Crime, harm and the state
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.
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.
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.
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 Monterey 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.