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

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Critical criminology and the social sciences

3.4 A critical criminological perspective on the global financial crisis

In the following video, Dr Lynne Copson discusses the potential ways in which someone might attempt to make sense of the global financial crisis from a criminological perspective.

Activity 9

Spend some time watching the video, and then try to summarise what you think the defining features of a critical criminological approach might be in the text box below.

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Reflecting the diversity of perspectives that can be found within criminology, there are lots of ways in which criminologists might try to make sense of the global financial crisis. For some, the focus might be on looking at the immediate cause of the financial crisis, the direct front-line decisions taken by individual traders, which resulted in formal breaches of law. They might try to look at either structural or individual factors, such as individual psychology, that might have led otherwise normal, law-abiding people to act in ways that could be considered criminal and brought about the financial crisis. For others, this focus might be too restrictive. In particular, for critical criminologists, the primary interest in the global financial crisis might be to consider the way in which those direct front-line decisions taken by individual traders were not isolated incidents, but were rather situated within broader organisational and social structures. In doing so, they might highlight the ways in which those behaviours reflect the norms and values of the broader economic system, neoliberal capitalism. They might also try to make sense of the crisis by highlighting how many of the harmful effects of the crisis have not received much attention in the aftermath. For example, while the immediate victims of the financial crisis might be those who lost their investments, these criminologists might point to the less direct, but arguably more harmful outcomes, such as people losing their homes and jobs, as well as the harms that result from the implementation of austerity policies in response to the crisis. Critical criminological approaches can, therefore, help us to see the way in which apparently individual actions or crimes are actually situated within broader social structures and relationships. Critical criminologists might also try to make sense of the response to the global financial crisis, particularly how this response shows how processes of criminalization and criminal justice often operate to protect those who have the most wealth and power in society, the haves rather than the have-nots. For example, whilst there have been 25 convictions of bankers in Ireland as a result of the financial crisis and 11 in Spain, there has only been one such conviction in Italy, one in the US, and none in the UK. Often, when thinking about crime and criminology, the first things that spring to people's minds are things like serial killers, rapists, and burglars. However, there's so much more to criminology than this. As this example shows, looking at the global financial crisis from the perspective of criminology allows us to see how social problems and the harms that they involve can be viewed and responded to from a number of different perspectives. There isn't one set way of viewing them. In doing so, criminology also encourages us to think differently about the nature of social problems, their causes, and their consequences.
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From a critical criminological perspective, the global financial crisis is an interesting and important subject of study. Some critical criminologists might be interested in understanding how apparently law-abiding individuals were able and willing to engage in behaviour that they knew was likely to result in severe harm being inflicted on millions of people across the globe.

Others might focus on identifying and understanding the full range of harms that resulted from the crisis, including the widespread loss of homes and jobs. Yet others might try to make sense of responses to the crisis across different countries, seeking to understand why those responsible in some countries were subject to criminal sanctions while others escaped punishment.

Whatever the precise focus taken by critical criminologists studying the global financial crisis, their approaches would likely include some consideration of the significant power disparities between different people involved in and affected by the crisis, as well as the contribution of the crisis to growing levels of inequality across the world.


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