Course Syllabus


Gang Crime in Scandinavia

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Semester & Location:

Spring 2023 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 3 credits

Major Disciplines:

Criminology/Criminal Justice, Public Policy, Sociology

Faculty Members:

Anne Okkels Birk, 

Current students use canvas inbox for contact

Time & Place:

Tuesday-Friday 11:40-13:00 in Fi6-Metro 101

The syllabus is subject to change


Course Information and Purpose

Even relatively peaceful Denmark has gang crime, and leading groups, such as Hells Angels, Bandidos, and various immigrant outfits, fight over the drug and sex markets in Denmark. Meanwhile, the media readily serves up real or exaggerated stories about gang wars and violent rivalry. This course explores why gangs come into existence and looks into gang crime investigations and social and political efforts to prevent gang activities from emerging or spreading. It also critically explores representations of gangs in the media and asks the fundamental question: what makes a group a gang?

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course all students, with or without prerequisites in the social sciences, will be able to:

  • Approach information in a new field with an open mind as well as critical, analytical thinking.
  • Recognize and evaluate own assumptions when approaching a subject, whether new or well-known
  • Reflect on and think critically about the portrayal of gangs and gang crime in the media
  • Understand the relationship between the set-up of a society and (gang) crime
  • Apply the sociological and psychological theory provided in the course to issues at the societal and the individual level
  • Apply the economic theory provided in the course to issues regarding illegal markets
  • Explain why crime exists in any society, even societies with extended welfare services

The course is without prerequisites and students should expect the theoretical level for sociological, psychological and economic theory used to reflect this. Students with prior konwledge can be challenged further, if interested. 



Anne Okkels Birk,  Diploma in Criminology (University of Copenhagen 2007). MA (political science, University of Aarhus, 1997). Since 2007, independent consultant arranging Nordic prison officer conferences (2010, 2013, 2017, 2019) and conducting analytical work relevant to prisons and crime. Member of Danish criminal policy think-tank Forsete. Danish Prison and Probation Service 2001-2006, Ministry of Food 1997-2000. Twitter: anne_okkels. With DIS from 2008.
Phone: +45 27 39 79 21



Academic sources:

Balvig, Flemming and Holmberg, Lars(2011) 'The Ripple Effect: A Randomized Trial of a Social Norms
Intervention in a Danish Middle School Setting', Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 12: 1. (excerpt)

Caulkins & Reuter (2010). How drug enforcement affects drug prices. Crime and Justice vol. 39, p. 213

Howell (2007). Menacing or Mimicking? Realities of Youth Gangs. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, vol. 59, no. 2, p. 39.

Lehrmann, U. (2011). Tabloid crime journalism: Writing on the edge of existence. Northern Lights, vol. 9, pp. 179-192. pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

Linnemann, T., T. Wall & E. Green (2014). The walking dead and killing state: Zombification and the normalization of police violence. Theoretical Criminology, November 2014 vol. 18 no. 4 506-527.

Maruna, Wilson & Curran (2006). Why God Is Often Found Behind Bars: Prison Conversions and the Crisis of Self-Narrative. Research and Human Development, vol. 3, no. 2&3, pp. 161–184

Melde, Taylor & Esbensen (2009). I got your back. In: Criminology, Vol. 47, No. 2. (excerpt)

Møller, K. & M. Hesse (2013). Drug market disruption and systemic violence: Cannabis markets in Copenhagen. European Journal of Criminology 10(2) 206 –221,

Pedersen, Maria Libak (2014). Gang Joining in Denmark: prevalence and correlates of street gang membership. Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology & Crime Prevention, vol. 15, no. 1 (excerpt).

Reiter, K. (2014). Punitive Contrasts: United States versus Denmark — A Socio-Legal Comparison of Two Prison Systems. The Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Annual: Global Perspectives, Vol 6/1. (excerpt)

Roks, R.A.  (2017).  Crip or Die? Gang Disengagement in the Netherlands. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, OnlineFirst, p. 1–22.

Rostami, Mondani, Liljeros & Edling (2018). Criminal organizing applying the theory of partial organization to four cases of organized crime.  Trends in Organised Crime vol. 21, pp. 315342.

Sandberg, S. & W. Pedersen (2011). Street Capital. Black Cannabis Dealers in a White Welfare State. Bristol: The Policy Press (excerpts of chapters 2 and 3)

Wheaton, Scharuer & Galli (2010). Economics of Human Trafficking. International Migration, vol. 48, no. 4, pages 114–141.

Wood & Alleyne (2010). Street gang theory and research: Where are we now and where do we go from here? Aggression and Violent Behavior, vol. 15, pp. 100-111.

Non-academic sources:

Cadwalladr, C. (2016, June 26). The man accused of starting the 2011 riots - and what he did next. The Guardian.

College of Policing (2013). The effects of Hot-Spot Policing on Crime: What Works Briefing

Copes, H. (2014). Techniques of Neutralization. In Miller (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Theoretical Criminology, First Edition. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Hallsworth, S. (2016, August 6). What the 2011 Summer Riots Were Really About. Vice. 

Jensen, E. & R. Stubberud (2012). Oslo Police Department. In Leinfelt & Rostami, eds. (2012): The Stockholm Gang Model. PANTHER. Stockholm County Police. pp. 266-297.

