Criminology, Southern Theory and Cognitive Justice

  • Kerry Carrington
  • Russell Hogg
  • John Scott
  • Máximo Sozzo


In the contemporary world of high-speed communication technologies and porous national borders, empire building has shifted from colonizing territories to colonizing knowledge. Hence the question of whose voices, experiences and theories are reflected in discourse is more important now than ever before. Yet the global production of knowledge in the social sciences is, like the distribution of wealth, income and power, structurally skewed towards the global North. This collection seeks to initiate the task of closing that gap by opening discursive spaces that bridge current global divides and inequities in the production of knowledge. This chapter provides an overview of criminologies of the global periphery and introduces readers to the diverse contributions on and from the global South that challenge how we think and do criminology and justice.


Southern criminology Postcolonialism Southern theory Transitional justice Southern penalties 


At present, the production of knowledge in the social sciences, including criminology, is heavily skewed towards a select number of global North countries, and especially English-speaking countries, whose journals, conferences, publishers and universities dominate the intellectual landscape (Connell 2007; Hogg et al. 2017; Graham et al. 2011; and see Faraldo-Cabana in this volume). This is not simply a question of quantitative output but also of cultural and intellectual hegemony. Raewyn Connell argues that the theories and methods of the social sciences, while rooted in the experiences and concerns particular to the North Atlantic world and its path to modernity, represent themselves and have generally been accepted as being of universal validity and applicability (Connell 2007). Yet, as Connell reminds us, theory, research agendas and innovations can be generated from the specific experiences of the global South, and Northern thinking can be cross-fertilized by it in a way that enhances global epistemology (Connell 2014). Our main purpose in assembling this collection is to promote the global South as a space for the production of knowledge and a source of innovative research and theory on crime and justice. It is hoped that it will contribute to the bridging of global divides and inequities which exist as much in the realms of knowledge as in those of economic and geopolitical relations. As de Sousa Santos remarks, ‘there is no global justice without cognitive justice’ (de Sousa Santos 2014: viii). This chapter introduces readers to Southern theory and how it has informed our re-framing of criminology as an epistemological and political project.

Southern Theory and Criminology

In Southern Theory (2007) Raewyn Connell argues that a structural imbalance in the economy of knowledge has produced a hegemony of social scientific thought based on the experience of a small number of societies in the global North, namely, the countries of Western Europe (including Britain) and the USA. The conventional (Northern) account depicts the rise of social science as a response to the profound problems—of social dislocation, urban change, migration, industrial conflict and moral anomie—experienced by these societies as they underwent the processes of rapid industrialization, urbanization and modernization in the nineteenth century. In this narrative the global North, comprising countries depicted as leading the way to capitalist modernity, is treated as the normative benchmark for the economic, political and social development of other countries seeking to modernize. The social sciences produced from the experience of these Northern societies afford, it is assumed, a sure guide to understanding and confronting processes and problems common to all societies undergoing modernization. Thus, Connell argues, social science succeeded in representing itself, and being widely accepted, as universal, timeless and placeless. According to this logic, social phenomena in the ‘periphery’ would be investigated from the standpoint of universal theories and laws of development generated in ‘modern’ or ‘Western’ societies of the global North. The South could be mined for data, as for other raw materials, and empirical studies might be conducted in Southern settings applying imported (Northern) theory, but little in the way of novel ideas or theoretical insights of anything more than local interest would be yielded by the social scientific enterprise in the South. Connell calls this ‘metropolitan’ thinking (Connell 2007: 215). We suggest that Connell’s argument applies with equal force to the field of criminology.

