Kill method - a provocation

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Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, Vol 1 (1) 2009
Kill Method: A Provocation
Jeff Ferrell, Texas Christian University
As criminologists we face two contemporary crises. The first is the unfolding
crisis of global capitalism and state governance, and with it the spiraling social harms of
dislocation, incarceration, impoverishment, and environmental degradation. Amidstthese
spiraling harms will surely emerge, sadly, a further host of phenomena demanding the
critical attention of criminologists: new forms of acquisitive violence, new crimes attuned
to economic and existential uncertainty, new moments of down-market corporate
malfeasance, new strains on social and environmental sustainability, and new patterns of
state surveillance and control. Perhaps thiscrisis holds the promise of progressive
change—but if Marx and Merton were even half right, it most certainly contains the sorts
of contradictions out of which new forms of crime and predation will emerge.
The second crisis is the crisis of criminology. Criminology is today crippled by its
own methodology, its potential for analysis and critique lost within a welter of survey
forms, data sets,and statistical manipulations. Worse, criminology has given itself over to
a fetishism of these methodologies. Methods such as these are not only widely and
uncritically utilized by contemporary criminologists—they are detailed and reified to the
point that, for many criminologists, they have now replaced crime and crime control as
the de facto subject matter of the discipline. The crisis ofcriminology doubles back on
itself; criminology first embraces methods wholly inadequate and inappropriate for the
study of human affairs, and then makes these methods its message.

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Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, Vol 1 (1) 2009
This second crisis precludes criminology’s progressive engagement with the first.
Over the past few decades surveys, statistics, andother ‘objective’ methodologies have
increasingly served to couple criminology to ‘criminal justice’ as both pseudo-discipline
and state practice. Made the adjunct of criminal justice, criminology not only colludes in
‘policing the crisis’ and propping up the very institutions that underlie the crisis itself;
criminology also finds itself pulled away from critical theory and into the realms ofpractical crime control, risk measurement, and data management. This trajectory in turn
renders most criminological research impenetrable—not to mention off-putting and
unusable—to everyday citizens, street-level progressive groups, young political activists,
and others who might enlist criminology’s aid in confronting the contemporary global
crisis. Married to the criminal justice complex,divorced from the nuanced politics of
everyday life, criminology narrows its view at the very moment that broader, critical
criminological engagement is most needed.

As Rome burned, Nero fiddled. As our world conflagrates, criminology calculates.

These intertwined crises—the crisis of global politics, crime, and economy, and
the crisis of criminology’s methodological inability to engagethis global situation
critically—might be addressed in any number of ways. Seminars in advanced statistics or
survey construction might be summarily emptied out, their participants sent out to
establish urban gardens or no-cost daycare programs. Criminology as a discipline might
be declared a failure and a fraud, with its graduate programs and publications reinvented
as art, or history, orperformance studies—or, if present orientations are maintained,

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Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, Vol 1 (1) 2009
actuarial science. Alternatively, criminology could be continued as a discipline, but under
this ongoing disciplinary cover its scholars could begin holding seminars in revolutionary
political practice, do-it-yourself media operations, and economic...
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