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Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of Criminal Justice

What is good criminal justice theory?


John P. Crank ⁎, Blythe A. Bowman
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Nebraska, Omaha, NE 68182, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

This article assesses current work in criminal justice theory and identifies two criteria for theory—that which
appeals to empirical validation, and that which appeals to historical tradition. Appeals to empirical validation
are consistent with a scientific model, while appeals to historical tradition are consistent with an interpretive
model of social science. Both models are described and the way in which each contributes to theory in
criminal justice is discussed.
© 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Introduction The issue of theory goes to the heart of the field of criminal justice.
Should the field be thought of as the study of the U.S. criminal justice
Nabokov once said of Invitation to a Beheading “I know a few apparatus, with theory rigorously located within that focused inquiry?
readers who will jump up, ruffling their hair,” to which Nafisi (2004, Should the field have a more open-ended inquiry, looking at the
p. 22) replied, “Well, absolutely.” Anyone reading Invitation would different kinds of meanings that justice can have? Further, theory has
likely agree. It challenges, feigns, shifts in one direction while blurring implications for methods—should one stay within the scientific
into another, its characters come in and out of existence, and the boundaries, intent on the criterion of statistical regularity in the
ending is...well…explaining the ending is like describing a dream to validation of theory development? Should one look at theory more
someone who has never had one. It is a tactile, plastic work, a work locally and more interpretively, tying it more closely to the world of its
that should make anyone in the justice fields uncomfortable about her actors, or as Geertz (1994) put it, a more thickly descriptive approach?
or his work.1 An attempt to codify theory is not an innocuous project. When
Is Invitation good theory? It is certainly good fiction. There is no thinking about rules for the selection or construction of theory, one
rule that says that theory cannot be fiction; indeed, in a sense all must be beware of the implications of canon—the notion that a select
theory is fiction in its original meaning, in that it places into relief body of works embody the important meanings of the field. Canon is
patterns of human behavior as those patterns are imagined by the always a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it provides its scholars
theorist. As Gadamer (1976) noted, theory in the social sphere is and students with a sense of the identity and great works of a field. On
always an alienation—an interpretation abstracted from the processes the other, it tends to fix a field, locating it in space and time and
it seeks to represent. There are not concrete things out there that providing a boundary on its identity that might inhibit flexibility
represent the stuff of criminal justice research—stuff like justice, due and adaptation. Definitions of theory carry the same potential
process, or police culture—that exist independently of the conceiving limitations—by adopting a set of formal procedures for defining
mind. The line between theory and fiction, however rigorously drawn, what constitutes theory, one creates an area of non-theory that might
will always be highly interpretive. be fertile for understanding or expanding justice practices.
How, then, does one know if a writing is also a good theory? Are This article is about theory in the field of criminal justice. That
there a set of rules that one can look to that will tell what a good criminal justice is an academic field is itself an open question. The
theory is? Certainly, rules abound for theoretical construction. Yet, the distinction between the discipline of criminal justice and criminology
imposition of rules on theory carries a dispensation—that whatever is is not established in any sort of academic sense. The core identity of
outside the rules is not-theory and should not be considered a the field of criminal justice—whether it be policy oriented, inter-
legitimate source of ideas on how to theorize a topic. For justice disciplinary, a criminology, or a field organized under the umbrella of
research, especially at this early stage of theoretical development, is justice broadly conceived—is up in the air (see Crank, 2003). Yet, in the
there “not-theory” to discard as the field moves forward? To say what current era, a number of writers are developing theory specifically
cannot be theory is close to saying what body of ideas cannot be located under a criminal justice rubric. Whether criminal justice has
considered as justice. “come of age,” as Clear (2001) has asked and ignited controversy with
the question, the development of a body of theory appropriate for a
field of criminal justice is proceeding apace.
⁎ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 402 213 9194. This article looks at theory as it pertains to criminal justice broadly,
E-mail address: jcrank@mail.unomaha.edu (J.P. Crank). by contrasting scientific social science theory to interpretive (also

0047-2352/$ – see front matter © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2008.09.005
564 J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572

called hermeneutic) theory. Interpretive approaches are considered criminal justice process—policing, the courts, and corrections. Scho-
because they have historically provided the most wide-reaching lars in each area wrote chapters assessing the general state of theory
challenges to scientific notions of social science theory (Gadamer, in each organizational area.
