A crime, or just a cultural creation?


February 25, 2005

At times, when I am introduced as a criminologist - which I find offensive - people think that the best way to start a conversation is to discuss the labyrinthine mind of the last serial killer to dominate the media. I explain that mine is a sociological perspective and that I would rather discuss how, in certain contexts, social forces, cultures and institutions determine a prevalence, for example, of illicit arms trafficking or football hooliganism. This book sets off by decisively stating its sociological perspective and, as a consequence, the wisdom that "things are not what they look like" accompanies it throughout.

By nurturing our sociological imagination, we are told, individual problems (marginalisation, drug abuse, crime victimisation and so on) appear as manifestations of collective problems, and crime reveals patterned links with other social issues and forces. Appreciating that crime is a sociological concept leads to the understanding that there is no conduct whose inner essence is criminal: what is regarded as crime is the result of collective negotiation, and changes across time, place and culture. Thus criminology becomes the study of the social processes whereby some acts are defined as criminal and others are not, irrespective of the harm they cause.

The authors' advice is to use this book in the same way students would normally use university lectures: as a route to learning. The chapters are preludes to further reading, so that learning resembles a journey: "There is more than one way of reaching your destination. Some paths are obviously the best way; for others, you must make your own informed judgement."

After discussing the major criminological traditions, the book addresses a variety of topics, including the often neglected areas of environmental crime, professional forms of deviance and "globalisation and crime". In the second part, an analysis is provided of philosophies and institutions entrusted with controlling criminal behaviour and the reduction of its social impact.

I have battled for years to divert students from criminology to sociology, feeling that crime is, in a sinister way, too "attractive". With nicely structured and well-written texts such as this, I feel that I am losing my battle.

Vincenzo Ruggiero is professor of sociology, Middlesex University.

Criminology: A Sociological Introduction. First edition

Author - Eamonn Carrabine, Paul Iganski, Maggy Lee, Ken Plummer and Nigel South
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 428
Price - £65.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 415 28167 9 and 28168 7

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