Metropolitan thinking rests on a linear, panoramic, unifying and modernist standpoint in which space and geopolitical and social differences are erased in the imperial narrative of time. In this worldview, North Atlantic global dominance and leadership was a matter of historical precedence (Connell 2007: 38). It submerges the fundamental historical reality that the processes of Western industrialization, modernization and dominance were not endogenous to a few, particularly innovative or fortunate countries that led in some notional race, but depended critically upon their imperial reach and power, the conquest and colonization of much of the rest of the world by North Atlantic powers in the period from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries which provided them with the resources, labor, markets and often know-how essential to their economic development. As dependency and world-systems theorists have argued over many years, capitalist modernity was global from the outset. Being ‘underdeveloped’ or economically ‘backward’ was not the ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ condition of particular countries so labelled but commonly a consequence of their subordinate place in the global economic order (Frank 1970; Beckert 2014; Gregory 2004). Likewise, social scientific knowledge and many of its key categories and concepts were not simply a product of efforts to confront the problems associated with modernization in countries of the global North, but were crucially shaped by the imperial context; they ‘embodied an intellectual response to the colonised world’ (Connell 2007: 9). Theories and concepts that grounded criminology’s early claims to being a scientific endeavor, like ‘atavism’ and the ‘born criminal’, were even more obviously beholding to the traffic in ideas and artifacts between imperial metropole and periphery (Carrington and Hogg 2017).

(Re)conceptualizing the South in Criminology

It is important to ask at this point just what is meant by the global South. As David Fonseca in his contribution to this collection points out, there are various ways of conceiving the South and North/South global relationships. The more conventional view depicts it in essentially geographical and binary terms as the division between the rich and poor countries of the world. The rich comprise the old imperial states of Europe and certain of their wealthy settler spin-offs like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (although the latter two are geographically located in the Asia-Pacific). The poor are the rest. A successor to the older ‘developed/developing’ discourse, the currency of North/South rose with the establishment and reports of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps more well-known as the Brandt Commission, after its chairperson, Willy Brandt, former chancellor of West Germany (Independent Commission on International Development Issues 1980, 1983). Understood in these terms, the global South comprises three continents (Asia, Africa and Central and South America) and parts of Oceania and is home to roughly 85 percent of the world’s population and most of those living in extreme poverty. These include the parts of the world most severely torn by violent conflict, the rapacious depletion of natural resources, environmental degradation, population dislocation and by political corruption and poor, often autocratic, governance. This ensemble of mutually reinforcing threats to human security dwarfs the crime problems that preoccupy most criminologists in the global North. Issues of vital criminological research and policy significance therefore abound in the global South. Although manifestly destructive to the lives and life chances of ‘the bottom billion’ in the global population (Collier 2007), they are, in a shrinking world with increasingly porous national borders, also highly consequential for South/North relations and global security and justice.

The conventional, geographical, rich/poor dichotomous image of North/South is helpful for throwing some of these issues into stark relief, but it is complicated by a range of factors with which Southern theory and Southern criminology seek to grapple. There is the fundamental point already made that the global South, and its forms of economic and political life, does not exist apart from the historical, highly unequal pattern of relationships with imperial countries of the global North. Also, it should not be forgotten that lines on maps, national borders and geographical boundaries are contingent constructions in worlds, both past and present, where the powerful are often enabled to draw them to suit their own economic and geopolitical interests, to create their own social and geographical realities on the ground and erase those of weaker, more vulnerable peoples.

This power is a defining feature of the colonial project, but its effects have perhaps been most profound in settler colonial societies whether classified as North or South: the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Kenya, Algeria and the countries of South America. Settler colonialism was one only of the forms taken by European expansion, but it did, as James Belich (2011: 23) observes, ‘reach further and last longer than empire’. These then are not postcolonial societies: independence did not deliver sovereignty into the hands of the first nations of these lands but into those of their white settler populations. And the struggles of these settler populations for national independence invariably rested on vigorous assertions of white identity and white supremacy as well as racist immigration policies aimed at further ‘whitening’ the population (Gott 2007; Belich 2011). This legitimized the expropriation, exploitation and marginalization of indigenous populations. At the same time, settlement in what were often harsh environments and climates inhospitable to the ‘white man’ (‘The White Man in the Tropics’ being a recurrent subject of imperial medical discourse) frequently necessitated that labor be forcibly extracted from the native population or that slaves or bonded labor be imported to meet labor needs.

