Criminology and Political Theory


Anthony Amatrudo

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    For John Charvet


    First, I would like to thank Dr Marianna Hordos for many years of friendship, dramas, intellectual sword fencing, laughter and good times in Budapest, London and elsewhere. Prof. Colin Sumner is a great writer, teacher, controversialist, convenor of seminars and raconteur, and he will always rank first in my list of criminological influences. I shall never forget attending a seminar Colin convened on the use of cutlery, and its relevance to the way we ordinarily suppress violence in our daily lives. It ranged effortlessly across academic disciplines, such as Jurisprudence, Political and Social Theory, Anthropology and Ethics – avant-garde, sublime. Prof. Robert Fine, who examined my thesis at the LSE, remains a model of clarity and humane exegesis. Prof. Robert Hancke clarified my thinking on Political Economy and was great company at the CEU. Dr Bjorn Weiler has been a good friend, and occasional critic, for a decade and a half: his concern for history has certainly influenced my approach. I am grateful to Leslie Blake for various formal dinners and cut-and-thrust curries in, or around, Lincoln's Inn. Another lawyer, Matthew Smith, I met when we were both keen rugby-playing students at Cambridge University and today I benefit from his jobbing barrister's take on the law and the criminal justice system. Dr Magnus Ryan, from his ivory tower at All Souls College, has never been anything less than a supportive friend and our wide-ranging conversations, over beers, have certainly influenced the course of my thinking. I enjoyed the nursery food, ale and Bohemian company provided by the Chelsea Arts Club, whenever Dave Ryan signed me in, where the subject of crime always got a good airing. At the University of Sunderland I have the pleasure of teaching some excellent students and benefit from working with some wonderfully supportive colleagues. I am indebted to the Master and Fellows of St Edmund's College, Cambridge for electing me to a visiting research position, which assisted me in the writing of this book. The lavish hospitality and warm collegiality of the Political Science Department at the Central European University in Budapest, while I was a Visiting Fellow there, was an invaluable intellectual fillip. The Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung generously allowed me to use their library and facilities. The librarians at the Institute of Criminology in Cambridge, LSE, and the IALS have been enormously helpful to me. Caroline Porter has been a wonderful editor at Sage and I owe her a great deal for so much excellent advice and support. For various kindnesses, inspiration and help, over the years, I have to thank: Prof. Rodney Barker; Prof. Lisa Bernstein; Blackheath Rugby Club; Deborah Bowen; Richard Buckwalter; Jake and Dinos Chapman; Dr Tom Cockcroft; Lucy Crawford; Vanessa Dietzl; Terence Dowle; Prof. Cecile Fabre; Nicole Fabre; Jan Farndale; Prof. Michael Freeman; Dr Matteo Fumagalli; Dr Loraine Gelsthorpe; Dr Volker Grundies; Ulrike Haas; Claudia Haupt; Dr Keith Hayward; Prof. David Held; Dr Felicia Herrschaft; Tabitha Howard; Valeska Huber; Waldemar Januszczak; Kate Jones; Elene Khatseva; Magdalena Krajewska; Sir Ivan Lawrence QC; Dr Ori Lev; Yana Loukiantseva; Prof. Steven Lukes FBA; Dr Tim Megarry; Rev. Dr Anthony Meredith SJ; Prof. Brendan O'Leary; Mike Presdee; Prof. Fred Rosen; Miss Jamie Rubenstein; Dr Alessandra Sarquis; Monika Schroeder; Barry Sheerman MP; Dr Carsten Sneider; Camilla Soar; Prof. George Steiner FBA; Ligia Teixeira; Dr David Thomas QC; Prof. Steve Uglow; Prof. Andrew von Hirsch and Dr John White. My greatest intellectual debts, however, are to Prof. John Charvet. As a scholar, and as a man, John is without peer in my opinion.

  • Glossary

    Capitalism Capitalism is an economic system, both in theory and practice, which is based on private rather than state ownership of businesses and the profit motive. It stresses commercial competition and self-reliance.

    Censure Censure is the rebuke of an individual, group or idea by another person, persons, official body or corporation. It may have a normative role in criminological theory or contain an ideological aspect.

    Chicago School The Chicago School is the name given to a group of sociologists based at the University of Chicago. The Chicago School stressed the importance of ecological and environmental factors in causing and controlling crime. The Chicago School also developed innovative research strategies in both qualitative and quantitative analysis. Although the work of the Chicago School implied a view of political and economic life, it has been criticised for not relating the social processes of the city to deeper factors relating to the role of economic and political conditions beyond, or beneath, the life of the city.

    Communitarianism Communitarianism is a theory of civil society and social cooperation. It attempts to balance the rights of individuals with those of the wider community. It maintains that views of individuals are formed by the culture and values of their community.

    Conservative This is a form of political thought that gives priority to the established tradition. It favours order, stability and existing social customs and institutions.

    Control theory Control theory places a stress upon social conformity. It has often been associated with psychological and psycho-analytical explanation with concepts related to a ‘positive self-concept’ and ‘attachment’. It has tended to concentrate upon the ‘juvenile delinquent’ and youth crime.

    Desert Desert theory argues that punishments must be fairly deserved and proportionate to the degree of seriousness of the offence.

