THE AETIOLOGICAL CRISIS AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF CRIMINOLOGY
"Crime, in all its various forms, is seen as greatly influenced by poverty, living in slums, and lack of social services. If social policy were directed towards remedying all this, the gain to our society would be considerable; but in addition, it is argued, crime would be bound to be lessened. We have little difficulty in accepting a policy of this kind: the amelioration of social conditions is accepted in almost every civilized country as a proper function for governments to assume. Though there is still more poverty about than some are willing to admit, the Welfare State has brought about a transformation of our national life, cured many social evils, and achieved a greater degree of social justice as between different classes in society than has ever been possible before. At the same time, it has had no noticeably beneficial effect upon our crime figures. Rather has its growth been accompanied by a parallel growth in criminal activities almost as if it were itself a crime-producing agent.
While the Welfare State has seen to it that the economic cake is divided more equitably, post-war economic progress has ensured that the cake itself shall be a good deal larger. Although some groups (especially those with fixed incomes, like pensioners) have suffered, most of us are better off than ever before. But we are also more criminal than ever before.
It is possible that we may now have to reverse the usual hypothesis about the relationship between poverty and crime. We may now have to allow for the possibility that affluence can be a cause of crime. It is more difficult to believe in the latter proposition, than in the formers (Howard Jones, 1965, pp.150-1).
Theories of society do not come into being out of the blue. They arise out of the hunches and intuitions of people trying to make sense of the world around them: they arise out of real problems facing people in the social world which confronts them. The academic refines, develops and systemises theory, but the agenda is set for him or her by the actual problems of the world outside of the ivory tower and the text is largely pre-written by the social currents and fashions of the time. Whatever textbooks write about the 'interior' history of a discipline, as if it developed as the accumulated wisdom of the free exchange of ideas and criticism, the 'exterior' history of a subject, engendered by the practical problems of the outside world is, in fact, paramount.
Criminology and the sociology of deviance went through an intensive development during the late fifties to the early seventies. Labelling theory, new deviancy theory, conflict theory, subcultural theory, control theory, neo-classicism all blossomed in a most extraordinary creative ferment. It was a process which did not happen overnight, which happened in different ways and times in various advanced industrial countries, but which, in the long run, overturned the way in which, not only criminologists, but very many ordinary men and women in the street viewed crime.
In the immediate post-war period there was a consensus, stretching across a large section of informed opinion of various political persuasions, that one of the major causes of crime was impoverished social conditions. Anti-social conditions led to anti-social behaviour. This dominant paradigm was positivism or, more precisely, social democratic positivism. Namely, that crime or other forms of anti-social behaviour can be greatly reduced by political interventions which seek to improve social conditions. The palpable failure of such theories, which I have termed the aetiological crisis of criminology, is, to my mind, the key concept in understanding the development of criminology in industrial countries, the exact opposite to the conventional wisdom happened. Slums were demolished, education standards increased, full employment advanced and welfare spending increased: the highest affluence in the history of humanity achieved, yet crime increased. In Britain, for example, in the years 1951 to 1971, the real disposable income per person in the UK increased by 64%, whilst the number of crimes known to the police rose by double that: 172%.
Nowhere has the aetiological crisis been expressed more pointedly than by James Q Wilson, President Reagan's crime adviser and a writer with a new right perspective on the world:
"In 1960 if one had been asked what steps society might take to prevent a sharp increase in the crime rate, one might well have answered that crime could bet be curtailed by reducing poverty, increasing educational attainment, eliminating dilapidated housing, encouraging community organization, and providing troubled or delinquent youth with counselling services. Such suggestions would have not only a surface plausibility, but some evidence to support them. After all, crime was more common in slum neighbourhoods than in middle class suburbs and the latter could be distinguished from the former by the income, schooling, housing, and communal bonds of their residents. To improve the material conditions of inner-city life would, of course, require a high level of national prosperity combined with programs aimed specifically at inner-city conditions. There was a confident conviction at the highest levels of the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson that this prosperity would be achieved and these programs devised.
They were right. Early in the decade of the 1960s, this country began the longest sustained period of prosperity since World War II. A great array of programs aimed at the young, the poor and the deprived were mounted. Though these efforts wee not made primarily out of a desire to reduce crime, they were wholly consistent with - indeed, in their aggregate money levels, wildly exceeded - the policy prescription that a thoughtful citizen worried about crime would have offered at the beginning of the decade.
Crime soared. It did not just increase a little; it rose at a faster rate and to higher levels than at any time since the 1930s and, in some categories, to higher levels than any experienced in this century.
