Can Criminology ever be a value-free discipline?
Criminology is not a typical law discipline. It can be referred to as an interdisciplinary subject dealing a lot with sociology, psychology, statistics, medicine, economics, political science and geography. It is concerned with a body of knowledge about crime as a social phenomenon. A broad definition would be that crime is behaviour that breaks the law. The studies of crime are supposed to include in their scope describing, analysing and explaining the behaviour of state penal law. This seems to make criminology a rather analytical subject. But is it therefore really value-free and, if not, should or can it ever be? If we speak of values, we mean emotional attitudes in a subjective way of seeing things as well as moral values. This examination shall basically be focused on the influence of emotional attitudes and if criminology can be free from opinions and subjective views. In some way this is the personal reflection of moral values, too. Specifying the question it should be asked if criminology is or can be practised and used in an objective and neutral way.
2. The Nature of Criminology as a (Legal) Science
A mentioned and shown in the introduction criminology is a diverse science subject. Scientific analysis generally should be practised in a more or less value-free, objective and emotionless way, sine ira et studio. Science should not be influenced by opinions or political views. The nature of science is neutral and free from personal views.
2.1 Criminology as a Statistical Science
Statistics are what we call hard facts that do not need emotional valuation itself. They are made to speak for themselves by measuring numbers and trends in criminal activity. People are being informed in a value-free way to make up their own mind. If we consider criminology as a science that examines crime as a social phenomenon it should be basically value-free. Statistical publications like the BCS are value-free. On the other hand statistics are always used for something and in the context they are used they are hardly ever value-free. The way they are presented and used usually is not. Criminology can be used as a technical device and sometimes its use is purposeful for special issues. Criminological statistics cause emotions and raise attitudes of people but are not supposed to have an emotional message in themselves. The way they are produced is value-free if we assume that they are not manipulated in any way leaving Winston Churchill’s famous scepticism towards statistics aside. Admitting that statistics can generally be considered to be value-free, they are only one part of criminology as a subject.
2.2 Criminology as a Current Affair
Crime affects people. They usually have a very emotional attitude towards crime. Crime is a matter that often causes quite a stir. It is a very emotional issue. The media informs people about criminology, uses it and in a way is even part of it. Even if the media presented criminological issues in a neutral way people would receive them in an emotional way. Criminal statistics scare them. These statistics are published by the media and used in a special way. People’s perception of crime is greatly influenced by the media. The information of people is their job. But the media do not only inform people about crime. Their publications on crime are almost always in a way subjective, and the strength of the emphasis differs with the quality of the newspaper or other media. They hardly ever provide a value-free image of criminological topics. The public opinion is affected in several ways; either by mass manipulation, by commercial laissez faire or by consensual paradigm. In either ways the public opinion is affected by somebody else. Criminology is (ab)used for political intentions. One might say that the media does not even have to stress their intended message too much. Crime has always even been a political issue and used for political intentions. It could also be argued that sometimes generalisations might be appropriate. Sometimes the media is also used to remind people of the limits of criminal law and morals. But often a thin information in a subjective way might cause dangerous prejudices within society and moral panics. Criminology certainly does not appear value-free here but the goal of the media should be to handle it in a moderate way.
 Williams, p. 55 et seq.
- Quote paper
- Dr. Timo Hohmuth (Author), 2000, Can Criminology ever be a value-free discipline?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/31317