    Deterrence Deterrence theory is based on the notion that if the consequences of committing a crime outweigh the potential benefits of crime, then the criminal will be deterred from committing the crime. It assumes a high degree of rationality and forethought. In terms of punishments, it may argue for exemplary sentences to deter would-be criminals.

    Deviance This is a sociological concept that was popular within Criminology up to the 1990s. It always measures ‘deviance’ from the standpoint of the dominant culture. It largely ignores inequality, health and globalisation. It is an approach that came under sustained attack from Colin Sumner in the 1980s and 1990s.

    Enlightenment The political era that saw the rise of liberal and humane thinking. It marked a break with religious thinking and the embracing of ideas relating to objectivity, rationality and social progress.

    Equality The political notion that all persons should be treated the same.

    Feminism This is the movement and political view which advances the case of gender equality and challenges patriarchy.

    Freerider The freerider issue has been developed mainly in Economics, Political Theory and Psychology. Freeriders are those individuals who take/consume more than their fair share or do not share equally in the costs. The freerider problem is the problem of how to limit the negative effects of individuals taking more than they contribute. This rationale has been applied to criminals.

    Functionalism In Criminology this is employed as parts of a structuralist account that sees crime as something that advances, or maintains, the social and political stability of existing state and social relations.

    Hegemony Hegemony is a key concept in theory, notably Marxist theory, that describes and explains the domination of one group, or class, over another. It is typically understood as requiring some consent from the subordinate group and is therefore often linked to cultural domination.

    Historical materialism Historical materialism is a theory first developed by Karl Marx that argues for a materialist conception of history. It posits that human history is the history of economic development and class struggle.

    Human rights Human rights are those basic rights that follow equally, indivisibly and universally from being a member of the human race. They are enshrined in the United Nations Charter and within EU and UK legislation. Within Criminology, Stan Cohen has shown how they relate to victimology as well as the crimes of genocide, hitherto overlooked by criminologists.

    Ideology An ideology is an organised system of ideas that facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the social world. Ideology may be said to be made up of the deepest set of notions at work in every organised set of beliefs. The common set of shared beliefs that a community has may be said to be an ideology. The origin, content and function of ideology are often disputed, notably by Marxists.

    Just Deserts Just Deserts is a theory of punishment which stresses that the criminal sanction should always be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence.

    Legal moralism This view justifies the laws against certain actions on the basis that they are immoral.

    Legal paternalism This is a justification for a law where the welfare of an actor is in question. For example, we may outlaw drug use on the grounds that it harms the user.

    Liberalism This is a view of political and economic life that gives priority to the freedom of the individual to act unhindered by others or by the state.

    Marxism Marxism is the name given to those theories that follow from the writings of Karl Marx. It argues that the struggle between opposing classes is the main influence on political and economic change, leading to an eventual overthrow of capitalist social relations.

    Multi-social This is the idea that the social world is fragmented, complex or functioning on different levels.

    Obligations Obligations are those actions or duties we undertake due to an explicit or implicit reciprocity linked to rights. Obligations can be to individuals, groups, corporations or states.

    Patriarchy This is a social and political system built upon the domination of women by men.

    Positivism Positivism is a position that tends to reduce reality to that which is quantifiable and measurable. It employs natural science methodology to study social relationships. It has been criticised for ignoring political and social relationships, which are not easily quantifiable or are open to various interpretations, or reducing them to measurable categories.

    Proportionality Proportionality is the idea, found in legal theory, that punishments should always be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime.

    Rehabilitation This is the view that it is better for the offender and the wider society for the offender to be helped into a useful role in society rather than simply punished. It stresses education, therapy and development rather than retribution.

    Restorative justice Restorative justice (RJ) is a view that tends to see criminality as a violation of an individual, or community, rather than as an act against the state. It therefore emphasises the role of restorative meetings between victims and offenders in an attempt to demonstrate to the offender the harm they have done to an individual or community. Accordingly restitution is often an element in this process.

    Retribution This is a view of punishment that maintains that proportionate punishment is the only response to criminal action, regardless of the consequences. In its modern form it is indebted to the work of contemporary neo-Kantians, such as Andrew von Hirsch.

    Rights Rights are legal and moral entitlements that derive from specific political circumstances. They usually place a duty of obligation on those who hold them.

    Social control A term often used by Marxist criminologists, sometimes in relation to surveillance, that sees the state as preventing those challenging its rule through stopping persons collectively mounting a challenge to capitalist social relations.

    Sovereignty Sovereignty is a notion found in political theory and jurisprudence that sets out the degree of political and legal independence a state or body has. Full sovereignty is therefore the exercise of complete, independent and supreme political power.

    State of nature The state of nature is a concept drawn from political philosophy and used to advanced social contract theories. It details a hypothetical situation, before the creation of the state, in which there are no rights.

    Strain theory Strain theory is a sociological theory that argues that crime is committed when persons cannot meet their acquisitive desires through legitimate means.

    Stratified society This is the idea found in Sociology that there is a hierarchical structure to a society in terms of class, caste or other variable.

    Utilitarianism This is the view that the worth of an action is determined in terms of its contribution to overall utility alone, i.e. the greater good of all persons. It is a consequentialist theory of action.


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