Professor Ashley Rubin recently published a blog post for the Law and Society Association’s Collaborative Research Network Punishment and Society entitled “What is Criminology? Who is a Criminologist?”. In the post, Professor Rubin discusses the difficulty in defining criminology as a broad, interdisciplinary field and proposes three new subfields within the discipline to ensure greater precision in determining what exactly criminologists study. Professor Rubin is an Assistant Professor in Sociology with undergraduate teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Her current research focuses on the dynamics of penal change in America and England from the seventeenth century through to the early twentieth century, and she is currently writing a monograph on the role of prison administrators at the infamous Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. We have a posted an excerpt of the post below.
What is Criminology? Who is a Criminologist?Today marks the end of the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology. Even before this week, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about criminology, its meaning, and who/what it includes. As an interdisciplinary scholar, academic labels mean a lot to me. At JSP, it was drilled into us that we need to demonstrate our disciplinary identity: interdisciplinary scholars often have to “prove” they “are” a sociologist, political scientist, historian, etc. and sometimes get left in the margins when they fall to make this case, falling through the interstices of competing fields. Criminology is an interdisciplinary discipline—some programs more than others—but this issue of identity still matters.Living in Canada has also made me question my understanding of criminology. For many reasons, the Canadian academe is much more internationally aware than the American academe: as members of the British Commonwealth, Canadians have more contact with British, Australian, and New Zealander thought and developments. As in many countries, Canadians are also more likely to read American journals *and* their own countries journals, whereas in the US, one might read a British journal regularly, but not much else beyond American journals. Consequently, there are different perspectives than one finds in American academic work alone and, as a further consequence, the same terms and fields have different meanings and theories. Notably, the definition—or at least understanding and content—of criminology is different in Canada: there is a much bigger emphasis on critical perspectives (critical criminology is huge in Canada), so there is a lot of feminist, colonial/post-colonial, critical race, Indigenous, and other perspectives not found in mainstream American criminology. With a stronger influence from the Continent and Great Britain, there is also a more (or different) theoretical orientation. Americans, I have learned, have a particular understanding of theory and methods that is different from the Continental approach, although I’ve not yet been able to articulate this difference. (For now, think how Foucault is different from, say, Rothman in their approaches to prison history. Both are great (and limited) in their own way, but the two men might have a very interesting discussion about what they mean by theory and how they use evidence or why they care about the prison as a social artifact.) From an American perspective, one might say the Canadian/British/Continental approach is less rigorous, but that would be unfair and American-centric; from a Canadian or British perspective, American ideas might be considered narrow, simplistic, and even naive.