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What Is the Criminological Imagination and Why Is It Important for Studying Criminology?

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Date: 24/10/18

Candidate Number: 1809358

What is the Criminological Imagination and

Why is it important for studying Criminology?

The question of the Criminological Imagination is implicitly tied to C. W. Mills. His research published in 1959, describes “The Sociological Imagination” as “a quality of mind that seems, most dramatically, to promise an understanding of the intimate realities of ourselves in connection with larger social realities” (Mills). This revolutionary approach built the groundwork for the development of The Criminological Imagination. Associated with radical and cultural approaches to crime, it enriches the research with its capacity to extrapolate information from both the personal sphere and the historical, geographical and political context surrounding crime.

I will start by defining this new interpretative framework and its broad ranging qualities as well as its main goals. Subsequently, I will argue for the use of the criminological imagination in the criminological field and its ‘raison d’etre’ as an essential tool to revitalize and enhance the discipline.

Criminology is faced with the important challenge of redefining itself and its purpose. In recent years, professors and researchers have opened the debate concerning the legitimacy and efficiency of past theories and methods.

Criminology has been subject to the same optimistic revolution that has dominated the social sciences, being focused upon abstract empiricism, orthodoxy, analytical individualism and minimal theory: Evolving around data and statistics with very little consideration for the aetiology of crime. Its grand theories and abstract empiricism distanced the researcher from social reality (Mills). In the words of J. Young “The tools of the trade become more important than reality itself… and the telescope becomes of greater importance than the sky”. Therefore, the Criminological Imagination has to be understood in its context, as a solution to the failures of the previous school of thoughts. It is an interpretivist approach to aetiology, which facilitates a form of interpretation that places the understandings of an individual’s biography within the sensibilities of wider historical and structural contexts. (Barton, Corteen et Scott) It is defined by the ability to acknowledge and understand the perspective of others and place them within the wider structures they fit into, connecting isolated individual lives with collective realities and larger processes of social/economical/political change. Through this lens Criminology becomes the Sociology of Deviance, it gains insight into the structural forces and social conditions that drive an individual to offend and can engage into interdisciplinary theory making.

As the political discourse will often present public issues as private troubles rather than the outcome of structural forces or political arrangement, the criminological imagination becomes essential to maintain the integrity of our research and oppose the main narrative by taking into consideration the structural patterns and social conditions that produce social/criminal problems. Only through the systematic process of analysing data and the ethnographic and qualitative methods of the criminological imagination, can we achieve the practical aims of criminology as well as counteract the effect of dominant discourse and distance Criminology from the subjective political view of deviance. Criminological theory must be centred upon the attempt to define, understand, explain, and analyse crime and how to respond to it. Therefore it mustn’t be exclusively limited to scientific data based research but rather use all the tools at its disposition to apprehend the complexity of the human behaviour and decision-making processes. The understanding of the causes of crime, rather than the numerical accounts preferred by the positivists, allows for the improvement of rehabilitation facilities and theories, according to recent reports by the ministry of justice remain unsuccessful, the overall proven reoffending rate has fluctuated between 29% and 32% in the United Kingdom. (Ministry of Justice) 

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