Book Review: Emotions, Crime and Justice

Emotions, Crime and Justice
Edited by Susanne Karstedt, Ian Loader and Heather Strang
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 380. Hardcover
Reviewed by Christiane Grieb, University College London, UK.

The edited volume Emotions, Crime and Justice is the result of an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to the study of crime and of adequate societal responses. These works draw on the role of emotions in recent studies of crime and criminal justice systems (CJS). Susanne Karstedt’s introduction emphasises the traditional suspicion of emotions in legal and criminological research. At the centre of traditional criminological studies was the analysis of statistical data to explain why, when, and by whom crime was committed in the hope to provide policy makers with meaningful information for crime prevention and punishment programs. To prove that such narrow-minded approach is inadequate, and that emotional needs of all involved are effected before, during and after the violent events, is the shared objective of the volume. The chapters discuss how emotions drive offenders; govern experiences of shame and collective reactions and the responses of the harmed communities and judicial institutions.

The chapters are organised in five sections, in which criminologists, sociologists, psychologists and law makers provide different analyses of the role of classic emotions, like fear and anxiety, shame and vengeance, in the judicial spheres. The first section, “Emotions in Transgression and Crime” studies emotional experiences of offenders, victims and public. For example, discussion of violence offences committed by police focuses upon fears of patrol officers and connects these to group dynamics that create feelings of panic that result in the release of emotional tensions and fears in violent attacks. Eliza Ahmed and John Braithwaite further argue for an integration of the emotions of shame and guilt and of pride and self-esteem alike, as restorative factors in the acknowledgement and rehabilitation of conflicted work place relationships. The authors validate their support of a ‘constructive shame management’ by using psychometric data. Considering that studies of stigmatisation and effective communication, seem to confirm the dynamics of an interdependent self in the management of social bonds, the authors demonstrate that emotional intelligence is indeed defined by the management skills that deal with response and social incorporation of emotions on a daily basis.

The next section examines the ‘Emotional Experience of Justice”. Lawrence Sherman and Heather Strang use neuroscience to probe the deeply rooted, ‘hard-wired’ urge for revenge to relate effectiveness of punishment to emotional responses. Making an argument for the facilitation of restorative justice by the transfer of control from the dominant offender to the acknowledged victim, they emphasise the role of emotional experience of justice. A restorative approach aims to replace feelings of marginalisation with those of belonging. That perspective can help to understand crime not only as judicial or criminological problem, it is also the result of conflicts embroiled in political, ethnic and economic marginalisation. To remove feelings of marginalisation effectively, all affected must participate in the practice of justice.

Social reintegration only works when the offender is emotionally responsive to offers of reintegration. In many non-western societies the importance of rituals and personally experienced emotional balance are stressed, and now empirical studies justify their acknowledgment in western judicial systems. Recent work on reconciliation and transitional justice try to carry these dynamics of emotion into global debates. Meredith Rossner’s excellent empirical report on the micro-sociology of restorative justice programs for convicted offenders in the UK confirms the importance of restorative rituals. She considers reintegrative shaming as an interactive ritual set by offender and victim rather than as a restorative demand of the community. The study stresses the importance of emotional interaction between offender and victim in a ritualised acknowledgement of victimisation and genuine regret to also achieve a communal restoration and long term reintegration of the offender.

Tom Tyler looks at emotional dimensions of experiencing legal norms. He shows that the perception of procedural justice causes a greater respect for the norms, when the law is experienced as neutral and fair and is executed by a respectful treatment of its addressees. Kristina Murphy’s study of ‘Procedural Justice, Emotions and Resistance to Authority” points to an understanding of the justice system as a cycle of emotions of all involved. She studies basic feelings like anger, shame, anxiety, or embarrassment and resentment of actions experienced as unjust in order to probe an interrelationship between emotions and the perceptions of justice. Although further research is required, her work provides first emotional variables for a prediction of the level of resistance to state regulation in personal behaviours.

The final studies shed light on the role of emotions in criminal justice institutions. Basvon Stokkom considers the feeling and the display of emotions in the context of policing, while Elaine Crawley studied emotions among prisoner guards. The effectiveness of the criminal justice institutions depend as much on norms as on the emotional dynamics that govern authoritarian tasks in response to the emotional experiences of victims and criminals.

The editors, together with the other 19 contributors, have produced an excellent reference work for the emerging field of theoretical criminology. The articles demonstrate how the studies of crime are moving away from an empirical and statistical approach towards recognition of emotions that govern societies. The conviction that emotions must be acknowledged to make judicial responses more effective, are the common denominator of all contributions to this volume. It is enlightening to see new cultural wisdom winning over the ‘ivory towers’ of scholarly research and thereby, firmly establishing the connection between theory and practice by the best argument we can find on this planet – the nature of the human being. It seems we always need ‘scientific’ proof of the obvious. This obvious issue that defines us as human beings, is our need to emotionalise our environments, our need to ‘feel’ the respect and belonging offered by our peers –  who, as we ourselves – understood that we are only happy and content when we are accepted as worthy of social integration.

The book’s intended audience are workers and policy makers within the – notably western – criminal justice systems, so that its usefulness for researchers and advocates of memorialisation, international historisation of conflict and transitional justice is not obvious. But this is no reason to ignore it. In the spirit of our network’s ambitious goal of fostering interdisciplinarity, we can gain important insights from criminological studies around the world, if we accept that the practices of national justice systems are heavily influencing the justice and reconciliation concepts we propose and see merged in international affairs. Understanding emotions that govern reconciliation among human beings is best studied at the micro-level and not by studies of state politics. Many international conflicts cannot be settled permanently because responses incorporate the debilitating procedures of western criminal justice systems, instead of reflecting the results of its questioning. The micro-sociological dynamics of restorative justice as discussed in these studies should be considered when implementing transitional justice program in post-conflict societies. Hence, I hope the findings will not only find entry into future reforms of criminal justice systems, but also result in concepts of transitional justice that accommodate local needs of reconciliation and reconciliatory processes of international recognition of those societies and states that emerge from war and multi-ethnic conflicts.

Download PDF of this review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *