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Crime, harm and the state

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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 how and why this can vary by region and over time. You’ll focus on constructions of ‘harm’ or ‘social harm’, and how these are intimately linked to the state, as the key source of definitions of crime through law. Through a variety of engaging and thought-provoking case studies, you'll explore the processes of criminalisation and definitions of crime, harm and justice, as well as relationships between the Global North and the Global South. You’ll also critically consider the role and function of criminological theory and its proximity to state power, and have an opportunity to develop your own criminological imagination and identity through a range of virtual learning environment activities and assessments.

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 – and all through the 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 preventing 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. It introduces the concept of resistance and encourages you to consider the interactions between power, discourse, the state and resistance 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

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

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. This feedback will help to prepare you for the next assignment. 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.

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.

You will be required, at certain points, to work with other students and this is assessed in one of the tutor-marked assignments (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 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2031.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment