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Critical criminology and the social sciences
Critical criminology and the social sciences

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2.3 Key features of critical criminology

Although not all of the following characteristics apply to all forms of critical criminology, taken together they provide a useful insight into the scope and nature of much of the work of critical criminologists.

This illustration shows two figures standing on plinths. One figure is on a much higher plinth is looking down at the other figure.
Figure 4

Box 1 Key features of critical criminology

  • Aims to bring about social justice – that is, the broadening of social democracy and equality through radical structural and cultural change – as opposed to a narrower conceptualisation of ‘justice’ through the criminal justice system.
  • Considers that societies are made up of competing groups with conflicting interests.
  • Often draws on Marxist analysis and begins from the premise that capitalist economic policies lead to immiseration, which thereby create conditions in which turning to crime becomes a viable survival strategy.
  • Views criminalisation strategies as class-, race- and gender-control strategies that are consciously used to depoliticise political resistance and to control economically and politically marginalised neighbourhoods and groups.
  • Highlights that powerful groups often create moral panics about street level crime being out of control to deflect attention away from much more serious harms associated with the activities of those powerful groups.
  • Holds that orthodox crime control strategies aimed at dealing with street level crime are incapable of tackling crimes of the powerful.
  • Emphasises that legal categories that claim to be race and/or gender neutral are riddled with white, male assumptions of what constitutes normal or reasonable behaviour.
  • Views mainstream or administrative criminology as a criminology of the state.
  • Often prioritises qualitative techniques such as biography, content analysis, critical crime history, deconstruction and ethnography.
  • Holds that the criminological agenda should be expanded to include those social harms ignored or underplayed in dominant discourse, such as gendered and racialised violence, poverty, war, crimes of the powerful, environmental crime, state sanctioned violence and crimes against humanity.
(adapted from Muncie, 2004 and Brisman et al., 2017)