Power, Conflict and Criminalisation

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Routledge, 2007 - Social Science - 265 pages
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Drawing on a body of empirical, qualitative work spanning three decades, this unique text traces the significance of critical social research and critical analyses in understanding some of the most significant and controversial issues in contemporary society. Focusing on central debates in the UK and Ireland – prison protests; inner-city uprisings; deaths in custody; women's imprisonment; transition in the north of Ireland; the 'crisis' in childhood; the Hillsborough and Dunblane tragedies; and the 'war on terror' – Phil Scraton argues that 'marginalisation' and 'criminalisation' are social forces central to the application of state power and authority. Each case study demonstrates how structural relations of power, authority and legitimacy, establish the determining contexts of everyday life, social interaction and individual opportunity.

This book explores the politics and ethics of critical social research, making a persuasive case for the application of critical theory to analysing the rule of law, its enforcement and the administration of criminal justice. It is indispensable for students in the fields of criminology, criminal justice and socio-legal studies, social policy and social work.

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Power, Conflict and Criminalisation is a detailed review of the author's career conducting primary research on areas as diverse as policing of marginalised communities, deaths in custody, the media portrayal and demonisation of children, and the conditions of women in prison. The book references more than thirty years of empirical research, grounded firmly in Scraton's commitment to critical social research, 'bearing witness' and the 'view from below'. This text is accessible to a wide readership, who will undoubtedly recognise and discover new material about the many significant events and themes the author explores in depth. For those involved with or discovering critical analysis, this book contributes to our understanding both by contextualising the research robustly in critical social theory and demonstrating methodological approaches for qualitative research with integrity throughout.  

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I have read this text on several occasions for both academic purposes and personal interest. ‘Power, Conflict and Criminalisaton’ is based on over thirty years of extensive critical social research and scholarship. Rarely do academic texts consist of scholarship and empirical research conducted over such an extended period. It is evident from the outset that the author has a deep commitment to ‘bearing witness’ and enabling the ‘view from below’ – the voices of those most marginalised individuals and social groups to be heard.
The approach taken is derived in critical analysis within the discipline of criminology. The theoretical framework of Scraton’s text draws on the pivotal scholarship of academics such as Christie, Foucault and C. Wright Mills. Scraton’s analysis is therefore grounded in, builds on and contributes significantly to the key theoretical approaches and debates within the discipline. The text employs several qualitative methodological approaches and this combined approach further emphasises the strength of the analysis contained within. The case studies include documentary analysis, content analysis of media reporting, qualitative empirical interviews and focus groups.
In the concluding chapter Scraton (2007: 240) defends and promotes critical criminology and argues that critical analysis ‘moves beyond the resources of theory into praxis’. He argues that not only should the researcher give a voice to those who are silenced, marginalised and vulnerable, but they should move beyond this to act upon existing social and political injustice. Therefore ‘bearing witness’, ‘speaking truth to power’ and ‘praxis’ is what makes critical social research so important. Another unique element of this text is the author’s personal reflections of conducting critical social research over three decades. Scraton’s reflections provide ‘new’ scholars with an invaluable insight into the practicalities, challenges and importance of conducting critical research. Not only is this well-written and engaging text a valuable piece of academic scholarship, but it is accessible to a wide readership.

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About the author (2007)

Phil Scraton is Professor of Criminology in the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Queen's University, Belfast. His primary research includes: the regulation and criminalisation of children and young people; violence and incarceration; the politics of truth and official inquiry; critical analysis. His most recent books are Hillsborough: The Truth (2000) and Beyond September 11: An Anthology of Dissent (2002).

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