Racial classification in criminology: The reproduction of racialized crime

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The (re)production of knowledge about crime is cultural in terms of the questions asked, the comparisons made, and the hypotheses selected to explain crime causation. Since criminologists do not operate in a vacuum, any prejudgments, biases, and beliefs acquired before their professional socialization may well persist and affect their approach to research over the course of their academic careers. Because American criminologists live in a society that racializes a number of problem behaviors, including crime, it is conceivable that widely held beliefs about race that predate graduate training will find their way into assumptions about the relationship between race and crime. Such preprofessional beliefs are transformed into "facts" when they meet with widespread agreement from other criminologists and thus come to be taken for granted in the objective pursuit of knowledge. Crime is racialized, for example, when the criminal behaviors of individual black offenders are understood in terms of "racial traits," "racial motives," or "racial experiences." When traits, motives, or experiences are classified as the property of whole races or racial communities, these conceptions of race assume causal significance in explaining criminal behavior. Because these traits, motives, and experiences are supposedly shared by entire races or race-class categories, the predisposition to criminality becomes generalized beyond individual Black criminals to whole races or racial communities of noncriminal Blacks. When crime is thus racialized, whole communities or whole categories of phenotypically similar individuals are rendered precriminal and morally suspect. In addition, such racializations in academic criminology can be used to justify increased control of individual black criminals in the larger society; these controls can also legitimately be extended to encompass whole communities and whole categories of phenotypically similar persons who are not involved in crime. This paper will address the role that racializing assumptions play in traditional criminological theories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-568
Number of pages22
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 1995

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • criminology
  • racial classification
  • racialized crime

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