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date: 23 April 2018

Critical Criminology and the Critique of Domination, Inequality and Injustice

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: critical criminology, Marxist theory, critique of domination, inequality, injustice, crimes of the powerful, radicalism, praxis, deconstruction, strains of critical criminology

An Overview of Critical Criminology

Critical criminology has had a conspicuous presence within the field of criminology for close to a half century now. The approach taken by critical criminology is specifically criticized by many within the “mainstream” of the field and is marginalized in the sense that the substantial majority of those who identify as criminologists—and especially as criminal justice scholars and teachers—do not identify themselves as critical criminologists and do not model their work on its core premises. Critical criminology originated in a fundamental sense as a critique of mainstream criminology. The term “mainstream criminology” is itself somewhat problematic, as there is no consensus on how to refer to the work carried out by the majority of criminologists. Orthodox, conventional, traditional, liberal, positivistic, administrative, managerial, official, correctional, capitalist, and establishment criminology are among the alternative terms that can be found in the literature, and at least some of these terms can be regarded as pejorative. In this article the term “mainstream criminology” has been adopted, principally because it appears to be the most widely invoked term, is clearly understood in terms of what it refers to, and is not intrinsically pejorative. But the preference of Michalowski (2016, p. 182)—a leading critical criminologist over the course of many decades—for “orthodox” criminology needs to be noted: “Mainstream” relegates other approaches (including that of critical criminology) to the margins of the field, when it is the core assumptions of the so-called mainstream that should be treated as problematic and reflective of a belief system, rather than based upon a purely analytic choice. Some other critical criminologists also favor this choice.

Two fairly prominent criminologists, Wright and DeLisi assert that “criminology, much like sociology, is dominated by a leftist political orientation” (Wright & DeLisi, 2016, p. 28). They claim as well that criminologists with a conservative political orientation are discriminated against and marginalized within academe. But there is clear empirical evidence—cited by Wright and DeLisi themselves—that only a minority of criminologists identify themselves as “radical.” The largest percentage, to the extent that they identify with a political orientation, are moderate or liberal and accept many of the basic values of liberal democracy. Among those trained principally in criminal justice, as opposed to criminology, those who identify as conservative outnumber those who identify as radical by three to one (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 2017, p. 743). Although the Division of Critical Criminology and Social Justice of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) is among the larger divisions in the ASC, it has approximately 250 members while the ASC itself has approximately 3,500 members (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 2017, p. 743). But the majority of criminologists, whatever their political orientation, claim explicitly or implicitly that as criminologists they carry out their work “scientifically” and objectively, in relation to what can be empirically demonstrated to be true. Critical criminologists from the outset have challenged this claim. The premise that true objectivity is possible—or even desirable—is disputed. Criminology as a field is regarded as aligned with the established order and the status quo, and the core theories as well as the empirical research associated with mainstream criminology reinforces intrinsically conservative political agendas in relation to crime and criminal justice, even when this is not the explicit objective of such theory and research. Public and private sector funding for criminological research is almost exclusively awarded to those whose work falls within the mainstream and quite often for work that specifically serves the interest of establishment political agendas. The use of science as a tool of power, rather than “scientific reasoning” per se, is the core issue for critical criminologists.

Crime and its control are significant social concerns, in the United States and elsewhere (Ismaili, 2017; Pakes, 2013). Public perceptions of crime and its control are in many respects distorted by media representations and the agendas of the governing elites, with fear of crime actively promoted by some political leaders (Barak, 1994; Wood & Gannon, 2009). Critical criminologists have drawn attention to the “moral panics” directed at conventional crime and the hugely harmful consequences of repressive state policies addressing such crime (e.g., Cohen, 1980; Currie, 1985; Hall et al., 1978). One significant contribution of critical criminology, then, lies in its capacity to expose the conventional myths about crime and its control and to provide an alternative basis for understanding these consequential dimensions of contemporary social existence.

What is critical criminology? As in the case of mainstream criminology, different terms have been applied, including “conflict,” “Marxist,” “socialist,” “left wing,” “radical,” and “new.” Each of these terms tends to have somewhat different connotations and associations. The term “critical criminology”—the title of an anthology published in 1975 (Taylor, Walton, & Young, 1975)—has, especially since the early 1980s, become by far the most widely invoked term for the criminological orientation addressed in this article. As to how it is best defined: the editors of one critical criminology anthology simply chose not to offer a definition of critical criminology (Anthony & Cunneen, 2008). But such a tactic sidesteps the core question, “What is it?” The challenge posed by any definition is to accurately include everything that belongs under its umbrella and exclude everything that does not. For instance, there is a broad consensus that the promotion of “critical thinking” should be a core component of higher education and intellectual inquiry. Therefore, we may conclude that all criminologists are “critical” in the sense that they uniformly subject their theories, methodologies, and data to critical analysis of strengths and weaknesses, identifying substantive advances to existing knowledge and making concessions of limitations (Carlen, 2011). But this is not what is typically meant by “critical criminology.” Radical criminology may lend itself somewhat more readily to being defined, insofar as it is grounded in Marxian political economy, and “radical” opposition to positivism.

Radical criminologists typically argued that if the problems associated with crime (and criminal justice) are to be resolved in a meaningful way, capitalist political economies needed to be in transition to some form of socialism. Radical criminology emerged in the 1960s as the first break with orthodox criminology. Within fifteen years it was joined by overlapping dissident forms of criminology that emphasized the importance of social forms such as culture (cultural criminology), gender (feminist criminology), race/ethnicity (critical race theory), sexual identity (queer criminology), and environmental protection (green criminology). The term “critical criminology” is best understood as an umbrella term that encompasses these and other criminological theories and perspectives that challenge core assumptions of mainstream criminology in some substantial way, and from a progressive or leftist vantage point, and provide alternative approaches to understanding crime and its control.

The “critique of domination” has been identified as a core unifying theme of all the different strains of critical criminology (Michalowski, 1996). Domination takes many forms: the powerful over the powerless, the rich over the poor, owners over workers, men over women, white people over people of color, straight people over gay people, and so on. More narrowly, the critique of domination can be applied to the dominance of positivistic approaches and perspectives that challenge or reject such perspectives and approaches. It follows from this that critical criminology in essentially all its various manifestations is concerned with inequalities within society in one form or another. While the concern with inequality may be more pronounced in some strains of critical criminology, it is, at a minimum, an underlying concern in all strains. And in a world where some have power over others, and inequality in various forms is pervasive, it inevitably follows that gross injustices occur in many different settings and circumstances. The exposure of injustice and the identification of remedies for injustices also characterizes, in some form, all strains of critical criminology (Arrigo, 1999). None of the foregoing is intended to suggest that wholesale indifference to domination, inequality, and injustice characterizes mainstream criminology. But for critical criminology these are core concerns, which is arguably not the case with mainstream criminology.

