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Australian National University, Australia
Criminalization denotes the state processes that render behavior criminal in nature.
Criminalization processes have long tended to target marginalized groups, or “dan-
gerous classes,” as the sources of crime. Anthropologists study both the diversity of
criminalizing processes and the human consequences of criminalization on the part of
criminalized individuals and groups.
(2003, 21). Accordingly, anthropologists have employed ethnographic analyses to unveil
and explore how such categories disguise and reduce the social relationships that con-
tribute to the criminalization of particular groups, actors, and behaviors. For example,
contributors to the edited volume Crime’s Power: Anthropologists and the Ethnography of
Crime (Parnell and Kane 2003) not only use ethnography to reveal the experiences and
forces that inform criminalization, but they also dwell on the power of crime categories
themselves. In a similar vein, Josiah McC. Heyman and Alan Smart argue in States and
Illegal Practices (1999) that illegal practices are inextricably linked to state power, reveal-
ing a complex landscape in which scrutiny of the “illegal” can reveal critical insights into
commonsense beliefs about legality. In short, deeper, hegemonic processes of exclusion
Collections such as Crime’s Power and States and Illegal Practices t within a longer
anthropological tradition that illuminates how crime and criminalization take shape as
cultural constructs, which become articulated through a host of social arrangements,
symbols, and rituals. Criminalization is not simply about who commits crime; it is a
labeling process to which some are more susceptible than others. It is constitutive of
social dierences and material inequalities.
But anthropological studies of criminalization have not always reected this critical
trajectory. Criminal anthropologists of the late 1800s inuenced understandings of
criminal behavior through an embrace of social Darwinism and positivistic methods
that were themselves criminalizing in eect. Cesare Lombroso’s 1876 foundational
criminological publication, L’uomo delinquente (Criminal Man), advanced this form
of explanation, detailing physical characteristics of what he characterized as “born
Criminological and anthropological approaches to criminalization have both shied
signicantly since the heyday of Lombrosian thought, with mainstream criminology
oen characterized as a postpositivist discipline that still advances casual explanations
of crime and the quantication of criminal behavior and its measurement. In contrast,
anthropological inquiries of criminalization have problematized beliefs about who
commits crime and what constitutes lawbreaking across societies and contexts.
e International Encyclopedia of Anthropology.EditedbyHilaryCallan.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Anthropological studies throughout the early and mid-twentieth century, many of
which focused on smaller communities, drew on observations of deviance—in the
gists documented sanctions taking the forms of condemnation, shame, retribution, or
ogy more generally, expanded to include analyses of other criminalized actors: bandits
and hustlers, trackers and gangsters, maa, crime-ridden communities, and even
state agents. No longer conned to small or isolated communities, anthropological
studies of criminalization came to reect a global spread. In addition, they paid
increasing and detailed attention to how multiple forms of marginalization, as well as
dissent, became implicated in criminalization processes.
A critical branch of criminology—aptly called critical criminology—also diverged
from the positivist tropes of its parent eld. It actively called into question main-
stream criminology’s narrow focus, which failed to attend to the concerns of and
interconnection between crime, criminalization, culture, power, structure, history,
(mis)recognition, and social stratication. In pursuit of richer understandings of
the lived aspects of criminalization, ethnographic studies of crime and criminalized
communities have since become an important part of critical criminological inquiry.
Despite commonalities with anthropological studies of criminalization, there was little
sustained dialogue about the synergies across elds until recently (e.g., Penglase, Kane,
and Parnell 2009).
In light of these emergent connections and the continued growth of ethnographic
research on criminalization, two trends distinguish anthropological contributions:
the analysis of criminalization on the one hand, and ethnographic research on social
practices dened as crime on the other (Schneider and Schneider 2008). Perhaps
more pressing for future research, however, is the question of how postcoloniality
and globalized social change complicate contemporary notions of “the illegal” and
its relationships to criminalization. As Carolyn Nordstorm contends, globalization
challenges perceived distinctions between legal and “extralegal” ows, which together
operate as ebbs and ows that constitute “the power grids that shape the fundamental
econo-political dynamics of the world today” (2007, xvii). us, distinctions between
legality and illegality are not nite. If anything, they are contextually contingent and
are negotiated by the various actors who encounter them.
Anthropological studies of criminalization encourage critical reection on the
production and circulation of crime categories and licit/illicit distinctions in relation
to power. In doing so, they also gesture to broader questions about regulation,
securitization, surveillance, and technologies of social control. How, for example, with
classes changed in dierent parts of the world? And what can these shis tell us about
inequality, conict, and global capitalism in the contemporary moment? As there
is a burgeoning critical criminological literature posing similar kinds of questions,
anthropological and criminological agendas are again pursuing common concerns
around criminalization—this time resulting in the destabilization, not advancement,
of positivistic notions of criminality.
SEE ALSO: Addiction; Crime; Detention; Gangs; Penal State; Positivism; Sex Work;
Slums and Shanty Towns; States: Police Powers
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Caldeira, Teresa. 2001. City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo.Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Comaro, John, and Jean Comaro, eds. 2006. Law and Disorder in the Postcolony.Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Heyman, Josiah McC., and Alan Smart. 1999. “States and Illegal Practices: An Overview.” In
States and Illegal Practices, edited by Josiah McC. Heyman, 1–24. Oxford: Berg.
Nordstrom, Carolyn. 2007. Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary
World . Berkeley: University of California Press.
Parnell, Philip C. 2003. “Introduction.” In Crime’s Power: Anthropologists and the Ethnography of
Crime, edited by Philip C. Parnell and Stephanie C. Kane, 1–32. New York: Palgrave Macmil-
Parnell, Philip C., and Stephanie C. Kane, eds. 2003. Crime’s Power: Anthropologists and the
Ethnography of Crime.NewYork:PalgraveMacmillan.
Penglase, Benjamin, Stephanie Kane, and Philip Parnell. 2009. “Interview: e New Anthropol-
ogy of Crime.” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 32 (1): 465–83.
Schept, Judah. 2015. Progressive Punishment: Job Loss, Jail Growth, and the Neoliberal Logic of
Carceral Expansion. New York: New York University Press.
Schneider, Jane, and Peter Schneider. 2008. “e Anthropology of Crime and Criminalization.”
Annual Review of Anthropology 27: 351–73.