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Being Critical in conservative times: Editors' Introduction

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conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 07:38 authored by Isabelle Bartkowiak-TheronIsabelle Bartkowiak-Theron, Maxwell TraversMaxwell Travers

Although we were not planning to write an editorial introduction, the necessity to do so in 2012 emerged in light of the various papers submitted by conference participants. To put matters bluntly, it became clear to us during the conference, and in reading these papers, that relatively few are critical either in the sense of engaging with the existing literature in the critical tradition (for a discussion of this issue, see Anthony & Cuneen, 2008), or in advancing developed arguments in relation to critical concepts or themes. This is not, however, intended as a criticism of the papers (which includes our own contributions), since there are good reasons why, at the present time, the critical criminologist has to work within existing institutional structures, and ways of thinking, rather than as in the past, advancing a politically radical, alternative view of crime and criminal justice.

The best known theorists associated with critical criminology recognise this problem, and most have reached some kind of accommodation with the mainstream discipline. Pat Carlen (2011) has, for example, argued that the distinctions between critical and mainstream criminology no longer matter since any rigorous work with a scientific purpose is critical. Jock Young was critical towards prevailing trends in criminal justice when he accepted an award at the 2012 annual conference of the British Society of Criminology. However, as reported in the ANZSOC newsletter he "gracefully" accepted the award (Halsey 2012). It should be remembered that Young and others founded the National Deviancy Conference in the early 1970s to protest against the treatment of subordinate groups in the criminal justice system.1 They saw working class crime as a healthy and understandable response to social and economic inequality. They also hoped to establish a new intellectual movement that might lead to a transformation of the criminal justice system.

While there is room for debate, we would argue that this transformation has not taken place. At least in the English speaking world, there is even greater inequality than during the 1960s. The criminal justice system has become considerably more punitive in that more people are imprisoned (still mainly from lower class backgrounds).2 White, Haines and Asquith (2012, p.275) argue that a critical criminology perspective is essential as a means of recognising and understanding increasing social diversification and marginalisation in the criminal justice system. Bartkowiak-Théron and Asquith’s study (2012) of the operationalisation of vulnerability advances a similar view. In this introduction, we hope to show that the critical tradition offers a distinctive theoretical and political position that cannot easily be incorporated within or made compatible with mainstream or administrative criminology. We will also demonstrate, without going into great detail, that it is possible to strengthen the argument in each paper through drawing on a wider literature and set of ideas in critical criminology. In the conclusion, we will offer a personal view on what it means to be critical in conservative times.


Publication title

6th Annual Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference Proceedings


I Barkowiak-Theron and M Travers






School of Social Sciences


University of Tasmania

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Event title

6th Annual Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference

Event Venue

University of Tasmania, Hobart

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


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Copyright 2012 the authors. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

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