The Origins of Critical Criminology

Critical criminology can be regarded as having been fundamentally inspired by the circumstances of the Sixties, with that era’s attendant political, intellectual, and cultural turmoil (Blum, 1991; Chalmers, 1991; Miller, 1987). Arguably the largest concentration of critical criminologists—and the most influential critical criminologists— were based in the United States and the United Kingdom. Critical criminology also sprouted in other parts of North America and Europe, and indeed across the globe, and many influential critical criminologists were based in countries other than the United States, including—but hardly limited to—Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Norway (Carrington & Hogg, 2002; DeKeseredy & Dragiewicz, 2018; Doyle & Moore, 2011; Ugwudike, 2015; van Swaaningen, 1997). In some countries, differentiating between “mainstream” and “critical” criminology may be somewhat problematic. For example, Gurinskaya (2017, p. 135) suggests that during the course of Russian history, Russian criminologists became by default critical criminologists when they failed to produce the explanations for crime that justified the crime control policy of the Russian state—and this is true in the 21st century as well as in earlier times. If the present article focuses principally on the relevant developments in the United States (and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom), this is a reflection of the constraints of space available rather than a denial of the global character of critical criminology.

Foundations

Marxist theory has been one source of inspiration for some influential strains of radical and critical criminology, although it has been a common error to characterize all critical criminologists as Marxists or neo-Marxists. Karl Marx and his close collaborator Friedrich Engels did not develop a systematic criminological theory, but it is possible to extrapolate a generalized Marxist perspective on crime and criminal law from their work: the ownership class is guilty of the worst crime in its systemic, brutal exploitation of the working class (Cowling, 2008; Greenberg, 1980; Quinney & Beirne, 1982). Thus, revolution is a form of counter-violence and is both necessary and morally justified. The state and the law itself ultimately serve the interests of the ownership class. Human beings are not by nature egocentric, greedy, and predatory, but they can become so under certain social conditions. Conventional crime is essentially a product of pervasive socioeconomic inequality and economic disenfranchisement, of “false needs,” and of the dehumanizing and demoralizing effects of the capitalist system. However, conventional crime is neither an admirable nor an effective means of revolutionary action, and all too often it pits the poor against the poor. Marx also regarded crime as “productive”—perhaps ironically—insofar as it provides employment and business opportunities for many. In an authentically Communist society the state and the law will wither away, with the formal law being replaced by a form of communal justice. Human beings will live in a state of harmony and cooperation, without crime.

For most of the history of criminology rather few criminologists adopted a Marxist framework. The Dutch criminologist Willem Bonger was an exception. Although he rejected dogmatic Marxism, Bonger (1916)—especially in Criminality and Economic Conditions—sought to show how a political economy organized around “private property” promoted crime. Some later neo-Marxist or radical criminologists were critical of Bonger for adopting a positivist and empiricist approach to the study of crime and for his attention to the “correction” of lawbreakers, but within the context of his time Bonger was certainly a pioneering figure in recognizing the value of a Marxist framework for the understanding of crime. Rusche and Kirchheimer (1939) also drew on a Marxist approach in advancing the thesis that punishment could be viewed as a form of control of the laboring class in a capitalist society. That is, punishment fluctuated, not in response to levels of crime but rather levels of unemployment. When work was plentiful and workers were scarce, punishment was used sparingly. But when workers were plentiful and work scarce, punishment increased as both a mechanism of control and as an expression of the devalued status of workers (Michalowski & Carlson, 2000). Although Rusche and Kirchheimer were not trained as criminologists, some radical criminologists in a later era drew inspiration from their work. Indeed, some other scholars over the years who were not criminologists have had a significant impact on radical and critical criminologists. For example, the French social historian Michel Foucault (1979) set forth an influential interpretation of the ideological purposes of penal practices that has been quite widely cited by critical criminologists.

Although many sociologists and criminologists continue to recognize the power of some basic dimensions of Marxist theoretical analysis to make sense of the world, it is also true that any invocation of “Marxist” carries with it a lot of baggage in the form of association with the immense crimes committed—primarily during the 20th century—in the name of a claimed Marxist or Communist society. Accordingly, many criminologists are not receptive to the potent explanatory dimensions of Marxist theory and concepts independent of the perverse applications of Marxist analysis in some historical circumstances. At least some prominent criminological theorists incorporate Marxist themes in their theories without acknowledging their Marxist roots. But independent of a specific Marxist tradition there have always been some criminologists who have recognized that the law and the criminal justice system it produces reflect disproportionately the interests of the privileged. American versions of critical criminology have drawn on a tradition of populism, anarchist thought, the civil rights movement, contemporary feminism, and other progressive endeavors that have challenged the dominance of white men of means, big business, and the status quo in general.

Most of the criminology and criminological theory produced into the 1960s addressed the causes of crime and criminality within a framework that did not challenge the legitimacy of the law and the social order. Nor did they analyze crimes committed by those in positions of economic or political power. This began to change in the Sixties. This era is associated with the intensification of various forms of conflict within society, so it is not surprising that the core theme of conflict received more attention. Conflict theory, which highlighted asymmetric power and competing or incompatible interests and values as core dimensions of social existence, and interactionist theory that highlighted the social construction of meaning and the amplifying consequences of imposing stigmatizing labels, provided theoretical foundations for radical and critical criminology. The first generation of radical criminologists were born roughly between 1926 and 1942. From the late 1940s through the 1960s this generation experienced during the course of their postgraduate education the growing theoretical challenges to the dominance of structural functionalist and consensus-oriented accounts of the social order.

Thorsten Sellin, a socialist in his youth, produced one early version of a criminological approach that focused on the centrality of conflict in the 1930s (Sellin, 1938), and George Vold subsequently produced a pioneering criminological theory textbook in the 1950s (Vold, 1958) that highlighted the significance of group conflict for the understanding of crime and its control. In the 1960s, Turk (1969), Quinney (1970), and Chambliss and Seidman (1971) introduced influential versions of conflict theories into the field of criminology. Conflict theory focuses on the unequal distribution of power within society as a fundamental starting point for the understanding of crime and its control, with some groups better positioned than others to advance their interests through law. And during the Sixties, labeling theory, which emerged out of symbolic interactionism, shifted attention away from criminal behavior to the processes whereby some members of society come to be labeled as deviants and criminals and to the consequences of being socially stigmatized (Schur, 1971). Many critical criminologists were influenced by this approach, although they ultimately criticized it for its focus upon the “micro-level” of social behavior and its relative neglect of the broader societal and political context within which the labeling process occurs.

Contemporary Developments

The era of the Sixties (extending from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s) was a period of much social turmoil, including the emergence of the civil rights movement, black power, feminist and gay rights movements, and consumer and environmentalist movements; the growing opposition to the Vietnam War; the surfacing of a highly visible counterculture and illicit drug use; and the embracing of radical ideology by a conspicuous segment of college and graduate students (Blum, 1991; Chalmers, 1991; Miller, 1987). By the late 1960s, a full-fledged radical sociology had emerged that challenged premises, methods, principal concerns, and corporate or governmental affiliations of mainstream sociology. C. Wright Mills (Frauley, 2015) was one seminal source of inspiration, and parallel radical approaches were developed in many other cognate disciplines, including history, economics, and political science. All these developments both influenced and were reflected within the field of criminology. Criminologists who became disenchanted with the limitations of a dominant liberal response to the problem of crime, with its emphasis on incremental social reform and rehabilitation programs, were searching for an alternative approach to understanding crime and criminal justice. Some prominent faculty at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Criminology were key figures in the promotion of a radical criminology, which contributed to the school being shut down in 1974 (Platt, 1988). And self-identified radical criminologists elsewhere encountered many forms of resistance and some barriers to professional advancement. Research funding was less available to support the projects of radical criminologists than it was for mainstream criminological research that was perceived as useful in addressing conventional forms of crime.

