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Against Administrative Criminology.

Progressive Voices in an Academic Wilderness

For approximately three decades social justice has persisted in publishing papers dealing with fairness in law, crime, and other cultural practices. The vision of the journal has always been at odds with the dominant paradigms found in academic criminology. Through most of this history, I have been a member of the editorial board and have always been proud of this association.

The journal has not been alone in offering an alternative vision for the study of crime and law. Troy Duster (1995) delivered a passionate and devastating criticism of the racism inherent in the war on drugs, including the significantly more severe punishments for offenses involving crack as opposed to powder cocaine. Such patterns resulted in a prison-building boom and an ever-increasing proportion of arrest and incarceration of black males. Some criminology, noted Travis Hirschi (1993), lacked a sense of intellectual history and showed a consequent movement toward shopworn and outmoded biological explanations of criminal behavior. This was often coupled with a theoretical vacuum and increased federal funding. Hirschi called this type of research "administrative criminology," consistent as it is with the requirements of government bureaucrats.

For these reasons, and others, Stanley Cohen (1988) concluded that he was "against criminology." Cohen assumed that the scope of criminology consists of addressing only three questions: "Why are laws made? Why are they broken? What do we do or what should we do about this?" (Ibid.: 9). He laments the fact that there is a "political timidity" (Ibid.: 52) whereby the first question regarding the origins of laws is largely ignored in favor of behavioral research asking merely why people break existing laws. "If 80% of students on a campus smoke marihuana, the question should not be 'Why do they do it?' but 'Why have those in power allowed such a law to remain?'" (Ibid.: 47). Thus, "the concept of crime is meaningful only in terms of certain acts being prohibited by the state...[and] drug taking, homosexuality, and abortion would be very different if they were not 'criminalized'" (Ibid.: 40). Mainline criminology thus "managed the astonishing feat of separating the study of crime from the contemplation of the state" (Ibid.: 4). The question that remains is, how did American criminology get into these straits?

A Short History of the Saddest Science

Cohen addresses this question by focusing on the institutional domains of criminology, which in turn:

are shaped by their surroundings: how academic institutions are organized, how disciplines are divided and subdivided, how disputes emerge, how research is funded, and how findings are published and used. In criminology an understanding of these institutional domains is especially important, for our knowledge is situated not just, or even primarily, in the pure academic world, but in the applied domain of the state's crime control apparatus (Ibid.: 67).

In the following paragraphs we will see how patterns of funding, both in and outside of academe, have influenced the organization and division of academic criminology.

Akers (1992) noted that until the mid-1960s, all criminology was taught in sociology departments and all criminology texts were written by sociologists. Undoubtedly influenced by the urban riots of the 1960s, beginning in the early 1970s, the federal government began to sponsor criminal justice programs through the Law Enforcement Assistance Association LEAA (Cronin et al., 1981). At colleges and universities, large and small, such programs quickly emerged to take advantage of this newfound largess. Initially these programs had little research impact, but were designed to train police officers already on the job (Ibid.). Soon, applied training emerged for undergraduate majors interested in preparing for a law enforcement career. Farrell and Koch (1995) have illustrated this applied orientation, both in their experiences in teaching such programs and in a review of criminal justice textbooks.

Akers (1992) traces the phenomenal growth of these programs. In the mid-1960s, there were only 39 bachelor's programs in criminal justice, 14 master's programs, and no doctoral programs. A decade later, there were 376 bachelor's programs, 121 master's programs, and six doctoral programs in criminal justice. By 1990, over 1,000 colleges or universities were offering degrees in criminal justice, with 95 of them offering graduate programs and 13 offering the doctorate.

It would be easy to exaggerate the impact of these patterns, because even before this spate of government funding, regressive and repressive forces were at work in academic criminology, perhaps best reflected in deterrence research that often sought information on the most effective means of controlling the urban underclass (DiChiara and Galliher, 1984). Although most of these criminal justice programs and faculty are clearly applied in emphasis, representing administrative criminology, some faculty and some programs have been more progressive.

As the war on drugs took on steam and as the prison-building program moved into high gear, this was not lost on undergraduates at universities and colleges, who flocked to such programs in hopes of securing some type of law enforcement employment after graduation. Employment opportunities have abounded at the local, state, and federal levels in policing and corrections. The interests of undergraduates, and their tuition money, were not lost on university administrators; increasingly, universities have developed such programs and allowed them to grow. Thus, these programs needed to recruit new faculty. To meet these staffing demands, some criminal justice departments developed graduate programs. Research programs in these departments also have thrived with the assistance of the National Institute of Justice.

Some prominent sociology graduate training programs shed the criminology specialty, finding themselves out of step with academic changes. When I arrived at Indiana University in 1962, many graduate students there had been attracted to the study of criminology and deviant behavior due to the legacy of the late Edwin Sutherland and a distinguished faculty that included Alfred Lindesmith, who was a prominent and persistent critic of federal drug control policies, and also Albert Cohen, Austin Turk, John Gagnon, and Charles Tittle. The Indiana graduate student corps justifiably felt that the criminology program there was among the best in the nation, perhaps only taking a back seat to the one at the University of California, Berkeley. Yet, what a difference three decades can make. Lindesmith has passed away and the others have resigned. Indeed, the Indiana University sociology department no longer teaches criminology, leaving it to the campus Forensic Studies Program. It should be noted that sociology at Indiana and elsewhere has been indifferent to losing criminology due to the vocational emphasis in this specialty (Akers, 1992). To add insult to injury, the progressive and prestigious School of Criminology at the University of California, Berkeley, was closed in the 1970s by then Governor Ronald Reagan for being too far to the left (Geis, 1995).

Without Social Justice, academic criminology would be left with few outlets for progressive analysis of racist police, oppressive drug laws, and a prison-building program that finds the United States as the leader in the proportion of its citizens who are imprisoned. Just as Hirschi and Cohen have observed, it is an easy choice to be "against criminology," especially "administrative criminology."


Akers, Ronald L.

1992 "Linking Sociology and Its Specialties: The Case of Criminology." Social Forces 71: 1-15.

Cohen, Stanley

1988 Against Criminology. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books.

Cronin, Thomas E., Tania Z. Cronin, and Michael E. Milakovich

1981 U.S. v. Crime in the Streets. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

DiChiara, Albert and John F. Galliher

1984 "Thirty Years of Deterrence Research: Characteristics, Causes, and Consequences." Contemporary Crises 8: 243-263.

Duster, Troy

1995 "The New Crisis of Legitimacy in Controls, Prisons, and Legal Structures." The American Sociologist 26: 20-29.

Farrell, Bill and Larry Koch

1995 "Criminal Justice, Sociology, and Academia." The American Sociologist 26: 52-61.

Geis, Gilbert

1995 "The Limits of Academic Tolerance: The Discontinuance of the School of Criminology at Berkeley." Thomas G. Blomberg and Stanley Cohen (eds.), Punishment and Social Control. New York: Aldine De Gruyter: 277-304.

Hirschi, Travis

1993 "Administrative Criminology." Contemporary Sociology 22: 348-350.

JOHN GALLIHER is a professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211; (e-mail:
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Author:Galliher, John F.
Publication:Social Justice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 1999
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