Notes on the Study of Language: Towards Critical Race Criminology

By Coyle, Michael J. | Western Criminology Review, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Notes on the Study of Language: Towards Critical Race Criminology


Coyle, Michael J., Western Criminology Review


Abstract: In this paper I demonstrate that the study of language constitutes an effective platform for the sociological analysis of 'race' and 'crime.' I also establish that the study of justice-related language provides a powerful tool for the construction of a critical race criminology or the study of racism residing in the discourse about, and the practices of, what is termed the 'criminal justice system.' Specifically, I demonstrate that the study of language contributes to critical race criminology by demonstrating how everyday language (reality) not only criminalizes people of color, but also builds and maintains racist 'criminal justice system' discourses and practices, even while acknowledging the problem of 'race' in matters of 'crime' and 'criminal justice.' I determine that, while to some extent previous research has highlighted the potential of language studies to unmask the racism of modern 'criminal justice' discourse and 'criminal justice' practices, much work remains to be done. To demonstrate the latter arguments, I (1) present previous justice-related language studies in a critical race criminology light, and (2) suggest an agenda for future research that will employ justice-related language studies as a contribution to critical race criminology.

Keywords: race and crime; race and criminal justice; language; critical race criminology; poststructuralism; postmodernism

REALITY IS LANGUAGED

Edward Sapir (1921) once noted that human beings do not live in an objective world alone, but also exist at the mercy of the everyday language of their society. Sapir demonstrates that language is not merely the incidental means of communication and reflection, but that the real world is built on the language habits of a group. As he writes, "We see and hear, and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation" (cited in Whorf 1956:134).

Sapir's point, that the real world is little more than a habitual language construction, invites criminologists to ponder modern justice language. For researchers interested in the problems of the 'criminal justice system,' the question is clear: what are the justice-related language habits of modern discourse, and what interpretations do such language habits predispose speakers and listeners toward? If Sapir is correct, and merely by using the language we do, we define what we seek to describe, it is critical to ask how the justice we practice is a language construction.

Thinking About Language: Structuralists, Poststructuralists, and Postmodernists

The above proposition, that language demonstrates the world is less objective and more intersubjective, is not without detractors. Today, the debate happens mostly between those who align themselves with structuralism or poststructuralism. For structuralists, human behavior is determined by various structures, such as "society" (Levi-Straus 1969a). From this view, persons are seen as born into a social life that exists independently of them and which significantly determines their behavior. For structuralists, individuals act according to the "institutions," "values," and "culture" of the social life of which they are a product (Levi-Strauss 1963).

For structuralists, meanings are necessarily produced within a "culture." Levi-Strauss (1963, 1966, 1969b), the founder of structuralism, argues that the human mind has structures that predetermine all practices of social life. For structuralists, there is such a thing as "society" and it predates individuals. Language, for example, is seen as the product of the "grammatical structure" of opposites (cold/warm, peace/war, male/female, etc.) and a Saussurean system of signs. Thus, for structuralists, language is a system whose logic can be uncovered by studying the biological and social structures that produce it.

The fundamental assumption of structuralism is that all content is determined by structure and that all meaning is a result of relationships between structures or networks of structures. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Notes on the Study of Language: Towards Critical Race Criminology
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    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.