The Deviance of the Zookeepers

O-brien, Martin Anthony (2013) The Deviance of the Zookeepers. International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, 6 (4). pp. 81-91. ISSN 1916-2782

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In May 1968 Alvin Gouldner published his attack on the ‘Becker School’ of sociology (‘The Sociologist as Partisan’). The essay was a sometimes sarcastic and brutal but characteristically insightful and sharp critique of what he called the ‘Becker School’ of sociology – especially as it related to law-breaking and norm-transgressing outsiders. In attacking the failure of ‘sceptical deviancy theory’ to confront the wider structural sources of power and authority, its seeming inability to address gross social divisions of wealth and status, and its lack of attention to the larger political and economic interests that were embedded in departments of State and industrial and financial corporations alike, Gouldner pinpointed with some accuracy the radical motivations of the soon-to-emerge ‘new criminology’ – in both its ‘left idealist’ and ‘left realist’ guises. What Gouldner’s essay really exposed was a certain kind of ‘deviant imagination’ (c.f., Pearson, 1975) prevalent in the emerging critical criminologies of 1960s America (and then the UK, see Young, 1969). In this paper I use Gouldner’s essay as a lens to investigate the ‘deviant imagination’ of contemporary critical criminologies and ask: who are the zookeepers of contemporary criminology and what is their deviant imagination?

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