The twilight zone between legal and illegal

Naam van de minor/Name minor:

Criminology: The twilight zone between legal and illegal



Taal /Teaching language:


Penvoerende opleiding/Programme which has the coordinating role for this minor:

Criminolgy – Erasmus School of Law

Andere opleidingen die een bijdrage leveren aan de minor/ Other programmes which are contributing to the minor:


Toegang/ Access:

Zie/See toelatingsmatrix

Course content

At first sight, crime might seem like an easy concept to grasp, especially when this refers to murder, rape or robbery. However, there are many other phenomena such corporate malfeasance, ecological damage, street harassment or drug use that are on a thin line between the legal and the illegal. Some might be criminalized, whereas others might be harmful yet not part of criminal law or other regulations. Discussions about the meaning of crime as well as the social constructivist character of crime are key to any criminology programme. Criminology also sheds light on possible causes as well as consequences of crime for society. This implies that criminology deals with a diversity of causes, offenders as well as victims, and also keeps an open mind about the most suitable approach to deal with crime, ranging from criminal law to prevention policy, reaching far beyond the limits of the criminal justice system. Criminology is an inherently multidisciplinary social science and bridges insights from sociology, (socio-) legal studies, anthropology, psychology and public management. Even exact sciences such as medical sciences or ecotoxicology can be relevant, for instance to understand the impact of environmental crime. This multidisciplinary character is reflected on theoretical, methodological as well as empirical level. Contemporary developments in criminology and in criminal justice and social policies will run as a thread through this minor. Given that much of the developments in contemporary crime are inherently global, we pay attention to elements of globalization in view of criminalization, aetiology and approaches to crime, while at the same time not losing track of local particularities of it. Think for instance of topics such as drug trafficking, human smuggling and (irregular) migration, dumping of waste, cybercrime and terrorism. This minor also takes a critical approach to the study of crime, for instance by paying attention to the power dimension that is inherent to criminalization or by focusing on the unintended consequences of crime control policies. We deem it essential for criminologists to approach crime phenomena and crime policies with a critical, multidisciplinary and comparative gaze. This criminology minor is a broadening minor.  It is impossible to touch upon all the dynamics of criminology within this minor, but students will be introduced to the core concepts, theories and methods of criminology, to the basics of crime control and prevention and to contemporary developments in the field of crime and justice. Combined with sufficient methodological knowledge, this criminology minor prepares for a successful participation in the Erasmus School of Law’s master programme in Criminology with its focus on crime and the city, globalization, multiculturalism and organizational crime. For more information, please go to criminology minor consists of three interconnected parts: (1) Basics of criminology; (2) Major works in criminology; and (3) Contemporary crime and justice. 

Basics of criminology

This first part of the minor can be considered an exploration of criminology as a social science. Students are introduced to the key topics in the field of criminology. We discuss different explanations for the occurrence of crime (aetiology), on societal as well as individual levels of analysis, inspired by insights from different social sciences. Besides attention for the diversity of possible perpetrators and causes, we also pay attention to the diversity of victims and harms that are associated with crime. Throughout these discussions about the impacts and causes of crime, we pay attention to the local influences of processes of globalization. Once we have gained insights into the victimology and aetiology of different crime phenomena, we turn to a discussion of the approaches to crime. This discusses crime control, security and prevention policy. We pay attention to policy initiatives in the Netherlands as well as on international level (e.g. EU). This will allow us to assess the relevance of criminology for policy makers. This part also discusses the key methods that are used in the field of criminology.

Major works in criminology

This second part of the minor discusses the core theories that are used to analyse crime. Focusing on a re-examination of prominent criminological texts, this module intends to provide insights into the theoretical assumptions that lie at the basis of the discipline of criminology. The most important criminological theories will be addressed in a chronological order. For each theory, we will discuss the original hypothesis and origin. We start from the original criminological theories and discuss their core assumptions, identifying strengths and weaknesses of each of the theories and assess their contemporary theoretical, empirical and policy value. Once we have learned about the core content of each theory, we will look at how the theory developed over time and what empirical studies have thought us. The intent is not for students to know all the details about every theory, but to understand its core assumptions, recognize the difference between the theoretical approaches and apply these theories to specific criminological phenomena.

Contemporary crime and justice

The third and last part of this minor introduces several topics with particular relevance for contemporary criminology, criminal justice and social policies. This part of our minor studies the contemporary ‘reality’ of crime based on four topics: crime and the city, globalization and crime, crime and multiculturalism, and organizational crime. These topics are briefly touched upon in this minor, but are the core organizing themes for the master programme in criminology. This part includes several guest lectures in which criminologists share empirical findings about topics in the twilight zone between the legal and the illegal. Please consult the specific participation requirements for the minors of the Erasmus School of Law: are required to have sufficient command of the English language because the lectures, readings and assessment are in English.

