Professor Ian Loader

In Search of a Better Politics of Crime
MID-CAREER FELLOW: September 2016 – August 2017
Ian Loader - ISRF Mid-Career Fellow

Ian Loader is Professor of Criminology and Professorial Fellow of All Souls College.  Ian arrived in Oxford in July 2005 having previously taught at Keele University and the University of Edinburgh, from where he also obtained his PhD in 1993. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts.

Ian is the author of six books, the most recent of which Public Criminology? was published by Routledge in 2010 (with Richard Sparks) and has recently been translated into Mandarin. He has also edited six volumes, including Justice and Penal Reform (with Barry Goldson, Steve Farrall and Anita Dockley, Routledge, 2016), Democratic Theory and Mass Incarceration (with Albert Dzur and Richard Sparks, Oxford UP, September 2016 ) and The SAGE Handbook of Global Policing (with Ben Bradford, Bea Jauregui and Jonny Steinberg) which is due to appear in July 2016. Ian has also published theoretical and empirical papers on policing, private security, public sensibilities towards crime, penal policy and culture, the politics of crime control, and the public roles of criminology. Ian is Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Journal of Crime and Justice.

His project works at the curiously under-explored interface between criminology and political theory with the aim of developing the intellectual tools and resources needed to fashion a better politics of crime. Using theories of ideology and work in the history of ideas in novel ways, the study aims to understand crime control via an analysis of the political concepts that are at issue (justice, authority, freedom etc.); as an inescapable site of ideological conflict and change, and as a field of policy and practice constituted through political thinking. The study will assemble and subject to close analysis a whole range of relevant materials from political parties, parliamentarians, policy-makers, think-tanks, campaign groups, commentators, and criminal justice agencies, as well as by criminologists and political theorists. In so doing, it will reconstruct and appraise the crime-relevant claims of the range of ideological positions whose proponents compete over the question of how to think about, and act upon, problems of crime and social order – from liberalism, conservatism and social democracy, to populism, technocracy, feminism and green political thought.

The study aims to transcend the orientation towards critique, and the gloomy, dystopian disposition, that has come to dominate the social scientific analysis of crime and punishment in recent years. Instead the focus is on reconstruction – the search for principled, plausible visions of just ordering. The study will provide a careful work of ideological clarification that teases out what is at stake when crime is under discussion in ways that shed new light on the prospects and possibilities of creating social and penal institutions that can contribute to the realization of safer and more cohesive societies.

Abstract

This project works at the curiously under-explored interface between criminology and political theory with the aim of developing the intellectual tools and resources needed to fashion a better politics of crime. Using theories of ideology and work in the history of ideas in novel ways, the study aims to understand crime control via an analysis of the political concepts that are at issue (justice, authority, freedom etc.); as an inescapable site of ideological conflict and change, and as a field of policy and practice constituted through political thinking. The study will assemble and subject to close analysis a whole range of relevant materials from political parties, parliamentarians, policy-makers, think-tanks, campaign groups, commentators, and criminal justice agencies, as well as by criminologists and political theorists. In so doing, it will reconstruct and appraise the crime-relevant claims of the range of ideological positions whose proponents compete over the question of how to think about, and act upon, problems of crime and social order – from liberalism, conservatism and social democracy, to populism, technocracy, feminism and green political thought. The study aims to transcend the orientation towards critique, and the gloomy, dystopian disposition, that has come to dominate the social scientific analysis of crime and punishment in recent years. Instead the focus is on reconstruction – the search for principled, plausible visions of just ordering. The study will provide a careful work of ideological clarification that teases out what is at stake when crime is under discussion in ways that shed new light on the prospects and possibilities of creating social and penal institutions that can contribute to the realization of safer and more cohesive societies.

