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Criminological Theory 2018
Assessment 2 FAQ
I’m struggling to match the examples (refugees / family violence) to theory / I want to use to a theory but don’t know where it fits / what’s more important – the examples or the theory? / Should the example be based on the theory or the theory based on the example? Halp! Halp! Halp!
For this we need to return to the questions as-set. The question states:
TOPIC 1: “Australia’s punitive policy responses to refugees is a consequence of a moral panic and the vested interests of powerful groups”. Critically assess this statement with reference to a theory from Week 6 AND a theory from Week 7.
OR
TOPIC 2: “While the root cause of family violence is gender inequality, the failure of the criminal justice system in Australia to adequately respond to it is a consequence of both gender and institutional inequality”. Critically assess this statement with reference to a theory from Week 7 AND a theory from Week 8.
The task here is to critically assess the statement given. To do that you need to do use course theories from the named weeks to interrogate the statement. Does course theory support this statement, or not? How? To do this, you will need to demonstrate knowledge of the two chosen course theories, and demonstrate knowledge of the specific issue (Australia’s policy responses to refugees for topic 1, or family violence in Australia for topic 2).
So, if you are struggling, I suggest that you START by selecting the theories that you think work best with the statement, re-read the course text and lecture notes to get a good grasp of the theory, then use the examples given in the topic to do further research. So go theory - examples rather than examples - theory.
How much of the essay should be spent describing my examples and how much should be about theory?
Remember that this is a theory course so we’re more interested in your theory and course knowledge than your ability to describe the examples. Prioritise your theory. The bulk of the essay should be discussing and applying the theory to the example, and linking this to the topic question.
Can I use theory from outside weeks 6-8? Can I use a theorist that relates to the content from weeks 6-8 but isn’t covered in the course?
The short answer to both of these questions is NO. This assignment is testing your course knowledge and research skills; while it’s definitely encouraged that you do additional research, you should stick to the theories from weeks 6-8, using the theorists covered in either the lecture or reading material.
How do I critically assess the statement if I agree with it?
“Critically assess” means to evaluate or show the value of something. So if you agree with the statement then it’s absolutely fine to mount an argument throughout the essay demonstrating that the statement has merit.
Along the way though you still need to try to acknowledge any weaknesses in the statement as a means of strengthening your own argument. These counter arguments can come from the ‘critique’ section of the textbook chapters and the lecture. For example, a counter-argument in a discussion of power in Marxist criminology might be presented like so (counter-argument is in italics here for demonstration only, you do no italicise a counter argument in an essay):
“Marxist criminologists argue that the bourgeoisie hold all of the power when it comes to making criminal law. Some criminologists have argued that there are in fact a number of laws that do in fact exist to restrain individual capitalists and to punish their excesses, meaning that capitalist power is not the only factor in determining a criminal justice response (Sutton & Haines 2011 cited in Sutton, Cherney & White 2012: 137). However, these are limited in their scope; on balance it is clear that the law serves to protect the wealthy more than it does the poor. For example … ”
See how the writer tries to acknowledge counter-arguments as a means of strengthening their case and demonstrating those all-important critical thinking skills? Here’s a site that may help you with using counter-arguments in the essay.
How do I know if something is a moral panic or not?
Lots of students are attracted to the idea of a moral panic, but then struggle to use it appropriately, because many things discussed as a ‘moral panic’ might not meet the actually quite strict set of stages as developed by academic theorists such as Cohen or Goode and Ben Yehuda. To decide if something is a moral panic or not you should do two things 1) make sure that the issue’s trajectory matches all of either Cohen or Goode and Ben-Yehuda’s stages and 2) try to find a published peer-reviewed academic text which describes that example (or similar) as a moral panic.
DO NOT do a Google search and use sources like this blog post which has a very vague and dubious definition of a moral panic, using a dictionary definition rather than academic theory: http://www.alternet.org/media/12-stupidest-racist-moral-panics-crack-babies-ferguson-effect Many of the examples given on blogs like these don’t match the criteria!
Some students will no doubt do a great job on this, but a poor understanding of what a moral panic is could be a real stumbling block. As the textbook has less than two full pages on moral panics, students who chose this topic will need to use discuss moral panic quite specifically, work harder and read more credible research and theory to make sure that they are demonstrating strong knowledge of what a moral panic is.
The questions say to choose a theory from two different weeks. Can I do both labelling and moral panic, or Marxist Criminology and Conflict Theory?
No, you should use two theories from two different weeks, so you need to select one theory from one week and one from another, for example for topic one: moral panic and Conflict Theory, or for topic two Feminism and Marxist Criminology.
Do I have to pick one theorist or can I use a few?
The question asks you pick theories, not theorists. This means that you can use a few theorists that write about the same type of theory. A good example of this might be using Cohen and Goode & Ben-Yehuda, all of whom talk about Moral Panic theory.
However, if the theory of just one theorist, say Cohen or Becker, is most relevant to what you are discussing then it’s fine just to use the one theorist. The only time that this might not apply is when you are discussing Conflict theory or Marxist theory – see next question.
I’m doing Marxist criminology and using Marx as the only theorist – is that OK? / I’m doing Conflict Theory and using Weber as the only theorist – is that OK?
If you read the textbook chapter again you'll see that there is no direct reference to any of Marx's original works in the chapter on Marxist Criminology. As explained in the lecture, the Conflict and Marxists criminologists took their influence from the foundational theories of Weber and Marx. Marx himself wrote about capitalism, alienation and false consciousness but never wrote at any real length about crime or the relationship between crime and capitalism. However, as a foundational theorist, his ideas influenced the Marxists criminologists of the 20th Century and especially of the 1970s, e.g. Quinney and Chambliss. They were the ones to write about capitalism and crime and it is their theories that form the large part of the chapter.
The question asks you to choose theories from the course not theorists. What that means is that if you decide to use Marxist criminology then it's absolutely fine to use Marx but you should also use 1-2 of the Marxist criminologists to make sure you're getting that all-important criminological element in. The same can be said for Conflict theory – it’s fine to use Weber but you should also use one or more of Sellin, Vold, or Turk.

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