Skip to content The Open University

Faculty of Social Sciences

Staff Profile

Prof Steve Tombs

Head of Social Policy & Criminology

Social Policy and Criminology


Before joining The Open University in January 2013 I worked at Liverpool John Moores University where, since 1998, I was Professor of Sociology. There, over 21 years, I taught across Schools of Business, Law and, latterly, Social Science and Humanities.

I am Director of the International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research.

I have long-standing interests in the incidence, nature and regulation of corporate crime and harm, and in particular the regulation and ‘management’ of health and safety at work, and have published widely on these matters.

I was a founding Member and Chair (1999-2009) of the Centre for Corporate Accountability. The CCA was an independent, not-for-profit advice, research and advocacy organisation. I have continued to work with the wider Hazards Movement, the Institute of Employment Rights and the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

I am currently a member of the Editorial Boards of Policy and Practice in Health and Safety and State Crime.


BA (Hons.) Social Sciences (Wolverhampton)
MA (Econ) Political Theory (Manchester)
PhD Sociology (Wolverhampton)

Professional affiliations

Board Member, Inquest
Member of Steering Group, European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control
Member, International State Crime Initiative

Course development and teaching

I am currently part of the production team working on DD312, Inequality, Social Policy and Crime, and working on the mid-life review of DD301, Crime and Justice. I recently contributed to the mid-life review of DD208, Welfare, Crime and Society.

Research interests

My current research interests span a number of related areas.

Until September 2014, I was in receipt of a Leverhulme Fellowship, examining the regulation of business by the five Local Authorities of Merseyside, with a particular focus on the enforcement of environmental, food, and occupational health and safety as well as consumer protection law; the research has quantitative and qualitative dimensions and spans the period 2004-2013, and is seeking, among other things, to capture the nature and effects of both the political shift towards 'better regulation' and the fallout from the financial 'crisis' on the work of regulators and their efforts to mitigate corporate harm.

This in turn relates to a wider research project, focusing upon both the idea as well as the practices of regulation 'after the crisis', this entailing critical examinations of the relationships between local and national states on the one hand and the production of corporate harm on the other, as well as a critical engagement with academic attempts to understand these relationships. This is the subject of a book, contracted to Policy Press, and provisionally entitled Regulation 'After the Crisis’: social harm in an age of corporate barbarism.

This work has also generated conceptual considerations regarding the utility and validity of the relatively recent concept of 'state-corporate crime'. In this context, I recently edited two Journal Special Issues on the topics of state crime (with David Whyte) and state/corporate crime (for the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice and State Crime, respectively).

Further, I continue to work on the impacts and potential of a social harm perspective, as part of an ongoing, critical engagement with the limitations of the dominant concerns of more mainstream criminology; and part of this is an emergent critique of the (lack of impact) of recent and current crises upon criminology and socio-legal studies.

Finally, I have long worked, and continue to work, with David Whyte on various (academic, policy-oriented and campaigning) critical engagements with national health and safety and environmental regulation, in terms of both policy and practice.

PhD supervision

S. Hutton (PhD) Organised Crime: an evaluation of the effectiveness of monitoring and disrupting the activities of ‘top tier’ offenders.

Katy Snell (PhD) Invisible Victims? The social movement against safety crimes.

I have also examined numerous PhDs, including those awarded at the Universities of Cardiff, Lancaster, Macquarie (Sydney), Middlesex, New South Wales, Northumbria, Paisley, Queens (Kingston, Ontario), Southampton, Sydney, the University of Wales and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

I’d welcome applications for PhD study in any area connected to my research interests.

Completed supervisions

Rod Earle (PhD by Published Work) In A Man's World: Prisons, Criminologies and Identities, successfully completed 2014.

Vicky Canning (PhD) Transcending Conflict: Exploring Sexual Violence Support for Women Seeking Asylum in Merseyside, 2012.

David Lowe (PhD) The Globalisation of Crime and Transnational Policing Responses within the EU, 2011.

Andrew Upton (PhD) Behaving like Animals? Alternative media and the communication strategies of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) & SPEAK direct action campaigns, 2010.

Lynne Sudbury (PhD) Corporate Segmentation of the Mature Market, 2006.

David. Smith (PhD) Crisis Preparedness Within the Police Service, 2002.

