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Quiet Silencing: Restricting the Criminological Imagination in the Neoliberal University


One of the most influential perspectives for critical criminology, and critical social science more generally, is C. Wright Mills’ conceptualisation of the ‘sociological imagination’. Mills argued that the inability of individuals to recognise and understand the relations of power that connect individual biographies to history, contributes to a disaffecting social order characterised by social alienation, moral insensibility, disproportionate power of a small group of elites, threats to liberty and freedom, and conflict between bureaucratic rationality and human reason. Understanding social structure and, in turn, recognising the intersection between individual lives and social and historical contexts, provides a means to make sense of the world and resist the historical repetition of alienation and oppression. This, for Mills, is ‘the promise’ of the sociological imagination (Mills in The sociological imagination. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 19592000: 3–24). Taking this thesis and applying it to criminology is important for two reasons. First, in disciplinary terms, the project is necessary in order that we reject narrow, administrative notions of ‘crime’ which focus too heavily on (often individualised) causes and, in turn, marginalise consideration of structural contexts (Reiner, Political economy and criminology: The return of the repressed. New directions in criminological theory. Routledge, Abingdon, 2012). Second, and important in terms of teaching, a sociological imagination generates ‘emancipatory knowledge’ which, as Mills perceived, contributes to a transformative politics, the aim of which is to actively challenge injustice and inequality.

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  1. 1.

    These priorities are as recommended by the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control, an international network for academics, practitioners, and activists working towards social justice, state accountability and de-carceration. It is the largest critical criminology forum in the world: (See further accessed 31.10.18.

  2. 2.

    Freire, 2007: 81, (original emphasis).

  3. 3.

    The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) is a device, introduced by the government in England, to assess “excellence in teaching at universities and colleges, and how well they ensure excellent outcomes for their students in terms of graduate-level employment or further study” (Office for Students, 2018).

  4. 4.

    J Johnson (MP), Green Paper ‘Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’ (2015) Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

  5. 5.

    Research Excellence Framework.

  6. 6.

    National Student Survey.

  7. 7.

    The primary research was conducted by David Scott. See Scott (2014) for full data.

  8. 8.

    The respondents included colleagues from a range of academic positions (Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Principal Lecturer, Reader, Professor, Research Fellow). Of these, 7 had worked for 5 years or less in academia; 5 had worked between 6 and 10 years; 5 had worked between 10 and 20 years; and 7 had worked for over 20 years. They are anonymised and so referred to in this discussion as R1, R2 etc., followed by their title.

  9. 9.

    University and Colleges Union.


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Correspondence to Alana Barton .

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Barton, A., Davis, H., Scott, D. (2019). Quiet Silencing: Restricting the Criminological Imagination in the Neoliberal University. In: Diver, A. (eds) Employability via Higher Education: Sustainability as Scholarship. Springer, Cham.

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