Processes of criminalization and qualitative research

Convenors: Alvise Sbraccia (University of Bologna) & Francesca Vianello (University of Padova)

Evidences deriving from the statistical sources on crime can offer significant sparks to trace the field’s boundaries of the processes of criminalization. Often, nevertheless, their use is oriented to essentialize, on uncertain scientifical basis, the social appearance of individuals and groups who practice the forms of deviance selected by the criminal justice systems. Through a tautological mechanism, such use of these data tends to construct and (re)produce positivistic explainations about crime, often bound to reinforce the causal nexus between poverty\marginality and delinquent adaptations.

Some crucial dimensions related to the criminal phenomena can be addressed, from an analytical point of view, only starting from the empirical basis constructed through sociological and criminological qualitative methodologies.

This call is therefore directed to research contributions aimed to frame such phenomena as socially constructed. The processes of criminalization are read, following this perspective, in their dialectical declination, describing and analyzing the articulation of relations and interactions which characterize them along three main dimensions, de facto linked with the category of “criminal policy”:

1) the definition of deviant behaviours deserving an institutional sanction

2) the selective (and discretional) carrying out of the practices related to police control and penal sentencing

3) the social representation (media construction) of the relation between the subjects threatening social order, their potential and “real” victims, and the agencies of control.

Since the veriable geometry of criminalization takes shape according to the composition of these dimensions, to describe and analyze the assignation of meanings performed by the different involved social actors (in the legislative and govermental apparatus, in the field of the police control of the territory, in the judicial sector, in the prison system, in the public and media spheres) appear as fundamental elements in order to develop a critical socio-criminological view.

With the aim of relaunching this perspective of dialogue, this panel will welcome essays and presentations based on qualitative and ethnographic research in the following areas:

a) normative innovation, punitiveness and the penal system

b) social and media representation of crime and criminals

c) organization and selectivity of police control

d) interactions in the judicial system

e) control and resistance in prison

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