ISBN 0-8039-5901-X (pb). Cloth £32.50. Paper £14.95.
Lecturer in Law, Newcastle Law School < Richard.Collier@newcastle.ac.uk>
Copyright © 1995 Richard Collier. First Published in Web Journal of Current Legal Issues in association with Blackstone Press Ltd.
Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences sets out to provide an "accessible and relatively brief guide" to the current state of theorizing on criminology. It is the authors' intention to provide a "comprehensive survey" of a field in which, it sometimes seems, each week witnesses the publication of another text aimed at providing students with just such an "accessible overview" of the history of criminology. The remit of the book is so broad, the authors admit at the outset, that it has at times been necessary to leave out detailed discussion of the variations within each of the theoretical perspectives they seek to cover. There is, of course, a limit to what areas of criminological theory such a book could cover. For an introductory text aimed primarily at the student market, however, the timing of the British publication of the second edition of Lilly, Cullen and Ball's text is unfortunate in that the recently published Oxford Handbook of Criminology (Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 1994) is not only able to draw on the expertise of its many contributors but, at over 1250 pages, has considerably more space in which to provide a similarly scholarly, yet readable, introduction and guide to criminology. This is not to argue that Criminological Theory does not have much to recommend it to the British reader however. For what is most interesting about this book is precisely how it differs from British texts which are similar in scope - and also what it tells us about the ways in which such purportedly "comprehensive" overviews of criminological thought draw on a particular reading of the history of criminology the legitimacy of which, most importantly, has come under increasing challenge in recent years.
Criminological Theory is, on one level, a traditional introductory student textbook. The stated aim of the authors is to provide "... a basic introduction to the social history of attempts, largely by academic scholars, to explain crime...a first step to understanding the long search for the answer to the riddle of crime" (p 8). How can the varied phenomena which constitute 'crime' be explained?
"Why is crime so prevalent in the United States? Why in some of our communities and not others? Why do some types of people break the law, although others are law abiding? Why do the affluent, and not just the disadvantaged, commit illegal acts?" (p 3).
In seeking to answer these questions the authors' clear enthusiasm for, and expertise in, the subject is of considerable assistance. Explaining crime, they declare, is an "adventure" in which their text will "...encourage [the reader] to take further steps in the time ahead" (p8). It is hoped that the book will have a "personal relevance to readers", noting perhaps optimistically that "as reflexive creatures we can explore our biases, think more clearly about crime, and embrace policies less contaminated by our prejudices" (p 225). These are admirable intentions.
It is, throughout, written in a lively and accessible style which assumes no previous knowledge of the subject. The structure of the book itself follows the classic 'story' of criminology in presenting an account of the development of different criminological 'schools,' from the nineteenth century "search for criminal man" through to the ascendancy of conservative criminology in the 1990s. In between we find an informed, if sometimes uninspired, discussion of the theoretical models which emerged and gained force during the 1960s and 1970s: control, labelling and conflict theories. The book also reconsiders the contributions of classical and positivist accounts of crime, the Chicago School, Differential Association theory and, in a chapter written especially for the second edition, feminist perspectives in criminology.
Given such an ambitious sweep, and at around 250 pages, perhaps inevitably, Criminological Theory at times functions as a basic introductory or revision text. The aim is to provide the reader with certain 'key' points about, and criticisms of, each theory. It does not, however, go into the depth of analysis one would expect and hope for (and in this respect Criminological Theory can be said to compare unfavourably with other student texts in the field). The final (and broadly critical) discussion of conservative criminology is said to bring the story of criminology "up to date and to a close" (p 9), and it is particularly disappointing that the revised second edition contains no engagement with recent postmodern interventions which would question such a convenient and neat, but grossly misleading, narrative closure. Indeed, the fact that the very subject of 'criminology' should itself be deeply contested at present, notably as a result of the challenges of feminist and postmodern-influenced critiques, is itself largely passed over. The failure to engage with these debates is itself a consequence of Lilly, Cullen and Ball's conceptualization of what constitutes 'criminology' in the first place.
