrorism can only be achieved through collaboration across projects, disciplines, and fields of expertise. The creators of event databases are encouraged to adopt the high standards of transparency, replicability, data-sharing, and version control that are prevalent in the STEM sciences and among software developers. More than anything, they need to acknowledge that without good and rigorous qualitative work during the stage of data collection, there can be no good quantitative work during the stage of data analysis.