A Short Aside on Methodology

This collection also contains a number of other 'methodological'  pieces trying to locate symbolic interactionism in a suitably marxist framework:

  1. Critcher tries out a three-fold level of analysis using 'structures, cultures and biographies' ( in the course of reporting the results of the first 'mugging project'). Here, these terms are used to stave off the catgeories used in the reporting of the crimes. 'Biography' is preferred to the bourgeois and legal notion of the responsible individual, who chooses to commit a crime,and this permits a soft kind of determinism -- Critcher then wants to argue that 'problems... are set out by the interaction of the structural and cultural factors' ( page 171). Shades of this approach recur in Policing the Crisis in the remarkable chapter on black people and crime.  Apart from such special pleading, the 'biography/culture/structure' model also did some general work for a while in order to try and manage the issue of determinism 'in the last instance', while maintaining 'relative autonomy' -- Coward has a nice critique [see file]. Later work just asserted the 'last instance/relative autonomy' couplet as a 'solution' ( perhaps even a 'magical' one)
  2. Pearson's and Twohig's chapter is perhaps the oddest, attacking Becker's famous study of drug-taking as 'sociologically determinist' and relativist (largely because it ignores the 'technology of ingestion' as a variable in producing the effects of marijuana use -- Becker argues strongly that new users are taught to recognise the effects, and then to agree they are pleasurable, by membership in a subculture). This is a pretty indirect attack, though, unless technologies of ingestion are supposed to lead to new 'material factors', and this article has largely bombed and been forgotten
  3. Butters' chapter tries very hard to attack participant-observation as still positivist, and suspects that 'fieldwork' is really a way to confirm initial hunches, while 'grounded theory' lacks any rigorous technique, and leaves us still trusting the observer to do the grounding. The answer, it seems, is to follow the CCCS approach, as outlined in the 'mugging project', which apparently tries to use participant knowledge to 'open up and reorganise the received account of  monopoly capitalist hegemony...so as to accommodate a new social history of law and order versus delinquency, in the theatres of ideology and politics' ( page 272). This is much talked up by reference to Sartre and his proposals for a methodology that exceed both induction and deduction (criticisms of the latter approach lead Butters quite close to the later issue of 'lazy marxism' raised by Sartre, and admitted --or nearly-- by Hall. Lazy marxism arises when people just endlessly repeat marxist analysis and marxist formulas, applying them to any data whatsoever -- everything is and must be 'hegemony' or 'articulation' etc, you can't help but trip over 'double articulations' etc. I think the gramscians are as lazy as anyone -- read a few of these reading guides and let me know what you think, O Reader) Butters is not actually saying that the mugging project gets there but it shows us the way. My own view is that the 'discovery' of the influence of the 'theatres of ideology and politics' is heavy-handed and staged in Policing the Crisis -- a kind of lazy old deduction posing as a fresh young induction ( a common pedagogical trick, of course)
NB Roberts also has a chapter discussing methodology, but I have not kept detailed notes of it. As I recall, it was quite a nice review of interactionist work in deviancy theory, followed by a marxist critique along the usual lines -- that the 'wider issues' of structure and power were underplayed by interactionism. Roberts seemed to follow the National Deviancy Conference line on this quite a lot -- check out my file on 'radical criminology'

back to main discussion