The Research Idea

The governing disposition that has over the last three decades responded to crime in ways that invested materially and symbolically in police and penal solutions is today exhausted. The funds that it required for continued penal expansion have dried up, leading to introspection and new thinking on punishment even among those political actors who were previously champions of what became known as the ‘punitive turn’. In this context a once in a generation opportunity has arisen to reshape the very premises of the penal enterprise and to reflect on the political values that shape the apparatus of justice – in short, to search for a better politics of crime. Grasping this opportunity does not simply mean generating more reliable empirical evidence about how justice works or what works in crime reduction. It also needs new ideas. It requires those who study crime and its control to make a relatively rare and uncharted journey into political thought. This project makes that very journey. It engages in a series of critical dialogues with competing political traditions with a view to finding out how they respectively think about what is involved in making and imagining a better politics of crime. By reconstructing and reappraising the crime-relevant claims of these traditions the project develops new inter-disciplinary tools for thinking politically about crime and its control and assembles the intellectual resources needed to build new and better ways of responding to questions of crime and security in today’s globalizing world.

Background

Since the 1970s crime has assumed a prominent place in everyday routines and consciousness and in political and policy debate, especially but by no means only in the US and UK. The ensuing changes in the governance of crime have been subject to much scholarly attention. Certain things have been established as dominant features of the landscape: the decline of rehabilitation, the return of the prison, the commercialization of policing and justice, the rising influence of the victim, novel practices to regulate the ‘anti-social’ and combat terrorism. A volatile, emotive and punitive penal climate has been diagnosed. Research on these transformations has been critical and explanatory. It has focused on the penal effects of ‘late modernity’ and neo-liberalism; on the contrast between liberal and coordinated market economies and adversarial and consensual political systems; on differential access of victimized groups to political institutions, and on the way in which crime has become a resource for political rulers. Such work has contributed greatly to our understanding of the altered nature of crime governance. But it has done so with little reference to the interplay between political ideologies and crime: responses to crime have been analysed in ways that side-line the role of competing political ideas in shaping crime control practices or assume that the regulation of crime now takes place in a post-ideological world. Perhaps as a result, the social analysis of crime control is typically gloomy and dystopian – charting no clear way out of the punitive climate that it describes.

The Focus

This project aims to build a more constructive sensibility in the analysis of crime control: one that is worldly, hopeful and active engaged in thinking about how to create more just penal arrangements. The study explores the claim that debates about responses to crime are always, in part, contests over the meaning and significance of political ideas. It brings the study of crime (or criminology) and the study of political ideas (or political theory) into much closer dialogue than has been attempted hitherto. In so doing, it cultivates our capacity to think politically about crime and its control. Using theories of ideology and work in the history of ideas, the study examines what competing political ideologies have had to say about crime and security and assesses the effects of the political salience of crime on the appeal and content of these ideologies. The study focuses on the ‘dominant’ ideology of neo-liberalism; on the ways in which the modern traditions of conservatism, liberalism and social democracy ‘speak to’ (or fail to ‘speak to’) questions of order, and on emergent ideologies that now contest the crime question and suggest alternative ways of thinking about harm and justice: populism, epistocracy, feminism and identity politics, green political thought and cosmopolitanism. Through a critical dialogue with these traditions, the project sheds new light on how disputes over crime and its control are tied up with wider questions about the power and limits of authority, the allocation of social goods, and the terms of collective co-existence.

Theoretical Novelty

The proposed develops three new theoretical linkages: First, it posits that arguments about crime are necessarily entangled with concepts of political thought – order, authority, legitimacy, justice, democracy, citizenship, freedom, rights, and so on. The ‘practical’ business of deciding what to do about crime necessarily means having a stance on the meaning and significance of these concepts. The study teases out the embedded values that are in play when crime is constructed and acted upon, focussing on concrete areas of dispute (e.g., restorative justice, the role of markets). Second, the study examines how crime control is inescapably shaped by ideological thinking – by contests within and between political ideologies, as well as being a site of ideological overlap and mutation. Relevant actors always implicitly or expressly come at any given penal practice from a position on the ideological map and ‘deploy’ that ideology to determine the appropriate thought-behaviour towards the issues at stake. Third, the project treats crime as a site of what Michael Freeden calls ‘political thinking’. Such thinking displays the following features: it seeks to determine the locus of decision-making; it ranks collective priorities in terms of their ethical attractiveness or urgency; it mobilizes or withholds support; it makes arguments for how to handle conflict and ensure cooperation; it relates to wielding or controlling power; and it projects future plans for society. The study attends closely to how debates on crime control are shot through with these wider considerations and competing ideological takes on how to resolve them.

