This Open Education Resource (OER) project was conceived and led by a team of instructors from the Criminology Department of Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), namely Shereen Hassan and Dan Lett. KPU is named after the Kwantlen First Nation, with permission from the late Grand Chief Joe Gabriel. KPU’s motto, “Through tireless effort, knowledge, and understanding,” derives from the word “Kwantlen,” which means “tireless runner.” As members of the KPU community, we respectfully acknowledge that our campuses stand in a region south of the Fraser River which overlaps with the unceded traditional and ancestral lands of the Kwantlen, Musqueam, Katzie, Semiahmoo, Tsawwassen, Qayqayt and Kwikwetlem peoples.
In the process of producing this OER, our team sought the guidance of KPU’s Elder in Residence, Lekeyten of the Kwantlen First Nation. Lekeyten impressed upon us that educators have a responsibility to acknowledge and respect the geographic and historical context of our knowledge. As academics, our data are derived from the lived experiences of people who have intimate relationships with land and nature; abstract theories are the culmination of ideas, labour, and conversations, passed from lip to ear. Our role as educators is to make these connections apparent. Lekeyten reminds us that a book will never be able to communicate in the ways that Indigenous knowledge was passed down and that we need to connect to nature and the world around us in our search for justice.
Objectives of this OER
In our view, a just society is one that strives to make education as accessible as possible. Textbook costs contribute to the significant financial strain on students, who face many other challenges, including familial expectations and responsibilities, employment pressures, mental and physical health, living away from home, discrimination, and accessibility needs. Surveys of students at KPU and other universities suggest that textbook costs lead many students to avoid classes with expensive books, to take courses without purchasing the required texts, or even to drop out of their studies altogether. As instructors, we see how these challenges can impede students’ progress, and how some students experience more structural barriers than others. We hope that this OER will, in a modest way, relieve some of the stress that students face and contribute to the accessibility of education.
Although this open education resource (OER) is written with the needs and abilities of first-year undergraduate criminology students in mind, it is designed to be flexible. As a whole, the OER is amply broad to serve as the main textbook for an introductory course, yet each chapter is deep enough to be useful as a supplement for subject-area courses; authors use plain and accessible language as much as possible, but introduce more advanced, technical concepts where appropriate; the text gives due attention to the historical “canon” of mainstream criminological thought, but it also challenges many of these ideas by exploring alternative, critical, and marginalized perspectives. After all, criminology is more than just the study of crime and criminal law; it is an examination of the ways human societies construct, contest, and defend ideas about right and wrong, the meaning of justice, the purpose and power of laws, and the practical methods of responding to broken rules and of mending relationships
Criminology as a Colonized Discipline
Like the rest of the social sciences, criminology is dominated by Western scholars, literature and perspectives. This Westerncentrism of criminology means that non-Western criminological scholarship has largely been marginalised or ignored. (Moosavi, 2019, p. 229)
Education systems are intertwined with colonialism. Cote-Meek (2014) notes that Canada’s longstanding history of colonialism, oppression, and racism informs the dynamics of educational spaces and is inherent in the structures that hold the academy together, shaping what is taught, how it is taught, and who teaches it (p. 63).
Much of the scholarship in criminology is indeed embedded in a European worldview based on notions of individualized blame, professionalized decision making, and punishment. According to Moosavi (2019), the Western centrism of criminology is problematic not only because it is discriminatory, but also because it unnecessarily excludes alternative accounts that may be useful for informing criminological research (p. 229). All too often, non-European individuals and groups are problematized in criminology rather than looked upon as a source of knowledge and resilience. This textbook aims to shift from this approach to highlight the resistance strategies, strengths, and cultural and traditional practices that have contributed to the survival and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Criminology has also been a highly gendered field. Prior to the mid-1970s, almost all criminological theory was authored by men theorizing about crime committed by men. Moosvi (2019) notes that “the most frequently cited criminologists are overwhelmingly white men from the USA and the UK” (p. 230). Chesney-Lind & Chagnon (2016) contend that feminist criminologists have pushed back against this problematic legacy with some success, and theoretical traditions have emerged to reshape criminological thought regarding gender and crime (p. 314).
Inherently interdisciplinary, the study of criminology cannot be separated from considerations of gender, power, class, economics, geography, sociology, religion, psychology, and biology. This textbook helps readers understand theory beyond the Western, colonial lens to provide holistic and critical insights and applications. Authors representing many gender and cultural identities present criminological theories of the past and present and discuss how these theories shape our understanding of and engagement with our world. In fact, a guiding principle of this OER project has been to prioritize Indigenous authorship and collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, to the extent of our team’s capacity. While this is not an attempt at the monumental—and necessary—task of decolonizing criminology, considerable efforts were made to connect Indigenous ways of knowing and being with criminological theory.
Each chapter begins with the author’s Positionality Statement. We asked the authors of this text to carefully consider and articulate how their identity and privilege impacts their understanding of the criminology theory they were writing about. We are grateful to the authors for taking on this additional task and providing thoughtful and practical contributions to the study of criminological theory.
We now invite you, the reader, to begin or continue your own personal process of critical thinking and decolonization. As you read through the chapters of this textbook, you might ask yourself:
- Where are your ancestors from? How has your upbringing and environment affected your views? How does knowing your history and culture inform and influence your life?
- How is Indigenous history and contemporary culture taught in your school or community? Based on what you’ve learned, whose perspective is emphasized? Is the settling of Canada referred to as colonization in your school’s curriculum? If not, how is it described?
- If you live in Canada, you’re living on colonized land. Do you know whose land you are living on?
Chesney-Lind, M., & Chagnon, N. (2016). Criminology, gender, and race: A case study of privilege in the academy. Feminist Criminology, 11(4), 311-333.
Cote-Meek, R. (2014). Colonized Classrooms: Racism, trauma and resistance in post-secondary education. Blackpoint, NS: Fernwood.
Memmi, A. (1965). The colonizer and the colonized. London: Beacon Press.
Moosavi, L. (2019). Decolonising criminology: Syed Hussein Alatas on crimes of the powerful. Critical Criminology, 27, 229–242.