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Assessing the boundaries of public criminology: on what does (not) count.

AS A NEW PARENT I MUST BE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE, YET I CANNOT HELP but despair about the world my child will inherit. In Canada, the colonial settler state where we live, there have been several hundred documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in recent decades (Gilchrist 2010). The dire situation has prompted many, including Rinelle Harper--a sixteen-year-old Aboriginal teenager who was found clinging to life in Winnipeg's Assiniboine River following a brutal attack in November 2014--to call for a national inquiry to work toward resolving this long-standing crisis. When asked during a press scrum what "he would say to Rinelle Harper" and her request for an inquiry, the Canadian minister responsible for Aboriginal affairs at the time walked away in silence (see Global News 2014). We also live in a stale where in October 2007 Ashley Smith, a teenager, died alone inside a segregation cell with a ligature tied around her neck as guards watched. Her mom, Coralee Smith, called on the Government of Canada to issue a response to the 2013 coroner's inquest recommendations that ruled her death a homicide and proposed working toward ending solitary confinement (see Carlisle 2013).These requests were met with the following official response: "To be clear, the term solitary confinement is not accurate or applicable within the federal correctional system.... There is frequent interaction with others, including staff and visitors, as well as structured contact with peers" (PSC and CSC 2014). One has only to type Ashley Smith's name in a search engine to see images of the kinds of "frequent interactions" she had during her years of solitary confinement. Although a new federal government elected in October 2015 has promised to rectify these injustices (see Trudeau 2015), it is unlikely that the exclusionary structures that gave rise to these tragedies will be dismantled. Looking south towards the United States, we are learning that the rectal feeding CIA operatives subject their prisoners to is "not torture," but a "medical procedure" (CNN 2014). We also know that it is officially acceptable for police to shoot and kill unarmed black children and adults in the "land of the free" (AP 2014). These are just some examples of the material and symbolic violence that characterizes the present moment inside and beyond the penal field.

Of course, the fact that states are unaccountable for their repression and unrepentant in their disregard for human life is nothing new (see Platt 2014); one could say that the world has gone to shit, but that would be much too charitable to the 1960s and 1970s, when violence and exclusion were playing out in private (e.g., Griffin 1971) and in public (e.g., Takagi 1974) as many struggled for social change. If criminologists are concerned with trying to affect social change, how should they intervene at a time when there is notable resistance (e.g., people again taking to the streets in large numbers) to interpersonal and institutional violence, state impunity, and capitalism's excesses in Western democracies?

Similar to practitioners in other disciplines interested in affecting social change (see Nickel 2010), some criminologists believe that the answer to the questions above lies in "public criminology" (1) (see, for example, Chancer and McLaughlin 2007; Clear 2010; Loader and Sparks 2011a,b).The discussions concerning public engagement (2) or "doing politics" in criminology (Carien 2011, 17) generally revolve around one or more of the following themes: (a) engagement with extra-academic publics; (b) reflections on practice, including its possibilities and limitations; and (c) critiques of public criminology itself.

This article interrogates the objectives, publics, and practices associated with doing public criminology. In particular, this article highlights the following limitations of most current iterations of public criminology: (a) the pursuit of a reformist agenda using language that reifies and reproduces dominant constructions of "crime" and justice; (b) the frequent failure of public criminologists to work with the individuals and groups who are most harmed by interpersonal and state violence; (3) and (c) the use of approaches that often limit the participation of extra-academic publics to audiences of scholarly work.

In raising these questions and critiques, this piece also explores what does not count as public criminology in these discussions. More specifically, building on the insights of Bell (2014) and Ruggiero (2012, 154)--who asks "is there not a rich history of public scholarship that lays the groundwork for today's public criminology?"--I consider how abolitionism (4) pushes the boundaries of engagement with extra-academic publics among criminologists. To this end, I highlight a few examples of abolitionist work that aims to eradicate the reliance on criminalization and punishment as a response to harm. The article concludes with a brief discussion of spaces where reformist and abolitionist criminologies can work together to confront structures of domination in the pursuit of social justice.

The Boundaries of Public Criminology: On What Counts

The first part of this article outlines and critically examines the objectives, publics, and practices that currently constitute public criminology. Most proponents of public criminology position themselves as casualties of what Pratt (2007, 37) describes as "the decline of deference," whereby experts such as academics are treated with growing skepticism beyond their professional circles. Although there are some exceptions, which are noted below, the public criminology project is largely seen as a way for its advocates to reassert their "rightful" place as persons of influence in public debates and in the corridors of state power.

What Is Public Criminology for?

In Western democracies, one is routinely confronted with "a society saturated with crime talk'" (Chancer and McLaughlin 2007, 157), which is seen by many criminologists as an important source of penal intensification (Carrier 2014). In this scenarios public criminology is seen as important to establish the relevance of criminology beyond the university and academia and to ensure that criminologists receive recognition in spheres where penal issues are deliberated upon (Barak 2007, 201).

