19 Windsor Y.B. Access Just. 326 (2001)
Crime as a Category

handle is hein.journals/windyrbaj19 and id is 330 raw text is: CRIME AS A CATEGORY

by
Laura Nader*
It is a crime to kill a neighbor, an act of heroism to kill an enemy, but who is
an enemy and who is a neighbor is purely a matter of social definition.
E.R. Leach (1968:27)
Introduction
In a succinct article titled Toward A Radical Criminology, published
in the. first edition of The Politics of Law -A Progressive Critique, Will-
iam Chambliss (1982) juxtaposed the traditional question that criminolo-
gists ask, Why is it that some people commit crime while others do not?
with the sociology of law question, Why are some acts defined by law as
criminal while others are not?' He explains the reappraisal of the leading
question as due to the 1960s civil rights demonstrations, anti-Vietnam war
protests, and the media reporting on blatant criminality by political leaders
and giant corporations. These, among other happenings, forced a reap-
praisal of criminology's focus on the individual and caused what Chamb-
liss called a paradigm revolution, encompassing the more broadly liberal
understandings of criminal justice of the 1950s and 1960s.
In his paper Chambliss notes that what is criminal changes over time and
that the political and economic forces behind the creation of criminal law is
revealed in history. He gives some examples:
[V]agrancy laws reflected the tensions in precapitalist England among feudal
landlords, peasants, and the emergent capitalist class in the cities ... rights of
rural village dwellers to hunt, fish, and gather wood were retracted and such
activities became acts of criminality punishable by death as a result of the
state's intervention on the side of the landed gentry in opposition to the cus-
toms, values, and interests of the majority of the rural population....2
At the same time, Chambliss is careful to take exception to the conflict the-
orists who argue that law is simply a result of ruling class activity. As an
example he cites factory health and safety legislation which criminalizes an
owner's refusal to comply.
Only a few years later, the second edition of The Politics of Law leaves
out Chambliss' dramatic rethinking of criminology and includes a new
piece by Elliott Currie called Crime, Justice, and the Social Environ-
ment. Moving away from the constructivist approach that Chambliss
chronicled for criminology, Currie speaks about the emergence of a conser-
vative revolution in criminology, a revolution that defined crime as largely
a criminal justice problem. He dates the beginning of this conservative rev-
* Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
1 Chambliss 1982 at 230.
2 Ibid. at 233.

(2001), 19 Windsor Yearbook ofAccess to Justice

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