New Potencial for Anti-Criminology

Autor:Vincenzo Ruggiero

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This little homage to Roberto Bergalli takes inspiration from one of his concerns. In a book he co-edited in 1997 (‘Social Control and Political Order’), he reassessed the concept of social control in light of the decline of the welfare state, in a new situation ‘of violence, death and environmental aggression’. He questioned the capacity of sociology and criminology to face such new situation with old analytical tools.

In a similar vein, this is an attempt to verify whether and how, in the current situation, a revitalization of critical criminological analysis is viable. It is an effort to identify, within criminology, some theoretical and empirical areas that lend themselves to a radical approach, an approach that I would term critical or anti-criminological. The areas I have in mind include the sociological tradition from which the discipline derives, the area of crime causation, the field pertaining to the crimes of the powerful and, more generally, the area of penal policy. After examining these interrelated areas, and pinpointing the theoretical and practical gaps that still denote our efforts in their respect, I will argue that critical or anti-criminology is far from having exhausted its analytical and political potential.

Crime versus conflict

When we look at the sociological tradition from which criminology and the sociology of deviance originally take inspiration, we have to focus in particular on the sociological knowledge produced concomitantly with the expansion of urban settings. Throughout the twentieth century, the growth of cities was accompanied by the emergence of new forms of social conflict. It is true that students of urban settlements where obsessed by order and invoked innovative social processes which could strengthen it. However, early analysts of the city also focused on innovation and social change, as these were deemed essential for people to cohabit in the urban environment, and for groups to negotiate their respective role and degree of access to resources. Hence the emphasis on collective action, which shapes urban settlements, and through innovation establishes acceptable models of urban order. Hence, also, the attention posed on innovation that disrupts unjust social order and aims at creating a new one. There is, therefore, something dynamic in early studies of urban settings: there is a sense that collective interests and group action, through negotiation or conflict, may determine social mutation.

The simultaneous development of the sociology of deviance was the result of a radical shift, whereby collective action and innovation were abandoned as analytical issues and the focus placed on anti-social behaviour, fear, and disorder (rather than order, or potential new order). Transitional hells and criminal zones became the cen-

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tral scene of enquiry, with the sociological gaze being diverted from more general urban conflicts.

An overview of some classics of the sociology of the city would help identify which tenets were retained and which eschewed, and how the conflictual nature of urban settlements as depicted by the very pioneers of urban studies was distilled into an essentialist notion of conflict as deviance and crime. One of the tasks of contemporary anti-criminology might be that of analytically revisiting these aspects which are neglected by mainstream analysis, and re-focus attention on collective action and social change that accompany, providing a backdrop to, what we call criminal activity.

Classical sociology does contain conceptual traces of ‘social movement’, though such traces form a vague corollary to its central concern around social change. However, both the concept of ‘movement’ and that of ‘change’ are hidden behind, and coalesce with, notions of instability and incumbent menace. Exclusive attention to the latter notions was part of the cost the sociology of deviance had to pay for its ambition to achieve independence. Ultimately, confronted with unprecedented growth of cities, the sociology of deviance alimented its independence with what I would term a deep sociological ‘fear of living together’. It is among the tasks of contemporary anti-criminology to resist this process and, paradoxically, to restore forms of theoretical dependence, rather than independence, from the sociology of social change.

Some examples. Many sociologists of deviance were deeply influenced by the views of social theorists such as Tönnies, who described cities as ‘dysfunctional mechanic aggregates’. This description was translated into that of social disorganisation. In sum, the sociology of deviance uncritically embraced the ideas of Tönnies, who lamented that ‘people are all by themselves and isolated’, and that relationships in cities are segmented and transitory. City dwellers were not expected to encounter each other as whole persons, because their relationships were deemed merely instrumental: ‘every person strives for that which is to his own advantage and affirms the actions of others only in so far as and as long as they can further his interest’. Relationships in the urban environment, in brief, were viewed as more likely to generate predatory conducts than collective action for change. Anti-criminological analysis is committed to shifting the focus from the former to the latter, therefore re-appropriating a crucial area of critical enquiry and practice.

Let us take the example of Durkheim. The concept of anomie was comprehensively adopted by the sociology of deviance, in that it describes an exceptional situation hampering the normal functioning of society. In Durkheim, however, the polarisation between a condition of stability and one of anomie is only apparent, because groups of individuals may challenge a specific form of stability without throwing the collectivity into a normless condition. The division of labour in society may be altered with a view to increasing consensus, a suggestion implying Durkheim’s belief in subjectivities bringing change. The division of...

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