1981; Geertz, 1994; Giddens, 1976). By “playing” the two approaches Unlike Bernard and Engel (2001), who provided a meta-theoretical
to theory building against each other, one acquires a sense of the conception of theory building, the chapters in Duffee and Maguire's
strengths and weaknesses of each. The outcome of this “play” is not a (2007) work generally provide an empirically grounded notion of
discredit of either approach, but is intended to foster a keener theory development.4 This means that theory emerged from con-
understanding of the nature of the kinds of knowledge that the field of tinuities identified in the systematic assessment of findings from
criminal justice develops as it forms theoretical identity. empirical research conducted in each area.5
This article will “play” issues in the social science of criminal justice as Two factors, Duffee and Maguire (2007) observed, affect how one
follows. First, it will look at four works specifically written for criminal should think about criminal justice theory: (1) the boundaries of the
justice theory in the recent past. Second, it will consider the scientific field of criminal justice, and (2) what kind of social science
model of social science, which appears to be the dominant model in methodology should be used for theory-testing. The boundaries—
criminal justice today, and at a hermeneutic model of social science, that region that marks criminal justice identity, are described as
selected for this article and discussed in detail because this model poses follows:
basic questions to the scientific model traditionally understood. Third,
this article looks at convergences between the two perspectives. This Criminal justice theory seeks to explain and examine the
section is presented to move the discussion beyond an “either-or” variations in, and the causes of, aspects of governmental social
conclusion regarding scientific and interpretive bases to knowledge, control systems, which select the criminal sanction over other
describing similarities consistent with the way other social sciences have forms of social control and shape the nature of the criminal
adapted their fields to both philosophies of social science. The sanction to be employed. (p. I-24)6
conclusions are presented as a “classroom discussion” in order to provide
a broad statement of the contribution of both perspectives to theory. Importantly, the authors did not limit the definition of theory to U.S.
criminal justice systems, practices, or attitudes. This allows for a quite
Contemporary works on criminal justice theory broad notion of justice practices to enter into the ambit of appropriate
theoretical inquiry. Additionally, the definition states a focus on
The development of criminal justice theory marks a passage. It is the governmental-level criminal justice systems, so it does not appear to
transition of the academic field of criminal justice through its normative, allow for theory that focuses on non-state actors such as Amnesty
nascent and inchoate youth, and—one hopes—toward some notion of International.
academic maturity. It might be best to think of the formal development With regard to methodology, Duffee and Maguire (2007) are
of theory in criminal justice as a stage in which it develops the scholarly solidly in the ranks of the scientific model of social science methods.
capacity to reflect on itself. This stage is embodied in a corpus of ideas This is suggested by chapter two, in which Snipes and Maguire (2007)
that, hopefully, helps criminal justice become something more than a offer a five-pronged test to identify criminal justice theory, adapted
specialized sociology, a branch of political science, a psychology of the from Dubin (1978). It is presented in Fig. 1.
dark side, or at worst, a multidisciplinary field absent core identity and The five-pronged test in Fig. 1 accomplished several purposes. It
constrained to the fringes of academic recognition. bounded the arena of interest to official responses to potentially
Four works have been written that specifically aim at the develop- criminal behavior. That potentiality must be reasonable. The entity
ment of criminal justice theory. Two might be called scientific,2 in the carrying out the official response must be a part of the criminal justice
sense that they tend to view theoretical development in terms of rigor in system. Additionally, the theory must fit the model of accepted social
empirical hypothesis testing. Two can be described as interpretive, science standards.
which means that they seem to be based on their author's personal Crank (2003) presented a sharply different notion of criminal
estimations of the general theoretical traditions of the field, with a focus justice theory, questioning both the boundaries in contemporary
on big ideas with rich historical traditions.3 The scientific models are criminal justice practice and the use of scientific methods. An open-
those of Bernard and Engel (2001) and Duffee and Maguire (2007). The ended notion of justice, not a more focused identity of American
interpretive models are those of Crank (2003) and Kraska (2004, 2006). criminal justice, should be the central organizing concept of the field.
The first perspective on theory-building considered here is Bernard Crank argued that justice could not be conceived only in terms of
and Engel's (2001) meta-theoretical model for theory construction. The crime control practice. There are simply too many competing claims
field of criminal justice, the authors noted, has been focused on practice, and beliefs regarding the meanings and purposes of justice. Justice is
and further scholarly progress of criminal justice as a scientific field will at its core problematic: an open-ended inquiry whose meanings
depend on its ability to develop theoretically. What theoretical regime, cannot be fixed. The role of social science inquiry was not to find
they ask, would provide a way for the field to advance? Bernard and common ground, but to explore the many forms justice can take (see
Engel presented a model for theoretical growth grounded in scientific Warnke, 1999). With regard to the field of inquiry, Crank provided no
notions of criminal justice and organized in terms of empirical validity boundaries at all. Crank can be said to ground his work in a challenge
testing. Existing criminal justice theories should be grouped first by the
dependent variables. They argued that dependent variables were of
three types: behaviors of criminal justice agents, behaviors of criminal
justice organizations, and characteristics of the justice system and its
components. The effects of independent variables, drawn from different
theoretical perspectives, should then be empirically compared for their
relative explanatory power. Theories that provide little explanatory
value could then be discarded. Theoretical unification, it is hoped, could
be achieved through this kind of empirical testing.
