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It is fairly well known that Theodor Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”) often used art and storytelling as political and social commentary, but no one has attempted to interpret his work through the lens of sociological/criminological theory. This paper argues that several of his tales can be used as aids in teaching the basic principles of many sociological/criminological theories. The author analyzes several of his works and uses one, Horton Hears a Who to illustrate his subtle but powerful commentary on the creation and application of laws, the impact of social stratification, the pervasive and dangerous influence of social and political power derived from economic power, and the nature of crime, punishment, and rehabilitation. The author describes how to create a classroom exercise to teach theory using this particular Seuss story.


This is an Author’s Accepted manuscript of an article published in West, A. D. (2005). Horton the elephant is a criminal: Using Dr. Seuss to teach social process, conflict, and labeling theory. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 16(2), 340-358 as published in the JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE EDUCATION, 2005, copyright Taylor & Francis, available online at:

A version of this article was presented to the American Society of Criminology, Denver, Colorado (November, 2003).