Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology, 1880-1945

By Richard F. Wetzell | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

European historians have become increasingly interested in the history of crime and criminal justice since the 1970s. Much of the work in this area has approached the subject of crime from the perspective of social history, in the form either of quantitative studies aimed at reconstructing the historical development of crime rates 1. or of local studies or microhistories of particular criminals or crimes, especially those associated with social conflict. 2. Other historical studies have focused on the legal, institutional, and political history of criminal justice and penal reform. Most of the work in this field was explicitly conceived as a critique of earlier studies that had presented the development of criminal justice since the late eighteenth century as a story of progress driven by the humanitarianism of penal reformers. The revisionists, by contrast, emphasized the social control function of criminal justice.

While many of the revisionists were Marxists offering class analyses of criminal justice, 3. Michel Foucault advanced a different version of the social control approach. Without paying much attention to class relations, Foucault's book on the birth of the prison stressed the development and diffusion of more effective "technologies of power" in the criminal justice system and throughout

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1.
See, for instance, Howard Zehr, Crime and Development in Modern Society: Patterns of Criminality in Nineteenth-Century Germany and France (London: Croom Helm, 1976); Eric Johnson, Urbanization and Crime: Germany, 1871-1914 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
2.
Pioneering: Douglas Hay et al., eds., Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth‐ Century England (New York: Pantheon, 1975); E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (New York: Pantheon, 1975).
3.
See, for instance, Douglas Hay, "Property, Authority and the Criminal Law," in Albion's Fatal Tree, ed. Hay et al., 17-63; Michael Ignatieff, A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850 (New York: Pantheon, 1978).

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