12. Cultural Criminology

Dr. Steven Kohm, University of Winnipeg

Positionality Statement

I am a non-Indigenous, white settler scholar of mixed European and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, born and currently residing on traditional territories of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Dakota, Dene, Métis, and Oji-Cree Nations in what is now Winnipeg, Canada. At the University of Winnipeg where I teach courses in criminology and criminal justice, formal land acknowledgements usually begin by recognizing that this area is within Treaty 1 Territory—the first of several numbered treaties between British colonizers and Indigenous peoples in what is now western Canada. Although this land was taken from Indigenous peoples using the legal framework of a treaty, those who live here today are haunted by the ghosts of colonialism. My childhood home was located two blocks from the former Assiniboia Residential School, which operated from 1958 to 1973. By the time I was old enough to notice, it was long abandoned, boarded up and left for bored teenagers to break into at night. I’m still haunted by the memory of the dusty rooms, rusty metal bedframes, and darkened hallways left behind as traces of a genocide that took place right in my own backyard. Growing up in Winnipeg, I never gave clean, plentiful drinking water much thought. However, years later I discovered that the city’s water is sourced from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation via an aqueduct connecting the city to a small Indigenous community in Northwestern Ontario. In order to ensure white settlers had clean water, this Indigenous community was forced to move to an island that was cut off from the mainland without all-weather road access for one hundred years until the completion of “Freedom Road” in 2019. Ironically, the community endured for more than 25 years under a boil water advisory while we enjoyed clean, plentiful drinking water. I am haunted by the colonial foundations of this nation and this city, which have brought me and my settler ancestors great benefit while displacing, marginalizing and criminalizing Indigenous people. This chapter is a small reflection of my commitment to reconciliation and reckoning with colonialism, and I hope it demonstrates that cultural criminology can play a role in exposing and critiquing the colonial injustices that continue today.

Introduction: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something [Black and] Blue

This chapter introduces students to cultural criminology, a perspective that reworks and breathes new life into the study of crime and crime control by adapting older methods and theories to present contexts. Culture is a foundational concept of the perspective, and cultural criminology views culture as dynamic—always shifting and evolving. Cultural criminology examines the way culture both reflects and affects crime and crime control, while also examining how certain cultural practices are criminalised. Cultural criminology was influenced by the Chicago School of Sociology; the new deviance theory of the 1960s, including subcultural and labeling theories; as well as interactionist theories from Britain, most notably moral panic theory. Cultural criminology shifts the focus of criminology away from background factors such as age, social class, and racialised identity; and emphasises instead the immediate “existential ‘foreground’ of crime” (Hayward, 2016, p. 299), or the immediate pleasures and experiences of those who break the law. Cultural criminology is a critical perspective that examines social and economic shifts in contemporary times—an era referred to by social theorists as [pb_glossary id=”250″]late modernity[/pb_glossary] (Giddens, 1984, 1990). Cultural criminologists argue that capitalism is transformed in important ways in late modernity, resulting in the commodification of lifestyles and the image and treating crime and punishment as objects to be consumed pleasurably as popular entertainment in film, TV, music and video games (Young, 2007). In summary, cultural criminology is a rapidly evolving subfield that includes many approaches, but at its core is a three-part “framework concerned with meaning, power, and existential accounts of crime, punishment and control” (Hayward, 2016: 300, original emphasis).



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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Shereen Hassan and Dan Lett, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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