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NCJ Number: 183285 Find in a Library
Title: Changing Representations of the Criminal
Journal: British Journal of Criminology  Volume:40  Issue:2  Dated:Spring 2000  Pages:296-320
Author(s): Dario Melossi
Date Published: 2000
Page Count: 25
Type: Historical Overview
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Annotation: This paper argues that in the specific social-theoretical domain of "crime and punishment," as well as in other areas of the social sciences, criminologists should overcome both the de-coupling of concepts of "structure" and "culture," often lamented in post-Marxist social theory, and the sterile and uninteresting counterapposition between qualitative and quantitative styles of analysis; this paper suggests that such a result can be achieved by introducing the concept of "representations" of crime and criminals.
Abstract: Representations of crime and criminality are not random and unpredictable results of creative endeavors; rather, they are conceptualizations embedded within the main patterns of social relationships in a given society in a given period. The author hypothesizes that, in a somewhat cyclical fashion, at least since the inception of modernity and criminological thought in the 19th century, representations of crime and criminals have been oscillating between two different social attitudes. A sympathetic attitude toward criminals has emerged in social periods when good economic conditions, optimism, a tendency toward liberalism, and low imprisonment rates tended to prevail. In other periods, criminals were viewed instead with antipathy and portrayed as monstrous evil force threatening to undermine the very foundations of a social fabric and moral order that should be defended at all costs. In these periods of prevailing conservatism, social theorists addressed socioeconomic crises with policies of "tightening the belt" and increasing imprisonment rates and harsh penalties for law breaking. Illustrations of such oscillating attitudes in criminological thought are provided in the Italian Positive School, the Chicago school of sociology and differential association theory, the labeling theorists of the 1960's and 1970's, and the "revanche criminology" of the "crisis decades" after 1973. 135 references
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Corrections policies; Crime control policies; Public Opinion of Corrections; Public Opinion of Crime
Note: This paper is based on ideas first presented at the Department of Criminology at Keele University, June 23, 1998, and at the 1998 Scottish Criminology Conference in Edinburgh, September 4 and 5, 1998.
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