Advancing Critical Criminology through Anthropology

By Brisman, Avi | Western Criminology Review, August 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Advancing Critical Criminology through Anthropology


Brisman, Avi, Western Criminology Review


Abstract: Since its genesis, critical criminology has been committed to a critique of domination and to developing and exploring broader conceptions of "crime" to include "harms" that are not necessarily proscribed by law. Without diminishing the contributions of early or current critical criminologists, this article suggests that critical criminology can further its goals by looking to anthropology. Such a recommendation is not without risk. Early "criminal anthropology" regarded criminality as inherited and contended that individuals could be "born criminal" (e.g., Fletcher 1891). Subsequent anthropological investigations of crime were and have continued to be sporadic, and the discipline's approach to crime has not been particularly unified. (Anthropology has often considered crime within broader explorations of law, for example, or through related, albeit different, examinations of sorcery and witchcraft.) Despite these limitations or shortcomings, this article presents three ways in which anthropology can speak to, and engage with, critical criminology's "insistence that criminological inquiry move beyond the boundaries imposed by legalistic definitions of crime" and its critique of domination (Michalowksi 1996:11): 1) anthropology can help reveal processes of domination that are pervasive; 2) anthropology can remind us that what constitutes "crime" is culturally specific and temporal; and 3) anthropology can help provide paradigms for better living-allowing critical criminologists to be not just critical, not just prescriptive, but aspirational. A wide range of ethnographic accounts is considered.

Keywords: anthropology; culture; domination; harm; power; resistance

INTRODUCTION

As a subject, "crime" has not generated significant interest in the field of cultural anthropology.1 While one could point to an anthology here or a review essay there, one would be hard-pressed to support the contention that anthropology has approached crime in a coherent, unified, or sustained way-or that it has even generated substantial, ongoing debates about crime.2 Most often, crime appears in the context of some other inquiry, such as disorder (Comaroff and Comaroff 2004, 2006), violence (e.g., Betzig et al. 1988; Knauft et al. 1991), witchcraft and sorcery (Favret-Saada 1980; Geschiere 1997), primitive law (Driberg 1928), the nature of the relationship between law and conflict (Collier 1975), or labor, employment, social stratification, and the effects of deindustrialization (e.g., Bourgois 1996; Phillips 1999; Sullivan 1989), rather than on its own and as the primary subject of anthropological attention (cf. Parnell and Kane 2003; Schneider and Schneider 2008).

This phenomenon may be due, in part, to sociology's near hegemony over all matters crime-related (before criminology became its own discipline or sub-discipline, depending on one's perspective).3 But cultural anthro-pology's lack of attention to crime may also be attributed, at least in part, to the regrettable subfield of criminal anthropology (also known as anthropological crim-inology), which Fletcher (1891:204), in his famous address to the Anthropological Society of Washington, defined as "the study of the being who, in consequence of physical conformation, hereditary taint, or surroundings of vice, poverty, and ill example, yields to temptation and begins a career of crime." Although such efforts to "biologize law-breaking" (Rafter 2007:808) were later discredited and abandoned because of concerns for their racist and eugenicist policy implications (Cullen and Agnew 2006:22; see also Brennan et al. 1995:65; Raine 2002:43), the experience may have left anthropology reluctant to venture into the world of crime.4

Such unwillingness is unfortunate for a number of very basic reasons: 1) anthropology shares sociology's and criminology's forefathers (e.g., Durkheim, Marx, Weber) and canonical figures (e.g., Foucault) - individuals who contemplated issues of conflict and cooperation, power and punishment, which lie at the heart of or are integral to understandings of crime;5 2) while all cultures possess proscribed behaviors, "crime" is still culturally-specific and peoples differ (over time) over what behavior is to be condemned and condoned (see, e.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Advancing Critical Criminology through Anthropology
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?