Constitutive Criminology: Origins, Core Concepts, and Evaluation

Article excerpt

IN THE 12 YEARS SINCE DRAGAN MILOVANOVIC AND I FIRST FORMULATED THIS theoretical perspective, we have received numerous questions (many via e-mail) about various aspects of the theory. Interestingly, these have not come predominantly from academics, but mainly from undergraduate, graduate, and even high school students. In addition, there have been over 25 discussions of the theory in journals and books (for an assessment of these, see Henry and Milovanovic, 1999). Below we will address the issues raised by summarizing the constitutive position and offering an evaluation of its contribution to date.

Origins and Influences

In one sense, constitutive criminology has a long history in that it draws on several well-established critical social theories, most notably symbolic interactionism, social constructionism, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, structural Marxism, poststructuralism, structuration theory, semiotics (for a review of these roots, see Arrigo, 1997; Bak, 1999, 2000). In another sense, it is part of the relatively recent interest in chaos theory and affirmative postmodernism. In particular, it draws on complexity theory (Mandelbrot, 1983; Gregerson and Sailer, 1993; Pickover, 1988), structural coupling (Luhmann, 1992; Teubner, 1993), strategic essentialism (Spivak, 1988; Jessop, 1990), relational sets (Hunt, 1993), critical race theory and intersections (Matsuda et al., 1993), autopoietic systems (Teubner, 1988, 1993; Cornell, 1991), dialectical materialism (Marx, 1975; Sayer, 1979), and topology theory (Lacan, 1961; Milovanovic and Ragland, 2001; Milovanovic, 1996c).

Most recently, constitutive criminology was born of the application of these postmodernist concepts to critical criminology by a relatively small group of critical criminologists whose inner circle comprises Stuart Henry, Dragan Milovanovic, Gregg Barak, and Bruce Arrigo. This group has primarily been responsible for founding the position in criminology and making theoretical innovations. A broader group that is more loosely linked to the constitutive project includes T.R. Young, Rob Schehr, Lisa Sanchez, Vic Kappeler, James Williams, and Mary Bosworth. These scholars have found the theory helpful in explaining particular developments in crime and justice and have pushed the theory in new directions (see Henry and Milovanovic, 1999, for a sampling of their research). The outer circle of this group includes sympathizers who have incorporated aspects of the theory into their analysis, while developing their own theoretical analysis in new directions. There is also a growing body of students who have developed their research around the constitutive position, including Biko Azino, Andrew Bak, and Mark Faccini. Finally, there are critics of the position. Their contributions are included in an evaluation section at the end of this article.

In a more narrow sense, constitutive criminology first emerged in the 1980s in Stuart Henry's studies on crime and social control in the workplace (Henry, 1983; 1985). They were considerably influenced by Peter Fitzpatrick's (1984) theory of "integral plurality" and Anthony Giddens' (1979, 1984) structuration theory, especially in The Constitution of Society. Henry outlined a sociolegal theory concerning the relationship between social forms and social action, initially defined as "integrated theory" (Henry, 1983). The actual term "constitutive theory" came from a suggestion by Christine Harrington (1988) in her constructive critique of Henry's 1983 work. It became the motif for subsequent renditions (Henry, 1987a; 1987b) and was incorporated into other work in Brigham and Harrington's series "After the Law" (e.g., Hunt, 1993).

In June 1989, during a chance meeting at the 25th Anniversary meeting of the Law and Society Association in Madison, Wisconsin, Dragan Milovanovic shared similar insights. He had been developing theories in the sociology of law, particularly Lacanian postmoderism and psychoanalytic semiotic approaches (Milovanovic, 1992; 1993a; 1993b; 1994a; 1994b; 1994c), and in his studies on law and the prison (1988; Milovanovic and Thomas, 1989). …


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