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CJCCJ/Volume 64.4 (2022)

Macrocrimiology and Freedom

By John Braithwaite
Canberra: Australian National University Press. Peacebuilding Compared Project 2022. 814 p.

Macrocriminology and Freedom by John Braithwaite is a definitive book by a giant in the field of criminology and criminal justice studies. This book goes beyond the traditional confines of criminology, addressing issues of conflict and suffering. Braithwaite advances a theory of crime and social control that has more to do with freedom and domination than individual acts of transgression. Throughout the book, there is less attention to individual actions than one might expect given Braithwaite’s previous work on shame, reintegration, and responsibility. Macrocriminology and Freedom pushes scholars to think in systemic and structural terms.

Braithwaite wants to reframe criminology, which is where chapter 2 begins. Braithwaite argues there is a relationship between politics and crime control. Part of the quest for human freedom must be developing a political system that fosters freedom and minimizes domination (pg. 36). Braithwaite critiques liberalism, arguing that liberalism does not offer the same kind of freedom that republican political systems do. By freedom, Braithwaite means freedom from all forms of domination. For Braithwaite, crime is a form of domination, as are patriarchy, poverty, state power, and capitalism. The goal of Macrocriminology and Freedom is to think about the way domination is created in our society. This book focuses a lot on the market and inequality as a form of domination and state power as a form of domination.

In chapter 3, there is an engagement with Durkheimian work on anomie, and there is an attempt to explain why transgression happens and why war happens (pg. 87). Braithwaite is arguing that beyond the political system, the normative order is a key ingredient in trying to minimize domination and maximize human freedom. Chapter 4 continues by looking at Neo-Durkheimians and the assessment of, for example, Merton, as it regards domination in institutions. Just as we must establish a normative order that minimizes the transgression of war and conflict, so too must institutional orders attempt to minimize conflict and transgression, it is argued (pg. 158). There are trends within institutions such as commodification, marketization, and Militarization that foster domination, which impedes freedom.

In chapter 5, Braithwaite suggests that class is another ingredient in the quest for human freedom. Inequality is one of the main barriers to human freedom (pg. 234). There are also intersections between political domination and economic domination. Braithwaite argues our global economic system, which extends inequality and tolerates extreme inequality, is a basic form of domination. In chapter 6, Braithwaite argues we should close opportunities for domination in our political and economic systems by separating powers and preventing the intersection of forms of domination. This will decrease opportunities for harmful forms of organizational and economic transgression (pg. 279). We should also disconnect institutional power from political power, and so on.

In chapters 5 and 6, Braithwaite discusses corruption, cronyism, and nepotism in institutions as expressions of domination (pg. 296). Braithwaite argues that workplace democracy and more direct democracy are needed to move toward human freedom and to separate interlocking forms of domination. This has implications for thinking about crime control. For Braithwaite, the focus should not be on crimes of survival or crimes of necessity. Instead, the focus should be on state crime and corporate crime, the most damaging forms of crime. Braithwaite contends that if the separation of powers is not enough to prevent state and corporate malfeasance, the criminalization of these forms of power should be an option.

In chapter 7, Braithwaite suggests not only do we need to diminish forms of domination and pursue human freedom, but we need to empower communities at the same time. What this translates into for Braithwaite is what he calls the extension of capitals. He argues that economic capital should be redistributed, but other forms of capital such as social capital also must be fostered and enhanced (pg. 361). Braithwaite argues that living in a safe society requires the redistribution of capital and not only economic capital. In chapter 8, Braithwaite returns to his idea of separating powers to mitigate domination. In a discussion of networked governance, Braithwaite argues that network governance allows for the distribution of responsibility and power (pg. 386). It allows people to see mutually shared interests, and Braithwaite argues for network governance’s global and institutional order. This is because, he contends, the centralization of political power and the centralization of economic power are major social problems.

In chapters 9 and 10, we see some classical criminological themes emerge. Ultimately, there will still be transgression in a society where domination is mitigated and freedom is promoted. Even in such conditions, transgression will still occur. In chapter 9, Braithwaite argues minimally sufficient punishment should be the focus (pg. 433). There should be a focus on restorative justice and re-integrative shaming, which is the basis of Braithwaite’s earlier work. More so than in his earlier work, Braithwaite argues some forms of law enforcement, some forms of deterrence, and some forms of punishment are acceptable (pg. 503). Braithwaite is not arguing for dismantling the criminal justice system, only minimizing it and steering it towards restorative justice. In chapter 10, Braithwaite perhaps somewhat controversially argues that political domination and economic domination are such large social problems and cause so much harm that it may be necessary to incapacitate those responsible, although Braithwaite defines incapacitation broadly as restricting all opportunity. It may also be necessary to prosecute persons engaging in political and economic domination, Braithwaite argues. The caveat here is that Braithwaite suggests the forms of punishment and the orientation of the criminal justice system should be much more focused on restoration.

The scope of Macrocriminology and Freedom is incredible, as it covers all kinds of human transgression and conflict. It is prescient in that it is trying to envision a free world because corporate and state domination is tempered (pg. 572). This book enters the scene at an interesting time when abolitionist criminology is more prominent and prevalent than ever before. Many criminologists would agree with Braithwaite’s assessment of transgression and war, capitalism, and the state, all as forms of domination. However, I think abolitionists would disagree in some of the claims around how to address transgression and what to do with our criminal justice system, which seems to be a form of domination.

The quest for human freedom is an interest of both Braithwaite and abolitionists. Braithwaite clearly has done a lot of important work on the practicalities of addressing transgression and trying to move ahead after conflict, especially with the focus on re-integrative shaming. Yet it seems a little contradictory to argue against domination and then argue for maintaining the criminal justice system and turning it toward economic and state malfeasance. What I have learned from abolitionist work emerging today and what I take from, for instance, a Marxist approach to criminal justice is that police and prisons serve a political function, and that political function is domination directed in a particular way to maintain other forms of domination.

Braithwaite is right to assume transgression would still exist and that it would need to be addressed in a free world. But the claim that we should mitigate economic domination, mitigate capitalist domination, and turn the criminal justice system against elite forms of power to promote freedom, seems to stall for me in the fact that this system is already designed to maintain the current order.

At any rate, these questions about domination and freedom are those that scholars should be thinking about. We should be thinking about the harms of major institutions in the world including those in the criminal justice system. That is the discussion Braithwaite offers in this book, which is why Macrocriminology and Freedom is an important criminological work. Perhaps someday it will be seen as part of the canon of key works in criminology. It definitely pushes people to think in systemic and structuralist terms. However, it does so largely from a functionalist point of view and that is where I get stuck regarding the argument about applying criminal justice institutions to elites. This is also the same argument I have for those who advocate using the criminal justice system to go after corporate crime or white-collar crime. History tells us that the criminal justice system’s expansion and criminal law’s expansion tends to point downward in practice at marginalized people and persons already experiencing inequality.

Nonetheless, there is more focus than ever in criminology on individual transgression. Criminology has almost become anti-social science. There is no discussion of that stuff in this book, which is what I appreciate about it. Macrocriminology and Freedom raises the right questions, tackles the right issues, and ponders how we can live in a healthier, safer world (pg. 660). I do not think criminology usually does that. It is stuck with crime. Criminology usually just wants to figure out how to fix people or lock them up. The focus of criminology today should be on the institutions that cause so much inequality and harm in our world. Braithwaite offers a lot in this regard. For that reason, Macrocriminology and Freedom should be widely read and celebrated as a major criminological work in the 21st century.


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