Concerned with crime, deviance, modes of social control and related phenomena, cultural criminology positions itself as a response to the abject failure of a mainstream criminology unprepared for the arrival of late modernity (Ferrell et al, 2008). Critical of approaches dominated by ill-developed theory, deterministic methods and statistical testing, cultural criminology has sought to recreate a sociologically inspired criminology that exposes the structures, representations and power relations that underpin crime, inequality and criminal justice. A heady mix of a variety of sociological and criminological traditions, phenomenology, naturalism, interactionism, critical criminology, subcultural theory and postmodern thought constitute and animate this kaleidoscope. Defining cultural criminology has proved somewhat of a challenge for its proponents, who highlight that it is ‘less a definitive paradigm than an emergent array of perspectives’ (Ferrell, 1999, p 396). As such, it may be best understood as an ‘ongoing adventure; a journey that provides new vantage points from which to view the landscape of contemporary culture’ (Hayward and Young, 2007, p 103). Nevertheless, from this maelstrom of ideas, perspectives and methodologies, a number of key themes and values may be distinguished.
The chapter begins by outlining some of these key themes and values. Cultural criminology focuses upon, among other things, media representations of crime and deviance, the notion of transgression and its commodification, crime as a source of leisure, and groups on the margins of society. Methodologically, ethnographic approaches are given priority. Exploring and explaining ‘crime and deviance’ through the eyes of the ‘transgressor’ is a key feature of cultural criminology and has attracted accusations of researcher bias, romanticism and sympathy for the individuals studied. Nevertheless, a unified response to Becker's (1967) question ‘Whose side are we on?’ is unlikely, as cultural criminologists employ and maintain a diverse range of perspectives, values and theoretical traditions.
The second part of the chapter demonstrates how the positions that cultural criminology offers have a long history within the discipline of criminology, and it briefly traces their lineage. Cultural criminologists themselves would not deny this point and, indeed, are quite open in acknowledging their influences. However, we suggest that their influences go back much further than the often-cited post-war work on the sociology of deviance and subcultures. Cultural criminology's novelty, such as it is, lies in its combination of often distinct and divergent elements of previous criminology and their deployment in a contemporary context.