Academic journal article Social Justice

Editor's Introduction

Academic journal article Social Justice

Editor's Introduction

Article excerpt

We are, for a number of reasons, in an interesting moment for those focused on how societies govern crime, punishment, and security. First, in the last several years, these phenomena have become objects of increased media attention and public awareness; they are today prominent, urgent, and perhaps even "hot" topics. Second, in the last decade plus, there has been a renewed focus on the deleterious effects--the social harm--exacted by the operations of policing and punishment in the United States and beyond (e.g., Currie 2013; De Giorgi 2015; Gottschalk 2015; Mauer & Chesney-Lind 2006; Wacquant 2001; Western 2006). Whereas recognition of the negative consequences of the operations of criminal justice is far from new, the twenty-first century seems to be experiencing a reinvigorated attention to these concerns not seen since the 1960s. In fact, a growing number of voices contend that the United States' historically unprecedented scale of mass incarceration--and, in fact, of the entire penal state--represents a social, humanitarian, and/or economic crisis. Reform of the criminal justice system has become something of a national clarion call, not just for academics, activists, and social movements, but also for journalists, politicians (from the left and the right), celebrities, and even business and corporate leaders.

Additionally, the current moment is marked by increased attention to the complex, contingent, and dispersed nature of criminal justice institutions and practices. (1) Although authors noted long time ago the multiform nature of the governance of crime (e.g., Durkheim 1893/2014; Foucault 1977; Rusche & Kirchheimer 1939/2009),in recent years scholars have been increasingly interested in exploring the variegated and even contradictory nature of crime control efforts, as well as the ways in which they are deeply entangled with other social forces, processes, and institutions (e.g., Garland 2001; Lacey 2013; O'Malley 1999; Rose 2000; Wacquant 2009; Zedner 2010). In fact, we have seen recent calls for and attempts to theorize the porous and shifting boundaries of punishment (Hannah-Moffat & Lynch 2012; see also Beckett & Murakawa 2012; Hallsworth & Lea 2011). Not only are we troubled by the unprecedented scale of mass incarceration, we are also increasingly attending to the scope of the penal state [e.g, the presence of mass supervision (McNeill & Beyens 2013), the expansion of immigrant detention] and its linkages with non-penal forces such as neoliberalism, racism, and racialization, and the turn toward risk-infused technocratic governance.

This special issue took shape out of a shared conviction that ethnography is well placed to contribute to this current moment in several ways. To be sure, multiple methodologies have made important contributions to the study of criminal and penal governance and will continue to do so; studying these phenomena necessitates methodological flexibility, promiscuity, and experimentation. At the same time, ethnography brings important things to the table, methodologically and analytically.

First, it can help deepen--or, to borrow a term from anthropology, thicken--our analyses by complementing and countering the tendency within penal scholarship to privilege macro-level questions, approaches, accounts, and theories (see Hannah-Moffat Sc Lynch 2012). A significant amount of scholarship emanating from the fields of sociology, criminology, and punishment and society relies on aggregate data and a "flight into numbers" (Valverde 2012, 247).To be sure, this quantitative work is crucial; it has, for instance, helped document the severity and scale of punishment and highlighted the ways in which it disproportionately targets socially and economically marginalized persons. At the same time, the privileging of broad-level accounts and a heavy reliance on statistics does not further our ability to understand how punitive practices are unfolding on the ground. …

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

Oops!

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.