It all began in about 1963. That was the year, to over-dramatize a bit, that a decade began to fall apart." (J Q Wilson, 1975, pp.3-4)
But it was not only on the conservative side of the political spectrum, nor only amongst Americans that the conventional wisdom on crime was in tatters.
THE NATURE OF THE AETIOLOGICAL CRISIS
First let me clarify the problem of the aetiological crisis. Basically, social democratic positivism maintains that crime is a result of poor social conditions. Bad behaviour is a result of bad social background. Such a belief system was - and, of course, still is - a major component of contemporary social thought, and is a staple of the conventional wisdom with regards to crime. It underscores much of social work, of the thinking behind the role of the Welfare State as ameliorating social problems, of the political attitudes of American 'liberals', Western democratic socialists and of Marxists, East and West. And the consensus as to this belief extends to the more 'wet' or progressive parts of conservative parties in Western democracies. In a weak form social positivism merely argues that as affluence increases - and with it - higher educational levels,. housing conditions, urban planning, etc., crime will automatically decrease. In the stronger social democratic form, it calls for the State to intervene to ensure that wealth is distributed equitably and for pockets of poverty to be eliminated as well as specific rehabilitative and integrative measures to be directed towards the offender.
Social positivism thus believes that we must tackle what it sees as the root causes of crimes and that these are social. The tradition of social positivism stretches right across the history of criminology, from the grounding of the discipline in the work of the moral statisticians such as Alphonse Quetelet (1842) in the first half of the nineteenth century, through to the Chicago School, to modern subcultural theory. Problems of aetiology can, of course, occur from several directions, not merely the rise in crime concomitant with affluence. It occurs when:
i) there is a decrease in crime over time with increased poverty or unemployment;
ii) crime or delinquency is found to be greater or equal amongst middle class people than the poor;
iii) crime is found to be greater in wealthy areas than in poor areas.
The particular way in which such anomalies present themselves to social positivism varies in time and in place. For example, with Quetelet it was the disparity between the wealthy urban and poor rural areas, whilst in modern American criminology the problem of middle class juvenile delinquency has been important (see, eg H & J Schwendinger, 1985). But the major problem in most advanced industrial countries in the post-war period, has been the crisis of rising affluence and Welfarism concomitant with crime and delinquency.
THE AETIOLOGICAL CRISIS AND WORLD CRIMINOLOGY
It is my contention that it is the aetiological crisis, and attempts to explain or deny it, which has been the major dynamic behind recent developments in criminology. This is not to say that it was uniformly felt across world criminology as a discipline. This ignores the way in which, criminologically, very different things were happening in different countries, and the way in which the discipline, as constituted, both emanates from and focuses upon a very select few countries. In some advanced industrial countries the aetiological crisis was non-existent. In Japan, for example, up until recent years, the crime rate went according to plan. That is, it dropped with prosperity and any 'normal scientist' of a social democratic mould would have found his or her world relatively unperturbed. In many parts of the Third World, particularly in Latin America, the crime rate has spiralled awesomely, as has gross poverty and immiseration. There are no surprises here.
In others, it arrived in very different guises: the persistence of crime in the Soviet Union after the 'achievement' of socialism was a different order of problem to the rise in the United States where the Welfare State was comparatively minimal in its implementation. It also arrived at different times: it was an early puzzle to the socially reconstructed Welfare States of Western Europe. It was delayed in countries such as Spain and Portugal which remained, until the mid-seventies, under the thrall of Fascism. Lastly, in some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, the rise in crime, although marked in percentage terms, started from such a low base that crime was never a really great problem as it was in other countries such as the United States.
Table 1.1 THE AETIOLOGICAL CRISIS IN VARIOUS INDUSTRIAL COUNTRIES
THE RISING CRIME RATE IN EUROPE IN THE IMMEDIATE POST-WAR PERIOD
Let us start at the period in Europe just after the war. It is important to stress how rising crime rates in certain circumstances appear far from anomalous from the perspective of social democratic positivism. Initially, within the war-torn countries of Europe the rise in the crime rate was seen as unsurprising. (See I Taylor, 1981, Chapter Two). As Hermann Mannheim put it, writing at the London School of Economics in 1947:
"It would be altogether wrong to regard the rise in crime as something extraordinary or particularly alarming. It is nothing but the natural result of six years of total war with all its inevitable moral, psychological and economic repercussions, and there is consequently nothing original in the many official and unofficial attempts to explain the present situation. The general cheapening of all values, loosening of family ties, weakened respect for the law, human life and property, especially property of the State and of big firms, scarcity of all consumer goods, the black market, and the resulting rise in prices, rationing and the well-justified austerity policy of the Government, easy accessibility of many bomb-damaged houses, and lack of strained police officers and, finally, the activities of deserters are, usually, maybe rightly, put forward. It was Mr Chuter Ede, the Home Secretary, who said, 'No one would have a thought of stealing a second-hand shirt in 1939; today the sight of a shirt on a clothes line has become a temptation'." (H Mannheim, 1955, p.110).