Following the idea that criminologists need "to be relevant to the 'real world'" (Clear 2010, 721), proponents of public criminology generally agree that "nowhere is the gap between perception and evidence greater than in the study of crime and punishment" (Uggen and Inderbitzin 2010, 726). On this point, criminologists are asked to "invest time in translating their own research" and share "their findings with the larger public" (ibid.,738). In so doing, the discipline could position itself to have "relevance and status with larger public policy debates" to fulfill the external "expectation that the science will have meaning for practice" (Clear 2010, 721).This argument is put in more simple terms by Currie (2007, 178), who promotes public criminology as a means to have "impact on public policy and the public mind." The weight that public(ized) and evidence-based contributions of criminologists should be given is subject to debate. For some, who view extra-academic publics as a source of flawed cultural representations concerning "crime" and punishment, as well as of harmful penal policies and practices, the "objective" knowledge of criminologists would work as a counterweight to irrational ideas and "moral panics precipitated by extreme but rare cases" that get in the way of "promoting sound policy" (Uggen and Inderbitzin 2010, 738). Despite internal disagreements over the utility of evidence-based interventions and over the idea that academic work should serve the state (which abolitionists contest; see for example Sim 2011), these proponents of public criminology offer criminological knowledge as a way "to try 'to cool things down'" in a heated climate in which certain harms are conceptualized and responded to through a punitive lens (Loader and Sparks 2010, 776).

Loader and Sparks agree with the idea that criminologists can be "bearers and interpreters of [criminological| knowledge and ... bring it to bear on matters of public concern and dispute," particularly because of the relative freedom academics have to speak on contentious issues in ways that "provoke and unsettle" what is taken for granted (ibid., 778). However, they also argue that "criminologists need to give up an illusion of mastery in which they somehow expect their knowledge to engineer outcomes, end political discussion, and trump the ill-informed concerns and perspectives of others" (ibid.). Instead, public criminologists should take on the role of democratic under-laborers who" bring the heat within practices of democratic governance" by "generating controversy, opening up and extending debate, challenging and provoking received public 'opinion' and political postures" (Loader and Sparks 2011b, 132). From this perspective, criminologists are seen as part of the struggle over how to think about and respond to "crime", but with "no special standing that entitles us to have our views given special weight" (Tonry 2010, 786). For advocates of this viewpoint, debates on moral issues require deliberations informed by various considerations, not just scholarly findings.

Although proponents argue that public criminology should not only "inform the debate" on penality but also "shift its terms" (Uggen and Inderbitzin 2010, 727), the social change they advocate for is limited. As Loader and Sparks (2010, 771) note, engagement with extra-academic publics among criminologists is guided by "a reformist ambition of some kind (to prevent crime, rehabilitate offenders, improve the quality of justice, or in some allied way, alleviate avoidable human suffering)." It is an approach that too often participates in the reification of "crime" and fails to acknowledge that the latter "is not the object but the product of criminal policy" (Hulsman 1986, 28, original emphasis). In this sense, public criminology appears as a rehashing of Left realist criminology (Bell 2014, 494), one that takes "crime (mainly conventional, street, crime) 'seriously'" (Ruggiero 2010, 154). In its pursuit of relevance and impact, the public criminology being promoted is one that seeks to push the very boundaries it reinforces, which sees "the penal system ... being attributed the function of a symbolic universal organizer of the hierarchy of general goods" (Scheerer 1986, 18-19). Proponents ofa public criminology also promote work with extra-academic publics as opportunities to enrich the discipline. Uggen and Inderbitzin (2010, p. 726), for example, argue that this "could nurture the passion students bring to justice concerns, while contributing to professional, critical, and policy criminology." (5) Beyond Ibis, it is argued that the work of and debates among criminologists will also gain strength from "disseminating ... ideas clearly in public forums," enabling knowledge to circulate "more quickly" (ibid., 730). By ensuring "both the intellectual vitality and public presence of our chosen field of study" (Chancer and McLaughlin 2007, 170), calls for a public criminology also reflect a concern to secure the future of the discipline through the generation of external prestige.

