Cutting the Edge: Current Perspectives in Radical/Criminology and Criminal Justice. 1998. Ed. Jeffrey Ian Ross.
Praeger. xii + 226. $59.95. ISBN 0-275-95708-X


Dorothy H. Bracey, in her Foreword to this fine, fine collection of grounding articles on Critical Criminology, makes the case that Critical Criminology has won the day. Bracey may be a bit early on writing the obituary for Conservative and Self-serving Criminologies. Right or wrong; early or late, this book helps bury them.

In both theory and research, Critical Criminology is making a compelling case that law, policing and criminologies of the past are hopelessly contaminated by blind assumptions which help reproduce racist, sexist and class inequalities...and reproduces as well, basic values of Euro-centric Religious Ideologies.

The book begins with a brief introduction by the Editor, Jeffrey Ian Ross. It contains a beginners guide to early work in Critical Criminology; a list of things-not-to-do when doing critical criminology and a brief precis of coming attractions.

Chapter 2, by Thomas O'Connor, begins Part 1 of the book: Theoretical Issues.
O'Connor makes the case that some of the Old Masters; Marx, Weber and Simmel have made Critical Criminology possible. Marx's contribution was that he insisted that all social analysis and critique be grounded upon the political economy in which war, crime, politics, religion and social psychology.

Weber's contribution lay in the fact that he presented human beings as the agent and architect of their own social life world...which means that one cannot blame Gods, Devils, Nature or Chance for the good and evil human beings do. Good point...and foundational to all postmodern sensibilities as well. But Weber did think that a value-free sociology might be constructed by adhering to the norms of fairness, objectivity and public service. I would like to believe that. O'Connor says that Weber's chief influence on Critical Criminology lay in his Sociology of Law.

Simmel, says O'Connor, is mis-read as an interactionist; better read him as a radical and critical theorist. In Simmel, self (including the Criminal Side of Self) is always situated. A point often overlooked by those who want to find psychological and demographic variables which produce the 'criminal.' O'Connor takes us through some of Simmel's foundational ideas on 'form,' 'secrecy,' and 'deception' as they relate to both crime and the policing of crime.

The Great Problem with O'Connor's Chapter is that it neglects all the work in affirmative postmodern social science as well as the new sciences of Chaos and Complexity which change forever the ways in which crime and justice is approached.  And where, in Marx, Weber and Simmel does one find the most excellent work on feminist criminology.  One could argue that Patriarchy is a 'mode of production' but that seems strained.  Then too, both Micro and Macro-Dramaturgy offers in depth understanding of crime and the sociology of fraud in elitist social formations.   To begin with Marx and end with Simmel is to freeze history in ways Marx would never accept.

Chapter 3, By Robert Bohm helps us understand Crime and Social Control in Market Economies. Bohm's four contributions are, in my opinion, foundational to Critical Criminology. Bohm situates crime and social control in 'socio-economic formations;' goes on toe re-emphasize the importance of class and class struggle in so many, many forms of crime and ends by helping us understand just how market economies promote crime and distort social control.

Bohm's exploration of the explosion of crime in emerging market societies of the old socialist bloc is too, too brief...had it been more central, it alone would make the book.

Chapter 4, by Gregg Barak, tries to lay out the shape of an 'Integrated Critical Criminology.' As a genre, Critical Criminology now includes Structural analysis, materialist assumptions, conflict theory and such post-positivist work as 'feminist,' 'semiotics,' and 'postmodernism.'

Barak says, and I applaud, that the emerging Critical Criminology will look at the intersection of biology, psychology, sociology, cultural studies, history and political economy. I like this way of demarking Critical Studies of all sorts; crime, politics, sports, religion, medicine and gendering as well.

Barak offers some most useful suggestions about how Critical Criminology can bear on social policy [or what's a science for?]. With a warning that both mainstream and critical criminology are ignored by government, politicians and media, and with the helpful suggestion that popular culture offers more room for critical analysis, Barak makes several useful points. He says Critical Criminologists should 'de-marginalize' themselves by developing a 'news-making criminology.'

