Maybe we should not have any criminology…Maybe the social consequences of criminology are more dubious than we like to think.
I think they are. And I think this relates to my topic—conflicts as property. My suspicion is that criminology to some extent has amplified a process where conflicts have been taken away from the parties directly involved and thereby have either disappeared or become other people’s property. In both cases a deplorable outcome. Conflicts ought to be used, not only left in erosion. And they ought to be used, and become useful, for those originally involved in the
conflict. Conflicts might hurt individuals as well as social systems. That is what we learn in school. That is why we have officials. Without them, private vengeance and vendettas will blossom. We have learned this so solidly that we have lost track of the other side of the coin: our industrialised large-scale society is not one with too many internal conflicts. It is one with too little. Conflicts might kill, but too little of them might paralyse.
Nils Christie, “Conflict as Property of the State.”
I’m prepping for our presentation next week at CRE’s international summit. It’s incredibly fascinating research that I’m going through. Every week I have new material that I would give anything to have had in graduate school. Even in an intensely interdisciplinary program I lost a wealth of research on conflict, trauma, and narrative theory to the tight silos of disciplinarity. With a slightly wider stance, my dissertation would have been totally different.
One gem I’m excavating this week is the above article, written in 1977 by a Norwegian criminologist and early advocate for the abolition of the criminal justice system. I’m focused on narrative theory this week, but the policy implications of his analysis are staggering:
element in a criminal proceeding is that the proceeding is converted from
something between the concrete parties into a conflict between one of the
parties and the state. So, in a modern criminal trial, two important things
have happened. First, the parties are being represented. Secondly, the one
party that is represented by the state, namely the victim, is so thoroughly
represented that she or he for most of the proceedings is pushed completely
out of the arena, reduced to the triggerer-off of the whole thing. She or he is
a sort of double loser; first, vis-a-vis the offender, but secondly and often in a
more crippling manner by being denied rights to full participation in what
might have been one of the more important ritual encounters in life. The
victim has lost the case to the state.
Later this week I plan to read everything ever written by Sara Cobb, and (time permitting) blog it all here.
Also news: I’m an ASPiRE teaching fellow next year, so VCU students might just get ready for some community-oriented conflict resolution initiatives.