To date, however, the intellectual contributions of public criminologists have tended to be oriented towards "textual reflexivity," with an emphasis "on the rhetorics she [the researcher] deploys and the politics embedded in her poetics" (Wacquant 2011, 441). Carrier (2014, 99) argues that this literature is mostly populated by "cookbooks" that comprise "self-congratulatory" accounts of the "transient experience of having had the spotlights of a local newspaper turned towards them." Wacquant (2011, 439) refers to the contemporary rise of public criminology as a symptom of "another discipline struck by the disease of 'public-itis'" that fails to engage in epistemic reflexivity. By engaging in "an objectivist analysis of the tangled circuits of production, distribution and consumption of criminological knowledge, and of the power relations that articulate them," Wacquant (ibid., 444) argues that scholars can gain a greater sense of the structural knowledge conduits that need to be changed inside and outside the academy to facilitate greater dialogue between citizens and scholars. So far, work of the kind proposed by Wacquant has focused on how institutional arrangements and reward structures could be reoriented to support public criminology (e.g., Sanders and Eisler 2014), along with the possibility of creating new "free-standing institutes" to disseminate criminological evidence to extra-academic publics (Land 2010, 770). Although the idea of empire building may be appealing, given criminology's dubious role in state repression (see Taylor, Walton, and Young 1973), questions ought to be raised about whether a public criminology should be at all concerned with reinforcing a discipline that, in its administrative and managerial forms, is integral to the maintenance of a punitive status quo (Cohen 1988).

Who Are the Publics in Public Criminology?

If the key objectives guiding public criminology are to garner recognition from extra-academic publics, inform public opinion, shape penal policy and practice, and enhance structures within the academy and beyond to solidify the place of the discipline in the world, who are its publics? If it is true that these discussions emerged largely out of the perception "that criminology as a discipline has become increasingly marginal to the larger public discussion of crime and criminal justice, and decreasingly capable of affecting the thrust of social policy" (Currie 2007, 176), then its primary intended audiences are politicians and policy makers. Although proponents of public criminology identify problems with such relationships, in that "criminologists will continue to respond to the government's crime control priorities rather than articulating a broader criminological agenda" (Chancer and McLaughlin 2007, 157-58), the need to target these audiences is not seriously questioned. Ruggiero (2012, 157) argues that this engagement is "esoteric and elitist" as it privileges interactions with the powerful in the hopes that the dissemination of knowledge to these audiences will somehow trickle down to enhance the lives of those affected by criminalization and state repression.

To have success in convincing lawmakers "to do the right thing," Currie (2007, 178) argues that it is important that criminologists engage voters, who fundamentally shape penality through the electoral process. Chancer and McLaughlin (2007, 158) also argue that criminologists "cannot sidestep their responsibility as citizens to participate in the broader public conversation" and need to engage the general public so that they can be better informed in their choice of political representation. Public criminologists who adopt this view operate within the parameters of what Burawoy (2005a, 7) calls traditional public sociology, as "the publics being addressed are generally invisible in that they cannot be seen, thin in that they do not generate much internal interaction, passive in that they do not constitute a movement or organization, and they are usually mainstream." Those who conceive of, and interact with, the general public in this way are, following Gramsci (1971, 7), practicing a traditional intellectualism whereby they "put themselves forward as autonomous and independent of the dominant social group." As noted previously, this positioning is indicative of the elitist pronouncements of many proponents of public criminology, who see themselves as apart from the masses whose views of "crime" are said to be central to penal intensification (Carrier 2014).

Further down the line of publics who could benefit from a public criminology are marginalized individuals and those who claim to be their advocates. Among the latter are "community and nonprofit organizations" with which criminologists should work so that they can be "actively involved in framing the questions we ask, rather than just listening to what we have to say about our findings" (Currie 2007, 187). This could take the form of "a partnership with a nonprofit or neighborhood group to address the urgent needs of its clients or members while building research capacity in the affected communities" (Uggen and Inderbitzin 2010, 733). When this work involves those directly affected by problematized situations (e.g., criminalized harms), it challenges both the inequality that is at the origin of social conflicts and the power relations, including those at work in the penal process, that determine the destinies of marginalized persons (Hulsman 1986). However, these actors are often defined as clients by the stale, the penal system, and the nonprofit organizations contracted to extend carceral controls under the guise of services while also advocating "on their behalf" (INCITE! 2007; Woolford and Hogeveen 2014); therefore, individuals are not given a say on how their realities are defined and what could answer their needs. When public criminology participates in such activities, it operates as "a missionary and paternalistic criminology, which is prepared to stand by the underdogs as far as they remain such" (Ruggiero 2010, 208).

How Does One Do Public Criminology?

If policy makers, politicians, and the general public tend to be the privileged audiences of public criminology, what are the means to influence these audiences to affect social change? Given that most proponents of engagement with extra-academic publics in criminology lament their discipline's lack of impact on penal policy and practice, it follows that policy work with and/or aimed at lawmakers and practitioners is viewed as important to enhance the relevance of the discipline to policing, the judiciary, imprisonment, and community supervision. Believing that to foster substantive change "reform must be mapped onto the worlds of those whose job is to deliver public services," Stanko (2007, 212) left academia to join the London's Metropolitan Police Service and better meet the needs of those in contact with the police, particularly women survivors of violence. As a senior advisor in strategic analysis, her primary task was to assist the police force to be responsive to the community by asking citizens want they wanted, what they received, and what they needed when in contact with the Met (ibid., 216). Stanko asserts that academics need to work in these venues, as they afford them opportunities to access privileged data sets, frame debates on issues, shape service delivery, and hold governing institutions accountable.

