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Crime, harm and the state

Qualification dates
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The central question you’ll explore in this module is why some events which cause harm, of various kinds, are formally labelled and treated as crimes when others are not, and this can vary by region and over time. You’ll focus on constructions of ‘harm’ or ‘social harm’, not least as these are intimately linked to the state, as the key source of definitions of crime through law, and a key concept in understanding the process of criminalisation and definitions of crime, harm and justice. You’ll also critically consider the role and function of criminological theory and its proximity to state power, allowing you to develop your own criminological imagination and identity.

What you will study

You'll learn about a range of criminological perspectives and be introduced to a number of key concepts to help explore the relationships between crime, harm and the state.  Many of these are at the cutting-edge of contemporary criminology, including, for example, zemiology, decolonial perspectives, and green criminology. You'll undertake a detailed interrogation of some key issues in contemporary criminology – through a variety of topics including the global pharmaceutical industry, food production, harm to non-human animals, the global tourism industry, international warfare, the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, climate catastrophe, sexuality and eugenics - through the cutting-edge lens of social harm. In so doing, you'll interrogate key social scientific concepts such as discourse, power and the state. This module is divided into the following blocks:

In Block 1 you'll be introduced to the concept of power to explore how and why certain harms come to be criminalised while others do not. 

Through Block 2 you'll explore the concept of discourse as an aid to investigating  how and why some harms come to be constructed as crimes while other harms are, at best, neglected and, at worst, denied. 

In Block 3, you'll develop a deeper understanding of the concept of the state and examine further the role of states in both mitigating and producing harm.

Finally, Block 4 gives you the opportunity to synthesise your understanding of the empirical, conceptual and theoretical material you have explored to this point  to consider the interactions between power, discourse and the state for understanding the relationships between crime and harm.

Due to the nature of exploring criminal harm and state violence, you may find a number of the topics discussed in this module difficult and challenging. If you feel that increased awareness of such issues will be unduly distressing, then please think carefully before enrolling for this module.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

You'll be provided with two printed books and have access to the module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • module specific forums
  • audio and video content
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorial access.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You’ll be assigned a dedicated tutor who will provide you with advice and guidance throughout the module. They will help and work with you across the different kinds of learning materials, as well as marking, commenting and offering feedback on your written assignments. Your tutor will also support you with the module activities and collaborative work.

We aim to provide online tutorials and recordings of these will typically be made available. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorials, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs). You will be required, at certain points, to work with other students and this is assessed in one of the TMAs. This includes looking at, and commenting on, others’ work, reflecting on others’ comments on your work, and/or working together with fellow learners on a project/task. There is a TMA activity that requires you to source images which will be assessed.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying DD311 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Crime, harm and the state starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2020. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school