Tuesday, July 29, 2014

R.I.P. Jock Young ("let's get on with it")

This blog--from the start to the present moment--came about through conversation with the late great William "Jock" Young: a father, a husband, a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a scholar, and an inspiration to all of us who find the conventional wisdom lacking about crime and punishment and many other things besides.

I resurrect the "blog" now--and am committed to maintaining it from here on in---for many reasons, but if ever I needed added incentive, I surely have it now.  This blog, now and forevermore, is dedicated to the memory of Jock Young.

At this point, this blog hardly deserves to be called a "blog" or anything else for that matter.  Truth be told, I fell asleep at the wheel--and, then, things happened.  I still have hope for it though.

I had grand plans for this blog when I first had a mind to get it started.  A few years and a bit of change ago, I had the impression that "critical criminology," as I understood it and still understand it, lacked a popular audience, at least in the good ol' United States of America. So I pitched the idea of a "blog" to Jock, who, as anyone who knew him well, was a great many things, but not exactly technologically adept.  No big deal.  I told Jock: just send me your thoughts and I'll post them for all the world (or for our limited audience) to see. I got the sense that he liked the idea, but then fate--ugly, horrible, old fate--had its way.  

Surely, Jock Young would never have been blogger.  And, personally, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Still, as far I knew--and as far as I know now--Jock did not wish, nor would he ever want, for critical criminology to be a purely academic or elite enterprise.  What good would it be if it were merely that?  And so, in memory and in honor of Jock, I recommence this blog in the spirit of what I imagine Jock would say: "get on it with it already!"  And so I--and perhaps we--shall try.  

Cliched as it may read: Jock is gone in body, but remains with with us in in spirit and inspiration.  It feels that way to me, and I know it feels that way--and then some--to those who were fortunate enough to be closer to him than I was. For them and for me, a Jock Young doesn't come around too often--maybe, if we are lucky, only once in a lifetime.  To say the least, we are fortunate to have known the old guy.  

Thus, let's honor him, not just by pointing to his epic work, but also by carrying on with the important tasks of thinking about crime and punishment--and other things--in the most critical of terms.  That is, I am absolutely certain, what he would have wanted.

Hence, I desperately hope, a new chapter begins.  And, in that spirit, this first entry in the recommencement of a blog dedicated to one of Jock's life missions shall begin with a dedication to his memory. I start with what Jock had to say about those he admired the most--those, that is, who passed on before him. 

The "New Criminology" began Jock's odyssey (and ours) along with Ian Taylor and Paul Walton.  It was and remains an epic account.  I never had the pleasure of meeting Ian Taylor or Paul Walton, but Jock talked so much about them that I feel I know them better than I know many people I ought to know.  Here's one bit of a much larger obit that Jock wrote for Ian: 
[T]hat was Ian, one man in 10,000, sticking to his beliefs, enthusiastic about the game, critical in his judgments - a flair that characterised him throughout his life.
From my perspective, the point is, not that one necessarily identify as "critical," or this or that, or that one stake out an identity as a critical criminologist or as any other kind of critical academic, but that one live life, as Jock certainly did, and as Jock saw Ian as doing, in a critical spirit, which, one might think, should be true of any criminologist or any other -ologist, as a simple manner of habit.  And yet, as Jock knew all too well, things in this world of ours are not so simple as that.  

If this little blog turns out to be half of what I hope it will be, there will be plenty enough time and space for such discussions.  What's critical?  Why does it matter?  And so on.  For the time being, though, let's honor the memory of a man whose memory very much deserves to be honored.  He was brilliant.  He was good. He was kind.  He was sweet.  He was decent.  By my lights, he could be one helluva a pain in the ass. He was Jock.  And here's what some folks have had to say about the 'old bird' . . . 

