Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Members' Publications: February 2019 Edition

As compiled by Katie Quinn:

February 2019 


Brangan, Louise. (Advanced Access) Civilizing Imprisonment: The Limits of Scottish Penal Exceptionalism. The British Journal of Criminology, azy057, https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azy057 


Schoenfeld, Heather, Durso, Rachel, & Albrecht, Kat. (2018) Maximizing Charges: Overcriminalization and Prosecutorial Practices During the Crime Decline, in Austin Sarat (ed.) After Imprisonment (Studies in Law, Politics and Society, Volume 77) Emerald Publishing Limited, pp.145 – 179. [Access it here

Deflem, Mathieu (ed.). (2019) The Handbook of Social Control. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell. [More information here

Friday, February 8, 2019

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Rob Werth Responds

Criminologist or sociologist? (Or, on the difficulties and limits of labels, whether self- or other-oriented)

By Robert Werth, Rice University

Am I a criminologist or a sociologist?  The prompt I was given for this brief piece was more nuanced than this. But, as I interpreted it, this question is at the heart of the prompt.  I’m going to provide a few answers (or thoughts really) to this question, but I will then proceed to both critique and complicate my answers. As this suggests, I have several responses to this question, and I find none of them especially satisfying or final.  

Returning to the question, “are you a criminologist or sociologist”, I would like to respond: “yes”.  This feels somewhat unsatisfying, however. At first glance, it seems as if my response side-steps the question, although I don’t think it does. But, I think a real problem with an answer of “yes” to this question is that it is a response of someone who wants to eat their cake and have it too, as the saying (sometimes) goes. Sociology and criminology, while overlapping and even entangled, are not isomorphic with one another. Further, I can certainly think of myself as both sociologist and criminologist – and I do tend to think of myself as both – but is this how I am always going to label, present and (dare we say) market myself to others?  And is this how I will be perceived and understood by others?     

Another possible response, and one that I have used on occasion: “I think of myself as a law and society scholar who studies issues of crime and punishment.”  This response also appears as if it is attempting to side-step the prompt. Although, as before, I do not think it does. Rather than circumvent the question of sociology or criminology, I’ve actually added another element to it – law and society – thereby making the question even more complicated and difficult to answer. 

So, three paragraphs into my reflection on this question, and all I’ve managed to do is add the matter of law and society to it, leaving me with a response of: “well, I am a sociologist, criminologist and law and society person”.  Furthermore, I would probably need to add another element to it, as I am getting increasingly interested in, and thinking with, Science and Technology Studies. However, labeling myself as a sociologist, criminologist, law and society person, and STS person is prohibitively long and perhaps confusing; or, at the least, is likely to produce the idea that I am confused, undecided or just greedy. 

However, the way I most often think and talk about this issue (what do I study? how can I describe myself in a way that is concise yet accurate?) is by emphasizing the topics, phenomena and questions that I focus on and, hence, deemphasizing the disciplines/fields/areas that presumably frames those interests. Thus, my most common, albeit broad, description of myself is:  An interdisciplinary scholar interested in crime, punishment, and law. (Or, an interdisciplinary scholar interested in the ways in which societies understand and attempt to govern crime, ‘criminality’, and dangerousness.)  Although I sometimes replace interdisciplinary scholar with sociologist. This is, I suspect, partially a product of my departmental locationality; since graduate school my two academic positions have both been in sociology departments (Quinnipiac and now Rice University), so it often makes sense and seems easier to refer to myself as a sociologist.

However, I think that ultimately, I consider myself an interdisciplinary scholar. This stems from the fact that my Ph.D. is not in sociology, rather it is from the interdisciplinary Criminology, Law and Society program at the University of California, Irvine. But this also stems, as this overly convoluted reflection suggests, from regularly interacting with and drawing from multiple academic arenas. Sociology, criminology and law and society are the most prominent ones, but, to a lesser degree, I also draw from STS, anthropology and philosophy. 

While I do think of myself as an interdisciplinary person, if pushed (for instance, by a prompt about this topic), I would say that within my interdisciplinarity, sociology is the discipline that I have been most influenced by. However, this statement necessitates a final caveat. It depends on making a distinction between discipline and field. That is, I am thinking of disciplines as traditional, long-standing academic disciplines – such as sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, etc. And I am thinking of fields – such as criminology, law & society, and STS – as more recent areas that cut across and complicate these disciplines. This distinction, shaped by perceived tradition (and, of course, authority), perhaps muddles as much as it clarifies. And it may well be in the process of obsolescence. I am certainly in favor of complicating disciplinary boundaries through cutting across, experimenting with, and stretching/moving them. 

As such, I prefer to orient my descriptions of what I am/do around the topics, issues, puzzles and questions that animate my research and teaching, rather than through the prism of academic disciplines or fields, whether they be long-established, comparatively new or emergent.  

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Michael Walker Responds

I've never considered myself anything other than a sociologist, but that's not in opposition to how criminologists or criminal justice scholars might think of themselves. My graduate training is in sociology, and my general approach to crime, crime control, and the criminal justice system is to see all three as opportunities to investigate the kinds of matters that interest me anyhow: stratification, social control, identities, emotion, and so forth. In fact, I only recently became aware of tensions between some criminologists, sociologists, and criminal justice scholars. Part of the issue, as I understand it, has to do with increases in specialization: the generalist is a dying breed of scholar. On this point, perhaps more interdisciplinary work like that of law and society scholars will help to bridge the divide between sociology, criminology, and criminal justice.

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Sara Wakefield Responds

1. the tensions surrounding how a person is labeled (sociologist or criminologist), especially for people who could be labeled both

I have no idea how I am labeled. Or put better, if I conducted the most narcissistic nationally-representative survey ever of sociologists and criminologists in order to ask, I’m not certain a clear answer would emerge. Aside from a healthy number of “Sara who?” responses, I suspect the sociologists would split a bit, the criminologists would call me a sociologist, and age of reporter would matter. I remember a time when I cared about the label – I strongly identified as a sociologist early on – but I no longer have a stake in being one or the other. Both is probably right but the best answer is that it depends on who else is in the room (context matters, who knew?).

That I’m not worried about it anymore is a function of tenure, an idiosyncratic set of opportunities and constraints as one half of an academic couple, and some fairly large changes in my areas of interest since I received my PhD. That said, it is clear to me that some heterogeneity in how other people define me probably limited me early in my career but now benefits me in demonstrable ways. Clear ‘branding’ seems important for junior scholars but it becomes limiting pretty fast.

Right before tenure and certainly after it, I noticed my tendency to put the criminology hat on among sociologists and socio-legal scholars and to put the sociology hat on among criminologists and economists. [It’s a tossup with psychologists, no idea why.] A charitable interpretation of this tendency is that I’ve been lucky through the windy path of my career and friendships to be exposed to a variety of scholars, projects, and literatures and that I most enjoy learning from those who form a core in their own areas/disciplines. The less charitable interpretation of this is that I’m a (hopefully kind) contrarian at heart, that I lack the discipline (pun intended) to become part of any core, or that I really and truly hate working alone. I’m okay with any of those interpretations.

2. what other people make of these tensions and how they navigate them

The labels are important – after all, someone has to form the core and police the boundaries, yes? There is also a place for criticism of those boundaries and upending long-held assumptions. Especially for junior scholars, ‘branding’ yourself as any one thing is hard enough, without adding in multiple audiences, constituencies, and fields. I’m less certain that remaining in your core after the first few years is required for career success everywhere and I harbor suspicions that it is not good for social science, especially if your interests clearly cross-cut a number of fields. One of the things I like about criminology, criminal justice, and socio-legal studies (broadly defined) is that they are much less invested in policing boundaries because we’ve always borrowed from many other disciplines – this is why generalizations about these fields more often than not scream ignorance to me. Sociology is much the same though – it’s everything and nothing so good luck figuring out where it stops and starts. It strikes me that the main challenge for those of us in between is to consistently spend enough time in each space so you can talk like an insider without anyone laughing too hard.

I now think less about how to navigate these minefields (or worse, planting my flag in them) and instead I’m simply trying to be a person who sees them clearly. Once you see them, you can quietly navigate around them (and, if you’re lucky, say something useful by pointing them out). I don’t think this necessarily means you can’t stick to a topic or you constantly have to reinvent yourself – I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to stop writing about incarceration for at least four years now – but if you wouldn’t re-write everything you wrote five years ago a little differently today, you’re doing something wrong. The main benefit of straddling multiple fields is you’re less likely to get stuck and miss the important stuff.

3. context of the job market, publication, or other opportunities like speaker series or field-level service

JOB MARKET: I struggled with these questions because I think the world has changed a lot since I was on the market out of grad school. I’m also less certain that the idiosyncrasies of my current situation translate well to others, especially junior scholars. Suffice it to say, I’ve applied to both crim and soc programs (out of grad school and since) and received offers from both (out of grad school and since). I spent a long time trying to write about this well but I ended up cutting all of it and would simply say that I am always happy to talk to people about applying to crim programs and you don’t have to know me in order to set up coffee or a call.

Here’s what I will say: Crim programs are as heterogenous as sociology. The question I get most often from sociologists/law & society scholars applying to crim programs is some version of “Will they make me be a ‘C’riminologist or only publish in crim journals?” The short answer is no. The long answer is it depends (see below).

PUBLICATIONS: I seem to specialize in writing things published in weird places that some people read. Writing a book was great – I found writing one simply solidified the perception that I occupy some sort of interstitial space between criminology and sociology, thereby freeing me from the constraints of both. I wish I could say I planned that – I didn’t and am astonished to find myself writing a second one – but it’s fantastic. I have watched colleagues and friends in Crim/CJ and in Sociology get pressure to publish in Criminology or ASR or whatever but I’ve never been subject to the same pressures overmuch (or I’m so obtuse that I failed to notice it). Some departments really care about this but it seems like they only care about it for some people. I try and think broadly about who to work with and what I can learn from them – insofar as people may think of me as both a sociologist and a criminologist, I suspect it reflects 1) a lot of effort to stay involved in sociology while working in a crim program and 2) collaboration and friendship networks across both fields because it sure isn’t where I publish or don’t.

TALKS AND SERVICE: This is the one context you asked about where I have been planful, rather than just doing what I do and being relieved it worked out. I give a fair number of talks and I spend a lot of time at conferences. I navigate conferences very differently based on how close or far they are to my “home” areas, however. At ASA and ASC, my “home” conferences, I do not often attend panels beyond my own and those of my students – I’m there to do core work and I’m usually swamped. These are unfortunately the last places where I will learn new things or challenge my assumptions. I am involved in my groups and, as a result, I am fairly active in volunteer and elected service positions in both organizations.

About every three years, I start feeling overly narrow, out of date with advances in other areas, and bored/disagreeable. As a solution, I make sure to get out of my bubble. Six years ago, I solved this problem by diving in to a massive new data collection with a bunch of people I’d never worked with before and who do work really different than my own. Three years ago, I solved this problem by going to Oxford for a semester. This year I’m solving it by attending PAA and LSA. At LSA and PAA, I’m there to learn, attend panels, challenge what I think I know, and go as far afield as possible. In none of these spaces do I expect to run the show, get elected to something, or drive the conversation but I always learn and you’ll usually see it in my work a few years later. All this to say, there are benefits of getting out of your space, with some humility.

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Chris Smith Responds

During one of my first American Society of Criminology meetings, I attended a “Students meet Scholars” session. It was a great session, a fascinating conversation, and the graduate students (myself included) were asking a lot of questions about the intellectual trajectory of the topic. After the session, I was waiting in line for the restroom with one of the eminent scholars from the panel, who said to me, “You must be a sociologist.” (I assumed her declaration was based on my questions from the session.) I awkwardly laughed and affirmed that I was getting my PhD in sociology. Since that interaction, I have been a bit stuck on what the “you must be a sociologist” versus “you must be a criminologist” labels mean, what they are good for, and why we can’t be both. 

I study crime and inequality, some version of the word “crime” appears in almost every class I have ever taught, I publish in criminology and sociology journals, and I attend the ASC and the ASA. The ASC is cheaper and has more free wine, so I like it better. The late criminologist Bob Bursik (PhD in sociology) once told me, “ASA is a bunch of snobs.” I often agree with his sentiment. I tell my sociology graduate students to study crime because there are more academic jobs. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Justice funded my dissertation research. When I first applied to jobs as a PhD candidate, I applied to sociology and criminology departments. I got offers in both, but I took a sociology job. Being in a sociology department became important to me because I get excited about the breadth of the intellectual conversations that happen in sociology and because some of my classes don’t have the word “crime” in them. Being in a sociology department also helped me realize that I don’t want to do research that is not about crime and inequality.

