CULTURAL CRIMINOLOGY. AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CONCEPT
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Cultural criminology which emerged in the 1990s, based on new criminology of Taylor, Walton, Young, and the achievements of National Defiance Conference and British studies of subcultures, can be regarded as part of the critical approach to the phenomenon of crime. Since it first appeared, cultural criminology has tried to adjust the point of view on crime by engaging various perspectives. By principle, cultural criminology is supposed to challenge conventional criminology and provide a distinguishable alternative. Its distinctive features are emphasis on cultural components (i.e. style, symbols, meanings, emotions and media information) in investigating the phenomenon of crime and use of postmodernist interpretation in the analyses. Cultural criminology, by placing crime and crime control in the context of culture and regarding them as cultural products, focuses on the way in which social actors – all potential participants to the phenomenon of crime, i.e. offenders, victims, organs of social control, journalists and reporters – construe meaning and attribute it to delinquency, act of crime and each other. One of the key problems of cultural criminology is critical reflection on the postmodern world, that is a world in constant flux, marked with the processes of marginalisation and social exclusion but also ambiguous potential of creativity, transcendence, and transgression. In a series of conceptions, one can find references to such symptoms of postmodernism like, on one hand, consumerism fuelled by the media, imperative of expressiveness and ever increasing significance of personal development, on the other hand decreasing job security and family ties stability, pluralism of values enhanced by migration and global conflicts. What results from the clash of these opposite forces is increasing loss of sense of security of the a modern man and in collective categories, loss of public confidence. The vision of society assumed by cultural criminology is a society based on conflict, and all explanations of subcultures must include current relations of power and patterns of social inequality. At the same time, accepting M. Weber’s statement that culture is a network of meanings which are continuously created by a man and in which a man is suspended, it is postulated to seek these meanings by interpretation. Such assumptions concerning culture and means of its examination, along with the conflict-based vision of society, puts cultural criminology at the charge of combining various methods of explanation assumed by social sciences. In ethnographic studies in the area of cultural criminology the pursue of meaning by thorough exploration of cultural practices is reserved only for deviant subcultures. The world of social control is labelled with terms in line with conflict orientations in criminology. This means that idiographic research, that is research aiming at understanding of particular cases, is subordinated to explanations of nomothetic character, that is aiming at general understanding of many cases. Cultural criminologists assume perspective of soft indeterminism in explaining human nature. This means that, although social actors are take active part in reality and construe meanings, they are not entirely resistant to the influence cultural forces. A volitional motive can be seen in a number of influential concepts of cultural criminology. Steve Lyng finds “edgework” concept of risky behaviours and disobedience to legal norms to be a manifestation of opposition against reality marked with class divisions, consumerism and alienation. Similarly, Jeff Ferell interprets illegal behaviours of graffiti makers in Denvers as a form of vivacious, emotional and experimental resistance against rational social control. And according to Mark Presdee, such forms of modern delinquency as prohibition infringement, illegal ritual behaviours of criminal gangs, arsons, or joyriding can be understood in the terms of carnival. Crime is not immutable, no behaviour is a criminal one by its nature, it is an effect of the process of attributing such interpretation. What is important then, is researching the cultural process in which such reality receives such meaning. Traditional methods applied by criminology do not allow for this, and for this reason qualitative methods, particularly ethnography, should be used. What speaks in favour of such turn to qualitative research methods is also a conviction that traditional criminology is involved in relations of power and government. This is why the very practice of criminologist’s study of crime should be researched. Both and attempt of synthetic description, and an attempt of unambiguous evaluation of cultural criminology is troublesome because of its assumed, almost ephemeral, postmodernism-oriented character. Constant efforts of cultural criminologists to defy conventional, agreed meanings and accepted limits defining criminological theories on one hand make this current susceptible to criticism, on the other they open a wide field for new theoretical and methodological inspirations.
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