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date: 04 December 2020

Colonialism, Crime, and Social Controllocked

  • Viviane Saleh-HannaViviane Saleh-HannaCrime and Justice Studies, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

Summary

Crime is a distinctly European concept that was institutionalized into the criminal justice system through the penal code, created in the 1700s by founding theorists of criminology’s classical school of thought. In practice, crime is a concept that limits what can be defined as harmful and violent. Written at the height of Europe’s genocidal colonial wars and chattel slavery, the penal code excluded, and continues to exclude mass atrocities and violations committed through these institutions. Since criminal justice institutions were birthed through and spread by Western Europe’s colonial wars around the globe, the study of colonialism, crime, and social control requires a re-evaluation of the pillars of Western European thought and the peculiar colonizing economies and punitive praxis that produced the criminal justice system. Through an anticolonial, genealogical framework scholars and researchers can better locate criminal justice institutions, practices, and concepts within their colonial contexts, allowing for a more thorough understanding of how history, power, politics, and economy shape crime and practice social control in the 21st century.

At the core of an anticolonial study of crime and social control is an understanding that Europe’s crime-concept depends upon institutionalized constructions of dangerousness for colonized people and nations, and lack thereof, for colonizing people and nations. Dangerousness, as defined by colonial renditions of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, nation, and so forth, anchors the cultural and implemented processes of criminalization; as a result, proper and comprehensive deconstructions of colonizing definitions of dangerousness require an intersectional understanding of power and oppression. Therefore, an effective framework for the study of colonialism, crime, and social control necessitates a re-evaluation and re-articulation of the following questions: what is colonialism?; what is crime?; what is colonial social control?; and what is criminology’s relationship to colonialism?

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