But the trend persisted and the first explanation which gained currency involved a transposition of the war. Thus it was argued that a 'delinquent generation' had been created which had passed through the early years of their lives during the war and whose delinquency was appearing ten or more years later. In Britain (see L Wilkins, 1960; in Denmark, K Christiansen, 1964). Whatever rational kernel there is to the higher delinquency rates of certain birth years when compared to others, it is obvious that this particular theory had a very restricted shelf-life. For the crime rate continued to increase, both amongst youngsters and adults despite the receding aftermath of war.
It is, as we have seen, in Western European countries which had passed through the period of social reconstruction after the war, where the rise in the crime rate was most puzzling.
DIE WOHLSTANSKRIMINALITEIT: WELFARE CRIMINALITY
It is important to understand how worrying the rise in crime was in those European countries, where both the Welfare State had grown rapidly, and social reconstruction had proceeded apace. For a generation of committed European social democracies, the social reconstruction after the war and the institution of the Welfare State simply did not add up to an increase in the crime rate. Let us take John Barron May's important book, Crime and Social Structure, written in 1963:
"It is commonly supposed that while crime in the past is understandable if not excusable, in modern times it ought not to exist. Social critics frequently point out that t a time of increasing material progress, when the provisions of the social services have never been so inclusive and extensive, the official criminal figures show a substantial upwards trend. In the past, it is assumed, poverty, bad housing, the lack of many supposedly necessary social and physical amenities, together accounted for the existence of an embittered, hostile and criminal minority who developed feelings of antagonism, despair and frustration to such a degree that they fought against the existing regime in order to wrest for themselves and their families the means of existence. The drunkenness, despair and depravity of slum-dwellers in the midst of prosperous Victorian society led social reformers to the naive hope that if only the averse physical and material conditions could be eliminated, criminality would also be checked and contained. Such hopes have been cruelly disappointed. For crime and higher living standards have advanced hand in hand, and the amount of known crime has actually about doubled over the past twenty years.
General dismay has resulted from an awareness of these facts. Typical of many such headings is one that appeared in The Observer not long ago, AFFLUENCE AND CRIME ADVANCE TOGETHER, The Observer, 5 March, 1961.
A recent Home Office Report, Penal Practice in a Changing Society, commences on a similar note of puzzled dismay:
'It is a disquieting feature of our society that in the years since the war, rising standards in material prosperity, education and social welfare have brought no decrease in the high rate of crime reached during the war: on the contrary, crime has increased and is still increasing.'
This is an understandable complaint and one frequently heard from enlightened people who care about the quality of life in our society and who are saddened by the implications of increasing lawlessness, even, and perhaps especially, among children and young people. When one addresses conferences of teachers, magistrates or social workers, the same question inevitably emerges. How can you reconcile the existence of full employment, the Welfare State and increased criminal activity?" (J B Mays, 1963, pp.192-3).
Similarly, T R Fyvel, writing at the same time, in his best selling book,. The Insecure Offenders, put it:
"How much significance should we red into this wave? There may be still some who doubt its magnitude. But as far as Britain is concerned, British juvenile crime figures have certainly shown one of the steepest increases of all, and the chief point is that they have risen against a background of steadily expanding welfare services. As Mr R A Butler, (Home Secretary for much of this period) put it sorrowfully, the rise came 'after years of the most massive social and educational reform for a century.' This rise has already dispelled some traditional views on the causes of crime. A generation ago it was still widely held that even if poverty was only one among the main causes, the delinquency figures would at least roughly follow the curve of economic dislocation and unemployment. Today this link has clearly been severed." (1962, p.14).
Fyvel noted how such a paradoxical wave of criminality had occurred throughout Europe to such an extent as to give rise to the German word, 'Die Wohlstanskriminaliteit'. For, as Swedish criminologist, Bo Svensson nicely put it, 'In the 20th century....the criminality of the destitute has been superseded by what may be called welfare criminality.' (1986, p.118).
