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The Question of Public Criminology: Seeking Resources of Hope for a Better Politics of Crime

  • Ian Loader (a1) and Richard Sparks (a2)

Summary

This paper develops an argument lightly sketched in our book Public Criminology? (2010). There we posed the question of what it would take for criminology to make a substantial contribution to the search for “a better politics of crime”. We were of course well aware of what some of our critics then informed us, namely that this was just a suggestion in need of much fuller articulation.

Here we begin by summarizing the position outlined in that book and some subsequent papers. We argue that criminology has indeed made some salient contributions to the search for a better politics, but the scale of that contribution has also been limited by some intellectual tendencies that draw energy and attention away from the kind of reconstruction that we propose.

In particular, the tone of some of the leading accounts of recent penal politics is grim — not without reason, as we freely acknowledge. If the trends with which we have become so familiar in some parts of the world — chronically high levels of incarceration, racial disproportion, demotic symbolic politics — flow either from core features of ‘late modernity’ or from inherent logics of neoliberal globalization, as some key contributors have insisted, then the prospects for changing these in any substantial and purposeful way, any time soon, seem rather slim. There have of course been reversals in the unremitting rise of mass incarceration recently. Are these more than temporary, reversible fluctuations? Are some of those who celebrate them clutching at straws?

It is not necessary to share such (perhaps premature) optimism to wish to promote a somewhat different and more hopeful form of analysis and engagement. Is there perhaps also an opposite tendency to depict some of these problems as so massive and intractable — the tendency that we here call ‘hype’ — as to deter us from practical intervention? This paper seeks to identify some resources that could contribute to the task of reconstructing our approaches to theorizing our institutions and practices of crime control. If criminology is to contribute more effectively to thinking about how we draw limits to state coercion and demand strict scrutiny over the threats to individual rights, human development, and civic dignity posed by institutionalized exclusion and stigmatization it will need access to a certain range of perspectives and to build (or re-build) some alliances. What kind of criminology is best suited to the challenge of developing penal practices and institutions fit for democratic societies?

Résumé

Cet article développe une thèse esquissée dans notre ouvrage Public Criminology ? (2010). Nous y posions la question de savoir ce qui pourrait permettre à la criminologie d'apporter une contribution substantielle à la recherche d'une « meilleure politique criminelle ». Nous étions évidemment bien conscients de certaines critiques qui nous avaient été adressées, notamment que ce n’était là qu'une suggestion qui avait besoin d'une articulation bien plus complète.

Nous avons commencé ici par un résumé de la position adoptée dans cet ouvrage et dans certaines publications ultérieures. Selon nous, la criminologie a certes apporté des contributions importantes à la recherche d'une amélioration de la politique, mais la portée de cette contribution a été limitée par certaines tendances intellectuelles qui ont diverti de l’énergie et de l'attention pour le type de reconstruction que nous proposons.

En particulier, le ton de certaines des principales contributions à la politique pénale récente est pessimiste — non sans raison, nous en convenons volontiers. Si les tendances qui nous sont devenues tellement familières dans certaines parties du monde — de manière chronique, les hauts niveaux d'incarcération, la disproportion raciale, la politique symbolique dirigée contre les classes pauvres — sont des séquelles d'une « modernité tardive » ou de la logique inhérente à la globalisation néolibérale, alors les possibilités de les réorienter de manière substantielle et positive, comme y ont insisté certains contributeurs importants, sont assez réduites. Sans doute, il y a eu récemment des répits dans la croissance continue de l'incarcération de masse. Mais s'agit-il de plus que de fluctuations éphémères et réversibles ? Certains de ceux qui les célèbrent ne se raccrochent-ils pas à n'importe quoi?

Il n'est pas nécessaire de partager un tel optimisme (peut-être prématuré) pour souhaiter promouvoir une forme d'analyse et un engagement quelque peu différents et porteurs d'espoir. Y a-t-il peut-être aussi une tendance opposée de dépeindre certains de ces problèmes comme tellement massifs et insolubles — une tendance que nous appelons ici “hype”, à la mode — propre à nous dissuader de toute intervention pratique ? Cet article cherche à identifier certaines ressources qui pourraient contribuer à la tâche de reconstruire nos approches de théorisation de nos institutions et pratiques de contrôle social. Si la criminologie entend contribuer plus effectivement à la réflexion sur la manière dont nous traçons des limites à la coercition de l'Etat, et demandons un examen strict des menaces que l'exclusion institutionnelle et la stigmatisation présentent pour les droits individuels, le développement humain, et la dignité du citoyen, il s'agira d'avoir accès à certains types de perspectives, et de construire (ou reconstruire) certaines alliances. Quel est le type de criminologie qui répond le mieux au défi de développer des pratiques et institutions pénales qui conviennent à des sociétés démocratiques?

Resumen

Este artículo desarrolla una tesis esbozada en nuestro libro Public Criminology? (2010). Nos planteamos la cuestión de saber lo que necesitaría la criminología para aportar una contribución sustancial en la búsqueda de una “mejor política criminal”. Por supuesto, somos conscientes de algunas críticas que se nos han planteado, principalmente que se trata más bien de una indicación que precisaría de una articulación mucho más completa.

Comenzamos aquí por un resumen de la posición adoptada en esta obra y en ciertas publicaciones ulteriores. Sostenemos que la criminología ha aportado contribuciones importantes en la búsqueda de una mejora de la política, pero el alcance de estas contribuciones ha sido limitado por ciertas tendencias intelectuales que han restado energía y atención para el tipo de reconstrucción que proponemos.

En particular, el tono de algunas de las principales contribuciones a la política penal reciente es pesimista — no sin razón, lo reconocemos libremente. Si las tendencias que se han convertido en tan familiares en algunas partes del mundo — de manera cónica, los altos niveles de encarcelamiento, la desproporción racial, la política simbólica dirigida contra las clases pobres — son las secuelas de una “modernidad tardía” o de la lógica inherente a la globalización neoliberal, en consecuencia, las posibilidades de reorientarlas de manera sustancial y positiva, como han insistido ciertos contribuidores importantes, parecen más bien escasas. Sin lugar a dudas, se ha producido una reversión en el crecimiento continuo de la encarcelación en masa. Pero ¿se trata de fluctuaciones temporales y reversibles? Algunos de los que lo celebran ¿se agarran a un clavo ardiendo?.

No es necesario compartir ese optimismo (que puede ser prematuro) para desear promover una forma de análisis y de compromiso diferente y lleno de esperanza. Quizás también hay una tendencia opuesta de representar algunos de estos problemas como masivos e irresolubles, que nosotros denominamos aquí “hiper”, ¿probablemente esta tendencia nos impide una intervención práctica?. Este artículo busca identificar algunos recursos que podrían contribuir a la tarea de reconstruir los enfoques de teorización de nuestras instituciones y prácticas de control social. Si la criminología contribuye más efectivamente a la reflexión sobre la manera en la que fijamos los límites de la coerción del Estado, y demandamos un examen riguroso de las amenazas que presentan la exclusión institucional y la estigmatización para los derechos individuales, el desarrollo humano y la dignidad del ciudadano, debería de haber acceso a una cierta gama de perspectivas y construir (o reconstruir) ciertas alianzas. ¿Qué tipo de criminología cumple mejor con el reto de desarrollar prácticas e instituciones penales acordes con las sociedades democráticas?

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References

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The Question of Public Criminology: Seeking Resources of Hope for a Better Politics of Crime

  • Ian Loader (a1) and Richard Sparks (a2)

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