Understanding and Responding to State Crime: A Criminological Perspective

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In a challenge to orthodox criminological understandings of what constitutes crime, and who can legitimately sanction wrongful behaviour, over the past two decades criminologists have paid increasing attention to crimes committed by states, and the movements of resistance that emerge in opposition to deviant state practice. At the heart of this new criminological sub-discipline is an interest in the social configurations which cause states to exceed accepted rules of conduct and the factors that prompt victims and civil society to define these actions as criminal, and then actualise censure through acts of sanction. In order to acquaint readers with critical features of the emerging state crime studies terrain, this chapter will begin by examining the particular conceptual frameworks criminologists employ to define state crime – particular attention will be paid to criteria-based and process-driven approaches. It will be suggested that although the former framework illuminates breaches of normative criteria, the latter approach is more attuned to the practical processes of historical struggle that stigmatise state practices as criminal. Attention will then be turned to criminology’s growing interest in the forms of social resistance state crime prompts. It will be suggested that this stream of inquiry offers a conduit through which to consider the broader economic, political and ideological fault-lines upon which state crime and resistance rests, a conduit that allows scholars to concretise understandings of why state’s exceed certain normative boundaries and why communities of resistance are strategically disposed to stigmatise these actions as criminal. Finally this chapter will consider the different theoretical traditions criminologists have employed to understand these fault-lines, looking in particular at the strengths and limitations of positivist versus Marxist approaches. It will be concluded that state crime studies offers a powerful vantage point through which to inquire into, and articulate, both the way different configurations of civil society produce, through struggle, normative boundaries which states must adhere to, and then enact sanction when these boundaries are exceeded, in addition to illuminating the factors that inspire states to exceed these normative boundaries and eschew subsequent stigmatising labels, looking at the potential this complex social exchange has for producing emancipatory forms of social change.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCriminological Approaches to International Criminal Law
EditorsIlias Bantekas
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Print)978-1-107-06003-6
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2014


  • state crime
  • criminology
  • international criminal justice
  • resistance


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