Jeffrey Ian Ross, ed. Cutting the Edge: Current Perspectives in Radical/Critical Criminology and Criminal Justice. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1998 xii plus 226 pp. $59.95 cloth.

This provocative book introduces the reader to the fundamental differences between critical and mainstream criminology. Organized in two discrete sections, conceptual and substantive, all twelve well balanced articles engage in rigorous “edge” work; that is, they push the boundaries of inquiry and proffer possibilities for a truly transformative criminology. The most outstanding feature of the book lies in its imaginative and sophisticated critique of contemporary research. Accessibly written, this book investigates crime as a contested terrain. As Dorothy Bracey’s Foreword suggests, this book challenges by incorporating class analysis with insights of feminism, postmodernism, and ethnography, and literary criticism (p. ix).

In “Cutting the Edge: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?” Jeffrey Ross develops a thoughtful synthesis of existing perspectives while articulating new theoretic frontiers in radical/critical scholarship. A commitment to radical change should not, as Ross notes, be devoid of clear thinking and sound methods of social scientific research (p. 2).

Thomas O'Connor, in “The Contributions of Marx, Weber, and Simmel: The Common Ground is the Cutting Edge,” contends that the reinterpretive philosophical foundations of Marx, Weber, and Simmel facilitate a deeper appreciation of crime. Characterized by a particular epistemology based on realism, Marxism provides a theoretical framework that interrelates the capitalist mode of production, the state, law, crime control, and crime as well as other relevant factors (p. 10). Weber’s verstehen contributes to the ontology of the agentic/ subjective (p. 12) in noting non-economic motivations of circumstances and self-interests. But the self is always socially situated and therefore Simmel's concept of “form” completes this triangulated analysis.

In "Understanding Crime and Social Control in Market Economies: Looking Back and Moving Forward" Robert Bohm situates the ontological basis for the motivation of crime and control in market economies, socio-economic formations and class struggle. Crime is related to the criminogenic effects of individualism, competition, and exploitation (p. 19).

For Gregg Barak's "Time for an Integrated Critical Criminology,” the study of crime and justice will increasingly involve multiple intersections of biology, psychology, sociology, cultural studies, history, and economy (p. 35). Although “demarginalized,” critical criminologists enjoy underdeveloped transcendent imaginations and transformative agendas that reject the criminological status quo in theory and practice.

Bruce A. Arrigo’s “Marxist Criminology and Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Outline for a General Constitutive Theory of Crime” argues that conceptual advances identified in the postmodern sciences increasingly signal an epistemological break from traditional approaches. Recent developments in constitutive theory identifies the discursive process whereby the subject is constituted or interpellated through crime talk (p. 57). Arrigo’s analysis of the combinatory effects of Marxist criminology and Lacanian psychoanalytic semiotics is brilliant in locating the interactive effects of Lacan’s symbolic, imaginary and real orders.

Jeff Ferrell, in “Stumbling Toward a Critical Criminology (and into the Anarchy and Imagery of Postmodernism,” reviews postmodernist contributions in terms of negation of epistemic authority, that is, conceits of science, mythologies and methodologies of objectivity (p. 64). An attentiveness to the lived politics of criminalized activities, the daily interplay of legal authority and human agency and the criminogenic effects of the media serves to link structure and agency (p. 72).

In “New Directions in Critical Criminology and White Collar Crime,” David Friedrichs argues that current research on white collar crime fits comfortably within mainstream social science. In addition to its atheoretical empiricism in personalizing pathologies (p. 81) and an apathy toward a progressive agenda, current approaches ignore feminist and left realist perspectives and fundamental concepts of ideology, connectedness and compassion.

Leading the articles in Part ll is Jeffrey Ross’s bold “Radical and Critical Criminology's Treatment of Municipal Policing.” Ross encourages cross-cultural studies of policing. Additionally, he delineates the ideological foundations of police research (95). Conservative perspectives are limited analytically given their functionalistic and organizational orientation. Liberal approaches, however, are limited methodologically (98). Alternatively, the radical/critical perspective advocates a class analysis of policing whereby the following topics are investigated: the coercive capacity of the police, police working conditions, police violence; police history, etc. But the radical approaches too suffers from several shortcomings by ignoring psychological factors, minority communities, the potential of community policing, the funding of police, private and public police distinctions, class analysis (105), and feminist approaches.

In “Critical Criminology, Social Control and an Alternative View of Corrections” Michael Welch distinguishes texts (rhetoric of corrections) from subtexts (actuarial principles of risk). The structural biases and egregious forms of classism in the corrections industry offset problems endemic to capitalist production (p. 112) -- providing badly needed jobs for some while punishing “others.” For Welch, societal conditions -- work, education, health care and the unequal distribution of wealth -- influence the criminalization of the poor while the dominant ethos of materialism and predatory individualism encourage the criminality of the privileged.

In “Critical and Radical Perspectives on Community Punishment: Lessons from the Darkness,” Stephen Richards commences with a narrative of self identity that condemns a penal managerialism oriented towards a “net widening” of community corrections, privatization, and violence (boot camps, shock incarceration, electronic monitoring). These practices will add to the already 5.1 million American adults serving time in custody, on parole and probation (125).

Jeanne Flavin’s “Razing the Wall: A Feminist Critique of Sentencing Theory, Research, and Policy” argues that the “edge” which feminist criminologists are attempting to “cut” is more like a longstanding, well defended wall, one constructed of androcentric, classist, and racist assumptions that needs to be razed and replaced with a window framed by feminist principles (p. 144). Non-feminist approaches to sentencing are reductionist and demeaning; grounded upon either biological or paternalistic / chivalry hypotheses. History, cross-cultural perspectives and standpoint epistemologies highlight the notion of social location (p. 151-2), the “myth of objectivity” and the decentring / depoliticizing of women and minority men.

Lastly, Preston Elrod’s “ Similarities in Conservative and Liberal Juvenile Justice Policies: Is there a Critical Alternative?” develops an excellent critique of orthodox criminology. Conservative and liberal perspectives are similarly intransigent: they rely on formal, coercive social controls, cosmetic changes, and exclusionary policies, thus aborting pro-social pathways for young people. By focusing on individual and institutional pathologies of the family (p. 166), they ignore the salience of race, and gender, as well as socio-cultural conditions that make crime attractive to youth. Current “get tough” policies are consistent with the history of juvenile justice reform, the absence of social justice, and the presence of well established interests.

Despite the book’s success in crossing disciplinary borders, it gestures very slowly in moving beyond American geo-political boundaries. There are limited references to Canada and the UK, let alone to non western societies, a quintessential problem in mainstream criminology. Moreover, future works like this, as with all criminological theory, would profit from the contributions of the Frankfurt School. Nevertheless, Ross’ book should be required reading since it challenges the congested closures of criminological canons. Unlike so many mainstream edited volumes or criminological cookbooks, this book combs the relevant literatures very well and extracts what is heuristic. It renders critical thought and scholarship accessible to both graduate and undergraduate students alike. I congratulate the efforts of the contributors who complement each other in defying the defining gaze of legal / legitimate authority and in overcoming the debilitating relativism of postmodern thought by drawing attention to the universal inequalities of class, race and gender.

L. A. Visano
York University

November 1999
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