Virtual criminology: insights from genetic-social science and Heidegger

Owen, Timothy orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2483-4627 and Owen, Julie (2015) Virtual criminology: insights from genetic-social science and Heidegger. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, 7 (1). pp. 17-31. ISSN 2166-8094

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It is the intention here to ‘apply’ certain meta-concepts from Owen’s [2014] Genetic-Social framework together with some ‘new’ constructs , to the study of virtual and hybrid cyber-criminologies associated with Sheila Brown [2006, 2013]. It is strongly suggested that far from playing down or ignoring ‘the merging of the human and the technical through sociotechnical environments such as the dissolution of the body into information, disembodied entities, digitalizing the human, simulated consciousness and cybernetics’ [Brown, 2013:488], critics are correct to view this ‘new’ school of criminological theorising as ‘old wine in new bottles’ [Brown, ibid].
It is argued here that Brown’s virtual/hybrid criminologies revolve around an under-theorised and reified concept of agency. Drawing upon the model of agency favoured in the Genetic-Social framework in which an actor is conceived as an entity capable of formulating and acting upon decisions, and incorporating selected insights from neuroscience which suggest that we need to reformulate the concept of agency as neuro-agency , in tandem with considering the ‘hybrid’ in terms of Heidegger’s Dasein, it is suggested that virtual and hybrid criminologies, in common with the related actor-network theories [Callon and Latour, 1981] and posthuman agency theories [Pickering, 1993, 1995a, 1995b, 2001] should be repudiated. It is contended here that we need a non-reified concept of agency which reflects the influence of neurons, and the mutuality between genes and environment, together with the concept from Heidegger [2010] that being is time. The so-called ‘merged’ human-technical hybrid in reality is an example of symbolic thinking. No machinery or cyborg has the capability of formulating and acting upon decisions without human programming, and no cyborg qualifies as Dasein. As Heidegger [ibid] suggests, to be is to exist temporally in the stretch between birth and death. In reality there is no ‘merging’ of the human and the technical. We also consider the implications for social policy inherent in Brown’s [2013: 488] contention that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish ‘human agency and culpability’ from ‘non-human objects and technology’.

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