And Barak suggests that 'race, gender, and class' approaches to criminology should both be integrated and yet remain separate concerns.  They should stand alone as research topics but be re-united as social policy concerns.  Well done, Barak.

All Symbolic Interactions should read Chapter 5, by Bruce Arrigo on Marxist Criminology, Lacanian Analysis and a Constitutive Theory of Crime.  Arrigo begins by noting that both Marx and Lacan begin by trying to break through the 'hegemonic reproduction' of  forms of domination.  Lacan, Arrigo says, adds to Marx by his concern for human agency.

The heart of the Chapter is a set of contributions from Lacan about how to resurrect human agency in critical criminology.  Arrigo's discussion is dense and must be read cannot do justice to either Lacan or Arrigo by a digest of the argument.  At the heart of the argument is the need for ' replacement' discourses for those now entrenched as 'normal' discourse.  And the pay-off of the Chapter is a short and valuable summary of Constitutive Criminology, p. 55; something that Arrigo, Milovanovic, Henry and others who develop the notion of 'transpraxis' as a grounding goal for emancipatory criminology.

Arrigo is at and well beyond the leading edges of Critical Criminology.   One would do well to follow his work over the next 30 years or so.

Imagine a critical criminology energized by postmodern sensibility.  Jeff Ferrell does just that in Chapter 6.  Both postmodern and critical criminology rejects the totalizing and generalizing elements of modern science and modernist criminology.  Both reject '...the conceits of science, the mythologies and methodologies of objectivity and truth, the rigidity of theoretical and disciplinary boundaries, the dualities of self/society, agency/structure, form/content.

Ferrell goes on to lay out Critical/postmodern criminology as an Anarchist Criminology.  There follows a valuable review of anarchist literature and a list of similarities between postmodernists and anarchists.  One should not dismiss, lightly, Ferrell's case until one reads Ferrell's case.  Anarchist Criminology is not soliptic, nihilist and without grounding in values or collective concerns.

Ferrell's exegesis of the Rodney King case as a way of uniting Critical and Postmodern criminology is most helpful to understanding both postmodern criminology and the vision of anarchical criminology held by Ferrell.  The Chapter ends with a tribute to Marx's advocacy of the 'relentless criticism of everything existing...'   Mainstream criminology accepts and reproduces the legal authority of the state and the criminal justice system; anarchical criminology does not.

Most of us remain suspicious of anarchist analysis and politics in that they appear to ignore the larger structural sources and solutions to crime.  Ferrell could help us out with instruction on how Anarchist Criminology does serve the need for social policy to contain the excesses of a globalized capitalist market economy.

David Friedrichs gives us the last Chapter in Part I on Theoretical Issues.   He offers New Directions in Criminology as they apply to White Collar Crime.   Friedrichs lays out the elements of the recent approaches to White Collar Crime, p. 79.  In brief, capitalism promotes exploitative and harmful activity both both corporate and state elites; this activity is far more harmful than that of street crime; elites control the law-making process such that what they do is not defined as crime; elites control the media such that street crime is front-stage and white collar crime neglected; control and punishment of white collar crime is far more gentle and forgiving than is street crime.

New Directions in White Collar Crime include 'Peace-Making Criminology.'   Its basic themes are, according to Friedrichs, connectedness, caring, and mindfulness.  Conceptual boxes which differentiate between 'we good people' and 'those bad people' are rejected.  Social Justice is preferable to Criminal Justice as a way to reduce crime.  Sounds a bit Buddhist but then Buddhist societies are low-crime societies.

New Directions also include Postmodernist Approaches to White Collar Crime.   According to Friedrichs, Postmodernists reject positivism, doubt the worth of collective action and contend that modernism is no longer liberating)Both Micro and Macro-Dramaturgy offers in depth understanding of crime and the sociology of fraud in elitist social formations. (...if ever it was).  As to White Collar Crime, it is an '...artifact of interrelationships with society...'  and '...a reflection of imbalances in power...' which obscure the real harm done by white collar criminals.

As did Sutherland, Friedrichs collapses white collar crime, political crime and corporate crime as it they had the same architects, the same consequences and required the same policies.  Alas, they are very, very different; corporate crime is not the acts of individual white collar functionaries; political crime most often serves to reproduce class, racist and gender inequalities and is not, simply, an effort of white collar professionals to enrich themselves at the expense of clients, employers, or patients.

