3.4 Being open to multiple perspectives on problems of crime
Earlier in the course it was pointed out that individuals and societies construct narratives about themselves and that narratives are a helpful means by which people describe and explain their lives. It was pointed out, however, that there is always room for doubt and a single story can be told in an entirely different way when viewed from a different perspective.
Crime, justice, victimisation and the study of criminology can all be emotive areas of study. As a result, criminologists need to exercise some caution in thinking about their work and what is motivating them to do it.
Everyone has opinions and value judgements that they make on the basis of ‘gut reaction’ or because of previous life experiences that influence the way they see things. Everyone has a different and unique perspective that is valuable. But, when, as social scientists or as criminologists, you think that your vantage point on the world is the only ‘right’ way of seeing things, it can cloud your capacity to genuinely listen to the perspectives of others or to see the world from a different vantage point.
It is not a problem for the social scientist or criminologist to feel passionate about their subject matter and, in fact, it can be of great benefit. However, what is most important is that you have a clear understanding of yourself, what your value judgements are and where your biases might be.
Activity 7 Self-reflection: what motivates you to study criminology?
Take some time to think about what has drawn you to the study of criminology, then answer the following questions in the text boxes provided.
- Why am I interested in criminology?
- What are the topics that drew me to this field of study and why?
- Do I have strong pre-existing opinions on the problem of crime and the delivery of justice? If so, what are they?
- What evidence do I have for my opinions?
- How will I respond if my opinions are challenged by evidence that contradicts them?
Many different factors might influence a person’s interest in a particular field of study. One important factor to consider is whether or not you have a bias towards an issue or topic. If you are moved to study a topic because of anger or because you already have a strong opinion on it, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t study it. Passion is a good thing! It will keep you interested in your chosen field for a long time to come. However, you do need to be aware of the value judgements that you are bringing into your study.
The social sciences and criminology often make reference to the idea of trying to be ‘value-free’ in research and study endeavours. Often this is an impossible ideal, but it can still be worth bearing it in mind. Before starting any course of study it is important to begin to develop your self-reflective skills by really questioning yourself on why you are interested in it and reflecting on whether or not you have any biases.
Hopefully this activity got you thinking quite openly about what attracted you to thinking about studying criminology and what has shaped your opinions about crime. In the next section you will begin to take this a bit further by exploring what can be called your ‘criminological imagination’.