A distinctive radical criminology—and a Union of Radical Criminologists—emerged in the early 1970s. Journals such as Crime and Social Justice and Contemporary Crises were important venues for radical criminology scholarship during this time. The Center for Research on Criminal Justice (1975) exemplified the radical criminological ideal, insofar as it was an essentially Marxist analysis of the police, collectively written, and oriented toward praxis, with a section on organizing for action. Richard Quinney was surely the best-known, most frequently cited, most prolific, and most controversial American radical criminologist of this period. In two books published in the 1970s—Critique of Legal Order and Class, State, and Crime—Quinney (1974, 1977) applied a neo-Marxist interpretation of capitalist society to an understanding of crime and criminal justice. In Critique of Legal Order, for example, Quinney argued that law in a capitalist society functions to legitimate the system and to facilitate oppression and exploitation. He asked whether we really need law and whether we would be better off without it.

By the end of the 1970s, Quinney had become somewhat disenchanted with the conventional concerns of academic scholars and of criminologists specifically (Quinney, 2000; Wozniak, 2011). In the years that followed, he pursued a range of projects, often wholly removed from criminological concerns, including explorations in phenomenology; existentialism; critical philosophy; liberation theology; Buddhism; and autobiographical, reflexive work. However, he also made seminal contributions (with Hal Pepinsky) (1991) to the establishment of a major strain of critical criminology called “peacemaking criminology,” and many radical and critical criminologists have drawn inspiration from this work.

Other criminologists during this period also made influential contributions to the establishment of a radical criminology: in the United States they included William J. Chambliss, Tony Platt, Paul Takagi, Elliott Currie, and Raymond J. Michalowski. In many other countries (especially in the United Kingdom) versions of radical criminology surfaced as well (Mooney, 2012). Taylor, Walton, and Young’s (1973) The New Criminology (1973), which emerged out of the meetings of the National Deviancy Conference in the United Kingdom, was a widely read attempt to expose the limitations of existing theories of crime and to construct a new framework based on a recognition of the capacity of the capitalist state to define criminality in ways compatible with the state’s own ends. The authors of this book called for a form of criminological theory and analysis that operated independently and not as a handmaiden to repressive state policies.

By the end of the 1970s, much of the initial radical political and cultural energy of the earlier part of that decade had disintegrated. A book entitled Radical Criminology: The Coming Crises (1980) (originally a special issue of the journal Criminology), edited by James Inciardi, was a controversial collection of critical (and appreciative) interpretations of radical criminology. If the radical criminology that emerged during the 1970s was never a fully unified enterprise, it became even more fragmented during the 1980s. Going forward from that period, the term critical criminology increasingly displaced radical criminology, and the emergence of distinctive strains of critical criminology became increasingly evident. Scholars who adhere to these various strains of critical criminology tend to be united in that they draw some inspiration from the conflict and neo-Marxist perspectives developed in the 1970s, in their rejection of mainstream positivistic approaches as a means of revealing fundamental truths about crime and criminal justice, and in their commitment to seeking connections between theoretical and empirical work and progressive policy initiatives and action. Although some critical criminologists continue to work within one or the other of the earlier conflict and neo-Marxist perspectives, many others have become more closely identified with critical perspectives that have emerged (or have been applied to criminological phenomena) more recently.

The recent era has been regarded as both politically and culturally more conservative than the era of the Sixties, but critical criminology has been a fairly vigorous presence within criminology, despite—or perhaps because of—this less receptive societal environment. The Division on Critical Criminology (now the Division on Critical Criminology and Social Justice), which publishes the journal Critical Criminology, has been an especially large division within the American Society of Criminology since its establishment in 1988. Every year, this division attracts recruits among new criminology graduate students who recognize that their ideological orientation and research interests are at odds with those of mainstream criminology. In the United Kingdom a Critical Criminology Network has now been formally established.

In the sections that follow, the core concepts and concerns of (as well as principal strains of) critical criminology are identified and classified, with some conundrums in relation to differing orientations of self-identified critical criminologists also identified.

Critical Criminology: Core Concepts and Concerns

The meaning of the term crime is one important starting point for critical criminology, which contests the “legalistic” and taken-for-granted approach to the meaning of this term that is characteristic of mainstream—or “constrained”—criminology (Michalowski, 2016). Sutherland (1940, 1945) called for extending the conception of crime beyond a narrowly legalistic definition to include (in relation to white collar crime) violations of civil and administrative law, because the white-collar elite class has too much influence over the legal definition of crime; this work provided one influential point of departure for the critical criminological critique of conventional conceptions of crime. Schwendinger and Schwendinger (1970) produced an influential article calling for an expansion of the scope of criminological concern beyond the parameters of state-defined crime and increased attention to the other identifiable forms of social harm. There is an abiding history within the criminological mainstream of invoking the term “crime” without any attempt to define the term. For many criminologists—as well as laypeople—the meaning of the term “crime” is clearly taken to be obvious, and so obvious that there is no need to define it. It also seems reasonable to claim that the term is most widely equated with conventional criminal offenses, or violations of the criminal law, that are exemplified by the FBI’s “index” crimes: murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, auto theft, larceny, and arson. This is surely the type of crime of most concern to the American public, along with drug-related offenses and recent concerns about terrorism, and these offenses account for most of the “mass imprisonment” of the recent era (Abramsky, 2007). The largest proportion of criminological scholarship addressing crime through the present era encompasses one or more of these types of crime. Critical criminologists have contended that the “definition of crime” issue is significant, insofar as conventional definitions influence the whole way in which crime is thought about and addressed (Henry & Lanier, 2001; Lynch, Stretesky, & Long, 2015; Polizzi, 2015). In particular, these conventional definitions direct attention to the crimes of the powerless and away from the crimes of the powerful (Friedrichs, 2015). For critical criminologists, addressing the definition of crime issue should be a core point of departure for criminological inquiry.

For some critical criminologists, the term “crime” itself is inevitably so limiting and so constrained by its historical meaning that it should be abandoned in favor of “social harm” as the focus of our concern, with criminology itself being replaced by “zemiology,” or the study of harm (Davies, Francis, & Wyatt, 2014; Greenfield & Paoli, 2013; Hillyard et al., 2004; Pemberton, 2016). A more expansive conception of human rights may be said to inform much critical criminology, in relation to that of mainstream criminology (Cohen, 2001; Schwendinger & Schwendinger, 1970). In Western democratic societies the centrality of core individual rights—to “life and liberty,” to “property,” to due process, and so forth—is ingrained within the mainstream framework. But from a critical criminological framework the further rights articulated in such documents as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights (1944) and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), although never truly implemented, are implicitly if not explicitly incorporated into a critical criminological framework. The traditional legal rights are structured to privilege some segments of society over others.

If violence has always been a central preoccupation of criminological inquiry—especially in relation to homicide and assault—for critical criminologists some forms of violence have been unjustifiably privileged over others (e.g., Buist & Lenning, 2016; Currie, 2008; DeKeseredy, Dragiewicz, & Schwartz, 2017; Rothe, 2009; Tombs & Whyte, 2015). The violence perpetrated by the state, the violence emanating out of the relentless corporate pursuit of profit, the violence of men against women, of white people against people of color, of straight people against gay people—these are all forms of violence historically marginalized in mainstream criminological inquiry. The structural sources of violence within a capitalist political economy are highlighted in critical criminology in relation to the individual and group (e.g., gang) violence so central to mainstream approaches to violent crime.

