The idea for the title of this presentation came from a discussion I had in early 2019 with a prominent Australian Aboriginal scholar regarding the Criminology of the Global South (from here-on-in Southern Criminology), during which he described engaging with material produced by Australian members of this ‘new’ criminological movement, as akin to drinking ‘old wine out of a dirty bottle’. The old wine refers to the rehashed Eurocentric theories and focus of the new criminology, while the dirty bottle referred to the fact that Southern Criminology arose from the same bastion of white privilege, the neo-liberal university, as had most of the schools of criminology that have existed previously.
According to advocates, Southern Criminology is the latest criminological project seeking to ‘decolonise’ the discipline, removing it from its ‘Northern’, Eurocentric foundations and theoretical bias.
The esteemed British scholar Matthews, described Southern Criminology as “probably the most significant theoretical development in the recent period”, and just recently Fonseca described the movement as “a gush of fresh air in the debate involving studies of crime, crime control and punishment” (quoted in Moosava, 2019).
I agree with the gush of air part of that last quote, but I not as yet convinced of its freshness, given the conduct of some of its Australian adherents towards Indigenous scholars and scholarship over the past decade, and the lack of meaningful engagement with our work and with Indigenous peoples in general.
Unlike Leon Moosavi’s paper published in the British Journal of Criminology in 2019, I will not be offering a ‘friendly critique’ of this supposedly ‘new’ criminological movement. If you’ve read Moosavi’s paper you will recall that he chose to offer a friendly critique Southern Criminology because he wanted to enhance the project due in part, to a belief that it has a solidarity with the principles of decolonising criminology rather than scepticism about its necessity or potential worth to the cause of social (and especially to Indigenous) justice. Well right now I am sceptical not so much of the intent of Southern Criminologists, because thus far they are saying pretty much all the right things - racism bad, inequality bad, free us from the shackles of ‘Northern’ theory, ‘decolonise the discipline’, and speak for the disaffected - etc, etc. However, demonstrating support for decolonisation required much more than a few statements included in an article here or there, or collected edition/handbook. We, and by that I mean Indigenous peoples, have heard it all before, so we tend to judge those who claim to be our ‘allies’ on their actual conduct, or, as this is an academic exercise, on the content of their research (and their conduct during and after it), what they say about us, who they have invited to speak about us, and if they are engaging respectfully and meaningfully with us.
The theorist who appears to have greatly influenced the idea for a Southern Criminology is Raewyn Connell, author of that well-known work Southern Theory (2007). In that work Connell advanced the argument for the ‘South’ to create its own body of theory and knowledge. Her reasoning for offering this proposition: because of the orientalist attitude that pervades the social sciences that views academic scholarship and knowledge emanating from the South as of poor quality and not worth consideration.
As an Indigenous person, and researcher, I do not entirely disagree with Connell’s assessment of the social sciences. In my experience this attitude is pervasive within the discipline of criminology; for example when a scholar like Don Weatherburn write as recently as 2014, that there is nothing for us to learn from Indigenous knowledge about the causes of crime, because all we need to know we can get from western science (a not uncommon sentiment amongst Australian criminologists in my experience), then Connell is clearly onto something. But she, just like many of the scholars involved in Southern Criminology in my part of the world, are talking about a situation and an issue that we Indigenous people have long known about, have been researching, and actively seeking to address. One must wonder to what extent Southern Criminology is yet another example of a bunch of (predominantly white) criminologists turning up extremely late to our party…. largely uninvited.
The idea that Australian criminology is part of the periphery – a central platform of the rationale for Southern Criminology - greatly amuses me. Why? Because of the long and ongoing history of bigotry within Australian Criminology and the paternalistic and colonialist attitudes towards Indigenous people and our knowledge. I’ll return to this idea of Australian criminology as some backward, ignored, lonely bunch, looking with longing to the Great North just to be recognised, like some teenager at the school dance hoping someone, anyone, will ask him or her to dance, a little later.