Learning objectives

By the end of this minor, students will be able to: 1)       Explain the key concepts in criminology 2)      List and describe the main sub-disciplines of criminology 3)      Understand the importance of criminological research for criminal justice and social policy 4)      Explain why a multidisciplinary criminological approach is preferable over a monodisciplinary one 5)      Describe recent developments in the field of criminology 6)      Name and explain the most important criminological research methods and assess their strengths and weaknesses 7)      List and describe the objectives of different approaches to crime 8)      Assess the effectiveness of different approaches to crime 9)      Compare different theoretical approaches to crime in terms of research questions, hypotheses and levels of analysis 10)  Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of criminological theories based on research findings 11)   Apply the key criminological theories to specific criminological phenomena and issues 12)   Discuss in which ways criminological theories have informed policy making 13)   Differentiate between different definitions of crime and assess their implications for policy making 14)  Write a scientific paper about a specific crime phenomenon Some of these learning objectives correspond to specific lectures, readings or assignments of this minor. Most of them however are addressed throughout the entire minor.

Course material

The readings for this course are primarily drawn from the following two handbooks.
  • Carrabine, E., Cox, P., Lee, M., Fussey, P., Hobbs, D., South, N., Thiel, D. and Turton, J. (2014). Criminology. A sociological introduction. Third edition. Routledge.

  • Newburn. T. (2017). Criminology. Third edition. Routledge.

We will use all chapters of the Carrabine et al handbook and about half of the chapters of Newburn handbook as mandatory readings. The other half of the Newburn handbook is used as suggested readings. Several copies of both books have been placed in the reading room of the law library and can be consulted by you. We do advise you to buy the books. These books can be ordered through various (online) book sellers or the on-campus study store. It might prove useful to compare the pricing of different websites and look for discounts. The Carrabine et al. book goes for about 38 euro (paperback) and the Newburn book goes for about 48 euro (paperback). All other supporting documents (journal articles, Powerpoint presentations, videos, newspaper articles, etc.) will be made available for download (through the library) or posted (with links) on Lawweb.

Assessment & evaluation

This minor consists of mixed-method teachings with lectures, guest lectures, workshops, class discussions, break-out groups, a group assignment, a class presentation and a one-page essay. The assessment for the minor consists of five components: the final grade includes the combination of a final exam, a group assignment, and three individual assignments (a personal reflection about the group assignment, a discussion of major work, and a one page paper).


Final exam


Group assignment


Personal reflection about group assignment


Discussion of major work


One-page essay




Final grade



written final exam

will test the students’ insights in the major theories and crime phenomena discussed in the course. Questions can be asked about any part of the course and the required readings, guest lectures, documentaries and class discussions. This exam contains essay questions, opinion questions and concepts to be explained. Essay questions check your ability to understand, apply and evaluate criminological theories and perspectives on crime policy (sometimes related to specific phenomena). The opinion question checks your ability to develop critical reflections and personal opinions in relation to crime, justice and criminology. This exam is a closed book exam, but you are allowed to use a dictionary. Each student is expected to lead one

discussion of a ‘major work’

in criminology. These ‘major works’ refer to theories and people that had a major impact on criminology as a social science. This discussion of a major work requires you to prepare a presentation individually but you will provide each other feedback within your discussion groups. The individual presentation is to be delivered virtually. For the individual presentation you are expected to have read the article thoroughly and prepared a presentation about the theory, relating it to contemporary research and practice. You are expected to explain what the theory/reading is about, which key concepts are associated with it, which key authors are associated with it, what hypotheses we draw from it and what current research teaches us about it (support, contradicts, modifies). Groups of 5 students are expected to write a

group paper

about a criminological phenomenon which is in the twilight zone between legal and illegal. Each group of students is expected to gather information on the criminalization, aetiology and control of their phenomenon. This is meant to result in a group paper, which students are also expected to present in class (last two classes). The paper is meant to illustrate in what ways these topics are in the twilight zone between legal and illegal. Each student is also expected to write a

personal critical reflection

to complement the group assignment. This will be graded separately. This should, on the one hand, pay attention to the connection of the topic to the twilight zone between legal and illegal, and, on the other hand, reflect about the group process and the personal role within that. Students are expected to write a

one-page essay

about one of the following topics: crime and the city; globalization and crime; crime and multiculturalism; organizational crime. These one page essays are designed to improve your critical reading skills and tighten your analytical writing abilities. Your one page essay should relate the topic to relevant theories in criminology but the bulk of your paper should present your own argument about the topic. The one page essay checks your ability to develop critical reflections and personal opinions in relation to crime and criminology.


Rubrics will be used to grade all assignment. These rubrics will be made available to students through Lawweb. There will be a feedback moment for each of the assignments and the exam. This will be organized a maximum of 10 days after the grades have been announced. The date and time will be announced once they are available. Students have to register for this once they have received their grades. You will also receive peer feedback about the discussion of major work and the group assignment. The lecturer will provide feedback through rubrics for the group assignment, the one page paper and the discussion of major work. 

Contact information

Contact person:

Lieselot Bisschop, PhD
Phone: +31/(0)104081505
Room: Bayle (J) – building, floor 5, room 25

Faculty website: