Friday, June 24, 2016

My debt to Richard Quinney


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

June 24, 2016


                Dragan Milovanovic and Clem Bartollas have asked members of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) to submit their memories of Richard Quinney and his work for a biography they are writing.  They will select quotes from the many contributions they receive to include in Richard’s professional life story.

                I am grateful to Dragan and Clem for the opportunity to reflect on how much Richard Quinney’s friendship, example and insights have given me.  I have sent them much more than the short paragraph they requested; their story of Richard is theirs to tell.  Meanwhile, I wanted to share in its entirety my account of how much Richard has contributed to my life and understanding.  I have just sent this remembrance to Dragan and to Richard, which I want to share in its entirety:


                Once my dissertation proposal had been approved and I had started my fieldwork on “Police Patrolmen’s Decisions to Report Offenses,” I started teaching my first of two classes as a visiting assistant professor, “Introduction to Criminal Justice,” at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, winter quarter 1971.  I assigned two texts:  the president’s crime commission report, and Richard Quinney’s newly published The Social Reality of Crime.  Having come out of an ungraded high school, I also announced to the class of 250 that I was giving all A’s because I didn’t believe in grades.  I then went to the curriculum committee to request that my courses, in fairness, be listed as pass/fail.  As a result, I was notified that I would have to leave the U of M at the end of the next academic year.

                And so I was job hunting the spring of 1972 as I finished my dissertation, when the NIMH  doctoral students in sociology invited Richard Quinney (then NIMH director in sociology at NYU), John Kitsuse, and Laud Humphreys to offer a symposium on research in deviance.  As it happened, Richard’s Social Reality of Crime, and Kitsuse and Cicourel’s "A note on the official uses of statistics" (Social Problems 11, Fall 1963: 132-139 had provided theoretical grounding and justification for my study of how police constructed crime statistics (and Laud Humphreys persuaded me to apply to my next job at SUNY-Albany, which he left as I arrived).

                I warmed to Richard immediately, as he warmed to me.  I was to learn from graduate students of his like David Friedrichs and Joe Scimecca that he was this way with all of his students:  mentoring, encouraging them on their own intellectual journeys, and ever stimulating to hear and exchange views with.  He would visit me and my wife (Jill Bystydzienski) in Albany, and after I moved to Indiana in 1976, I would repeatedly visit him and Solveig, first in DeKalb, from which he first took me to visit his homestead in Wisconsin, then in Madison, where I would visit on occasion during the years (1998-2006) that I was commuting to be with Jill at Iowa State in Ames, and he, meanwhile, would stay with Jill and me from time to time in Bloomington, and visit the IU CJ department, including my classes (where once he asked me to play “Mr. Bojangles” as he talked about meaning in folk music).

                As I look back, the time and exchanges of writing I did with Richard after moving to Indiana, beginning in the late seventies, were crucial to my forming an answer to the question my students so often asked me in and out of class:  “Okay, Hal, you’re so critical of the system; what do you want instead?”   The question was most appropriate for the newly created, required criminal justice course I began teaching the spring of 1977—“alternative social control systems.”  Meanwhile, Richard was writing on the implications of Paul Tillich’s Christianity of love, then becoming a practicing Buddhist who now, as a criminologist, sought to spread compassion in the face of violence.  I recall being on the ASC executive board in 1983 when Richard was recommended for the Sutherland Award, that some thought he had stopped being a social scientist; I also recall rising to the defense of his intellectual development; he got the award.

                Richard’s and my conversations helped me address my students’ challenge.  When I returned to Norway (where I had spent the last year of secondary school, 1961-62) in 1986 particularly to spend time with Nils Christie, it was to study Norway, relative to the US, as a “peaceful society.”  As we corresponded, Richard suggested we put out a call at the 1987 ASC meeting for contributions to an edited volume, which he proposed to call Criminology as Peace.  I suggested that “peace” connoted a utopian state of being, while practically speaking, we were taking about an open-ended process of change, and so we agreed to call the book Criminology as Peacemaking.  Richard’s opening chapter invoked Buddhism to call for an end to suffering.  In the concluding chapter, I drew on the contributed chapters to define the paradigm I follow to this day, of studying and trying to practice transformation of violence by peacemaking, rather than fighting crime and criminality.  Richard helped me notice and use the many words we have for peacemaking:  compassion, empathy, love…

                True to himself, Richard has since documented his own journey into the meanings of life.  We see each other less often since I have moved back home to Ohio.  It happens that Richard and I are both close in spirit to Norwegians, in his case to Solveig.  In that culture, years may pass in which you have no contact, but as with mariners of yore, every time we are in touch, as we recently have been on email, I feel as close, as interested, and as deeply appreciative for all he has taught and given me, for his and Solveig’s generosity, as ever.


                …and so, Richard, thank you!                                      Love and peace, hal

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