The biggest distinction for me between the labels of criminologist and sociologist is in the orientation to theory. It is hard to publish in sociology without strong theoretical frameworks and/or contributions. To achieve this, often our studies of crime and inequality represent a case of some larger social process. It is hard to publish in criminology without any theory, but there are fewer theoretical toolkits to draw from in criminology. Plus, criminology includes a lot more theory testing than theory developing. This slightly different orientation toward theory can come at a cost. Criminology has the space to be more applied than sociology and can be more relevant to policy. Sociologists often want their research to be applied, but the reality is that our long theoretical frameworks can be a burden to generalist audiences. Long, complicated understandings of inequality or other social problems don’t often lend themselves to digestible suggestions for change.

Historically, criminology was a part of sociology – a lens through which to study society. The label of criminologist has become more divisive because of the growth and funding of criminal justice departments across the US academy. Criminal justice emphasizes solving crime (or lowering crime rates) more so than the broader study of crime. The merger of criminology with criminal justice has meant that criminology is seen as more conservative, but the merger has also meant that some outsiders miss the strong sociological methods and theoretical orientations happening in the work of great criminology. 

My forthcoming book, Syndicate Women, is on gender inequality in organized crime networks from Prohibition Chicago. I have received positive and negative feedback from sociologists and criminologists on the research. A few criminologists have asked me why I want more women in organized crime. A few sociologists have asked me how the book’s theoretical explanation can be applied to any case other than crime. Both of these questions reveal the worst of these labels. My book will be classified as criminology and sociology—probably in alphabetical order. I hope criminologists and sociologists (as well as gender scholars, legal scholars, historians, and network scientists) will read it and find something interesting and useful. My research is better because I read broadly and because I try to do both criminology and sociology well. 

Chris M. Smith, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California, Davis
January 21, 2019

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Joachim Savelsberg Responds

A brief personal reflection on the sociologist versus criminologist identity debate
Joachim Savelsberg, 
University of Minnesota

Ashley Rubin invited me to write a few paragraphs about my identity as a sociologist and/or criminologist, and I am grateful for that opportunity. Time has almost run out during somewhat hectic past weeks, and a few brief sentences with personal reflections will have to suffice.
Before coming to the United States in 1989, I was the associate director of a Criminological Research Institute (KFN in Hanover, Lower Saxony). I am a member of the ASC. Google scholars categorizes the relative majority of citations to my work as criminological. All of my books and most of my articles relate to issues of crime, more precisely to the definition of, and reactions to, crime. It may not be surprising thus that I have referred to myself as a criminologist. Yet, most often, I identify myself as a sociologist. Typically, I feel more comfortable doing the latter. Why?
The simple answer may be that I hold sociology degrees, and that my academic home is a sociology department. In addition, I am not just a member of the ASC, but also of other associations, primarily sociological ones, the ASA (and its German equivalent, the DGS), the SSSP, at times the ISA, and of other multi-disciplinary associations, especially the LSA whose journal I edited for a while. 
This simple answer, however, is unsatisfactory. If a criminologist is someone who deals with issues surrounding crime in some scholarly way, then I am indeed a criminologist. Why does discomfort remain about the identity of a criminologist? Four preliminary answers come to mind.
First, it seems to matter that I address issues of crime from a sociological perspective, not from a legal, psychological, biological or psychiatric one. I am thus a sociologist who happens to address issues pertaining to crime, whatever biographical contingencies might have lead me down this path. That is in fact how I often identify myself.
Second, I do not quite know what a criminologist is. The field has identified itself as a multi- and more often as an interdisciplinary field. Yet, what beyond crime, which is not even a phenomenon but something defined by the state, is its common core, what its theoretical basis?
Third, there is a distance between sociologists dealing with issues of crime and other sociologists. I have heard graduate students in my department distinguish between sociology students and other graduate students whom they identify as criminologists. Why do these sociology students draw a boundary between themselves and their colleagues who deal with issues of crime? They are in the same degree program, and criminologists teaching in my department are most certainly sociological criminologists. Students after all do not draw boundaries between themselves and others who work on issues of the family, life course, organizations, race or social movements. Maybe those students sense what cluster and citation analyses of the sociological profession showed even a few decades ago -- and what they might show more clearly today: that sociologists dealing with issues of crime appear closer to the margins of their discipline. They interact less with other sections (and with the “core”) than do members of other specializations within their discipline. I am not sure if that would always have been the case. Maybe it is a reaction to the specializations of criminology as a field with its own associations, journals, and funding sources.
Fourth, it seems that there is stigma attached to “criminologist” among sociologists, some sort of suspicion, risk of a spoiled identity. Reasons may be multiple, and I have to speculate here. For one, the history of criminology is murky, at times associated with biologistic and even racist movements (but sociology’s is also not without dark spots). Another reason may lie in the closer affiliation of criminology with the state and its control institutions. The massive growth of criminology in the United States does not accidentally coincide with the increase in crime as a phenomenon and, especially, as an issue of the 1960s and subsequent decades. It is certainly not by chance that it coincides with the massive expansion of the penal system, with the substantial flow of state resources into the field of criminology and the field’s expansion as an educational opportunity for law enforcement personnel. Closeness to the state runs the risk of declining critical distance, and I have shown in some of my work that that risk is real. In its most extreme form, lack of critical distance may lead to an embrace of Hobbes’ Leviathan, who may indeed have advanced the civilizing process, but who – when checks and balances were missing – has abused the power and authority entrusted in him, becoming criminal himself. Crimes against humanity and genocide are extreme forms of abuse in which Leviathan has engaged over the centuries; penal state excesses, over-incarceration, the death penalty and its discriminatory use, the isolation of human beings over decades in sterile environments are contemporary examples in the United States. I am writing this as a scholar who is not at all adverse to – but obviously cautious about -- policy-oriented scholarship.
In conclusion, I embrace living with unease, with a conflicted identity, as a sociologist who addresses issues related to crime, but who occasionally identifies as a criminologist. I take comfort from the fact that such conflicted identity can be a source of sociological imagination.

