In Defence of Decolonisation: a response to Southern Criminology

Authors: Thalia Anthony, Robert Webb, Juanita Sherwood, Harry Blagg & Antje Deckert

Mohwak scholar Taiaiake Alfred has remarked that in settler colonies, reconciliation is another form of re-colonisation. The “reconciliation of Indigenous people to colonialism”, in Alfred’s words, do not challenge structures of power that deny First Nations people substantive rights. We draw on Alfred’s observations to highlight the agenda of Southern Criminology. This increasingly influential school while seeking to engage epistemologies of the South reinscribes colonial relations of power, including colonial hierarchies of knowledge. It does so by uncritically bringing together the North and the South through a working partnership in criminology. 

The standpoint of Southern Criminology was recently updated by lead-author Professor Kerry Carrington in the British Society of Criminology blog. A key purpose of the blog is to take to task ‘decolonial theory’ in Criminology by accusing it of essentialising Indigenous knowledges, making unfair criticisms of Western Criminology and presenting ‘crude simplistic critiques of southern criminologies’. Our blog represents a defence of decolonising frameworks. We point out numerous false claims and inconsistencies in Carrington’s blog. Among these are that decolonial theory is ‘negative’. We contend that challenging colonial legacies in criminology is crucial for building more inclusive ideas and praxes.

Colonisation is not a metaphor

Carrington opens her blog by questioning the division of the world between North and South, centre and periphery and/or First and Third World. She claims these demarcations universalise theories of the North to cast the South as backwards. To buck this trend, Southern Criminology advocates for the equal acceptance of the North and the South, in which criminologists accept that the South is not lesser than the North. A move that, according to Carrington, would contribute to cognitive and global justice.

In conceptualising the South, Carrington describes it ‘as a metaphor’ for inequality. The blog does not contend with real power relations where inequality is not a metaphor. We assert this in a similar way to Tuck and Yang’s contention that ‘decolonization is not a metaphor’. Inequality is countenanced in everyday colonial institutions that dispossess Indigenous peoples of their land, destroy sacred sites, steal Indigenous children, kill Indigenous people in custody, condone racist policing, deny Indigenous people basic rights and silence Indigenous critiques and systems of knowledge. Unequal power relations have assured that First Nations people are hyperincarcerated across settler colonial societies and that Australia’s Indigenous people are the most incarcerated people on the planet.

Carrington’s choice of words, such as North and South, understates past and present structures of oppression. A telling omission in her language (and analysis) is the lack of reference to geo-political divisions of “colonisers and the colonised”. By failing to confront ongoing colonising relationships, the type of ‘Southern Criminology’ Carrington champions cannot challenge this divide. This is highlighted in its main mission to ‘democratize’ knowledge by promoting a partnership between the North and South through simply expanding ‘the repertoire of criminological knowledges’. The blog rejects the proposition that the ‘epistemologies of the south and north, east and west, Indigenous and non-Indigenous’ are ‘dichotomous’ or ‘mutually exclusive spaces or categories’, hence neglecting the colonising dynamics embedded in the construction of the divisions.

A decolonising lens reveals why these differences exist. Blagg and Anthony contend in Decolonising Criminology that the existence of the colonial world and its epistemologies, including its criminological mindset, relies on the colonisation and assimilation of Indigenous people and knowledges. Inferiorising Indigenous peoples and knowledges justifies colonisers’ self-proclaimed superior ideas and intrusive practises. Colonisers regarded Indigenous people as trespassers on their own land to enable settler violence and land take over. Constructs of Indigenous people as outlaws justified frontier massacres and segregation.

Universities are a symptom of colonial forces and their constructs of Indigenous people permeate the academy and research. Criminology in colonised states is preoccupied with identifying, quantifying, explaining, and fixing Indigenous “criminality”. The blog claims that bridges can be built between these approaches of the North and approaches in the South. However, a decolonial lens identifies that the North’s deficit discourse relating to Indigenous people stands at odds with the discourse of sovereignty of Indigenous people and the colonial harms of penal institutions. How can the colonising impetus of the North sit alongside theories of critical resistance and Indigenous self-determination? Conceivably, they cannot. If there are to be attempts at a reconciliation, the terms should be governed by principles of Indigenous self-determination to recognise the legacy of epistemological oppression.