Petersilia (2008, 336) is another criminologist who has taken part in this kind of applied criminology. In her past role as special advisor for policy, planning, and research within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, she set up and became the first director of the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections at the University of California, Irvine. In this dual role, with one foot in academia and the other in the "belly of the beast" as an "embedded criminologist," Petersilia "worked with most of the major constituencies involved in state corrections, including the Legislature, lobbyists, correctional managers and line staff, inmates, victims, law enforcement, and the media" (ibid., 339). She also had "a good deal of face-time with Governor Schwarzenegger and his Cabinet" (ibid.). Among the policy achievements cited by the researcher was the inclusion of "funding for expanding prison rehabilitation programs and building reentry centers" in the 2007 Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act, which also "provided money for greatly expanding the state's prison capacity" (ibid., 347). Despite some pitfalls, Petersilia insists that criminologists ought to take up opportunities to participate in penal policy making, noting that "the contributions I think I made could never have happened without my living and breathing the culture of state government" (ibid., 354).

Proponents of policy work, including Tonry (2010) and the scholars noted above, are conscious of the various forces that shape whether and how their efforts will be taken up by state actors and agencies. In his contribution to the debate on public criminology, Rock (2010) discusses working on a contractual basis on two separate occasions. The first was as a "so-called Key Expert" as part of the 2002 Victims and Witnesses for the European Union Phare Horizontal Programme for Strengthening the Rule of Law (ibid.. 752). This role involved assessing whether countries applying to join the European Union met the required standards within their penal systems to gain membership. However, Rock himself and other assessors were told that the results of the exercise would not have an impact on the admissions process. A subsequent experience in evaluation, this time "at the behest of the Ministry of Justice," was to examine "the experimental introduction of victim impact statements (or family impact statements) in homicide trials in England and Wales" (ibid.). Rock notes that this project was abandoned. The Victims Focus Scheme took its place, and Rock's research report "was not read, it was not discussed, and no questions were put to me.... It all seemed a little foolish" (ibid.).Thus, he cautions that "public criminology must be reflexive about itself, its possibilities, and the world on which it seeks to act" (ibid., 764).

Beyond being ignored, policy work is also vulnerable to cooptation and can therefore reinforce punitive structures (Bell 2014). One such example stems from the aftermath of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women, also known as Creating Choices (CSC 1990), in which academics and prisoners where among the many stakeholders (6) who worked together to identify problems with existing arrangements and proposed future paths for women's "corrections" in Canada. The woefully damaging Prison for Women in Kingston, which held fewer than 200 prisoners, was eventually closed as recommended by the task force; but it was replaced by five regional prisons and one "healing lodge" that have strayed quite far from the progressive principles stakeholders had developed (Hannah-Moffat 2001; Hayman 2006). With the Correctional Service of Canada gradually expelling agents of change from the implementation process, the federal penitentiary system has come to house significantly more criminalized women (Balfour 2006), whereas the community-based alternatives and programming that had been proposed have never been implemented in a meaningful way (Pate 2008). As a result, many of the problems that triggered the initiative, including self-harm and suicides, persist (see Kilty 2011). Although one cannot blame academics for the unintended consequences of their involvement, this example does highlight how intervening beyond the academy is susceptible to carceral clawbacks (Carlen 2002). With all this being said, it would be foolish for criminologists critical of the status quo to cede the policy arena completely, as achieving reductions in state repression through this avenue is possible. One could point to the example of Tony Doob, whose plethora of work in penal policy included a stint as a researcher and advisor at the Department of Justice while on sabbatical from the University of Toronto that was integral to the creation of the 2003 Youth Criminal Justice Act. This law aimed to reduce the number of youth prisoners in Canada (see Doob and Sprott 2006),an objective that has been met in practice (Bala, Carrington, and Roberts 2009).

A second way of engaging extra-academic publics touted within the discipline is the newsmaking criminology envisioned by Gregg Barak (1988), who draws on Gramsci's (1971) theory of hegemony. Barak argues that "the news and entertainment media represents the primary site through which the ruling class is able to produce and reproduce networks of institutions, social relations, and ideas" that maintain their dominance in the world (Barak 1988, 567). Noting the scarcity of criminologists in the media, Barak encourages colleagues to find "ways of using the media expressly for participating in the mass construction of those portrayals" (ibid., 566) to challenge and reframe representations of "crime" and justice. Over the years, four approaches to newsmaking criminology have been developed to advance alternative discourses "directed at the dual process of deconstructing prevailing structures of meaning and displacing these by new conceptions, distinctions, words and phrases, which convey alternative meaning" (Henry 1994, 289).

