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What’s in the future for criminology?

This year marks 20 years that we have been offering criminology at the University of Northampton and understandably it has made us reflect and consider the direction of the discipline.  In general, criminology has always been a broad theoretical discipline that allows people to engage in various ways to talk about crime.  Since the early days when Garofalo coined the term criminology (still open to debate!) there have been 106 years of different interpretations of the term. 

Originally criminology focused on philosophical ideas around personal responsibility and free will.  Western societies at the time were rapidly evolving into something new that unsettled its citizens.  Urbanisation meant that people felt out of place in a society where industrialisation had made the pace of life fast and the demands even greater.  These societies engaged in a relentless global competition that in the 20th century led into two wars.  The biggest regret for criminology at the time, was/is that most criminologists did not identify the inherent criminality in war and the destruction they imbued, including genocide.    

In the ashes of war in the 20th century, criminology became more aware that criminality goes beyond individual responsibility.  Social movements identified that not all citizens are equal with half the population seeking suffrage and social rights.  It was at the time the influence of sociology that challenged the legitimacy of justice and the importance of human rights.  In pure criminological terms, a woman who throws a brick at a window for the sake of rights is a crime, but one that is arguably provoked by a society that legitimises inequality and exclusion. Under that gaze what can be regarded as the highest crime? 

Criminologists do not always agree on the parameters of their discipline and there is not always consensus about the nature of the discipline itself.  There are those who see criminology as a social science, looking at the bigger picture of crime and those who see it as a humanity, a looser collective of areas that explore crime in different guises.  Neither of these perspectives are more important than the other, but they demonstrate the interesting position criminology rests in.  The lack of rigidity allows for new areas of exploration to become part of it, like victimology did in the 1960s onwards, to the more scientific forensic and cyber types of criminology that emerged in the new millennium.   

In the last 20 years at Northampton we have managed to take onboard these big, small, individual and collective responses to crime into the curriculum.  Our reflections on the nature of criminology as balancing different perspectives providing a multi-disciplinary approach to answering (or attempting to, at least) what crime is and what criminology is all about.  One thing for certain, criminology can reflect and expand on issues in a multiplicity of ways.  For example, at the beginning of 21st terrorism emerged as a global crime following 9/11.  This event prompted some of the current criminological debates. 

So, what is the future of criminology?  Current discourses are moving the discipline in new ways.  The environment and the need for its protection has emerge as a new criminological direction.  The movement of people and the criminalisation of refugees and other migrants is another.  Trans rights is another civil rights issue to consider.  There are also more and more calls for moving the debates more globally, away from a purely Westernised perspective.  Deconstructing what is crime, by accommodating transnational ideas and including more colleagues from non-westernised criminological traditions, seem likely to be burning issues that we shall be discussing in the next decade.  Whatever the future hold there is never a dull moment with criminology.   

At what point do we act? There is plastic in the Mariana Trench!

I do not usually write about environmental issues, but I have reflected and read recently on zemiological perspectives with regard to social harms caused by excessive consumerism, and those in powerful positions who are determined to deny the impact of this on the planet. I examine this to some degree in my year two module on ‘Outsiders’, to ask students to think about their own consumer habits, perceived needs and also, the admiration and aspirations associated with wealth. I try to do my bit – I recycle, I am eating more vegetarian meals, but I also drive pretty much everywhere, and it is clear I could do more. However, I really do sympathise with those who ask whether concerned individuals can actually make a difference. This seems impossible in light of the scale of CO2 emissions from industrialised countries with high productivity and an unrelenting focus on increasing GDP. We also see football field sized areas of trees being cut from the Amazon rainforest on a daily basis, plastic in our oceans and food chains, and just recently, found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. As consumers, we can perhaps demand change, shift our consumer habits to use more recycled materials, move towards using sustainable resources where we have the choice and contribute to broader campaigns for change.

