How Can Epistemology and Philosophy of Science Strengthen Criminological Research and Theorizing?

Richard C. Monk, Coppin State College

Almost as if they were talisman, some criminological scholars trot out the constructs, 'epistemology,' and to a lesser extent, 'philosophy of science,' as if to achieve instant intellectual and ideological sanctioning. Indeed, it was pointed out a few years ago that in a content analysis of journals in critical criminology and feminist criminology, some authors mentioned epistemology up to ten times using the term in almost as many different ways.

A more scholarly mature use was reflected in an insightful article by a pre-eminent theorist in THE CRIMINOLOGIST (July/August 2003) and in another discussion between Francis Cullen and Michael Braswell. Both emphasize the necessity of philosophy of science to illuminate criminological research and theory. Yet none of these discussions tell us exactly what either epistemology or philosophy of science are. Nor are they particularly specific about how the criminologist in the street can use either term in her research and/or teaching. This discussion will compare the possible heuristic value of both constructs with other theory/research related terms such as meta-analysis, destructuration, and the sociology of knowledge (the latter and philosophy of science are subsets of the broader term, epistemology). The perceived value of these terms for research, theory, and teaching will be identified after some of the definitional groundwork is completed.

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Updated 05/20/2006