Book review: Governing Through Globalised Crime

Mathieu Deflem
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This is a copy of a book review of Governing Through Globalized Crime: Futures for International Criminal Justice by Mark Findlay, published in Contemporary Sociology 38(2):153-154, March 2009.

Also available as PDF file.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2009. Review of Governing Through Globalized Crime: Futures for International Criminal Justice, by Mark Findlay. Contemporary Sociology 38(2):153-154.

Globalization is not only a buzzword. It is also a reality of our age, which sociologists ought to consider a more than usefully desirable subject of thought and analysis. While traditionally globalization has been approached primarily in terms of economic conditions, presently our understanding of global developments has analytically expanded to a wide variety of structures and processes. Globalization has become social. Among its manifold dimensions, globalization has also affected the world of crime, criminal law, and criminal justice. Mark Findlay makes a contribution to the literature on globalization in this area by examining the fundamental changes that are taking place in the establishment and development of a global governance regime based on crime control.

Findlay’s ambitions are considerable. Not only does he aim to develop a theoretical approach to the contemporary age of globalized crime control, he also seeks to construct a policy-oriented perspective that formulates elements towards the ideal direction globalized crime control should take. Conceptually, the author draws from a wide array of traditions, invoking multiple literatures on governance, risk and security, peacemaking, nostalgia, human rights, justice, and humanity, all just in the introductory pages. The argument unfolds in the subsequent chapters on the basis of a notion of crime as risk and, relatedly, its control as security. Of special attention is the application of the risk paradigm to terrorism, which, according to the author, is explored at the level of law enforcement through its association with (organized) crime. The responses to terrorism themselves involve violence in the form of military interventions and formal practices of enforcement and punishment. Humanitarianism is pushed aside. The rights framework that exists in this context, both for the victim and the offender, is a traditional liberal model that recognizes only individuals. Findlay instead suggests a communitarian-oriented approach to work towards building a community of justice.

This book takes on serious questions of globalization that ought to be of interest to many sociologists, not only those who specialize in crime, law, and social control. It is a book that shows, once again, that the sociological expulsion of the criminological domain is not only unwarranted but harmful to sociology as a whole as well. However, this book may also have overshot its aims by taking on too many questions. Each of the many sections of the chapters in this book takes on big and important questions, but the author is far too hasty in answering these profound riddles of the modern age. What we are left with are mostly contentions and speculations (often presented in bullet-pointed lists), not well-grounded theoretical positions and perspectives nor well-structured presentations of empirical findings. Containing too much food for thought, this book would have been better, more convincing, had it been less ambitious in its scope.

Though mostly theoretical in orientation, this book could also have benefited from a much more thorough engagement with the extant research contributions, from sociologists and other social scientists, in the area of international crime, law, and criminal justice. Unlike even as recent as a decade ago, there is now a very well developed tradition of research on various aspects of international criminal justice, including dimensions of crime and deviance, policing and enforcement, legal administration, and punishment. Very little of this work is relied upon in this book. Surely, no theorizing oriented at estimating and evaluating the basic dimensions of an empirical phenomenon such as the globalization of criminal justice can go about its way without some grounding beyond a mere borrowing of conceptual notions in related literatures.

As a result, some arguments in this book are open to serious critique. For instance, the author overlooks that the police dimensions of counter-terrorism conceive of terrorism itself as crime and that the responses to terrorism (and other crimes) from various institutions do not form any hegemonic constellation but instead are fractured. Ironically, also, the most sustained empirical analysis in this work involves an investigation of the Chinese system of criminal justice to argue that China’s communitarian orientation could influence the development of international criminal justice. Moreover, the assumed political intent that is attributed to developments in criminal justice cannot be supported by research that demonstrates the relative autonomy of the various institutions involved with crime control functions. Ultimately, the relationship between global crime control and governance that Findlay postulates in this work must still be demonstrated, theoretically and otherwise. In spite of my reservations about this book, I am also hopeful that globalization scholars who do not primarily engage in criminological work might take a closer look at books such as this by Findlay and those by other specialists on crime and crime control.

See related papers on comparative sociology.