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Danielle Rudes Responds

As a trained sociologist, I distinctly remember the feeling of discomfort and perhaps even betrayal as I embarked the academic job market many years ago and pursued tenure-track positions in both sociology and criminology programs. A part of me felt grateful that my work and interests bridged the two disciplines so well that I was able to expand my market search to include positions in both. But, a part of me felt like if I ultimately accepted a criminology position I would be betraying my discipline and my field. Then, I would be (and remain, as many advisers and colleagues constantly reminded me) an outsider in both worlds…a traitor to sociology and an interloper, wanna-be in criminology. My number one criteria for accepting a job was that the department have a doctoral program as I wanted to work with advanced graduate students and mentor them through the phases of their academic career…returning the gift of mentorship my adviser had amazingly bestowed upon me. When I accepted my current position in Criminology, Law & Society the bittersweet reality of landing a tenure-track position at a prestigious (although then, still up-and-coming) university with a growing doctoral program painfully mixed with the anguishing loss of my affiliation with a sociology program. 

In the years since, I navigated the boundary between these two worlds, both of which and neither of which, feel like home to me. I love the broad-based theoretical sociologist in me, I adore the indelible lessons in culture, symbolic interactionism, organizational theory and qualitative methods that both shaped and created the scholar I am today. I also love that my work in criminology, law & society roots in broader social problems and presents both theoretical/conceptual and policy/practice relevance. When asked to introduce myself at departmental events I always said I am a trained organizational sociologist who studies social control institutions working in a criminology, law & society program. Yet, despite my self-description and the benefits of my current position, I always felt a bit like I was on the outside looking in at two disciplines where I belong, but that do not have a formal mechanism for including me. 

Then, sometime last year—a decade into my career—I had a bit of an epiphany about my academic label. In the same year, several criminology-connected editors from journals and books requested articles and/or chapters from me as an expert in organizations. These scholars wanted me to bring the sociology of organizations and organizational theory to life within the context of criminal justice settings. And, to my surprise, they thought I had already been doing this for years! While it is true, I considered myself an organizational sociologist working in a criminology program, now I was aware of my new label, and I love it! I am an organizational criminologist. 

As I reflect back on my re-conferral of self-identity, I sit peacefully with the thought of labels and my place among them. Maybe it is my post-tenure gaze, maybe it is my years of experience, or maybe it is just my calm space in the stormy seas, but I truly do not care how people label me within, between or outside the parallel universes of criminology and sociology. I know where I belong, I know what I contribute to both disciplines, I know there is value in my work and I know above all else, that is all that truly matters. 

Danielle S. Rudes
Associate Professor, Criminology, Law & Society
Deputy Director, Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence (ACE!)
George Mason University, drudes@gmu.edu

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Michelle Phelps Responds

Depending on the context, I introduce myself as a sociologist, a professor, a criminologist, a law and society scholar, a punishment and society person, or, if I'm feeling particularly feisty, a sociologist with a specialization in criminology in the tradition of law and society scholarship. I think part of this comes down to context--how much detail does the audience want/need? And some of it is about the institutional homes of our training and current job--my Ph.D. was interdisciplinary, but housed in sociology, and I currently work in a sociology department, so that feels like it ought to be my primary identification. Sociology also best describes my general intellectual orientation in how I approach social science questions. Yet that label sometimes chafes because "mainstream" sociology often pays so little attention to the kinds of topics I tend to pursue.

Criminology should be an obvious label, and yet I hesitate to use the label of criminologist in isolation. I think this is in large part because criminology has become a discipline more interested in predicting crime and the individual-level correlates of criminal justice contact, instead of punishment as a social institution. In addition, as criminology schools increasingly became training schools for professionals working in the criminal justice system, professors (and graduate students) in those programs increasingly pursed research about how to best operate that system rather than more radical critiques. You can see these trends reflected in the annual meetings of the American Society of Criminology, papers in the flagship journal Criminology, and the research interests of faculty at criminology programsAlthough there is a new generation of scholars working to place sociological punishment research back into the core of criminology, they still are a minority (albeit a high-status minority in many cases).

Which takes us to law and society. Bringing together legal scholarship and social scientists, the Law & Society Association and related interdisciplinary socio-legal journals have become the favorite home for many punishment folks. Indeed, what I recognize as my core subfield--punishment and society--explicitly references this intellectual home. And so it is at those meetings, and in those journals, that I most frequently find the most interesting and relevant (to me) research. Yet if you tell the average person (or even sociologist) that you are a "punishment and society scholar," you are likelier to get a blank look than if you say "I'm a criminologist."

Sometimes I think all of us working in sociology on questions of social control and punishment ought to loudly proclaim ourselves "criminologists" to wrest back that label. The study of crime and punishment always needs both perspectives--understanding patterns of criminal behavior should not be separated from the broader history of how we came to call certain acts criminal and how we adjudicate and punish such behavior. Like the loose collection of topics organized under the banner of law and society, I would like to see a criminology that was less a firm discipline and more a big tent of people working from different intellectual starting-points.

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Laura Piacentini Responds

What do you make of these tensions surrounding how a person is labelled (as a criminologist, sociologist, or both)?

The questions you have asked me are about Criminology and Sociology. For most of my recent professional career I have worked in a Law School before transferring three years ago to a School of Social Work and Social Policy, still at the same University, which is closer to my background and which is essentially my ‘disciplinary home’. Prior to working in a Law School I worked for seven years in a Department of Sociology and Social Policy at another university. All this means that when I count the years up, I have worked ten years in social science departments and nearly ten years in a Law School. That’s about 50/50! I am not going to discuss being a Professor of Criminology in a Law school and instead focus on an issue much closer to my heart, but which remains an intriguing question that kind of eludes me, which is what do I make of being a Sociology-trained Criminologist.

The tensions about being labelled a Criminologist or Sociologist ‘of whatever one is researching in crime and punishment’, or both, do I believe exist. They are real, they are widespread and they are both invigorating and debilitating because they are institutionalised in our universities, at our conferences, in our publication outlets, in how we work with others, and in our professional organisations. Can being labelled a Criminologist or Sociologist working in the study of crime and punishment affect your desired career paths, your capacity to create, where you publish, your ability to grow, to attract PhD students, your wants and needs to connect and cohere with like others? You bet. And when you add that Criminology is taught in all kinds of departments, then that tension between feeling invigorated or debilitated takes on a significant institutional dimension that brings a whole host of other challenges around what is that thing we call our ‘disciplinary home’.

