Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Future of Indigenous Criminology?

What is in a name? Given criminology's role in the historical and contemporary subjugation of Indigenous peoples, the answer is 'everything'.

Recently, my colleague Chris Cunneen and I wrote a book called Indigenous Criminology, in which we discuss some useful principles upon which to build an Indigenous variant of the discipline. A full discussion of what an Indigenous criminology might look like is best discussed elsewhere. However, I can say with some certainty that it will not, or should not be primarily concerned with being 'of utility' to the policy industry. The fact that so much of what passes for Australasian Criminology is tethered firmly to the government teat (whether through contractual research contract arrangements, or that adherents often fail to ask critical questions of the institutions of crime control) belies the oft-made claim by practitioners that they are 'objective' in either the political or epistemological sense of the term.

They are not as they claim: the discipline and many of its adherents are 'political' by the fact that they prey on the bodies (theoretically, epistemologically and physically) of Indigenous peoples. They gorge on the wairua, the very essence of Indigenous peoples and their cultural context supposedly in the name of 'science', but more accurately for self-aggrandisement, and financial procurement for themselves and the academic institutions to which they belong.

In comparison, an Indigenous Criminology, or a Counter-Colonial Criminology, or an Anti-Authoritarian Criminology, whatever name you wish to give it, will be political in the sense that it will/should be part of the process through which Indigenous peoples seek self-determination. It will be an academic exercise undertaken with Indigenes, on their terms. It will privilege their voices and experiences. An Indigenous Criminology will be unaffected by the attitudes of the likes of Don Weatherburn and others and their fantastical belief that Australasian crime control and criminology has been too heavily focused on institutions and 'structure' re: Indigenous crime, and not enough on the 'individual indices' and causes of criminality. The 'individual' has a place in the Indigenous theoretical and research framework also, as do other 'units of measure' that facilitate understanding of social harm, such as family, community, gender and class.  But is it essential that a significant part of our activity focus on the institutions of oppression (Jackson, 1988), as Biko Agozino (2010: viii), in relation to the African context, writes:

"Since most of the crimes committed against Africa by imperialism are not crimes by isolated individuals but were structural wrongs orchestrated institutionally, the focus of African criminology is or should be on what is to be done about the unjust social institutions that have been used to facilitate genocidal policies for centuries".

Following Agozino's sage advice (2007: 3), an Indigenous Criminology should turn away from the historical, uncritical replication of western criminological practice. It should reject theories, research methods, crime control policies and interventions "that maximise the exploitation and repression of the masses". The emphasis of our criminological endeavour shall be (or should be) an aggressive form of academic activism, flavoured with an unflinching focus on state crimes in the historical and contemporary context of colonialism/neo-colonialism, seeking reparation for genocide (whether physical or cultural), revealing the rapacious behaviour of academics and globalised crime control corporations who seek to profit from Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous pain, "instead of following the Imperialist obsession with crimes of the poor" (Ibid).

We desperately need an Indigenous school of critical social inquiry that offsets the disempowering tendencies of the emerging globalising of contemporary crime control policy; a second phase of jurisdictional colonisation if you will (Tauri, 2014). Again, we turn to Agozino (2007: 3) who rationalises our need for self-determination in the criminological realm when he argues that:

"Criminologists in the Third World would make a greater impact by being sceptical of Western theories of punishment instead of agreeing with the Western scholars who, according to Cohen (1988) arrogantly boast that there is nothing to learn from the Third World and that all that needs be done is to apply the woefully failed theories of imperialist criminology to the rest of the world".

All is not lost though. There are those within Australasian criminology who we can work with and trust to behave ethically towards our communities - Chris Cunneen and Harry Blagg being two obvious examples. However, we should not forget that many of its practitioners have supported government policies and legislation that has delivered upon us more prison, more police violence and brutality, and more trauma.

In response I expect some of the practitioners will talk about how we would be better off being part of a public criminology, as opposed to becoming a boutique, sub-school of the discipline, or a fringe-dwelling, stone-throwing variant. I am certain that some of them will like nothing better than for us to add an Indigenous element to the discipline and work to 'correct it from within'. Unfortunately, given the pervasiveness of the paternalistic, colonising attitudes of the wider discipline, I fear that this approach is likely to become nothing more than the criminological equivalent of the state's indigenisation of youth justice, exemplified through the family group conference where we add a little 'colour' to the same tired old theories and methodologies, as opposed to the discipline taking a long, hard look at itself. Being part of an indigenisation program will allow many of the members of Australasian criminology to point to the Indigenous element, the 'add on' as 'proof' of their commitment to social justice, instead of focusing their attention on the significant overhaul that is required to cleanse it of the bias, racism and obstructive prejudice that currently pervades it.

Sadly, given the repetitiveness of the unethical, racist behaviour exhibited by some members of Australasian criminology that I and other Indigenous scholars have experienced over recent years, it is apparent to us that the discipline is not our friend. Nor is it likely to ever be. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it might be better for us to walk away and leave the discipline's members to continue to stink up their own tent.

Agozino, A (2007) Power: An African Fractal Theory of Chaos, Crime, Violence and Healing, paper presented at the Salises 8th Annual Conference, University of West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, 26 March.
Agozino, B (2010) What is Criminology?  A Control Freak Discipline! African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies, 4(1): I-xx.
Cunneen, C and Tauri, J (forthcoming) Indigenous Justice.  Bristol: Policy Press.
Jackson, M (1988) Maori and the Criminal Justice System: He Whaipaanga Hou: A New Perspective.  Wellington: Department of Justice.
Tauri, J (2014) Settler Colonialism, Criminal Justice and Indigenous Peoples, African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies, 8(1): 20-37.

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