Biko Agozino and the Rise of Post-Colonial Criminology

Article excerpt

"Indeed, there is something hauntingly unreal about a scholarly discipline dedicated to the study of crime, the criminal and the criminal law that focuses almost exclusively upon the actions of lawbreaking individuals, while turning a blind eye to the mass terrorism imposed upon innocent people by slavery, colonialism and their continuing legacies."

-Stephen Pfohl, Foreword to Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason.

The statement above succinctly captures the thrust of the argument of Agozino (2003). From the title of Agozino's book, Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason, it is evident that Agozino seeks a reformation and overhaul of what he calls 'Administrative Criminology' or what one chooses to call 'Establishment Criminology,' culminating in a change in its assumptions, focus, objectives, theories and methods. This paper is divided into two parts. The first part is an overview of Counter- Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason, while the second part is an examination of the present state of Criminology and the need for Post-Colonial Criminology; theories and methods of this new sub-discipline and the challenges ahead.

Agozino (2003:1) makes it abundantly clear from the onset that his book is a 'transdisciplinary theoretico-methodological intervention aimed at decolonizing theories and methods of imperialist reason in criminology.' Criminologists and other social and natural scientists, he argued, colluded with the forces of colonialism and provided 'scientific' justification for their heinous crimes against the other half - a supposedly unfit part of questionable humanity. Agozino examines various theories in criminology and found an inherent and consistent bias in favour of the dominant groups in the society. Thus, criminology and criminologists focus on the petty crimes of hapless and helpless individuals, while largely ignoring the more atrocious, multidimensional and far more debilitating crimes committed under slavery, colonialism and the ceaseless neo-colonialism.

Turning to the reality of maintenance of social order, Agozino argues that democracy, law and order are in actual fact, 'organized violence.' He points out instances of 'executive lawlessness,' perpetrated with impunity, while criminologists focus on lower class crimes. Agozino argues that in 'criminal states,' the right to rebel must be recognized as a fundamental human right. He argues that without the recognition of the right to rebel, society will remain a slave to the state. He calls for the trial of the South African state for the injustices of apartheid.

On the question of objectivity, Agozino opines that 'objectivity is not positionlessness.' In an attempt to be seen as objective, criminologists have tended to separate fact and value. Agozino argues that it is impossible and undesirable to separate social science from social action. The idea of 'value-free' science is actually pretentious and has been used to subjugate the other half of the world. He calls for 'committed objectivity.' Objectivity to him is not a non-committal value-neutrality in social research, but 'the ability to take a position and argue it logically without concealing or distorting opposing positions.'

The hydra-headed issue of racism receives comprehensive coverage in Agozino. He cites the example of the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence in England and the outright bungling of the case nay dereliction of duties by the police as an indication that racism is not only institutionalized, but is well and alive in the U.K as well as a number of Western societies. In Agozino's view, Criminologists did not take up such a case because 'criminology was developed primarily as a tool for imperialist domination and it continues to operate largely as a repressive technology' (288). Included in this technology are the police, police, prisons, army and so on, which neo-colonial states have adopted hook, line and sinker. …