Introduction: Towards a Criminology of the Pandemic

Mathieu Deflem
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This is the introduction of Crime and Social Control in Pandemic Times, edited by M. Deflem, Vol. 28 of Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance, Emerald Publishing, April 2023.

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Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2023. "Introduction: Towards a Criminology of the Pandemic." Pp. 1-4 in Crime and Social Control in Pandemic Times, edited by M. Deflem. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing.

Since the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everybody everywhere, or at least so it has seemed. What is without question is that the pandemic has presented an unusual, if perhaps not entirely unprecedented, societal condition that social scientists from various disciplines and research domains are well-placed to examine from the viewpoints of their various perspectives, methodologies, and substantive interests. In this volume, a diverse and international group of scholars address a range of issues and problems in relation to the pandemic’s relevance for the study of crime and the control thereof.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a medical, but also a broader social phenomenon that poses a broad range of concerns which social-science scholars are ideally equipped to investigate (Deflem, 2022). Among the wider field of the social and behavioral sciences, the fields of criminology, criminal justice, and socio-legal studies can address numerous issues and problems posed in the realm of crime and social control, including quantitative and qualitative shifts in criminality as well as the control thereof by various institutions. Judging from the work that already has been conducted, and is still ongoing, about the pandemic, criminological questions are being examined in many pieces of research and critical reflection. Among the published contributions now available concerning the impact of COVID-19, indeed, many have focused on criminological questions on matters of crime and violence (e.g., Boman & Gallupe, 2020; Lantz, & Wenger, 2022; Stickle & Felson, 2020), policing and law enforcement (e.g., Jones, 2020; Kyprianides et al., 2022; Ralph et al., 2022), and punishment and corrections (e.g., Powell, Hyatt, & Link, 2022; Zeveleva & Nazif-Munoz, 2022).

The unsettling nature of the pandemic is in formal respects similar to other disturbing events –whether they be distinctly social, such as economic crises, or natural, such as in the case of natural disasters– that have wide and, at times, lasting repercussions in respect of the organization of society and its constituent parts. Focused on criminological questions, the present volume of Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance, is as such in line with earlier volumes in the series that have dealt with the criminological impact of other momentous events, specifically the September 11 terrorist attacks (Deflem, 2015), the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 (Deflem, 2011), and problems associated with disasters following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan (Deflem, 2012). What such special, disturbing moments in time demonstrate is that questions concerning crime and the control thereof are central concerns in society at large. Such matters therefore beg for the attention of scholars in criminology, criminal justice, socio-legal studies and related social and behavioral sciences who, by virtue of their training and acquired expertise, can examine relevant issues with all due attention to appropriate perspective and method. This criminological interest is also in line with the history and systematics of criminological thought as it recalls Emile Durkheim’s (1895) classics understanding that, while the existence of criminal behavior is a normal fact of life, its drastic reconfiguration during uncommonly troubling times poses unique challenges to society.

The sixteen chapters in this volume are divided over four thematic parts, dealing with pandemic-related issues in relation to violence and crime, media and law, policing, and corrections, respectively. In Part I, a variety of problems associated with crime are researched, especially regarding issues of domestic violence. Ronagh McQuigg investigates the impact of the COVID1-19 on domestic violence globally and is especially interested in the implications thereof for the regulation of human rights. Adan Silverio-Murillo and co-authors study the impact of the pandemic on domestic violence in Mexico City and seek to account for the mixed nature of findings regarding such violence. Laura Iesue and her co-authors turn to Guatemala to investigate that country’s domestic violence situation during the pandemic and the conditions that influence its reporting. The research team of Veroni Eichelsheim extends the international reach of the study of domestic violence by focusing on the situation in The Netherlands to argue that an upward trend in the reporting of domestic violence already began before the pandemic. Gideon Fishman and Arye Rattner examine the reporting of crime, including domestic violence, in Israel and argue amongst their findings that lockdowns have limited value. Ben Stickle and his co-authors address a form of crime related to property, specifically in the form of a study of crime in the retail sector.

