Crossborder patrol of penal controls

The New European Criminology
April 30, 1999

The editors of this book set themselves the task of facilitating "more communication between European scholars studying in fields related to crime, social order and criminology". Given the size of the goal, it is hardly surprising that the collection is diverse and tends to lack a clear unifying theme.

However, one thing that holds the papers together is that they are almost all essays in critical criminology. The collection's presupposition is stated clearly by Fritz Sack, who argues that to analyse the sorts of crime problem that are becoming most pressing in Europe - such as crimes by and against "foreigners" and "crimes of transaction" (like large-scale fraud made possible by massive socio-political transformations) - it is necessary to transcend the limits of conventional criminological thinking and its influential rival, rational choice theory.

The analytical individualism of these criminologies and their adherence to legal definitions of crime render them incapable of conceptualising and explaining such problems. For a better purchase on what is happening, we need a criminology less attached to the establishment's values and which focuses on the terrain where crime meets politics, economics and cultural identity.

Accordingly, contributors to this book show little enthusiasm for the traditional criminological search for bodily, mental and environmental factors that purportedly distinguish criminals from the rest of us and explain their behaviour. Rather, they seek a critical understanding of how crime and its control interact with broader socioeconomic and political structures and a socially just response to the social problems of which crime is but one manifestation.

The concept of "social exclusion" comes closest to being a key theme. As many contributors argue, the creation of "market Europe" has been as much about exclusion as about assimilation and incorporation. Sharp lines are drawn between those citizens who fully belong and those who, because of a lack of official employment and/or ethnicity, are outsiders. Such social exclusion creates new problems and intensifies old ones. It is not only that the excluded increasingly resort to crime because of their situation; they also increasingly find their very status criminalised. Concurrently, the existence of sharp social divisions breeds anxiety among the included, who therefore become intolerant and punitive towards the excluded.

The 29 essays in the book are divided into five sections. The first part comprises four essays on the impact of European harmonisation on crime and its control. These chapters paint a bleak picture of a Europe in which the forces of economic liberalism have simultaneously intensified crime and social exclusion and hindered the development of effective and just solutions.

Part two contains eight essays covering various aspects of criminal justice processes, penal control and abuse of the power to punish. This, the strongest section of the book, contains outstanding essays by Nils Christie and by Philippe Combessie. Christie's short paper develops his well-known critique of pyramidal justice and advocacy of an alternative: horizontal or egalitarian justice. Combessie's work, on the other hand, is little known in English-speaking criminology. His essay focuses on the relationship between the prison and the locality in which it exists, a zone he calls the prison's "sensitive perimeter". Combessie shows how the sensitive perimeter contributes to the prison's success and durability, and he explains why an understanding of the interactions between prisons and the outside world is crucial for penal reformers.

Part three - internally the most coherent section - contains five essays on organised crime. For anybody with an interest in criminal business, this section is indispensable. As well as contributing empirically to our grasp of organised crime across Europe, the essays contribute to the conceptualisation and explanation of the expanding domain where crime and business overlap.

Part four contains seven mainly empirical essays dealing with local crime in its international contexts: essays that provide important glimpses of the interactions of global tendencies with local experiences of crime and control. Part five contains five essays discussing broad tendencies in crime and social control and suggesting some directions that criminology must take to remain central to a critical understanding of society.

Along with some highly topical papers on "war and crime in the former Yugoslavia" and "the criminology of war in Europe", this section contains what is perhaps the most challenging essay of the collection. Sebastian Scheerer suggests that, despite appearances, the prison system is losing its functions and could soon be abandoned. This has implications for something we take for granted: the very category of the "delinquent" or "criminal". As a category of knowledge, Scheerer suggests, the "delinquent" was solidified by the prison; with the decline of the prison that category too will tend to dissolve.

This is a significant and stimulating collection. Anyone with an interest in the social analysis of crime and penal control will find much of interest. They will profit from engagement with the European contributors whose work deserves to be wider known.

The book's main limitation is its failure to elaborate much on the political vision outlined in the introduction and in Ian Taylor's opening essay. There, the idea of market Europe and the relentless advance of economic liberalism are held responsible for many of the social problems documented. The suggested solution is not a retreat to nationalism but the creation of a "democratic Europe" and the generation of new public institutions - including a common European politics - above the level of the market.

However, attempts to outline this alternative vision are few and imprecise, and significantly they do not focus much - with the exception of Christie's essay - on the creation of democratic legal and penal institutions. Nor is it ever explained in detail quite how and why such institutional-political development will result in Europe's crime problems being prevented or better handled.

The New European Criminology provides a wealth of information about tendencies in crime across Europe and shows that to analyse these tendencies, criminology must develop its conceptual and explanatory tools. In the process, the book confirms that criminology has the potential to contribute significantly to a critique of contemporary Europe.

To develop this potential, criminologists must follow this work with more detailed analyses of, and alternatives to, the social control strategies of the nation states of Europe and of the European Community.

Gerry Johnstone is lecturer in law, University of Hull.

The New European Criminology: Crime and Social Order in Europe

Editor - Vincenzo Ruggiero, Nigel South and Ian Taylor
ISBN - 0 415 16293 9 and 16294 7
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £55.00 and £18.99
Pages - 520

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