In 1970 Stan Cohen, Mario Simondi and Karl Schumann, who met whilst sharing an office at Berkeley University, California, proposed the formation of an alternative critical criminology forum. Their aim was not just to cover topics and hold debates marginalised or ignored by mainstream, administrative and official criminology but to establish a new network that could support, and provide solidarity with, emerging social movements. Recognising the dominant influence of Anglo-American criminology, this new forum was to be characterised by a distinct European focus. This sense of place was to be significant on a further level, linking the conference theme with the conference location and offering support to local political activists, for example through press releases and resolutions and sometimes even joining them on demonstrations. Shaped by an unequivocal commitment to social justice; inspired by the radical activism of the Norwegian prisoner rights movement, the French mental patients' union and the German radical lawyers' group; and building on the model of the York Deviancy Conferences in England in the early 1970s, the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control held its first conference in Italy in 1973 on the theme Deviance and Social Control in Europe: Scope and Prospects for a Radical Criminology.

By emphasising the study of deviancy and social control, the founders fashioned the political and theoretical priorities of the European Group. Through the notion of deviancy, they highlighted, among other things, the importance of understanding the political nature of private troubles and public issues, the essentially contested nature of ‘crime’, and how deviancy, normality and disorder must be located within the structural contexts of a given society.

Further, by critically scrutinising the ‘organised ways in which society responds to behaviour and people it regards as deviant, problematic, worrying, threatening, troublesome or undesirable in some way or another’ (Cohen, 1985: 1), manifestations of social control such as migration and border controls, policing, the judiciary, detention and authoritarian statism, were placed firmly in the spotlight. This focus has continued, albeit in modified form, to the present day.

In a discussion on the foundations of the European Group, Stan Cohen indicated that in the early days there was ‘a strong anarchistic and libertarian ethos’ (personal correspondence with David Scott, former Group coordinator). As time has passed the philosophies of Marxism, phenomenology, penal abolitionism, feminism, anti-racism and the insights of Michel Foucault, among others, have also proved influential for the European Group. What unites such diverse and potentially contradictory philosophies are their critique of hierarchies of power and the call for progressive and emancipatory change rooted in alternative critical normative values. Whilst the critique and transformation of class hierarchies remains important, the focus has gradually expanded to address much wider concerns around nationalism, heterophobia, racism, ability, ageism, hetero-normativity and sexual divisions. The European Group therefore aims to foster ‘emancipatory knowledge’ (Wright, 2010) which has the explicit political and theoretical intention of not just understanding individual and social problems, but also challenging and transforming existing power relations.


European Group coordinators look after the day-to-day running of the Group. The current coordinator is Ida Nasftad(Secretary: Per Jorgen). Former coordinators are:

 Mario Simondi (1973 – 1977)

 Didi Gipser (1977 – 1983)

 Sabine Klein-Schonnefeld (1983 – 1985)

 Karen Leander (1985 – 2009)

 David Scott (Secretary: Joanna Gilmore 2009 – 2012)

 Emma Bell (Secretary: Monish Bhatia 2012-2015)
 Ida Nafstad (Secretary: Per Jørgen Ystehede 2016 -  )



In 1974, the Group published a manifesto setting out its key aims. It is available to read here: European Group for the Study of Deviance & Social Control, ‘MANIFESTO 1974’, Crime and Social Justice, No. 4, Fall-Winter 1975.

Further publications about the Group are available here.


Two anthologies, bringing together papers delivered at European Group conferences since 1973, have been published. Click here for more information

Oral history project

The Group is working on putting together an oral history of the Group, collecting together the memories and experiences of those who have been involved in the Group over the years. To mark the Group’s 40th anniversary, coordinator Emma Bell interviewed the inspirational Norwegian criminologist, Thomas Mathiesen,  who was present at the Group’s very first conference in Florence in 1973. To listen to the interview, click here. A transcript of the interview is available to download here