phenomenological criminology | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology 

Phenomenological criminology is the study of the personal experience and interpretation of criminal behavior by the individuals involved.

What is Phenomenological Criminology?

Phenomenological criminology focuses on the study of individuals’ lived experiences and perceptions of criminal behavior. This field values personal experiences and interpretations above all, seeing them as central to understanding criminal activity. If you’ve ever asked, “Why do people commit crimes?” then you’ve wondered about the very heart of phenomenological criminology.

The Role of Personal Experience

Both offenders and victims have their own unique views of the world and personal experiences that shape their perspectives. For instance, let’s think about a teenager who steals a car. After all, he’s not just a criminal – he’s a person with a background and reasons for his actions. Maybe he felt peer pressure, or perhaps he needed a way to escape a difficult home situation.

Phenomenological criminology delves into these individual experiences. It’s not only about the act of stealing a car but also about understanding why the teenager did it. By doing so, this approach to criminology offers a deeper understanding of crime.

The Importance of Interpretation in Phenomenological Criminology

Another key aspect of phenomenological criminology is interpretation. Each person involved in a crime – the offender, the victim, and even the witnesses – will interpret the event in their own way. Whether someone sees the car theft as a fun thrill or a desperate act of survival will depend on their personal perspective.

These interpretations can influence how people respond to crime. A witness might decide to call the police or look the other way based on how they interpret the situation. Similarly, the way the victim and the offender interpret the crime can impact their future actions.

Why Phenomenological Criminology Matters in Criminal Justice

The insight phenomenological criminology provides into individuals’ experiences and interpretations is vital for criminal justice. By understanding the reasons and motivations behind criminal behavior, professionals can devise better strategies for prevention and rehabilitation. All in all, it is about understanding the human side of crime.

After understanding this, we can see that it plays a crucial role in shaping more empathetic and effective criminal justice policies.


In conclusion, phenomenological criminology gives us a deeper understanding of crime by focusing on the individual’s personal experiences and interpretations. In doing so, it sheds light on the complexities of criminal behavior and helps shape a more humane and effective criminal justice system.

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Last Modified: 07/25/2023

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