A first approach to newsmaking criminology is the "criminologist-as-expert" who is tasked with reacting to portrayals of "crime" in news content. For Henry, examples include "letters to the editor, open forums, or being known in the media as an available criminological expert to be called on by journalists as an issue becomes a hot and ongoing story" (ibid., 294). However, proponents of this type of media activity recognize a number of limitations, including the inability to retain authorial and editorial control over the stories in which one participates, which may result in being reduced to acting as an expert who disagrees with other experts on the same issue (ibid., 292; see also Mopas and Moore 2012). It also opens the door to the possibility that scholars will speak outside their realms of expertise and/or be forced to speculate when it is "not warranted in light of scientific uncertainty" (Ericson 2005, 371), which could undermine the credibility of researchers more generally. Reflecting on the 24/7 cycle that has dramatically altered the production and consumption of news in recent years, Rowe (2012) notes that although commentators--including criminologists--have more opportunities to maintain the integrity of their mass-mediated messages, the speed of "rolling-news coverage" makes it more difficult to take the time to reflect upon an issue before commenting on it in a way that can reframe the terms of the debate (ibid., 32). In taking stock of these limitations, it is clear that playing the expert in this way leaves little room for agenda setting and reframing, as one is largely confined to responding to questions often informed by official and other powerful viewpoints.

The "criminologist-as-journalist" is a second approach to newsmaking criminology. This form of participation calls upon criminologists to "take over the authorship of crime news articles, rather than allowing themselves to be used as subjects or sideshows within them" (Henry 1994, 293). As the previous one, this practice is also limited in that newspaper article authors or hosts of radio and television programs continue to be subjected "to editorial reconstruction and are limited in their scope to the immediate listening or viewing audience" (ibid.).To circumvent these problems, it is argued that criminologists need to "claim control of the crime news space themselves"--everything from story titles to the accompanying imagery and sound if applicable (ibid., 296). With the growth of the Internet and do-it-yourself website building platforms, blogging is one approach to journalism that "allows the blogger to once again 'speak truth to power' and to challenge conventional wisdom and ideology at the same time" (Barak 2007, 205; see also Piche 2015).

A third method of engaging in newsmaking criminology is through "self-reporting" as the subject of a news story. Criminologists using this approach reach out to the news media to garner attention for their research. By using such tactics, academics are able to be "the prime, if not exclusive source of the story," which circumvents the potential for "experts disagree" scenarios (Henry 1994, 296). For example, I organized a public forum to highlight the rising costs of incarceration in Canada and raise questions about the resulting spending cuts in other areas, which helped generate significant public debate on the impacts of penal intensification (Piche 2015).

A final approach to newsmaking criminology discussed in the literature is the "criminologist-as-educative-provocateur." Criminologists using this approach challenge media portrayals of "crime" and justice in various ways, including by engaging "journalists through their own press associations and journals" (Henry 1994, 314). One can also do this by "cultivating relationships with members of the press" in such a way as to be afforded the opportunity to shape the questions and the information that form the basis of news coverage (Piche 2015). The goal of such activities is to prompt members of the press to engage in self-analysis of their own practices, ultimately changing the way news on criminological issues are produced and disseminated to the public.

One major limit of newsmaking criminology is that despite the fact that its practitioners co-construct knowledge with extra-academic publics, this is most often done with individuals working in the back and front stages of news coverage who are integral to the reproduction of hegemonic ideas and material practices. Barak (2007, 205) notes that it is possible for the newsmaking criminologist to work in solidarity with "social movements and other concerned citizens ... involved in the 'struggles for justice'" in an effort "to help shape 'progressive' discourse, language and representation of crime and justice, and ultimately the policies that are adopted and acquiesced to by societies in their 'fights' against crime and injustice"; however, there is little in the way of publications that discuss such academic work (e.g., Greek 1994). Moreover, as the focus of newsmaking criminologists is largely on the dissemination side of the equation, one can empirically demonstrate what replacement discourses can be successfully articulated (see, for example, Feilzer 2007, 2009), but it is very difficult to assess how they are received by the audience (Carrier 2014). This begs the question: If criminologists shout out loud, what do their publics believe they are hearing--trustworthy knowledge or demagoguery masquerading as scholarship? (7)

A less developed approach to extra-academic engagement in the literature on public criminology is public education. (8) For Currie (2007, 183), public education takes the form of presentations where academics "interpret the realities of crime and punishment for a broader public on the basis of what we know." He argues that this task is important, because "if people like us fail" to do so, "someone else will--on the basis of something altogether different, and probably a lot less honest" (ibid.).

