I’m a lefty-liberal (idealist) criminologist

Or at least that is what Professor John Pitts thinks. And he keeps insisting on this idea, and its relevance to interpret our research findings around gangs, so much so, that is making it difficult not to offer some reply.

I guess as labels go, one could be given worse ones. It reminds me of “our” Ministry of Education, Mr Gove, dismissal of the criticism of his education policies by education experts on the basis that they are just a bunch of Marxists. Coming from a place like Spain it also reminds me of a similar argument that was common pre-1975. If his case is not fully an argument ad hominem, it is pretty close to it. To the degree that is not, he’s basically (1) beating up a straw man, (2) oversimplifying differences among British-based gang scholars that do not think like him, (3) selectively quoting, and/or (4) using questionable (or at least ambiguous) evidence to support his case. And in such a blunt way that one wonders who the target audience for a piece like this is?

Of course we think that it is important to consider labeling processes and issues of discrimination when considering targeting youth on the basis of presumed gang affiliation. Our research hints these things do matter. But where does he get we are not interested in how structure and culture shapes violent youth networks? Or that we argue these networks do not exist? Or that they do not engage in serious crime? Or that we claim that they cannot be observed and/or measured? Or that we defend that membership has no effects? Anybody familiar with our work knows we address (and document) these issues and our interpretations in the basis of our observations suggest some variations from the themes that Pitts emphasizes, which is fairly standard fare in science anyhow. We just think that the story is slightly more complex and not easy to fit to predefined narratives. We are in this sense closer to some of the points raised by Dick Hobbs in his recent Lush Life or some of the work of Carlo Morselli on criminal networks.

But critically what we think is that whatever narrative you develop you need to keep in mind the first principle of science as proposed by that other well-known Marxist idealist, Prof Richard Feynman: “that you must not fool yourself -and you are the easiest person to fool”. If we treat the gang concept critically is primarily because as a scientific creation that it is, it needs to be subjected to the sort of scientific integrity and scrutiny that Feynman was talking about, not as the consequence of some misplaced political beliefs. If Prof Pitts prefers to think otherwise, well, that’s really his problem, more than ours.


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