What is the Purpose of Critical Criminology?

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Critical criminology is a study of crime using a conflict perspective which considers the causes and contexts for crime, deviance and disorder; it has also been known as radical criminology and the new criminology. This perspective combines a wide range of concerns from across the more radical approaches, such as Marxism and feminism. It incorporates a wide number of ideas and political strands, generally associated with an oppositional position in relation to conventional criminology.

Raising epistemological questions about the ideological foundations of criminology has been the objective of critical criminologists. Critical studies are extremely important in this respect as they 'keep us all on our toes with regard to our own pre-suppositions' (Braithwaite 1993 in Swaaningen 1997 p15).

In the early stages of critical criminology, the concept of alienation was used. This led to seeing deviancy as an assertion of human values, and to a methodology about how this assertion was controlled.

A political economy emerged too. Crime was seen as bound up with inequalities within production and ownership. This approach was rooted in radical perceptions rather than conservative or liberal ones. It is critical of theoretical approaches and criminal justice policies; it seeks to expose the ideological nature of dominant ideas about crime. It focuses on the structural, political and ideological factors which underlie the definition of crime and criminal law, emphasising the casual significance of capitalism in the generation of and responses to 'crime' rather than relying on multifactorial descriptions (White R & Haines F, 2004).

The basic concept of this perspective is its concern with structures of power, which are institutionalised and reflect social interests that oppress certain groups of society i.e. the working class. It sees the criminal justice system as an unfair, biased one which works in favour of the higher classes. Its mission is...