Ken Plummer:
He was a major influence on my life – with his  extraordinary enthusiasm and energy, wry wit, he often seemed half crazed and slightly mad. A kind of cheeky passion sort of exuded from his fast-talking, fast-moving body. Jock’s lecturing mode – strutting, listing, shouting, laughing with only the scrappiest of notes – was inspirational. 
When he was young  Jock always said he wanted to be a zookeeper;  when he became a sociologist in the 1960′s, he wrote  about criminology as  ‘the ‘zoo keepers of deviants’. All his life he worked to break down this  cage in which we are all trapped. He remained to the end uneasy about the whole tradition of criminology; and saw the problems it dealt with (very badly) as symptomatic of much wider and deeper problems requiring much more profound social and economic change. His combination  of Marxism , Critical Sociology and Humanism always shone through. He will always be an inspiration to me.
Roger Matthews and Keith Hayward:
Jock was the leading light of an intellectual movement inspired by the radical political currents of the 1960s that questioned conventional ways of thinking about crime and its control. Despite subsequent shifts of his perspective, this radical sensibility remained undimmed throughout his career. He was instinctively sceptical of organised coercive power and consistently took the side of those affected by it. In later work, he was a fierce critic of short-sighted "get tough" policies and a vigorous opponent of defeatist claims that "nothing works".
He was born William Young in Vogrie, Midlothian. When he was five, his family moved to Aldershot. His grammar school education in the Hampshire military town was a formative experience, not least because it furnished him with the nickname Jock. The school enforced mandatory attendance in a uniformed cadet force. The regimentation and hours of "square bashing" did not sit well with Jock, who, along with a motley group of conscientious objectors, rebelled. It was the first salvo in a career characterised by dogged resistance to unquestioned authority.
Jock always maintained an endearing humility and was indifferent to the trappings of status. He enjoyed London, particularly his beloved "Stokey" (Stoke Newington). He remained at Middlesex for 35 years before moving first to New York City, where he took up a position at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York in 2002, and later to the University of Kent.
Jock was also known for his charisma, humour and a famously warm and relaxed manner.
Prefacing an interview he had with Jock not long before his death, Rene Van Swaaningen had this to say: 
In that time I have represented the Erasmus University Rotterdam and Jock successively Middlesex, CUNY’s John Jay College and Kent. Jock had just undergone hip surgery. He looked somewhat fragile and pale, but in all other aspects it was absolutely the Jock I knew: quick-witted and ironic, with a slightly roguish, expressive look. Sitting quietly in the hotel bar with a glass of dry white wine, we had a rather serious, nocturnal conversation about all the NDC comrades who had sadly passed away over the past year. I could not have imagined then that Jock would be the next hero to ‘fall’.
A hero indeed.

Jock on Jock and those who influenced him most (in the interview with Rene Van Swaanigen):
The older I get, the more interested I become in biographies. Someone’s academic work becomes so much more interesting when you know how someone has lived. Today, I think in a much more appreciative, positive way about a great many theorists I have criticised in my younger years, for example in "The New Criminology." The first ‘significant other’ that comes to mind is Charles Wright Mills – for the reasons I mentioned before. The subversive 
attitude and the imagination he embodies is today more needed than ever. I have tried to capture this in my latest book "The Criminological Imagination."  
Second, I need to pay my tribute to Robert K. Merton. Al Gouldner has, already in the 1970s, opened my eyes to the political Merton. Merton’s reinterpretation of Durkheim’s idea of anomie is much more Marxist than most people realise. Merton’s lessons lie at the basis of "The Exclusive Society" and I have described his significance for cultural criminology in "Merton with energy, Katz with structure."
Third, I would like to mention David Matza. He perfectly understood the limitations of a pathological and static vision of delinquency and was one of the first to point at the role of romance and anger in the understanding of crime. Matza and the subcultural criminologists of the 1950s and 1960s are so much more interesting than the textbook versions of their work suggest. Cultural criminologists should really re-read their classics and bring criminological research back into the heart of sociology.
Wow.  Sage advice, to say the very least, especially,  from my vantage point, with respect to Matza--perhaps the most underrated, underappreciated, and underutilized sociologist in the last few generations.

I hope--and expect--that the same will not be true of our old friend Jock.  To that end, let us begin a conversation about the guy who, in so many different ways, knew what was up, yet never had the arrogance to think he had it all figured out.  He was a "gadfly" in the very best sense of the term and that doesn't come along too often.  Let's remember him.  

I've asked some of Jock's closest friends to offer what they regard as their and others' most poignant remarks about our old, dear friend.  When they come, I will post.