I have been trained in Sociology throughout my entire post-school education. My first degree was a Bachelor’s Honours Degree in Sociology followed by a Masters in Criminology, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Russian Language and a PhD in Sociology on the Russian prison system. Now that last degree there (the biggie) was where I first got to experience, up close and sadly on a personal level, tensions and resentment between whether I was/am a Sociologist or a Criminologist. It did not matter to me that my PhD graduation letter said ‘Laura Piacentini, Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology’. But it did matter to others - a lot. Just to add that none of these tensions were brought about by my own self-identification but how others in my subject, fellow student peers, staff senior, my Faculty and my university labelled me and my qualifications. No individuals are mentioned here as this is my personal story, but what I experienced was reflective of a culture shift in what can happen, and it did happen to me, when a new subject ‘Criminology’ was introduced into a Sociology department in a UK University in the mid-late 1990s. 

On paper, the joys of working in a porous discipline such as Criminology include: one can hop around easily across subjects, create new lines of research inquiry, attend diverse conferences and free her/himself from what can be rigid boundaries of what their background is. Criminology is truly elastic, and in the very best sense it demands us to open our minds to a multitude of intellectual curiosities. Time matters in Criminology. I was fortunate to be of the pre CSI-TV-Crime Show era where many were agog, and perhaps arrogantly so, at why someone would ‘want to know why someone committed a crime and not what happens after’! ‘No psychology profiling here please’ (as someone once said to me during my Masters in 1994). What joy there is in moving far and wide, here and there and on a journey that takes one’s mind to new people, places, eras and periodization. Over the last twenty years, we have seen the slow drip of what we call multi-disciplinarity accelerate to a rapid rush of water. Criminology was in perfect position to lead the movement towards themes/issues/concerns/ and away from subjects/disciplines/silos. It was and still is great to be part of this embrace. 

And what an embrace it has been. We are told that our governments that fund our universities, want us to open the subject up for our knowledge economy and our big research funders follow this and vice versa. The very best of ‘getting a bit of this and bit of that’ in Criminology means that we have choice and options on how we teach crime and punishment. But choice in the neo-liberal university means breadth of options, a market approach of pick and mix and not always depth of meaning. I think the social sciences have suffered badly from too much choice because our experience of ideas, knowledge, critical thinking, philosophy and theory becomes so short-lived so as to be suppressed by the cruel rhythm of market demand for choice. More Criminology does not equate to better, more rigorous and nuanced knowledge and that also goes for Sociology – or does it? A good Sociology degree from day one will furnish the student with a question that she will carry with her for the entire time of her degree: what are the burning sociological problems of our time? As Les Back has beautifully pointed out: “The action … is unfolding in those historical structural processes in these most every day, mundane, landscapes in which we live in social, intimate, up-close terms”[1]. The key point here, to paraphrase Back again, is Sociology is always a precious resource and a springboard from which to cultivate a vaster intellectual life. When Criminology stands against Sociology on these terms, I believe it is weaker. In other words, Criminology needs Sociology.

As an aside, but relevant to the question, many subjects are still taught as traditional disciplines in departments especially where is a professional accreditation such as in Education, Social Work, Law or Psychology. Maybe it’s a good thing, that where there is a professional accreditation required, that Criminology is offered as a stand-alone elective (sometimes alongside with others allied to the subject) and not a core subject. Remember what I said about a little bit of this and that? When you add the Research Excellence Framework in the UK to this mix, where we are submitted to Units of Assessment to measure research excellence, the debate over Criminology and Sociology becomes maddeningly frustrating because for Sociology trained Criminologists today, many could technically be submitted to three or four Units! Your university decides where you ‘fit’ and is, rightly, guided by the department or school you are in. Thankfully for the professional subjects just mentioned, the Unit is more straightforward, as I experienced when leading the REF in a Law School.

As I said, for me these tensions started nearly twenty five years ago when I was a 24 year old PhD student who started her PhD desperately curious about the sociology of prisons in modern Russia, but came to be quickly dragged into the Criminology vs Sociology debate. After I studied under some of Criminology’s leading luminaries at the University of Keele in the early 1990s, something became very apparent to me. So much great Criminology, that subject concerned with responses to questions about crime and punishment, can be better understood using the conceptual, analytical, empirical tools available in Sociology. I have never studied law, but I have studied some psychology. I never studied forensic science, but I had studied history, politics and economic. So using the tools given to me, I learned quickly that the light we shine on questions of crime and punishment is deeply implicated in where our scholarly roots lie, and where we settle as scholars shapes the contours of how we engage with our past education and the self. I am not saying that only Sociologists can do Criminology but my view and experience tells me that the subject is best understood and developed when links are made to a core, a root, a channel and a shape from where it can grow and specialise and be historicised in order to radiate into other criminological concerns. Maybe that’s why I don’t go for lots of tapas when I can have a big bowl of spaghetti with just a few key ingredients! And at the end of the day, crime and punishment are social problems that reflective of and implicated in social relations. That might not cut it for some but it does for me.

I have ended up as a Professor of Criminology. I teach and research with what I believe is a solid, theoretically informed, deeply critical and research methods heavy social science background. From that launch pad I go forth into the Criminological galaxy of multi-disciplinarity! Yes if only it were that easy! In my PhD time, I was told, in no uncertain terms and straight up from starting it, that there was a ‘problem between the crims and the sociologists’. Eh? Was my reply. I was then informed that I was not a ‘proper Sociologist’ because I was now ‘doing Criminology’. This followed me for my entire PhD. It emerged that at that time, the burgeoning and exciting growth in Criminology at my university was unsettling a fair few folk in Sociology because ‘crims nick students’. Sociology was in trouble in the 1980’s and 1990’s and by 1997 the fall out from that hit a generation of Criminology PhD researchers who had Sociology backgrounds.  The irony that the ‘student nicking crims’ were, in fact, sociology-trained was not lost on me then, and is not lost on me now, as this tension has in various ways followed me all through my academic life and will resonate both with Sociologists and Criminologists. 

