This blog accompanies my research project on social class, crime control and unequal justice. In July 2013, I was awarded a Veni-grant by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) which supports three years of full-time research time.
This research investigates the role of social class differences, particularly class inequality, in crime control policies and practice in the Netherlands and the United States (specific areas to be decided). The goal is to investigate whether and how crime control is biased against the lower classes and the ‘underclass’, as well as the consequences of such a bias. That is, a focus on underprivileged groups is usually assumed to result in exclusion (e.g. more frequent prosecution, harsher punishment, banishment), but many crime control policies also aim to include underprivileged ‘at-risk’ groups through education, supervision and rehabilitation.
Class bias in crime control thus does not necessarily lead to what is commonly called class justice. However, even benign policies are not necessarily truly inclusive, as they may be paternalistic and show little tolerance towards non-mainstream ways of life. Inclusion/exclusion is one of the central research themes.
The topic of class is addressed in many criminological analyses, but class as a concept is rarely discussed explicitly in criminology. For example, in sociology there is a lively debate about whether ‘class’ is still a relevant and useful concept, or rather whether ‘class is dead’, but this debate is virtually non-existent in criminological academic debate. More recently, new sociological studies have introduced a new approach to class which investigates the experience of class differences in social and cultural life (rather than attempts to divide society in several neat class categories). I think that this approach is useful for criminology as it has clear links for example with criminological analyses about the role of neoliberal capitalism and consumer culture in how societies deal with crime.
The empirical study consists of policy analyses and interviews with criminal justice agents. The aim is to not only analyse policy in paper but also policy in practice. After all, governments may implement tough ‘law and order’ policies, or to the contrary uphold the idea of social rehabilitation, but in order to understand more fully the consequences of policies and ideologies we need to know also how policies are carried out and actually impact people. Many criminologist signal a trend toward more punitive, repressive and exclusionary policies targeted particularly towards the lower classes; this research aims to investigate such observations in more detail.
In this first blog I have given a quick overview of several key research themes; in the blog I will return to these themes in more detail.
Photo by RAETHIER on Flickr