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Criminal Justice Theory Construction

Criminal Justice Theory Construction

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Published by: Jahir Islam on Oct 08, 2010
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What is good criminal justice theory?
 John P. Crank
, Blythe A. Bowman
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Nebraska, Omaha, NE 68182, United States
a b s t r a c ta r t i c l e i n f o
This article assesses current work in criminal justice theory and identi
es two criteria for theory
that whichappeals to empirical validation, and that which appeals to historical tradition. Appeals to empirical validationare consistent with a scienti
c model, while appeals to historical tradition are consistent with an interpretivemodel of social science. Both models are described and the way in which each contributes to theory incriminal justice is discussed.© 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Nabokov once said of 
Invitation to a Beheading 
I know a fewreaders who will jump up, ruf 
ing their hair,
to whichNa
Well, absolutely.
Anyone reading
wouldlikelyagree. It challenges, feigns, shifts in one directionwhile blurringinto another, its characters come in and out of existence, and theending is...well
explaining the ending is like describing a dream tosomeone who has never had one. It is a tactile, plastic work, a workthatshouldmakeanyoneinthejustice
eldsuncomfortableaboutheror his work.
good theory? It is certainly good
ction. There is norule that says that theory cannot be
ction; indeed, in a sense alltheory is
ction in its original meaning, in that it places into relief patterns of human behavior as those patterns are imagined by thetheorist. AsGadamer (1976)noted, theory in the social sphere isalways an alienation
an interpretation abstracted from the processesit seeks to represent. There are not concrete things out there thatrepresent the stuff of criminal justice research
stuff like justice, dueprocess, or police culture
that exist independently of the conceivingmind.Theline between theoryand
ction,however rigorouslydrawn,will always be highly interpretive.How, then, does one know if a writing is also a good theory? Arethere a set of rules that one can look to that will tell what a goodtheoryis? Certainly, rulesaboundfor theoreticalconstruction. Yet,theimposition of rules on theory carries a dispensation
that whatever isoutside the rules is not-theory and should not be considered alegitimate source of ideas on how to theorize a topic. For justiceresearch, especially at this early stage of theoretical development, isthere
to discard as the
eld moves forward? To say whatcannot be theory is close to saying what body of ideas cannot beconsidered as justice.The issue of theorygoes tothe heart of the
eld of criminal justice.Should the
eld be thought of as the study of the U.S. criminal justiceapparatus,withtheoryrigorouslylocatedwithinthatfocusedinquiry?Should the
eld have a more open-ended inquiry, looking at thedifferent kinds of meanings that justice can have? Further, theory hasimplications for methods
should one stay within the scienti
cboundaries, intent on the criterion of statistical regularity in thevalidation of theory development? Should one look at theory morelocallyandmoreinterpretively,tyingitmorecloselytotheworldofitsactors,orasGeertz (1994)put it, a more thickly descriptiveapproach?An attempt to codify theory is not an innocuous project. Whenthinking about rules for the selection or construction of theory, onemust be beware of the implications of canon
the notion that a selectbody of works embody the important meanings of the
eld. Canon isalwaysadouble-edgedsword:ontheonehand,itprovidesitsscholarsandstudentswithasenseof theidentityandgreatworksofa
eld.Onthe other, it tends to
x a
eld, locating it in space and time andproviding a boundary on its identity that might inhibit
exibilityand adaptation. De
nitions of theory carry the same potentiallimitations
by adopting a set of formal procedures for de
ningwhat constitutes theory, one creates an area of non-theory that mightbe fertile for understanding or expanding justice practices.This article is about theory in the
eld of criminal justice. Thatcriminal justice is an academic
eldis itself an open question. Thedistinction between the discipline of criminal justice and criminologyis not established in any sort of academic sense. The core identity of the
eld of criminal justice
whether it be policy oriented, inter-disciplinary, a criminology, or a
eld organized under the umbrella of  justicebroadlyconceived
isupintheair(seeCrank,2003).Yet,inthecurrent era, a number of writers are developing theory speci
callylocated under a criminal justice rubric. Whether criminal justice has
come of age,
asClear (2001)has asked and ignited controversy withthe question, the development of a body of theory appropriate for a
eld of criminal justice is proceeding apace.Thisarticlelooksattheoryasitpertainstocriminaljusticebroadly,by contrasting scienti
c social science theory to interpretive (also
 Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 402 213 9194.
