This essay, "Revisionist History, Visionary Criminology, and Needs-Based Justice," was published (in Vol. 6, No. 2, Dec., 2003) of Contemporary Justice Review as the lead article for a Symposium on Radical Criminology: Whatever Happened to It?


Symposiums on the disappearance, demise, or death of "radical criminology" date back to the political closing of the School of Criminology at the University of California at Berkeley in the middle of the 1970s. Since then, reflexive criminologists, espeically those with critical or radical propensities, seem to periodically engage in self-flagellation and in bemoaning the same old refrain of "whatever happened to radical criminology?" As for questions on the devolution versus the evolution of the field of crimionogy as a whole, or in relationship to radical or critical practices inside and outside of academia in particular, I would argue that one's assessment clearly reflects the way one views the history of crime and justice as well as how one defines radical praxis, scholarship, and pedagogy.

Because criminology is a mutli- and interdisciplinary field of investigation and application, there are more than a few histories that could be written about its growth and development. Depending on where one chooses to look, there are a variety of terrains to uncover when trying to envision the chronologies of criminology. Regardless of the different shapes and forms, there are currently no fewer than four sets of terrains worth pursuing and identifying. Two of these reside in "establishment" or "mainstream" criminology and two of these reside in "anti-establishment" or "critical" criminology. In any given period, one of the establishment-oriented sets of criminology remains fairly oblivious to the anti-establishment narratives in the field, while the other one defends against or acknowledges those counter-hegemonic narratives especially as these have challenged the dominant models of the day.

As for the terrains of anti-establishment criminology, well before the emergence and development of the formal schools of radical and/or critical criminology during the 1960s and 1970s, there was the presence and strong influence of the Frankfurt School dating back to the 1920s. For example, there are two noteworthy commentaries by Eric Fromm on the psychologies of the criminal, criminal justice, and the punitive society written in 1930 and 1931, and the classic work on Punishment and Social Structure authored by Rusche and Kirchheimer and published in 1939. The latter work was republished in whole and in parts during the early 1970s while the former essays were republished in 2000 in an edited volume by Anderson and Quinney on the contributions of Fromm to the study of crime and justice. The other set of terrains began to take shape not long after the birth of the radical/critical school and it, too, continues into the present. With a few exceptions, these contemporary terrains of anti-establishment criminology seem to recognize one or perhaps two brands of radical or critical criminology as the "real thing."

Similarly, there are multiple ways of defining radical in general and in relation to criminology in particular. There are also those of us from both the establishment and anti-establishment terrains, for example, who would ask or want to know, before posing and answering the question of "whatever happened to radical crimiology," whether or not a truly radical praxis in criminology has ever existed? If this question is answered in the negative, then nothing could have evolved or devolved in relationship to an imaginary "radical criminology" that had never existed in the first place. Or, it may very well be the case that as practiced today critical criminology is no less radical than it ever was or had been during an era that had traditionally been regarded as the "high point" in radical criminology. In fact, it can also be argued that "radical criminology" of yesteryear has become more practiced today, both domestically and internationally. Hence, there are differing and contradictory interpretations of the history and development of criminology. For these and other reasons, criminologists can ~as they like it~ construct arguments for or against the evolution or devolution of establishment and anti-establishment criminologies.

Historically, many branches of knowledge have contributed to the study and practice of criminology. Most notably, these include the fields of medicine, law, psychiatry, anthropology, social work, sociology, psychology, and forensics. Nevertheless, most treatments of the evolution or devolution of criminology either ignore or dimiss the overlapping social realities of disciplinary interaction. Not unrelated to this myopia or blindness are the historical facts that a few of these disciplines have sought exclusive rights to the examination of crime and/or justice. However, as the subject matter's interests are too spread out, its practices too diverse, and its theories too interdependent, no one discipline has ever been able to successfully monopolize criminology; though sociology had appeared to do so until that discipline's "collapse" and the "meteoric" rise of cultural studies and criminologies in their own rites during the last quarter of the 20th century. Although, many ahistorical analyses by critical and non-critical criminologists alike have tended to treat crime and social control as constituted merely by one of the "lesser" domains of sociology, namely that of deviant behavior. These types of analyses have typically been confined to linear rather than dialectical analyses of crime and social change.

