Criminology Research Network
Department of Sociology, Lund University, Sweden.
Broadening and Sociologizing the Scene of Crime and Punishment
Criminology has a long history of identifying its field and theories
with criminals per se. Early criminologists (or crime anthropologists)
were dedicated to finding a criminal man—Homo Criminalis—and to
explaining the existence and character of crime in terms of his or her
supposed essential qualities: inherited, racial, evolutionary or
“atavistic,” psychic, etc. Scholars arguing against the idea of a “born
criminal” (e.g. Charles Goring), as well as scholars gradually
modifying it with social factors (like the late Cesare Lombroso and
Enrico Ferri), still restricted their interest to “The Criminal” and his or
her propensities, as did the early and influential French crime
statisticians (Beirne 1993).
In many respects, modern criminology displays a notable
unwillingness to distance itself from or complicate this intellectual
heritage. As the fruitless project of predicting crime by ideational
types was replaced by sociological explanations in the 20th century
(even though a search for “crime genes” was to be actualized in our
time, curiously reconnecting to the 19th century search for Homo
Criminalis), modern scholars still refer to crime and criminals in their
more or less conventional meanings, despite the fact that there are now
theoretical tools for finding alternatives.
Indeed, concepts such as deviant subcultures, social disorganisation,
criminal careers, neutralization techniques, labelling, and white collar
crime (Sutherland 1949) all aim at explaining crime and criminals, but
through perspectives that question the indisputable status of crime and
criminals, as well as the rigid division between “deviance” and
conformity.
Control theories belong to the most subverting contributions in this
regard, since they redirect the analyst’s attention to social regulation
and its shifting emergence and contexts rather than decontextualized
deviation. In fact, a focus on social control redirects criminology from
the criminal man to the controlled man—and to the controlling society
in general. Now, controlling agents turn into subjects as much as
criminals, and—if combined with detailed data on human
interaction—minor deviations as much as major ones, subtle sanctions
as much as obvious ones, etc.
The Criminology Research Network at the Department of Sociology,
Lund University, wrestles with this intellectual heritage in order to
obtain two overall objectives:
(1) to widen the criminological field;
(2) to advance the goal of sociologizing criminology.
The Network questions research relying on essentializing pictures of
crime and criminals; it does not find a single-minded focus on
conventional crimes or officially recognized social problems and their
proclaimed solutions sufficient. Instead, it aims to broaden
criminology’s narrow devotion to obvious norm violations and their
societal responses (but certainly not excluding them), as there is not
enough space for scientific creativity solely within the enduring
heritage left by early criminologists.
Our efforts aim at expanding the field so that (a) phenomena typically
not associated with criminology, but empirically and theoretically
embedded into it, are carefully researched; (b) criminology’s
sociological wing is academically strengthened; and (c) sociology
itself is developed by using “the social”—in its broadest and yet most
radical sense—when inquiring into the scene of crime and punishment,
deviance and control.
The fact that the Network’s inquiry includes a search for subtle
phenomena in itself constitutes a mechanism to widen the field. There
is a lot to learn from studies of less conspicuous social deviations and
control dramas, for instance around individuals with disabilities and
their social worlds (Jacobsson 1999; 2000), or around ethnic minorities
(Basic 2009). A sociologically-grounded criminological perspective
can be directed to many areas not necessarily thought of as
“criminological.” There is also a lot to learn from re-reading classics—
Georg Simmel, Émile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss—since they typically
are liberated from current debates and worries, and therefore may
provide a fresh gaze.
Contemporary and Classic Tools—and Classics turned
Contemporary
Since its establishment in 1993, the Network has used a broad variety
of interrelated analytic and methodological tools within sociology to
academically operationalize its objectives, often combined within one
and the same project. The following description is far from complete
but provides an image of how we work.
The linguistic turn has been used to discern and explain mechanisms
of social control in their most detailed and subtle manifestations,
notably in areas typically not at all associated with crime and
punishment (e.g. the world of the deaf and hard of hearing, see
Jacobsson 1999; 2000). Analytic sensitivity to the spoken word, oral
narratives, and their embedded societal discourses has similarly helped
to uncover social processes in institutional and cultural forms: in
victim support organizations (Ryding 2005), in policemen’s accounts
of women battering cases (Lundberg 2001), and in patterns of accounts
relating to bribery (Thelander 2006), as well as in the various social
meanings of corruption (Wästerfors 2004) and male victimization
(Burcar 2005; Burcar & Åkerström 2009).
Spoken words are, in general, carefully regulated, and when we
analyze them the criminological field is widened, since these
regulations generate their own “crimes” and “punishments”—and
villains, fools, and heroes (see Jacobsson & Åkerström 1997). In
practice, discourse also constitutes those various fields that
criminologists should be interested in—police work, prosecutors’
work, crime prevention, victim support, bribery, etc.—further
underlining its interest for us.
Constructionism—closely linked to the linguistic turn—has helped us
to show both how conventionally defined crimes are sustained or
rhetorically challenged (e.g. bribes in Thelander 2006, Wästerfors
2004, and Jacobsson 2006, and violence in Åkerström 1998; 2003),
and also how the socially cherished “ideal victim” (Christie 2001) is
put into an intricate play of construction and deconstruction in
contemporary society (Åkerström & Sahlin 2001; Ryding 2005).
