In 1973, authors Ian Taylor, Paul Walton and Jock Young reviewed the major theories of criminology and find them lacking. They then argue that a series of key questions need to be addressed in any “fully social theory of crime”. Their work is interesting both for its critique and for its framing of questions. With these questions, they created a new position based on the ‘materiality’ of crime, and it was variously called critical criminology, working-class criminology or neo-Marxist criminology.
Much of it borrowed from conflict theory and Marxism. For some of these writers, the problems of the poor and the working class were not the truly serious problems of crime. Gresham M. Sykes explains critical criminology this way: “It forces an inquiry into precisely how the normative content of the criminal law is internalized in different segments of society, and how norm-holding is actually related to behavior. ” Michalowski (1996) categorized the various implications of critical criminology in society.
He sees critical criminology as working within broad social theories (feminism, political economy, post-structuralism, and postmodernism) and within “hybrid” theories such as anarchist criminology, constitutive criminology, cultural criminology, news-making criminology, peacemaking criminology, and left realist criminology. In short, all these areas are exploring different ways of examining the problem of crime but at the same time all are attempting to develop conceptions that do not rely on traditional analyses of crime.
Presently, critical criminology is challenged by the rapid changes that are currently reshaping social, economic and political relations in countries around the world. Especially after the events of September 11 and the resulting consequences in terms of shifts and changes in international power relations, assaults on civil liberties and the introduction of increasingly aggressive of governance are bound to have far reaching implications for the subject matter of critical criminology.
For example, critics argue that the experiment of increasing the prison population in this way has been funded by the diversion of public expenditure from welfare to the prison, while the level of violence, particularly among the young and disadvantaged, continue to severely affect life in many North American cities (Currie, 2006).
Together with these changes, Garland and Sparks (2001) revealed some recent advances in the criminological understanding of various crime control policies and practices —for instance, the rise of punitive penalty, the re-emergence of private policing, evidence of a range of “tough” and “targeted” law and order measures, more emphasis on devolutionary “local governance”, “active citizenship”, “part¬nerships”, and issues impacting on women and various “minority groups” (Garland and Sparks 2001, p.
19). In taking greater account of the changing nature of global developments and the altered modes of neo-liberal governance, these changes had become a challenge to critical criminologists. Indeed, the fact that Garland and Sparks felt moved to point out the general failure of criminology to fully embrace such matters is itself reflective of the general crisis that has befallen the discipline.
While we are aware that critical criminology had undergone tortuous recent history as it remains “critical” by virtue of its rigorous questioning of crime control policy and practice as well as by its recognition that crime and crime control, these lessons are intimately bound up with wider social, economic and political issues.
The struggle to achieve social justice and human rights is of course worked out in various ways and at many different levels and critical criminology has undoubtedly played a key role in advancing such matters in the context of the criminal justice system. While it appears that the task of critical engagement resides in discrete areas of the criminal justice system, it would seem that the changing contexts of governance — fashioned in part by developments in late modernity — may demand a different approach to both theory construction and activism.
As new ideas sprout up to enhance this area, like zemiology and the intellectual and political activism evident in disciplines like social work, community work and some areas of political science, these may well offer new ways of thinking about how change in and beyond the criminal justice system might should be realized. To be sure, although critical criminology may well continue to conform to the cannons of inquiry dedicated to instill useful knowledge, critical criminology should take a more productive position — especially in terms of contributing to the process of social change.
References Currie, E. (2006). “Crime in a Market Society”. In Cullen, F. T. & Agnew R. (eds. ), Criminological Theory Past to Present, 3rd Edition. LA: Roxbury Press. Garland, D. and R. Sparks (eds. ). (2001). Criminology and Social Theory (London: Clarendon Press). Michalowski, R. J. (1996). “Critical Criminology and the Critique of Domination: The Story of an Intellectual Movement”, Critical Criminology, 79(16).