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date: 04 December 2020

Critical Criminology and the Critique of Domination, Inequality and Injusticelocked

  • David O. FriedrichsDavid O. FriedrichsDepartment of Sociology, Criminal Justice & Criminology, The University of Scranton

Summary

Critical criminology has achieved a substantial presence within the field of criminology over the past several decades. Critical criminology has produced a framework for the understanding of crime and criminal justice that challenges core premises of mainstream criminology. Critical criminology emerged—principally from about 1980 on—in relation to radical (and “new”) criminology in the 1970s, and various influential societal developments and forces associated with the Sixties. The roots of critical criminology can be located in Marxist theory, in the work of Willem Bonger, and in that of other scholars who were not self-identified radicals—including Edwin H. Sutherland. Interactionist (labeling) theory and conflict theory provided an important point of departure for the development of radical—and subsequently critical—criminology. More specifically, the Berkeley School of Criminology in the United States and the National Deviancy Conferences in the United Kingdom were influential sources for the emergence of critical criminology. The core thesis of critical criminology can be most concisely summarized as a critique of domination, inequality, and injustice. Starting with the definition of “crime” itself, critical criminologists expose the biases and political agenda of mainstream criminology and advance an alternative approach to understanding crime and criminal justice. That said, some different choices are made by self-identified critical criminologists in terms of underlying assumptions, methodological preferences, and different forms of activist engagement. A call for news-making criminology, or a form of public criminology, is one theme for activism: direct political mobilization is another. The term “critical criminology” today is best understood as an umbrella term encompassing a wide range of different perspectives with quite different core concerns. Some of these strains were more dominant at an earlier time; some have emerged or become more prominent recently. The following are among the most enduring and consequential strains of critical criminology: neo-Marxist, critical race, left realist, feminist, crimes of the powerful, green, cultural, peacemaking, abolitionist, postmodern, postcolonial, border, and queer criminology. Some critical criminologists have called for replacing the core focus on crime with a focus on harm, broadly defined, and replacing criminology with zemiology, or the study of harm. Critical criminologists have concerned themselves with crimes of the powerful; gendered, sexualized harm and intimate partner violence; raced harm and racial oppression; hate crime; the war on drugs; the war on immigrants; police violence and the militarization of the police; mass incarceration and privatized criminal justice; carceral regimes; mass imprisonment; the death penalty, and alternative forms of justice including a form of restorative justice—among many other substantive concerns. The call for a Southern criminology that incorporates the outlook and concerns of the Global South is one significant development within critical criminology. Critical criminology has the potential to be of special relevance within the context of a historical period characterized by intense conflicts in relation to the political economy and civil society.

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