THE IMMEDIATE REACTION TO THE CRISIS
But this has taken us too far ahead. Let us concentrate on the most immediate reaction to the aetiological crisis. This involved a revival of the neo-classicist approach to crime and a reformulation of positivism from a social to an individual focus. Let us take the shift in positivism first. Here we can see how failure of sociological positivism and the aetiological crisis was evident, not just in the existence of crime and delinquency, which should simply not have been there but on the future of policies based on social intervention. Steve Box captured this well when he wrote his famous essay on the discovery of the disease, 'hyperactivity' in children:
"The State, as a custodian of moral and legal boundaries, searches for ways of containing and controlling anti-social behaviour, and, naturally, it supports those groups or professions who come up with the possible solutions. But if they fail to deliver the goods, they are rejected and another group or profession conscripted to replace them. So it was with those advocating solutions based upon sociological positivism. They were given their chance, and in the wake of their failure came those with solutions based on biological positivism.
For example, during the late fifties and early sixties a number of prominent sociologists assembled extremely plausible accounts of delinquency and other forms of youthful misconduct, focusing mainly on social processes of street-gang life - Cohen (1955), and Cloward and Ohlin (1960). Largely on the basis of these 'theories' Federal and Local Government enthusiastically sponsored delinquency-prevention programmes centred around the idea of neutralising or co-opting gang membership. However, 'street-gang work' hardly proved effective. Indeed, in a recent appraisal of this intervention strategy, Klein writes that it has 'proven only slightly successful, ineffective or even contributory to gang delinquency. They have employed inadequate resources in combating an entrenched foe. Some of their normal and almost necessary practices have acted as boomerangs, effectively increasing gang cohesiveness and delinquency' (Klein, 1971, p.55). Another venture, based upon sociological positivism was the Mid-City Youth Project. In assessing this, Miller wrote: 'It is now possible to provide a definite answer to the principal evaluative research question - was there a significant measurable inhibition of law-violating or morally disapproving behaviour as a consequence of project efforts? The answer, with little necessary qualification, is "no". All major measures of violent behaviour - disapproved actions, illegal actions, during contact court appearances - provide consistent support for a finding of 'negligible impact'. (Miller, 1962, p.512). Other major examples, such as the Mobilisation for Youth in New York, based upon Cloward and Ohlin's (1960) analysis of gang delinquency and opportunities, and the Chicago Area Project loosely based on Shaw's urban research findings, were also unable to demonstrate a substantial improvement in the behaviour they were ostensibly designed to reduce.
By the end of the seventies the promise of sociological positivism was either seen as counterfeit because programmes based on it failed to reduce delinquency and youthful misbehaviour (Lerman, 19175; Wilson, 1975) or totally impractical because they required social reform on a scale that the dominant class was quite unprepared to contemplate (Schur, 1973). Thus, whilst lip service was still being paid to these types of programmes, there was already a preparedness to look elsewhere for alternative solutions to the delinquency problem. One of these was already under way and only required more funds and official certification to mushroom; this was a new version of biological determinism - the conception that delinquents and pre-delinquents were essentially ill, either mentally or, as in the case of hyperactivity, physically and organically, and required treatment, especially drug therapy." (S Box, pp.116-117).
Such a 'medicalisation' of social problems has, especially amongst juveniles, continued and expended to date and has provided the material basis for the continuing existence of biological positivism long after Lombrosianism had been - repeatedly - proclaimed dead. Indeed, some of the best known criminology books espouse a biological determinist position (eg H Eysenck, 1970; CR Jeffrey, 1980). But there are limits to individual and biologically based determinism, but: (I) it can explain only a small proportion of the problem of crime and is particularly inadequate at dealing with its rise; (ii) individual theory is expensive; (iii) biological reductionism is politically dynamite, even to politicians of the New Right. But by far the most obvious and immediate reaction to the aetiological crisis, in the face of the growing evidence of failure in terms of social democratic explanations and interventions in crime control, was neo-classicist methods of intervention. More police, prisons - a more effective justice system. None of this meant losing completely notions of conditions which predisposed people to delinquency, but these conditions became more mitigating circumstances than excuses for avoiding punishment.
Most immediately in Britain was the movement to 'short, sharp, shocks' for a proportion of delinquents. Thus Fyvel writes:
"These figures appeared to surprise even the most experienced social and penal workers. For example, the unforeseen increase in delinquency in the male seventeen to twenty-one age-groups was reflected by an equivalent rise in the Borstal population which went up from 2,800 at the beginning of 1956, to over 5,000 at the end of 1960. Unprecedented measures had to be taken to absorb this new clientele, and Mr Butler's White Paper of January 1959 accordingly introduced the biggest prison-building programme for young adult offenders, including plans for the building of eight Borstals, together with eight of the new detention centres, designed to administer 'a short, sharp, shock' to the evidently more recalcitrant young offenders of the new age." (FR Fyvel, 1963, p.17).
