(Social): Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

In crime history, the urban environment is usually considered to be more criminogenic than the countryside. However, the city is often studied as a whole. This session, rather than considering cities as criminogenic per se, will explore how the ways in which inhabitants navigated the urban environment help explain existing crime patterns.

Cities foster crime: this is a general assumption among crime historians and criminologists alike. Factors such as a higher concentration of inhabitants, anonymity, the manifold opportunities to steal, and  stronger formal policing have been highlighted as the main reasons why crime rates were higher in cities than in rural areas. This session, however, calls for a more differentiated approach and to avoid generalization about the criminogenic nature of the city. Mobility within the city and the use of certain places was highly gendered, but was shaped as much by factors such as class, race, and religion. This session aims at bringing together urban, crime, and gender historians to discuss the interactions between crime location and offenders, to underline their evolution, and to provide new insights into the criminality of place and space in history. We especially welcome intersectional papers that consider class and/or race.

The urban landscape changed profoundly from the early modern period into the 20th century. Early-modern neighbourhoods were often socially heterogenic, whereas the nineteenth century saw the development of more segregated areas. Industrialization, rapid urbanization, pauperization, and the development of transport led to new ways of using the urban space and committing crimes. These transformations also had an impact on social processes and the roles of men and women in society. The legal and moral norms surrounding the use of the urban landscape changed, as did patterns of consumption, and the effectiveness of policing,  influencing likewise the access to and use of the urban landscape.  

Key questions:

  • How was the use of the urban landscape shaped by characteristics such as gender, age, class, and/or citizenship, and how did they impact crime patterns?
  • Conversely: what does the study of crime patterns reveal about people’s use of the urban space and mobility patterns?
  • How did the relationship between crime and the urban space transform over time?
  • How did behavioural norms divergence from actual practices?


  • Spokesperson: Marion Pluskota, Leiden University
  • Co-organizer(s): Sanne Muurling, Leiden University | Jeannette Kamp, Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Keywords: Criminality | Urban environment | Gender
  • Time period: All periods
  • Topic(s): Social | Cultural