Chapter one Downes D 'Praxis Makes Perfect: a critique of Critical Criminology'
Criticisms of functionalism have had a long history: traditions based in symbolic interactionism and the young Marx first acted in coalition and then split apart and experienced boundary problems -- for example in the re-sociologising of criminology and penology, or in discussing whether illegal actions were the same as deviant ones. The impact of labelling theory led to interpretative studies, an interest in rule-breaking, rather than law-breaking, and to a new partisan Sociology. The usual criticisms, including Gouldner's, leads to a new interest in power and in institutions, and so to the New or Critical Criminology.
The latter approach politicised the issue. Criminality was an outcome of the power to criminalise diversity. The problem was one of theory and praxis -- political goals pre-empted theoretical ones, while theoretical solutions are acceptable only if they are realisable in politics. Radical criminologists often shrink from the implications of their position, however -- for example, they never specify what a socialist crime-free society actually is. They must do so, though, because the whole perspective is about praxis and about capitalism as criminogenic: instead, we have 'argument by affirmation' (page 6).
The approach is apologetic towards crime in the Eastern Bloc. Praxis is invoked as a solution to awkward theoretical matters and dilemmas. The approach uses the concept of totality to weave a 'seamless web', so that everything takes part in one big struggle (page 8). There are ambiguities towards reformism, which is sometimes seen as being as sinister as repression. The approach really has a functionalism lurking within it: it makes too many assumptions instead of concrete examinations, and there is too much sneering at 'capitalism' as obviously the source of crime -- this is, of course, also reductionist.
The problems of the change to socialism needs theorising rather than polemic, especially the slogans about working-class areas being self-policing. This assumes considerable working-class homogeneity, and that all law is bourgeois law. In practice, it might lead to private law enforcement!
Seeing crime as a protest against excessive individualism is also difficult to sustain when one looks at official statistics, and it simply ignores many working-class victims of crimes like larceny. There are differences between 'rebellion' and 'innovation' as Merton found long ago [see file]. Seeing capitalism as the central causal matrix is one-sided and over negational, and leads only to speculation rather than empirical deductions or any comparative methods (page 14).
In practice, social democratic reformism is generally better, focusing on lots of little but important issues such as housing, or education -- this is empirical rather than transcendental practice!
There is an 'absent centre' in marxism itself [originally, a New Left phrase to describe the peculiar nature of British working class culture, which had developed in the absence of marxism], which is silent about the notion of a classless society, and thus dangerously vulnerable to Stalinism or Maoism. In particular, marxist analysis needs a lot more analysis of power, perhaps by reading work like that of Parkin [ is this where S Hall got the idea from?] or Giddens -- part of a general plea for a more pluralistic approach.
Cohen S 'Guilt, Justice and Tolerance some old concepts for a New Criminology'
There are moral problems with the New Criminology: by rejecting social determinism, the issue of moral responsibility has been raised, but has been met with a blind eye, and with a liberal tolerance of some deviancy. The deviant is both a victim and a hero, in this liberal, romantic view. There is a 'low-minded moral nihilism' as far as the underdog is concerned, comparing oddly with outspoken criticisms of the crimes of the powerful, or with particular crimes such as rape. This is a very selective morality. 'Radicalism was liberalism with a loud mouth'.
We do need to move into political theory, but we need to see the State as a moral force, rather than in crude Marxist terms [as an agent of the ruling class]. We need a notion of justice rather than a blanket condemnation of the system as repressive.
The issues of both explanation and morality are enmeshed: for example, a deterministic approach leads to a corrective morality. Debunking positivism originally led to sympathy with verstehen-type approaches, and then to 'crypto-political' notions of the deviant and to deviancy as protest. This is really only an inversion of positivism -- admitted, eventually by the New Criminologists. The approach is rooted in 1960s subjectivism, and there is still early important residue of these arguments, which have not been totally replaced by more political interests.
To return to moral issues, as in the American bits of Critical Criminology, for example, attention is drawn to State crimes of imperialism or pollution, to extend the notion of crime and then to condemn it. The problem is whether all crime is to be condemned, of course. There are also other variants: in the later work of Young, there is an apparent moral consensus among the public, including the working-class, and no monolithic criminal conscience, but variations of guilt and contradiction. Crime could be a number of things now -- brutalisation, innovation, or protest.
Punishment is the core issue. It is assumed to be based on pathology, but this need not always be so -- there are some correctional possibilities. Strictly, this is incompatible with a relativistic approach, of course ( and see Foucault on this)
We need closer examinations of matters like guilt and responsibility but these were never systematically investigated, and nor were philosophical concerns in general. These matters were problems for the State to deal with, while criminologists only investigated. Radicals face this problem too -- for example, over the episode at My Lai [scene of a notorious massacre of civilians during the Vietnam war]. Both the left and the right were united in absolving Lieutenant Calley [officer in charge] of blame, and both offered some general point that the whole system was somehow guilty.
A strident commitment to Marxism makes things worse, and leaves the matter of guilt as an ambiguous one. The radicals wanted to attack psychiatric or biological determinants of crime, while keeping social determinants such as class, power or authority, hence the ambivalences. Moral ambiguities remain -- the brutalisation responsible for much crime was exposed, but there was also a picture of heroic man fighting against the system. The ambiguities about Matza's techniques of neutralisation [see file for Matza] were typical [ see file for what Taylor et al actually said about Matza] -- was genuine guilt revealed by these techniques, or was it strategic, to avoid legal guilt? Ironically, one technique of neutralisation itself involves determinism! We can solve dilemmas like this only by more pragmatic investigations of both motives and treatment regimes; we also need more comparative studies, especially with socialist regimes, to see how their social controls systems work and how they are supposed to be linked to motives.
The New Right pressures to increase punishment raise questions of justice as well. Is it just to treat offenders as we do? There is a genuine working-class element of disillusionment with treatment instead of punishment. In the USA, there are new notions of 'just deserts', or of making the seriousness of the offence lead to the seriousness of the punishment, or of considering past actions rather than future intentions, or examining harm done and culpability, rather than going for deterrence and the control of crime. Perhaps we should use some form of public consensus to establish matters like 'seriousness'-- although the views of the public could be ideological? Whose notion of harm or of interests should we take? There is always a problem of establishing proper social interests, of course [ the Utilitarians certainly struggled -- see file] . This sort of question has led to more detailed analysis of the laws and the rules of the State, and to attempts to show what prevents people adhering to the law. However, there is still the issue of humane treatment.
Is the notion of socialist legality more than a dream of a crime-free utopia? Any crime- free society would operate only if there were no diversity: we always need social control. There are some really old issues here, such as how can the State intervene, and within which limits? New Criminology naively celebrates pluralism and hopes to avoid the effects of brutalisation -- but how? And how could we avoid State brutalisation, of the kind offered by Stalin? We might borrow from Foucault here -- new discourses often seem liberating and radical, but they are really used to develop new forms of power. What might stop community control turning into vigilantism? [a highly relevant comment in the light of recent vigilantism directed against paedophiles in the UK]. What of the proposal to organise personal confrontations to expose victims to offenders? Again, studies of actual communities might help here, for example kibbutzim.
Are we entitled to demand
blueprints? There certainly is a need to consider policy rather than
just intellectual questions. We need some middle-range policies between
reform and utopia, such
as the idea of the courtroom as an area of conflict between victims and
We should be attempting to influence the world rather than developing
theory [New Criminology also argues for this though, espcially in the
-- see file] -- conservative interests do
of this already.