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Article

Critical race theory (CRT) concerns the study and transformation of relationships among race, (ethnicity), racism, and power. For many scholars, CRT is a theoretical and interpretative lens that analyzes the appearance of race and racism within institutions and across literature, film, art, and other forms of social media. Unlike traditional civil rights approaches that embraced incrementalism and systematic progress, CRT questioned the very foundations of the legal order. Since the 1980s, various disciplines have relied on this theory—most notably the fields of education, history, legal studies, feminist studies, political science, psychology, sociology, and criminal justice—to address the dynamics and challenges of racism in American society. While earlier narratives may have exclusively characterized the plight of African Americans against institutional power structures, later research has advocated the importance of understanding and highlighting the narratives of all people of color. Moreover, the theoretical lenses of CRT have broadened its spectrum to include frameworks that capture the struggles and experiences of Latinx, Asian, and Native Americans as well. Taken collectively, these can be regarded as critical race studies. Each framework relies heavily on certain principles of CRT, exposing the easily obscured and often racialized power structures of American society. Included among these principles (and related tenets) is white supremacy, white privilege, interest convergence, legal indeterminacy, intersectionality, and storytelling, among others. An examination of each framework reveals its remarkable potential to inform and facilitate an understanding of racialized practices within and across American power structures and institutions, including education, employment, the legal system, housing, and health care.

Article

Walter S. DeKeseredy

There is no single critical criminology. Rather, there are critical criminologies with different histories, methods, theories, and political perspectives. However, critical criminology is often defined as a perspective that views the major sources of crime as the unequal class, race/ethnic, and gender relations that control our society. Critical criminologists oppose prisons and other draconian means of social control. Their main goal is major radical and cultural change, but they recognize that these transitions will not occur in the current neoliberal era. Hence, most critical criminologists propose short-term anticrime policies and practices and fundamental social, economic, and political transformations, such as a change from a capitalist economy to one based on more socialist principles.

Article

Lois Presser

Narrative criminology is a relatively new theoretical perspective that highlights the influence of stories on harmful actions and patterns of action. Narrative criminology researchers study stories themselves, rather than what stories report on, for effects. Narrative criminology takes a constitutive view of stories as opposed to the representational view that is rather more common within criminology. Hence a hallmark of the perspective is its bracketing of the accuracy of the stories under investigation. Stories legitimize conduct, compel action, and induce detachment, however fanciful they may be. Narrative criminologists analyze the role of stories in active harm-doing, passive complicity, desistance from offending, and resistance to harm. The field of narrative criminology has evolved rapidly.

Article

Queer criminology is an emerging field of research addressing significant oversights within the disciplines of criminology and criminal justice studies—namely the limited attention paid to the criminal justice experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. Drawing from the diverse meanings of the concept of “queer”—as an umbrella identity category and as an impetus for deconstruction and political disruption—queer criminology is developing along multiple paths including research into: LGBTQ people as victims and offenders; LGBTQ people in their interactions with the criminal justice system and its agents; LGBTQ people as criminal justice agents; and the ways in which criminal justice policies may be “queered.” It has also been a site of important theoretical development regarding issues such as: the role of deconstructionist and identity-focused approaches for addressing injustice for LGBTQ people; the best place for queer criminological research to be positioned in relation to the broader discipline of criminology; and who ought to constitute the subjects of queer criminology and thus how fluid the boundaries of the field can be. Queer criminology is also developing a stronger presence in a global context. It is increasingly moving beyond the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom where it developed, and the relevance of its insights are being tested in new political, social, and cultural contexts. As an emerging and dynamic field, queer criminology in its many forms is set to continue to disrupt criminology for some time to come, offering important insights to ensure that criminal justice knowledges and practices respond appropriately to the experiences of LGBTQ people.