I hate the trope that comes up time and again that Criminology is sexy, Criminology is theory light and Criminology is ‘just about policy’. And I also hate seeing how my beloved Sociology is subject to the vagaries of neo-liberal student consumers who might not find it ‘useful’ or ‘relevant’, which is obviously so not true, given how popular Sociology is and how much incredibly important and superlative sociological research there is out there. But someone is peddling these myths – or at least did in the late 1990’s and early noughties – and have since turned them into excel spreadsheets, units and targets. 

To be saddled, burdened and pushed and pulled to take the side of one or other subject is a preposterous notion. No PhD student or staff member should be made to feel that this is one or the other, but never both. Luckily for me, I was and am able to navigate both sides quite well because no one had ever done a PhD on Russian prisons before so I was given respite and relief from the ‘discipline wars’. But it left a mark, hardened me to a prepare for a battle, and also gave me some time to think about not only where the subject (Criminology) belongs, but where I belong and I answered that question earlier when I commented that you work with the tools you have and the skills you have acquired both in the professional and personal sense. When people are curious with you, when people together are open to challenging themselves a little bit, and when people open up and out to new disciplinary and professional horizons to develop a subject, then everyone wins and Criminology and Sociology can be best friends.

[1]Les Back, ‘A Shared Sociology’, SociologyFirst Published October 4, 2016.

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Josh Page Responds

I identify foremost as a sociologist because I tend to see the world through a sociological lens, asking questions stemming out of sociological traditions, using social science methods, and so forth. However, I sometimes refer to myself as a criminologist or law and society scholar, and I don't take offense if others classify me as such. I'm privileged to be at a place in my career where I don't think about this question much. It mostly comes up when talking with graduate students about positioning themselves for the job market. 

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Chrysanthi Leon Responds

I'm sure that I am labeled as one thing or another, but it doesn't bother me and I'm not aware of harms to my career or opportunities.  I prefer to explain myself as interdisciplinary, and I repeat it firmly, ad nauseum. Since "interdisciplinary" is such a buzzword AND it accurately describes me, this has worked. 

My PhD is interdisciplinary, so I am really neither a criminologist or sociologist by training.  I've published in both areas, but more often in criminal justice or law-related journals.  I've trained graduate students and chaired dissertations in both areas, and I attend regional meetings in both disciplines as well as ASC and LSA.  If pressed, I describe  myself as a sociologist of law.  

I find the feminist strand of criminology to be a powerful place, both in terms of theoretical tools and because the ASC section on Women and Crime is incredibly active in policy advocacy and in mentoring within the field.  I maintain my ASC dues to stay part of this dynamic and supportive group. Otherwise, I believe I get more credibility in the academic and advocacy work I do outside my institution as a sociologist.  

Within my university, being in a combined Sociology and Criminal Justice program is the best of both worlds: I get to teach bright students in small seminars and explore theoretically rich areas, and the CJ major brings in a large number of majors and students fulfilling requirements through our courses, so we are a well-resourced department.  We also benefit from the rankings of our Criminology graduate program. 

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Erin Kerrison Responds

Erin’s 2¢ on Crim/Soc Labeling

Hello, heroes!!

When asked to contribute to this conversation about the tensions that emerge regarding a “mismatched” or “uncommon” disciplinary home base, I jumped at the chance.  The question of “Wait, where do you come from, Erin?” gets posed often enough that I’ve grown perfectly comfortable answering it, but I realize that the question might feel like an interrogation for folks who aren’t as blasé about the academic community’s need to classify them in such a way.  

Since my guess is that different readers who are also grappling with versions of that question might appreciate advice for different contexts, I’m going to try and hit the domains that I think would peak the majority of folks’ interests (and where I’ve most often had to defend, justify, or explain a training history that differed from the setting’s norm): job searching, publishing, grant-writing. 

To begin, I’ll share that I study the myriad of ways that punishment meted out by the criminal legal system, in its many manifestations, is overwhelmingly toxic in general and is specifically harmful to the health of a range of stakeholders who must engage it – victims, alleged criminals, convicted folks, and personnel operating in these spaces.  I started out majoring in Sociology and Philosophy while an undergraduate, moved on to study Criminology and Law & Society in graduate school, split my time between an Arts & Sciences department of Criminology and the Law School during my postdoc, and am now an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley.  

The road from Philosophy to Criminal Justice to Social Work is very clear to me, but I realize how it may look to others and why the disciplinary-home-base question gets asked as often as it does.  So to that end, I’ll speak to how I navigate that ask authentically and strategically on the job hunt for a research university tenure-track position, while producing inter/trans-disciplinary scholarship, and in my efforts to secure funding to keep all the trains running. 

Job Market
I don’t think anyone needs to be anchored in a discipline as much as they need to have a very clear and feasible research agenda. While we would all like to claim otherwise, a lot folks are doing just fine professionally without doing work that is objectively earth-shattering. That’s 100% okay!! Because what matters is that they do their thing and they do It well.  

For example, if you’re training is in epidemiology and you’re committed to understanding the spread of disease of immigrant detention centers, the world (and the academy) needs you!!  The study of the spread of disease is not a new research focus. Getting to the bottom of what’s going on in a space that’s swelling exponentially, during an extremely fraught political moment, to people who leave onlookers polarized about their right to live, and in a country where protections provided by the state range from meager to absent to destructive… now that’s something about which folks in a number of social science contexts would be interested to learn.  

Yes, it’s important to demonstrate your ability to mentor students and teach courses in the department/unit/school to which you’re applying.  However, I have applied to and been offered positions in a variety of programs because I designed a strong research program with implications germane to the collective agendas of a number of different disciplinary stakeholders. 

Write to the readership!! Write to the readership!! Write to the readership!! 

So, let’s back up… admittedly I feel comfortable sending manuscripts to Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Sociology journals, simply because I speak those languages.  What I’ve found from working with colleagues in other disciplines, however, is that while some of their constructs aren’t immediately obvious to me, I know that they’re definitely talking about the same issues and questions that I’m thinking and writing about, too.  

Now I’m not itching to run out and earn another PhD, but in order to help facilitate interpretation and engagement with these folks, I have committed to learning some canonical fundamentals from Public Health, Anthropology, Law, and Psychology.  This has taken a lot of time for me as I’ve never been able to cut corners on just sitting still and doing the reading.  I can promise you that it was worth every effort, though, and will likely be an endless pursuit of mine.  