E-mail address:
jcrank@mail.unomaha.edu(J.P. Crank).0047-2352/$
see front matter © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2008.09.005
Contents lists available atScienceDirect
 Journal of Criminal Justice
called hermeneutic) theory. Interpretive approaches are consideredbecause they have historically provided the most wide-reachingchallenges to scienti
c notions of social science theory (Gadamer,1981; Geertz, 1994; Giddens, 1976). By
the two approachesto theory building against each other, one acquires a sense of thestrengths and weaknesses of each. The outcome of this
is not adiscredit of either approach, but is intended to foster a keenerunderstandingofthenatureof thekindsofknowledgethatthe
eldof criminal justice develops as it forms theoretical identity.Thisarticlewill
issuesinthesocialscienceofcriminaljusticeasfollows. First, it will look at four works speci
cally written for criminal justice theory in the recent past. Second, it will consider the scienti
cmodel of social science, which appears to be the dominant model incriminal justice today, and at a hermeneutic model of social science,selected for this article anddiscussed in detail because this model posesbasic questions to the scienti
c model traditionally understood. Third,this article looks at convergences between the two perspectives. Thissection is presented to move the discussion beyond an
conclusion regarding scienti
c and interpretive bases to knowledge,describingsimilaritiesconsistentwiththewayothersocialscienceshaveadapted their
elds to both philosophies of social science. Theconclusionsarepresentedasa
inordertoprovidea broad statement of the contribution of both perspectives to theory.
Contemporary works on criminal justice theory 
eldofcriminaljusticethroughitsnormative,nascent and inchoate youth, and
one hopes
toward some notion of academic maturity. Itmight bebest tothinkof the formaldevelopmentof theoryincriminaljusticeasastageinwhichitdevelopsthescholarlycapacity to re
ect on itself. This stage is embodied in a corpus of ideasthat, hopefully, helps criminal justice become something more than aspecialized sociology, a branch of political science, a psychology of thedark side, or at worst, a multidisciplinary
eld absent core identity andconstrained to the fringes of academic recognition.Four works have been written that speci
cally aim at the develop-ment of criminal justice theory. Two might be called scienti
in thesensethattheytendtoviewtheoreticaldevelopmentintermsofrigorinempirical hypothesis testing. Two can be described as interpretive,which means that they seem to be based on their author's personalestimationsofthegeneraltheoreticaltraditionsofthe
eld,withafocuson big ideas with rich historical traditions.
The scienti
c models arethose of Bernard and Engel (2001)andDuffee and Maguire (2007). The interpretive models are thoseof Crank (2003)andKraska(2004, 2006). The
rst perspective on theory-building considered here isBernardand Engel's(2001)meta-theoretical model for theoryconstruction.The
eldwilldepend on its ability to develop theoretically. What theoretical regime,they ask, would provide a way for the
eld to advance? Bernard andEngel presented a model for theoretical growth grounded in scienti
cnotions of criminal justice and organized in terms of empirical validitytesting. Existingcriminaljusticetheories should begrouped
rstby thedependent variables. They argued that dependent variables were of three types: behaviors of criminal justice agents, behaviors of criminal justice organizations, and characteristics of the justice system and itscomponents.Theeffectsofindependentvariables,drawnfromdifferenttheoretical perspectives, should then be empirically compared for theirrelative explanatory power. Theories that provide little explanatoryvaluecouldthenbediscarded.Theoreticaluni
cation,itishoped,couldbe achieved through this kind of empirical testing.A second scienti
c perspective on criminal justice theory-buildingis found in the work of Duffee and Maguire (2007). Their edited workconsidered here is organized normatively;
rst, as an overview of criminaljusticetheory,thenofthoseorganizationsresponsibleforU.S.criminal justice process
policing, the courts, and corrections. Scho-lars in each area wrote chapters assessing the general state of theoryin each organizational area.UnlikeBernard andEngel (2001), whoprovideda meta-theoreticalconception of theory building, the chapters inDuffee and Maguire's(2007)work generally provide an empirically grounded notion of theory development.
This means that theory emerged from con-tinuities identi
ed in the systematic assessment of 
ndings fromempirical research conducted in each area.