Methodology

This study engages in close contextual analysis of the ways in which disputes about the crime issue (what is it? who is responsible for it? how should one respond to it?) are always, in part, contests between different political ideologies and the meaning and priority their proponents attach to core concepts. Adapting the work of Michael Freeden, I treat ideologies as forms of ‘thought-behaviour’ that shape how individuals and groups respond to and act in the world. Ideologies ‘compete over providing and controlling plans for public policy . . . with the aim of justifying, contesting or changing the social and political arrangements and processes of a political community’. The study will subject the competing ideologies listed above to a ‘political evaluation’ that reconstructs and reappraises their claims as candidate answers to the question of how to build a ‘better politics of crime’. This reconstructive element of this task entails asking of each ideology the following questions: What are its constitutive concepts and central claims? What kinds of order do they each seek to realize? To what visions of good crime governance (and the good society) are their proponents committed? How do they understand – and what can they offer to – the project of developing democratically legitimate practices of crime control? The overall evaluative purpose is to appraise the normative character of the crime-relevant claims of competing positions on the ideological landscape and assess the contribution each might make to the project of rethinking responses to crime today.

Work Plan

The award will create the time and space needed to engage in the reconstruction and appraisal of the range of ideological positions that speak to the question of crime. The study is alive to the breadth of ideological production and draws on relevant materials from political parties, parliamentarians, policy-makers, think-tanks, campaign groups, commentators, and criminal justice agencies, as well as by criminologists and political theorists. These materials have to be identified, assembled and analysed. A theoretical outline for the project has been written and will be published in ‘Global Crime’. I have also completed the research and writing for a chapter on ‘penal populism and epistemic crime control’. This has enabled me to develop a working method for the remaining chapters. It is anticipated that a chapter on ‘Conservatism, crime and political emotions’ will have been drafted before the award commences. The award period will be used to research and write chapters on ‘neo-liberal orthodoxies’, ‘liberalism and fear’, and ‘three moments of social democracy’, as well as currently less defined areas of the enquiry on ‘identity, recognition and justice’ and ‘ecology, cosmopolitanism and the boundaries of harm’. It is anticipated that a full draft of a book manuscript will be completed during the award period. I have established a small inter-disciplinary group of early career and established scholars in Oxford working at the interface between crime and politics. I will use the award – and the research funds requested – to expand the reach and activities of this group.

Outcome

In previous work, I argued that one can most coherently account for the different modes of criminological engagement in policy debates by viewing these interventions as competing contributions to a ‘better politics of crime’ (see Public Criminology?). It was beyond the remit of that book to proffer any more than a sketch of what that politics might look like. It has since become clear to me that a developed normative account of a better politics of crime requires a prior work of reconstruction and clarification which carefully analyses how different political traditions have in the past, and might in future, conceive of such a politics. This forms the heart of the proposed study. It will culminate in a book with the working title ‘Ideologies and Crime’ which I shall complete during the period of an award. The book will build a much needed – or at least a much stronger – bridge between the study of crime and the study of political ideas. In so doing, it aims to move scholarly and public conversations into a place that acknowledges fully what is at stake when societies respond to crime. In this regard, Ideologies and Crime is a necessary step towards, and platform for, a more prescriptive project which analyses how one might make and imagine a better politics of crime that can have some purchase on the world as we find it today. That project will result in a second book with the working title ‘A Better Politics of Crime’.