Essay on Criminology

Criminological researchers – coming from a variety of disciplines – draw from research techniques used in sociology, psychology, political science and history, to name just a few. In recent years, though, criminologists too have become more reflective about research issues affecting their own subject relative to others, resulting in a number of specialist texts (Jupp, 1989; Maxfield and Babbie, 1995; Sapsford, 1996; Jupp et al. 2000; King and Wincup, 2000; Champion, 2000). A question that students, teachers and researchers in criminology often grapple with is whether there is anything distinctive about criminological research compared with research in other disciplines in the human and social sciences.

Help With Essay On Criminology
Help With Essay On Criminology

Up until the 1970s, the study of crime and deviance was very much a male province. British sociologist Carol Smart in her book Women, Crime and Criminology, published in 1977, documented the neglect of women in such study. She also showed that when women had been included, the approach had usually been highly sexist or outrightly misogynist. The contributions of feminist scholars to the study of crime raised some fundamental questions. One question is what Kathy Daly and Meda Chesney Lind (1988) have called ‘the generalisability problem’. This refers to whether theories generated to explain male offending can be used to explain female offending. Can women simply be inserted into theories that explain male offending, or are new theoretical developments necessary to explain female crime?

In redressing the omissions of criminology, feminist scholars saw an additional – but also an obvious – neglect of a focus upon men as men. Although crime is indeed largely – although not exclusively – committed by men, this dimension of analysis had been largely ignored: it was a key missing link. Hence, feminist criminologists began to raise the issue of masculinity and crime. They have suggested that since more men are involved in crimes, there may be a link between forms of masculinity and forms of crime. It is only relatively recently, then, that the obvious fact that crime is in some way bound up with masculinity has been taken up as in any way problematic. Much of the subsequent relevant research to date has tended to concentrate on the two areas of domestic violence and youth crime.

In Britain, as well in North America, some minority ethnic groups, and especially black communities, are over-represented in the criminal justice process – in police stops, in appearances in court, and in the prison population. Many commentators give the impression – especially in elements of the popular press – that some minority ethnic communities are somehow more criminally inclined than others. Such an impression both reflects and reinforces racist ideologies. Various factors are at work that account for crime. Crime is not evenly distributed across the social spectrum, and age, location, gender and socio-economic position are important variables in accounting for offending and victimization.

Analysing the relationship between ‘race’ and crime seriously also means taking account of discrimination in the criminal justice system. In Britain, the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence by a gang of white youths at a bus stop in London in 1993 – and the inquiry into the police investigation that followed – thrust the tragedy of violent racism into the public consciousness with a potency never present before. The flawed police investigation into the murder became, for many, symbolic of the character of relations between the police and minority ethnic communities in Britain. Fundamentally, using the language of 1960s Black Power activists in the United States, the ‘Macpherson Inquiry’ (1999) observed that the police investigation was characterised by institutional racism. Prior to the investigation, researchers had been producing evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination among some police officers for over two decades.

The main source of official recorded crime statistics for Britain is the annual publication Criminal Statistics, which has separate volumes for England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Data are published on the Internet and so are readily accessible for students, the general public, journalists, and anybody else with an interest. The crimes recorded by no means reflect the full extent of unlawful activity. To take the case of England and Wales, there are a number of omissions in terms of the scope of their coverage. The figures do not include data from police forces for which the Home Office is not responsible – for instance, the British Transport Police, Ministry of Defence Police, and the UK Atomic Energy Police, who publish their own statistics. Nor do they include cases of tax and benefit fraud known to agencies such as the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, and the Department of Social Security, which have their own investigative and prosecutional functions.

One type of crime, racist crime – crimes in which victims are targeted because of their ‘race’ or ethnicity – provides a very useful exemplar to illustrate some of the limitations of recorded crime data. Data on racist incidents for England and Wales can be found in Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System, published by the Home Office, the ministry responsible for crime and policing policy, immigration and nationality. Britain has a long history of racist crime (Bowling, 1998; Witte, 1996), but in statistical terms it simply did not exist before 1979, as it was not recorded in official statistics until then.

In taking a critical view of the number of recorded racial incidents, the apparent increase over time could quite conceivably reflect changes in police recording practices and also perhaps a greater motivation by victims to report crimes. The sharp rise in the number of recorded incidents in the late 1990s following the publication of the report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in 1999 (Macpherson, 1999) supports such an observation.

Given the well-known limitations to police recorded crime statistics, many countries have established official crime victimization surveys. They attempt to shed light on the ‘dark figure’ of crime by asking samples of people directly about their experiences of crime victimization. In the United States, the National Crime Victimization Survey was established in 1972 and is now conducted annually. The first national crime victimization survey in Britain, the British Crime Survey (BCS), was carried out in 1982, with further surveys in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 1998. In the 2000 British Crime Survey, close to 23,000 people aged 16 and over were interviewed. From 2001 the BCS moved to an annual cycle, with 40,000 respondents to be interviewed per year. The BCS measures the amount of crime in England and Wales by asking people about crimes they have experienced in the past year. It asks about people’s attitudes to crime, such as how much they fear crime and what measures they take to avoid it. It also asks about people’s attitudes to the criminal justice system, including the police and the courts. The survey findings are published in a variety of specialist reports available online on the Home Office Website, and complete datasets of primary data are available for secondary analysis and can be obtained from the University of Essex data archive. Most interestingly, while the police statistics show a sharp increase in the number of racist incidents in the 1990s, a comparison of the estimates for the 1995 and 1999 British Crime Surveys actually shows a decline, suggesting that the increase in recorded racial incidents recorded by the police is a combination of the increased willingness by victims to report them and improved police recording practices (Clancy et al., 2001).

