Saturday, 22 March 2008

Imperialism and Criminology

This piece is a look at an article entitled Imperialism, Crime and Criminology: Towards the decolonialisation of criminology by Biko Agozino which appeared in the journal Crime, Law and Social Change.

Why do I like this paper? Because I suppose it addresses a big gap in criminological theory, the question of colonialism – the subjugation of more than half the world to a few imperialist powers and the huge state crimes committed in doing so.

Agozino starts by paraphrasing Lenin on imperialism and commenting on how criminology has by ignoring the crimes of imperialism served it very well. He then comments on a paper by Stan Cohen on attempts to take Western crime control ideas and import them into the third world – noting that criminologists in general either ignore third world countries or look at them in a very primitive manner.

He then goes on to note that in trying to understand crime and violence in Africa, it is essential to understand the conditions created by imperialism in these countries. He critiques the justification of imperialism as bringing enlightenment and development to the colonial world. Additionally he also tries to argue that even Marx argued that imperialism was necessary for countries to develop in an article published in the New York Times ‘The British Rule in India’. However, for myself Marx wasn’t justifying imperialism – rather noting that the imposition of British rule would speed up the likelihood of social revolution in India, a social revolution that would have happened eventually anyway.

He also notes that criminology has hardly developed at all in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and where it has it has only been in terms of western repressive models taught to security services. He also talks about one of the effects of developing criminology in these countries will be in arguing for reparations for the victims of the slave trade, apartheid, the Australian ‘stolen generations’ etc. However, for me, reparations are not likely to a meaningful level under capitalism and it doesn’t solve the ongoing financial imperialism that subjects the third world to the present day.

I particularly like his conclusion though, ‘The major limitation of this paper is that most of the claims in it have not been empirically investigated due to the limitation of funding available at the time of writing. Hopefully, research like this will be more generously funded and more empirically tested in the future. However, it is inexcusable to wait for generous funding before attempting to write something like this.’(pg.356) I heartily agree.

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