David O. Friedrichs
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.
When Guenther Jakobs introduced the concept of “enemy criminal law” (Feindstrafrecht), or enemy penology, into the legal debate, this was due to a concern with the increasingly anticipatory nature of criminalization in German legislation in the last decades of the 20th century. Against the backdrop of a series of terror attacks in the West and the ensuing debates on how to deal with the dangers and threats of the new millennium, Jakobs’s theory gained new momentum in Germany’s public discourse and beyond. As it seems, the author himself turned the concept into a device for political intervention, declaring the notion of the enemy as indispensable for dealing with certain extreme crimes and notorious offenders, not only to prevent future crime and avert harm from society but also, and most notably, to preserve the established “citizen criminal law” (Bürgerstrafrecht): the enemy is the one to be isolated and excluded from the system. Enemy criminal law may be a peculiar legal concept. The logic of enemy penology, however, leads us to some more fundamental insights into the conundrums of liberal political thinking and attendant legal conceptions. It requires us to think about the enemy as a liminal figure that points to the preconditions and the paradoxes of our legal system. The history of criminology attests to the discipline’s struggle with penal law’s inherent limitations. And if we live today in times where exception and rule, internal security and external security, and military and police concerns increasingly overlap and intermingle in the face of ever new threats, the notion of enemy penology helps us to critically reflect on the mechanisms that drive these transformations.