The bit of thematic familiarity that I’ve been able to assemble from those discourses has allowed me to meaningfully cite the existing debates in those disciplines and publish manuscripts in those outlets. And, it’s not enough to just pepper in a couple of citations from the “foreign” journal if you want to publish your work there.  Editors and reviewers can see right through the lip-service and will likely (and fairly) dismiss tourist scholars.

Fear not, though.  If you prefer not to write to a readership that engages terms or methods outside of your scope, that doesn’t preclude a conversation with thinkers in that space. I encourage everyone to shamelessly promote their work wherever they want and in front of as varied an audience as they possibly can.  You never know who will pick it up, plus you’ll get reps in understanding how your work is received by a diverse audience. 

When you’re asking people to give you money to do a thing, I venture that one of the biggest questions reviewers ask, is whether you can pull off what you it is you’re proposing.  

This may not mean that you need to have a specific disciplinary training as much as you will need to have team members and key collaborators who do.  That also doesn’t mean that you can’t still be a PI on the proposed study that diverges from your scholarly norm. Partnering with someone who offers complimentary training, perspectives, and networks can actually be very attractive to funders who want to see more interdisciplinary research projects anyway.  

The way I was able to secure funding from the National Institutes of Health was to apply for a training grant.  An existing multi-year randomized controlled trial that explored women’s engagement with a residential mindfulness drug treatment curriculum was already funded, underway, and staffed by researchers trained in Psychology and Medicine.  I applied for funding that would support my (1) sociological contributions about the influence of social networks on recovery outcomes (a phenomena that wasn’t included in the PI’s original scope of work) and (2) my training in biomedical substance abuse research.  This was a fantastic opportunity to explore the methods of a completely different intellectual arena and my hailing from an entirely different discipline is the very thing that was most attractive about my candidacy.  I encourage every one of you to look beyond your immediate environments to identify networks and efforts that are just waiting to be enhanced by your brilliance and inimitably fresh perspective.


Frankly, a nontrivial proportion of the “where are you from?” line of questioning reminds me of the discomfort that folks feel when your phenotypical race or gender expression, for example, is somehow ambiguous. They like, neeeeed to know “what you are” in large part because it helps them to calibrate their expectations of what you’ll say or do and what kind of power(s) you might wield.  Nobody has time for that.

What’s nice about disciplinary fluidity is that you get to disrupt assumptions, own your narrative, and present the most authentic and effectual version of yourself.  I think it’s a plus and I encourage folks who find themselves without an obvious disciplinary home, to craft their own.  Nimble is good. Proud and nimble is even better. 

Tell the truest story that you’d want to hear and then to treat yourself to it. 

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Phil Goodman Responds

In trying to answer the question ‘Are you a criminologist or a sociologist?’ I keep going back to a story my late grandfather used to tell when people asked him what kind of scientist he was. He would explain, sly grin on his face, that when he’s surrounded by mostly chemists, he always says he is a physicist. When surrounded by mostly physicists, on the other hand, he would invariably answer chemist. (He was, by training, a crystallographer, and by experience a metrologist.) I suppose, after some reflection, I feel somewhat parallel. Neither of the labels, “criminologist” or “sociologist,” is all that intrinsically appealing to me. And, even more in line with my grandfather, when I attend, for instance, the American Society of Criminology (ASC) meetings in the states, I feel very sociological. By that I suppose I really mean that I think of my work as rather more theoretical, critical, and politically-motivated than the vast majority of the papers I hear at ASC meetings. Conversely, while at various sociological meetings, I often feel that because of my focus on punishment, prisons, and law, I tend to be labelled by many around me as a criminologist, by which I think they mean to say not-quite-sociological-enough. In other words, rather “applied” and, perhaps, not theoretical enough.

Instead of trying to work to get people to see me as an “insider,” I have embraced somewhat this phenomenon, in part because it allows me to slide somewhat quietly from group to group, and also because I feel like my ability to publish on various topics and using various methods is rather unconstrained. And I like that. In closing, I would note that I think my own relaxed attitude toward the policing of these labels is no doubt due, at least in part, to the fact that I have a great, tenure-track (and now tenured) position. Were my own employment unstable (or more unstable), I might very well lose more sleep over these labels, and the policing of them, than I do.

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? David Garland Responds

Criminologist or sociologist? Which are you? Which am I? Most of the time the answer doesn’t matter much. But there are moments of decision – Which graduate program to choose? Which job market to go on? Which job offer to accept? – when it can matter a great deal. And the nature of one’s professional identity can sometimes take on an expressive or even an existential significance that prompts us to give the question some thought. 

Is there a tension between the two identities or affiliations? I don’t really think so: more of a fluidity, as with different points on a social science continuum. If there is a tension, it is mostly just an expression of the division between the general discipline and the specialist subfield; and most of us find it relatively easy to navigate back and forth between these domains. (Many of us belong to general and specialist professional associations; attend both kinds of conference; have scholarship networks that stretch across both, and so on.) It is possible, I suppose, that the usual tension has been somewhat aggravated by criminology’s increasingly forceful claim to be a stand-alone subject with its own disciplinary institutions. And the resulting distinction may seem more important in the US, where there is something of a status gap between sociology programs in the leading research universities and criminology or criminal justice departments that are more often in lower tier institutions. Elsewhere, the professional hierarchies are different. 

How does one choose between affiliations, to the extent that this is necessary? For myself, the answer is situational: it depends where I am and who I’m talking to. And I notice that when other people identify me in one way or the other – in reviews, introductions, in passing references, etc. – they also appear to be influenced by context, mostly choosing the identity that makes most sense to them in that setting. (I have occasionally thought that a reviewer chose to identify me in a particular way the better to dismiss my claims, but that’s probably just paranoia on my part.)

I can’t think of many occasions when the choice of labels has presented itself as a problem, though I have occasionally felt the need to distance myself from the Lombrosian project that some people still associate with criminology. And I’m on record as being a critic of criminology’s quest for disciplinary independence, preferring to address crime and punishment as specific cases of more general sociological phenomena. 