 

But this can feel insignificant in the light of world leaders denying there is a problem, refusing to invest in alternative energy resources and therefore, enabling the plundering of Earth’s resources. I am not sure what it will take to change our behaviour – I am hopeful younger generations, groups like Extinction Rebellion and campaigners such as Greta Thunberg mean governments who refuse to engage with the need for change will find themselves consigned to the past, with a legacy of being very much on the wrong side of history. I hope in 10 years time we can talk about being taken to the brink and pulling back, recognising the harms being caused, meaning we focus more on the welfare of the planet and less on accruing wealth and goods. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand recently spoke out about changing the priorities of her government in a pre-budget speech, which demanded a focus on environmental change through developing a low emissions economy and considering the welfare of citizens alongside economic growth. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who serves as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district presented her Green New Deal’, to the US Congress, receiving both criticism and praise for the bold ideas – the central premise being the need to ‘reject economic orthodoxy to confront climate change’ (Guardian, 2019). Those facing harms of climate change have been and still are disproportionally represented by developing countries, less powerful states who struggle to get their voice heard, compared to world leaders who still focus on GDP and their own interests. Now that climate change is affecting North America and Europe more consistently, with rising temperatures and extreme weather patterns, we might start to see a response to these calls for change.

 

It is serendipitous that I write this during the British Society of Criminology conference at the University of Lincoln, where green criminology has a clear presence and profile. By following the twitter feeds @BscGreenCrim and @BSCLincs_19, we can see a range of issues being explored under the remit of #greencriminology, which has sparked my interest further and made me regret not going this year – there is always next year at the University of Liverpool! The papers include an examination by John E. McDonnell (2017) on Genocide and Green Criminology, looking at the case of the ‘Merauke integrated food and energy estate’ – a quick search reveals a project billed as increasing self-sufficiency and wealth for Indonesia is actually a ‘land grab’ and displacement of indigenous populations, alongside deforestation and numerous other impacts, all to produce food for export. Rowland Atkinson reiterates this theme examining the impact of the over consumption of the global rich on urban life – at the conference and in an extensive list of research studies. Angus Nurse examines environmental crimes committed by corporations (Nurse, 2017), who are no doubt propped up by consumer habits which demand choice and value, at the expense of creating pollution and waste which poisons our air, oceans and rivers and, as with climate change, disproportionately affects the less powerful. Finally, a shift to another fascinating area of research was presented by Tanya Wyatt, exploring the link between wildlife and drug trafficking, the former being cited as a leading cause of animal extinction (Wyatt, 2016).

 

Another article which then caught my eye, came from the Guardian, by Chris Packham, detailing the plans for companies who want to mine the ocean floor, the largest ecosystem on the planet, which Packham describes as ‘quite clearly an awful idea’. It amazes me that this is even been discussed as a possibility, but in light of the behaviour of some of our world leaders, perhaps this displays my own naivety as to just how far some will go to create wealth. There has to be a tipping point, a point at which we simply ask, what is more important to us? The stuff we buy? The acceptance of states enabling the use of the Earth’s resources, no matter the cost to us?  The article describes oceans as the last ‘industrial frontier’, but it is also clear that more us of need to fully understand how vital they are to the health of our planet – they regulate our climate, provide food and an ecosystem which if damaged or even lost, would have serious consequences for all of us. The signs of change are there, and it is clear alongside the small efforts we make ourselves, we also need to start holding governments to account on this issue.

 

References

Atkinson R (2019) Necrotecture: lifeless dwellings and London’s super-rich. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

Guardian Editorial (2019) The Guardian view on a Green New Deal: we need it now, The Guardian.

Kenner, D. (2015) Inequality of overconsumption: The ecological footprint of the richest, Working Paper: 2015/2, Global Sustainability Institute

McDonnell, J.E. (2017) Can a genocide lens be of use in our understanding of the effects of the Indonesian Transmigration Program on the Indigenous People of West Papua?, Unpublished essay written for MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

Nurse, Angus (2017) Green criminology: shining a critical lens on environmental harm. Palgrave Communications, 3, pp. 1-4. ISSN 2055-1045

Packham, C. (2019) In too deep: why the seabed should be off-limits to mining companies, The Guardian.

Wyatt, Tanya (2016) A comparative analysis of wildlife trafficking in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Journal of Trafficking, Organized Crime and Security, 2 (1). pp. 62-81. ISSN 2374-118X

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