Critical Criminology

VI. Conclusion

Critical criminology has in one sense tended to reflect the dominant focus of mainstream criminology on crime and its control within a particular nation; however, going forward in the 21st century, there is an increasing recognition that many of the most significant forms of crimes occur in the international sphere, cross borders, and can only be properly understood—and controlled—within the context of the forces of globalization. Accordingly, a growing number of critical criminologists have addressed such matters as collapsed states within a global economy, harms emanating out of the policies of such international financial institutions as the World Bank, the crimes of multinational corporations, trafficking of human beings across borders and sex tourism in a globalized world, the treatment of new waves of immigrants and refugees, international terrorism, the spread of militarism, preemptive wars as a form of state crime, transnational policing, international war crime tribunals, and transitional justice.

Although at least some of these topics have been occasionally addressed by mainstream criminologists, critical criminologists highlight the central role of imbalances of power in all of these realms. Altogether, critical criminologists going forward are increasingly likely to take into account the expanded globalized context, regardless of their specialized interest or focus.

On the one hand, critical criminologists fully recognize the immense power of corporate interests—and other privileged interests and constituencies—to shape public consciousness in a manner that is supportive of a capitalist political economy and the broad popular culture that is one of its key products. The Italian neo-Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci famously advanced the notion of hegemony to capture this capacity of privileged interests to influence public consciousness in fundamental ways. On the other hand, many critical criminologists are also, on some level, both somewhat puzzled and disappointed that the critical perspective on the political economy has failed to gain more traction with a wider public constituency by now. What is the future destiny of critical criminology? The most pessimistic projection would be that conventional and mainstream perspectives will succeed in rendering critical criminology increasingly marginalized. In a more moderate projection, critical criminology will continue to be a conspicuous and measurably influential alternative to dominant forms of criminological theory and analysis, although it will also continue to be overshadowed by mainstream criminology. In the most optimistic projection, the influence and impact of critical criminology will increase exponentially in the years ahead, perhaps at some point even coming to overshadow mainstream forms of analysis. For some version of this last scenario to be realized, perhaps a “perfect storm” of both objective and subjective conditions (to follow Marx’s own celebrated thesis) must take place: On the objective side, one would have the intensification of some fundamental forms of social inequality and injustices, and accordingly of human suffering. On the subjective side, one would have a more enlightened and autonomous “critical mass” of the citizenry that comes to recognize both the failures and the injustices of existing arrangements and policies within the political economy, and the inherent persuasiveness of critical perspectives, including that of critical criminology. In a world where inequalities of power and wealth have intensified recently in certain significant respects, it seems more likely than not that critical criminology will continue to play a prominent role in making sense of crime and its control and the promotion of alternative policies for addressing the enduring problem of crime.

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