The critical perspective applied to official crime statistics to this point perhaps suggests that the statistics provide more of an insight into official definitions of crime, crime recording and policing practice than into the actual level of unlawful activity. Thinking critically about crime statistics, though, also involves thinking about the potential they offer. While the statistics may not provide the reliable measures of crime that policymakers, academics and journalists, for instance, would wish for, at the local level crime data collected by police forces and not routinely published provide a sound basis for evidence-based policing. A major aim behind the recording of all incidents reported to the police – even if some may not be subsequently classified as a crime – as set down by the national crime reporting standard introduced in 2002, is to provide more accurate intelligence for policing at the local level, and for intervention by other agencies. While the limitations of official crime statistics frustrate criminologists, the potential of researching criminal activity first-hand has excited the criminological imagination.

When researchers study those who engage in criminal activity they face, in the words of Soloway and Walters, ‘a true moral, ethical, and legal existential crisis’ (1977:161). One dilemma is whether researchers themselves should engage in criminal activity. Taken to its extreme, the logic of the ethnographic study of criminality suggests that they should. Jeff Ferrell, one advocate of researchers crossing the line into certain areas of criminality, argues that ‘For the dedicated field researcher who seeks to explore criminal subcultures and criminal dynamics, obeying the law may present as much of a problem as breaking it’ (1998:26).

Modernity brought many changes, and the criminological challenge of the twentieth century was to sift through these changes to ‘solve’ the crime problem. Before criminology did not really work very well. Indeed, the more that people studied crime, the more crime seemed to grow! Although there has been much theorising about crime, many criminology books written and many courses taught, we seem to be no nearer to solving the problem of crime. Criminology as we once knew it may well have failed.

In the twenty-first century, this modern world is an accelerating one in which there is an increased sensitivity to diversities and differences. In this view, the world becomes less dominated by generalities and ‘master narratives’, and there is a turn towards ‘local cultures’ and their ‘multiplicity of stories’. Postmodernists argue for respecting the existence of a plurality of perspectives, as against a notion that there is one single truth from a privileged perspective; local, contextual studies in place of grand narratives; an emphasis on disorder, flux and openness, as opposed to order, continuity and restraint. (Foucault 1996:22)

An example of how crime is changing under conditions of late modernity can be found in the recent work of Jock Young in his book The Exclusive Society (1999). In this he explores three kinds of division: economic (where people are excluded from the labour market), social (where people are excluded from civil society) and the expansion of a criminal justice system (which excludes more and more people from daily life). Young sees crime as the defining feature of modern societies – it is everywhere. True, there is a central core that is ordered and embedded, becoming an almost Disney-like ‘squeaky-clean’ world. But a cordon sanitaire encircles it, and we find whole groups subject to the new geographies of exclusion. He suggests that in all this, crime has moved from the rare, the abnormal, the offence of the marginal and the stranger, to a commonplace part of the texture of everyday life: it occupies the family, heartland of liberal democratic society as well as extending its anxiety into all areas of the city. It is revealed in the highest echelons of our economy and politics as well as in the urban impasses of the underclass.

For Henry and Milovanovic (1996:116), crime is defined as ‘the power to deny others their ability to make a difference’. For example, crime as ‘harm’ occurs when people have their property stolen from them or their dignity stripped from them, or when they are prevented from achieving a desired goal because of sexism, racism or ageism. Crime then becomes domination, whether by single individuals (e.g. robbers), collectives (e.g. organised criminals or corporations), or by state governments (as in genocide, for example). Furthermore, crime is the ‘co-produced’ outcome not only of humans and their environments, but also of human agents and the wider society through its excessive investment in crime – through crime prevention, criminal justice agencies, criminal lawyers, criminologists, crime news, crime shows, crime books, and so on.

Bibliography:
1. Bowling, B. (1998) Violent Racism: Victimization, Policing and Social Context, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
2. Champion, J. D. (2000) Research Methods for Criminal Justice and Criminology, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
3. Clancy, A., Hough, M., Aust, R. and Kershaw, C. (2001) Crime, Policing and Justice: The Experience of Ethnic Minorities, Findings from the 2000 British Crime Survey, Home Office Research Study 223, London: Home Office.
4. Daly, K. and Chesney-Lind, M. (1988) ‘Feminism and Criminology’, Justice Quarterly, 5 (4): 498-538.
5. Ferrell, J. (1998) ‘Criminological Verstehen: Inside the Immediacy of Crime’, in J. Ferrell and M. Hamm (eds) Ethnography at the Edge: Crime, Deviance and Field Research, Boston: Northeastern University Press.
6. Henry, S. and Milovanovic, D. (1996) Constitutive Criminology: Beyond Postmodernism, London: Sage.
7. Jupp, V. (1989) Methods of Criminological Investigation, London: Allen and Unwin.
8. Jupp, V., Davies, P. and Francis, P. (eds.) (2000) Doing Criminological Research, London: Sage.
9. King, R. D. and Wincup, E. (eds) (2000) Doing Research on Crime and Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
10. Maxfield, M. G. and Babbie, E. (1995) Research Methods for Criminal Justice and Criminology, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
11. Sapsford, R. (1996) Researching Crime and Criminal Justice, Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
12. Smart, C. (1997) Women, Crime and Criminology: A Feminist Critique, London: Routledge.
13. Soloway, I. and Walters, J. (1977) ‘Workin’ the Corner: The Ethics and Legality of Ethnographic Fieldwork among Active Heroin Addicts’, in R. S. Weppner (ed.) Street Ethnography: Selected Studies of Crime and Drug Use in Natural Settings, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
14. Witte, R. (1996) Racist Violence and the State, Harlow: Longman.
15. Young, J. (1999a) The Exclusive Society, London: Sage.

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