Against Administrative Criminology

By Galliher, John F. | Social Justice, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Against Administrative Criminology


Galliher, John F., Social Justice


Progressive Voices in an Academic Wilderness

For approximately three decades social justice has persisted in publishing papers dealing with fairness in law, crime, and other cultural practices. The vision of the journal has always been at odds with the dominant paradigms found in academic criminology. Through most of this history, I have been a member of the editorial board and have always been proud of this association.

The journal has not been alone in offering an alternative vision for the study of crime and law. Troy Duster (1995) delivered a passionate and devastating criticism of the racism inherent in the war on drugs, including the significantly more severe punishments for offenses involving crack as opposed to powder cocaine. Such patterns resulted in a prison-building boom and an ever-increasing proportion of arrest and incarceration of black males. Some criminology, noted Travis Hirschi (1993), lacked a sense of intellectual history and showed a consequent movement toward shopworn and outmoded biological explanations of criminal behavior. This was often coupled with a theoretical vacuum and increased federal funding. Hirschi called this type of research "administrative criminology," consistent as it is with the requirements of government bureaucrats.

For these reasons, and others, Stanley Cohen (1988) concluded that he was "against criminology." Cohen assumed that the scope of criminology consists of addressing only three questions: "Why are laws made? Why are they broken? What do we do or what should we do about this?" (Ibid.: 9). He laments the fact that there is a "political timidity" (Ibid.: 52) whereby the first question regarding the origins of laws is largely ignored in favor of behavioral research asking merely why people break existing laws. "If 80% of students on a campus smoke marihuana, the question should not be 'Why do they do it?' but 'Why have those in power allowed such a law to remain?'" (Ibid.: 47). Thus, "the concept of crime is meaningful only in terms of certain acts being prohibited by the state...[and] drug taking, homosexuality, and abortion would be very different if they were not 'criminalized'" (Ibid.: 40). Mainline criminology thus "managed the astonishing feat of separating the study of crime from the contemplation of the state" (Ibid.: 4). The question that remains is, how did American criminology get into these straits?

A Short History of the Saddest Science

Cohen addresses this question by focusing on the institutional domains of criminology, which in turn:

are shaped by their surroundings: how academic institutions are organized, how disciplines are divided and subdivided, how disputes emerge, how research is funded, and how findings are published and used. In criminology an understanding of these institutional domains is especially important, for our knowledge is situated not just, or even primarily, in the pure academic world, but in the applied domain of the state's crime control apparatus (Ibid.: 67).

In the following paragraphs we will see how patterns of funding, both in and outside of academe, have influenced the organization and division of academic criminology.

Akers (1992) noted that until the mid-1960s, all criminology was taught in sociology departments and all criminology texts were written by sociologists. Undoubtedly influenced by the urban riots of the 1960s, beginning in the early 1970s, the federal government began to sponsor criminal justice programs through the Law Enforcement Assistance Association LEAA (Cronin et al., 1981). At colleges and universities, large and small, such programs quickly emerged to take advantage of this newfound largess. Initially these programs had little research impact, but were designed to train police officers already on the job (Ibid.). Soon, applied training emerged for undergraduate majors interested in preparing for a law enforcement career. Farrell and Koch (1995) have illustrated this applied orientation, both in their experiences in teaching such programs and in a review of criminal justice textbooks. …

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