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Criminology: Modern Controversies - Models Of Criminology And Ideology

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Although Sutherland's definition of the field was broad enough to accommodate all scientific approaches to the study of crime and criminals, controversy continues concerning a variety of issues: (1) whether—or the extent to which—criminology is an independent or an integrative discipline; (2) challenges to the adequacy of science as the basis of knowledge in criminology; and (3) the role of criminology and criminologists in the application of knowledge. Although they intersect in quite different ways, ideological considerations as well as intellectual concerns are especially important to the latter two issues.

Marvin Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti argued that criminology is sufficiently integrated, as discipline and profession, to be intellectually independent of other disciplines. In contrast, Donald Cressey argued that although criminology has of necessity been integrative, it can never be independent of other disciplines inasmuch as it must depend on basic knowledge generated by more basic social and behavioral science disciplines. Both positions have attracted followers, and there is a good deal of academic and professional activity independent of other disciplines. It seems fair to say, however, that the vast majority of criminologists regard criminology as necessarily integrative and to a large extent dependent on other disciplines.

Regarding issues 2 and 3, more than a century after his most seminal writings, a variety of "new criminologies" emerged, based in large measure on the works of Karl Marx. These perspectives challenged conventional views of lawmaking, lawbreaking, and crime control. The more radical views challenged science as well (Taylor, Walton, and Young), under several rubrics: "critical theory," "post-modern theory," "peacemaking criminology," and "constitutive theory." In varying ways, each of these perspectives enlarged upon the conflict theory critique of consensus as the basis for law. In its most extreme form the critique charges mainstream criminology with "investing in constructing the existing structures of power and oppression," and urges active participation by criminologists in "replacement discourse" aimed at development of "new, less harmful structures" (Henry and Einstadter, 1997, p. 418).

In the absence of convincing data to support such arguments, and because upholding human rights values does not distinguish between "new" and traditional criminologists, this "human rights" position has attracted few supporters. Indeed, many criminologists point to the likelihood that such a broad extension of the definition of crime would exacerbate problems already associated with the political use of the criminal law process. Beyond this, most criminologists do not agree with the basic premise that social science research contributes to a status quo of power and oppression. Quite to the contrary, most criminologists—indeed, most social scientists—choose their disciplines, in part, based firmly on the belief that knowledge will contribute to solutions to crime and to the alleviation of human misery.

Because this belief has proven to be delusive, the second type of controversy (the role of criminologists in the application of criminological, and more broadly, social and behavioral science knowledge) is more salient for most criminologists. Here controversy tends to be based on conflicting models of the relationship between social science knowledge, social policy, and other types of ameliorative action. Morris Janowitz characterized opposing positions on this issue as the "engineering" versus "enlightenment" models of social science. In the former, social scientists enter directly into the design and implementation of programs designed to ameliorate some social condition, for example, a delinquency prevention program or a program to rehabilitate delinquents or criminals. Classic programs of this type were the Chicago Area Project developed by Clifford Shaw and his followers, based on Shaw's research (see Kobrin), and Saul Alinsky's more confrontational community organization tactics, as described in his book, Reveille for Radicals(1946). More recently, the engineering model has proven to be attractive to governmental agencies in many countries seeking advice and participation in programs designed to control crime and delinquency.

The enlightenment model eschews direct intervention in action programs, holding instead to a more traditional "arm's length" posture regarding the involvement of researchers with social policies and programs. Here the production of basic knowledge concerning human behavior is the primary and sufficient goal. The distinction between social engineering and enlightenment sometimes becomes blurred, however, as researchers move beyond conducting and disseminating their findings to dispensing advice and consultation on policy options, even though they may not actively participate in the implementation of policies.

Research that evaluates the performance and outcomes of programs and policies also falls within the enlightenment model. Here, too, controversy exists, however; for example, concerning the validity of standard evaluation research measures of "before and after" recidivism or crime rates. The basis for controversy lies in the fact that criminal and juvenile justice systems play many roles in the social and political life of communities, as do programs of social agencies that are designed to aid in the socialization of the young or the rehabilitation of delinquents, or that seek to address in other ways problems related to crime and delinquency. In addition, many factors beyond the control of law enforcement and social programs influence crime rates and individual offending. The "weak stimulus" of any particular program, therefore, is likely to be only one of many, sometimes conflicting, influences on individual offending or crime rates. Moreover, the experience of researchers and theorists who have actively participated in program design and implementation suggests that even the most carefully designed, planned, and monitored programs rarely function as designed (see Klein and Teilmann, eds.). A variety of proposals for more nuanced approaches to measuring the results of juvenile criminal justice policy and practice, and of the effects of efforts to prevent offending and change offenders, have been suggested (see Bureau of Justice Statistics).

This type of controversy also occurs in debates over the proper role of scholarly organizations in relation to social policy. Here, also, engineering and enlightenment models conflict, adherents of the former urging that scholarly organizations such as the American Society of Criminology (ASC) ought to go on record in support of, or in opposition to, particular social policies. Failure to engage in social policy debate, adherents of the engineering model maintain, denies the purpose of knowledge building and is socially irresponsible. A "middle ground" position that individual scientists have the right, as citizens, to advise and consult on social policy, is rejected. A major argument of those favoring the enlightenment model, however, is that scientific evidence rarely, if ever, is sufficient to warrant endorsement of particular social policies. In addition, disagreements among organization members concerning which policies to favor or oppose is inevitable. More importantly, because policy decisions are inherently political in nature, the credibility of science and scientific associations is likely to be compromised by policy advocacy.

These arguments are as unending as they are inevitable among scholars and others in democratic societies with representative governments. For scholarly organizations the controversies they spark are often unsettling and they may be destabilizing. Although they seem unlikely ever to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction, scientific scholarly organizations have upon occasion come together in support of a few fundamental principles, such as freedom of research and teaching, and scientific standards. An example of the latter occurred in 1997 when the American Society of Criminology governing board was asked to support a "friend of the court" brief in behalf of an experimental effort to evaluate the efficacy of a treatment program for domestic violence offenders. For ASC, the case posed the issue of whether it was ethical to withhold treatment (counseling) from a control group of offenders who were to be compared with a similar group, randomly chosen, for whom counseling would be provided. The ASC board voted unanimously to support the research on the grounds that random assignment was the best method of determining the efficacy of the proposed treatment (see Short et al.; Feder).

At the most fundamental level these controversies reflect deep divisions among scholars regarding their responsibilities, their integrity, and the integrity of science. For such issues of values science can provide no answers, only relevant information. Although the implications of scholarly research for social policy are rarely clear and unambiguous, the two often seem clearly at odds with one another, leading to the frustration of criminologists and the urge to influence social policy. Regrettably, when scholars do so they often generalize beyond available, time- and place-bound data and theory. Examples from each of criminology's major divisions are not hard to find.

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