As for the various histories and inter- or intra-histories of establishment and anti-establishment criminologies, these usually refer to specific social and cultural periods in the competitive development of the philosophies of knowledge. At the beginning of the 19th century, for example, the "newer" paradigm of positivism emerged to challenge the "older" paradigm of classicalism. With respect to "radical criminology," however, most contemporary commentators tend to focus their discussions around the 1960s and 1970s when one of the more recent and visible paradigmatic rivals burst onto the criminological scene. That is to say, in opposition to both the "older" (e.g., classical) and "newer" (e.g., positivist) versions of mainstream criminology that had tended to support the status quo and the dominant ideologies of state liberalism or economic laissez-fare conservatism, there emerged a "new," "radical," and/or "critical" criminology, grounded initially in both a critique of the state and the political economy of crime and crime control. Among other things, the emergence of this set of anti-establishment terrains specifically challenged bourgeois capitalist legal relations and called for a structural transformation of the political, social, and economic institutions responsible for the "crimes against humanity."

The "new," "radical,"and/or "critical" criminology of that relatively short-lived period of time is then typically used as the gage for measuring whether the criminologies that followed in the 1980s and 1990s were evolving or devolving. Again, what many of these types of analyses and critiques often lack is a broader appreciation of the interactive nature of different criminologies over time. Moreover, lacking a Gramscian perspective on political struggle and social change, most criminologists are too pessimistic and cynical about the power and discourse of the counter-hegemonic ideologies of social justice to resist and/or transform the hegemonic ones. Likewise, concerning those behaviors and policies that have attempted to address crime, violence, and justice, rarely have proponents or opponents assumed that there could be any type of integration or accommodation between the "establishment" and "anti-establishment" criminologies. Generally, the prospects for a "meeting of the minds" between the modernist and the postmodernist or for some kind of reapproachment among the "adversarial" and "mutualistic" approaches to crime and justice, are ruled out of the question. That is to say, most of these intellectual wars of identity usually ignore any possibilities of compromise and/or assimilation as they discount or dismiss those changing social realities that are not simply matters of zero sum contests within and between criminologies.

By the late eighties and early nineties, under the umbrella of the "critical" label rather than the earlier "radical" label, the "new" paradigm originally dominated by, and generally equated with, Marxist and neo-Marxist models of class, state, and social control, began diversifying, expanding, and merging with other alternative stances found throughout the arts and sciences as well as the humanities and law. Reconstituted as "critical" rather than "radical" criminology, the "newest" criminology incorporated and developed an amalgamation of critical views that could be applied to practice separately or in combination. Some of these critical perspectives have included, for example, "anarchist," "realist," "feminist," "constitutive," "newsmaking," or "peacemaking" criminology. What each of these criminologies shares in common are their anti-establishment stances or criticisms, their pursuits of transformation of one kind of another, and their relative appreciations for the political economy of crime and crime control.

Retrospectively, criminologists of the anti-establishment persuasions have been debating whether or not the diversification of radical into critical criminology represents evolution or devolution. Typically, the multiplicity of critical criminologies has been regarded as an either/or situation: strengthening and broadening the critical base or weakening and dispersing a radical/critical consensus. It may, however, be that neither of these interpretations is correct. Dialectically, it may also be that they are both on point. Whatever the case, the transformation of these ideas is instructive of the changing and developing discourses that have transpired over time as disciplines move through and across their rising and falling narratives of epistemological and ontological order.

What blurs and complicates these matters further is the fact that both inside and outside of the academy, most criminologists--establishment and anti-establishment--have always experienced relative senses of insecurity and marginality regarding their value, place, or relevancy in the larger society. These similar feelings or experiences are often ignored as they become subordinated to the more obvious reductionisms and differences between the "state-administered" mainstream and "grassroots-collaborative" critical criminologies. Even if this were not the case and researchers were equipped and prepared to evaluate empirically the question of "evolution" versus "devolution," inquiring minds would still disagree over the criminological and non-criminological criteria employed to mark something as "critical," "radical," or "mainstream."

As a final introductory point, I don't believe that there is much of value to be gained from debating these kinds of questions beyond that of very so often trying to reflect, within the context of 250 years of meandering criminological inquiry, upon where we are, where we have been, and where we might go. Instead, I believe that it is more productive to think in terms of the radical and/or critical continuities in pedagogy, research, and practice that have survived time and to link these with what can be viewed as doing "visionary criminology" or as engaging in "transformative justice." By combining such a framework of praxis with a revisionist view of radical criminology, it can be argued that anti-establishment criminologies of the year 2003, are not any more marginal and they may be even less so today than some 25 yars ago when radical criminology first came onto the scene during the heady days of the 1960s/1970s, amidst all of the campus turmoil engendered by student protests against institutionalized practices of racism, imperialism, and sexism.