Rockwool Foundation Research Unit (2010). News from the Rockwool Foundation Research Unit, april 2010. Criminals pay a high price after completing sentences. Newsletter.

Rutkowski, L. (April 2016). The counter-citizens. The Murmur. pdf 



Field Studies

Field studies in this course serve to give students an insight into the issue that goes beyond the colorful headlines. A possible field study is the scavenger hunt at Nørrebro, a vibrant and hyggelig neighborhood with more diversity and more hipsters than the rest of Copenhagen combined. Nørrebro is 'world famous in Denmark' for its gang presence, but students will see that most of all, it is a great place to hang out.

Videos and guest lecturers with experience in gang prevention are also used to spice up the course.

Guest lecturers

Guests in this course are practitioners that can provide students with 'meat' to put on the skeletons of theory. 


Approach to teaching

The basis for my teaching is a profound devotion to criminology and to stirring others’ curiosity and intellectual growth. This goes both for students with and without prior experience with the subject area. It also goes both for students devoted to a field and students who are struggling to find out where their main interests are. For all students, I am dedicated to developing or honing skills in critical, analytical thinking. I focus especially on awareness of one’s own assumptions and prejudices as well as assessment of sources.

Lessons are often lecture-based, but broken up with questions for reflection or debate. A priority is to obtain a relaxed work climate in class where everybody feels okay with speaking upThis can only be achieved if all participants are respectful towards others’ questions, answers and opinions. If possible in relation to covid-rules, groups set by the instructor for a couple of lessons at a time will be a basis for many of the discussions; these groups are meant to both give students a safe home within the class and provide an opportunity to get to know more people in class. . 

A student may prefer to use some time for reflection before contributing. I still want to hear that student’s thoughts, questions and reflections – for that purpose, a discussion board is set up for contributions after class.

Friends or family visiting a student are welcome to sit in on this class, but they cannot join field studies.


Expectations of the students:

Students are expected to:

  • Be willing to take an academic approach to difficult and often emotional subjects; also, be willing to consider arguments and policies that are far from the student's own viewpoints or emotions.
  • Complete preparatory work before class as descibed in the calendar. 
  • Participate actively during class and field studies with contributions and questions that are relevant to class material and which shows that the student is working or striving to work in an academic way. Students are expected to challenge own viewpoints and assumptions and to strive for nuance and complexity in their work and contributions. 
  • Consider how their contributions affect the overall work climate in class. If a student’s contributions do not have a constructive effect on the overall work and discussion climate in class, the student is expected to discuss this in a constructive way with the teacher.
  • Show respect for and attempt to understand other people’s viewpoints and experiences, whether other students or people encountered during guest lectures and field studies
  • Be punctual for class and field studies.
  • Write the instructor in case of illness or any other absence from class, movie screenings or field studies.

During the course, we will discuss issues and examples of crime and victimization in detail and these issues can come up in any lesson. In class, students may hear detailed descriptions of violent crime and some readings also include such descriptions. For planned use of examples and topics, students are welcome to flag that they would like a heads-up regarding content related to e.g. sexual assault, homicide, torture and institutional restraint. In this case, the teacher will provide the student with a description of what is going to happen in class so that the student is prepared. When it comes to readings with descriptions of violent crime, students can choose to read a version in which details are left out; in the following class, they will get to work in a group with people who made the same choice.   

We may watch video footage that can experienced as disturbing. These are important to and integrated into the course and will not necessarily be announced in advance. For movies announced in advance, students will be allowed to watch the film in question on their own and send in a reflection.

Students, who feel unable to function with the above should consider taking another course. 



Evaluation in this course consists of three different elements: written assignments, online preparation for class and active participation in classes and field studies. All three forms of evaluation aim at developing the student's skills at identifying own assumptions and how they influence the student's learning; understanding of theory and skills at applying theory; and skills at distinguishing between own opinions or view and knowledge acquired academically. 



Rubrics are available for all assignments and for participation. Rubrics will be updated at the beginning of the semester.



Online preparation for classes

For up to half the lessons of the semester, students are to prepare through graded quizzes and discussion boards that are to be submitted before class. 



Paper 1. Similarities and differences


Paper 2. Myths on gang crime and how they relate to the students prior assumptions



Paper 3. Illegal markets: an analysis of how to reduce unwanted behavior and goods while keeping people as safe as possible


Paper 4. Working to motivate a gang member to leave crime



Students are to participate actively in classes and on field studies; participation must be relevant to class and show that the student endeavours to think in an academic way. Students can send in written reflections in lieu of speaking up in class. 

Total 100%

To be eligible for a passing grade in this class you must complete all of the assigned work.


Late papers

Late papers are accepted, but there will be a deduction in the grade received.

Policy for students who arrive late to class:

Students who are repeatedly late for class will receive a lower participation grade.

Use of laptops or phones in class

Except during breaks, this class is computer-, tablet- and phone free. If there are special reasons for taking notes on a computer (for instance taking notes for a class mate with a disability), the teacher needs to be contacted and presented with a letter of accomodation or equivalent from the DIS Academic Support team.


Lessons, events and assignments:

Assignments and lessons are described in full in the Canvas calendar, which is also where you find all links to readings. 


Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:

Course Summary:

Date Details Due