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Review: Emotions, Crime and Justice

Aug 24, 2012

Susanne Karstedt, Ian Loader and Heather Strang, eds. Emotions, Crime and Justice. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011. 380 p.

.....Emotions, Crime and Justice is a major step toward a more theoretically and practically nuanced conversation. 

As this book reveals in a series of original essays of great range, depth and sophistication, criminology has much to gain by investigating the emotions underlying crime and punishment. The collection spans a range of theoretical, ethnographic and experimental approaches, a range of criminal justice institutions and roles, and a range of cultures (indeed, for many U.S. readers, one of the pleasures of this volume will be the opportunity to become immersed in the criminology literature of the U.K., Australia and New Zealand; all but four of the twenty-two contributors are from non U.S. common law countries). 

Perhaps its greatest strength lies in the range of emotional experience it reveals and explores, including the emotions that accompany violence and that animate attitudes toward crime, the emotional experience of obeying or resisting the law, the implicit rules governing the display or feeling of emotions by employees of police departments or prisons, the emotional roots of collective violence and collective reconciliation, and the moral sentiments and public emotions animating democratic discourse on crime and punishment.

....The first of the book’s five parts, “Emotions in Transgression and Crime,” explores the emotional experience of crime for perpetrators, victims and the public.

....Part II, “Emotional Experiences of Justice,” is perhaps the strongest in the volume—though the bar is high. This part sheds new light on many of the central debates in criminology and criminal law. 

.... Part III, “Emotion Work in Criminal Justice Institutions,” follows the path of Arlie Hochschild’s The Managed Heart, which explored implicit workplace expectations on the feeling and display of emotion, in two contexts: Bas Van Stokkom’s piece on policing and Elaine Crawley’s on guarding prisoners (particularly elderly sex offenders, who elicit strong and difficult-to-manage emotions). 

....Part IV, “Violence, Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution: Dealing with Collective Emotions,” considers collective violence, conflict and peacemaking. Thomas Scheff, whose work helped define the field of the sociology of emotion and who has written prominently on collective shame, here explores the role of emotions in ethno -centrist collective violence. 

....Part V, “Democracy and Penal Sentiments,” contains a new and germane look at Hume’s theory of moral sentiments and its application to contemporary criminology (Richard Sparks), Pratt’s aforementioned discussion of the penal attitudes of New Zealand, and a highly satisfying concluding article by co-editor Ian Loader. 

.... Emotion theory is, at last, moving away from its tendency to study emotion as an individual, internal phenomenon, and toward a far more sophisticated set of research questions about the reciprocal relationship between emotions and social, institutional and governmental structure. There is much more to learn about how these dynamics unfold, not only in a variety of institutional contexts, but across social, cultural and national boundaries. These are questions that ought to keep scholars occupied for quite some time. For a rich and provocative introduction to the field, read this book.

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