Developing criminological imagination

As the end of my module is in sight and I finish with an end of module assignment, I will have to explain how my criminological imagination has developed over the course of this year.

What does it mean?

The term criminological imagination was coined by the work of the sociologist Charles Wright Mills (1959) and his book The Sociological Imagination. In his book he states: ‘the sociological imagination* includes ‘a quality of mind’ that offers ‘an understanding of the intimate realities of ourselves in connection with larger social realities’ (p. 15). This means placing individuals in their own past but also of the society in which they live. So the issues of an individual are placed in their own daily experiences and social positions as well as in a society with social divisions and inequalities (as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p 238-240).

This way of thinking about crime opens up a way that is much more inclusive and open-minded than the way crime is thought about in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) or in public opinion. The criminological imagination consists of 3 components:

  • Considering crime problems from several different perspectives and using critical methods to look at their effects and possible solutions. Approaching them with a sense of scientific interest.
  • It offers a broad based approach to studying crime which places the individual in their social, historical and structural frame of reference.
  • Its goal is to understand the criminological world by making close associations between a person’s experiences (private troubles) and the wider world (public issues). (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 242)

This last point really got my interest because when I think about all the blog posts I have written, I have tried to do exactly that: placing my own experiences in a wider context, but also placing particular criminological concepts in a socialist context. By writing my thoughts down every week, I really felt I deepened my understanding and enhanced my learning greatly. I think it has developed my criminological imagination.

The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills

Anchor points

Whilst studying a criminological subject, to really get a good comprehension it is necessary to collect various concepts, evidence and claims. Whilst doing so you can discover the overall scope of this topic through identifying ‘anchor points‘ as Mills (1959) argued. He referred to these as ‘key points that anchor general statements about the shape and the trend of the subject’ (p. 201, as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 246). Or in a nutshell evidence, a correlation or even a direct opposite that points out a particular subject in a different way or helps to identify its boundaries.

For example when we look at the concept of domestic violence, an anchor point could be that although there has been legislation implemented to define it and prosecute it, there is a disparity in how it is dealt with by the police and also the fact that many victim/survivors don’t press charges against their abuser, or even report it results in 2 women a week being killed by their predominantly male (former) partners in the UK (UKEssays, 2018). By identifying more and more anchor points a criminologist can then pull out powerful outcomes about how a concept is developed in society.

The social harm perspective

Sociologist Paddy Hillyard and colleagues (2004) have concluded after careful examining of various research that instead of only focusing on criminal acts it would be much more helpful to include all social harm including all acts that have influence on someone’s health, wellbeing and wealth during a lifetime. The intention is to enlarge the criminological focus to include these harms instead of minimising criminal acts (Hillyard and Tombs, 2004, p. 21 as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p.247).

I think a very good example to examine this idea is the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. This fire has caused unimaginable suffering and death, but still, nearly 4 years on, there have been no arrests, and no crime has been identified. The reason for this is partly because corporate crime is very difficult to prosecute and mostly results in a fine for the company, rather than that an individual or group of individuals is held to account. But, if the idea of Hillyard and colleagues would be applied, all the harms caused by this fire would become crime, and perhaps the parties involved could be held to account. A point I would like to make though, would be that it is great and in my view absolutely correct this widening of the concept of crime, but within the capitalist system it would never become an actual fact, because it immediately affects big business and those in positions of power within the state. Those people create the law and will never allow their interests to be negatively impacted. It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. But perhaps that is not the point, after all criminologists can only examine, study and draw conclusions and by doing so put pressure on the legislature and society as a whole to change.

My personal development of criminological imagination

As I pointed out before, my End of Module Assessment (EMA) is coming up in which I have to explain how my criminological imagination has developed over this module. I am very excited to see that I have greatly developed it by writing this blog. I did not realise it would help me so much gathering my thoughts and gaining a deeper understanding of the module material. This blog has been a playground and exercise to figure out my understanding of the different concepts and writing down my thoughts of all the theories and standpoints. I would like to thank in particular Derek Marsdon who has commented on most of my posts and given me great confidence to carry on with in particular my series of articles placing criminology concepts in a socialist context. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage more of you readers to do follow his lead.

I would also like to thank all the lecturers and professors of the Open University involved in writing the module material and the extra study material that the Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC) have provided. This is another blog on WordPress which I can strongly recommend.

Over the coming months I will continue my blog posts but from September I am going to study fulltime so I am afraid it will become a lot less frequent.

Lastly I would like to thank all my subscribers for following me, and I hope you will continue to. Please leave comments to encourage me, as it does sometimes feel like I am talking to myself (lol).

*Sociological imagination: As criminology is part of the social sciences, I will from here on refer to ‘criminological imagination’ as the term refers to each social science subject respectively.

References

Drake, D. H. and Scott, D. (2019) ‘The criminological imagination’, in Downes, J., Kent, G, Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, Open University, pp. 237–257.

UKEssays, (November 2018) History of Domestic Violence and Legislation in the UK. [online]. Available from: https://www.ukessays.com/essays/criminology/literature-review-domestic-violence.php?vref=1 [Accessed 20 April 2021].

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