So, let us briefly discuss this project, this Southern Criminology and in so doing I am going to skim briefly and broadly over the main arguments (for its existence), etc, for a detailed understanding read the extant literature:
It starts with the observation that criminological theories and concepts have largely been produced in ‘the West’, meaning Europe, the North America. It is also assumed that the ‘knowledge of the North’ can be readily transported to the periphery, and that this knowledge will be relevant anywhere (Moosavi, 2019), whether psycho-therapeutic programs or policing tactics, or entire prison regimes, as in the case of New Zealand’s importation the Integrated Offender Management system from Canada in the early 2000’s.
Let me just pause here for a moment because I need to say something about this portrayal of the ‘North’. As an Indigenous scholar I need to say that when we hear or read the term criminology of North American and Western Europe, the moment it hits our brain it is translated into White Criminology: criminology by and for white people who then do us poor natives a huge favour by offering us their gift of criminological knowledge to fix crime problems generated mostly from the colonising behaviour of their ancestors, or indeed themselves, if my experience of Australian criminologists is anything to go by.
Moosava (2019) also reports that Southern criminologists are motivated by the need to challenge the largely one directional nature of knowledge flow (North to South) in order to attain a more rounded criminological knowledge of crime and social harm. In this regard, much of what I have read thus far from the Australasian practitioners of Southern Criminology leads me to believe that what they are doing or intend to do is privilege the knowledge and experiences of marginalised communities.
Any attempt by members of Southern Criminology to prioritise the experiences of the marginalised, if this principle were to result in concrete action on their part, would indeed be welcomed by Indigenous communities. But of course, some of us are already doing just that. And so to presage one of my critiques of Southern Criminology - at least the Australian variant - nothing I’ve read so far about their motivations or the core focus of their work is in fact new, as I stated previously, Indigenous scholars have been doing it, and not just saying it, for decades.
I agree with Moosava’s point that so far Southern criminologists have not offered enough reflection on whether the decolonisation of criminology is even possible given the discipline’s Western origins, and its long and continuing parasitic relationship with the state. The difficulty of that disentanglement from the colonialist and paternalistic mindset of criminology I will highlight with a couple of examples below.
Secondly, I also agree with Moosava’s contention that the Australian branch of Southern Criminology is highly Eurocentic in terms of theory and personnel. He rightly points out that in the Palgrave Handbook of Criminology and the Global South released in 2018, almost half of the 79 contributors are based in Australian institutions, and the vast majority were white. This is reflective of the way in which Southern Criminology is dominated by Australian criminologists to such an extent that Moosava writes that it may be more accurate to describe it as ‘Australian Criminology’.
At this point Southern Criminology is not representative of the disaffected communities who truly represent the South, such as the Indigenous peoples residing in settler-colonial jurisdictions. For this reason, its claims to be a decolonising project are groundless, unless of course they mean they are decolonising themselves, in which case we wish them all the best.
This brings us to the inevitable question: how far ‘South’ do you need to be, to be able to truly, accurately call yourself a ‘Southern Criminology’; how disaffected, ignored or marginalised? Well, I put it to you that I needs to be a lot further south than the comfortable, privileged position of academics in the wealthy academic institutions of Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.
Right now, I am extremely pessimistic about Southern Criminology, especially the leadership of its Australian branch, can engage with our experiences in a meaningful way. For example, comments by one of the founders of Southern Criminology during a keynote speech at a recent, major criminology conference, draw attention to the continued prevalence of ‘old school’ attitudes towards Indigenous scholarship within the ‘movement’. During question time they were asked what made this ‘new criminology’ different from others that seek to decolonise the discipline, such as post-colonial criminology, peacemaker criminology, counter-colonial and Indigenous criminology’s, to which they answered: ‘these criminology’s romanticise the other’, meaning they mythologise our old ways of doing justice and misrepresent the causes of Indigenous offending. As I have said in an earlier blog, this portrayal of ‘our criminology’ does not reflect the research and publications we have produced about Indigenous peoples and crime. How is this attitude any different from Don Weatherburn’s ignorant dismissal of Indigenous knowledge? I put it to you all that it is not.