THE CRISIS IN PENALITY
If biological and individualistic explanations of crime had explanatory and political limits, neo-classicism had even greater problems which were to reverberate through criminology in the late seventies. Indeed, it is possible to talk of a double-barrelled crisis in criminology: firstly, the crisis of aetiology in the sixties, followed afterwards by a crisis in penality.
In the seventies, faced with the continuing rises of crime rate and a fiscal crisis in the cost of police and prisons, politicians in the United States became greatly interested in the most effective use of resources. The greatest focus of research was directed to police work involving particularly the work of the RAND organisation and the Police Foundation. Their findings were to have a devastating effect on subsequent criminology. For they pointed out, amongst other things, that
- increased police does not necessarily reduce crime rates or increase clear-up
- saturation policing does not reduce crime, but only increases displacement
- improving response times to emergency calls does not affect the likelihood of arresting criminals
- crimes are not solved through criminal investigations but largely through public witnessing
- the kind of crime which the public are most fearful of are rarely encountered by the police on patrol
- neither random motor patrols nor foot patrols had any effect on the crime rate.
This summary of findings I have culled from Jerome Skolnick and David Bayley's incisive book, The New Blue Line. They write:
"Those findings are devastating. They mean that the primary strategies followed by American police departments are neither reducing crime nor reassuring the public. Like other public institutions - schools, the Defense Department, prisons - the police often devote resources to traditional but bureaucratically safe approaches that no longer work - if they ever did. That probably explains why additions of money or personnel have slight measurable effect on security. How could they, when existing strategies seem largely bankrupt? The studies clearly imply that protection needs to be provided by citizens themselves, and that their assistance is essential in capturing and prosecuting the people who victimise them. The job for the police, therefore, is to work with the public so as to ensure that those things happen, to develop specific and articulate approaches that an achieve results." (1986, pp.5-6)
It was a double-barrelled failure in both of the conventional wisdoms of crime control: social democratic positivism and neo-classicism. If better conditions did not work, neither did better (i.e. more apposite) punishment. If more housing did not reduce the crime rate, neither did more police. If the rehabilitative prison regime had failed, so had the 'short, sharp shock'. If, on the left part of the middle ground there was an aetiological crisis with regards to the causes of crime, there was a parallel intellectual crisis on the right part of the consensus over the failure of policing and prisons.
The subsequent development of criminology is, as I have argued, an attempt to come to terms with the crisis. It resulted in a wealth of debate and an intense level of disputes. But at the same time, there was a measure of agreement that the old ideas of social democratic positivism and neo-classicism had failed. It is difficult to imagine a criminology where Howard Becker, Richard Quinney, James Q Wilson and Ron Clarke were on the same side of the barricades, but this, to an extent, was what happened. Let us first look at the parameters of the debate. The first response to the aetiological crisis outside of the traditional paradigms of positivism and classicism is various varieties of what I call 'the great denial'. That is, criminologists simply deemed that there had not been a real increase in crime or criminality. At least for them, the aetiological crisis had not occurred.
THE GREAT DENIAL
Throughout the sixties the US crime rate rose remorselessly and in Britain the increase has become seemingly inexorable. How could anyone in their right mind doubt that the curve was actually going up? They were able to do so, of course, because the interpretation of curves known to the police on which official statistics are based, is a very complex entity. The Great Denial had many facets, all of which had in common the denial that crime or criminality had 'really' risen. It had gone up simply because there were more police or more laws, or more things to be stolen, or people had more prosperous public lifestyles with grater exposure to crime, or we were less tolerant of crime. Typical replies to 'why has the crime rate risen?' were:
More State Action
Because of rising numbers of police all that has happened is that more people are being arrested and, as there is considerable dark figure of crime unknown to the police, the official statistics can rise without there being a rise in 'real' crime.
Because of more legislation on the statute book, there are more possible crimes.
People have become more sensitive to crimes such as violence, therefore, more are being reported to the police.
Because of increased affluence there are more things to steal and people go out more, living more exposed lifestyles. As opportunities have risen, so have crimes.