A second scientific perspective on criminal justice theory-building
is found in the work of Duffee and Maguire (2007). Their edited work
considered here is organized normatively; first, as an overview of
criminal justice theory, then of those organizations responsible for U.S. Fig. 1. Snipes and Maguire’s (2007) five-pronged test to identify criminal justice theory.
J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572 565

to what he viewed as the conflation of the term justice with U.S. These works differ on two important dimensions. Bernard and
criminal justice practices, taking the position that it is a “black box” Engel (2001) and Duffee and Maguire (2007) located their ideas of
term—a term, according to Latour (1987), whose meanings become good theory in clearly defined notions of criminal justice, through the
taken for granted, but when considered closely are subject to broad use of crisp theoretical definitions, and by assessing empirical
and contested interpretations.7 research. This approach can be described as an appeal to empirical
Kraska (2004, 2006, p. 6) looked at theory in terms of “orientations verification. Legitimacy of theory was based on the extent to which
of understanding.” He selected the term “orientations” because hypotheses could be empirically validated. Conceptual terms are
they were ways of thinking that “orient our thinking about criminal clearly defined and have measurable empirical referents. When one
justice and crime control in specific ways.” His works identified the considers critical theory in this way, one finds its value in the extent to
implications of eight different orientations for thinking about the which it has been empirically tested and not rejected. That it might be
nature of the criminal justice system—each telling the story of supported or advocated by a community of interest, independent of
criminal justice from a different point of view or reference. The empirical testing, is irrelevant. The history of the works associated
purpose of these orientations was to show that the field's diversity of with the Marxian tradition is important only insofar as that history
thought was a theoretical strength. Kraska also referred to orienta- clarifies its conceptual definitions, empirical linkages, and testing
tions as metaphors (see Morgan, 1986) because they highlighted procedures.
certain aspects of scholarly thinking about criminal justice. His Notions of good theory, as this article interprets them from these
concept of orientations is quite similar to the interpretive notion of four works, are difficult to reconcile in terms of each other. If one
traditions in that both represent schools of thinking carried by follows the lead of Snipes and Maguire (2007) and of Bernard and
particular groups, and so his way of organizing theory is consistent Engel (2001) because of their emphasis on scientific rigor, does this
with an interpretive notion of theory building. mean that the only good theory is that which falls within the ambit of
Kraska framed the boundaries of theory by locating the purposes of the scientific model of social science? Put differently, should a
analysis to what he called the criminal justice “apparatus.” He selected methodological issue—the ability to measure concepts—drive what
the term apparatus rather than the more commonly used criminal one finds to be acceptable theory?
justice “system,” in order to include non-state actors and other On the other hand, if one prefers Crank (2003) and/or Kraska
groups such as the media who are associated with justice practice. (2004, 2006) for their appeal to tradition, is one opening the door for
Apparatus was a finesse on the term “system,” typically used as an any old thing to be studied as theory that dares to call itself such and
umbrella term to describe the tens of thousands of organizations that has a following? For example, can one call liberal and conservative
make up U.S. penal practices. Apparatus also served to broaden the political ideologies theories, even recognizing that they make use of a
focus of analysis. Through the use of terms such as “apparatus” and coded and partisan language?
“orientations,” Kraska sought to keep the field boundaries open and Herein is a most interesting puzzle. From what high captain's
flexible. perch can one choose which is a better way to theorize criminal
These four theoretical works vary on two dimensions pertinent to justice? What standpoint outside of theory can one take to decide
this article—whether they find theory to be good because it is of which is the best way to think about theory? These questions
sustained interest to particular communities of interest, or because it push the inquiry toward the philosophy of the social sciences to
can be empirically validated. Crank and Kraska derived their examine these different theoretical perspectives. Perhaps philoso-
conceptions of criminal justice theory from broad, open conceptions phy of social science can help answer the question—which is better
of justice. Both, additionally, selected perspectives that they perceived theory?