Decolonisation seeks to disrupt the structures and theories of colonisation that are intent on eliminating Indigenous people. Juan Tauri’s decolonising research calls into question Criminology’s ‘veil of scientism’ that perpetuates ‘myth construction’ of Indigenous people’s inferiority and the colonial state’s superiority. Decolonial research has a different agenda (in relation to furthering Indigenous sovereignty and resistance), asks different questions (about the colonial harms of the state and ruling class) and applies decolonising methodologies (that radically critique colonial institutions, elevate the voices and knowledges of Indigenous people and accept different forms of knowledge sharing – song, poetry, art, film, ceremony etc). It supports a post-disciplinary approach in which university disciplines are not the central repository of knowledge production. It also challenges the focus of much of Criminology on policing, surveillance and prisons, and instead recognises that colonial harms against Indigenous people operate in a broader carceral network for which penality is only one site.

Southern Criminology’s false representation of decolonial approaches

Repeatedly through her blog, Carrington accuses ‘post-colonial/decolonial theories’ of reductionism and essentialism. Carrington states, ‘One of the problems with theories of decolonisation, has been the tendency to essentialise race and romanticise ethnicity’. Carrington cites Cain (2000) to suggest that decolonial critiques of Western Criminology engage with a ‘romanticization of “the other”’. Cain’s article, however, is not an analysis of decolonial thinkers. Rather, it takes aim at the ‘western criminology of orientalism’ because it ‘romanticizes the other’ (Cain 2000, 239); the reverse of what Carrington claims in her blog. The issue of misrepresentation of other’s work arises with Carrington’s use of de Sousa Santos’ work. Carrington also relies on de Sousa Santos (2014: 212) to argue that post-colonial/decolonial theories ‘reify and essentialise concepts, such as Eastern or Indigenous knowledge’ (Carrington’s words, not de Sousa Santos’). However, de Sousa Santos does not state this about post-colonial/decolonial theories. Instead, he identifies this trend in the Global North. In the cited reference, he critiques

both the reified dichotomies among alternative knowledges (e.g., indigenous knowledge versus scientific knowledge) and the unequal abstract status of different knowledges (e.g., indigenous knowledge as a valid claim of identity versus scientific knowledge as a valid claim of truth).

Following on from de Sousa Santos, decolonial approaches recognise that Indigenous knowledge – in its multiplicity of forms – is scientific knowledge. It provides a method for understanding the world and for continuing survival. Decolonial approaches can also use the tools of statistics to challenge colonial institutions. The research of Palawa woman and Professor Maggie Walter’s is a testament to this approach. In these ways, decolonial approaches reject that Indigenous knowledge is homogenous, “romantic” or reified – these are all ideas that stem from the Global North. Rather, it recognises the need to reclaim Indigenous knowledges from the melting pot of colonial knowledge and from misappropriation. As Māori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2008, 62) attests in Decolonizing Methodologies,

[C]olonialism not only meant the imposition of Western authority over indigenous lands, indigenous modes of production and indigenous law arid government, but the imposition of Western authority over all aspects of indigenous knowledges, languages and cultures.

We can draw from Carrington’s use of other scholars’ work that misrepresentation can contribute to false claims. There is a high importance for criminologists to accurately present other scholars’ work in order to further knowledge.

Spurious claims of Southern Criminology

To defend Southern Criminology against decolonial approaches, Carrington claims that Blagg and Anthony’s book Decolonising Criminology reference ‘very few Indigenous scholars’. A careful examination of the text demonstrates that the contention is false. There are over 200 publications authored by Indigenous scholars, organisations and people on the ground that are quoted and cited. There would be few Criminology texts that could make this claim. To name a few Indigenous authors across the settler-colonial lands of Australia, Canada, New Zealand: Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Alfred Taiaike, Jackie Huggins, Eve Tuck, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Peta MacGillivray, Pat Dudgeon, Amanda Porter, Jeff Corntassel, Alison Whittaker, Nicole Watson, Juanita Sherwood, Vanessa Davis, Peter Yu, Gallarrwuy Yunupingu, Willie Ermine, Martin Nakata, Sákéj Youngblood Henderson, Renee Linklater, Eddie Cubillo, Moana Jackson, and Ambelin Kwaymullina. By contrast, Carrington makes scant references to Indigenous researchers in her blog and article she and her co-authors’ published in the British Journal of Criminology, including from the country she occupies, Australia.

