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The Oxford Textbook on Criminology

The Oxford Textbook on Criminology (2nd edn)

Steve Case, Phil Johnson, David Manlow, Roger Smith, and Kate Williams
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date: 13 April 2024

p. 590p. 59119. Social harmlocked

p. 590p. 59119. Social harmlocked

  • Steve Case,
  • Phil Johnson,
  • David Manlow,
  • Roger Smith
  •  and Kate Williams


This chapter evaluates the idea of ‘social harm’, considering whether we should think of it as being separate from, or related to, what we have previously thought of as ‘criminology’. It begins by examining what social harm is, and the many criticisms that its proponents make of traditional interpretations of ‘crime’ and ‘criminology’. The social harm approach, a perspective that has become increasingly prominent over the past two decades, argues that state-generated, legal definitions of ‘crime’ are much too narrow, as they do not reflect significant (though not always illegal) social, physical, emotional, psychological, cultural, and financial and economic harms that can be inflicted by social structures, multinational bodies, and the state. So far, much of the work in this area has focused on broader theoretical and conceptual issues, but social harm perspectives have also informed important studies of a wide range of social occurrences and events. These have ranged from studies of the harm caused by corporations, human trafficking, genocide, austerity measures, intimate partner violence, and penal harm.

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