Specialists of crime, law, and justice, albeit of different stripes and disciplines, have historically abound in both mainstream and critical criminology. By contrast, there have been fewer generalists, integrationists, and dialecticians among establishment and anti-establishment criminologists. This was true 200 years ago, 100 years ago, and today. In other words~the more things change, the more they stay the same~or so it would seem when one travels across criminological time. In the course of the periodic and recent discussions about the lack of a "unifying" body or theory of criminological knowledge, the same old refrains can be heard.

For example, beginning in the late eighties, throughout the nineties, and into the new millennium, there have been similar discussions by those who study crime and justice on the fragmentation and/or deconstruction of as well as the "correct" pathways to pursue in the name of reconstituting establishment and anti-establishment criminologies alike. Despite their differences in assessment, these criminologies emphasize in common the lack of a theoretical and practical coherence, consensus, or clarity in the field. Also, despite different visions of moving forward, most of the "concerned" criminologists have been disturbed about "deep divisions" and the allegedly confusing and ontologically uncertain directions of criminology.

In the middle 1990s from psychology, for example, one critic's conclusions resonate with many others from the behavioral and social sciences: "Instead of connecting the diverse variables of our field into a unifying framework of understanding, our current formulations break up or fragment the concepts they are studying to such an overwhelming degree that they are confusing rather than illuminating" [Kelley]. In terms of critical social science in particular, Tombs and Whyte in their 2003 anthology, Researching the Crimes of the Powerful: Scrutinising States and Corporations, underscore the decline of familiarity with critical modes of thought in general, and Marxist social science in particular: "There is now a whole generation of academics, from undergraduates to post-doctoral teachers and researchers, many of whom lack any basic training in Marxist concepts or modes of analysis." Similarly, Bohm, Reiman, and others stress the virtual absence or lack of and need for research and analyses on crime and justice from a Marxian perspective.

Summing up his reflections on radical criminology, circa the 1970s, Stan Cohen has argued that initially it was too class reductionist, too against causal analysis, and too isolated from the older criminologies as it attempted to carve out its own alternative discourses and practices. He contends that "radical criminology must make itself politically relevant by operating on the same terrain that conservatives and technocrats have appropriated" [1998]. Others such as Hil, for example, writing in the Western Criminology Review in 2002, have maintained that the narrowness of a radical criminology has become even more islolated and irrelevant as it has deconstructed itself into too many diverse and competing criminologies, moving it ever closer to obscurity and oblivion.

As a critical revisionist, I would suggest that the "radical criminology" of the 1960s and 1970s, though occupying a fairly visible position in the academy, was in fact marginal both in terms of its academic practitioners and in terms of those students exposed to its teachings, scholarship, and research. There was also a fair amount of antipathy and resistance from mainstream criminology in those early days. Compared to a more pluralistic and developed multi-cultural, ethnic, and global spectrum of criminology today, the identity wars of that period were much more intense. In short, beyond the rhetoric and practice of a few radical criminologists during this period, most academics and students engaged in the study and practice of criminology were far removed from the "streets" of anti-establishment influences, such as those emanating from the prisoners movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Looking forward, across modernist and establishment as well as postmodernist and anti-establishment circles, there are several visible criminologists--myself included--who find the diversity and the syntheses of various criminologies to be a viable and dynamic process. For example, John Braithwaite [1998] who is crtical of "our science" for failing "to deliver criminal justice policies that will prevent crime" and who believes that criminologists are justified in being pessimistic and cynical is still optimistic about the possibilities of his "republican criminology." Tombs and Whyte are also cautiously sanguine: "we are not implying that the disciplinary effects of marketisation and commodification have eradicated the space for alternative research agendas to be developed...there is still considerable space within higher education to conduct relatively 'independent' research, particularly in departments that continue to preserve the link between teacing and research."