Similar to its policy-oriented and newsmaking counterparts, the model of public education articulated by Currie positions the criminologist as the authorized knower who disseminates criminological knowledge to extra-academic publics. As has been noted by critics of top-down approaches to education, including Freire (2010/1970) and Illich (1971), such an arrangement limits the possibilities to co-construct knowledge and can reproduce relations of power that marginalize the voices of those who most often bear the brunt of interpersonal harm and state repression. It is in this light that one can raise questions about "what is public in public criminology" (Piche 2015, 160), other than its stated commitment to collaborate with power elites and disseminate findings to non-academic audiences.

Abolitionism as Public Engagement: An Example of What Does Not Count

Above, I have examined what counts as public criminology at present. Although there is some debate over the extent criminological knowledge should reach out beyond the realm of scholarship, little reflection exists among proponents of public criminology on the damaging role the discipline has played in reinforcing dominant ideas and practices that are integral to the reproduction of an unjust social order (Sim 2011). To date, doing public criminology means engaging in various forms of policy work with the relatively powerful, disseminating findings to the masses via newsmaking, and giving public presentations. It is a traditional form of intellectualism (Gramsci 1971) that positions the criminologist as an expert apart from the publics it seeks to influence. As this discussion advances, supporters of public criminology have, with few exceptions (see Loader and Sparks 2011b, 33-34), ignored radical scholarship. In the case of abolitionism, some have even gone out of their way to deride the work of those subscribing to this perspective (e.g., Rock 2010), (9) Drawing on literature marginalized within the discipline, I discuss how abolitionist ideas and approaches can address some of the limitations of public criminology.

What is Public Engagement among Abolitionist Scholars for?

Whether committed to working toward prison, penal, and/or carceral abolitionism (see Piche and Larsen 2010), abolitionists see their "academic work as a form of cultural work engaged in social conflict" that "is a precious resource and has to be nurtured and cherished ... to pave the way for social change" (Ruggiero 2012, 158). The relevance of abolitionist scholarship is derived from its work against state repression, which is often done in solidarity with the extra-academic publics mostly affected by it.

Under this framework, criminalized conflicts and harms are conceived as problematic situations and the property of those affected by them (Christie 1977), which "permit growth and learning" through mutual resolution (Hulsman 1986, 35) without recourse to violent state institutions where possible (Hulsman and Bernat de Celis 1982). Through such work, abolitionism "can open the way for alternative forms of perception and alternative ways of control" (Christie 1998, 130), while also revitalizing the fabric of society by providing more opportunities to develop solidarity through conflict resolution (Hulsman and Bernat de Celis 1982, 121). This necessarily involves saying no in the face of state repression and refusing to contribute to the "fiasco" of imprisonment and penality (Mathiesen 1990, 2008).

The creation of more spaces to address harms in manners that attend to the needs of affected individuals and communities requires the development of alternative ways of understanding the world. To this end, abolitionist scholars strive to work with marginalized and other publics to contribute to the demystification of ideas that legitimate the punitive status quo, as well as to the creation and ongoing assessment of strategies to dismantle the structures of repression that reproduce inequality (Schept 2012). These aims, which see abolitionists embedded in social struggles, necessarily bind them to publics outside the academy (Christie 2011) and have consequences for praxis (Ruggiero 2012).

Who Are the Publics in Abolitionist Scholarship?

Like supporters of public criminology, abolitionists acknowledge the opportunity to engage state actors as well as the general public via the news media and public presentations (Piche 2015), taking the position that it is important to not cede any ground to proponents of state repression (Mathiesen 2008). However, as their focus is on change from below, abolitionists are more often oriented toward participating in and examining the work of "collective actors and social movements" (Ruggiero 2012, 157).

As "abolitionism is in one way or another related to the principle of solidarity with the expelled of society" (De Folter 1986, 60), it is also committed to engaging in struggle with those marginalized by current power structures, including individuals warehoused in prisons that are "intimately connected with the reproduction of an unequal and unjust social order divided by the social lacerations of class, gender, 'race,' age and sexuality" (Sim 2009, 8). This is the approach taken by abolitionist organizations like KROM (see Mathiesen 1974) and Critical Resistance in the United States (see Braz et al. 2000), as well as the biennial meetings of the International Conference on Penal Abolition (see Piche and Larsen 2010), where current and former prisoners can be active contributors along with other allies. (10)

In this sense, abolitionist projects operate in an organic fashion as they are "directly connected to publics themselves, often articulating and representing issues that publics are already struggling with" (Burawoy 2005b, 72). Following Gramsci (1971, 6), this organic intellectualism generates situated knowledge that reflects "an essential function in the world of economic production" and an "awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields." In his reflections on public criminology, Christie (2011, 707) appears puzzled by the encouragement scholars receive to engage beyond the university and academy when such labor "was experienced as natural" in his lifetime. In other words, it is not even a point of debate among abolitionist scholars whether one should connect with extra-academic publics, as public engagement is central to knowledge production. By generating information for and with publics, and specifically in solidarity with those marginalized in the current socioeconomic order, abolitionism aims to challenge "current penal and political common sense" (Bell 2014, 499).