These patterns of expropriation, exploitation and forced migration have left enduring imprints on colonial settler societies, whether they happen to be in the North or the South and whether they are gross domestic production-rich or not. In the USA, slavery, convict leasing, Jim Crow segregation laws and the mass incarceration of African Americans (Alexander 2010) are all evidence of the South within the North (also see chapter by Currie in this volume). In other colonial settler states, extreme poverty, serious levels of violence and massively disproportionate incarceration rates are commonly found in indigenous populations (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2009; and see chapter by Cunneen). Australia sits year in year out near the top of the UN Human Development Index (HDI), but the HDI of its indigenous peoples is roughly the same as that of Cape Verde and El Salvador, about one hundred and third in the world (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2009: 23). This has led some to compare conditions in remote parts of the country where indigenous people live in disproportionate numbers to ‘failed states’ (Dillon and Westbury 2007: 45–47).

Conventional North/South discourse also tends to be ‘top-down, national, and “terra-centric”’ (Christopher et al. 2007: 1). It is un-reflexive in relation to ‘cartographic structures of power’ and ‘scales of value which privilege large landmasses as uniquely important for human history’ (Samson 2011: 244). Oceans appear as no more than ‘big empty spaces’ on maps, neglected as ‘connector, facilitator and challenger’ for those living on, with and around them (Samson 2011: 249). This may be particularly so of the vast Pacific region stretching from Asia to the East coast of the Americas and comprising numerous island states (on island justice, see chapters by Pratt and Melei; Morton and Scott). Samson suggests that perhaps climate change along with space travel ‘will challenge the old prejudices, showing us images of the planet which do not respect our Eurocentric “up” and “down” orientations, and reminding us that all living things are dependent on Pacific weather systems’ (Samson 2011: 249). More urgently, rising sea waters caused by climate change threaten many of the island states of the Pacific with extinction. The Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea have already suffered this fate, being forced to relocate to Bougainville, itself an island that has recently experienced the traumas of decolonization and civil war (Beldi 2016). Climate-induced conflict, human dislocation and an emerging ‘climate apartheid’ (see chapter by Brisman, South and Walters) are among the many pressing issues attracting the attention of green criminologists influenced by a Southern perspective and Southern epistemologies (chapters by Goyes; White).

Criminology has been highly urban-centric as well as ‘terra-centric’. It has tended to maintain a highly selective focus on crime and justice in large population centers to the exclusion of the many more spaces and places that lie beyond them (chapter by Donnermeyer). The rural has often been treated as a naturally cohesive space, an exemplar of stable community prior to the disruptive impacts of industrialization and urbanization. From the standpoint of the colonial periphery, however, it was not the domestic urban context that was the primary site of world-shattering, frequently violent, social change, but the global countryside (Beckert 2014). Moreover, contemporary economic, social and technological change is intensifying the divides between city and country across both North and South, giving rise to novel crime problems and posing challenging questions in relation to the delivery of justice in rural and remote communities (Donnermeyer and DeKeseredy 2013; Barclay et al. 2007; Hogg and Carrington 2006). At the same time, marginalized and neglected spaces often afford opportunities for innovation in justice strategy and, equally, for rethinking received concepts and the role of traditional legal institutions (like that of the coronial inquest, as examined in the chapter by Bray, Carpenter and Barnes).

