Book review: Lessons From International/Comparative Criminology/Criminal Justice

Mathieu Deflem
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Book review published in International Criminal Justice Review 16(1):45-46, 2006.
Also available as PDF file.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2006. Review of Lessons From International/Comparative Criminology/Criminal Justice, edited by John Winterdyk and Liqun Cao. International Criminal Justice Review 16(1):45-46. 

This volume brings together 14 scholars in the areas of international and comparative studies of crime and criminal justice to provide auto-biographical accounts of the development of their careers. The contributors include some well-known scholars who have worked in many nations across the world, including the United States (Philip Reichel), Canada (Irvin Waller), Asia (Charles Hou), Australia (Peter Grabosky), Israel (Shlomo Shoham), and several countries in Europe (Pat Mayhew, Jan van Dijk, David Farrington, Matti Joutsen, Lode Walgrave, David Nelken, Frances Heidensohn, Roy King, Hans-Joerg Albrecht).

As the Editors explain in their Introduction, the book found its origins in a similar anthology edited by Gilbert Geis and Mary Dodge (Lessons of Criminology, Anderson Publishing, 2002). The present volume, however, extends that work’s orientation towards a distinctly international and comparative orientation. The book is not primarily oriented at exposing the characteristics, challenges, and accomplishments of international and comparative criminology and criminal justice research —although it does that indirectly as well— but foremost at showing how these research traditions have come to be developed in the specific instances of some of the areas’ best exemplars.

Rather than reviewing each contribution in this anthology separately, it may provide a better picture of this collective work to present and discuss, in light of the book’s aims and accomplishments, the general themes that are represented. Most striking perhaps are the many different avenues in the developing lives and works of comparativists of crime and justice. Some came to criminology very early on during their studies, while others were attracted to the area only after spending some time in other areas and disciplines, such as sociology, political science, and psychology. The personal backgrounds of the contributors are diverse as well, with some clearly headed towards a life of learning, while others were far from predestined to become scholars. Yet, what is very noticeable is that each of these variable backgrounds is always marked by a high degree of mobility in some form or another. Many of the contributors to this book crossed boundaries throughout their careers, for instance between more applied settings in governmental and non-governmental agencies, on the one hand, and scholarly institutions of research and teaching, on the other. Most all contributors to this book have experience in teaching as well as research, often in combination with consulting activities in criminal justice policy or professional service work. In many different ways, movement is at the heart of the lives of many a comparativist.

The diversity of the scholars in this book is also reflected in the work they do under the heading of comparative and international studies of crime and justice. The topics that are addressed are as varied as in any national or otherwise regionally confined setting. The manifold topics that the authors gathered here have been researching include victimology, crime prevention, family influences on deviance, restorative justice in the context of the juvenile justice system, crime and the media, prison systems, and feminist criminology. Much of the discussed research is oriented at formulating, on the basis of systematic analyses, practical suggestions for policies of criminal justice. Perhaps because they are aware that things can always be done differently in different societal contexts, comparativists are oftentimes involved in advocating well-informed, rather than hastily phrased, perspectives to criminal justice interventions. The more applied orientation of many of the here assembled scholars is also clear, although there are always concerns for the theoretical framing and epistemological grounding of comparative and international criminology. Methodological questions are central to all.

While the present-day popularity of comparative and international research could not have been foretold by the rather hostile attitude towards international and comparative orientations when many of the contributing authors began to develop their ideas, work in the area has over the years received wide support, practically through government funding, and intellectually in scholarly environments. The international and comparative orientations of these criminologists have furthermore been stimulated by the globalized world of crime and criminal justice studies, both with respect to the internationally organized profession as well as in terms of the world-wide audiences of criminology.

Finally, in recounting of their own often deliciously idiosyncratic experiences, the authors in this book teach many valuable lessons to potential new-comers in the specialty area as well as to those of who have been at it for a little while or more. Although their variable careers were always somewhat shaped by historical accident, there is nothing accidental about these scholars’ dedication and vocation that is shining through in this book. Acquiring certain indispensable skills, whether in theory and methodology or in a foreign language and the practicalities of global travel and networking, are always important as well.

There is very little about this book that is not exciting and of high quality. I only wished that the editors had not included fragments of the various chapters in scattered text boxes. These snippets of the text do not help reading of, nor do they do justice to, the rich stories here told, which must always be read in their entirety to get their full flavor. Also, in being al too careful to differentiate international from comparative perspectives in criminology and in criminal justice, the title of this book is clumsy and unnecessarily confusing. The book misses an index. Content-wise, some of the authors are at times a bit too exclusively focused on their own lives without broader reflections on the times in which they and their work matured. But the personal stories are always fascinating and insightful.

In sum, this is a great volume, one that criminologists of all types will read with pleasure. Besides the pleasant writing styles, I was particularly struck by the high degree of intellectual accomplishments of many of these fine scholars and their ability to have developed sharp and sharply critical minds. It is a pleasure to have learned from them and encouraging to try to deserve being amongst their midst.

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