How Does One Do Abolitionism as Public Scholarship?

Ruggiero (2012, 154) argues that the answer to the question of how "public criminologists |can| actas citizens in a participatory democracy and as professional social scientists ... may lie in the choice of |the| research questions" that guide academic work. In the case of abolitionist work, the focus is generally on how collectives define their struggles toward social change and/or generate knowledge that can be used to inform such struggles (Ruggiero 2010) .Therefore, researchers struggle together with "peers" rather than questioning "informants." By gaining insight through "proximity," researchers are able to gain a sense "of change, movement, of how individuals and groups shift from one form of association to another, in brief, how they engage in reassembling of the collective" (Ruggiero 2012, 156). In this way, abolitionism operates as a form of action research, whereby practice informs knowledge and vice versa. Below, I offer three examples of public criminology informed by the abolitionist perspective that illustrate such commitments.

Similar to newsmaking criminology, abolitionist work entails deconstructing the dominant narratives that give meaning and legitimacy to the existence and activities of punitive state institutions. For Hulsman (1986), this phenomenological deconstruction also involves the creation of spaces whereby those affected by harm, including those perpetrated by the state, can define their own realities. An example of this work in practice is the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, where academics facilitate the production of scholarly articles by current and former prisoners to inform struggles against imprisonment beyond the prison walls (Gaucher 2002). The role of researcher-as-facilitator "involves making space for prisoner contributions to academic knowledge by creating venues for their written works, providing resources to deepen their analyses, and offering support to help them overcome the barriers they face during the process of producing ethnographic accounts" (Piche, Gaucher, and Walby 2014, 393). These alternative conceptions of "crime" and punishment open spaces to address the needs of the affected parties and to inform political actions aimed at eradicating repressive social, economic, and political structures.

In keeping with Christie's (1977) longstanding critique that the penal system and its professionals are engaged in "conflict theft" that relegates those most affected by penality to the margins, abolitionists are involved in developing and participating in approaches to resolving disputes without resorting to the police, courts, and "corrections." Although often coopted by the state in ways that repackage long-established practices of control and punishment (see Piche and Strimelle 2007), restorative justice initiatives that do not depend on the penal system for funding and caseloads are examples of conflict resolution from the ground up. Abolitionists--including Pepinsky (2006) and Elliott (2011)--who have participated in addressing violence through peacemaking illustrate what outcomes are possible (e.g., participation, healing, accountability, building relationships and community) when one takes an anascopic view that privileges individual experiences in negotiating "a common meaning of problematic situations" (Hulsman 1986, 77). Transformative justice processes that move beyond addressing the needs created by harms to also confront the structures that gave rise to them (Morris 2000) is another way of incorporating the anascopic view into practice.

Creating alternative conceptualizations and responses to criminalized harms requires political action to carve out a space where such ideas and practices can flourish more broadly. The "unfinished," an approach developed by Mathiesen (1974) and the KROM--a pressure group composed of prisoners, ex-prisoners, academics, lawyers, and practitioners from the penal system (De Folter 1986, 47)--successfully abolished vagrancy as a crime and borstals for youth in Norway. They did so not by providing fully formed models, but by advancing alternatives that challenged the use of the penal system as a response to poverty and youth deviance, while also advancing the argument that these were social issues to be dealt with by addressing inequality (Papendorf 2006). In practice, the "unfinished" involves a critique of the finishing tendency of the state that in the face of political actions (e.g., petitions, protests, news media engagements) advances justifications for maintaining the repressive status quo, along with neutralization techniques that attempt to coopt or dismiss alternative solutions and their proponents (Piche 2014). This knowledge is then mobilized, ideally within the context of collective organizing, to inform political strategy and actions aimed at contesting state violence and building a new society. This dual process is similar to what Angela Davis, borrowing from Du Bois (1935), refers to as "abolition democracy" (see Davis and Mendiata 2005, 96).

Against Public Criminology?

In this article, I have reviewed the aims, publics, and approaches commonly articulated by proponents of public criminology. In criticizing the reformist, often elite- and dissemination-oriented activities of public criminology, I have introduced abolitionism, with its emphasis on action research and solidarity work with marginalized publics, as a way to push the boundaries of public engagement within the discipline.

One cannot easily reconcile or disregard the fundamental disagreements between reformist and abolitionist scholars (De Giorgi 2014). The former are invested in a liberal criminology that seeks to inform the exercise of state power according to its version of reality in a capitalist world; the latter are committed to a radical project that challenges "the state-sponsored epistemology of crime and punishment, in an attempt to unveil the symbiotic relationship between the power to punish and the structural sources of social oppression" (ibid., 27) in the hopes of radically transforming the world.

