Cultural Criminology, Phenomenology, and the Return to Astonishment

Jonathan M. Wender, Simon Fraser University

This paper outlines the potential role of cultural criminology in contributing to "a return to astonishment" in formal reflections upon crime, transgression, and evil. At present, mainstream criminology and its allied forms of social praxis approach these phenomena through the enactment of a reductionist ontology that essentially reifies them as abstract "problems." Under the influence of the interpretive regime born of this ontology, the holism and complexity intrinsic to human predicaments becomes translated into "objects" or "data" amenable to distinct kinds of analysis and control.

Using phenomenology to "suspend" the everyday stance of criminological and bureaucratic practitioners, I show how the respective natural attitudes intrinsic to both forms of praxis share common ontological roots, among the most important manifestations of which is a penchant for normalizing and rationalizing what is, when otherwise regarded in the wholeness of its presence, utterly mysterious and astonishing.

I argue that, in at least two notable ways, cultural criminology offers a uniquely propitious vantage point from which to expand this kind of phenomenological inquiry. First, the philosophical approach of phenomenology can be combined with the specific theoretical concerns of cultural criminology, in order to inaugurate a phenomenological metacriminology. Such a project would seek to engage criminology in sustained critical reflections upon its own contingencies--epistemic, metaphysical, cultural, historical, and otherwise. Second, a phenomenological approach applied to any of the range of particular inquries that have become the hallmark focus of cultural criminology's investigations, holds forth strong prospects for the development of novel analyses that will continue progress towards more holistic and authentic engagements with the elemental nature of crime.

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Updated 05/20/2006