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Introduction to critical criminology
Introduction to critical criminology

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Figure 1: Factory production line

If we look at ‘violence’, we observe numerous definitions that historically have been generated by people in positions of power to describe physical force inflicted by one person on another. With this in mind, if we were to ask who the most violent offenders in UK society are, we might expect various answers about young males of certain socio-ethnic profiles. Such answers might be informed by media-generated stereotypes. But are they true?

A critical criminological analysis challenges the premises upon which accepted truths are constructed. In the UK, 1500 people a year are killed at work; more than double the annual murder rate, and up to 50,000 are injured in their place of employment (Tombs and Whyte, 2010). Critical criminological analyses point to the workplace as one of the most dangerous and violent areas of contemporary British society. However, such areas of economic activity are rarely portrayed as violence by official government sources. Is a factory a place of violence? When employees are killed, injured or made sick by employers that deliberately flout health and safety regulations in pursuit of profit, then yes, factories are places of violence. Trade and production are presented as the cornerstone of thriving capitalist economics, yet critical thinking reminds us that they are also responsible for widespread injury, suffering and death.

For some commentators (Young, 2002) the critical criminological project is a work-in-progress. It is an evolving, unfinished and eclectic narrative. It has been a project of key developments, not of a distinct discipline taking a specific form, but of a collection of perspectives that focus a different way of thinking about crime and criminalisation. Jock Young reminds us that ‘all good sociology is critical, as is all competent criminology’, where critical means ‘questioning the solidity of the social world and the stated purposes of its institutions’ (2002, p. 271). Young quotes Zygmunt Bauman to argue that we must begin our analyses from the premise that ‘things are not necessarily what they seem’ (2002, p. 271).