Not only does Decolonising Criminology reference Indigenous scholars in significant numbers, but more importantly, their ideas are centred – not because the authors reify them, but because they provide new understandings, Indigenous understandings derived from Indigenous lived experience. These have been silenced for over 500 years and, to use the blog’s own words, giving voice represents ‘cognitive justice’. The book is a challenge to criminological research that largely neglects the impacts of penality on Indigenous people and practises of Indigenous resistance and sovereignty. Key ideas in the book include Gaykamangu’s and Gaymarani’s analysis of the relationship between Indigenous and Western laws; Marie Battiste and Sákéj Youngblood Henderson’s notion of Indigenous Knowledge; Larissa Behrendt’s examination of the colonisation of Indigenous women; Audre Simpson’s concept of Indigenous refusal; Irene Watson’s critique of international law in the context of Indigenous sovereignty; Yin Paradies’ analysis of institutional racism and Juan Tauri’s critical examination of restorative justice. Decolonising Criminology includes a foreword by Wiradjuri woman and Pro Vice Chancellor First Nations Engagement, Professor Juanita Sherwood who states (2019, ix), ‘This book challenges the colonial epistemology of one truth and explores the expertise of First Peoples of Australia and their ways of knowing, being and doing regarding their experiences, circumstances and unfair treatment.’

Southern Criminology’s inconsistencies

There are a number of inconsistencies within the Southern Criminology schema and claims as set out by Carrington in the blog.

First, despite arguing that decolonial approaches essentialise Indigenous knowledge, Carrington claims that she herself has adopted a decolonial approach. Indeed, the title of her blog reads, ‘Decolonizing Criminology through the inclusion of epistemologies of the south’. She writes in the blog, ‘the southernizing of criminology pursues practical decolonizing projects’. The attempt to criticise decolonial approaches, on the one hand, and claim them, on the other hand, is inconsistent. It signals Southern Criminology’s gesture of claiming the decolonial space on its own terms while actively marginalising its decolonial and Indigenous detractors.

Second, Carrington criticises scholars who perceive the decolonial limitations of Southern Criminology, on the basis that they publish in ‘privileged journals in United States and England’. She does not appreciate the irony that her seminal piece on Southern Criminology was published in the British Journal of Criminology. In her blog, Carrington prides Southern Criminology on a conference co-hosted with the University of Oxford. With no disrespect to these forums, it is disingenuous to criticise decolonial thinkers who may engage in these forums. It also neglects the journals that are founded or edited by decolonial scholars such as the open-access journals, Decolonization of Criminology and Justice and Journal of Global Indigeneity. In response to Carrington’s claims on this issue, it can be argued that the best place for decolonial and Indigenous scholars to ensure their critique reaches Southern Criminologists is to publish in the journals that they clearly prefer because they do not cite or submit to decolonial or Indigenous journals.

Third, despite Carrington imploring intercultural exchange, she refutes a resurrection of ‘alternative origin stories or “founding fathers”, as some decolonial theorists have done’. Without identifying who these decolonial theorists are or the nature of these origin stories – in other words, without offering evidence to support her claims – these claims amount to an unevidenced rejection of alternative knowledges. Does she intend to demean stories about Country that are passed down by ancestors? Her denial of alternative stories is inconsistent with Southern Criminology’s calls for a cross-pollination of knowledge and perpetuates the dismissal of Indigenous knowledges.

Fourth, the blog suggests that the tendency of ‘theories of decolonisation … to essentialise race and romanticise ethnicity’ makes invisible the ‘gender of coloniality’. Carrington claims that ‘southern feminisms’ aim to ‘decolonise and democratise feminist theory … by embracing a mosaic of epistemologies’. However, Carrington’s own work eschews the epistemologies of Indigenous women. As discussed in the following section, deep seated concerns by Indigenous women scholars, including Amanda Porter, Crystal McKinnon and Marlene Longbottom, with Carrington’s methods and findings in her numerous publications on women’s police stations have remained unaddressed in her work.

Southern Criminology in practise 

Carrington’s recent research on women’s police stations signify the importation of assumptions of the Global North. Far from questioning the role of the police in women’s lives, especially its brutalising impacts on Indigenous women, Carrington seeks to layer gender into police operations. Injecting gender into policing operationalises Carrington’s objectives for Southern Criminology ‘to decenter, democratize and pluralize knowledge by injecting it with knowledge from the south and the periphery’. 