to represent current trends in the field of criminal justice, though
Crank expanded his theory stable with perspectives adapted from Theoretical implications of different models of social science
other social sciences. Their work can be said to appeal to recognizable
theoretical traditions in criminal justice or a related field. That is, these The scientific model of social science. The first two works, Bernard
theories had gained legitimacy within scholarly communities involved and Engel (2001) and Duffee and Maguire (2007), were based in a
in the development of the field of criminal justice, and they “fit” the scientific model of the social sciences. The empirical model of science
authors' notions of the more important ways justice was conceptua- has been widely studied in the philosophy of science. Popper (2000)
lized. This can be called theoretical development by appeal to famously provided central elements of the scientific model of theory,
tradition. Appeals to tradition are always interpretive—they find the widely studied and recognized for their general applicability,
value of a perspective in a community of interest. The meaning of a presented in Fig. 2.
corpus of ideas in a work are consequently the interpreted product The empirical conception of science presented in Fig. 2 is integral
produced by the intent of the author, the traditions of interpretation to the physical sciences. This model is not politically neutral. To the
that have been appended to the work over time, and the perspective of contrary, its elements represented—and continue to represent—
the reader. foundational challenges to hierarchical bases of knowledge. Scientific
For example, both Crank and Kraska selected critical theory, theory emerged as an Enlightenment challenge to the central
typically traced to the writings of Marx. Critical theory has been of hierarchies of the Middle Ages, church and state. Its challenge
sustained interest by a scholarly community that has established itself stemmed from its notion of “truth.” That which one takes as truth,
as a source of critique of Western capitalism.8 The body of work that the products of scientific research, can be derived from one's own
makes up this historical tradition contains not only the original observations. If the church says something about what it means to be
writings of Marx, but subsequent works that have interpreted Marx, human, one can measure it and see if it is true. If the government tells
and work on conflict theory, class, and political economy. For example, someone what it is doing, well, that person can go out and gather data
Reiman's (2004) assessment of ideology, class, and criminal justice, to see if it is true from their (scientific) point of view.
now in its seventh edition, is a current work that falls solidly within The scientific model of social science is strongly democratic. It strips
this tradition and shows that critical writings continue to receive authority over knowledge from the state and church and relocates it in
support within an academic community of interest in the field of the individual citizen. It should never be thought of as politically
criminal justice. Finally, student and instructor discussions in the neutral, because it is at every step a challenge to the knowledge
classroom, or contemporary monographs, are the most current produced, legitimated, and controlled by central state hierarchies.
actualization of the way in which that corpus of work and attached The challenge of science to hierarchies of church and state
meaning find life for current readers. continue to be vibrant in the current era. For example, the scientific
566 J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572

Duffee and Maguire (2007) and of Bernard and Engel (2001) are
organized in terms of the scientific model. From the vista of the
scientific model of the social sciences, they are good models for the
development of theory. Kraska (2004, 2006) and Crank's (2003, 2004)
works, on the other hand, appear less well scientifically organized.
Kraska seems somewhat out of focus, concerned primarily with big
ideas and showing incidental regard to their testability. Crank, on the
other hand, appears to be positively misguided, arguing that criminal
justice theory should be organized around an immeasurable and
open-ended idea of justice, and that the recognition of the limitations
of standpoint theory undercuts even the possibility of common
identification of a neutral terminology for scientific testing.

The hermeneutic model of the social sciences. The works of Crank


(2003, 2004) and Kraska (2004, 2006) are more consistent with a
hermeneutic approach to social science because the selection of
theories appeals to tradition and to communities of interest. The
hermeneutic philosophy rejects fundamental elements of the scientific
Fig. 2. Popper's model of empirical science. approach. One such fundamental element in empirical science is the
notion that a field can develop a neutral or objective language—a
scientific discourse—through which it can translate the world into an
theory of evolution has been the subject of a great deal of debate by object of its research. The problem is that, to have a neutral language,
those who believe that evolution and divine human origins are the language must be tied to things—it must represent things—in some
incompatible notions. In 2005, the Kansas Board of Education voted sort or underlying reality on which all can agree. In the social world,
six to four to approve public school science standards that cast doubt however, these things do not exist. Giddens (1976) observed that there
on the scientific theory of evolution. It was the third time in six years was not, at the level of reality substrate, a layer of social knowledge that
that the board had rewritten standards regarding the teaching of is “certain.” The perspectives of social scientists were instead a product
evolution. The new standards were drafted with the assistance of of their historical traditions. Social scientists used social meanings
advocates of “intelligent design,” a view of history that the universe is through a discourse that they are already inside of, peering outward
so complex that it must have been created by a higher power (CNN. from their discourse to make sense of the intentions of whatever group
com, 2005). they were interested in, oftentimes reinterpreting that group's behavior
Intelligent design is widely supported in the United States. A into the discourse already understood by social science. There was a
Gallup poll in 2006 found that over half of all Americans rejected great deal of knowledge production, but no understanding.