Ramadan Aburawi (MPhil) Assessing Human Resource Management in Peoples’ Republic of Libya, 2001.

David Whyte (PhD) Power, Ideology and the Management of Safety in the UK Offshore Oil Industry, 1999.

Elisabeth Wilson (PhD) Gender, Management and Organisational Culture, 1998.

Recent publications

A selection of my research publications can be viewed at The Open University's Open Research Online.

Books and pamphlets

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2015) The Corporation as Criminal. Why corporations must be abolished, London: Routledge, 978-0-415-55637, viii+208 pages. (in press, publication date April 2015)

Pearce, F. and Tombs, S. (2012) Bhopal. Flowers at the altar of profit and power, North Somercotes: CrimeTalk Books, 978-0-9570241-6-8.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2010) Regulatory Surrender: death, injury and the non-enforcement of law, London: Institute of Employment Rights, 978 1 906703 10 3, iv+101 pages.

Coleman, R., Sim, J., Tombs, S. and Whyte, D., eds. (2009) State, Power, Crime, London: Sage, 9781412948050, xviii+278 pages.

Dorling, D., Gordon, D., Hillyard, P., Pantazis, C., Pemberton, S. and Tombs, S. (2008) Criminal Obsessions. Why harm matters more than crime. Second Edition, London: Crime and Society Foundation, 978-1-906003-14-2, 97 pages.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2007) Safety Crimes, Cullompton: Willan, 978-1-84392-085-4, xviii + 253 pages.

Hillyard, P., Pantazis, C., Tombs, S., Gordon, D. and Dorling, D. (2005) Criminal Obsessions. Why harm matters more than crime, London: Crime and Society Foundation, 0-9548903-1-0, 72 pages.

Hillyard, P., Pantazis, C., Tombs, S. and Gordon, D., eds. (2004) Beyond Criminology? Taking Harm Seriously, London: Pluto Press, 0745319033, x + 319 pages.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D., eds. (2003) Unmasking the Crimes of the Powerful: scrutinising states and corporations, New York/London: Peter Lang, 0-8204-56918, xvi + 318 pages.

Coles, E., Smith, D. and Tombs, S., eds. (2000) Risk, Management and Society, Kluwer-Nijhoff, 0-7923-6899-1, xv + 300 pages.

Slapper, G. and Tombs, S. (1999) Corporate Crime, London: Addison Wesley Longman, 0-582-29980-2, xi + 279 pages.

Member of Health and Safety project team which prepared Regulating Health and Safety at Work: the way forward, 1999, London: Institute of Employment Rights, 1 873271 72 7, xx + 152 pages.

Pearce, F. and Tombs, S. (1998) Toxic Capitalism: corporate crime and the chemical industry, Aldershot: Ashgate, 1 85521 950 6, xii + 372 pages.

Gallagher, K., Rose, E., Reynolds, J., McClelland, R. and Tombs, S. (1996) People in Organisations. An Active Learning Approach, Oxford: Blackwell, 0-631-20181-5, xxiv + 659 pages.

Articles in refereed journals, since 2010

Tombs, S. (2015) “Crisis, What Crisis? Regulation and the academic orthodoxy”, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 54, (1), February, 57-72.

Tombs, S. and Whyte., D. (2015) “Introduction. Crimes of the Powerful”, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 54, (1), February, 1-7.

Tombs, S. and Whyte., D. (2015) “Counterblast: Crime, Harm and the State-Corporate Nexus”, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 54, (1), February, 91-95.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2014) “Toxic Capital Everywhere: mapping the co-ordinates of regulatory tolerance”, Social Justice. Bhopal and after: The chemical industry as Toxic Capitalism, 41(1/2), December, 28-48.

Tombs, S. (2013) “Still Killing with Impunity: the reform of corporate criminal liability in the UK”, Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 11, (2), 63-81.

Tombs, S. (2013) “Working for the ‘Free’ Market: state complicity in routine corporate harm in the UK, Special Issue of Revista Crítica Penal y Poder [Critical Review of Criminal Critique and Power]. Redefining the Criminal Matter: State Crimes, Mass Atrocities and Social Harm, 5, September, 291-313.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2013) “The Myths and Realities of Deterrence in Workplace Safety Regulation”, British Journal of Criminology, 53(5), 746-763.

