Simon Holdaway and Paul Rock, editors. Thinking About Criminology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998, 207 pp. $17.95, paper.

This set of essays is a response to the growth of English administrative criminology, which the editors suggest has led to a more subterranean form of theorizing. Expectations from the earlier era of grand theorizing and the internal coziness of the English criminological scene seem to have exacerbated this difficulty. As a result, eight criminologists who have made their mark while using theory in the service of empirical inquiry are asked to serve as resources for this attempted retrieval. The researchers are asked to write in a more personal, reflective voice about their career in criminology. Six of the eight reflect on their career, discussing their entry, crucial personal experiences, and the changing texture of their theorizing. Two writers provide pieces which either synopsize an area of their work (Jenkins) or the main ideas of persons who were influential (Pease) with minor autobiographical embellishment. As a result, this review focusses on the other six. In these accounts, the writers describe the problems which are important to them, the search for a voice in which to express their work, and the theoretical influences which affected them.

Clifford Shearing tells how his awareness of apartheid led him to move into sociology, eventually shifting his career to Canada. Beginning with Durkheimian realism, he seems to have moved toward Foucault, describing how his thinking shifted from the observation of police work to policing as a more discursive activity. In what may represent a form of closure, Shearing also describes his return to South Africa and participation in developing ways in which public protests can be policed in a more democratic manner.

Elizabeth A. Stanko also emigrated – to England – but not so early in her career, which had begun in the United States. Firmly grounded in Goffman and the ethnomethodological perspective, she had considerable experience observing actual police and control work. A personal struggle against sexual harassment and the discovery of feminist theorizing have contributed to her present focus. Through this perspective, we are led to her view of how policing most often revolves around protection of the police at the expense of victims, especially people who are marginal or whose social resources are limited.

Entering criminology just before Stanko, Frances Heidensohn recounts her struggle to establish research on women in policing and social control as a legitimate endeavour. She found that the sociology of deviance did not provide productive insight, but through the feminist movement and the work of Klein, Smart, and Gilligan she developed her own way of mapping and documenting this new terrain.

Robert Reiner found sociology after an unhappy experience with economics. As the child of Jewish Hungarian holocast survivors, he tells how his need for enthusiastic empirical pragmatism has been reconciled with the vociferous Marxist problematic into a Weberian view of policing as a tragic endeavour. He envisions the police as a sort of social litmus paper through which structural and cultural changes can be examined.

David Downes sees his work as a concern with the way in which deliberate political policies have contributed to inequality and as a result, increasing crime. Considering his views akin to left realism from the start, he also found that American theories made sense of the situation, especially the Mertonian emphasis on the increased propensity to consumption. Downes argues that the theories of that period were generally correct in their view that increased inequality is associated with more crime. He rejects the prevailing belief that inequality is simply the price for progress, pointing out instead, that short term policies of both Left and Right political parties have contributed to what is akin to “market fascism”.

In my view, the piece by Nils Christie is worth the price of the book. He writes a short reflective essay, wishing to avoid being trapped in the private. This is accomplished through a voice which is deeply relational. In what appears at times to be a meditation, he works on the theme of why there are so few monsters in his country, or why he has found so few monsters. The notion is, of course, similar to Cohen’s “folk devils”, but is embedded in an apparently existential view of the criminologist as centred in a triangle between governments, human misery and academic demands. He expresses the need for analyzing social conditions that can resist increasing penalization (which creates more monsters). His view on the values of a small society may be of particular interest to Canadians in this era of rampant American integration. While reading, I found my attention torn between querying the relevance of retrieving subterranean theorizing from police studies in England (mostly) and an interest in hearing the voices against oppression of these criminologists whose work I knew (mostly). In the end, the latter prevailed.

Ken Hatt
University of Victoria

February 1999
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