Understanding Race and Crime

Understanding Race and Crime

Understanding Race and Crime

Understanding Race and Crime

Synopsis

'Understanding Race and Crime' provides a comprehensive introduction to the debates and controversies about race, crime and criminal justice. While focusing on Britain and America, it also takes a broader international perspective, exploring the historical legacy of racist state crime in the Nazi and Rwandan genocides.

Excerpt

Colin Webster's book, the latest in Open University Press' Crime and Justice series, tackles the complex and sensitive subject of 'race and crime' in a clear, forthright manner. His book admirably reflects the aim of the series, which has been to produce short but intellectually challenging introductory texts in key areas of criminological debate, in order to give undergraduates and graduates both a solid grounding in the relevant area and a taste to explore it further. Although aimed primarily at students new to the field, and written as far as possible in plain language, the books are not oversimplified. On the contrary, the authors set out to 'stretch' readers and to encourage them to approach criminological knowledge and theory in a critical and questioning frame of mind.

Webster's book discusses core aspects of the 'race and crime' debate, which has emerged in criminology in a variety of guises over the years. A central focus is on gaining a sociological understanding of the dual processes of 'criminalisation' and 'racialisation' and the relationships between them – in other words, social processes which construct and label certain groups and assign them negative attributes such as 'criminality' or 'inferiority'. The two processes can easily become intertwined in what are essentially racist discourses, he argues, to the extent that even without the explicit use of a crime-related term, phrases such as 'black youth' are used to signify 'criminality', and vice versa terms like 'crime' and 'riot' become racially loaded. The early chapters explore relevant discourses both in a historical context (especially in relation to the 'scientific' racism found in early criminological writing) and in relation to current concerns about insecurity and 'fear of crime', which are often overtly or implicitly racialised.

A further key element of Webster's argument is that, while it is important to analyse statistical patterns of both crime and victimization in terms of ethnicity, key debates about, for example, the apparently disproportionate involvement of young black men in crime, cannot hope to be . . .

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