Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Synopsis of Theorizing Crime and Deviance: A New Perspective Sage Publications 2012

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Synopsis of Theorizing Crime and Deviance: A New Perspective Sage Publications 2012

Article excerpt

Synopsis of Theorizing Crime and Deviance: A New Perspective Sage Publications 2012

Theorizing Crime and Deviance is, as the subtitle suggests, an attempt to outline a new perspective in criminological theory. This new perspective makes no claims to be a 'general theory' or an 'integrated theory' of crime causation, if integration is defined as a broad synthesis of existing theories as the first move towards a unified theory. The aim is to lay some initial foundations on which an alternative theoretical framework with some explanatory power and developmental potential can be constructed. Whether it can be integrated with the mainstream canon remains to be seen.

The book begins with the claim that post-war criminological theory on the left side of the political divide has been avoiding what should be criminology' s primary question: 'why individuals or corporate bodies are willing to risk the infliction of harm on others in order to further their own instrumental or expressive interests' (p.1). Criminologists on the conservative/classical liberal side of the political divide do not shirk this aetiological duty, but their general discourse suffers from four fatal flaws: firstly, they do not explore the ontological field of harm to challenge orthodox legal definitions of crime; secondly, they tend to ignore crimes of the powerful and instead focus disproportionately on crimes of the powerless; thirdly, they tend to use rather crude positivist methods and categories that cannot capture the complexity of social life; fourthly, they regard human nature as prone to 'evil', which of course means that, rather conveniently, they don't really need any aetiological theories of subjectivity over and above those concerned with the maintenance of discipline and socialisation.

Left-wing (or 'liberal', in US parlance) criminology's flight from aetiology has left it rather vulnerable to criticism. Its critics find it too easy to say, with some justification, that it cannot recognise or explain its own principal object, expressed as the primary question above. If it cannot answer this question, how can the population have any faith in its ability to lead society on a path away from the harms caused by crime and other corrupt practices? This inability also creates a huge vacuum into which right-wing intellectual and political contenders flow with glee, offering populist explanations and punitive solutions. Politically, left-liberal criminology shoots itself in the foot with its own constant vacillation around its primary object. When crime rates increased in 1960s and 1970s despite increases in freedom and affluence and the (albeit temporary) truncation of social inequality, which refuted the liberal left's principle explanations of relative deprivation and repression, criminology entered what Jock Young called its 'aetiological crisis'. There appeared to be a pressing need to return to the questions of causality and motivation. However, the liberal left, which still retains the annoying habit of sneering at the very idea of causality as an affront to its deconstructive sophistication, was not up to the job.

This palpable failure allowed US and British right realists to lever themselves back into criminology's intellectual driving seat in the 1980s to join right-wing economists in the corridors of power. Right realism supplied neoliberal governments with intellectual support for the massive incarceration and private/public securitisation programme that remains with us today, and which must be considered as one of the main reasons behind the recent statistical 'crime decline'. The right won the day, and part of the reason why was that the left had quit, at least on the aetiological battlefield. Thus the right can continue to advance their favourite primary causes of personal choice, evil individuals and irresponsible parenting because the liberal left, running scared of aetiology and fixated on problems of linguistic definition and the attenuation of social reaction, have few if any roadworthy alternatives. …

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