scientific evolution and believed that “God created man exactly how Abstract concepts find meaning by an appeal to local sensory
Bible describes it” (Editor and Publisher, 2006). President George W. experiences. Consequently, the meanings of concepts are always a
Bush in 2005 endorsed the teaching of intelligent design in schools product of local sensory data, not universal truths. Attempts to find
(CNN.com, 2005). One can see in these challenges to evolution that objectivizing, neutral definitions of social concepts always push social
Enlightenment notions of science continue to be controversial.9 scientists back on their culturally understood meanings—and away
The scientific model has been central to theory development in the from any objective social reality. When someone asks what a crime is,
social as well as the physical sciences. One can refer back to Timascheff's for example, one might provide an example to which that person can
(1967) widely cited definition of sociological theory to find a definition relate. Its meaning is rooted in concrete sensory experience. All the
consistent with the scientific model of social science. Timascheff was words in the social science of criminal justice have meanings that are
selected because his work marks the critical time in the early history of only sensible locally and practically, finding their meaning within
American sociology when it began the move toward scientifically-based particular traditions, and they exist by appeal to what the senses show.
empirical theory. According to Timascheff (1967): This problem can be called Giddens' (1976, p. 135) caution: there is no
“theoretically neutral observation language.” Knowledge, in other
A theory is a set of propositions complying, ideally, with the words, is always knowledge from a point of view; it represents one's
following conditions: one, the propositions must be couched in historical perspective. Giddens' caution emphasizes the local basis of
terms of exactly defined concepts; two, they must be consistent sensory knowledge. Social knowledge is always rooted in local
with one another; three, they must be such that from them the experience and finds its meaning within particular communities of
existing generalizations could be deductively derived; four, they interest. Consequently, there is no independent, objective source that
must be fruitful—show the way to further observations and one can turn to that will provide an impartial, neutral interpretation of
generalizations increasing the scope of knowledge. (p. 10) the world.10
Giddens thus shifted social thought in a hermeneutic direction,
Popper's scientific model of science applied to social science is and the hermeneutic model will be considered at this point as an
evident in Timascheff's description of theory. Timascheff (1967) noted alternative to the scientific model. Hermeneutics, also called inter-
that “every theory...must be subjected to verification” (p. 10). pretive social science, has provided a notion of theory that challenges
Observation enables evaluation: generalizations—the root concepts central assumptions of the scientific model. If there is no neutral
of theory—“are drawn from facts observed in the field or in closely language, how can one account for what one witnesses?
related fields” (p. 5). If theories postulate different outcomes, Consider the following thought experiment, intended to illustrate
observation methods must be used to decide which theory is most the interpretive challenge to a scientific social science. Imagine an
compatible with the “testing experience.” This is a notion of social apple falling from a tree. A scientist could, with a great deal of
science theory grounded in empirical observation and subjected to mathematical precision, write and test an equation that would
testing and falsification. precisely predict the velocity of the falling apple at any point in its
The goodness of the four criminal justice works can be assessed in trajectory. Suppose, however, that there is a complication. What if the
terms of the scientific model of social science theory. The works of rate at which the apple fell depended on the attitude of the apple?
J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572 567

Imagine an experiment in which the scientist measures the velocity Not only is it interpreting what another person is doing, it is
and finds that it changes. Sometimes it is fast, and sometimes it is interpreting it from one's historical tradition. This interpretation—
slow. Suppose the apple was itself intentionally changing the rate at call it self—faces another—call it other. So, even while self is trying to
which it fell, and the scientist could not accurately assess the speed learn the meaning of other's sense-making, self also is historically
with which the apple fell unless she took into account what the apple situated, using self's sense-making to make sense of other.
was thinking while it was falling? In the social sciences, self is a field of inquiry. Other can be another
This certainly makes physics a lot more complicated! Now the person, a text, a culture, or a law—any human creation that carries
scientist cannot predict the behavior of the apple without knowing meaning. The core issues of self and other—that encounter of
what the apple is thinking. She certainly cannot predict its future traditions—are the same. The model of hermeneutic inquiry is about
behavior with any accuracy, because she will never know ahead of learning about the other. The metaphor used to describe the
time what the apple will be thinking at some hypothetical future point development of knowledge is called the “hermeneutic circle.”
