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

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].

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.

The end for capitalism, the end for punishment?

This is the fourth episode in a series of articles about Criminology concepts in a Socialist context and this week I will be talking about what the future holds for capitalism and the way it’s dealing with crime by punishment of offenders. If we would choose Socialism as a system to organise society, would there still be need and necessity for a penal system and prisons? How would we deal with crime and criminals? How safe would we be?

The end for capitalism

To answer these questions I have to explain why I see the end for the capitalist system. The short answer is that it just doesn’t provide any solutions for the many problems it has created. Inherent to capitalism is inequality and competition, and without it it can’t function. But, as we increasingly found out during this current Covid-19 pandemic, it doesn’t function with it either. Capitalism has exploited our natural world for its resources and created global warming because of it, but because of its relentless drive for more short-term profit it doesn’t have any interest in investing those profits in developing long-term tactics to sustain itself. The pharmaceutical industry is competing with itself to develop the best and quickest Covid vaccine but because those companies want to make a profit, only sell it to the richest countries. In the poorer countries the illness keeps mutating and eventually outmanoeuvres the vaccines, defying the objective and eventually everyone including the richest are going to suffer the consequences. This is only one small example, but fundamentally this is how capitalism creates its own gravediggers (Marx and Engels, 1848).

So what has the penal system to do with capitalism? Hasn’t it evolved by itself regardless of the system it is embedded in? No, I don’t think so. It is a fact that most corporate and state crime is not prosecuted because it is embedded in capitalism. The rich and most powerful in society produce the laws, which they write in their own interests, they pass the laws through parliament and enforce the laws. They have seats in all the pillars of the justice system, so that in itself makes that most corporate and state crime is not ending up in court, let alone prison. Capitalism is inherently inequal, the justice system is too. The poor, working-class and BAME communities are disproportionately represented in prisons and therefore one can argue that the Criminal Justice System is just a Criminal System without the justice. In my view, if justice is not applied equally it is not justice. The capitalist state uses the Criminal Justice System (CJS) to control the poor and most disadvantaged in society, as those groups are the biggest threat to capitalist power. If those groups, which lets face it are the majority, discover their collective power the ruling class will be gone forever. So this system is designed to pitch people against each other, compete, divide and encourage individualism, because the opposite, collectivism and socialism is a threat to the status quo.

A better result for society

A better result for society

The penal system is based on punishment and retribution because if it would actually look at the causes of crime and violence it would inevitably have to conclude that the whole capitalist system of exploitation and profit making was at the root of it. And off course that is not an option. So instead the whole penal system is now driven to the pursuit of profit by exploitation as well. And any subversive attempts to rejection or protest is met by state violence.

So lets imagine our society would transition to a socialist state. Every aim would be directed by how society as a whole would benefit to the maximum possible result. So lets say a man had murdered his wife. In the current system he would be facing 20-30 years in prison, which literally means he’d be locked up without much effort to rehabilitate him, let alone look at why he did this heinous act. I can imagine in a socialist society every effort would be undertaken to first assess why he did this and what led up to this act, then work with this man to see how he can firstly accept and face up to the fact of his murder and once he accepts he did this, then steps can be taken to work on why he did it, and how he could be rehabilitated. At the same time every effort needs to go into working with the family of the victim, to go through a process of mourning, and support them in every way to process and deal with this traumatic event. In all of this central should be to eventually reach the best possible outcome for everybody involved, and ultimately for the wider society. Because at the end of the day, society is best served by making sure people feel safe, and can be themselves to the best of their ability. At the moment the central aim of society is to make a few very rich people even richer at the expense of the majority and to keep it that way at any cost. Punishing people is not and is proven not to change anyone. It is counterproductive as it creates more violent and disturbed people. So rehabilitation and education is the way forward I think. Imagine if all the resources that are put into prisons and keeping people locked up go towards investing in people, in mental health care and research, in education and rehabilitation. In quality youth services, and support for parents in raising children, better and cheap housing for everyone, shorter working days so people have time to spend with their families and do things they love. I believe it would lead to less crime and happier people.

Transition

But would it actually eventually lead to a complete abolishment of the prison system? Maybe not, but if it would be necessary to keep people away from the rest of society for a time, it would be much more open and aimed towards integration into society. Off course we would have to deal with the results of capitalism for a long time, so a gradual transitional programme would be implemented. And the bottom line would not be based on punishing people for crimes, but on rehabilitation and integration. This is I think based around the idea that punishment, retaliation and retribution is eventually exacerbating the cause and only inciting further violence.

I think if the Criminal Justice System would be based on a community led, democratically run system justice could be actual justice, where the plight of the criminal would be just as important as the recovery of the victims and intrinsically linked, however difficult this would be for both parties. This is not an easy answer, or an easy way. I think it is very complex and difficult, but in the end society would be better off because it would deal with the actual causes of crime, instead of constantly creating more.

Because the whole of society would be involved in the creation of this new system, the world would slowly become safer and a happier place to live in for everyone. There are no guarantees or assurances, and it is a very difficult road, hence why a lot of people would say this is inherently utopian. To those I say: “is trying to reform this cruel and dystopian monster of a system we live in today, with all its injustices and inequalities, which only profits a handful in the short-term but makes this planet inhabitable for all of us within 2 or 3 generations not the definition of utopian?”. Trying to change something by doing the same thing over and over again is insane, so trying the opposite might actually result in the biggest rescue operation of our habitat and species and security of our future. Marx, Engels and Trotsky were not utopians but realists, their theories and strategies are based on everyone’s lived experience, they recognised that everything is constantly in motion, moving and changing and to influence these processes you need to analyse events and apply the lessons of the past to problems we face in the present to create a new future. Their version of socialist theory is called ‘dialectic materialism‘ which means that in essence matter is constantly moving, changing and evolving, and the old system already has the seeds of the new in it, as the new system will contain some of the old too as it is ever changing.

Conclusion

For decades now statistics show clearly the Criminal Justice System is not contributing to bringing down crime rates and the rehabilitation of convicted criminals. If anything the situation is worsening. The whole capitalist system is in crisis as it seems to be in a downward vortex of a profit driven debt mountain, which causes economic instability, exploitation of natural resources to the point of global environmental collapse, and all of it causes mass movements of people on the run for economic, environmental and social disasters. A pretty dystopian picture. Socialism on the basis of Marx’ and Engels’ dialectic materialism offers a genuine alternative with hope on a better future for everyone. This is not an easy or even guaranteed route to success. It is a very complex and difficult fight but one that is very positive and forward looking. I find that very appealing compared to the dead end road we are on now, with none of the people in power at present offering a genuine alternative or even a glimmer of hope. If I have to imagine how safe we would be in a socialist world, I think the answer is that we would be as safe as the most vulnerable person would be safe. We all have the responsibility to work towards making it safer everyday for that person, by paying attention, by listening, by investing in our children and young people, by investing in ourselves.

There is absolutely no point locking people away, punishing people, killing people in name of the state because all it does is making the situation worse. The children of convicted offenders won’t have a dad or a mother to guide them away from crime, all they have is anger and frustration, guilt and shame which can only lead to negative outcomes. The family of the victims also don’t have any positive guidance and support, only anger, grief and loss which can only lead to a negative outcome for them. We have tried prison, punishment and deprivation, with no real positive results so why not try the alternative. Rehabilitation, restoration and reconciliation, truly investing in people with positive action. But this is only possible if the whole system is transformed by the majority in a democratic, planned economy for a socialist future for everyone.