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A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order
Crime and Social Justice No. 11 (1979)

On the American Society of Criminology


As many of you know, over the last few years there have been a number of serious criticisms of the American Society of Criminology -- its conservative policies, its failure to respond to the current crisis in the field, its inbred and self-perpetuating executive board, its unwillingness to recruit minorities and women, and its expensive and unrepresentative annual conferences.

The problems of the ASC aretypified by Criminology's "special issue devoted to radical criminology" (February 1979), which we think should be more correctly titled "a special issue devoted to attacking radical criminology and celebrating reactionary criminology." This issue has set off considerable debate among criminologists and generated a variety of criticisms of the ASC.

In this Editorial, we are printing some responses to the policies of the ASC. We encourage our readers to study carefully the "special issue" and to evaluate carefully the current leadership of the ASC. We invite you to submit your ideas and comments to us for possible publication in Crime and Social Justice No. 12. You may also wish to write to the Editor of Criminology and the President of the ASC:

James A. Inciardi, Editor, Criminology
Dept. of Sociology
University of Delaware
Newark, Delaware

Ronald Akers, President
American Society of Criminology
1314 Kinnear Road, Suite 212
Columbus, Ohio 43212

-- The Editors

* * *

May 14,1979

Sociology Department
University of Delaware
Newark, Delaware

Dear Jim,

We are writing in response to the latest edition of Criminology. Because it is an official journal of the American Society of Criminology, Criminology has a special responsibility to provide for the expression of alternative schools of thought. But, the edition of Criminology that is subtitled "Devoted to Radical Criminology" violates professional standards of fairness. That subtitle is grossly misleading. The edition is devoted primarily to infaming radical criminology. It hardly even makes any pretense at representing the works of radical criminologists.

The short article by Richard Quinney, for instance, contains important Marxist ideas, but it is the only article by a radical in the entire edition. The review of six books by Ray Michalowski is commendable, but where are the other radical reviews? The books could have been divided among at least three or more radical scholars.

One of the remaining articles has nothing to do with radical criminology. The rest are written by persons who are adamantly opposed to radical ideas. Even Ronald Akers, who was selected to evaluate the articles, is strongly opposed. He admits that he has no background in Marxist theory and hence feels unable to evaluate Carl Klockars' demagogic description of Marxist ideas. Where is the Marxist criminologist who could have made that evaluation? Akers and Klockars were invited to participate in the edition. Why weren't their radical counterparts invited? Equally important, why was Klockars invited to publish an article that doesn't meet the minimum standards of competence for describing elementary Marxist concepts. His interpretation of the Marxist concept of social class and its use in criminological theory is preposterous. His claim that Marxist theory is irreconcilable with all heretofore acceptable standards of academic scholarship is, to quote the Bard, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Why wasn't space provided for criminologists who are producing important works in radical criminology? Or space for people who are being systematically defamed because of their radical points of view? Why was that space taken up by Austin Turk's and Jackson Toby's articles, among others? Turk's essay rests completely on the contention that radical criminology cannot be social science because (unlike his own work) it is dedicated to socialist goals and hence it is not "value free" and "nonpartisan." Such criticism is hardly taken seriously today by sophisticated philosophers of science. It is generally recognized that scientific knowledge is being produced by people who are socially committed as well as by those who naively consider themselves above the ideological conflicts of our time. The cutting issues regarding concept formation in the social sciences focus on such things as linguistic processes, logics of proof, methods of discovery, and the socio-historical determinants of social thought. A criminologist who believes that the truth validity of scientific theories depends essentially on the professed intentions of scientists, and hence theirdisinterested pursuit of knowledge, belongs in an epistemological stone age.

Jackson Toby's article is equally erroneous because it accuses all radicals of being "sentimentalists" and not objective. That accusation does not really describe the major current trends in radical criminology. Romanticism did affect certain criminologists especially around the turn of the 1970s. But present trends are overwhelmingly non-utopian. You state in the editorial that "radical thought indeed holds promise for liberating criminology" from superficial reformism. Where are the recent writings that radicals consider important because they argue, without romanticism, for radical change?

We have seen the table of contents for the enlarged Sage edition on radical criminology. That edition also appears to be mainly a forum for scholars who are not radicals. For instance, the first section contains an article by Sir Leon Radzinowicz, who writes about radical criminology in Great Britain. He is anything but a radical. Where is an article by Ian Taylor, Paul Walton, Jock Young, Victoria Greenwood, Frank Pearce, Geoff Mungham, Geoff Pearson, or any of the others who represent different radical developments in Great Britain? Are they not represented because that edition too is devoted primarily to infaming radical criminology?