Finally, the criminological gaze has to an overwhelming extent been narrowly focused on crimes and crime control within the boundaries of pacified nation-states (Barberet 2014: 16), whose paradigmatic form is traceable to the democratic capitalist states in the global North. Criminology has in large part been a peacetime endeavor, albeit with a rising number of exceptions (Aas 2011; Bowling 2011; Barberet 2014; Hogg 2002; Walklate and McGarry 2015; Braithwaite and Wardak 2013; Green and Ward 2004; Hagan 2003; Hagan and Rymond-Richmond 2008). It has had little to say about the violence of state and nation building, of empire and settler colonialism, of the expropriation of indigenous peoples (Cunneen 2001) and of enslavement and other forms of forced labor migration. William Faulkner said, ‘The past is never dead. It is not even past’. The impacts of colonization live on in contemporary patterns of armed conflict, organized crime, gang wars and violence against women and children in settings where state agencies are often too weak, indifferent or corrupt to provide security for their citizens or, worse, are themselves directly complicit in genocidal violence, extrajudicial killings and other systematic human rights abuses. Many of the following chapters explore these issues in general and/or in particular global South settings (see chapters by Berents and ten Have; Uddin; Atkinson-Sheppard; Ceccato, Melo and Kahn; Azaola; Mutongwizo; Barberet and Carrington; Miedema and Fulu; Dekeseredy and Hall-Sanchez; Fragoso; Bahar). Chapters also critically interrogate the Northern constructions of certain forms of Southern violence and crime (Mayeda, Vijaykuma and Chesney-Lind; Bunei and Rono; Coomber, Moyle and Pavlidis) and theory and practice relating to criminal justice policy transfer from North to South (Blaustein, Pino and Ellison; Walklate and Fitzgibbon; Watson and Kerrigan). As many of the above chapters and others also show, local populations are not passive in the face of outside interventions, state abuses and the violence that often circumscribes their daily lives. Resistance, innovation and adaptation are also vital features of life lived in adversity from which others more fortune can learn.

It is clear then that Southern criminology must develop a more complex, dynamic conceptualization of the South and North/South relationships if the intellectual biases we have been discussing are to be corrected. Rather than a conceptualization based on a fixed geographical or economic binary, a more productive approach may (as Fonseca argues in his chapter) deploy ‘the South’ as metaphor for the ‘rupture with a static view of the international order’. In this usage, South references not only (or primarily) geographical regions, land masses, nations and sharply drawn lines on a map of the globe, but seeks to capture the flows and interrelationships—of force, influence, unequal exchange, domination—that connect peoples and practices across the globe. The approach would broaden knowledge and understanding and serve as a salve for what we argue is the insularity of metropolitan thinking in which hegemonizing theoretical generalization is rooted in partial and limited experiences and views of the world.

North/South and Global Convergence in the Digital Era: The New Crime and Security Landscape

There is also the consideration that while modernity, and indeed the world that preceded it, was always in some sense global, the global changes afoot today are affecting North/South relations in novel ways. There is talk of the ‘rise of the South’ and ‘epochal global rebalancing’ (United Nations Development Programme 2013), a dramatic shift in economic power away from the West and the North, as growth has taken off in the so-called BRICs, the expanding bloc of traditionally low- to middle-income countries represented by the big four (Brazil, Russia, India and China) (O’Neill 2013). As a result, quite massive strides have also been taken in the reduction of global poverty which has also brought about a decline in global inequality. On the other hand, while inequality between countries has fallen, inequality within them has increased just about everywhere (Bourguignon 2016). The incomes of wealthy elites in the South have been rocketing ahead of advances by the poor and others. The same is true in the heartlands of the North, where working and middle classes are facing the impacts of deindustrialization and off-shoring. Corporations have increasingly outsourced operations to low wage/low tax/lax regulatory jurisdictions leading to weakened trade unions, increased job insecurity, high long-term youth unemployment and stagnant incomes. The divides between rich and poor—economic, social, spatial—thus remain in the South and have greatly sharpened across the North (most dramatically so in the USA, Britain and the Eurozone). This appearance of ‘a South’ within the North is seeing countries and regions with huge and growing problems of unemployment and poverty (Southern Europe, the industrial wastelands of England’s North and the rust belt in the USA) increasingly pitted against political, corporate and financial elites intent on advancing their own interests while imposing austerity on others (on the crisis in the Eurozone and the impact on Greece, see Varoufakis 2016). There is too a deeply disturbing revival of racist extremism, a backlash against immigrants and other visible minorities, clarion calls to restore ‘law and order’ and growing government recourse to authoritarianism (see chapters by Hoang; Bessa and Garcia; Warren and Palmer).

