Criminology and Colonialism: Counter Colonial Criminology and the Canadian Context

By Kitossa, Tamari | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), January 2012 | Go to article overview
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Criminology and Colonialism: Counter Colonial Criminology and the Canadian Context

Kitossa, Tamari, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


Kwame Nkrumah has shown that colonialism of all sorts dialogically connects the metropole and the periphery in a material relationship riven with contradictions. Ironically, 19th Century criminological knowledge emerging from colonial administrators paralleled the metropolitan effort identify the etiology of working class 'crime' at home. In bridging the gap between demonizing the working class at home and the colonized in the colonies, criminology can be said to be a handmaid of colonialism from its inception. This view is not a popular one in mainstream criminology and has only a few proponents in the critical criminology tradition, notably Stanley Cohen, Biko Agozino, Becky Tatum. Why is this so? Could it be that criminology departments in Western universities practice what they preach by excluding from their precincts of knowledge production the very people that populate the systemically racist regimes of policing, custody and prisons? Addressing this question this paper is an empirical and theoretical inquiry into race, knowledge production and criminology in Canada from an anti-colonialist perspective.

Key words: criminology, counter-colonial criminology, theory, criminalization.


Biko Agozino opened his book with an adapted epigraph from Kwame Nkrumah. He replaced "finance capital" with "criminology". In part it reads: The signs of the times are a 'general enthusiasm regarding the prospects of imperialist reason, passionate defence of imperialism, and every possible camouflage of the real nature of imperialism and the complicity of criminology in its genealogy" (2003: 1). Centreing on criminology is an enduring feature of imperialist reason in the projects of colonialism and imperialism, he asserts the relationship between criminology and colonialism is fundamental in origin and pervasive in contemporary practice and theory.

It has been demonstrated that epistemology and methodology from disciplines both in the Social Sciences and the Humanities have been, and continue to be, justifying companions to colonialism, imperialism (and slavery). Criminology has heretofore avoided a socio-historical critique of its practice, epistemology and theory. While the intervention of labeling theory in the 1960's and the subsequent emergence of radical criminology have challenged the theoretical poverty of a discipline whose substantive preoccupation is with acts defined as harmful by the state, the sociology of knowledge from these radical quarters have not addressed criminology's origins and continued existence vis-à-vis colonialism and imperialism.

What is mainstream criminology's connection to colonialism and imperialism? Why is mainstream criminology silent on this contemporary and historical connection? Why has radical criminology failed to develop a thorough-going critique of racism, internal/colonialism and imperialism vis-à-vis the continued White and Western dominance of the field? Agozino suggests there is a "push" against interventions of the racial Other and a "pull," willingly engaged by the racial Other, away from a discipline that is negatively experienced and perceived. Agozino situates his thesis in the context of Third World countries. There, he contends, the failure of criminology to take root in these countries is proof of his thesis. Further, where criminology is at all to be found in non-Western countries (including Japan), he contends its theoretical insights are not indigenous but are impoverished caricatures of the conservative mainstream tradition imported from the West (particularly the US). But, apart from a quantitative review of criminology programs and departments in Third World countries and even more limited qualitative support, Agozino's thesis is not well-tested.

Given the emphasis placed on criminology's continued propagation from the West, how well does Agozino's thesis hold up in one of the criminology's heartlands - Canada.

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