Analysing the ‘Crime Decline’
: Change and Continuity in Crime and Harm.

  • Justin Kotzé

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Over the past two decades crime rates appear to have undergone a statistical decline in a number of predominantly Western countries. Representing a discernible break from the not too distant past, this remarkable reversal has unsurprisingly generated significant scholarly interest and spawned a voluminous literature seeking to explore and explain this purported ‘international crime decline’. However, the evidence upon which claims of this apparent reversal are based appears less than robust and raises a number of questions regarding the validity of the ‘crime decline’ discourse. Accordingly, this research aims to critically interrogate the dominant data source at the heart of this discourse and begins to offer an alternative view of the reality of crime and harm by drawing upon original empirical research. To this end the thesis examines the wider socio-economic and politico-cultural context within which this decline is said to have occurred, highlighting the changing nature and landscape of crime and its ever deepening recalcitrance to precise measurement.

With a view towards reframing the ‘crime decline’ discourse a more accurate account of crime and harm is provided by drawing upon an ontologically grounded harm perspective. In doing so attention is drawn to a range of non-criminalised harms that do immeasurable damage to the wider social body yet remain absent from the optimistic claims of statistical reductions in crime. Moreover, in what marks a positive contribution towards the development of an empirically robust and theoretically persuasive account of the purported ‘crime decline’, a new empirically informed theoretical framework is advanced. Utilising this new framework this thesis may begin to explain why, despite its lack of aetiological affirmation, the ‘crime decline’ discourse has been so readily accepted. It is concluded that crime may not have simply ‘declined’ but mutated in ways that current indicators have been unable to capture. Ultimately, it is argued that rather than taking undue comfort in baseless claims of optimism we must participate in a gesture of refusal to enjoy the comforting myth of the ‘crime decline’.
Date of Award24 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorSteve Hall (Supervisor), Georgios Antonopoulos (Supervisor) & Anqi Shen (Supervisor)

Cite this