Professor David Brotherton, Chair of the Department of Sociology, and Distinguished Professor of Sociology Jock Young at John Jay College were recently awarded a dream book deal in the world of academic publishing: a public criminology book series with Columbia University Press. Brotherton says this is the first time an Ivy League publishing house commissioned a series in the field of criminology, representing elite academia’s changing perception of the field’s relevancy.
Brotherton and Young will co-edit two to four books every year that will present timely, crime-related topics in prose that is accessible to lay people with the objective to raise awareness and bring important contemporary topics and scholarly research to a broader audience.
“We wanted to do a book series that blew the lid off some subjects, give a voice to the voiceless and take on subjects that are normally hidden. We wanted to approach it from a global and critical perspective, looking at subject matter in the developing world, and offer fresh perspectives using multimedia,” said Brotherton.
The editors hope the books will offer a contrast to mainstream, positivistic approaches to societal problems that often adopt the same approach as the natural sciences to social phenomena. Brotherton explains that criminology in the U.S. and in much of the world prescribes “pseudo-scientific” methods for explanations of crime and criminal behavior. He believes this approach distorts crime analysis and actually obscures and simplifies our comprehension of crime and criminal behavior rather than bringing us closer to a real and more complex understanding.
Jock Young in his recent book The Criminological Imagination refers to mainstream criminology as voodoo criminology: “It has been unable to explain why the crime rate has been going down in so many developed countries and it was unable to explain why it went up through the sixties. Instead, it immerses itself in a babble of statistics often derived from the same formulae which failed so lamentably in economics during the recent financial crisis. Yet it continues to demand considerable funding which produces work of pathetically low explanatory power and policy initiatives which are next to worthless.”
“We see statistics, tables, graphs about drug users, murders, however, the human beings involved are almost invisible. Crime is essentially a very human event - it is not just about manipulating data and getting the right equation to fit. And because crime is a human endeavor, you need context,” said Brotherton.
“We wanted something that was not pseudo-scientific but was more public and could talk about crime problems more inclusively, talk about them in a way that you would not have to be a criminologist to understand it. We’re more about getting people to engage in a social problem. When we approach crime, we see crime embedded in asymmetrical power relations--we see crime in that context, of power and powerlessness.”
Brotherton is a former high school teacher whose early research in California was on gang behavior among school-age youth and high school drop-out rates, although he wrote his dissertation on why students stayed in school, called “The Future is Up for Grabs.”
Brotherton is Professor and Chair of Sociology and a member of the Ph.D. programs in Criminal Justice, Sociology and Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center. Among his many books are The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation: Street Politics and the Transformation of a New York City Gang; Banished to the Homeland: Dominican Deportees and Their Stories of Exile; and the edited volume Keeping Out The Other: A Critical Introduction to Immigration Control. In 2011 he was named Critical Criminologist of the Year by the American Society of Criminology.
Young is the Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is co-author of the pioneering book The New Criminology, as well as The Drugtakers, The Exclusive Society, Vertigo in Late Modernity, and The Criminological Imagination. In 1998, he received the Sellin-Glueck Award for Outstanding Contribution by a non-American from the American Society of Criminology. In 2003, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society’s Division of Critical Criminology. In 2012 he received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the British Society of Criminology.