Academic journal article Social Justice

On Resisting State Crime: Conceptual and Contextual Issues

Academic journal article Social Justice

On Resisting State Crime: Conceptual and Contextual Issues

Article excerpt


Criminologists have a triple loyalty: first, an overriding obligation to honest intellectual enquiry itself (however skeptical, provisional, irrelevant, and unrealistic); second, a political commitment to social justice; and third (and potentially conflicting with both), the pressing and immediate demands for short-term humanitarian help.--Stanley Cohen (1998: 122)

We can persist in our malign neglect that consists of three parts: failing to face the problem squarely and to understand the real nature of genocide; failing to recognize we can far more effectively protect hundreds of millions of people and radically reduce mass murder's incidence; and failing to choose to act on this knowledge. Or we can focus on this scourge; understand its causes, its nature and complexity, and its scope and systemic quality; and, building upon that understanding, craft institutions and policies that will save countless lives and also lift the lethal threat under which so many people live. How can we not choose the second?--Daniel Goldhagen (2009: xi-xii)

The core purpose of this article is to make a contribution to an ongoing dialogue on the development of a truly influential criminology of crimes of states. It is deliberately interrelated with papers presented by the author at conferences on transnational crime (Prato, 2006), supranational criminology (Maastricht, 2007), social harm and crime (London, 2007), state crime (Onati, 2008), and global criminology in relation to comparative criminology (Utrecht, 2008). Each paper was subsequently published, or is to be published, in special issues of journals or books emanating out of the conferences (Friedrichs, 2007a, 2007b, 2008, 2010a, 2010b). As my revered former professor Richard Quinney once observed, all of our work should be regarded as work-in-progress. All of the work just mentioned is part of my career-long engagement with the project of transcending criminological parochialism. Criminological students of crimes of states uniformly embrace as a core tenet the notion that the historical, ongoing focus of criminology as a discipline on conventional crime and its control is a form of parochialism--and one that is fundamentally indefensible in a world where the harms perpetrated by crimes of states have tended to be exponentially greater than those perpetrated by conventional criminal offenders. The journal Social Justice, from its inception, has been at the forefront of the endeavor of challenging criminological parochialism. This endeavor has been one of the principal raison d'etres of critical criminology, originally radical criminology. A special issue of Social Justice devoted to "Resisting State Crime" challenges criminological parochialism in multiple ways. Beyond its focus on crimes of states, not on conventional crimes, it also challenges a common premise of mainstream criminology: a stance of dispassionate and disinterested analysis. Is it possible to merely identify empirically the forms of resistance to state crime that appear to be most effective without actively promoting the adoption of such forms of resistance, given what is at stake? The project of "resisting state crime" generates challenges and conundrums on many different levels.

Resisting Crimes of States in Relation to a Prospective Criminology of State Crime

The study of crimes of states, including the criminological study of crimes of states, has been primarily retrospective, not prospective. It has focused, for the most part, on state crimes of the past, and the responses to them (Friedrichs, 2010a). The Holocaust is arguably the most fully explored state crime of the past, and the literature on the Holocaust is by now immense. Moreover, scholarly study of the Holocaust continues unabated. Without in any way disparaging the significance of the Holocaust--indeed, I produced an article characterizing it as the "crime of the (twentieth) century" (Friedrichs, 2000)--I have for some time been uncomfortable about an imbalance in the level of attention given to a historical event in relation to ongoing major crimes of states (e. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.