Defining crimes in a global age: Criminalization as a transnational legal process

Ely Aaronson, Gregory Shaffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The design of empirical research and theory-building projects in the sociolegal literature on criminalization is often premised on a presumed dichotomy between domestic and international planes of criminal lawmaking. However, in a global era in which domestic processes of criminalization are increasingly shaped by norms, institutions, and actors developed and operating outside national borders, criminalization research should develop a new theoretical frame for studying how international and domestic practices of criminal lawmaking interact with one another. This article builds from the theory of transnational legal orders and the recursivity of law to propose a transnational processual theoretical framework for the study of criminalization. This framework provides tools for investigating how criminal prohibitions are constituted through recursive interactions between actors operating in international, national, and local sites of legal practice. It draws on empirical studies to show how the processes of constructing, applying, and contesting definitions of international and transnational crimes are embedded in broader structures of power. The article demonstrates how a processual theory of transnational criminalization sheds light on important sociolegal questions about the driving forces and consequences of current efforts to harmonize the definitions of criminal activities across national jurisdictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-486
Number of pages32
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2020.


  • Colleague
  • Friend
  • In memory of sally merry
  • Mentor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Defining crimes in a global age: Criminalization as a transnational legal process'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this