Two factors,Duffee and Maguire (2007)observed, affect how oneshould think about criminal justice theory: (1) the boundaries of the
eld of criminal justice, and (2) what kind of social sciencemethodology should be used for theory-testing. The boundaries
that region that marks criminal justice identity, are described asfollows:Criminal justice theory seeks to explain and examine thevariations in, and the causes of, aspects of governmental socialcontrol systems, which select the criminal sanction over otherforms of social control and shape the nature of the criminalsanction to be employed. (p. I-24)
Importantly, theauthorsdidnotlimit thede
nitionof theorytoU.S.criminal justice systems, practices, or attitudes. This allows for a quitebroad notion of justice practices to enter into the ambit of appropriatetheoretical inquiry. Additionally, the de
nition states a focus ongovernmental-level criminal justice systems, so it does not appear toallow for theory that focuses on non-state actors such as AmnestyInternational.With regard to methodology,Duffee and Maguire (2007)aresolidly in the ranks of the scienti
c model of social science methods.This is suggested bychapter two, inwhichSnipes and Maguire (2007)offer a
ve-pronged test to identify criminal justice theory, adaptedfromDubin (1978). It is presented inFig.1. The
ve-pronged test inFig. 1accomplished several purposes. Itbounded the arena of interest to of 
cial responses to potentiallycriminal behavior. That potentiality must be reasonable. The entitycarryingout the of 
cial responsemust bea partof the criminaljusticesystem. Additionally, the theory must
t the model of accepted socialscience standards.Crank (2003)presented a sharply different notion of criminal justice theory, questioning both the boundaries in contemporarycriminal justice practice and the use of scienti
c methods. An open-ended notion of justice, not a more focused identity of Americancriminal justice, should be the central organizing concept of the
eld.Crank argued that justice could not be conceived only in terms of crime control practice. There are simply too many competing claimsand beliefs regarding the meanings and purposes of justice. Justice isat its core problematic: an open-ended inquiry whose meaningscannot be
xed. The role of social science inquiry was not to
ndcommon ground, but to explore the many forms justice can take (seeWarnke,1999). With regard to the
eld of inquiry, Crank provided noboundaries at all. Crank can be said to ground his work in a challenge
ve-pronged test to identify criminal justice theory.564
J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563
to what he viewed as the con
ation of the term justice with U.S.criminal justice practices, taking the position that it is a
black box
a term, according toLatour (1987), whose meanings becometaken for granted, but when considered closely are subject to broadand contested interpretations.
orientationsof understanding.
He selected the term
becausethey were ways of thinking that
orient our thinking about criminal justice and crime control in speci
c ways.
His works identi
ed theimplications of eight different orientations for thinking about thenature of the criminal justice system
each telling the story of criminal justice from a different point of view or reference. Thepurpose of these orientations was to show that the
eld's diversity of thought was a theoretical strength. Kraska also referred to orienta-tions as metaphors (seeMorgan, 1986) because they highlightedcertain aspects of scholarly thinking about criminal justice. Hisconcept of orientations is quite similar to the interpretive notion of traditions in that both represent schools of thinking carried byparticular groups, and so his way of organizing theory is consistentwith an interpretive notion of theory building.Kraskaframedtheboundariesoftheorybylocatingthepurposesof analysistowhathecalledthecriminaljustice
Heselectedthe term apparatus rather than the more commonly used criminal justice
in order to include non-state actors and othergroups such as the media who are associated with justice practice.Apparatus was a
nesse on the term
typically used as anumbrella term to describe the tens of thousands of organizations thatmake up U.S. penal practices. Apparatus also served to broaden thefocus of analysis. Through the use of terms such as
Kraska sought to keep the
eld boundaries open and
exible.These four theoretical works vary on two dimensions pertinent tothis article
whether they
nd theory to be good because it is of sustained interest to particular communities of interest, or because itcan be empirically validated. Crank and Kraska derived theirconceptions of criminal justice theory from broad, open conceptionsof justice.Both, additionally, selected perspectives that they perceivedto represent current trends in the
eld of criminal justice, thoughCrank expanded his theory stable with perspectives adapted fromother social sciences. Their work can be said to appeal to recognizabletheoreticaltraditionsincriminaljusticeorarelated
eld.Thatis,thesetheorieshadgainedlegitimacywithinscholarlycommunitiesinvolvedin the development of the
eld of criminal justice, and they
theauthors' notions of the more important ways justice was conceptua-lized. This can be called theoretical development by appeal totradition. Appeals to tradition are always interpretive
ndthevalue of a perspective in a community of interest. The meaning of acorpus of ideas in a work are consequently the interpreted productproduced by the intent of the author, the traditions of interpretationthathavebeenappendedtotheworkovertime,andtheperspectiveof the reader.For example, both Crank and Kraska selected critical theory,typically traced to the writings of Marx. Critical theory has been of sustainedinterest bya scholarlycommunitythathasestablisheditself as a source of critique of Western capitalism.