To clarify: in keeping with a number of other recent texts (for example, Downes and Rock's Understanding Deviance (1988), Sykes' Criminology (1978)), the second edition of Criminological Theory has been revised and contains a new Chapter Seven, written especially for the second edition, exploring "...the development of feminist criminology in North America and Britain". Noting the "amnesia" of women and the intellectual and institutional sexism which has historically marked the explanations of female crime which "...abound and are found easily in leading criminology texts" (p 179), Lilly, Cullen and Ball argue that theories of criminality developed by, and validated on, men have little relevance for explaining female crime. Drawing heavily on the work of Gelsthorpe (1988) and Daly and Chesney-Lind (1988), and having discussed (and rejected) the purported relationship between the 'women's emancipation thesis and crime' (p 181), the authors quite rightly take issue with Paul Rock's now infamous suggestion that it is doubtful whether any "analytic losses" were inflicted on criminological theory by its past failure adequately to consider women. Today, they declare, it is "doubtful whether this conclusion would be accepted as much more than sexist rhetoric" (p 185). The engagement with feminist criminology in the second edition of Lilly, Cullen and Ball's text is, on one level, to be welcomed. Yet in addressing the question of gender in this 'extra chapter', Criminological Theory shows itself to be part of a wider trend in British and North American criminology. The insights of feminist criminology have been depicted as something which can be 'added on' to an otherwise 'sound' analysis of criminology (that presented elsewhere in the chapters of the book). What is not addressed here is the way in which feminist perspectives might have fundamentally questioned and undermined the utility of the discipline of 'criminology' in seeking to 'explain' and understand crime. There is, in particular, no engagement with that strand of feminist scholarship which has sought to "...reject the specific criminological project which remains wedded to a belief in the empirical discovery of causes of crime which are deemed sufficiently predictive and precise to be able to alter specific cultural patterns of behaviour" (Smart 1995, p 13: also Smart 1990). This treatment of gender is unfortunate as, elsewhere, Lilly, Cullen and Ball do show an awareness of how feminist scholarship has transformed (and is transforming) the discipline. They recognise that, in relation to the question of whether there can indeed be said to be a 'feminist criminology,' "the record appears to be mixed" (p 185). It is also noted how the issue of "gender is, however, not only about women" (p 187); the goal of feminism has been to "engender" the study of crime per se (and not just 'bring women in' - the 'add-on' approach depicted above).
What Criminological Theory does not do - and this is a weakness it shares with the discipline generally - is to carry these insights over into the discussion of those 'traditional' criminological theories which make up the bulk of the book: how are these accounts themselves gendered? How might we re-read the history of criminology once we 'take gender seriously'? What does this tell us about the 'masculinity of crime' itself (see, for example, Messerschmidt 1993; Newburn and Stanko 1994)? It is, in short, to be hoped that any third edition of Lilly, Cullen and Ball's text will go on to engage with the gender of crime in a more far-reaching sense than simply confining discussion to one chapter (a failing it also, interestingly, shares with the British Oxford Handbook of Criminology).
The strength of Criminological Theory, therefore, lies not so much in what it has to tell us about new directions in criminological theory (which is arguably very little) so much as how it seeks throughout to analyse the respective theories it covers in relation to their social context and consequences. If one accepts, for heuristic purposes, that the 'story' of criminology the authors present represents a plausible account of the history of discipline, then Criminological Theory can be said to succeed in highlighting how an understanding of the social context in which criminological theories emerge can itself play "a critical role in nourishing certain ways of theorizing about crime" (p 5). It is a central theme of the book that "...ideas have consequences. Theory matters" and that an interconnection exists between social context, criminological theory and criminal justice policy making (p 6). This idea forms the framework for analysis and, though not a particularly original insight in itself, by discussing at the end of each chapter the policy implications of the preceding theory Criminological Theory contains much that is of interest, not least in providing readers outside the United States with an insight into how criminological theory has historically fed into the development of criminal justice policy in a country whose rates of lawlessness - particularly violent crime - continue to be higher than in any other industrialised Western nation.
This issue is particularly pertinent at the present moment in Britain, where the social effects of the government's recent 'crackdown' on 'law and order' and renewed faith in incarceration are beginning to be felt (not least in the form of an apparently insurmountable rise in prison numbers and fashion for US-style 'boot camps' and electronic tagging). Notwithstanding the difficulty of making cross-cultural comparisons in relation to crime and criminal justice, there are clearly lessons to be learnt from experiences in the United States: the 'get tough' policies of certain American States have not noticeably succeeded in 'doing something' about the seemingly intractable problem of crime. Criminological Theory is a book which sets out to theorise such shifts in criminal justice policy. In Chapter Eight, 'Conservative Criminology: Revitalizing Individualistic Theory,' Lilly, Cullen and Ball depict the tensions and contradictions which exist between the liberal and conservative elements of President Clinton's 'crime- fighting' policies as being indicative of a more general "new political mix [which] seems to reflect a reshuffling of traditional patterns of social thought in the minds of many Americans" (p 224). To understand these developments, they argue, an understanding of criminological theory is essential and, in what is one of the most interesting sections of the book, the authors note the emergence of a transnational "corrections-commercial complex" (p 221), in which private corporations, by increasingly providing goods and services to corrections institutions, are themselves profiting economically from (and thus have a vested interest in the perpetuation of) "get tough" criminal justice policies such as President Clinton's "three strikes and you're out" proposal that would impose life sentences for repeat offenders.
