William “Jock” Young was born in Midlothian on 4 March 1942 and educated in Aldershot before studying sociology at the London School of Economics from 1962. He began teaching at what is now Middlesex University in 1968 and remained there for 35 years, for much of it as director of the Centre for Criminology. In 2002 he moved to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. He later served as professor of sociology at the University of Kent and then returned to New York as distinguished professor of criminal justice and sociology at CUNY’s Graduate Center.
A founding member of the National Deviancy Conference, which from 1968 promoted new forms of critical criminology, Professor Young soon began to make a major impact as a writer. His first book, The Drugtakers (1971), was based on an ethnographic study in Notting Hill in London. The New Criminology: For a Social Theory of Deviance (with Ian Taylor and Paul Walton, 1973) rapidly established itself as an essential text in the discipline and was reprinted with his new introduction for its 40th anniversary this year.
Equally influential was Professor Young’s 1975 article, “Working Class Criminology”, which laid the ground for a more engaged and policy-relevant style of “Left realist” criminology. What is To Be Done About Law and Order? (with John Lea, 1984) went on to argue for more accountable and responsive policing while also addressing sensitive issues of race and crime.
Although he was closely allied with the Labour Party during the 1980s, Professor Young became disillusioned with New Labour’s “tough on crime” approach and began work on a trilogy looking at broader cultural trends. The Exclusive Society (1999) traces the shift from an “inclusive” to an “exclusive” society; The Vertigo of Late Modernity (2007) develops the analysis of social exclusion to include terrorism, inequality and immigration; while The Criminological Imagination (2011) explores how criminology has become increasingly subject to excessively numerical and abstract methods.
“Jock Young greatly enriched the lives of those who knew and worked with him as well as the legions of criminologists that have read his work,” recalled Roger Matthews, professor of criminology at Kent.
“He was a truly inspirational figure who shared a lifelong commitment to an appreciation of the richness and diversity of social life. All those who knew and loved him will feel that the world has suddenly and tragically become less full of humour, colour and meaning.”
Professor Young died on 16 November and is survived by his wife Jayne, three sons and a stepdaughter.