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When Killing Is a Crime

Tony Waters
When Killing Is a Crime
ISBN: 978-1-58826-514-2
ISBN: 978-1-58826-539-5
ISBN: 978-1-62637-843-8
2007/252 pages/LC: 2007020777

"This is a book aimed squarely at helping students realize how the sociological perspective may be applied to killing and murder in its various forms, from the mundane ... to the genocidal.... I am deeply grateful to Waters for providing such a valuable and accessible book in this endeavor."—Michael O. Maume, Teaching Sociology

"Lively and readable.... Waters brings together a wealth of fascinating material on violence and, by putting criminal homicide in its larger context, fills a hole in the literature. The book will be valuable to scholars and students alike."—Mark Cooney, University of Georgia

"Waters deftly explores the social construction of killing across time and place, offering vivid examples to illustrate the importance of this neglected topic. Entertaining enough to hold the attention of undergraduates, yet analytical enough to be used by graduate students and scholars, When Killing Is a Crime should appeal to anyone who studies crime."—Matthew T. Lee, University of Akron


Taking another person's life is the crime for which every society reserves the strongest of punishments. But why (and when) is the act of killing sometimes defined as murder—as inexcusable—and other times considered a justifiable, or even righteous, act? Grappling with this ambiguity, Tony Waters sheds light on the sociology of murder.  

This innovative text draws on wide-ranging case studies of killing—from urban gangs in Washington, DC to the Salem witchcraft trials, from the "Wild West" to blood feuds in modern Albania, from dueling gentlemen to government-orchestrated mass executions to illustrate the process of criminalization. Along the way, it looks at both the microsociological level of the violent act itself and the macro level of society's reaction. When Killing Is a Crime will leave students with a clear understanding of how differences in culture, status, power, technology, and legal systems pattern violence and murder.


Tony Waters is professor of sociology at California State University, Chico. He is author of Crime and Immigrant Youth, The Resistance of Subsistence Agriculture, and Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan.


  • The Criminalization of Killing.
  • The Invention of Murder: Killing and the Law.
  • The Ecology of Violence: From Hurt Feelings to Fatal Blows.
  • Societies Respond to Killers: The Need for Catharsis and Outrage.
  • When the State Kills: Execution, War, and Genocide.
  • Understanding the Sociology of Killing.