Thursday, June 28, 2012

What is critical criminology?

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to promote the cause of critical criminology by making it public. 

To this end, it seems fitting that the blog's first post would say something about critical criminology's foundational principles.  And so we turn to Taylor, Walton, and Young's The New Criminology (1973), a book that, in some ways, is as relevant, if not more relevant, today than ever. (Consider, for instance, the following line from the book's concluding chapter: "the crisis of our institutions has deepened to the point where the 'master institutions' of the state, and of the political economy, are unable to disguise their own inability to adhere to their own rules and regulations.")  

Taylor, Walton, and Young positioned themselves against the overriding tendency at the time to "compartmentalize" and "depoliticize" issues and problems and argued instead for a critical criminology that would (1) reveal the "total interconnectedness" of issues and problems and (2) "bring politics back" into criminological discourse. 

Such a criminology, they argued, could not exist without a normative commitment "to the abolition of inequalities of wealth and power, and in particular of inequalities in property and life-chances . . . ."  Without such a commitment, they said, criminology is "bound to fall into correctionalism" (a kind of criminology that Young would later describe as "individualist in focus, technicist in outlook, and minimalist in theory").  The new criminologists went on to say:

And all correctionalism is irreducibly bound up with the identification of deviance with pathology.  A fully social theory of deviance must, by its nature, break entirely with correctionalism . . . precisely because . . .the causes of crime must be intimately bound up with the form assumed by the social arrangements of the time.  Crime is ever and always that behaviour seen to be problematic within the framework of those social arrangements: for crime to be abolished, then, those social arrangements themselves must also be subject to fundamental change.  

And so, it seems to me, there were at least two foundational principles that Taylor, Walton, and Young set forth in The New Criminology.  The first called for a thoroughly critical and "fully social" analysis of crime.  And the second called for a commitment to radically changing the structure of society.   

Critical criminologists have certainly had their fair share of disagreements over the years (as they should have).  But I imagine that the basic principles that Taylor, Walton, and Young set forth in The New Criminology nearly three decades ago are principles that very few critical criminologists (or fellow travelers) would have trouble signing onto today.