Routledge

Critical Thinking Questions

Chapter 6: Radicalising Traditions

  1. Discuss the ways in which criminology has become ‘radicalised’ in recent years. Has this radicalisation helped to provide a more satisfactory account of crime?

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  • The 1960s was a watershed decade. It was an era when all kinds of established authority came to be challenged: from popular culture to civil rights revolutionary upheaval was in the air and academic disciplines too experienced some profound upheavals.
  • In criminology, the very idea of what crime and deviance was challenged. Claims from the past that we know what crimes are, we know what deviance is, that they are ‘objective categories’ — all these came under critical scrutiny.
  • The thinking of the 1960s came to see such ‘objective’ definitions of crime and deviance as problematic. Suddenly, politics became a clear part of criminology.
  • The radicalisation has taken many turns and includes labelling theory, Marxist understandings of conflict, which in turn led to debates on the Left between self-styled ‘realist’ and ‘idealists’, a revitalised New Right gave voice to several distinct strands of criminological thought as well as feminist and Foucaultian challenges to some of the central orthodoxies in the discipline.
  1. What are moral panics? Identify a recent one you have seen discussed in the media. Does such a panic differ very much from the ones studied by Stan Cohen and Jock Young over thirty years ago?

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  • In Stan Cohen's classic study the concept of moral panic is used to capture the heightened awareness of certain problems at key moments. In his classic formulation “a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests” (Cohen, 1972:9)
  • Cohen's study uses the notion of deviancy amplification to explain how the petty delinquencies of rival groups of mods and rockers at seaside resorts were blown up into serious threats to law and order.
  • This idea of deviancy amplification was also used to great effect by Jock Young (1971) in his study of drug use in bohemian London, which described how the mass media transformed marijuana use into a social problem through sensationalist and lurid accounts of hippie lifestyles.
  • Some have become wary of using the concept of moral panic as it is often used indiscriminately and applied to a bewildering range of phenomenon.
  1. Identify a contemporary youth culture. Which of the theories outlined in this chapter seem best at helping you understand it?

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  • Youth cultures can be approached from a range of theoretical perspectives and include the pioneering work of Stan Cohen and Jock Young, which studied the conflicts between youth groups and Establishment forces in the 1960s.
  • The most influential approach though was that developed at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in the 1970s, which demonstrated how symbolic resistance expresses the frustrations of working-class youth but will never develop into real power.
  • Critics though have complained about the Marxist emphasis on class in much of this work, but it is important to recognise that this approach was contested by feminists at the Centre and the relative neglect of ‘race’ was highlighted in later work.
  • There is still much to be gained from this approach, as Angela McRobbie's account of the ‘hoodie’ phenomenon makes plain.
  1. Trace the emergence of feminist criminology and assess its impact on redefining what criminology is.

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  • The initial impact of feminist thinking occurred in the 1970s and powerfully challenged many of the assumptions on which criminology has rested.
  • The critique of ‘malestream’ criminology revealed how women have been neglected, how they have been misrepresented, and how gender itself brings a new perspective to the study of crime and punishment.
  • There is now a substantial body of work on gender and crime feminist criminologists have gone much further than reappraising past theories and assumptions. They have opened up a whole field of new questions and issues.
  • Among the issues raised have been the importance of the fear of crime in women's, and especially older women's, lives; the gendering of sexual violence, and especially the growth of awareness of domestic violence, rape and incest; and the gendering of social control.
  1. How would you account for the fact that men seem much more likely to be criminal than women?

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  • Much of the early feminist work in criminology was explicitly concerned with the question of why is it that women (whose economic position is, in general, much worse than that of men) appear to commit far fewer crimes than men do? A number of reasons have been put forward to explain this paradox.
  • Amongst the most important reasons are the ways that female behaviour tends to be ‘policed’ by more informal systems of social control.
  • There has been much debate, for instance, over whether women offenders are handled differently by the police, the courts and prisons (often through what is called a code of chivalry).
  • Arguably the crucial issue here though is the expectation in many cultures of what it means to be a man. There is now a very considerable amount of research and writing on boys and men — on ‘maculinities’ — in sociology. Men can often be seen as ‘doing their gender’ (i.e. performing as men) through various criminal activities such as football hooliganism, violence, road rage, rape and corporate crime.
  1. Given so much writing and talking about crime, why has there been so little success in its reduction?

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  • Criminology is now one of the most popular disciplines in the social sciences, attracting large numbers of undergraduate students, expanding university departments and academic conferences, while also attracting research grants, government consultancies and an in increasing number of specialist academic journals.
  • Yet for all this activity criminology has only a marginal impact on shaping the broader public discussion of how issues like crime, disorder and security are understood, let alone influence social policies or government decision-making.
  • This paradox has been recognised and it is becoming clear that it is no longer possible for criminologist to carry on with the assumptions that guided them a generation ago.
  • Criminologist and criminology live in a rapidly changing world, the task for future work is to make sense of these dynamics shaping what are, now routinely, described as ‘high-crime’ societies (Garland, 2001).