Carrington et al assert that the Argentinian model of women’s police stations ‘would be good for Aboriginal women’. She states (2020),

Australia does indeed have much to learn about how women’s police stations respond to and aim to prevent gender violence. If appropriately staffed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous teams trained to work from both gender and culturally sensitive perspectives, police stations designed to specifically respond to gender violence, have the potential to significantly enhance the policing and prevention of gender violence across Australia.

Carrington assumes that place-based practices from one side of the globe can be exported to another side of the globe. This is reminiscent of Western Criminology which applies, for example the family violence model from Duluth, Minnesota (which centres police and courts) to Indigenous people in remote Australia. Conversely, because the women’s police station model is from Argentina, ostensibly part of the ‘good South’, does not make it any more appropriate for Indigenous women. Carrington’s universalising methodology – where all practises from the South can be transferred – is tantamount to essentialising the South. This replicates one of the key critiques of the domination of ‘the North’, which is at the forefront of Southern Criminology, namely its long hegemony over the development and global transfer of theories, policies and interventions.

What this body of research reveals is that Southern Criminology reinstates the penal institutions that threaten Indigenous communities. This is because Southern Criminology ‘is blind to coloniality and, therefore, has yet to break away from criminology’s modern epistemological and ontological underpinnings’, as Eleni Dimou describes. It ignores calls by Indigenous scholars and campaigners to defund police. When Southern Criminology speaks of building bridges in Criminology, it amounts to incorporating elements of the South into the penal structures of the North. It has no regard for the fact that Australian Indigenous women who die in police custody often do so under the watch of women police officers. Women police officers served as the custody supervisors and lockup keepers when Indigenous women Tanya Day, Ms Dhu, and Rebecca Maher died in custody in Australia in recent years.

Confronting oppressive criminal institutions as a pathway to unity

In her blog, Carrington describes decolonising research – which identifies the colonial logic in penal enforcement – as ‘negative decolonial projects’. She claims that they ‘damn all criminologists as “racist”, “westerncentric” “control freaks” on some sort of “bandwagon”’, and once again she does so without providing any evidence to support her assertions. By contrast, Carrington venerates Southern Criminology’s projects for ‘bridging global divides’ and not setting out to ‘denigrate the contribution of metropolitan criminology’.

However, it is racism, its manifestation in Criminology and translation in carceral practices that are divisive and negative. By calling into question the deep-seated precepts of Criminology – namely, the criminality of the ‘Other’, the defence of penal institutions and the righteousness of universalising Western methods – we can imagine a different world. We can imagine a world that promotes collectivity, human rights, and Indigenous self-determination rather than one that depends on exclusion, hierarchy, and racism. A decolonising agenda is based on unifying humanity by dissolving the structures that divide us.

About the authors

Collectively and individually, our research identifies the colonial legacies in penal institutions, criminological thought and the broader carceral network. In our work and activism we seek to decolonise the carceral and criminological agendas so we can move beyond them.

Thalia Anthony is a Professor of Law at the University of Technology Sydney Thalia.anthony@uts.edu.au.

Robert Webb is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Auckland robert.webb@auckland.ac.nz.

Juanita Sherwood is a Professor and Pro Vice Chancellor First Nations Engagement at Charles Sturt University (NSW). jsherwood@csu.edu.au

Harry Blagg is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Western Australia. harry.blagg@uwa.edu.au

Antje Deckert is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Auckland University of Technology. Antje.deckert@aut.ac.nz

Main image courtesy of Montecruz Foto

The invisible labour and visible satisfaction of editing a journal

Editing a journal, even with a large team, undoubtedly is a lot of work, but is more than compensated for by being able to see what researchers are studying across the discipline

Sarah Armstrong, Michele Burman, Laura Piacentini

(Co-editors-in-Chief, Criminology and Criminal Justice)

CCJ image

Criminology and Criminal Justice, the official journal of the BSC, will be 20 years old in 2019. Over these two decades the journal has published, and continues to publish, empirical, methodological and theoretical work from around the world and in areas as diverse as the discipline of criminology itself. We have led a Scotland-based Editorial Team for two years (our first issue in which we edited content was in 2016) and have been invited to contribute to the BSC blog to reflect on the journal and our vision for it.

