Rethinking Criminology(ies) through the Inclusion of Political Violence and Armed Conflict as Legitimate Objects of Inquiry

By Felices-Luna, Maritza | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Criminology(ies) through the Inclusion of Political Violence and Armed Conflict as Legitimate Objects of Inquiry


Felices-Luna, Maritza, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


Introduction

In order for the academic community to recognize a discipline as such, it needs to develop an explicit object together with theories and methodologies (Lanier and Henry 2004). If these elements are central to the construction and recognition of a discipline, it follows that debates over such issues become deliberations that might redefine and reconfigure the discipline. Seeing science as a reflexive process implies facilitating and embracing such debates. However, in the context of an emerging discipline such as criminology, (1) the persistence of unresolved debates can actually lead to an existential crisis that puts its survival in peril. (2) Since its being recognized as a discipline in some universities, (3) criminology has been under constant attack by sources from within and without. In a sense, criminology is like an adolescent craving to be acknowledged as independent from its parent disciplines (law, sociology, psychology, and psychiatry); it wants to be recognized as an autonomous scientific knowledge-producing entity while, at the same time, it remains attached to its parents in terms of methodology and theory as well as academic credibility or reputation (Cohen 1992; Morrison 2006). The process of becoming an independent and autonomous discipline has also been hindered by parent disciplines that do not appear ready to let go of the territory claimed by criminology (Cohen 1992). Furthermore, like many adolescents, criminology appears confused and dissatisfied with its own identity, trying on different objects of inquiry, theories, and methodologies. The turmoil within criminology translates into disputes over choices made or to be made and challenges of the knowledge resulting from those choices as well as criticism of the outcomes in terms of the concrete application of that knowledge. Criminology appears, then, as a battlefield, with groups and alliances formed across normative, political, theoretical, epistemological, and methodological divides.

Criminology or criminologies: The clash of mainstream and alternative over their institutionalization as the official criminology

Criminology as a field within its parent disciplines does not appear to have generated much commentary or controversy. Nevertheless, when criminology began to make claims as an independent discipline, it came under heavy attack and the knowledge it produces was criticized as a producer of and product of power-knowledge. (4) The historical analysis that began in the 1970s challenges the criminological project on two parallel and related issues. Criminology can be described as an "applied, practical and technocratic endeavour" (Frauley 2008: 2), but it can also be considered an appendage of the state, a tool of the state's normalizing project in society (Foucault 1975). Criminology and criminologists are thus criticized for serving the interests of the state by producing new mechanisms of social control and by legitimating the state's actions against those identified as dangerous either because they have been labelled delinquents or because they have been assigned to a social category constructed as deviant (Lynch 2000). (5) Criminology would appear to be in a "dangerous relationship to power," as the knowledge it produces legitimates crime control and has life-changing implications for the rights, liberties, and freedom to move within the social space (Hudson 2000: 177) of those who feel the impact of that "knowledge." In viewing criminology as a technical tool of the state, critics question the discipline's legitimacy as a science: what it does and for whom it does it.

Garland (1992) challenges this narrow conceptualization of criminology by suggesting that there is more than one criminology: many criminologies have developed through time. The tenants of this position argue the existence of a mainstream criminology and an alternative criminology. The former is supportive of the status quo and the moral order of society and, therefore, directly or indirectly, is part of the normalizing project of the state (Garland 1992; Morrison 2006).

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