Kauko Aromaa 1943-2019: Personal reflections

[Originally published in Kriminologiablogi in 1st of March, 2019.]

Kauko Aromaa, the Finnish criminologist, passed away on January 18, 2019. He will be remembered as an influential figure in the annals of Finnish, Nordic, and European criminology. Since his achievements are well known in the criminological community, I here take a moment for a more personal note of remembrance.

My first encounter of Kauko occurred in May 2, 1991. I can still remember quite vividly my entrance to his office where he was sitting amidst towering stacks of paper. As I later discovered, this was business as usual. The ’décor’ of Kauko’s office was nothing short of legendary.

That was the day I started my first job working as his summer intern. From that moment on, he was always a strong source of support and encouragement for me, as he was for numerous other junior scholars entering the field of criminology. Although he held strong opinions on matters of both research and public policy, he was tolerant of opposing perspectives, fostering a climate of free and open exchange of ideas. A true scholar devoted to the empirical study of crime, he did not believe that the purpose of research was to confirm his policy preferences.

With Josine Junger-Tas, Malcolm Klein, Martin Killias and other key criminologists, Kauko was active in creating the International Self-Report Delinquency Study, a cross-national survey of juvenile offending. Because of him, Finland participated in the first ISRD sweep. In the fall of 1991, he hired me for the second time with the focus on collecting ISRD data in the Helsinki school district. Having remained within the ISRD network ever since, it has been a special point of pride for me to let my international colleagues know that, thanks to Kauko, I was there from the very beginning. Although he stepped out of the project, he has always been warmly remembered in the ISRD gatherings over the years.

Kauko made important scientific contributions. His work on survey-based crime indicators is well known. Importantly, he was also an early advocate of conducting surveys of business crime victimization. Yet, in his oeuvre, I tend to remember best  his early qualitative studies from the 1980s: The Profession of the Thief and its Supportive Institutions (1983, in Finnish) and the later article on the Long-Term Consequences of Being a Victim of Violence (1990, in English). Both were innovative in the context of a disciplinary tradition. In his ethnography of thieves, he pursued the creative idea of drawing on realistic fiction as material for criminological research of historical periods. This insight reflected his profound interest in arts and humanities.

Indeed, there was something rather ’Dostoevskyan’ in his appreciation of the complexity of human experience. This feature is obvious in the aforementioned article on victimization, which suggests that victims may sometimes later regard their experience as having positive consequences as well. In connecting crime to concepts such as profession, accident, and complexity, he produced original variations of the long Nordic tradition of examining crime as ‘normal’. Still, in his characteristic respect for the tragic stubbornness of reality, he advised me to focus my research on the fact that a small group of high-frequency offenders are responsible for the overwhelming majority of crimes in a population.

When I recently authored a new Finnish textbook on criminology with a team of young criminologists, we agreed that section of the history of criminology in Finland should avoid discussing the impact of any living person. However, we felt compelled to make one exception – Kauko Aromaa. It was obvious to us that omitting his legacy would have made a disservice for contemporary students of crime.  I have great respect for Kauko as a colleague. I will miss him but I am comforted by the knowledge that his accomplishments will be appreciated by generations to come.

Janne Kivivuori


Aromaa, Kauko (1983). Varkaan ammatti ja sen tuki-instituutiot. Kirjallisuuteen ja Lahdessa tehtyihin haastatteluihin perustuva tutkimus. Helsinki: Oikeuspoliittinen tutkimuslaitos.

Aromaa, Kauko (1990). Long-Term Consequences of Being a Victim of Violence. In Norman Bishop (ed.), Scandinavian Criminal Policy & Criminology 1985–1990. Stockholm: Scandinavian Research Council for Criminology.

Janne Kivivuori is Professor of Criminology, University of Helsinki. He worked in Kauko Aromaa’s research team from 1991 to 2000.