The deconstruction of mainstream criminological work has been a central project of critical criminology. This project calls for exposing the claims of objective and unbiased research in mainstream criminology as smokescreens that hide latent political agendas and biases favoring privileged segments of society from the public, and often even from the researchers themselves. Deconstruction—or “trashing,” in colloquial terms—was a defining project of critical legal studies during the 1980s (Friedrichs, 1986). The very terms “critical” and “deconstruction” (to say nothing of “trashing”) are strongly suggestive of negativity and not of affirmative, useful, constructive, and beneficial approaches to crime and criminal justice. This has been a concern of at least some critical criminologists, who seek to highlight productive and reconstructive dimensions of the critical criminological project. In a somewhat parallel vein, reflexivity is incorporated into much critical criminology. In this context reflexivity refers to the practice of reflecting upon and addressing basic assumptions and foundational sources of one’s work. The premise here is that much mainstream criminology lacks a reflexive dimension and incorporates many problematic “taken-for-granted” assumptions. However, reflexive accounts are part of at least some mainstream criminological projects.

The asymmetric distribution of power in society, and the domination of the powerful over the powerless, is a core theme of critical criminology, although it is more central to some strains of critical criminology than others (Barak, 2015; Ruggiero, 2015). This theme derives from conflict theory, which challenged the core premise of functionalist theory that highlighted the central role of consensus in maintaining the social order. This asymmetric distribution of power profoundly influences not only what gets defined as crime but who controls the system of criminal justice. It penetrates multiple dimensions of human existence, with diverse criminological consequences. The maldistribution of power needs to be a foundational point of departure for a sophisticated criminology. A potent affinity for the plight of the powerless and disadvantaged—in colloquial terms, the “underdogs” of society—has been characteristic of critical criminology. Mainstream criminology is often taken to be skewed toward the perspective, values, and interests of the “respectable” classes of society. A “subaltern” perspective informs some variants of critical criminology in particular. The notion of hegemony—originally advanced by the Italian activist and philosopher Antonio Gramsci (1991)—is central to much critical criminology, even when it is not invoked specifically. It refers to the dominance of the producers of all forms of communication and education by the privileged and powerful, reflecting their values and interests, which pervade the popular culture. Critical criminologists seek to advance alternative values and interests.

On the asymmetric distribution of power: Mainstream criminology has focused principally upon conventional crimes and disproportionately on the crimes of the powerless. Critical criminologists have played a leading role in the promotion of criminological attention to the crimes of the powerful (Barak, 2015; Pearce, 1976; Rothe & Kauzlarich, 2016). Drawing seminal inspiration from the work of Edwin Sutherland (1940, 1949), critical criminologists have addressed the crimes of corporations (e.g., Barak, 2017; Tombs & Whyte, 2015) and banks (e.g., Barak, 2012). The 1988 American Society of Criminology presidential address of William J. Chambliss (1989), calling for criminological attention to crimes of states, has been one core source of inspiration for expanding critical criminological attention to such crime (e.g., Chambliss, Michalowski, & Kramer, 2010; Chambliss & Moloney, 2015; Green & Ward, 2004; Rothe, 2009; Stanley & McCulloch, 2013), although Stanley Cohen (1988, 2001) has been influential as well. Michalowski and Kramer (2006) introduced the concept of state-corporate crime and this initiative has inspired much critical criminological scholarship.

Inequality across the spectrum of human existence is one inevitable consequence of the asymmetric distribution of power and a core theme of critical criminology. Different manifestations of inequality tend to be stressed in different strains of critical criminology: in terms of power itself, wealth and income, gender, race, and sexual identity, among others (e.g., Belknap, 2014; Buist & Lenning, 2016; Russell, 1998; Schwartz & Milovanovic, 1996). These forms of inequality intersect with each other, and the concept of “intersectionality” captures important dimensions of such intersection, with some people being unequal and powerless in multiple ways (Potter, 2015). Inequality is a key determinant of who gets defined and processed as a “criminal,” and the specific consequences of being so defined and processed. It is also a key determinant on who is a victim of crime and the attention and concern directed at some classes of victims in relation to other classes of victims.

The concept of class, or social class, has always been central to Marxist analysis. Some contemporary critical criminologists have argued for the need to integrate class structure into criminological analysis (e.g., Schwartz & Milovanovic, 1996; White & van der Velden, 1995). Lynch (2015), a long-established critical criminologist and a leading green criminologist has contended that criminology as a field is afflicted with “classlessness,” with the relative lack of class analysis in contemporary criminology. Lynch contends that the relative neglect of class has been a standard feature of mainstream criminology (he prefers the term “orthodox criminology”), but it has also characterized some strains of critical criminology that have emerged since 1990. For Lynch, class-based theory and the attendant empirical work is essential for a sophisticated understanding of crime, law, and criminal justice in contemporary society. While social class may be identified as a significant variable in mainstream criminological research, acknowledgment of its significance as an all-encompassing status tends to be absent in such research. Social class is taken to be a primary determinant of whether one engages with criminal activity or predicts the likelihood of being classified as a criminal and of being a victim of crime; social class is also a factor in how one may be processed by the criminal justice system. Members of the lower class have always been disproportionately overrepresented among those incarcerated following criminal convictions. However, adherents of some other variants of critical criminology—for example, feminist, race, and queer—have tended to argue that Marx-inspired radical criminologists, in highlighting the significance of social class, overlook or slight the significance of other classifications (i.e., those based upon gender, race and sexual orientation).

The organization of the political economy was central to radical criminology, with a capitalist political economy regarded as a foundational structural condition shaping the nature of crime, criminal law, and the criminal justice system (Cowling, 2008; Hall & Winlow, 2015; Lynch & Michalowski, 2006; Reiner, 2017). The failure to adequately account for the persistence of crime in non-capitalist political economies—to say nothing of the monumental crimes of states perpetrated in some of the countries with so-called Communist political economies—has been an enduring criticism of radical criminology. Within critical criminology emerging variants of critical criminology, while not denying the significance of capitalism, directed attention to other embedded, structural dimensions of the political and cultural social order, including patriarchy, racism, and homophobia.

Many other key concepts crop up in the critical criminological literature, such as moral panics, folk devils, carceral regimes, panopticism, penality, surveillance, and risk. While not all such terms are exclusively invoked by critical criminologists, they tend to be highlighted by such criminologists.

Critical Criminological Conundrums

Critical criminologists contend with many challenging choices to be made in relation to how they should best proceed with their work, and they are somewhat divided in terms of the choices ultimately made. For Stanley Cohen (1998, pp. 118–122)—among the most original of critical criminologists—a meaningful criminology has to satisfy:

  • A triple loyalty: first an overriding obligation to honest intellectual inquiry itself

  • (however skeptical, provisional, irrelevant, and unrealistic); second, a political

  • commitment to social justice; and third (and potentially conflicting with both), the

  • pressing and immediate demands for short-term humanitarian help. We have to appease

  • these three voracious gods.

The tensions between these multiple “loyalties” are certainly experienced by many critical criminologists. In this section some core conundrums in relation to critical criminology are identified.

