Is Biosocial Criminology a Predisposition Not to Learn from the Social Sciences?

By Carrier, Nicolas; Walby, Kevin | Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Is Biosocial Criminology a Predisposition Not to Learn from the Social Sciences?


Carrier, Nicolas, Walby, Kevin, Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology


One common claim made in contemporary biosocial criminology is that the biosocial model promises a full scientific revolution (or paradigm shift) in criminology, but that criminology overall resists biosocial interventions because of ideological allegiances to sociology. Biosocial criminology perceives criminological discourses that do not draw from biology as ideological rather than scientific productions. In our article 'Ptolemizing Lombroso: The Pseudo-Revolution of Biosocial Criminology' (Carrier and Walby, 2014), we offered a strong critique of biosocial criminology, in which we demonstrated that the failure of the biosocial model to establish itself as core explanatory framework in criminology and in social science is not a symptom of ideological resistances. In this volume of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, two contributions from biocriminologists attempt to respond to our critique. Despite their many differences, notably in the level of rigor and academic integrity with which they engage our article, the fundamental message of both texts is the same: 'we do real science, you are mere ideologues'.

On one hand, the biosocial model is premised on the notion that biology and sociology ought to be united to allow for the development of a true scientific criminology. On the other, sociological perspectives in criminology are routinely disparaged by proselytizers of the biosocial model for being ideological. The result of this conundrum is the following: biosocial criminology integrates social elements in its etiological speculations in a postpositivistic1 and quantified way, which erases meaning and produces a scientific self-referential reality that bears little resemblance to the social worlds experienced and acted upon by the studied individuals qua organisms. Indeed, our article 'Ptolemizing Lombroso' showed the many ways in which biosocial criminology is bluntly antisocial.

In their responses in this volume of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, biocriminologists join voices to suggest that our analyses are invalid "rhetorical trickeries" (Heylen et al., 2015, p. 2). They present their responses as scientific defenses of biosocial criminology contrary to the ideological jumble that 'Ptolemizing Lombroso' is claimed to be. Among the many questions raised by these two responses is whether biosocial criminologists can make sense of social scientific communications. These responses suggest that biosocial criminology can be characterized primarily by a predisposition not to learn from social scientific observations.

In 'Rage Against Reason: Addressing Critical Critics [sic] of Biosocial Research', Walsh and Wright (2015) submit that our analyses in 'Ptolemizing Lombroso' testify to our grasp of contemporary academic biosocial literature, but that our critique is an attempt to "delegitimize science [we] politically and ideologically don't approve of" (p. 20). In 'Defending Biosocial Criminology: On the Discursive Style of our Critics, the Separation of Ideology and Science, and a Biologically Informed Defense of Fundamental Values', Heylen et al. (2015) submit that our arguments are based on a strategic misrepresentation of biosocial literature, resembling a moralistic form of propaganda. Walsh and Wright (2015) assert that we are leftist moralists fantasizing about the biological equality of all humans, whereas Heylen et al. (2015, p. 20) assert that biosocial criminology is a defender of equality. Conflicting assessments of our mastery of contemporary biosocial criminology and inconsistent representations of a key claim of biosocial criminology are used to suggest we are normative subjectivists rather than scientific objectivists.

In 'For Sociological Reason: Crime, Criminalization and the Poverty of Biosocial Criminology' (Carrier and Walby, 2015), we reply in toto to Walsh and Wright (2015). We show how they - like Heylen et al. (2015) - dodge every critique we levied against the biosocial model, and how they are unable to mobilize the supposedly universal biosocial model to make sense of its inability to become the one and only criminological approach. …

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