Chapter 18 Review questions answer guidance

1. What are the four defining ideas of positivist perspectives and how are critical criminological theories critical of them?

The four defining ideas of positivist perspectives, and their respective meanings, are:

  • Determinism – the view that our (criminal) behaviour is pre-determined, for example biologically or psychologically
  • Scientism – the view that we can find an objective and value-free explanation of criminal behaviour
  • Consensus – the view that definitions of crime and criminals are unambiguous
  • Treatment/rehabilitation – the view that offenders’ treatment and rehabilitation are driven by their best interests

Critical criminology warns against readily accepting the above based on the following grounds:

  • We, human beings, are a product as much of our environment as of nature. Balanced considerations of nature and nurture are needed when we wish to make sense of human behaviour and the motivations behind it (related to determinism).
  • Crime is a social construct. This means that what and whom we label as crime and criminal are contingent on factors that are subject to change (related to consensus). Therefore, we cannot study crime in a value-free way since definitions of crime are influenced by politics and culture (related to scientism).
  • Following from the position that crime is a social construct, offenders’ treatment and rehabilitation can also be a way to control their movements and lives more widely (related to treatment/rehabilitation).

2. To what extent can it be argued that the ‘rich get richer and the poor get prison’? Why might this be the case?

Critical criminology sensitises us to the ways in which social interactions are underpinned by power dynamics between the powerful and the powerless. It views those with power in society as striving to protect their interests over and against the interests of others. This power struggle sees the criminalisation and social exclusion of social groups of people who, due to their background (e.g. socio-economics factors, race/ethnicity, religion, political affiliations), do not fit into the dominant narrative of being productive and useful members of society. It is in this context that the ‘rich get richer and the poor get prison’.

3. In what ways can labelling someone be said to have a transformational effect on their self-identities?

In the context of critical criminology, the term labelling has negative connotations. For a good understanding of the origins of the term, Lemert’s (1951) theorising along with Becker’s book, The Outsiders (1963), are instructive as to how labelling can impact on a person’s sense of their identity.

In order for labelling to have a transformational impact, society and its institutions (e.g. the media, schools, politicians, the police) need to react strongly and forcefully against the activity/behaviour that they label as bad; and the person who is labelled as bad by society and institutions needs to internalise the label. It is the internalisation of the label that produces the transformational effect on one’s self-identity. To put it simply, the person does not protest against the label, but gradually accepts it under the force of society’s reaction towards them. The label therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, and this is known as secondary deviance.

4. Critically apply Taylor et al.’s (1973) notion of a ‘fully social theory’ of crime and deviance to a real-world example of criminality.

In the section of this chapter entitled ‘The “new criminology”’ we applied Taylor et al.’s ideas (1973) to the real life story of Eve McDougall, who was sent to an adult prison in Scotland at the age of 15 for attempting to steal food, although her ‘real’ crime was criminal damage. Before you choose another example of criminality to practise, it is useful to briefly revisit the notion of a ‘fully social theory’ of crime.

For Taylor et al (1973) the notion was an attempt to develop an encompassing theory of deviance and criminality, drawing upon a number of theoretical perspectives. They identified seven conditions for a ‘fully social theory’ of crime and deviance. These were:

  • To consider the wider structural origins of the activity/behaviour
  • To consider the immediate origins of the activity/behaviour
  • To consider the relationship between the behaviour and the causes
  • To consider what precipitates society’s reactions to the activity/behaviour
  • To consider the position and attributes of those who instigate the reaction to the activity/behaviour
  • To consider the effect of the reaction on the deviant’s further actions
  • To consider all the conditions together as whole to be able to reach a critical understanding of the activity/behaviour

5. Give two examples of state crime. Why should criminologists study this?

Examples of state crime include: the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, the Nazi regime in Germany, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Pinochet in Chile, the Hutus in Rwanda, and, in 2017, the persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. State crimes may also take other forms, which are not recognised as such because the effect of the crimes remains local and is hidden behind standards of socio-cultural and economic development (see, for example, the victimisation of street children in Brazil). 

From a critical criminology perspective, it is important to study state crimes because of the enormity of their harmful impact on people. To uncover and raise awareness of such crimes contributes to dispelling myths and stereotypes about:

  • who can be a criminal (see the working-class male versus the upper middle class minister);
  • criminal motivations (see social deprivation versus greed); and
  • the relative effects of different forms of crime – state crimes affect huge numbers of people in many ways, ranging from physical and psychological to economic and environmental (compare street crimes to state crimes).

6. Feminist perspectives in criminology have altered over time. Explain two different feminist approaches and how they impact on crime and criminology.

In this chapter we discussed second and third wave feminism. To answer this question, it is useful to look again at the main concerns of each wave, before assessing their impact on crime and criminology.

Second-wave feminism (1960s–1980s) focused on the impact of patriarchy on women’s lives in the home and in the public sphere. The times were ripe for change, which allowed second-wave feminism to flourish and push hard for recognition of women’s suffering, discrimination and unequal opportunities for education and work. Feminist criminology was one of the fruits of second-wave feminism. It critiqued the positivism and sexism of mainstream criminology and gave voice to the lived experiences of women as offenders and victims. In a nutshell, it foregrounded the aspect of gender in the study of crime.

On the other hand, third-wave feminism (1990s) foregrounded the concept of intersectionality, which was missing from the campaigns of second wave feminism. Its emphasis on intersectionality brought to light the differing experiences of women based on their gender, race/ethnicity, class, sexuality, and religion, and how these structures impacted in interconnecting ways on their lives. As a result, the concept of intersectionality entered into the world of feminist criminology, with Potter (2013, 2015) arguing for its consideration in all criminological research on social identity and status.

7. By focusing on emotions such as anger, excitement, and boredom some cultural criminologists have nothing practical to say or offer to criminal justice policymakers. Critically consider this statement.

Cultural criminology with its emphasis on offenders’ emotional states allows us to see beyond the labels attached to crime and the criminal and to explore the meaning the activity/behaviour has for the person who engages in it. For example, cultural criminology-informed research reveals a) the seductive appeal law breaking can have for some people (Katz,1990), b) the thrill-seeking experience it may represent, referred to as ‘edgework’ (Jackson-Jacobs, 2004), and c) the sense of freedom, liberation and fun it may provide (Presdee, 2000).

One of the critiques of cultural criminology is that it does not fully explore the implications of its findings. It does not link them to wider structural forces in sufficient depth and does not investigate people’s sense of self in relation to networks that fall outside their subcultural domain. From a criminal justice policy making perspective, this may not provide a sufficiently broad understanding to design interventions that will tend to the emotional needs of the offenders and the needs of members of the wider society to feel and be safe.

8. Explain why convict criminologists argue that prisoners and former prisoners should be involved in prisons research as more than participants.

The answer to the question lies in the definition of convict criminology. Convict criminology refers to the study and research of people in detention by/with the involvement of the people who have experienced imprisonment themselves. Typically, prison researchers do not have experience of imprisonment as prisoners; of course, they may have experienced prison as a place of work, but this is a qualitatively different experience for obvious reasons. Convict criminology argues for the active involvement of people with lived experience of prisons as researchers or co-designers of prison research. In their view, this will empower prisoners to share their experiences in their own words, and reduce the likelihood of findings being skewed by the biases of researchers, leading to a broader and more accurate understanding of prisoners and their experiences. Trusting prisoners and former prisoners in this capacity sends the message that their views are respected and listened to as legitimate producers of knowledge who have an authoritative contribution to make.

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