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Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies  

Hugo Goeury

In the mid-1970s, the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), which came to be known as the “Birmingham School,” published two major books that contributed substantially to the field of critical criminology: Resistance Through Rituals (RTR) and Policing the Crisis (PTC). These two groundbreaking and complementary works aimed to contribute to the two main topics of criminological enquiry: deviance/crime and social reaction/punishment. In both cases, the Centre deployed a Marxist-inspired and sociologically driven approach whose main objective was to study both deviance and social reaction from a critical perspective that takes into consideration the broader social, political, economic, and cultural context in which they take place. RTR challenged the dominant discourse of the postwar era, which proclaimed the end of class antagonism and the exhaustion of “class” as a relevant social category. The Birmingham School’s research demonstrated that the many subcultures—punks, mods, teddy boys, rastas, etc. —that flourished in the United Kingdom at the time were not symptomatic, as many argued, of the rise of a “classless youth.” On the contrary, RTR made the case that subcultures are part of a century-long tradition of symbolic, working-class resistance against the hegemonic order. From this perspective, subcultures were seen as an attempt, on the part of working-class youths, to solve the many contradictions of their class experience at a time of broad, multidimensional changes. While the Birmingham School’s work on subcultures was a celebration of working-class resistance and agency, ultimately, it reached the conclusion that this form of resistance, which remained restricted to the symbolic sphere, could not offer a solution to the exploitation and oppression faced by working-class youth, which stemmed from the material, social relations of production of capitalism. While RTR focused on “deviance,” PTC shifted the analysis to the other side of the equation, that of social reaction and punishment. In this second publication, Stuart Hall and his co-authors developed an impressive “conjunctural analysis” approach that allowed them to move from the study of the so-called “mugging crisis” of the United Kingdom in the early 1970s, to the elaboration of their groundbreaking theory on crisis of hegemony and the rise of a new, “law and order society.” PTC is one of the pioneering studies that argued that the rise of “authoritarian populism” and the birth of a “law and order society” that were taking place in the United Kingdom in the 1970s were not temporary phenomena but were representative of a long-lasting change of epoch. More than 40 years after the publication of this seminal work, it leaves no doubt that the Birmingham School’s predictions have been validated, as is corroborated by an extensive literature studying the “punitive turn” that has taken over the globe over the last few decades. Overall, at a time when criminology was becoming increasingly dominated by positivism and disconnected from the sociological tradition, the Birmingham School’s most influential and long-lasting legacy resides in RTR and PTC’s invitation to critically investigate what the CCCS members called the “social and political ‘conditions of existence’” of both deviance/crime and social reaction/punishment.

Article

Crime, Diversity, Culture, and Cultural Defense  

Clara Rigoni

Contemporary societies are culturally diverse. This diversity can be the result of different historical and social processes and might affect the uniformity and efficiency of criminal justice systems. Colonization of indigenous populations that started in the 15th century later European colonization of Africa and migration flows following the Second World War have contributed to this diversity in different ways. The growing importance acquired by culture in the criminal law domain went hand in hand with the attention received by it both in the human rights field (especially linked to minority rights) and in the field of sociological and criminological theories. Nowadays, crimes such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and other behaviors grounded in “culture or tradition” form the object of several international human rights instruments and media reports. The way in which criminal justice systems deal with such cases, and more in general with cultural factors, varies greatly. Different instruments have been proposed to allow the consideration of cultural elements within criminal proceedings among which (in common law countries) is the formalization of an autonomous “cultural defense.” However, international human rights instruments, especially those protecting the rights of vulnerable subjects such as women and children, have repeatedly discouraged states to take into account “culture, religion, and tradition” as grounds for justification (see, e.g., the Istanbul Convention). Criminal proceedings are not the only setting to deal with culture and crime. More recently, the development of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and restorative justice both within formal and informal (community) settings have given an additional option to take culture into account in the resolution of disputes (in terms of procedures used and normativities in play). Concerns exist with regard to the substantive and procedural rights of participants to these programs. However, these alternatives could represent a way to allow a certain degree of legal pluralism and facilitate access to justice for minority groups.

Article

The Criminalization of Immigration  

Jennifer M. Chacón

The regulation of immigration in the United States is a civil law matter, and the deportation and exclusion of immigrants from the United States are matters adjudicated in civil, administrative courts operated by the federal government. But migration in the United States is increasingly managed not through the civil law system, but through the criminal legal system, and not just at the federal level, but at all levels of government. The most obvious example of the management of migration through the criminal law in the United States occurs through the federal prosecution of immigration crimes. In the 2010s, federal prosecutions of immigration crimes reached all-time record highs, as immigration offenses became the most commonly prosecuted federal criminal offenses. But it is not just the federal government, using federal criminal prosecutions, that has moved criminal law and criminal law enforcement agents to the center of immigration enforcement in the United States. The federal government relies on state and local police to serve as front-line agents in the identification of noncitizens potentially subject to removal. Everyone arrested by state and local law enforcement for any reason has their fingerprints run through federal law databases, and this has become the leading screening mechanism through which the federal government identifies individuals to target for removal. Federal law also relies on state law convictions as one of the primary means through which federal immigration enforcement officials determine which noncitizens to remove. This means that state legislatures and state and local governments have the power to shape both their criminal laws and their discretionary enforcement choices to either enhance or mitigate the scope of federal immigration enforcement in their jurisdictions. The problems of racial inequity in the U.S. criminal legal system are both exacerbated by and fuel the centrality of immigration enforcement to the nation’s law enforcement agenda. Racial profiling is broadly tolerated by law in the context of immigration enforcement, making it easy for officials at the state and federal level to justify the targeting of the Latinx population for heightened surveillance on the theory (often incorrect) that they are unlawfully present. At the same time, the overpolicing of Black communities ensures that Black immigrants as well as Latinx immigrants are disproportionately identified as priorities for removal. Immigration enforcement is frequently written out of the story of racial inequality in U.S. policing, but the criminalization of migration is a central architectural feature of this inequitable system.

Article

Selling Sex in a Global Context  

Aimee Wodda and Meghna Bhat

Commercial sex continues to be an object of debate in the realm of criminological and criminal justice. The regulation of commercial sex in a global context varies due to local law, culture, and custom. Global criminolegal responses to selling sex include criminalization, decriminalization, abolition, neo-abolition, and legalization. In recent decades, global public policymakers have become increasingly concerned with the public health aspects associated with negative outcomes related to the criminalization of the purchase, facilitation, and/or sale of sex. These concerns include violence against those who sell sex, stigma when attempting to access healthcare and social services, increased risk of sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs) including HIV/AIDS, and economic vulnerability that leaves many who sell sex unable to negotiate the use of condoms and at risk of police arrest for carrying condoms. Those most at risk of harm tend to be young people, LGBTQ populations, and people who are racial or ethnic minorities within their communities—these are often intersecting identities. Organizations such as Amnesty International, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, UN AIDS, and the World Health Organization recommend decriminalization of commercial sex in order to reduce stigma and increase positive health outcomes. Scholars have also examined the challenges faced by migrant sex workers and the problematic effects of being labeled a victim of trafficking. Contemporary strategies geared toward reducing harm for those who sell sex tend to focus on rights issues and how they affect the well-being of those who sell sex.