I further believe that optimism and hope are reproduced from the development and interplay of several critical criminologies and from the interplay between the critical and non-critical criminologies as well. Over the past twenty years the number of radical, critical, and alternative perspectives on crime and justice as well as the number of "card carrying crits" have both grown. This is evidenced by the presence of such long term critical journals as Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, and World Order(formerly Crime and Social Justice) and Crime, Law, and Social Change (formerly Contemporary Crises). Both of these journals were launched in 1974. There are also the more recent critical journals that appeared in the 1990s such as Critical Criminology: An International Journal and Contemporary Justice Review. Within both the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, Critical Divisions were formed respectively in 1988 and 2001. Articles and books written from critical and radical perspectives on crime and justice are more common today than 30 years ago. In short, contemporary students have a much larger critical body of readings to select from than students of the past had, though the number of Marxist readings have declined.

For most criminologists, marginality and relevancy are still problematic. And yet, there are more opportunities today, both at home and abraod, for criminologists to practice their trades inside and outside an assortment of popular and progressive movements engaged in the struggle for human rights and social justice. Dialectically, it may be that as radical/critical criminologies have diffused both within and without the anti-establishment criminologies, that the distinctions and the so-called necessities for the dualisms betweem them are evaporating. In other words, as the walls between the various criminologies come down and as their ideas continue to interbreed, there may actually come a time when there is no longer a need to use the term "radical" or "critical" even as the theories and practices of both continue to grow. Even though I continue to employ the knowledge from and to use the language of these criminologies as I practice what I am loosely referring to here as visionary criminology and transformative justice, I stopped using "radical" and "critical" as personal modifers more than a decade ago. As an "integrative" criminologist, these terms are not particularly meaningful or useful, and often, they are limiting and restraining.


It seems to me that anti-establishment or visionary criminologies not only see things as they are and as they have been represented by the estabishment, but more often than not they also see things that most people--criminologists and non-criminologists--won't or don't see. As a result, they contribute to a collective imagination of "what could be," in place of "what is" or "what has been." Grounded in the explicit and implicit visions of contracting and expanding systems of "adversarialism" and "mutualism" respectively, these criminologies are~seeing things that have not been and asking why not?~as they labor both locally and globally. In association with all kinds of activists-organizers and progressive movements, visionary criminologies take aim not only at the prevailing hierarchies and privileges that contribute to the conditions of strucutral crime and to the institutional and interpesonal forms of violence that such behaviors envelop from the suites to the streets, but they project images of and aspire to develop more "inclusive" rather than "exclusive" policies of democracy and crime prevention in relation to famililes, work places, communities, and the larger world orders.

More precisely, regardless of the particular theoretical terrains, mutualistic anti-establishment critical criminologies strive to encourage the development of "needs-based" systems of justice throughout society. As a means of augmenting, if not replacing, the dominant adversarial systems of retribution and "just desserts" with peacemaking criminologies and other strategies of nonviolence, these holistic approaches emphasize short-term humanitarian help and long-term social justice. Or, as Sullivan and Tifft [2002] have recently elaborated, a needs-based justice is not about an "equality of position" or about "achieving equal distribution" per se, rather it is about the social construction of the "equality of well-being." The objective of these mutualistic criminologies becomes the establishment of locally, nationally, and globally based communities of peace and well-being.

More specifically, transformative policies of social justice and the mutualistic alternatives to adversarial crime control, for example, include strategies involving modes of recovery and prevention that operate according to the principles of "cooperation," "love," "reciprocity," "resiliency," "altruism," and "humanism." These approaches not only address the injustices of interpersonal victimization and vulnerability, but they also deal with the institutional and structural injustices of the inequitable distributions of goods and services that engender conditons of pain and suffering. Hence, transformative justice departs from the adversarialism of repressive, revengeful, and even restorative justice, on the grounds that these forms of justice serve to perpetuate the marginal and disempowering conditions of both the victimized and the victimizing, contributing further to their mutual feelings of shame, alienation, and disassociation.

In preferring the discourses and practices of the counter-hegemonic values of mutualism (i.e., cooperation, nurturing, caring) to the discourses and practices of the hegemonic values of adversarialism (i.e., conflicts of interest, wars, competitions with nature), transformative justice is part of an ongoing historical process that has resisted in one form or another the distributive injustices throughout the legal, political, and economic orders of the past two centuries. Moreover, in the contemporary global and dialectical schems of things, the alternative paradigm of mutualism seems to be slowly picking up adherents, if not gaining some momentum, both at home and abroad. Stated differently, in the real world of crime and crime control, there have always been the challenges of inequality, domination, oppression, and greed. At the same time, cross-culturally, sooner or later the privileged peoples of society have renounced and/or scaled back their ethnocentric interests and normative patterns of discrimination. As emancipations are socially, politically, and economically achieved and as the privileges derived from the inequities of class, ethnic, and gender relations continue to recede, more people are able to to stand for civil and equal rights, a necessary and intermediate step in the legal evolution of human rights and social justice.