The technological, economic and other forces driving these shifts also reflect a profound transformation in the ways power is projected in the contemporary world. No longer a matter simply of territorial control or expansion by states, practices of rule are increasingly embodied in information and knowledge-based economic and financial circuits, often presided over by placeless elites who owe fidelity to no nation. Digital technologies permit the organization and coordination of economic, political and cultural life without reference to national borders or the jurisdictional boundaries of legal systems. One effect has been to unleash new policing and surveillance strategies (chapter by Mann and Warren). At the same time, the costs of organizing crime and violence on an extraterritorial scale are also much reduced, producing criminal activities in new forms with amplified harmful effects: cybercrimes, online frauds, terrorism, people trafficking and so on (chapters by Lee; Cross; Sandy).

This is also facilitating a convergence of illicit with licit practices: reputable international banks aided by corps of professional lawyers and accountants provide the ‘financial getaway vehicles’ needed to successfully execute all manner of crimes, from money laundering for drug cartels to the corporate bribery of foreign governments to global tax evasion by corporations and individuals (like that uncovered in the Panama Papers). The worlds of North and South and rich and poor are thus connected in novel ways by these and other criminal activities, including environmental crime and corruption (see chapters by Lasslett and MacManus; Findlay). There is a shading of crime into politics, and in extreme cases—as with the ‘war on terror’ and the ‘war on drugs’—into armed conflict and warfare. Crime takes on a novel geopolitical and strategic significance, especially as impacts readily flow across borders. Responses in turn blur the boundaries between domestic criminal justice administration and the deployment of force for defense and national security purposes. They also blur, where they do not blatantly flout, the boundaries between legality and illegality: the use of drones to undertake assassinations in foreign countries in violation of their sovereignty, the outsourcing of war to private warlords and corporate mercenaries and the return of state-sponsored torture.

The massively increased salience of knowledge and information in the organization of contemporary social and economic life further underscores the critical importance of issues of cognitive justice which lie at the heart of the Southern criminology project. For, notwithstanding the evidence of declining global inequality, countries outside the North Atlantic metropole continue to occupy a subordinate position in the global organization of social scientific (and criminological) knowledge. That criminologies in the South have, until recently, tended to accept their subordinate place (Carrington et al. 2016: 3) has stunted the intellectual development and vitality of criminology, in the South, across Asia and globally. It has also perpetuated the relative neglect of pressing criminological issues which affect both North and South.

To be clear, however, our purpose is not to add to the growing catalogue of new criminologies. Rather Southern criminology is a theoretical, empirical and political project of redemption. It seeks to modify the criminological field to make it more inclusive of histories and patterns of crime, justice and security outside the global North. As demonstrated in the chapters that follow, it is inclusive of scholars from both North and South and seeks to work with and complement—to Southernize—other established and emerging fields in criminology: feminist (Barberet and Carrington), green (Goyes; White; Brisman, South and Walters), postcolonial (Cunneen; Brown), queer (Ball and Dwyer), rural (Donnermeyer), cultural (Harris and Wise; Scott Bray) and Asian (Liu). It seeks to introduce a perspective based on the analysis of crime and justice in the global South and of the historical and contemporary relationships linking South and North that have been constitutive of forms of life and thought in both, but which have been obscured by the metropolitan hegemony over criminological knowledge. It approaches these relationships as layered and dynamic rather than fixed, binary and forever oppositional. It acknowledges the obstacles to knowledge production and dissemination presented by the growing dominance of the English language as a global medium for sharing ideas, publishing, conference organization and research evaluation (Faraldo-Cabana). The impact of this is of course not confined to the South. There is a need therefore to foster stronger links and dialogues not only across the South but between South and North. Southern criminology is a theoretical project. It seeks to encourage and support theoretical innovation and not just the application of theory imported from the global North. Lastly southern criminology is a democratizing epistemology that challenges the power imbalances which have privileged knowledges produced in the metropolitan centers of the global North. Its purpose is not to dismiss the conceptual and empirical advances that social science has produced over the last century but to correct biases by decolonizing and democratizing the toolbox of available criminological concepts, theories and methods (Carrington et al. 2016: 3).

