Friday, July 21, 2017

Beyond "crime" and "criminality" (again)


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

July 21, 2017


                On the American Society of Criminology Division on People of Color and Crime listserv, there has recently been a critical outburst against yet another research journal article finding—as Travis Hirschi and Mike Hindelang did in the early seventies—that race is associated with “intelligence” and “crime.” I am reminded of the first 20 years I spent as a criminologist, explaining levels and trends in levels of crime and criminality as behavior of those who recorded offenses and offenders, rather than as indicators of the deviance of those whose behavior they recorded.  I haven’t received much direct response, but Darnell Hawkins has responded by aptly noting the distinction between criminologist who focus on causes of crime and those who focus on responses, on administration of justice.

                At the time the moment when I decided that by all measures, from police to victim to self reports to studies of white-collar crime, “crime” and “criminality” were socio-political artifacts, biased by class, race, gender and age, at a moment when my students in a course required for criminal justice majors challenged me:  “If you’re so critical of the criminal justice system, what do you propose instead?”, Richard Quinney proposed that we solicit contributions for an edited volume on “criminology as peace,” which we agreed instead to reframe as a process of conflict resolution and call Criminology as Peacemaking (1990); which I had at the moment defined as a process in which victims and victimizers alike became “responsive” to one another’s concerns and needs by reorienting them toward creating and negotiating terms of settlement, as against the “violence” of remaining stuck on who had done what to whom, of holding on to the distrust, harm, anger and disregard parties involved brought to the table, from heated or entropic relations to cooperative or synergistic release of social heat.  As I entered a period of victim-offender mediation a decade later, and as I looked across social systems and networks, the process of transforming the intransigence of “violence” in which the actions of some frightened and hurt or threatened others which constitutes the transformation of hurtful exercises of power over others into the “peacemaking” process Richard Quinney and I sought to identify and engender, where attention turns from consequences that have happened toward repairing damage that has been acknowledged by all concerned.  True to a phenomenon chaos theorists call “scaling,” I have proposed that the process that makes peace in the face of violence at one level of our relations, parallels the process by which we make peace intra-personally, interpersonally, at all social levels from dyads to globally, and in our relations with our natural environment.

                As for policing, recent experience in such cities as Cincinnati, Dallas and Richmond, California, indicates that as administrative leadership shifts toward getting to know and respond to needs of community members for safety, security and service, overriding emphasis on reporting crime and making arrests, happens implicitly, if not explicitly as I proposed more than thirty years ago drawing on citizens to define police performance on their own terms, subject to legal limitations on power over those entering communities from outside, on “strangers.”  As for researchers and policy analysts, I continue to advocate transforming our criminological assumption that levels and trends in “crime” and “criminality” are the ultimate indicator of the problem of our social relations—to transcend politically loaded criteria of for evaluating response to social discord, including evaluating police performance—a matter of building trust and cooperation among police and those they police, superseding attention to finding “crime” and catching “criminals.”  In effect, this has the effect of extending what Jerome Skolnick in 1968 called the “service” style of policing prominent originally in white, middle-class and wealthy suburban communities, to poorer urban communities of color.  Ironically, in the criminology mainstream, the fundamental problem of “crime” and “criminality” are defining “crime” and “criminality” as the primary problem of social conflict—a source of violence and its perpetuation in itself.  Love and peace, hal

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