Although these differences are significant (e.g., on whether prisons and/or the penal system should even exist), so too are points of convergence (e.g., on the need to reduce prison populations). A dialogue between these perspectives is possible, and the existence of a "considerable nexus between penal policies and social structures of inequality and injustice" (Simon 2014, 21) demands it. In my own work to resist prison expansion in Canada, 1 have drawn extensively on both public criminology--though cognizant of its limits as described in this article-and abolitionism (Piche 2015). The terrains of social change are numerous and they all need to be engaged for our own sake and for the sake of future generations, with an eye on whether recent pushes for criminology's public engagement are also reorienting the discipline to meet more emancipatory ends. If this does not turn out to be the case, perhaps renewed debate and action against criminology (Cohen 1988), including its "public" manifestations, will be required.


(1.) In recent debates on public criminology. Walters (2011, 732-33) asks "where is the student?" and points to the need to examine "criminology's role in education" to adequately assess the public contribution of the discipline. In other words, as long as criminological engagement involves teaching students, it would be inherently public. Ericson (2005) made a similar argument, while also noting the public nature of research conducted within public universities, in response to Burawoy's (2005a) call for a "public sociology." Others, like Uggen and Inderbitzin (2010, 739), see public criminology occurring within the context of pedagogy when scholars connect their students to publics beyond university walls; they mention the Inside-Out Prisoner Exchange, in which prisoners and university students take courses together, as an example (see also Hamilton 2013). For another example of an innovative project that connects university students and faculty to extra-academic publics, see Sanders and Eisler (2014).

(2.) For earlier calls for a public criminology see Carrabine et al. (2000) and Garland and Sparks (2000).

(3.) In this article, the concept of state violence refers to the harms directly perpetrated by government agents or farmed-out to private firms that provide public safety services, as well as by state policies and practices that allow corporate actors to engage in human and environmental exploitation. In other words, it is oppression that is perpetrated, sanctioned, and/or otherwise allowed by the state.

(4.) Other criminological perspectives that have posited engagement with extra-academic publics as central to research and pedagogical activities are often ignored by proponents of public criminology. For instance, many contributions of feminist criminologists involved in struggles to fight gender, sexual, and other forms of inequality have rarely been prominent in these discussions (see Nelund 2014).

(5.) Uggen and Inderbitzin (2010) are among the few scholars who do not subsume policy work into public criminology, which is likely due to the fact that their writing in this area is informed by Burawoy's (2005a) typology of sociologies, which clearly differentiates "public sociology" from "policy sociology."

(6.) Other stakeholders involved in Creating Choices included officials from the Correctional Service of Canada, as well as representatives from nonprofit organizations such as the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the Native Women's Association of Canada. Although this initiative is regarded as a failure by many who took part in it, it is important to note that at the very least the process did place the voices and concerns of those most affected by the criminalization and incarceration of women-the prisoners themselves-at the center of the exercise, at least until it came time to implement the ideas that emerged from it.

(7.) For Ian Brodie, a former chief of staff for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, criticism from academics concerning the Conservative Party of Canada's approach to penal policy and practice is not a significant concern. Brodie argued that such critiques were politically helpful as "sociologists, criminologists, and defense lawyers" are "all held in lower repute than Conservative politicians," who generate political capital by promoting punitive measures in the face of backlash from experts who are unpopular with the masses.

(8.) Not to be confused with university teaching (see supra, note 1).

(9.) In his critique of ideas animating public engagement among criminologists in the past, Rock (2010, 754) asserts that Mathiesen (1974) suggested that prisoners "might serve as a revolutionary vanguard. "This argument ignores the inclusion of a diverse range of individuals among the membership of the KROM (Norwegian Association for Penal Reform) who work in solidarity to abolish repressive state polices and practices. Moreover, Rock's comment legitimizes keeping the criminalized in the powerless positions the state places them in and is contemptuous of the idea that they might have a legitimate stake in driving the course of social change.

(10.) It should be noted that the range of participants involved in the ICOPA conferences has been limited at times, resulting in the reproduction of marginalizing power relations (see Davis and Rodriguez 2000).


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Justin Piche *

* JUSTIN PICHE (email: is assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is a founding member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP), which brings together students and researchers from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University, community members, frontline workers, and those affected by criminalized conflicts and harms to work for social change through research and public education initiatives. From 2008 to 2014 he was co-managing editor of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons ( which features peer-reviewed articles written by current and former prisoners.

This article was presented at the Penal Boundaries Workshop: Excesses, Limits, and the Production of Inequality, held at the University of Toronto in April 2014. The author would like to thank the workshop organizers and participants, along with the editor of this special issue of Social Justice and Nicolas Carrier, for their useful comments and questions. This study was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (award number 757-2012-0008).
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Author:Piche, Justin
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Date:Mar 11, 2016
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