And, of course, as well as theories based around denial, there were the conservative and social democratic theorists who believed that the rise was 'real' and was because of an increase of offenders caused by, in the first instance, a welfare state that was soft on punishment and undermined authority and, in the second instance, a welfare state which had allowed relative inequalities to persist. In a way, the recent history of criminology theory is dominated by how the various social and political strands made sense of the early sixties. They spoke in many voices - some of them widespread and established, others restricted to tiny academic circles - but they all address, and are a response to, the aetiological crisis and the associated problems of penality.
What is immediately apparent is that any of the above changes can affect the crime rate. For, if we deconstruct the concept of crime rate we will find we have the following variables:
i) number of likely offenders;
ii) number of likely victims;
iii) variation in the tolerance levels of public or police about crime. That is, informal and formal definitions as to what is or is not serious crime;
iv) variation in the actual levels of control exerted by public and police on crime. That is levels of informal and formal control.
Any one or a combination of these can alter the crime rate. The problem is that most theories have focused upon only one part of this process and largely ignored the others. I have shown schematically in Table 1.2 how various contemporary theories have focused on part of the process. None of them could be exclusively correct, all of them are undoubtedly involved, although the weighting one would give to each part of the process is an empirical matter demanding investigation.
TABLE 2.2 EXPLANATIONS OF THE AETIOLOGICAL CRISIS AND CRIMINOLOGICAL THEORIES 1960-19
Partiality: Human Action and Society
Up til now in this Chapter I have referred to how criminological theory has tended to focus on part of the total process of becoming criminal and how such a fragmentation flourished in terms of the crisis of causes andpenality. That is one part of the square of crime: Victim, Offender, State and Public. But as we have seen in Chapter XXX, there are other ways that theory can be partial. It focuses on the micro-context or the macro-context. It can focus on the determinate side of human action or on the voluntarist side. Positivism in the post-1945 period tended to focus on the micro-context - ignoring, for example, theories of the State; on the causes of crime rather than the way in which the administration of justice shapes the offender - which was the main thrust of the critique of labelling theory; on the determinist actor rather than voluntary criminal. In response to the aetiological crisis and in reaction to positivism, there was a tendency towards a shift to the macro-level, to focus on the administration of justice and to stress voluntarism. All of this, particularly the latter, fitted the mood of the late sixties and seventies.
To understand the theoretical problems and intellectual climate which beset criminology, it is necessary to briefly look at the history of the discipline and the images of human nature which have recurrently been evoked.
The Pendulum of Ideas
"In the absence of a verified body of knowledge, criminology has consisted of one aetiological and correctional bandwagon after another....
One principle defies refutation in the history of criminological thought. This principle is that any perspective, no matter how outlandish, tends to surface appropriate to its temporal resurrection." (Simon Dinitz, 1979,,pp. 109-110).
Two images of the criminal recur throughout the last hundred years: the moral actor freely choosing crime set against the automaton - the person who has lost control and is beset by forces within or external to him or her. There is no necessary political evaluation to either picture; conservative and anarchist share the view of the moral criminal, but for one he is fallen humanity and for the other the hero: both Lombrosian and Social Reformer share the image of the determined criminal, but for one the causes are biological effects; the other defects of society. Images of freewill - sometimes romanticised and always elevated as the universal essence of humanity contrast with notions of pathology: the 'sick' criminal, the person who, because of circumstances, lacks humanity.
The history of criminology is one of incessant competition between these two equally abstract images of man, each a caricature of reality. On one side there has been an idealism which granted the human actor free will, rationality and unfettered moral choice; on the other, a vulgar materialism which portrayed the criminal as determined, non-rational and regarded morality as a metaphysic. Thus the wilful, rational actor contrasts with the determined, propelled actor. One abstract metaphysic is set up against an equally absurd "scientific" datum. These two gross abstractions have shadow-boxed with each other throughout the history of our subject; one mirror image shaping itself up against the other. In the beginning of criminology as a discipline, classicism and positivism arrayed themselves in such a fashion. The fight between structural functionalism and labelling theory had resonances of such a contest and, of course, today the re-emergence of new and idealistic forms of neo-classicism (eg 'the new administration criminology justice model') and virulent, if atavistic, forms of neo-positivism, (eg right realism) repeat the same combat with a ghastly inability to realize that history is repeating itself. And at each historical juncture the theorists claim paradigm change - from the positivist revolution of Enrico Ferri, to the new scientific revolution of the 'born again' Lombrosians of the present period. This is exactly what Pitrim Sorokin, many years ago, described as a combination of 'amnesia' and 'the discoverers complex', where the aspiring social scientist is unaware of or forgets the past and rediscovers ideas already long known. And to this one might ad that the debates of the past, for example, over the possibility - or not - of reducing the social to the biological, are also erased from the memory - so that the path of knowledge is not so much progressively linear, but rather forms continuous circuit of déjà vu (Young, 1980).
