Harry Blagg and Thalia Anthony on Envisioning Postcolonial Criminology
“In a phrase commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, insane people continue to repeat disastrously failed strategies, in hope of a different outcome. Such insanity is a common condition for white, western- schooled criminologists, like us.”
In Decolonising Criminology, Harry Blagg and Thalia Anthony subject prevailing criminological methods to scrutiny. The epistemic injustice caused to the Indigenous communities by criminology’s research praxis is exposed, critiqued, and responsibilized for seeking a change in the way it “makes sense” of the Indigenous.
Blagg and Anthony argue for a “postcolonial criminology”, one that looks at colonisation not as a thing of the past, but as an “ongoing process and lived experience that defies hollow state gestures towards reconciliation and “closure”.” To turn “upside-down” the processes through which western criminology creates knowledge about the experiences of the indigenous world. A project that demystifies objectivity, impartiality, and reliability in “Anglo-spheric epistemological and ontological basis of global criminology”:
“The failure to acknowledge the pervasive influence of colonial power has inhibited the emergence of comparative research free of Eurocentric bias and closed off potentially fruitful lines of inquiry: not just about the non-Anglo world but about the North itself as an increasingly fractious site of postcolonial contestation and conflict”.
Blagg and Anthony turn to de Sousa Santos’s concept of “colonial injustice” to argue that comparative criminology contributes to colonial injustice by ignoring the history of colonised people:
“The problem here lies in the fixation with the nation-state and the consequent invisibility of numerous ethno-political categories disputing its monopoly on sovereignty”.
A postcolonial critique of criminology would therefore address the “imbalances in global knowledge production” and would recognise the links between epistemological justice and social justice:
“In terms of criminological methodologies, therefore, we think it is vital to adopt a mix of techniques, rather than privileging one approach, and run together insights from a diversity of disciplines. In doing so, our incorporation of Indigenous perspectives and knowledges does not lie at the margins but is positioned at the centre of these methods.”
A Useful Comparative Criminology
A way forward, as Blagg and Anthony put it, is to allow Indigenous Peoples to take ownership of the process of the research concerning their lived experience, instead of “serving a method”. Their narratives need to be centred, not only to understand how postcolonialism operates in the Global South but also how it manifests in the Global North — as neoliberal globalism and a massive rise in ethno-politics in Europe and the USA are blurring the boundaries between the two worlds.
For comparative criminology, one way of doing this is to look at “contrapuntality”- which identifies the role of “imperialism and that of resistance to it”:
“Contrapuntal analysis is a useful tool for creating a medium for Indigenous voices to be heard, while also interrogating the histories and assumptions that underpin criminology. It stresses pervasive continuities between technologies of control over time for Indigenous and other colonised peoples: the past remaining stubbornly embrocated in the present. Contrapuntal readings disrupt the linear flow of Western “history” by recuperating the lost and subordinated time of the Other, and bringing to consciousness their histories of struggle, resistance and refusal.”
Decolonising Criminology With Indigenous Knowledges
Blagg and Anthony highlight that certain feeder disciplines of criminology — Critica Race Theories, Settler Colonial Theories, Queer and Trans Theories — are attempting to decolonise theory and practice. Calling them “winds of change”, they argue that these disciplines “acknowledge their complicity in sustaining white colonial privilege” by focusing “on the ways heteronormative white privilege insidiously shapes law and policy, as well as research priorities and methods, and engenders systemic forms of racism”:
“Decolonising criminology begins with acknowledging the colonial roots of a discipline that is historically concerned largely with making the Other the same, of folding the margins into the mainstream through various techniques of discipline and punishment, treatment and confine- ment, measurement and classification”
Therefore decolonising criminology would involve acknowledging Indigenous Peoples as “sovereign holders” of knowledges that pertain to them. One way of approaching this would be to realise the importance of “place” in Indigenous lived experience:
“Place, or Country, sits at the centre of Indigenous cosmologies: when people speak about place, from within place, they are speaking from the centre of an Indigenous worldview that stretches back and forward in time, not as the western, deracinated individual with his/her quixotic and idiosyncratic “opinions”
The book goes on to provide methodological changes that can be explored to decolonise criminology. It exposes the “clock of neutrality” in criminological research, and proceeds towards setting out guidelines for ethical research.
Complement this with Biko Agozino on Counter-Colonial Criminology, and Homi K Bhabha on Location of Culture.