in time. What does she do to understand the apple's behavior? Well, According to this metaphor, self approaches other with an openness
she can ask the apple what it is thinking. Did it want to fall? Does it and a willingness to accept that the view of the other is potentially
blindly accept its fate or rage against the dying of the light? Does it truthful—that indeed it may be more truthful than self's. Self changes
know how to adequately express what it is thinking? Will, moreover, in the process of interaction with other. Other also changes in the
the scientist understand its answer? What if the scientist does not process of interaction with self—self's interpretive tradition is
understand the language of the apple? expanding to account for the truths as other's tradition is expanding
This is the interpretive issue writ in apples —one can only know to account for self's. Knowledge, then, emerges in a constant, ongoing
what the behavior of other people means by including the way they repositioning and closing of self and other. The process of repositioning
think about their behavior into assessments of them. Can the scientist of self and other, as knowledge accumulates, is called the hermeneutic
ask one of them and find out? Should all of the apples? Is the scientist circle.11
even sure that their attitudes and behavior are related? What if the
apples disagree about the reasons for what they did? Hermeneutic theory
To know why the apple acted as it did, the scientist would have to
know what the behavior means for the apple. Meaning is always Hermeneutics provides a different way to think about theory.
meaning for a subject, and to determine that meaning one must find Below, by looking at the interplay between a hermeneutical and a
out what the subject is thinking (Taylor, 1994). A theory of apple scientific criminal justice, this article provides for consideration of the
behavior has to be based on what the apple is thinking—a scientist relative strengths and weaknesses of both hermeneutic and scientific
cannot apply some objective notion of science to the apple to explain theory of criminal justice.
it. After all, it is its behavior, not the scientist's, that one seeks to
explain. The apple best understands its behavior, and a scientific Good theory is located in historical traditions. If theory is not
theory will be the strongest to the extent that it fully comprehends the general—that is, it does not seek explanation of some aspect of
apple's reasons for its behavior. The apple has to tell the scientist that. humankind generally—one should not conclude that it produces
This is immensely complicated when one takes into consideration relativistic or arbitrary results.12 Knowledge, Gadamer (1976, 1981)
that the meaning of the apple's behavior only exists in broader fields argued, is located in interpretive communities and carries a
of meaning—the traditions in which it learned and practiced its historical tradition. By historical tradition is meant that texts are
behavior. The apple seems to be acting socially—its behavior seems the product of a social setting with its own particular language,
tied to the behavior of other apples around it. Understanding the values, these meanings have intersubjective validity within identi-
meaning of the actions of the apple, consequently, can only occur by fiable communities. The knowledge that develops from interpreta-
locating its individual behavior in that broader field of behavior. This tion is local shared sense-making about behavior. Good theory, in
means that meaning, for the apple, is always contextualized—it occurs this sense, is theory that provides an explanation of collective
within a broader field of meanings. To understand human action in the sense-making, and is good to the extent that it reproduces and
field of criminal justice—the “apples” that constitute the subject provides insight into the way a group finds meaning in its life-
matter of the justice fields—the scientist has to figure out what circumstances.
behavior means to the actors in it, recognizing that those meanings Knowledge is always—hermeneutically speaking—located in his-
are always intersubjective and find their meanings in an intersubjec- torical traditions. Notions of truth, right and wrong, and indeed the
tive field of meaning. The scientist needs to know the meanings as meaning of language is itself seen as historically situated. For a social
apples see them, and the scientist needs to tie that meaning to broader science, this means that the language it uses to describe its area of
structures of meaning (Taylor, 1994). This is certainly a lot more study is also historically situated. This has particular implications for
complicated than studying atoms! the social science of criminal justice. What is the historical tradition
Structure of meaning—webs of significance, to borrow Geertz's for the discourse of criminal justice, and does that history have
fabulous phrase—are more than some dictionary notion of agreement implications for a social science of criminal justice? The answer,
or consensus. Taylor emphasized that common understandings of the discussed below, is that much of the social science of criminal justice
world have to already be in place before consensus can occur. takes its language from the contemporary practice of criminal justice
Common understandings require shared language and shared in the U.S., and consequently carries the motivations and purposes of
experience. This means, in the language of hermeneutics, that people the state in its use of that language.