Most of the time, I think of myself as a criminological sociologist or a sociological criminologist – though I’m happy to go by the name of “legal academic,” “historian” or “socio-legal scholar” as the occasion requires. (My Edinburgh University doctorate is actually in “Socio-Legal Studies” but that name referred more to a 1980s higher education funding stream than to an established scholarly discipline.) There isn’t any great ideological divide between any of these identities, so there’s rarely any great pressure to choose between them. The joys of interdisciplinarity! However I do recall arriving at Berkeley’s Law and Society Center in the late 1980s and immediately being asked by a graduate student whether I identified with “law and society” or “critical legal studies” – the implication appearing to be that I was obliged to take sides in a sectarian dispute of which I was then mostly ignorant.  

Are the authors of recent books on “mass incarceration” or “punishment and society” properly described as “criminologists?” I’m not sure. British academics might call them “penologists” but that sounds rather archaic so the better term is probably “sociologists of punishment” or something of the sort. (Full disclosure: I once held a personal chair at Edinburgh University that styled me as “Professor of Penology” but, if truth be told, the chief reason for that name choice was to ensure my promotion did not undermine the case for appointing someone else to a chair in Criminology that had recently fallen vacant in the same department.) 

Given the concern of my own work to connect criminological scholarship with social theory and general sociology, I would be more than happy to be recognized as contributing to the wider as well as the narrower field: to have an impact in the broader discipline and not just my specialist subject. But that may be idiosyncratic. I certainly know of, and greatly admire, some very distinguished careers that have been fully undertaken within the scope of the criminological field in ways that weren’t in the least bit intellectually narrow. 

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Susila Gurusami Responds

Disciplining Punishment Scholars: an Intersectional Reflection on Categorizing the Intellectual Self

My formal training and degrees would each label me as a sociologist; across undergrad, graduate school, a postdoc, and my current position as an assistant professor, I’ve been housed in sociology departments. But after I shifted my research during graduate school to focus on Black women’s experiences of criminalization, I began to experience a curious shift—especially while I was ABD on the job market—in which other sociologists began to toss the label “criminologist” my way. Yet, I find that criminologists often identify me a sociologist who studies crime—a marked distinction which criminologist colleagues have indicated they sometimes attribute to the theoretical bent in my work coupled with its activist aims.

The simplest sort of reflection I can provide on this process is that I most closely align with the discipline of sociology; my professional association memberships, the service I engage in, and much of the literatures I reference read as the profile of a sociologist. But how might these external classificatory processes—as sociologist, criminologist, or something else—reveal how punishment scholars experience disciplinary policing? And for punishment scholars whose work is also activist-oriented and/or focuses on race, gender, sexuality, disability, and other social locations, how might liminality between disciplines reflect the white- and male-centric orientations of both sociology and criminology? Because I think when we ask the question “Is this a sociologist” or “Is this criminologist,” we’re inherently engaging in a project of identifying who a sociologist or criminologist is not. Too often, these answers are inextricably bound up in positionality in ways that refuse underrepresented scholars a firm position in either discipline. 

I think the ways we navigate these tensions is an inherently political project. For instance, what would it mean for me—as a woman of color who draws from Black feminisms to study punishment—to claim my scholarship as squarely within the sociological tradition? Does this make more room within sociology for voices like my own? 

Rather than posing answers to these questions, I instead think we might consider how interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary scholarship press intellectual innovation and expand the boundaries of the academy. The sense that one’s position as a firmly disciplinary scholar matters is often important to those of us whose lives are tied up in universities, but those distinctions tend to mean very little to our undergraduate students and the broader public. My own work has benefitted enormously from exploring outside the bounds of my discipline—by reading Black feminist geography, media and cultural studies, ethnic studies, gender studies, and Black radical anthropology—I’ve learned to push back on the assumptions I was trained to make as a sociologist. And without question, it’s made me a more critical, curious, and committed scholar.

What do we stand to gain if the types of research questions we ask take primacy over disciplinary loyalty or belonging? And how might this breaking down of disciplinary boundaries help to make the Academy more inclusive?

Are you a criminologist or a sociologist? Ben Crewe Responds

Last year, I contributed to a departmental panel discussing the future of criminology at which each panellist expressed some ambivalence about declaring himself or herself a straightforward ‘criminologist’. One had trained as a historian; another as a natural scientist. I explained that I was a sociologist by background, and still considered this my primary academic identity: my Master’s degree was in Sociology, and I then spent four years as a doctoral researcher in a mainstream sociology department at the University of Essex, where my research was not in any way criminological.

My transition into the field of criminology altered my intellectual practices, at least initially. As a sociologist in a sociology department, I read sociology journals; as a sociologist in a criminology department, my reading narrowed, because of the set of journals, scholars and studies that began to feel more salient for my new institutional and disciplinary existence. It goes without saying that articles in criminology journals are very often informed by concepts, theories and ideas that draw from a much wider field of study. Criminology is, after all, a ‘rendez-vous discipline’ (Downes 1988) – a place where other disciplines meet, and exchange ideas– and is rightly celebrated for its intellectual eclecticism. But ‘straight criminology’ articles often seem pretty thin in terms of their theoretical and conceptual inputs, and some criminological theory courses do not push students to look very far beyond a relatively limited range of thinkers and issues. One of my concerns about the growth of criminology undergraduate degrees is that students can now advance into the discipline without having read much of the foundational theory of social science, which itself undergirds a good deal of the theory that is central to criminological research. My own work has been informed, over the years, by theorists such as Weber, Bourdieu, Foucault, and Margaret Archer, and by ideas taken from political science, moral anthropology and psychoanalysis. I would like to think that it has been enhanced as a result. It has certainly helped me make better sense of the world that I study.

I have never felt excluded or marginalised as a consequence of being a sociologist working within criminology. If anything, in the UK, sociology feels like the primary disciplinary influence on the field. Being a penologist is a slightly different matter. Although most definitions of criminology refer to responses or reactions to the breaking of laws, sometimes I detect an informal hierarchy in the minds of scholars who study the causes of crime, in which studies of prisons, probation and other aspects of the criminal justice system are subordinate to their concerns. I have very little interest in this kind of policing of disciplinary boundaries. All disciplines and departments need boundaries, but I am suspicious of the people who are most keen to monitor them (there’s a criminological theme right there). My way of navigating these issues is to get on with my work, to try to ignore the internal politics of the discipline, and to proudly retain my interests and identity as a sociologist.