Constructionism is also used to research ethnicity in institutional youth
care (Basic 2009), to study elderly abuse and care scandals (Jönson,
2006), to analyze performed masculinity in victim narratives
(Åkerström, Burcar, & Wästerfors 2011), to uncover transformations
of sorrow to anger and “victim” to “survivor” in victim support work
(Ryding 2009), and to study the definition of violence from the
security industry’s perspective (Mallén forthcoming).
In these studies, constructionism relativizes rigid demarcations around
“crime, “criminal,, “victim,” “inmate,” “staff,” “man,” and “woman,”
etc., and invites “the social” into the analysis: people’s active handling
of these concepts, with wider discourses and contexts as their
resources. Contemporary sociology is thereby cultivated and
elaborated within criminology, and criminology is expanded.
Cultural and interactional analyses are developed both in relation to
the society in general and to particular social issues—victim support,
corruption scandals, violence, drugs, non-taxed work, etc.—but also in
relation to particular groups or subcultures. Students in our
criminology courses SOCA71 and SOCA81 often engage in
investigating the social worlds of marginal actors like graffiti artists,
young criminals, drug users, female offenders, etc., thereby trying to
uncover cultural denominators in attitudes, practices, ideals, and
identities. Life style analyses of criminals are closely attached to these
efforts (Åkerström 1993). Such analyses reconnect to classic (and prepositivistic) notions in early criminology, where the individual and his
or her will and agency were attended to, although in our case updated
with contemporary sociology and social psychology as, for instance, in
Erving Goffman’s versions. Thus, “the social” is incorporated into the
research so that an individual criminal’s or “deviant” actor’s life and
mind (Homo Criminalis) are understood as deeply formed by,
interconnected with, and ultimately dependent on others. Similarly,
our interest in crime victims is informed by an interest in interactions
formed by society’s current picture of them as first and foremost
worthy of sympathy. Svensson (2006) revealed interactional intricacies
and dilemmas concerning support staff.
Document studies, interview studies, and ethnography provide us with
rich data from a variety of sites with criminological relevance:
unauthorized migrants in Sweden (Frank 2009; 2010), conflict
managing practices and staff priorities in Swedish institutional youth
care (Wästerfors 2009; Basic, Thelander, & Åkerström 2009), elderly
residences (Jönson 2006b), Swedish prosecutors’ definition of
“objectivity” (Jacobsson 2008), media users’ attitudes and actions
towards reports on crimes and scandals (Åkerström 2008), drug-users’
biographies and everyday practices (Andersson 1991), etc.
When it comes to ethnography, researchers within the network have,
for instance, “gone along” with policemen in their daily work
(Lundberg 2001), with victim supporters in their voluntary activities
(Ryding 2005), with staff and patients at an emergency clinic
(Åkerström 1996), and with youth and staff in care settings
(Wästerfors 2009), and have conducted in-depth interviews with
thieves and addicts (Åkerström 1993), businessmen (Wästerfors 2008),
aid workers (Thelander 2006), and social workers and probation
officers (Svensson, 2009). In cooperation with professor Abby
Peterson at Göteborg University, today’s multifaceted and often nongovernmental policing of ethnicity is investigated with the help of
diverse empirical sources and methods. (Peterson and Åkerström, 2013)
There is, in other words, no hesitation within this network toward
getting in touch with whoever or whatever it takes in order to gather
interesting data through direct interaction. This methodological
approach stems from the network’s ambition to sociologize
criminology, since it is drawing and elaborating on the strong field
research tradition within this discipline and within the Department of
Sociology at Lund University. We are not satisfied with general
descriptions, nor with clichéed examples or predictable personas from,
for instance, tabloid newspapers, but strive to complicate the fields and
actors at issue by incorporating instances from a plethora of social life,
as it takes form when a researcher gets into (and interactionally
defines) a field. Our recurrent field works have also led to
methodological contributions (for instance Åkerström, Jacobsson, &
Wästerfors 2004; 2013 forth).
Finally, classic social scientists and thinkers, such as Émile Durkheim,
Georg Simmel, George Herbert Mead, Erving Goffman, Mary
Douglas, Max Scheler, Mikhail Bakhtin, Kenneth Burke, and Marcel
Mauss, are continually being used and reused. Without Bakhtin’s
concept of dialogism, for instance, studies of discursive social control
turn meagre (Jacobsson 2000), without Burke’s analyses of rhetoric,
“courtships” as an alternative to bribes might not have been discovered
(Wästerfors 2004), and without Mauss, our studies of bribery and
corruption would lack the enriching and culturally deepening
background of his anthropology of the gift (Åkerström 2011; 2013
and Wästerfors 2004). It is not merely in new data that the network
finds its impetus to advance analysis, but as data is
theorized by (and as analyses and projects are informed by) classic
social thought. This also corresponds with theoretical traditions at the
Department of Sociology at Lund University.
The strategy to reread classics goes hand in hand with our objective to
advance toward the goal of sociologizing criminology. It is certainly
not distracting, we argue, to read and draw on authors that typically
fall outside criminology, but rather it is augmenting and enriching,
since a step “back” to classics in social science often means a step
forward for contemporary research.
Activities
The Criminology Research Network at the Department of Sociology
engages in …
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Research projects and research applications
Theory and method development
Publishing and editing
Teaching and course development
Scientific conferences, seminars, and meetings
Evaluations
Media and other societal contacts
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