It is important to stress at this junction that this pendulum of fashion within the subject involves theories which are veritable mirror images of each other as much as they are repeats of the past. As had been frequently pointed out, critique very often becomes mere conceptual inversion (see Young, 1975; 1979; Bottomley, 1979; Spitzer, 1980).
The Aetiological Crisis in Britain and America
Let us examine the dominant tendency in mainstream criminology in Britain and the United States in the 'sixties - the period which experienced most traumatically the aetiological crisis and heralded the emergence of the new deviancy theory and thence radical criminology. Mainstream British criminology, as Stan Cohen (1981) detailed in his short history, was characterized by pragmatism, an eclectic multi-disciplinary approach, correctionalism and positivism. Such a positivism was profoundly atheoretical, a product of British intellectual culture in general (see P Anderson, 1968), and it was formed in a social democratic mould which set itself up intransigently against the classicist sphere of the legal profession. Thus Baroness Wootton, a prominent Fabian, wrote:
"Traditional conceptions of criminal responsibility ... have already been modified to a point where they can no longer be logically defended ... they have, in fact, been effectively undermined by the advance of medicine into what used to be the sphere of morality. They may, it is true, linger for a long while, yet there are plenty of precedents for the survival of illogical practices and institutions."
And she continues:
"The struggle between the rival empires of medicine and morality seems to have become the contemporary equivalent of the nineteenth century battle between scientific and religious explanations of cosmic events or of terrestrial evolution. True, the modern battle is much more decorously conducted ... But these issues are akin and the victory seems likely to go the same way."
She seemed remarkably unaware that such arguments had occurred, without resolution, half a century previously. The important exceptions to British atheoreticism in criminology was the German emigre, Hans Eysenck (1964) - a biological determinist - and a scattered few writers such as Terence Morris (1957) and David Downes (1966) at the London School of Economics, and John Barron Mays (1963) at the University of Liverpool, who had bravely championed and transposed American sociological ideas to the British context.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the problems of positivist criminology even before the aetiological crisis. Above all, it had lost any explanatory grip on the phenomenon that it was supposedly studying. For example, Wootton in 1959 surveyed twelve of the most likely criminological hypotheses, ranging from broken homes to low social status, as causes of delinquency, and came to the conclusion: "all in all ... this collection of studies, although chosen for its comparative methodological merit, produces only the most meagre, and dubiously supported, generalisations." (p.134). It is, indeed, surprising how her adamant faith in positivism was reconcilable with its obvious intellectual bankruptcy.
Ten years later, one of the largest and expensive pieces of criminological research in Britain came up with the conclusion that there was a link between poverty and delinquency, although it was not at all sure. D J West concluded the report on this longitudinal study of 400 boys, with the forlorn: "These preliminary observations raise many questions. It is our pious hope that with the passage of time ... at least some answers will emerge." (1969, p.149). (See S Cohen, 1981, pp.229-230).
But, as we have seen, there were worse problems than this: for if the crime rate had remained static, at leat some semblance of stumbling scientificity might have been preserved. To reiterate, in the post-1945 period, official crime rates continued to rise remorselessly, year by year, even accelerating as we entered the affluent sixties. Real incomes became the highest in history, slums were demolished one by one, educational attainment rose, physical fitness improved dramatically, social services expanded in order to provide extensive welfare provisions and safety nets, and yet the crime rate continued to doggedly rise! All of the 'factors' which should have led to a drop in delinquency if mainstream criminology were even half correct, were being ameliorated and yet precisely the opposite effect was occurring. Such an empirical anomaly which, if it did not immediately shake the somnolent mainstream paradigm, certainly encouraged the emergence of others. And it was problems in the external world which facilitated this change more than problems interior to the discipline.
In the United States the aetiological crisis was even more anomalous and threatening to positivism. For not only was crime rising in pace with affluence, it was much more of an actual threat than in any other part of the Western World. Street crime became a number one fear of the American public and thee seemed little advice that establishment criminology could give that would effectively stem the tide.
In addition, the American muck-raking tradition and the pioneering work of E H Sutherland were revived at this time by the twin feed-ins from self- report studies - which showed that there was a considerable dark figure of middle class, delinquency (see Schwedenger, 1988) - and the journalistic exposes of crime in the high echelons of political and corporate power. These constantly threatened the positivist conventional wisdom which associated crime with poverty and lower class socialization patterns, etc.