The chapters in Part II address questions concerning the construction of crime and its control during the COVID-19 pandemic in the institutions of media and law. Both focusing on media, the chapters by Justin Piché and Kevin Walby and Lisa Kort-Butler analyze the role of news media in reporting on crime and crime-related events during the pandemic to argue, each in their own unique way, how media of different types interact to influence important dimensions of criminal justice. Turning to law and policy, the chapters by Samantha Joy Cheesman and Laura Alessandra Nocera address, respectively, questions related to the rule of law in Hungary and emergency legislation at the international level to show the variations that exist in has the COVID-19 pandemic has been addressed at the level of various national states. The chapters in Part II collectively show how much that is to do about crime and social control relates to institutional behaviors that are far beyond the immediate context of criminal justice.

Part III is concerned with the role of law enforcement agencies and policing practices during the pandemic. Xiaochen Hu and Nicholas Lovrich study the complexity of the interactions between police and members of the community, especially focusing on the role of online forms of communication. Turning to the situation in Israel, Gali Perry and co-authors also address police-community relation, particularly examining how support for the police fluctuated over the course of the pandemic. In the context of the United States, Scott M. Mourtgos and Ian T. Adams report from their research on police staffing and proactivity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the video-taped police killing of George Floyd in May 2020, whereby the authors propose a methodology of disentangling the impacts of these two critical events.

Finally, in Part IV of this volumes, three chapters address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the correctional community. Molly Smith and Nancy R. Gartner examine the available literature on the correctional effects of the pandemic and find that the prison communities have been impacted greater than the public at large. Barbara H. Zaitzow investigates the correctional impact of COVID-19 to make several public health recommendations. In the volume’s last chapter, Megan Demarest and co-authors suggest the value of participatory action research in prison settings, noting the impact the COVID-19 had on this important kind of work.

Taken as a whole, the chapters in this volume have much good food to offer, for both thought and action on COVID-19 policies in the realm of crime and social control. Contributing to the ever-growing criminological literature on the pandemic and similar disturbing events, the authors show the value of examining relevant questions, in multiple settings, from a variety of perspectives and methodologies. Much can be learned from their valuable contributions to advance research and a proper understanding of some of the important ways in which the pandemic has affected matters of crime and social control in profound ways.


Boman, J.H., & Gallupe, O. (2020). Has COVID-19 changed crime? Crime rates in the United States during the pandemic. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 45(4), 537-545.

Deflem, M. (Ed.) (2011). Economic crisis and crime (Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance, Vol. 16). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Deflem, M. (Ed.) (2012). Disasters, hazards, and law (Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance, Vol. 17). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Deflem, M. (Ed.) (2015). Terrorism and counterterrorism today (Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance, Vol. 20). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Deflem, M. (2022). The continuity of the social sciences during COVID-19: Sociology and interdisciplinarity in pandemic times. Society, published online August 25, 2022.

Durkheim, E. ([1895] 1982). The rules of sociological method. New York: The Free Press.

Jones, D.J. (2020). The potential impacts of pandemic policing on police legitimacy: Planning past the COVID-19 crisis. Policing: A Journal of Policy & Practice, 14(3), 579-586.

Kyprianides, A., Bradford, B., Beale, M., Savigar-Shaw, L., Stott, C., & Radburn, M. (2022). Policing the COVID-19 pandemic: Police officer well-being and commitment to democratic modes of policing. Policing & Society, 32(4), 504-521.

Lantz, B., & Wenger, M.R. (2022). Are Asian victims less likely to report hate crime victimization to the police? Implications for research and policy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Crime and Delinquency, 68(8), 1292-1319.

Powell, K., Hyatt, J.M., & Link, N.W. (2022). Implementing reforms in community corrections: Lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Crime and Delinquency, 68(8), 1223-1246.

Ralph, L., Jones, M., Rowe, M., & Millie, A. (2022). Maintaining police-citizen relations on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. Policing & Society, 32(6), 764-777.

Stickle, B., & Felson, M. (2020). Crime rates in a pandemic: The largest criminological experiment in history. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 45(4), 525-536.

Zeveleva, O., & Nazif-Munoz, J.I. (2022). COVID-19 and European carcerality: Do national prison policies converge when faced with a pandemic? Punishment & Society, 24(4), 642-666.

See overview and contents of this book.