I want to finish on one last point: in a 2016 article, Carrington et al, all leaders in the development of Southern Criminology, stated that “[t]o be clear… our purpose is not to add to the growing catalogue of new criminology’s... [Southern Criminology] seeks to modify the criminological field to make it more inclusive of histories and patterns of crime, justice and security outside the global North... [It] seeks to work with and complement—to Southernize—other established and emerging fields in criminology: feminist, green, postcolonial, queer, rural, cultural and Asian. (2016: 11; emphasis mine). The wording is unfortunately, because it leads one to ask, are they seeking to Southernise, or Colonise these other criminology’s? It also gives the impression that something vital is missing from them, without clarifying exactly what ‘it’ is, and what they offer that is better. And so, when Southern Criminologists call for ‘the periphery to invade the centre’ (Brown 2018: 96), some may recoil at what they might feel is imperialist language. Again, I ask are they trying to decolonise or colonise?
Ok, so, how do we explain the strange conduct of some of the Australian contingent? I think that Leon Moosavi, in his article from 2019, hits the nail on the head when he wrote that one of the most urgent matters for Southern Criminology to address is whether Australia should be considered as part of the Global South. Mark Brown (2018: 93) has also identified this as a concern, stating that ‘Southern criminology faces its own existential question: what makes you Southern?’ This question divides opinion amongst proponents of Southern criminology. Some believe that Australia is one of the ‘selected enclaves of the symbolic north located south of the equator’ (Donnermeyer 2017: 128), whereas others emulate Raewyn Connell’s view that Australia is marginalized in similar ways to other Global South countries (Connell 2007: 212).
Australian scholarship may often be ignored by those in the United States and the United Kingdom, and Australia’s geographic location may make it harder for Australian scholars to participate in international academic events, but Australia is still a country that is developed, wealthy, stable, autonomous and privileged, meaning that suggesting that Australia is part of the Global South is problematic. At best, Australia may be part of the ‘semiperiphery’ (Medina 2011), but it still does not share the same hardship as the Asian, African and Latin American countries that are typically considered as part of the Global South, which is noteworthy because it has been suggested that a key component of ‘epistemologies of the South’ is that they comprise ‘knowledge born in struggle’ (Santos 2014: x).
The idea that Australian criminology is isolated from its Northern counterparts is nonsense. Overall, their knowledge is not borne of struggle as Santos contends is a key marker of Southern Criminology, unless you define ‘struggle’ as receiving a lukewarm coffee from a café on the way to work. If you want to see knowledge borne of struggle then go talk to Indigenous and African American scholars and we’ll tell you about our experiences of dealing with racists in the academy, of having our knowledge denigrated, our cultural practices and languages incorporated into departmental and institutional strategic plans (without meaningful funding attached); our people used as fodder as members of the academy work to credentilise themselves to move up in seniority.
The truth is we are already ‘Southern’ and we don’t need a bunch of white criminologists to show us what is required to decolonise the discipline; we’ve been doing it for a lot longer than this latest criminological fad was conceived. Therefore, I do not advocate for the decolonisation of criminology; instead I call for the formulation of our own social justice-oriented discipline. Why? Because I believe our energy is best directed at the needs of our own communities, rather than wasting it on showing white academics how to behave more ethically. In the end, it is not our job as Indigenous scholars to fix the problems of whitecentric criminology – let’s leave them to ‘southernise’ themselves.
Brown, M (2018) Southern Criminology in the Post-colony: More than a ‘Derivative Discourse?, in K. Carrington, R. Hogg, J. Scott and M. Sozzo (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Criminology and the Global South. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan: 83-104.
Carrington, K; Sozzo, M and Hogg, R (2016) Southern Criminology, British Journal of Criminology, 56: 1–20.
Connell, R (2007) Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Donnermeyer, J (2017) The Place of Rural in a Southern Criminology, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 6: 118–32.
Medina, J (2011) Doing Criminology in the ‘Semi-Periphery’ and the ‘Periphery’, in C. Smith, S. Zhang and R. Barberet (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of International Criminology. New York: Routledge: 13-23.
Moosavi, L (2019) A Friendly Critique of ‘Asian Criminology’ and ‘Southern Criminology’, British Journal of Criminology, 59: 257-275.
Santos, B (2014) Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.
Weatherburn, D (2014) Arresting Incarceration: Pathways Out of Indigenous Imprisonment. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.