In the United States, as in Britain, there was a parallel reformist tradition, positivism in its outlook and interventionist in its policy. This was dominant, not only in criminology, but also to a remarkable extent in the rehabilitative ideals of the 'new penology' which held the centre ground in prison reform from the 'thirties onwards. As Simon Dinitz put in:
"Intellectually, the reformist impulse was made respectable by the victory of positivism over classicism, by empiricism over speculative philosophy, by the clinical over the legal perspective ... and by elevating the actor over is ct. [? what?] On the policy level, this liberal-reformist impulse focused, to the exclusion of nearly all else, on humanizing the prisons and jails and on rehabilitating the inmates." (1979, p.105).
But, just as orthodox criminology failed to explain the extent, distribution and change in the official crime rate, establishment penology plainly failed to control crime or rehabilitate. For crime increased at the same time as did recidivism rates from the prisons.
But the Americans were more theoretically capable of tackling the aetiological crisis than were the Europeans. True, the same current of eclectic positivism dominated criminology in both countries - witness the Gluecks and the McCords in the United States. But it was not hegemonic, for there were also a sophisticated tradition of sociological criminology involving the Chicago School, symbolic interactionism and structural functionalism. It was these theoretical strands which were mobilized to attempt to explain the aetiological anomaly. Out of these theoretical bases three separate and politically different schools of criminology emerged. Thus labelling theory, with its roots in symbolic interactionism, attempted to explain the problem in terms of the differential and unjust administration of justice. Unfair labelling explained the fact that middle class deviancy was hidden, increased policing and moral panic gave rise to the crime wave and stigmatization caused recidivism. Subcultural theory, derived from Mertonian structural functionalism, utilized the concept of relative deprivation to explain the rise in crime, despite the decrease in absolute poverty. It pointed to the way in which subcultures are solutions to such deprivation and that the pains of imprisonment gave rise to an inmate subculture which increased commitment to criminality and recidivism. It even got around to acknowledging that relative deprivation need not be solely a working class phenomenon. Lastly, deriving from the Chicago School of the 'thirties, social disorganisation theory talked of community disintegration. Thus breakdown of informal controls engendered amongst the poor and throughout the structure of society, and provided no community to which the ex-prisoner could be returned.
Their political attachments: libertarian, social democratic and conservative, kept them apart, as did their emphasis on what was usually seen as alternative aetiologies and levels of analysis. What was often forgotten was that these perspectives on deviance: that which emphasizes social reaction, that which stresses the cause of deviant action and that which focuses on the organisational context of action are not per se mutually exclusive. They were fragmented because of politics, not because of reality. A few American sociologists in the creative debates at that time sensed this - for example, Albert Cohen (1965), Cloward and Ohlin (1960) and David Matza (1969). It was this American tradition which formed the basis of the development of the new deviancy theory in the United States, which was subsequently imported wholesale to Britain.
The rockbed influence on the new deviancy theory was labelling theory, but there wee substantial, and sometimes forgotten, influences of subcultural theory and of the Chicago School. Certain pieces of theory were incorporated, others rejected in this bricolage and reorientation. For example, from the Chicago School new deviancy theory inherited a healthy scepticism and cynicism about the basis of order and the honesty of the powerful. But, perhaps more significantly, it explicitly rejected any notions of social disorganization as a cause of deviancy. Organisation and counter-organisation, culture and contra-culture, differential socialization and pluralism became the order of the day. All theory can be illuminated by understanding its chief sparring partners. For new deviancy theory, this was mainstream positivism. The debate between the new deviancy theory and positivism continued the tradition of critique by inversion with a vengeance. In place of the grinding determinism of positivism was replaced a capricious voluntarism; in place of a focus on the structure of society, a preoccupation with the administrative bureaucracies which produced the 'labels', and in place, a micro-focus, a focus which led, step by step, up the social order in an increasingly macro-direction. And such a mirror image of partiality was continued in all aspects of the study of crime and deviance. Instead of condemnation of the deviant, there was advocated an 'appreciation' of the deviant realities from the perspective of the controlled, not the controllers. Whereas positivism denuded deviant action of meaning, new deviancy theory granted meaning and full-blown rationalism. Consensus was replaced by radical pluralism, pathology ousted by differential definitions of normality, and correctionalism by a condemnation of the expert. On every dimension of understanding crime and deviancy, positivism was inverted (see Young, 1975). New deviancy theory, then, was the seedbed of radical criminology: the first attempt in this period, to create systematically an alternative paradigm to positivism without reverting to an updated version of classicism.