Classifying Criminologists

As an opening question, can criminologists, living and dead, be easily classified as mainstream or critical? At least some prominent criminologists who are widely cited and celebrated by mainstream criminologists incorporated core Marxist or critical criminological premises in their theories. Cesare Lombroso was arguably the most prominent criminologist of the late-19th- (and early-20th-) century period. His focus on bio-genetic factors, and his notion of a “born criminal,” is inherently at odds with the focus of any strain of radical and critical criminology. And this would be true for those who followed in his wake, including contemporary criminologists (e.g., Adrian Raine) who focus on biogenetic factors associated in some way with criminality. Most perniciously, at least some German criminologists during the Nazi era adopted and promoted Lombrosian criminology (Wetzell, 2000). But among prominent 20th-century criminologists Marvin Wolfgang among Americans and Sir Leon Radzinowicz among British criminologists exemplified mainstream criminologists. So did Joan McCord and James Q. Wilson, with the latter being especially influential with conservative political policymakers. Travis Hirschi emplified a mainstream criminological approach, and was hugely influential. Among living criminologists (as of later 2017) Alfred Blumstein, Lawrence Sherman, David Farrington, Michael Gottfredson, Daniel Nagin, John Laub, and Robert Sampson are typically associated with the mainstream. On the radical or critical side Karl Marx, Peter Kropotkin, and W. E. B. DuBois—while not criminologists in any formal sense—are recognized as among those who inspired radical and critical criminologists. The Dutch criminologist Willem Bonger, as discussed earlier, was the first self-identified criminologist to specifically advance a Marxist (or radical) analysis of crime and criminal justice. And in the later 20th century the late Ian Taylor, William J. Chambliss, Julia Schwendinger, Stanley Cohen, and Jock Young were by any measure critical criminologists. Among the living, Richard Quinney, Herman Schwendinger, Elliott Currie, and Meda Chesney-Lind are among those who would unambiguously be identified as radical or critical criminologists. But there are others who are not so easily classified.

The Italian aristocrat and intellectual Cesare Beccaria, with his 1764 Essay on Crimes and Punishments (Beccaria, 1764) is commonly identified as the first person to systematically address some of the core issues that have preoccupied criminologists ever since. His work is classified as foundational for a “classical” school of criminology, with its stress on free will, rationality, and human calculations to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, and is reflected in the criminal law of Western nations, the guiding principles of the criminal justice systems in such nations, and in the whole notion of deterrence of criminal conduct. Its premises are aligned with those of contemporary “administrative” criminology. It is regarded as providing a foundation for influential contemporary neo-classical or rational choice criminological theories. But the late G. O. W. Mueller (1990, pp. 4–5) suggested that Beccaria could be lauded as a prophet in relation to contemporary conflict and radical criminologists. He noted that Beccaria (1764, p. 103), in relation to the criminal law of his time, observed: “[W]ho made these laws? The rich and the great, who never deigned to visit the miserable hut of the poor, who never see him dividing a piece of mouldy bread, amidst the cries of his famished children and the tears of his wife. Let us break those ties, fatal to the greatest part of mankind, and only useful to a few indolent tyrants.” For Taylor, Walton, and Young (1973, pp. 5–6) Beccaria failed to reconcile his recognition of the association between committing robbery and being poor with a system of criminal justice that implies rational choices and just consequences for all those who steal from others.

Some later sociologists and criminologists widely cited as icons of mainstream criminological theory incorporated at least some dimensions of critical criminological thought in their own work. More than a century after the publication of Beccaria’s essay another European, the eminent French sociologist Emile Durkheim, produced some widely cited propositions about the nature of crime that have provided a foundation for contemporary structural functionalist, positivistic, and deterministic criminological theories; Durkheim’s thought has served as a point of departure for the theories of prominent 20th-century mainstream criminologists such as Robert K. Merton, Albert K. Cohen, and Travis Hirschi (Wilkinson, 2010). But Durkheim has also been read as a supporter of socialism and as recognizing that if the problem of crime is to be effectively addressed a basic transformation in social and cultural conditions is a necessary precondition—leading the prominent radical criminologist Frank Pearce (1989) to produce a book entitled The Radical Durkheim. Robert Merton himself—as in the case of Durkheim a sociologist and not a self-identified criminologist—nevertheless produced a theoretical scheme that has been hugely influential within criminology: anomie theory. Merton is most commonly associated with the inherently conservative school of thought known as structural functionalism, promoted by his former professor and mentor Talcott Parsons. But another prominent critical criminologist, Jock Young (2010) has made the case forcefully that Merton’s anomie theory incorporates a fundamental critique of a capitalist political economy that provides a foundation for the work of critical criminologists, including his own work in The Exclusive Society (1999) and The Vertigo of Late Modernity (2007). Merton’s deemphasizing of the influence of Marx and his socialistic sympathies during the course of most of his career is interpreted by Young as reflecting pragmatic career-related concerns and ambitions. But there is another 20th-century sociologist whose lifetime and career overlapped with the earlier stages of Merton’s and who exemplifies the limitations of a mutually exclusive categorization of criminologists as either mainstream or critical: Edwin H. Sutherland.

Sutherland has been widely identified as the single most important criminologist of the 20th century, known especially for his landmark criminology textbook, his theory of differential association, and his introduction of and foundational work in the criminology of white-collar crime (Friedrichs, Schoultz, & Jordanoska, 2018). On the one hand Sutherland affirmed his commitment to a “scientific” approach to the study of crime, and his work is quite uniformly discussed and cited in mainstream criminology textbooks and scholarly studies. But Sutherland also challenged the predominant criminological focus on the crimes of the powerless and the poor and directed attention to the crimes of respectable and relatively affluent middle-class members of society and of powerful corporations. He also expressed sympathy for socialism, as well as reservations for the viability of a capitalist political economy that engendered so much fraudulent conduct (Friedrichs, 2017; Friedrichs, Schoultz, & Jordanoska, 2018). Sutherland is among the relatively few criminologists of an earlier era uniformly identified by both mainstream and critical criminologists as a key source of inspiration for their own work. Among critical criminologists, William J. Chambliss, Richard Quinney, Laureen Snider, Ron Kramer, Steve Tombs, David Whyte, Dawn L. Rothe, Avi Brisman, and Steve Bittle are among those who have specifically identified Sutherland as an important influence.

There are other currently active criminologists who defy facile classification as mainstream or critical. Steven F. Messner and Richard Rosenfeld (2013) build on Merton’s anomie theory in their “institutional anomie theory,” highlighting the influence of the hyper-materialism of the American capitalist cultural ethos in promoting crime. Although Messner and Rosenfeld have produced much work that fits comfortably within the framework of mainstream criminology, their institutional anomie theory is well aligned with a core claim of critical criminologists. David F. Greenberg (1980) produced an important anthology on Marxist criminology, along with analyses of criminological phenomena inspired by Marxist theory. But Greenberg has also produced much quantitatively sophisticated work that is more easily aligned with mainstream positivistic analysis. John Hagan is an exceptionally prolific and versatile contemporary criminologist, a recipient of most of the prestigious awards in the field, with much work that fits comfortably within the criminological mainstream. But Hagan’s (1989) power-control theory of crime, and his more recent work on crimes of states (Hagan, 2003; Hagan & Rymond-Richmond, 2009), is aligned with critical criminological concerns, and he has taken criminology as a field to task for directing too much of its attention to the crimes of the powerless and too little to the crimes of the powerful (Hagan, 2010). John Braithwaite has in common with John Hagan that he has also been exceptionally prolific and versatile, and his work has also been honored with the most prestigious awards in the field. But Braithwaite (1979, 1984)—who prefers to characterize himself as a social scientist rather than as a criminologist—has focused much of his work on the crimes of the powerful (e.g., pharmaceutical corporations) and has for many years been engaged with an ambitious international peacebuilding project that intersects with critical criminological attention to crimes of states. Braithwaite (2011) has been critical of “capitalist” criminology and its concerns and privileging of methodological sophistication over substantively important matters. His promotion of restorative justice has been influential within both the mainstream and the critical criminological communities (Braithwaite, 2002). Finally, David Garland (2001), drawing upon Durkheim and Weber but also Marx and Foucault, has advanced a sophisticated analysis of punishment and control in the contemporary era, with some special attention the cultural dimensions of punishment and control. Garland’s work has provided points of departure for both mainstream and critical criminologists.