Feminist Criminology finally finds a voice in the next last section of the last Chapter in Part I.  Friedrichs cites Daly's work in order to link Feminist Criminology and White Collar Crime.  She says that males do most of the white collar crime, females are much less likely to work in criminal groups, females steal much less than do male white collar workers and women tend to steal to support families.  [One could make the case that males steal to maintain or achieve life-style goals]. 

The last New Criminology is Left Realism.  Young and Matthews are, of course, architects of Left Realism.  Radicals should not romanticize street crime even if it does reject market rules about profits, exchange and bargaining.   Friedrich notes that Left Realism has yet to take 'white collar' crime as a major topic.

Chapter 11, A Feminist Critique of Sentencing Theory is a must-read for all progressive criminologists.  Jeanne Flavin begins with a bit of reflection on the nature and structure of feminist criminology...a view which I heartily endorse then gets on with the business at hand.  The first section is on Non-feminist approaches to a word, they are reductionist and demeaning; either grounded upon biology or upon paternalistic/chivalry hypotheses to explain differences in both crime and punishment.  Chivalry is dropped when, rarely, Black women are the focus of speculation; biology is not.  And, the theory goes, with women's liberation comes emulation of the worst in women become pushy, violent and are men.   Notice that there is no history and no cross-cultural elements in such views; only a static, universal explanation of female crime and punishment.

The heart of Flavin's Chapter, p.159 shows where a Critical Feminist Perspective can take us.  In a word, look at the social context in which women--and men--must live and die.  It is political identity rather than racial identity which shapes crime patterns and punishment policy in Black feminist criminology.   Standpoint analysis forces the researched to look through the eyes of Black females rather than white males if we are to understand Black female crime.  Black mothers who do not live with their children are punished more severely that Black childless women...sort of a double jeopardy; once for the crime and once for not parenting.

In Chapter 12, Preston Elrod looks at Conservative and Liberal Juvenile Justice Policies.  They are similar in several ways; reliance on formal, coercive social control; exclusionary policies for juvenile offenders...thus aborting pro-social pathways for young people caught up in the juvenile justice system;  resistance to change of juvenile corrections; disregard for new and more pro-social ways to treat juvenile offenders; cosmetic rather than substantive reform; targeting poor kids.  All in all, a fine review of the literature and a telling critique of 'liberal' criminology.

Ross begins Part 2, Traditional Concerns, with his Chapter 8 on Municipal Policing. In a well focussed review of  Conservative, Liberal and Radical approaches to municipal policing, Ross endorses cross-cultural studies of policing; comparisons of policing in low-crime societies with that of high crime societies.  The USA, with the most policing and most control institutions do not compare well with countries which put social justice before criminal justice.

Michael Welch offers an Alternative View of Corrections in Chapter 9.  By 'alternative,' Welch means an alternative view of prevailing penology...which is getting larger and larger.  Welch notes that the emphasis on more prisons and longer sentences does not mean an increase in pro-social intervention nor concern with the social conditions which promote crime.  I would have liked to see alternative and radical approaches to crime and the left-realists note, there are really harmful persons and practices...critical criminologists must, as do Louk Hulsman, Richard Quinney, Elliot Currie, Ray Michalowski and Ron Kramer some very creative community based community corrections programs; and as does Richards in the next Chapter.

Chapter 10 provides us dark and dreary lessons from the dark and dreary forms of punishment now in place...crim students should begin their understanding of the Criminal Justice System in the USA with articles such as this.  Stephen Richards then provides us with more promising and humane approaches to corrections from Criminology as Peacekeeping, Abolitionist, Feminist, Restorative and Communitarian programs of corrections.

Summary: for $60, one can get a well edited tutorial on what's wrong with criminology today and how best to replace the really vicious Criminal Justice System now looming large in State policy today.  Money well spent.  My best advice: Get the library or the department to buy two or three copies.

                                                                            TR Young, Director,
                                                                            The Red Feather Institute for Advanced Studies
                                                                             in Sociology...and Criminology, too.


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