The body of work thatmakes up this historical tradition contains not only the originalwritings of Marx, but subsequent works that have interpreted Marx,andworkoncon
icttheory,class,andpoliticaleconomy.Forexample,Reiman's (2004)assessment of ideology, class, and criminal justice,now in its seventh edition, is a current work that falls solidly withinthis tradition and shows that critical writings continue to receivesupport within an academic community of interest in the
eld of criminal justice. Finally, student and instructor discussions in theclassroom, or contemporary monographs, are the most currentactualization of the way in which that corpus of work and attachedmeaning
nd life for current readers.These works differ on two important dimensions.Bernard andEngel (2001)andDuffee and Maguire (2007)located their ideas of  good theory in clearly de
ned notions of criminal justice, through theuse of crisp theoretical de
nitions, and by assessing empiricalresearch. This approach can be described as an appeal to empiricalveri
cation. Legitimacy of theory was based on the extent to whichhypotheses could be empirically validated. Conceptual terms areclearly de
ned and have measurable empirical referents. When oneconsiderscriticaltheoryinthisway,one
ndsitsvalueintheextenttowhichit has beenempirically tested and not rejected. That it might besupported or advocated by a community of interest, independent of empirical testing, is irrelevant. The history of the works associatedwith the Marxian tradition is important only insofar as that historyclari
es its conceptual de
nitions, empirical linkages, and testingprocedures.Notions of good theory, as this article interprets them from thesefour works, are dif 
cult to reconcile in terms of each other. If onefollows the lead of Snipes and Maguire (2007)and of Bernard and Engel (2001)because of their emphasis on scienti
c rigor, does thismean that the only good theory is that which falls within the ambit of the scienti
c model of social science? Put differently, should amethodological issue
the ability to measure concepts
drive whatone
nds to be acceptable theory?On the other hand, if one prefersCrank (2003)and/orKraska (2004, 2006)for their appeal to tradition, is one opening the door forany old thing to be studied as theory that dares to call itself such andhas a following? For example, can one call liberal and conservativepolitical ideologies theories, even recognizing that they make use of acoded and partisan language?Herein is a most interesting puzzle. From what high captain'sperch can one choose which is a better way to theorize criminal justice? What standpoint outside of theory can one take to decidewhich is the best way to think about theory? These questionspush the inquiry toward the philosophy of the social sciences toexamine these different theoretical perspectives. Perhaps philoso-phy of social science can help answer the question
which is bettertheory?
 Theoretical implications of different models of social science
The scienti
c model of social science.
rst two works,Bernardand Engel (2001)andDuffee and Maguire (2007), were based in a scienti
c model of the social sciences. The empirical model of sciencehas been widely studied in the philosophy of science.Popper (2000)famously provided central elements of the scienti
c model of theory,widely studied and recognized for their general applicability,presented inFig. 2.The empirical conception of science presented inFig. 2is integralto the physical sciences. This model is not politically neutral. To thecontrary, its elements represented
and continue to represent
foundational challenges to hierarchical bases of knowledge. Scienti
ctheory emerged as an Enlightenment challenge to the centralhierarchies of the Middle Ages, church and state. Its challengestemmed from its notion of 
That which one takes as truth,the products of scienti
c research, can be derived from one's ownobservations. If the church says something about what it means to behuman, one can measure it and see if it is true. If the government tellssomeonewhatit is doing,well,thatpersoncango outand gatherdatato see if it is true from their (scienti
c) point of view.The scienti
c modelof socialscience isstrongly democratic.Itstripsauthority over knowledge from the state and church and relocates it inthe individual citizen. It should never be thought of as politicallyneutral, because it is at every step a challenge to the knowledgeproduced, legitimated, and controlled by central state hierarchies.The challenge of science to hierarchies of church and statecontinue to be vibrant in the current era. For example, the scienti
 J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563

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