On both the mainstream criminology side and the critical criminology side there are those who see no possibility of reconciliation between the opposing approaches to how crime and criminal justice should be interpreted and studied and those have sought to identify common ground and grounds for reconciling opposing approaches. Robert Agnew is a prominent contemporary criminologist most closely associated with the promotion of strain theory. He served as president of the American Society of Criminology in 2013. He is classified as a mainstream criminologist. But Agnew (2011) examined the strengths and weaknesses of both mainstream and critical criminological approaches and sought to identify possibilities of reconciliation toward the development of a more sophisticated, unified criminology. Some critical criminologists saw merit in this endeavor while others disputed the possibility of any such reconciliation (Brisman, 2013; DeKeseredy, 2013; Polizzi, 2015; Rothe, 2013). There is a long history of attempts to develop and promote integrated approaches to understanding crime by both mainstream and critical criminologists. It remains to be seen whether conciliatory or conflicting approaches to this endeavor will prevail.

Other Conundrums

Although critical criminologists question the claims of objectivity typically made on behalf of mainstream criminology, and the privileged status of a positivistic approach and the application of scientific methods, it does not follow that critical criminologists uniformly reject the notion of “facts” or the usefulness of empirical inquiry and the production of valid quantitative analysis and the production of numerical data (DeKeseredy, 2011). Indeed, it has been common for critical criminologists to note that in the early 21st century over two million people are behind bars in American correctional institutions and that those “processed” by the American criminal justice system are disproportionally people of color and economically disadvantaged. Many critical criminologists have carried out studies informed by some form of “scientific” methodology that produces evidence of measurable harms from existing criminal justice policies and practices. That said, critical criminologists are far more likely to adopt an interpretive and qualitative approach to the understanding of social reality in the realm of crime and its control.

Most self-identified critical criminologists early in the 21st century are academics who hold professorial appointments in universities and devote most of their time to the same type of activities that all professors engage in: teaching, scholarship, and service. There has always been a certain tension within critical criminology between scholarship and action. Karl Marx (1956, p. 69) famously argued that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it.” The notion of “praxis”—or the practical application of learning—is a key concept within Marxist thought. One form of praxis is the deliberate effort to communicate with the public, not simply with fellow academics. Some strains of critical criminological scholarship are addressed principally to fellow academics while others are somewhat more directed to reaching broader communities. Barak (1994), in promoting news-making criminology, was calling for critical criminologists to engage with a larger public through the media, broadly defined. Public criminology is another term for such an outreach endeavor, with at least some critical criminologists (e.g., Currie, 2007) invoking this term, although the call for public engagement is hardly restricted to critical criminologists. Joanne Belknap (2015) entitled her presidential address to the American Society of Criminology in 2014 “Activist Criminology,” encouraging criminologists to become actively engaged with fostering fundamental reform in the criminal justice system and promoting social justice. Belknap herself, whose work focuses on gender-based abuse, has been actively involved in addressing such abuse. Meda Chesney-Lind, American Society of Criminology president in 2018, has similarly engaged in activist promotion of a critical criminological agenda. Critical criminologists tend to be united in welcoming initiatives that bring about greater social justice (e.g., Arrigo, 1999, 2016), although they are not entirely in agreement on how this could be accomplished.

Critical criminologists are somewhat divided, then, between those who advocate as part of their work revolutionary, structural transformation (e.g., the replacement of capitalism; the abolition of corporations) and those who are more focused upon incremental, realistically realizable reforms in a direction that diminishes or reduces the injustice imposed upon and the suffering experienced by the powerless and the disadvantage (DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 2013; Madfis & Cohen, 2016). The former have been classified as left idealists, the latter as left realists. The former are more future oriented, while the latter are more present oriented. Another way of putting this is to suggest that some critical criminologists are focused principally on the system—or the political economy of capitalism, or neo-liberalism—and other critical criminologists are focused more on the people who suffer as a consequence of an unjust system and culture. Critical criminologists with a Marxist orientation are more focused on the system; critical criminologists with a humanistic orientation are more focused on beleaguered groups and afflicted individuals. Left idealists have sometimes been portrayed as holding a “romantic” view of conventional criminals, while left realists highlight the actual harms (inflicted disproportionately on the disadvantaged) of conventional crime. Idealists tend to promote a master narrative (or mega-theory) to explain crime and criminal justice, whereas realists tend to adopt a more eclectic mix of theoretical perspectives. Madfis and Cohen (2016, p. 15) contend that the conflicts between left idealism and left realism represent a “false dichotomy” and that these core strains of critical criminology are both necessary and “fundamentally intertwined in complex ways.” Furthermore, many of those commonly characterized as left idealists are active on the ground working with social movements and social organizations to bring about change for real people in the present.

Other critical criminological conundrums, some having been suggested earlier, can be identified. Just how expansive should the scope of criminological concerns be, and indeed should a criminological framework be abandoned in favor of a zemiological framework? Should critical criminologists focus principally on the wide range of injustices that are inevitably promoted by a criminal justice system within a capitalist political economy? Some critical criminologists who address crime principally focus on traditional forms of crime that have long been addressed by mainstream criminologists. Such topics include gangs, drug-related crimes, rural crime, and terrorism. The difference is that critical criminologists approach these topics with a framework and methodology that seeks to demonstrate that the conventional legal and societal framing of such crime is profoundly biased. Critical criminologists often privilege ethnographic methods (DeKeseredy, 2011). This reflects the conviction that crime must be understood in terms of lived human experience. Some critical criminologists have focused on forms of crime or criminal justice institutions and processes that have either gotten less attention from mainstream criminologists or have been almost entirely disregarded, including crimes of multinational corporations, of major financial institutions, hate crimes, crimes against non-human species, militarization of the police, private prisons, mass incarceration, and crimes related to war, globalization, and states.

Critical Criminology in the 21st Century: Principal Strains

A large and ever-expanding list of strains or variants of critical criminology can be identified in the early 21st century. Some of these strains are quite closely aligned with the original orientation of and concerns of radical and critical criminology as it first emerged in the era of the Sixties, but other strains are quite removed from these orientations and concerns. Some strains of critical criminology are rooted in a particular theoretical scheme or core theoretical propositions, but other strains are more oriented toward advancing a neglected standpoint or vantage point in making sense of crime and criminal justice. Some strains of critical criminology have been a conspicuous presence within the field over a period of decades, but other strains have only emerged in the 21st century. Some strains of critical criminology have had an expanding presence within the field, while other strains have faded or become increasingly marginalized. In short, critical criminology is anything but static. It has always been, and is sure to continue to be, a dynamic and fluid enterprise.