develop shared meanings because they are similarly situated in a The discourse of criminal justice practice, with its use of terms such
particular historical tradition. These terms—structures of meaning, as personal responsibility, deterrence, crime, just desserts, is not an
webs of significance, and historical traditions, all mean similar things, objective language. Its “reality substrate” is the practice of U.S. criminal
except that the idea of a historical tradition also means that the justice organizations, and its language is the discourse of what
meanings individuals have of themselves as social beings, is located in characterizes U.S. crime control practices. This discourse imparts its
particular places and times. The less one as a scientist knows of them, own theories of criminal behavior, typically organized around
the further one is from that historical tradition, the less one principles of personal responsibility, often behaviorally indicated by
understands it. a willingness to admit to guilt. These theories are the rhetorical basis
That social scientists find meaning within a historical tradition for decision-making across the crime control continuum, from the
complicates interpretation, and it brings one back to Giddens' caution. discretionary decision to arrest, to pre-sentence reports at sentencing,
568 J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572

to treatment opportunities in an institution, to parole hearings for conversation between self and other. The understanding that self is
early release. Criminal justice practice, in this everyday sense, is about able to ultimately achieve—the merging of the horizons, Gadamer
the application of an interpretation of the law to a theory of the famously observed—is an expansion of self's effective history to
individual's behavior, framed in terms of crime and crime control. include the “text” of the other.13 In the future, someone who shares a
A central feature of crime control discourse is that it is normatively similar interest will have the advantage of incorporating self's views
dominant. This means that it asserts itself over any other individual's into hers, since self will have become part of the tradition of the text.
normative systems with which it comes into contact. As Cover (1986) The writing of this article on theory is an example of this point. The
noted with regard to the judiciary, criminal justice practice is not authors wrote this article to try to think through a writing strategy to
interpretive—it does not seek knowledge about the other. It is compare scientific and interpretive social science during a historical
deliberately destructive—it aims at the destruction of the normative period when the field of criminal justice seems to be undergoing
world of the “other.” theoretical maturation. The motive is to open the field to the broader
The discourse of crime control practice, consequently, is not and can creative activity available in the other social sciences, the humanities,
never be an objective rendering of human behavior. It represents the and in other places in the world that practice quite different notions of
way in which the state organizes and acts upon its definitions of justice than those observed in the U.S. The authors cannot, however,
behavior, to suppress other ways of thinking and justifying human possibly know how or even if “future person” will interpret this work
behavior. Scientific approaches to criminal justice, however, tend to use within her particular historical perspective. This is because the
the language of crime control as if it were an objective rendering of authors can never know the shared meanings of the world she will
human behavior. As Crank and King (2007) noted, to the extent that inhabit. What will the field of criminal justice look like when she scans
social scientists treat the language of the state as if it were an objective across the passages of time to the work being carried out in this era—if
scientific language, they are co-opted in and tend to reinforce the crime- the field even exists? Will she see an interpretive turn in criminal
control purposes of the state, whether or not they agree with those justice as a side-bar, or will it take on importance in “future-place?”
practices. What new knowledge and collected truths might she have for
How, then, does a criminal justice researcher separate herself from understanding justice? All such knowledge is beyond reach, as a
the language of the state? One refocuses her research back on the social scientist, because the authors cannot “climb into the heads” of
meanings provided by the “other,” the inquiry shifts from a practice future people and understand their meanings as they will experience
based on the state's interpretation of the meanings for the other's them.
behavior—lack of responsibility, parenting problems, offending rates, For this reason, good theory resists prediction. Social scientists
uniform crime rates, victimization, predatory behavior, or the like—and cannot freeze-frame time for the meanings they give to things and
into a direct inquiry of the other as to the reasons for their behavior. then assert that they have it right for all time—what an act of
Recall the “apple” thought experiment: the behavior of “apples” is intellectual arrogance that would be! The goal of theory, conse-
to be understood in its own terms—the intersubjective relationships quently, is not to develop predictive ability but to “carry on the
between group members, or their “webs of significance”—that give conversation.”
the meanings for their actions. The behavior of those caught up in To “carry on a conversation” carries a great deal of meaning (see
justice system practices cannot be understood in the language of Rorty, 1979; Warnke, 1987). Rorty (1979) asserted that carrying on the
criminal justice, which is an imposed language and will destroy, over a conversation is the essential work of science. Science cannot come to
relatively short time, an understanding of the justice issue. The actual final answers, but science can find new and fresh ways to understand
reasons for particular actions that may have propelled someone to its domains. This notion extends readily to the field of criminal justice.