In the context of struggling towards the direction of the "collective good" or surviving in the "global village," and given the uncertainties of sustainable and equitable growth, the larger questions should not be about whether or not radical and/or critical criminologies are devolving or evolving in relation to their practices of a quarter of a century ago, or about whether establishment or anti-establishment criminologies have been winning or losing the ideological wars. This is because, on the one hand, the fields of crime and justice studies were never as "radical" as they are often imagined or romanticized to have been. This is also because, on the other hand, crime and justice studies are more open, diverse, and viable today than they have ever been. Nevertheless, in terms of anti-establishment continuities from then to now, there is still only a relatively small group of academic scholars who focus their attentions on the dialectical nature of state power in general, and in relation to the state as a "criminogenic" institution in particular.

In the context of evolution "versus" devolution, I would note that the number of critical students of crime, justice, and violence who now examine the relations between the interpersonal and structural expressions of these phenomena has grown significantly over the past twenty years, especially as these constellations have related to the unfolding social conditions of class, race, gender, age, and sexuality. I would also note that the number of people who question and critically evaluate the processes and rationales of our various systems of crime and justice today have grown as well. Internationally, for example, there has been a heightened awareness of the growth in the transnationalization of crime and the globalization of law enforcement, involving such behaviors as ethnic cleansing, child and slave labor, trafficking in sex, terrorism, arms and drug dealing, and so on. In conjunction, there has also been a heightened sensitivity in the responses to these activities by such organizations as the United Nations, Interpol, NGO's, World Court, public opinion, mass media, and multi-national corporate interests.

Domestically, at least in the USA,there have been the recent financial disclosures involving some of Wall Street's most stable economic entities, including accountants from Arthur Anderson and bookkeepers from Xerox. These fraudulent activities and others, involving some of the world's fastest rising corporate giants, such as Enron, Global Crossing, or WorldCom, represent criminal actions that seem to reflect yet another era of "hands off" market policies, reminding us of the "de-regulative" days of the insider trading scandals or the saving and loan debacles of the 1980s, or going further back, of the "un-regulative" days that led to the stock market crash in 1929, the Securities Exchange Acts of 1933 and 1934, and the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Of course, as the recent revelations of price inflation and market manipulation are not new, I am not suggesting that capitalists are about to bring down capitalism. However, some "re-regulative" activity could possibly be a political order of the day, even if only in a minimalist form.

As a result, there are many more people in 2003 discussing issues of crime and punishment, harm and victimization, deregulation and regulation, and so on and so forth, in relation to social justice, globalization, the environment, transnational economics, community well-being, and restorative justice than there were in 1968 or 1976. In a nutshell, there are more activists and organized interests on the international and domestic stages alike today than there were some thirty years ago. There are also more groups of people moving about and striving toward some kind of balance between organzing societies for profits and organizing them for human beings. Sustainable growth, appropriations of social capital, and other developments in mutualism have consequences for both anti-establishment and establishment criminologies, holding out the hope that the collective interests and responsibilities which flow from these might also help provide the political incentives to overcome the extreme individualism and egocentric narcissism symptomatic of marketisation and adversarial consumerism.

In the future, if the paradigm of mutualism is to grow and expand within and without criminology, or if the values of positive peace and nonviolence are to have a stronger, if not a hegemonic, presence in the world order, then the fundamental question for both anti- and establishment criminologies is to decide how to connect their theory and practice in relationship to the numerous areas of relevant pedagogy, research, and scholarship. In addition, if the transformation of justice is to move from individual to communal, then radical or critical criminologists must learn how to make or create connections between the anti- and establishment criminologies and the larger political orders of social control.

In sum, both inside and outside of the university settings, there are appropriate places that criminologists of most terrains can find to connect their work to struggles for constructive mutualism and transformative justice and against voracious consumption and personal self-aggrandizement. From the family and the local community to the larger political economies of capitalism, globalism, and social change, the "bottom line" is that political conflicts and legalistic justice--interpersonal and international--are slowly moving beyond equal rights to human rights and from equal justice to social justice. This kind of social movement is evidence of gradual progress and of the ongoing struggle for justice for all. It is also proof that as we move into the new millennium that the spirit and practice of anti-establishment criminologies are alive and well.