The bewildering range of variants or strains of critical criminology can cause some confusion. There are by now many fine sources (see Table 1) that provide sophisticated expositions on the key themes of the different strains of critical criminology (e.g., DeKeseredy & Dragiewicz, 2018; Friedrichs, 2009; Schwartz & Brownstein, 2016; Schwartz & Hatty, 2003; Ugwudike, 2015).

Table 1. Strains of critical criminology

Strains of Critical Criminology

Sources

Radical, Marxist or neo-Marxist

Cowling (2008), Lynch and Michalowski (2006), Quinney (1977)

Left-realist, and ultra-realist

Currie (1985), DeKeseredy and Schwartz (2013), Hall and Winlow (2015), Lea and Young (1986), Matthews (2014)

Crimes of the powerful

Barak (2015), Pearce (1976), Rothe and Kauzlarich (2016), Ruggiero (2015)

Peacemaking, anarchist and abolitionist

Christie (2004), Fuller (1998), Mathiesen (1974), Quinney and Pepinsky (1991), Tifft and Sullivan (1980)

Postmodern, constitutive, and quantum holographic

Milovanovic (2014), Milovanovic (1997), Milovanovic and Henry (1996)

Feminist

Belknap (2014), Chesney-Lind (2006), Renzetti (2013), Smart (1976)

Critical Race

Potter (2015), Russell (1998), Schwartz and Milovanovic (1996)

Environmental, or green

South and Brisman (2013), Stretesky, Long, and Lynch (2014), White and Heckenberg (2014)

Cultural, narrative, news-making, and visual

Barak (1994), Brown and Carrabine (2017), Ferrell, Hayward, and Young, (2008), Presser and Sandberg (2015)

Convict

Richards (2013)

Queer

Buist and Lenning (2016)

Non-speciest

Beirne (2009)

Counter-colonial

Agozino (2003)

Border

Aliverti (2014), Pickering and Hamm (2014)

Southern criminology

Carrington, Hogg, and Sozzo (2016)

The core objective here is to provide a coherent scheme for understanding how these strains differ from and how they interrelate with each other. These strains could be organized in relation to different criteria, including: the order in which they emerged and the trajectory of their evolution and development; the centrality of theory, of a research agenda, or of a societal transformation goal (or the degree of commitment to fostering understanding, description, or mobilization for action); and the relative degree of autonomy, or interdependence, with other variants of critical criminology.

Some strains of critical criminology have arisen principally out of intellectual debates within the field of criminology and related disciplines. These strains are especially oriented toward theoretical issues. Other strains of critical criminology have been significantly influenced by social movements (e.g., the civil rights movement, the contemporary women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement, and the prisoners’ rights movement). These strains of critical criminology are more oriented toward promoting a particular standpoint for understanding crime and criminal justice. Marxist criminology and postmodern criminology (including constitutive and quantum holographic criminology) exemplify strains of critical criminology with a core theoretical focus. Feminist criminology, critical race criminology, queer criminology, and convict criminology—while not atheoretical—privilege attention to the standpoint and experience of traditionally disadvantaged social constituencies. Some critical criminologists have addressed criminological issues relating to indigenous peoples (Ugwudike, 2015). Border criminology in its focus on the huge and growing population of illegal immigrants addresses parallel concerns relating to this constituency (DeKeseredy & Dragiewicz, 2018). Still other classes of beleaguered peoples—for example, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled and the physical disabled—have been studied by some mainstream and critical criminologists, but they are not associated with a specific strain of critical criminology and arguably have been somewhat slighted by the field of criminology as a whole. And the call for a criminology of non-human animals—inspired by the animal rights movement—addresses still another beleaguered, marginalized, and neglected constituency.

Left realist criminology, cultural criminology, green criminology, and crimes of the powerful criminology are especially focused on delineating within a critical framework the causes and consequences of specific forms of crime—those of conventional offenders, marginalized peoples, and powerful entities such as corporations and states. Narrative and especially visual criminology—with some long-standing roots—may be increasingly viewed and promoted as ways to enrich our understanding of crime and criminal justice.

Anarchist, abolitionist, and peacemaking criminology has long challenged the core premises of developed states in relation to law and criminal justice, with a fundamental rejection of repressive legal systems and punitive correctional institutions. The restorative justice movement—also embraced by some criminologists associated with the mainstream—is one specific alternative to traditional criminal justice policies and practices.

Marxist criminology, feminist criminology, and left realist criminology have a fairly long and enduring presence; postmodern criminology, cultural criminology, queer criminology, and Southern criminology are examples of strains of critical criminology that have surfaced more recently. In the current era attention to a postmodern perspective appears to be increasingly marginalized while attention to a Southern criminology may well be in the ascendant. Carrington, Hogg, and Sozzo (2016), building on Connell (2007) and Santos (2014), argued that criminological theories, assumptions, and methods overwhelmingly have been a product of the Global North. In a rapidly globalizing world the character of crime and criminal justice in countries of the Global South cannot be well understood through the application of this framework. A so-called Southern criminology incorporating concepts and assumptions emanating from the Global South can advance our understanding of forms and patterns of crime—for example, gender-related crime—and forms of penality specific to or distinctive of this region of the world. A Southern criminology contributes to the decolonization and democratization of criminology. To date, this initiative has been especially promoted in relation to Asia (Ganapathy & Balachandran, 2016; Hogg, Scott, & Sozzo, 2017; Liu, 2017). Altogether, a Southern criminology may well turn out to be foundational for the understanding of crime and criminal justice in a rapidly emerging part of the world.

If the commission of many forms of conventional crime become increasingly less viable in a world of vast information banks, hyper-surveillance, and increasingly sophisticated mechanisms of social control it is far from clear that crimes of the powerful are also going to be more broadly constrained. For all kinds of reasons, it is hypothetically possible that a criminology of the crimes of the powerful will increasingly preoccupy criminologists in relation to a criminology of crimes of the powerless. Both critical as well as mainstream criminologists will increasingly find it necessary to reconfigure their approaches to understanding crime and criminal justice in relation to the accelerating migration of multiple forms of human activity from real space to cyberspace. The foregoing propositions are generalizations that can be contested and certainly need to be qualified.

To the extent that self-identified critical criminologists associate themselves with a particular strain of critical criminology the substantive focus of their work is likely to both influence and reflect these associations. Many of the criminological and criminal justice phenomena addressed by critical criminologists are also addressed by mainstream criminologists; it is the framework for the analysis that varies (e.g., Caringella, 2008; Messerschmidt, 1997; Miller, 2008; Potter, 2008; Schwartz & DeKeseredy, 1997; Westervelt & Cook, 2012). Some critical criminologists have addressed victims of crimes (e.g., Mawby & Walklate, 1994; Rothe & Kauzlarich, 2014). Victimology has principally had a mainstream focus on victims of conventional crimes. Some criminological phenomena addressed by critical criminologists have tended to be slighted, if not wholly disregarded, by mainstream criminologists, and many criminological phenomena addressed by mainstream criminologists are of little or no interest to critical criminologists. Topics addressed by critical criminologists in the 21st century include but are hardly limited to: intimate partner violence, hate crime, the war on drugs and the war on gangs, crimes of corporations and of banks, rural crime, police violence, false convictions, mass imprisonment, private prisons, alternative forms of justice, and the death penalty. A few critical criminologists have addressed hugely consequential issues (e.g., the threat of nuclear war and nuclear waste, and global warming leading to climate change) that have been wholly disregarded by mainstream criminology (e.g., Kauzlarich & Kramer, 1998; Kramer, 2013; White, 2015; White & Kramer, 2015). The potential scope of harm during the course of the 21st century as a consequence of nuclear war and climate change could well dwarf that of all other forms of crime, and a case is made for viewing these phenomena within a criminological framework.

