More than just the usual suspects

European Journal of Criminology
October 21, 2005

The European Society of Criminology is barely three years old and, since its birth, colleagues who want to network across the European Continent are no longer forced to attend the annual conference organised by its US counterpart. In the past, European criminologists would get to know one another in San Francisco or in Atlanta, where they would hold sessions and workshops amid the indifference of US colleagues hosting their annual gathering. The European Society is therefore very welcome, as is its journal, which promises a variety of empirical material as well as theoretical contributions from different schools of thought.

As David Smith argues in the editorial of the first issue, the current development of criminology is driven by a number of forces, most obviously growing concerns about security and crime control. Such issues tend to be mainly addressed to the presence in Europe of the "other", namely the foreigner, the recent migrant and the asylum-seeker. The other, in effect, may be illegal by definition - an unregistered migrant, say - which makes it even easier to merge his or her appreciation, in the collective consciousness, as the "illegal other". Another force that gives impetus to European criminology, we are told, is "a heightened awareness of human rights issues, as evidenced for example by the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment".

In my view, the recent developments in criminology may also be a consequence of the growing belief that technical, administrative, environmental, architectural or policing strategies are the only ones capable of responding to crime. In other words, it would seem that criminology is gaining unprecedented respectability because officials and policymakers have abandoned broader social concerns and adopted a view that the problem of crime arises from the mere lack of its institutional control. This also explains the spread of private policing and technological street control, not only of criminology.

On the contrary, the belief that criminal conduct can be tackled with social policies inspired by a better distribution of resources would disregard the expertise offered by criminologists and, perhaps, focus on the suggestions made by education and housing experts or by students of labour markets and social welfare. Reflecting on the conditions that make one academic discipline successful would be an excellent starting point for a criminological society and a related journal that aspire to "be seen as a counterbalance to American hegemony in systematic social science research on crime and criminal justice".

The content of the first five issues is undoubtedly rich. Articles deal with Russian prisons, patterns and pathways of offending behaviour, criminal victimisation in cross-national perspective, youth gangs, domestic burglary, international criminal justice and many other topics. A "country survey" concludes each issue, providing authoritative summaries of research and policies in specific European countries. France, Ireland, Switzerland, Poland and Estonia have featured so far.

With human rights and crime control driving the development of criminology, along with the increasing communication between European countries, it is to be anticipated that the journal will host a number of studies on transnational criminality, trafficking in weapons and human beings and, finally, cross-national law enforcement.

As the editor remarks, it is ironic that the US, the country in which crime research is most developed, is also the country where the criminal justice system is "particularly punitive and divisive". But is this surprising? The case of the US perhaps shows how criminology, as I mentioned above, develops when other mechanisms for the establishment of social solidarity and other forms of governance are deemed useless. This journal may want to take issue with such development and the theories that underpin it.

In an interesting initial statement, the journal views criminology as a field of application rather than a single discipline. Crime and crime control, in other words, constitute a set of problems that can be addressed by a variety of scholars from different backgrounds and methodologies.

Emile Durkheim is a case in point: he was concerned with establishing a science of society, but his thoughts on deviance and crime left an invaluable patrimony of ideas to criminology. Many authors who are most often quoted in criminological analysis did not regard themselves as criminologists (Michel Foucault was one outstanding example).

The European Journal of Criminology avoids a single approach to the study of crime and criminal justice. It promises to encourage comparative research, whose potential is largely unrealised. I wish the editor would also promise that articles that focus on "multilevel analyses", "structural covariates" and "bivariate scatter plots" will be, in future issues, alternated with more compelling theoretical discussions of criminal activity and its control.

Vincenzo Ruggiero is professor of sociology, Middlesex University.

European Journal of Criminology

Editor - David J. Smith
Publisher - Sage. Four times a year
Price - Institutions £297.00, Individuals £40.00
ISSN - ISSN 1477 3708, Online ISSN 1741 2609

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