A college course in Criminology is a risky event...for the students as well as the teacher. It's risky because its various subjects are quite controversial and tend to generate passions...often based solely on personal experience and "belief." Everyone comes into a course like this with views already shaped to some degree...nobody comes in "neutral," so to speak. While there is certainly nothing wrong with "passion/experience/believing," to simply base our conclusions and our judgments solely on any or all of these is NOT sociological...NOR "critical." So, although we must respect these things within all of us, this is first and foremost a college course...where investigation and learning is the norm...NOT an informal discussion group or a get-together in your living room or around the kitchen table.
Criminology is a survey course designed to investigate "crime" and "criminals" in America, primarily. It is also a course concerned with "law and order"...that is, why so many people actually obey the law. So...yes, this course will cover the theories of crime and its causation, historically and currently. However, we will not simply try to pick or favor this or that theory. Our ultimate focus will involve arriving at a synthesis of these theories, where possible, in order to understand the ultimate reference point of ANY sociological inquiry...that is, the lived-experience of human beings in relation to one another. It is this experience, not just the ideas about it, that will be our primary concern. Thus, we will need to try to avoid defensive stances about personally-favored perspectives...a daunting task to be sure.
Coverage of material in any survey course is always a topic of concern...especially when there's so much. So, allow me to be straightforward about this...there will be times when we cover some specific details in our textbook and reader. However, at other times I will introduce and lecture on issues of equal importance from other sources. Yet, if you do the required reading and come to class, these "other issues" will make more sense to you. Any course in any subject, at a minimum, is a selective presentation of some ideas and a lesser coverage of others. This course and this teacher will be no different.
Although this particular course will not involve a detailed investigation of the "Criminal Justice System" itself (that's two other courses!), we will inevitably be talking about this "System" indirectly at all times. For those going on to take these other courses, hopefully this will prepare you to better understand that System when you do.
Finally, part of the study of Criminology is the very way we go about conducting that study. Since we cannot separate ourselves, physically, emotionally, nor intellectually...from the social and cultural setting in which our course take place, an essential part of it will involve recognizing how our society affects what we see, feel, and think about crime.
So, with all this in mind...the Course Objectives are as follows...
2. To learn how to "bracket" your thinking, beliefs, values, and feelings about "crime and criminals" so that new and/or different ideas can be given a "hearing."
3. To learn the practice of "Empathy". This will be applied to the views of each other...as well as...about the subject matter we're going to study.
4. To learn how to better express ourselves about the often difficult and disturbing contradictions involved in studying Criminology. This is especially important in areas of disagreement. In short, we need to become better at "agreeing to disagree" (no matter how trite that sounds) with each other...allowing all views to be expressed without personal "put-downs"...or...polarization...and to be understood on their own terms.
5. To learn about the immense variety of perspectives, paradigms, and theories concerning "crime and criminals"...especially how different they seem (and are) from one another. This will necessarily involve a critical examination of their premises and assumptions...especially about the "nature of human nature." This includes an assessment of the "state of criminology"...how "mixed" its theories are...some quite useless, in fact.
6. To learn how to "de-polarize" many of these theories. This means to stop pitting them against each other and then choosing the one we "like" or "believe in." Rather, it means to utilize them in order to create a "synthesis" of understanding...an integrated view of "crime" which takes into account all the data...not just what supports a favored view.
7. To learn to recognize the impact of one's learned-values on the judgments about "crime and criminals." This means to realize that we experience a "reality of crime" which may or may not be fully accurate. It also means we need to recognize the source(s) of our "beliefs." Further, we need to relativize our society's views of crime. This involves understanding that what our society says about crime isn't necessarily what crime may "really" be all about.
8. To learn that "crime" is NOT a type of behavior, but rather, is a definition ABOUT behavior. This involves a sociological search for similar patterns behind or beneath otherwise seemingly very different realities.
9. To learn the limits of a "legal definition" of crime...to understand that our ideas and CJ System is a product of a particular social, political, and economic system and will necessarily reflect the principles and practices of that system...and of those who benefit from it being a certain way. This means, also, to understand that there are other activities and behaviors that can be viewed as "crime" when "social definitions" are utilized.
10. To learn that as long as we continue to polarize ourselves into the "us" vs "them" categories...we will never realize that it is WE who produce both "crime" and "criminals."