For now, I'll just just end this post by excerpting a bit of what I had to say at a memorial for Jock at the CUNY Graduate Center way back in December.  To say the very least, it's far from the best that anyone has had to say about the man, but for whatever it's worth, it's the best I could come up with at the time:
Jock was an iconoclast in so many different ways; an intellectual in the very best and most unpretentious sense of the term; a great friend; a wonderful teacher; and a loving, devoted, and proud husband and father.  And for me, Jock was an intellectual guide, a mentor, a confidant, and a cheerleader, and I am—as I know, many others are—forever in his debt.
There really wasn’t much of anything that I felt I had to hide from Jock.  As we sociologists know, much of life is about “presentation of self,” and this, it seems to me, is particularly true of academic life.  Among other things, we pretend to be sure of ourselves even when, or perhaps especially when, we are, deep down, very unsure of ourselves. With Jock, I didn’t need to hide my insecurities.
I remember telling him how nervous I was presenting a paper at the Common Sessions [the critical criminology conference, which was held in Barcelona that year]. I was deeply embarrassed about it.  Jock assured me that I was far from alone. To my great surprise, he told me that he still got nervous before presentations and even before his classes.  And that’s the kind of guy Jock was. An intellectual giant, a legend in his field of study—and yet, he got nervous before his classes and wasn’t afraid to admit as much, especially if it would be of help to someone like me. The lesson, I think, was to take our jobs seriously, to put our best feet forward in all that we do, but never lose sight of the fundamental fact that, in the end, we’re just human.
Some of my most cherished memories over the past several years were of times spent with Jock. No one was more generous with his time. “Let’s get a drink” often translated into many drinks—well, at least many drinks for me and nearly always just three, or sometimes four, Pinot Grigio’s for Jock. Conversations with Jock and other graduate students often lasted well into the night. There wasn’t much we didn’t talk about.  Certainly, no point of discussion was ever off-limits for Jock.
While Jock was a committed leftist and radical in nearly every way, he had no patience for easy sentimentality. Some of our best conversations . . . were about the ways that one could be a radical in this world without ignoring obvious social realities. And here’s one of the things that I admired most about Jock: as remarkably brilliant as he was, he never pretended that the answers were easy. He was still searching.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve heard stories from Jock’s students and colleagues about how he worked until he couldn’t work anymore. In the face of a terrible illness, Jock continued to write. He continued to teach. He even continued to hold office hours. 
In celebration of Jock’s remarkable spirit and courage, I want to add my own story to the mix:
This past August [2013], I defended my dissertation. A couple of weeks before the defense, Jock invited me to one of his favorite spots in Brooklyn to deliver my dissertation [in hardy copy form!] and discuss my work with him. As always, Jock’s insights were invaluable. He was as smart, funny, and charming as ever.  But something was very wrong. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what it what was, but it was clear that Jock was very sick.  At my defense, Jock was, again, in many ways, himself, but he looked even sicker than before. Not long after that, I learned of his diagnosis. No one in his or her right mind could have blamed him if he had withdrawn from my committee. He certainly could not have been blamed for not meeting with me before my defense. And, surely, Jock had every reason not to physically show up for my defense.  And yet, sick as he was, he did all these things.
And that I think was the essence of Jock. He gave so much to all of us, even when he clearly had nothing to gain himself. I know that perhaps the best we can do to honor the life of such a fundamentally decent human being is to try to do unto other as he did unto us.  And I know many of us will try. And we should.  But the simple fact is that Jock was, in so many ways, one of a kind.
If I had to sum it all up, I'd say that, for me, Jock was an inspiration.  He was a friend.  He was, as so many people have rightly pointed out during his life and since his death, an absolutely brilliant man.  He was decent. He was honest.  He was so many things that to me and to others that we should strive to be.  I hope we'll always remember though--as I certainly will and, I have no doubt, others will too--Jock was a great teacher and a great mentor.  I don't know if this was the best part of who he was.  Who can say, particularly with a man who did so much, so brilliantly well?  I must say, though, that this is what has stuck with me the most.  And I don't think it'll become unstuck to me anytime soon, if ever.   
R.I.P., Jock Young: you're an inspiration.  As as you'd surely advise, let's get on with it!