Rethinking Criminology from the Global South: Theoretical, Policy and Political Reconstruction and Innovation

Southern theory draws attention to the way concepts based on empirical specificities of the English-speaking global North have been inappropriately generalized to the global South, or neglected their specific differences (Carrington et al. 2016). The tendency to overlook or marginalize major historical and contemporary forms and trends in criminal justice practice that lie outside the Northern metropole has also skewed criminological theorizing. Southern experiences have been dismissed or neglected as sources for theoretical elaboration and reconstruction (chapters by Brown; Hogg and Brown). Even where the more recent impacts of globalization have been a focus of criminological theorizing, it has also been too readily assumed that Northern trends (like neoliberal penality) simply spread across the globe. There has been a failure to do justice to difference and diversity in the sources and trajectories of economic, social and penal policy (Connell and Dados 2014), a failure illustrated here in chapters examining punishment and penality in South America (Sozzo; Fonseca; Iturralde). While aspects of neoliberal crime control are evident in some of the trends in punishment in these countries, their penal practices are diverse, being shaped by distinctive local political economies and cultures of crime control.

Feminist concepts, produced largely in the Anglophone world in the Northern Hemisphere, have likewise tended to travel from North to South and West to East (Dongchao 2017), neglecting (as we noted earlier) the distinctive forms of gendered crime and violence that occur outside the Anglophone world (Barberet and Carrington). This is not to suggest that these analyses are faulty, simply that they are selective in privileging empirical referents and theoretical concepts derived from the geopolitical specificities of the metropolitan centers of the global North. Like criminology more generally, feminist criminology needs to broaden its conceptual and spatial horizons by globalizing its research agendas to add voices from the global South, thereby offering a corrective to the metropolitanism of feminist criminology (see chapters in Part IV).

Recently, Asian Criminology has burgeoned with the establishment and growing strength of the Asian Society of Criminology, the creation of its journal (The Asian Journal of Criminology) and a proliferation of research and publications dedicated to criminological issues in Asia (Liu et al. 2012). These initiatives are all important steps in creating an institutional bedrock for an Asian Criminology that resists the importation of metropolitan assumptions and theory, like American strain theory (Agnew 2015; Lin 2012), to study crime in Asian societies and which might therefore align with the concerns of Southern criminology (see chapter by Liu). As John Braithwaite has observed, ‘Asia’s most important contribution to global criminology is … in opening its eyes to completely new ways of seeing, as opposed to adjusting, testing, or revising western theories in light of eastern experience’ (Braithwaite 2015: 1). He identifies a number of distinctive ways that the restorative shaming, peace building and reconciliation practices of Indonesia, East Timor, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Polynesia create (not just contribute to) the basis for the development of an Asian Criminology from which the rest of the world can learn. After all, muses Braithwaite, these societies have been more successful at preventing crime than the societies from which general theories of crime and crime prevention originate, a view shared not so surprisingly by other prominent scholars committed to the advancement of Asian Criminology (Liu 2009: 1).

In his contribution which opens the final section of the collection, John Braithwaite further underlines the point that ‘There is much to learn from the way different locales across the global South approach the challenges of building societies with falling rather than rising levels of violence’. The chapters that follow explore in diverse national and local settings in the global South how state and communal violence, in some cases of the most extreme and traumatic kind, have given rise to innovative justice responses: the experience of transitional justice in Argentina (Zysman Quiros), the role of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (Viebach) and the operation of night patrols in Aboriginal communities in remote Australia (Scott, Barclay, Sims, Cooper and Love; also see the chapter by Bray, Carpenter and Barnes examining the role and potential of a very old mechanism—the coroner—for addressing violent death).

Research on innovative transitional and other justice programs and practices in the global South offer an opportunity to modify the dynamic whereby scholars, policy makers and practitioners in both South and North habitually train their gaze on the North for ideas, theories and justice strategies. The point, as Braithwaite stresses, is to open our eyes to new ways of seeing and our minds to new ways of thinking. This is the project of Southern criminology and one which we earnestly hope this collection advances.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kerry Carrington
    • 1
  • Russell Hogg
    • 1
  • John Scott
    • 1
  • Máximo Sozzo
    • 2
  1. 1.Queensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.National University of Litoral Santa FeSanta FeArgentina

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