Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Response to Dragan Milovanovic's and Simon Winlow's Comments on Theorizing Crime and Deviance: A New Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Response to Dragan Milovanovic's and Simon Winlow's Comments on Theorizing Crime and Deviance: A New Perspective

Article excerpt

First of all I would like to thank Dragan Milovanovic and Simon Winlow for taking the time to read my book and write the two critical reviews that appeared in the previous issue of the JTPC. We all lead very busy lives in today's micro-managed academe and the publishing industry churns out a huge volume of books and articles, therefore asking colleagues to pay close attention to complex theoretical works these days - especially where a particular work does not affirm the theoretical and philosophical positions the reader prefers - is to ask a lot. I would also like to thank the JTPC's editor-in-chief David Polizzi for being generous enough to organize this review symposium and allow me to reply to my critics. I do hope that one day the grant-hungry empiricists who populate our elite institutions will also get round to reading my book, and indeed other theory books, including Milovanovic's, perhaps when the time comes to seek a new theoretical framework after the landmark one-millionth article about non-existent phenomena such as 'moral panic' or banal phenomena such as 'adolescent-limited criminality' has been written and someone finally cries 'enough'! We should start counting now - retrospectively, of course.

However, I fear that before anything like this happens my body will have been lying a-moulding in its grave for quite some time. In the meantime it's good to hammer things out with fellow theorists in the knowledge that at least some social scientists with a theoretical inclination are actually listening to each other. I would like to thank Simon Winlow for giving my ideas such a thorough airing and presenting them so clearly. Professor Winlow and I have worked together for a long time now, so it was obvious that his would be the supportive critique. Dragan Milovanovic comes from somewhere else on the theoretical map and it was equally obvious that he would be the critical one, so all in all that's a splendid arrangement which provides a good balance of extremes. One day we will understand that discursive balance needs at least some acknowledgement of 'extremes', otherwise you totter precariously on the tightrope with too short a pole and inevitably fall off. There's a political analogy in there somewhere, but we can pursue it some other time.

Winlow homed in on the book's central concepts and explained them with great clarity. He presents my work far better than I do. Winlow did complain, however, that the concept of harm as I presented it in the book veers too close to moral absolutism. In my defence, I did try to explain as clearly as I could that harm needs to be conceptualised in a dialectical core/periphery model. In such a model core consensual harms can be constantly sifted in an ongoing and therefore never absolutist debate, one that mainstream criminology, content with biased and partial legal definitions, refuses to centralise. Core harms can be contrasted with peripheral harms, many of which can possibly be relativized and decriminalised, again in a process of ongoing debate. I must apologize if I failed to achieve that intended clarity. My complaint is that post-war criminology, weaned on the institutionalised reaction against the horrors of our past and overly sensitive about the possibility that condemnation equates with pathologisation and all its horrific political consequences, spends too much time systematically avoiding the core, or approaching it very selectively according to the interests of various competing intersectional groups. This simply allows the conservative and classical-liberal right to play with the ball, and leaves the liberal left constantly chasing them with little success.

Dragan Milovanovic also gave the book a close read and engaged very intelligently with some of its core ideas. In his piece, as was to be expected, there was far more critique. His position and mine at first glance appear incommensurable. What was perhaps a little disappointing, however, is that Milovanovic missed the opportunity to seek common ground, debate and dialectical movement forward. …

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