Article

Alistair Fraser and Elke Van Hellemont

It has been a century since Frederic Thrasher researched his pioneering text on youth gangs in Chicago. In it he depicts gangs as a street-based phenomenon that emerged from the combined forces of urbanization, migration, and industrialization—with new migrant groups seeking to find a toehold on the American Dream. Gangs were discrete and highly localized, drawing on names from popular culture and the neighborhood, seeking ways to survive and thrive amid the disorganization of the emerging city. In the 21st century, street gangs have been identified in urban contexts all over the world and have become increasingly viewed as a transnational phenomenon that is qualitatively different from Thrasher’s neighborhood groups. Processes of globalization have created a degree of flow and connectedness to urban life that is unlike any other stage in human history. Yet a close reading of Thrasher shows that some of the key themes in the study of gangs in a global context—urban exclusion, grey economies, human mobility, and cultural flow—were presaged in Thrasher’s work. In a global era, however, these processes have intensified, amplified, and extended in ways that could not have been predicted. We elaborate the spatial, economic, social, cultural, and technological implications of globalization for gangs across five principle areas: (1) Gangs in the Global City; (2) Gangs, Illicit Markets, and the Global Criminal Economy; (3) Mobility, Crimmigration, and the “Transnational Gang”; (4) Gangs and Glocalization; and (5) The Gang Mediascape. Taken together, these themes seek to offer both a conceptual vocabulary and empirical foundation for new and innovative studies of gangs and globalization. Empirical evidences from Europe, the United States, and beyond, emphasize the uneven impacts of globalization and the ways in which national and cultural dynamics are implicated in the study of gangs in the 21st century.

Article

Thalia Anthony and Harry Blagg

Indigenous people have been subject to policies that disproportionately incarcerate them since the genesis of colonization of their lands. Incarceration is one node of a field of colonial oppression for Indigenous people. Colonial practices have sought to reduce Indigenous people to “bare life,” to use Agamben’s term, where their humanity is denied the basic rights and expression in the pursuit of sovereign extinguishment. Across the settler colonies of Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, the colonial drive to conquer land and eliminate Indigenous peoples has left deep scars on Indigenous communities and compromised bonds to kin, culture, and country. Indigenous people have been made refugees in their own countries. Contemporary manifestations of penal incarceration for Indigenous people are a continuation of colonial strategies rather than a distinct phase. The concept of “hyperincarceration” draws attention to the problem of incarceration and its discriminatory targets. It also turns our attention to the turnstile of incarceration in Western postmodernity. However, the prison is but one form of exclusion for Indigenous people in a constellation of eliminatory and assimilatory practices, policies, and regimes imposed by colonial governance. Rather than overemphasizing the prison, there needs to be a broader conceptualization of colonial governance through “the camp,” again in the words of Agamben. The colonial institutionalization of Indigenous people, including in out-of-home care, psychiatric care, and corrective programs, is akin to a camp where Indigenous people are relegated to the margins of society. We eschew a narrow notion of hyperincarceration and instead posit a structural analysis of colonial relations underpinning the camp.

Article

Positive criminology is an innovative perspective that underlies existing theories and models emphasizing the positive forces that influence and assist individuals at risk and offenders in their recovery process. The theories and models included in positive criminology (e.g., peacemaking criminology, social acceptance, crime desistance, restorative justice) are not new; its novelty lies in their inclusion in a unique and distinct conceptualization. This has led to a shift in discourse and research in criminology, which goes beyond focusing on risk and criminogenic factors while focusing on the positive factors and strengths that help individuals to rehabilitate and successfully integrate into the community. Studies and practices developed over the past decade have confirmed and reinforced the assumptions of the positive criminology perspective. Despite its specific limitations, positive criminology provides a promising platform for further developments and innovations in research in theory (e.g., positive victimology, spiritual criminology) and in practice (e.g., restorative justice, problem-solving courts, community policing).

Article

Although the field of international criminology has mostly employed quantitative methods to test universal theories, there is a growing recognition of the potential value of qualitative methods in understanding crime and criminal justice in a globalizing world. The difficulties in developing this field are partly practical and financial. It is difficult visiting different countries and overcoming language barriers. But there are also conceptual challenges. Criminology generally is only just starting to understand and engage with the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research methods and to discover the wide range of qualitative methods employed in interdisciplinary fields, such as education, health, environmental, media, and management studies, and to recognize that theories are important in this field.