Tombs, S. and Hillyard, P. (2013) “¿Más allá de la criminología?” [“Beyond Criminology?”], Revista Crítica Penal y Poder [Critical Review of Criminal Critique and Power], 4, March, 175-196.

James, P., Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2013) “"An Independent Review of British Health and Safety Regulation? From common-sense to non-sense", Policy Studies 34, (1), 36-52.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2013) “Transcending the Deregulation Debate? Regulation, risk and the enforcement of health and safety law in the UK”, Regulation & Governance, 7(1), March, 61-79.

Tombs, S. (2012) "State-Corporate Symbiosis in the Production of Crime and Harm", State Crime, 1(2), October, 170-195.

Pemberton, S., Tombs, S., Chan, M. and Seal, L. (2012) "Whistleblowing, Organisational Harm and the Self-Regulating Organisation", Policy & Politics, 40, (2) April, 263-279.

Snell, K. and Tombs, S. (2011) "'How Do You Get Your Voice Heard When No-One Will Let You?' Victimisation at work", Criminology & Criminal Justice, 11, (3), 207–223.

Tombs, S. andWhyte, D. (2010) "A Deadly Consensus: worker safety and regulatory degradation under New Labour", British Journal of Criminology, 50, (1), 46-65.

Chapters in / contributions to books, since 2010

Tombs, S. (2015) “Corporate Theft and Fraud: crime and impunity in the retail financial services sector”, in Whyte, D., ed., How Corrupt is Britain?, London: Pluto (forthcoming).

Hillyard, P. and Tombs, S. (2015) “From ‘Crime’ to Social Harm?” (reprint), in Chambliss, W. and Moloney, C., eds., State Crime. Volume 1, London: Routledge (in press).

Alvesalo-Kuusi, A. and Tombs, S. (2015) “The Sociology of Law”, in Jennings, W., ed., The Wiley Encyclopedia of Crime & Punishment, NJ: John Wiley & Son (forthcoming).

Tombs, S. (2014) “Health and Safety ‘Crimes’ in Britain: the great disappearing act”, in Davies, P., Francis, P. and Wyatt, T., eds., Invisible Crimes and Social Harms, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 199-220.

Burdis, K and Tombs, S. (2014) “After the Crisis: New directions in theorising corporate and white-collar crime” (reprint), in DeKeseredy, W. and Dragiewicz, M., eds., Routledge Major Works Collection: Critical Criminology. Volume II. The New Era: New Theoretical Directions in Critical Criminology, London: Routledge, 225-241.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2013) “Safety, Profits and the New Politics of Regulation”, in Walters, D. and Nichols, T., eds., Safety or Profit? International Studies in Governance, Change and the Work Environment, New York: Baywood Publishing, 97-111.

Tombs, S. (2013) “Corporate Crime”, in Hale, C., Hayward, K., Wahidin, A. and Wincup, E., eds., Introducing Crime and Criminology. Third Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 227-246.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2012) "Reshaping Healthand Safety Enforcement: Better Regulation?", in Dickens, L., ed., Making Employment Rights Effective, Hart Publishing Oxford, 67-86.

Burdis, K. and Tombs, S. (2012) "After the Crisis: new directions in theorising corporate and white-collar crime?", in Hall, S. and Winlow, S., eds., New Directions in Criminological Theory, Collumpton: Willan, 276-291.

Tombs, S. and Whyte, D. (2012) "Reappraising Regulation: the politics of ‘regulatory retreat’ in the UK", in Brotherton, DC, Handelman, S. and Will, S., eds., How They Got Away With It: Lessons from the Financial Meltdown, New York: Columbia University Press, 205-222.

Hillyard, P. and Tombs, S. (2011) "From 'Crime' to Social Harm?", in Lynch, M. and Stretesky, P., eds., Radical and Marxist Theories of Crime, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Tombs, S. (2011) "State Complicity in the Production of Corporate Crime", in Gobert, J. and Pascal, A-M., eds., European Developments in Corporate Criminal Liability, London: Routledge, 70-83.

Tombs, S. (2010) "Corporate Violence", in Brookman, F., Pierpoint, H., Bennett, T. and Maguire, M., eds. Handbook on Crime, Cullompton: Willan, 884-903.

Last updated: 7 January 2015