The implications of these developments for Britain are not hard to see when, notwithstanding the existence of research which questions its efficacy as a deterrent, the Government continues to endorse an increased use of incarceration. If the more general diverse responses to crime taking place in the United States at the moment can be said to be influencing present British criminal justice policy (and the present Home Secretary has cited the United States as an example of a country where 'prison works') then Lilly, Cullen and Ball's text serves as a sobering reminder of what the future might hold: in Ohio, California, Michigan and Maryland prison inmates are currently being charged between $20 and $85 a day for their upkeep. In Portland, Oregon a sex molester recently received not only the usual sentence "...of no alcohol, no drugs, counselling, orders to stay away from parks and school yards", plus a jail sentence, but also "...on release from jail was required to put a sign on his front door that read "Dangerous Sex Offender: No Children Allowed" (p 222). Implicit in the text is a narrative of 'us now, you later.' Given the crises in criminal justice in the United States at present, the British Government's dogmatic embrace of incarceration as a panacea to the 'crime problem' does not bode well for the future.
To conclude: Lilly, Cullen and Ball's Criminological Theory is a book which contains much that will be of interest to both students and lecturers of criminology. In presenting an overview of the subject from a distinctly North American standpoint the text at times casts new light on debates which readers from Britain and elsewhere might otherwise find somewhat tired and exhausted (notably in Chapter Seven, which covers what the authors call the 'British Influence' on critical theory: it is, for this reviewer, certainly open to question whether "...left realism is the new criminology's heir apparent and a major alternative to establishment criminology" (p 195)). Drawing throughout on a largely North American literature, the book consistently locates each theory in the context of the culture and structure of society in the United States and highlights the links between theory and criminal justice policy. The conclusion in this regard is depressing: writing from one of the most crimogenic societies in the world, what emerges from Lilly, Cullen and Ball's text is a picture of a society which is in economic decline and which is marked by persistent gross inequalities in wealth and opportunity. In such a context, recent attempts to revitalise individualistic theories of crime causation (notably in the form of the increasingly prevalent biosocial theories) clearly run counter to the kind of sociological criminology envisaged by Lilly, Cullen and Ball; "the historical record teaches that attempts to root crime in human nature exempt the social fabric from blame and lend credence to the idea that offenders are largely beyond reform and in need of punitive control" (p 215). Their final conclusion is addressed to the North American context, but it could also constitute a fair summation of recent developments in British criminal justice policy: "...by seeing crime as simply a matter of bad choices, bad personalities, or the failure to tame bad impulses, attention is deflected away from defects in the social structure that form the wider context of crime causation" (p 219).
Criminological Theory is, in the end, a traditional criminology textbook; its flaws, in so many ways, reflect the uncertainties of a discipline which itself has been notoriously subject to periodic crises of confidence. At times the cost of making this wide-ranging overview accessible to the reader is felt at the expense of depth. Moreover, possibly for fear of alienating those they so wish to encourage, complex issues are frequently passed over. The central point of the book is that "ideas about crime - or what we call theories - are a product of society that develop in a particular context and then have their consequences for social policy" (p 225). The authors maintain a belief that a suitably rigorous and verifiable criminology could, one day, 'explain' crime. The book is thus framed around a belief that the search for the causes and cures of crime which preoccupies criminologists is, in itself, valid. Yet, as others have recently asked, can we really be sure that criminology will 'one day' provide these answers? Does criminology itself not categorise "...a vast range of activities and treats them as if they were all subject to the same laws.... The argument within criminology has always been between those who give primacy to one form of explanation rather than another. The thing that criminology cannot do is deconstruct crime." (Smart 1990 p 77). There are many important, and difficult, questions presently being asked about the past, present and future of the discipline of criminology. Had Criminological Theory begun to address some of these questions, in the same lively, accessible and informed way it deals with the traditional 'story' of criminology, it would have been a much better book.
Daly, K and Chesney-Lind, M (1988) "Feminism and Criminology" 5 Justice Quarterly, 497.
Downes, D and Rock, P (1988) Understanding Deviance (Oxford: Clarendon)
Gelsthorpe, L. (1988) "Feminism and Criminology in Britain" 28 British Journal of Criminology, 93.
Maguire, M, Morgan, R and Reiner, R (1994) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Messerschmidt, J W (1993) Masculinities and Crime: Critique and Reconceptualization of Theory (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield).
Newburn, T and Stanko, EA (eds) (1994a) Just Boys Doing Business? Men, Masculinities and Crime, (London: Routledge).
Smart, C (1995) "Introduction" in Smart, C, Law Crime and Sexuality: Essays in Feminism, London: Sage).
Smart, C (1990) "Feminist Approaches to Criminology: Or, Postmodern Woman Meets Atavistic Man" in Gelsthorpe, L and Morris, A, Feminist Perspectives in Criminology, (Milton Keynes: OUP).
Sykes, G M (1978) Criminology (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)