Critical Criminology in Canada: New Voices, New Directions
Edited by Aaron Doyle and Dawn Moore
Vancouver, BC: UBC Press. 2011
This timely collection of essays offers a diversity of reflections on the meaning of 'critical' criminology and the ever-broadening issues of concern of a more recent generation of Canadian criminologists. Doyle and Moore contend that critical criminology is practicing a criminology that is "concerned with researching and theorizing power relations in crime and criminalization, power relations that lead to social injustice", but it is also about "putting theory into practice" (4). This work comes at a time and in the context of a Conservative government pursuing an "aggressive law-and-order package of bills". It is odd the editors muse, that while criminology departments are burgeoning throughout Canada, the country is governed by a Conservative government that completely ignores the research of criminologists (1).
The book offers a number of topics of concern to critical criminologists. In the section on "Canadian Criminology in the 21st Century" one finds a chapter on the isolation and challenges of Quebec criminology scholars (Dupont), the problematic genesis of criminology schools in Canada (Hogeveen) and the odium of marketing tactics for criminology in Canadian universities (Huey). The section on "Expanding the Criminological Focus" offers chapters featuring the dearth of research into corporate and white-collar crime (Williams), the pertinence of expanding the focus by researching topics such as genocide (Woolford), the reliance of criminal justice institutions on community-based knowledge production and the resulting resistance (Young) and the stigma and marginality of prisoners' families (Hannem). The last section, "Theory and Praxis" explores feminist criminology (Balfour), critical realism (Rigakos & Frauley) and criminology from an anarchist perspective (Freeman) and (Walby).
In the first chapter, Benoît Dupont discusses the double challenge facing Quebec criminologists: that of a polarization in the discipline between critical theorists and practitioners, and the market pressures that force French Quebec scholars to publish in English or be relegated to the third tier of the local and small québécois market. He attributes the disconnection between Canada and Quebec criminology to three factors: differing academic markets, the historical status of the discipline and the professionalization and focus on expertise that evolves out of Quebec.
In the second chapter, Bryan Hogeveen considers the criminological promise made back in the 1960s when scholars were vying to establish criminology departments in Canadian universities and illustrates how the discipline "was sanctioned through and by science" (57). It adopted a rigorous scientific approach to the study of crime with the promise that it would be able to predict and prevent crime (58). In essence, criminology was "caught up in a power/knowledge nexus" whose basis was "correcting deviant subjectivities" (62). This framework, however, is not what many of today's criminology scholars signed up for, and, Hoegeveen suggests, it is a form of othering as well, since a more inclusionary discourse is often disavowed by the mainstream element of the discipline. He proposes not to abandon the discipline, like some critical criminologists have, but to develop a "promise" that is open to alterity and possibility (64). He also calls for opening the borders to the scholarship of other disciplines. (ibid.).
Chapter 3 looks at how the discipline of criminology is being commodified in Canadian universities and asks important ethical questions concerning the problem with trying to attract young people to the discipline with the promise of careers, when in fact, there are no guarantees of jobs. Furthermore, the author, Laura Huey, bemoans the gulf between the critical approach to the discipline, and what students have come to expect of their classes. She argues that the ability to "influence the development of critical reasoning skills" is subjugated by the overemphasis on applied methods and technologies. She convincingly argues that there are not the jobs that are promised for graduates of criminology. But more importantly, she asks whether such "McCriminology" doesn't serve to expand the existing penal-welfare complex (93).
Stacey Hannem discusses the "collateral punishment" (Roberts, 2006) suffered by partners of prisoners, who not only are marginalized by virtue of their partner's status as an offender, but that the economic toll it places on their families is onerous and also completely ignored by the public or the government as an area of social responsibility that warrants redress. Stigma is not only exercised in the community where many disengage from their relationships with those who are connected to someone who is incarcerated, but this stigma is also perpetrated within the correctional system. Hannem argues that the next generation of criminology scholars must address sites of marginalization heretofore ignored and shift our focus to larger areas of social justice and, through research and advocacy, address issues of marginalization.
Kevin Walby, in the last chapter, addresses penal abolition. He critiques abolitionists and questions the recalcitrance of some to engage with anarchism. Prisons, he puts forth, are but an outward expression of hierarchy and authority. He therefore urges abolitionists to collaborate with anarchists in struggles that aim to shut down penal and other authoritarian institutions, and invites academics to support and engage in such struggles.
This use of unproblematized terminology in discourse can limit one's ability to expand conceptualizations of harm. This volume offers a meaningful challenge to status quo writing and thinking on "criminology". The contributors herein have offered honest and perspicacious explorations of the raison d'être of criminology scholarship, and while some are cynical about the future of the discipline, others point to the need to expand the menu for research, from a focus that is reliant on dated and limited concepts of law, order, and fixing the so-called problem of "crime", to one that embraces alterity and is steeped in social justice. It succeeds in reminding those who feel marginalized within the discipline that they are in good company, and presents new ways of understanding the discipline that may arouse novel departures by a new generation of scholars. In particular, it is refreshing to see a chapter on abolition, a subject that has long been ignored in criminology circles, even though it is international in scope, has a vibrant core of activist-academics that meet every two years at ICOPA (International Conference on Penal Abolition), and indeed is a compulsory undergraduate course in some Canadian criminology departments.
University of Ottawa