Article

Andreas Hövermann and Steven F. Messner

Institutional Anomie Theory (IAT) was originally formulated as a quintessentially macro-level theory of crime focused on the properties of large-scale social systems. The main substantive claim of the theory is that an institutional structure characterized by the dominance of the economy over other, non-economic institutions tends to be conducive to high levels of crime. Such economic dominance in the institutional structure is theorized to be manifested through three primary processes: the norms and values associated with the economy penetrate into other realms of social life; non-economic roles tend to be accommodated to the requirements of economic roles when conflicts emerge; and non-economic functions and roles are devalued relative to economic functions and roles. Economic dominance in the configuration of social institutions is linked with crime via complementary institutional and cultural dynamics. The enfeeblement of non-economic institutions accompanying economic dominance limits their capacity to perform their distinctive social control and socialization functions, and anomie permeates the culture. The defining feature of such anomie is that the egoistic or utilitarian motives associated with the market economy prevail, and technical expediency guides the selection of the means to pursue personal goals. IAT has informed a growing body of research dedicated to explaining cross-national variation in crime rates. While empirical studies have generated mixed results, the research literature is generally supportive of the theory. The most consistent conclusion from these studies is that the scope and generosity of the welfare state are associated with reduced levels of crime, especially lethal criminal violence, either directly or by mitigating the effects of other criminogenic conditions, such as economic inequality or economic insecurity. The precise nature of the effects of the different social institutions on crime, for example whether they exhibit “mediating” or “moderating” relationships, remains uncertain. The cultural dynamics informed by IAT have received less attention, but recently some efforts to incorporate culture have been promising. Along with the studies conducted exclusively at the level of nation states, an emerging area of research applies IAT in a multilevel framework. The results have been mixed here as well, but these studies have indicated how structural marketization translates into shared values that help explain individual variation in criminality. Several challenges remain for future research. IAT is cast at a high level of abstraction, which creates ambiguities about the precise nature of any causal structure among variables and the most appropriate procedures for operationalizing the main concepts. Moreover, research indicates that it might be important to focus not only on the strength but also on the content of non-economic institutions as the economy penetrates into non-economic institutions. Another challenge pertains to the role of religion as a non-economic institution, given research revealing that its functioning as a protective non-economic institution deviates from that of other non-economic institutions.

Article

Nachman Ben-Yehuda

Moral panics refer to cultural and social situations where heightened and exaggerated attention is given to a moral issue, accompanied by inflated demands to activate and practice steps to control what is portrayed as the challenging and threatening danger to morality. The nature of the threatening challenge materializes characteristically with the emergence of increased anxiety and fear from the moral threat to the well-being and future of a culture, or part of it. Down-to-earth representatives of such threats are epitomized by folk devils. These folk devils can be drug users, those who supposedly practice witchcraft or Satanism, sex traffickers, drivers involved in hit and run car accidents, muggers, AIDS carriers, terrorists, immigrants, asylum seekers, and—obviously—criminals. The concept of moral panics left its convenient zone in sociology and criminology to become extremely popular. It has been applied to such diverse fields as global warming, child sexual abuse, trafficking in women, soccer hooliganism, 9/11, and more. Many panics are short-lived, but such panics can also linger for longer periods. Moral panics are comprised of five basic building blocks: disproportionality in portraying the moral threat and the requested responses, concern about an issue, consensus regarding the threat, and hostility towards the folk devils. Moral panics do not stand alone and need to be understood within larger cultural and social processes composed of negotiations, struggles, and conflicts focused on moral codes. Indeed, while folk devils are typically vilified, stigmatized, and deviantized, complex cultures also enable folk devils to fight back. Moral panics are thus significant and important occurrences in the social construction of moral boundaries. These panics represent reactions, counter-reactions, and moral challenges—presented by folk devils—to cultural cores, which form central symbolic structures of cultures and societies.