What do we mean when we say "infaming"? We mean the defamation of the moral and professional status of individuals through the use of unfounded accusations, pseudo-scientific ideas, and demagogic slander. Such defamation, in Criminology, demagogically equates the radical belief in socialism with support for crimes against humanity. It defines radical criminology as being devoted to anything but the pursuit of scientific goals. No wonder radicals are hardly represented. The imposition of this kind of demonology requires that freedom of expression be replaced by repressive control over the information that shapes professional opinions.

This defamation of radicals suggests the practice of mass infamy by officials and legislators during the McCarthy period. Mitchell Franklin, the Marxist legal theorist, describes the relation between this practice and the principle of infamia in Roman law ("Infamia and Constitutional Civil Liberties," Lawyers Guild Review 14, 1954). Infamia expressed moral censure pronounced by a state official on individuals, and it impaired the "legal personality" as well as the reputation of individuals. It disqualified legal rights and it could be expressed by the "death" of the legal person through banishment. Infamia, for instance, was employed in the 17th-century witch-hunts as well as the 20th century. For example, in 1662, Unice Coe was found to be "not legally guilty" of witchcraft. Nevertheless she was infamed and legally banished by the Massachusetts court because of suspicion that she had familiarity with the devil. Furthermore, Thomas Jefferson, and other framers of the Constitution, according to Franklin, regarded the First and Fifth Amendments as measures for containing the practice ofinfamy. They believed that the control of information by people who held political power would lead to the miseducation of public opinion through terror and other forms of intimidation and fear such as infamy. Education based on truth in their view required safeguards against infamy.

We recognize that the American Society of Criminology is not the American nation and its policies do not determine the "legal personality" of its members. Yet, there are such things as "professional personality" and customary rights for its members. Since the first half of the 1970s, radicals have been intimidated, forced out of employment, and faced with blacklists or drastically restricted job opportunities. These developments have been supported by ideological trends that justify the denial of professional legitimacy for radical criminologists. In such a climate the spontaneous disregard of the radicals' right to express and defend their own standpoints finds easy reward and agreement. But this climate does not diminish by one iota an editor's obligation to invite radical participation when radical criminology is the thematic basis for a special edition of the Society's official journal.

Safeguards against infamy must be maintained especially when radical writings are at issue. This climate of repression does not diminish the obligation to provide for a fair and competent referee system to evaluate contributions to the journal. The practice of infamy, after all, provides the most significant legitimizations for extra-legal repression in institutions of higher learning.

But the harm has been done and the safeguards were not in place. After consulting with other radical scholars, it is proposed that redress can be made by planning a new edition of Criminology really devoted to radical criminology. If the journal is to reflect current trends and original writings by radicals, then leading representatives of our school of thought should be selected as the editorial group for the edition. That group can then establish a rigorous and fair referee system to ensure that the members of the society are provided with high-quality articles. Summaries of radical thought in Great Britain, Australia, Italy, France, South America, etc., should be included. The readers should be given a rounded exposure to this development, rather than the skewed view presented in the February edition of Criminology.

Herman Schwendinger, Associate Professor
Julia Schwendinger, Adjunct Assistant Professor
Dept. of Sociology
State University of New York, New Paltz, NY 12562

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June 2, 1979

President Ronald Akers
American Society of Criminology
1314 Kinnear Road, Room 212
Columbus, Ohio 43212

Dear Ron:

This is to inform you that we hereby formally resign our membership in the American Society of Criminology. We do so in protest against Criminology's "special issue devoted to radical criminology" (February 1979) and the failure of the ASC to provide progressive leadership in the current atmosphere of conservative correctional and criminal justice policies.

The so-called "special issue" on "radical criminology" is nothing more than a thinly disguised excuse to attack radical and Marxist criminologists. Only one of the six articles is in any way representative of "radical criminology " (Quinney's "The Production of Criminology"). Moreover, this article is almost two years old and has been previously published in Contemporary Crises, where it was severely and, we think, appropriately criticized. We do not think that a previously published and disputed article is in any way representative of the best work in radical criminology. We find it very hard to believe that the editor of Criminology, James Inciardi, was unaware of this when he selected Quinney's article.

The rest of the "special issue," especially Klockars' essay, is filled with unscholarly, unprofessional and ad hominem attacks on radical criminology.

In general, the ASC has failed to respond to the very deep crisis in the field. With a growing prison population, the return of capital punishment, demoralizing street crime in working-class communities, and rampant business and government crimes, we expect the ASC to encourage debate on the burning issues of our times and to provide responsible, professional opposition to current right-wing policies. Instead, the ASC has either tried to avoid controversy or given a platform to realists and conservative ideologues.

We do not wish in any way to support the current policies of the ASC and, having given the matter serious thought and discussed it with our colleagues, we hereby resign our membership.

Tony Platt
Paul Takagi

Citation: Editors. (1979). "Editorial: On the American Society of Criminology." Crime and Social Justice 11 (1979): 1-3. Copyright © 1979 by Social Justice, ISSN 1043-1578. Social Justice, P.O. Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140.