Critical Criminology and the Individual Life

Shadd Maruna, University of Cambridge

In a new reader on critical criminology (Carrington & Hogg, 2002) Tony Jefferson criticizes radical criminologists for ignoring the individual. While we have made significant contributions to the understanding of the impact of macro-economic and cultural forces on criminal behavior, criminologists of a critial bent have largely avoided discussing the psychology of the individual involved in crime or corrections (except to dismiss such research as inherently reactionary). For individuals caught up in the criminal justice system, then, critical criminology can be liberating in that it provides an alternative interpretation of their lives to the assumption that they are inherently evil or deranged. On the other hand, precisely because of the lack of focus on individual lives, critical criminology provides little by way of hope for personal transformation. Indeed, the suggestion is that in the face of powerful soci-economic and cultural forces, there is little than an individual (especially a disadvantaged or marginalized individual) can do. This paper will ask whether it is possible to imagine a more liberating psychology of crime and personal transformation within the framework of critical criminology. Examples will be drawn from on-going research using life story narratives of persons who are desisting from criminal behavior and resisting the life narratives that society expects of them.

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Updated 05/20/2006