Thursday, 27 March 2008

Review – Counter-Colonial Criminology by Biko Agozino (2003)

Please note, I have previously commented on a journal article by Agozino. That article forms the basis to the introduction to this book. I feel I should also thank the blog A Very Public Sociologist for helping me come to terms a bit better with theorists like Baudrillard etc. which Agozino discusses and meant I probably understood what he was getting at better. Also, tomorrow the Carnival of Socialism will be hosted here.

Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason is an interesting book. For me it has it’s upsides and it’s downsides, and I’ll discuss the latter first as long as you can overcome these the book has an awful lot of interesting ideas within it.

There are two main problems with the book. The first is common to many academic books – an incessant use of jargon and convoluted terms which attempt to portray things in a value-free manner but end up confusing the reader and winding you up a lot. The second is in a review of the history criminology after almost every single theorist he points out that they ignored the experience of the colonial masses – but why do this after every theorist and not just at the end of the chapter pointing out what this missing element would have provided. Both these things are annoying as Agozino’s writing style is pretty good, but these points make some of the chapters a little difficult to get through.

However, leaving that aside Agozino presents some really interesting ideas. The only problems I have here with Agozino in this realm is his somewhat uncritical treatment of the Scraton/Hall school of critical criminology in comparison to left realism – both for myself had weaknesses. Also his understanding of Marxism could do with improving – although he applies Marx’s ideas of primitive accumulation quite well, nowhere does he mention Trotsky and in particular his theory of Combined and Uneven development which I think would be of fundamental use in this subject.

I suppose I’ve been quite critical so far, but only because those points would have improved what is a very interesting work. One interesting idea that Agozino suggests is how accurate is the metaphor of lesbian rape for colonial plunder – after all countries are referred to in the female usually and plunder is often referred to as rape, could things be drawn from feminist theorising in this respect. Another point he makes is the relevance of literature to criminology – particularly in respect of state crime in Africa given that criminology is especially under-developed there – and how this can reflect popular feelings towards crime. Whilst not seeing these as objective measures of crime like some researchers, he does see them as useful indicators and particularly useful for making analogies.

Another idea that Agozino raises is the necessity of not only looking at the punishment of offenders, but also at how innocent people may be punished through the criminal justice system. He devotes a chapter to criticising the death penalty and the number of people sentenced to death in the US who are later proved that either the sentence was unjustified or completely innocent in many cases (between them they make up 60%+).

There are more insightful things in this book too, but that would drag this review out far too long (although I may possibly come back to it at some point). This is a book that is worth reading so long as you can put up with the things I’ve criticised.


Jim Jay said...

A few crime related suggestions for the Carnival of Socialism (feel free to delete once you've read the them)

I've got two posts up now for the Carnival over at

Slugger O'Toole on a former IRA man joining the Fermanagh District Policing Partnership

Johnny Void highlights the treatment of pro-Tibet protesters in NYC

Good news from Chicken yogugh on the ability to protest around parliament

Question that compares two london mayoral candidates on crime

The excellent Penny Red celebrates that attempts to further criminalise prostitution have been set back

Random Pottins on the case of Jerry Duggan - was his murder covered up by friends in high places?

Hope this helps

Rob said...

I think the post-colonial/Third world approach to law is pretty fascinating, although I come at it mostly from an international law angle. However, as I have said, I really think that a lot of it needs a good healthy dose of Marxist theory to give it some explanatory power. My latest (if slightly old) post on the blog covers this.

Looking forward to the carny.