Critique, Criminalization and the Ontological Status of Crime

  • Author / Creator
    Krieger, Joao Victor
  • By exploring the content of the journal Criminology through a critical content analysis, one notices a tendency to approach the concept “crime” as if it were an ontological reality. Many articles reflect an essentialist perspective that takes “crime” for granted, and assumes that it has an intrinsic and relatively stable essence. Here, crime appears as a governable phenomenon, a social problem to be managed by the State. In effect, this criminological approach serves to legitimize crime control policies that are premised on repressing crime, punishing criminals, and excluding them from ordinary social interaction.
    Assuming that crime has a stable essence, however, can be critically analyzed as a metaphysical construction that posit its object as a fixed “being”. According to this vision, concepts are assumed to have a transcendental essence, unaffected by social contingencies or transformations in society. Through a genealogical examination, however, we notice ruptures within and changes to the concept “crime”, exposing the fragility of this ahistorical understanding. That examination also reveals that crime is inserted in a specific power-knowledge relation, which grants it a certain conceptual stability. This perspective is supported by authors who have approached crime critically and explored its contingency and conditions of emergence in modernity—for example, Robert Reiner (2016), Lindsay Farmer (2016), and Louk Hulsman (1993).
    Abstracted visions of crime as a stable being is contested by the contingencies of criminal accusation. Crime is constructed by social rituals that interpret an event as criminal and attribute blame to an individual (or individualized group). There is an emerging body of literature (e.g. Antaki, 2017; Martel, 2017; Pavlich, 2007, 2019) that explores accusation as the triggering apparatus of criminalization, an entryway to the criminal justice realm. It consists of a process that operates by categorizing individuals, assigning them a fixed identity, and established responsibility in individual terms.
    However, based on the critique of crime’s assumed stability, we can rethink criminalization and its elements. A genealogical approach to crime allows us to recognize that criminalization is not the necessary response to situations that disrupt social order. There are other possible approaches, other strategies to interpret and respond to these episodes. One example is to reconsider individual responsibility. By admitting collective and social forms of responsibility, we can imagine new strategies to address such events. This thesis invites us, thus, to ponder our ordinary responses to and reevaluate, the ways we as a society deal with situations deemed to be problematic.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2020
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
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