Critical criminology has in one sense tended to reflect the dominant focus of mainstream criminology on crime and its control within a particular nation. However, going forward in the 21st century, there is an increasing recognition that many of the most significant forms of crimes occur in the international sphere, cross borders, and can only be properly understood—and controlled—within the context of the forces of globalization (Aas, 2013; de Lint, Marmo, & Chazal, 2014; Nelken, 2011; Pakes, 2013; Rothe & Friedrichs, 2015). Franko (2017) has produced a highly sophisticated survey of the emerging and expanding impact of globalization, broadly defined, on crime and its control. And a growing number of critical criminologists have addressed such matters as collapsed states within a global economy, global warming in relation to public policy and corporate practices, harm emanating out of the policies of such international financial institutions as the World Bank, the crimes of multinational corporations, trafficking of human beings across borders and sex tourism in a globalized world, the treatment of new waves of immigrants and refugees, international terrorism, the spread of militarism, preemptive war as a form of state crime, transnational policing, international war crime tribunals, and transitional justice.

Conclusion: On Future Directions

By any measure the Sixties era was one of the primary sources of inspiration for what came to be known as critical criminology. On the threshold of the half-century commemoration of the highpoint of this era—1968 and 1969—critical criminology remains a highly visible and vibrant presence within the field of criminology, and an especially enduring reflection within the field of criminology of the legacy of the Sixties. In one sense the “temper” of the times today is much at odds with the sensibility of this earlier era, and the aspirations of progressives of this era have been trumped (literally) by the agendas of other constituencies. But both within the field of criminology—and the interrelated field of criminal justice—as well as in the larger social world, there are stark signs of unease with the status quo and recognition of the failures of and the unsustainable dimensions of prevalent social policies and practices. Multiple threats looming on the horizon challenge any sense of complacency.

If the fundamental failures of and hugely counter-productive dimensions of the dominant response to the “problem of crime” become increasingly acknowledged (e.g., in relation to the wars on drugs and on terror, mass imprisonment and the like) the overall validity of and value of a critical criminological framework may come to be increasingly embraced (Ugwudike, 2015). The core critical criminological aspiration is for structural and cultural transformations to occur that produces a fundamentally fair, equitable, and just social order, where “crime” as traditionally understood has diminished and the harms perpetrated by the powerful upon the powerless are the principal focus of societal concern. The imposition of social control and punishment is aligned with demonstrable harm and not a function of power and multiple dimensions of bias.

Critical criminology is a dynamic enterprise, evolving in multiple ways. It seems quite certain that some variants of critical criminology enjoying high visibility will become more marginalized, others of less visibility will experience an expanded presence, and new variants of critical criminology essentially invisible in the 21st century will emerge.

Some core questions: Will the critical criminological enterprise become more fragmented than it is early in the 21st century, or will it become more unified? Will it become progressively more antagonistic toward the criminological mainstream, or will it increasingly find areas of complementarity and cooperation? Or will the principal thrust of critical criminology displace the criminological mainstream and come to represent the dominant framework for the understanding of crime and criminal justice? At a minimum it seems safe to project that the critical criminological enterprise will continue to produce a potent alternative to established frameworks for making sense of crime and criminal justice, as well as a solid foundation for the implementation of just crime-related policies and practices.

Further Reading

The twenty-five books listed here are either classic contributions to, overviews of, or anthologies of critical and radical criminology. They have been selected to guide interested readers to seminal theoretical works or broad mappings of the terrain, rather than works that represent specific strains of critical criminology or substantive studies of particular topics within critical criminology. Needless to say, there are many important journal articles that have been published over the course of multiple decades, but if these are not cited in this article they are for the most part cited in one or more of the books listed here. In a similar vein, core works relating to specific strains of critical criminology or substantive studies of particular topics within critical criminology, if they are not cited in this article are referenced in one or more of the books listed here. Pamela Ugwudike’s (2015) An Introduction to Critical Criminology provides an excellent, up-to-date survey of the terrain. Walter DeKeseredy and Molly Dragiewicz’s (2018) anthology, The Routledge Handbook of Critical Criminology 2nd edition (in production) brings together chapters on many dimensions of critical criminology, with leading scholars among the contributors. Readers are referred to Michael J. Lynch, Critical Criminology: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide (Oxford University Press. 2010), for some more detailed guidance on these and related books.

Arrigo, B. A. (Ed.). (1999). Social justice/criminal justice: The maturation of critical theory in law, crime and deviance. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Find this resource:

Carrington, K., & Hogg, R. (2002). Critical criminology: Issues, debates, challenges. Cullompton, UK: Willan.Find this resource:

Chambliss, W. J., & Seidman, R. B. (1971). Law, order, and power. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Find this resource:

Cohen, S. (1988). Against criminology. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Find this resource:

Currie, E. (2008). The roots of danger: Violent crime in global perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Find this resource:

DeKeseredy, W. S. (2011). Contemporary critical criminology. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

DeKeseredy, W. S., & Dragiewicz, M. (Eds.). (2018). Routledge handbook of critical criminology (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage.Find this resource:

Greenberg, D. F. (Ed.). (1993). Crime and capitalism: Readings in Marxist criminology (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Find this resource:

Inciardi, J. A. (Ed.). (1980). Radical criminology: The coming crises. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Lynch, M., & Michalowski, R. (2006). The new primer in radical criminology: Critical perspectives on crime, power, and identity (4th ed.). Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice.Find this resource:

Lynch, M. J., & Stretesky, P. B. (Eds.). (2011). Radical and Marxist theories of crime. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.Find this resource:

MacLean, B. D., & Milovanovic, D. (Eds.). (1997). Thinking critically about crime. Vancouver, BC: Collective.Find this resource:

Michalowski, R. J. (1985). Order, law and crime. New York: Random House.Find this resource:

Platt, T. (1969). The child savers: The invention of delinquency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Quinney, R. (1974). Critique of legal order: Crime control in capitalist society. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Find this resource:

Quinney, R. (1980). Class, state, and crime (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.Find this resource:

Reiman, J., & Leighton, P. (2017). The rich get richer, and the poor get prison (11th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Find this resource:

Ross, J. L. (Ed.). (2009). Cutting the edge: Current perspectives in radical/critical criminology and criminal justice. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Find this resource:

Schwartz, M. D., & Hatty, S. (Eds.). (2003). Controversies in critical criminology. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.Find this resource:

Taylor, L., Walton, P., & Young, J. (1973). The new criminology: For a social theory of deviance. New York: Harper & Row.Find this resource:

Ugwudike, P. (2015). An introduction to critical criminology. Bristol, UK: Policy.Find this resource:

van Swaaningen, R. (1997). Critical criminology: Visions from Europe. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Walton, P., & Young, J. (Eds.). (1998). The new criminology revisited. London: Macmillan.Find this resource:

Young, J. (2011). The criminological imagination. Cambridge, UK: Polity.Find this resource:

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White, R., & Heckenberg, D. (2014). Green criminology: An introduction to the study of environmental harm. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

White, R., & Kramer, R. (2015). Critical criminology and the struggle against climate change ecocide. Critical Criminology, 23, 383–400.Find this resource:

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