Naming the "Object" of Criminology: Phenomenological Remarks on the Unity of Theory and Practice

Jonathan M. Wender, Simon Fraser University

This paper argues for the need to bring an explicitly philosophical voice to criminology, one that seeks to contribute to dialogue on criminology's disciplinary self-conception, and to the development of novel approaches to topics of immediate interest to criminological research. Nearly half a century ago, Herman Bianchi warned that criminology's intellectual future would be gravely compromised if it failed to nuture and develop its philosophical roots, so much so that "it would cause its own euthanasia (Bianchi 1956:4)." Using Bianchi's words to argue for the present-day relevance of philosophy for criminological inquiry may seem hopelessly impractical, or at least anachronistic, in an age when criminology has become a massive and powerful interdisciplinary enterprise, one that is intertwined with governance, social administration, and, indeed, with the everyday sociopolitical, moral, cultural, and psychological self-reflections of modernity. In response to such skepticism, the suggestion is made that the very act of dismissing philosophy's significance for criminology testifies to an erroneous conception of the relationship between theory and practice. Drawing from phenomenological analyses of the presuppositional foundations of social science, I consider how criminological praxis proceeds from and enacts largely unconsidered theoretical notions about the nature and meaning of human existence.

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Updated 05/20/2006