In applying for the Editorship of CCJ, we set out three aims:

  • To achieve wide international recognition and influence;
  • To publish and promote the highest quality work, particularly building on the journal’s existing reputation for strength in (a) offering a critical analysis of the crucial issues of our times, (b) areas of applied and policy related research, and (c) methodological diversity and rigour; and,
  • To embody a supportive and welcoming ethos that recognizes the values of collegiality, equality and diversity in the development and dissemination of world changing ideas.

We treat these aims as equally important and mutually constitutive. Of course all journals will be seeking to publish the best quality work and most also will be aiming for international impact. However, it was our belief after being involved in journals for many years as authors, reviewers and on editorial boards that inclusivity, collegiality and work-life balance are crucial to realising the first two aims. This has meant we share equally the role of Editor-in-Chief, and operate on a rotating on call basis, where one of the three of us takes the lead each month working with the Editorial Officer Dr Caitlin Gormley and the Associate Editors to manage that month’s workload of new paper submissions, revised submissions, queries from authors and reviewers and other business.

We strive towards collegiality and inclusivity not only in our interactions within the Board, which is composed of a range of scholars at different stage of career and institutions, but also by encouraging as much as possible, and very occasionally exercising discretion to moderate, positive and constructive feedback to authors. But it has been our pleasure to notice that in general the gratuitously harsh and biting review has become increasingly rare. On the other hand, being in a position to see all the papers that go through a journal brings home an understanding of how much free labour goes into academic publishing. The work of reviewers, and often editors as well, is invisible in university workload models but amounts to thousands of hours per year. And given how much we rely on colleagues’ good will, it continually amazes us how considerate and thorough reviewers are. And this applies to the most senior, well-established academics as to career scholars. We are looking at ways to acknowledge the work of reviewers, and are considering publishing an end of year thanks and list of reviewer names as some other journals do. We welcome feedback on this and other means of recognising this effort.

Metrics aren’t everything, but nevertheless can tell us how the journal is faring over time, and we are seeing great success in this. The journal’s impact factor is on the rise, increasing substantially, to 1.088 in 2016 (from 0.75 in 2015). This is attributable as much to the work of the prior, Leeds-based Editorial Team (led by Adam Crawford) as to our tenure, but of course, is ultimately a function of the quality and interest of work submitted to us. Manuscript submissions are up, increasing 35% between 2015 and 2016, with further rises in 2017 submissions (through October). Our acceptance rate for 2017 (thru October) is 25%. Downloads of CCJ articles have been growing in each year from 2015 to 2017. The most downloaded article in 2017 was by Kath Murray (issue 5), entitled ‘“Why have we funded this research?”: On politics, research and newsmaking criminology’ (over 3,600 times!) and the second most downloaded was by Esther FJC van Ginneken and David Hayes writing on ‘“Just” punishment? Offenders’ views on the meaning and severity of punishment’. These are only two examples of a range of stellar work published over the year.

In terms of international range and quality of work, we have put in place a new International Advisory Board consisting of scholars whose work as both authors and colleagues we admire. We look to the international board to act not only as reviewers, but as ambassadors for the journal, putting us in touch with potential authors and reviewers in their regions and fields. We have excellent representation from the UK, Europe, Asia, North America and Australia and New Zealand, and are seeking to deepen and develop our links to colleagues in African and Latin American countries. On this front, we have some exciting work from these regions that has already come out or will soon be published from a study of police officers in Ghana to a forthcoming study of restorative justice in Chile.

The first Special Issue under our Editorship is hot off the press (February 2018) and is on the theme of Coercive Control. It is guest edited by Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Sandra Walklate and Jude McCulloch and features papers from Canada, New Zealand, England, Scotland and Australia. This is an especially timely topic as countries in many parts of the world currently are considering whether to enact laws incorporating this concept. The articles share experiences from diverse jurisdictions and do not shy from critically considering the implications and need for new legislation. Keep an eye out for a blog on the issue on the journal’s webpage.

Editing a journal, even with a large team, undoubtedly is a lot of work, but is more than compensated for by being able to see what researchers are studying across the discipline, and to work with authors developing a paper for publication. We hope BSC members will consider publishing with CCJ as British Criminology has a longstanding and deserved reputation around the world for producing critical, reflexive and rigorous work.

Dr Sarah Armstrong, University of Glasgow, UK
Professor Michele Burman, University of Glasgow, UK
Professor Laura Piacentini, University of Strathclyde, UK

Photo copyright free – Stack of CCJs – Taken by Sarah Armstrong

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