break the law—the issues of justice, morality, or economics—will be By conceiving of criminal justice as a conversation, scholars could
replaced with a discourse that destroys that individual's local “truths.” engage in an ongoing dialogue about what different and potentially
To the extent that the field of criminal justice research relies on the fruitful forms justice could take. The field of criminal justice grows by
states discourse to develop its scientific perspective, it participates not seeking new ways to think about the practice of criminal justice. This
in the collection of truth, but in the legitimation of its destruction. notion is echoed in Warnke's (1993) discussion of conversation and
Within an interpretive scheme, a researcher is not seeking a single justice:
right and wrong outcome—a single underlying social reality. Truth is
socially mediated. It is always local and resides within a group's shared The subject of a hermeneutic conversation, so conceived, is
traditions, and local truths are part of an interpretive community's way of neither principles of justice to which everyone could agree nor
coming to terms with its common problems. Hence, efforts to understand the truth of opinions. It is rather the possibility of different
their discourse represents the closing of the hermeneutic “circle” by interpretations of a tradition and of the practices, experiences, and
comprehending what their social and everyday world means in their opinions it includes. (p. 137)
terms. The process of inquiry and the development of a narrative always
locate a researcher as a person seeking meaning as it is understood by the Ongoing dialogue—the conversation between different views of
group of interest, even when deconstructionist methods are used. As justice—is important because “the issue is no longer as much one of
suggested by the “apple” example, meaning is interpreted in the context rightness or wrongness but one of continuing revision and reform”
of the researched—their web of significance—and how those individuals (Warnke, 1993, p. 137). This hermeneutic notion of justice both
imbue action with meaning. Otherwise the meanings scientists bring are enables an ongoing questioning of contemporary practices and
in the end only the meanings they already had, and as Gadamer correctly provides a forum for understanding differences in practice as
noted, only an alienation from the world researched. interpretive differences rather than as moral shortcomings.
If good theory is not universalistic in orientation—if social scientists
abandon the notion that they should seek certain knowledge about Good theory is empirical. By empirical is meant that knowledge is
crime, crime control, or criminal behavior, for example, then what is it derived from observation or experience. To be empirical means that
that they are trying to learn? The answer to this question is another one relies on sensory experience to develop knowledge of the world.
principle of interpretation. The purpose of knowledge is to carry on the Scientific method is often tied to empirical analysis: the practice of
conversation, the next point of discussion. experimentation relies on sensory experience and is empirical.
Similarly, the knowledge of a hermeneutic or interpretive social
Good theory carries on the conversation. Here, the discussion returns science is also empirical. Knowledge, interpretively understood, is tied
to the hermeneutic circle, previously described as an ongoing to effective history—that part of history that people use on a daily
J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572 569

basis to deal with routine problems. Human action, located in the individual actors, of the broad shift of the democratic party from its
intersubjective worlds acted out by ordinary people, is the proper racist character prior to 1960 to its civil rights focus after 1967.
focus of study. Interpretation is at harmony with scientific theory on As large and important as it was, the great migration is only one
this point—it is opposed to “armchair” theorizing, and locates good part of the broader puzzle regarding the relationship between race
theory in the ability to associate meaning with observable behavior. and crime. Is it possible to grasp such large social themes affecting
The process of theory building, however, is different between criminal justice within a way of thinking about theory and research
scientific and hermeneutic notions of social science. In scientific framework designed to illuminate local truths? Questions such as “is
theorizing, the findings of empirical analysis are generalized back to a the criminal justice system racist?” cannot even be framed without
set of abstracted concepts. This notion of theory is framed in a discourse employing a very broad, sweeping terminology.
whose meanings are those of the research or scientific community. With The answer to such questions is that, even at such a broad level,
interpretive theory, on the other hand, findings are framed in a discourse interpretation plays a role. The meanings associated with migration,
whose meanings, to the extent possible, are drawn from the community or with racism, are developed from the way in which they are viewed
being studied. One can state, then, the two philosophies of social science by the actors who experienced them. The gathering together of many
are in agreement on what empirical knowledge is and why it is individual narratives provides meaning to historical events as they
important. They disagree on the way in such knowledge is attained and were understood by their participants. Indeed, it is primarily through
on subsequent interpretations aimed at generalizing findings. To explore the interpretive work, the thick descriptions provided by oral histories
the way interpretation looks at the attainment of knowledge and the and interviews, that one can make sense of it.14 One can apply Taylor's
ability to generalize from it, the authors turned to Geertz's interpretive observation made earlier—general notions are understood only by
work in the field of anthropology. appealing to concrete events. It is only by studying events at that level
Geertz's (1994) discussion of the meanings of local culture in his that one gains interpretive knowledge—the events as lived by those
article “thick description” is a widely-cited application of interpreta- who experience them.
tion to the field of anthropology. By thick, Geertz indicated that The central point taken from this is that, when trying to explain
cultural description goes “all the way down to the most immediate broad social events, one is engaged in a quite different activity from
observational level” (p. 229). Any reading of culture that distances it generalizing theory. Lemann (1992) developed a sweeping perspec-
from the observational level will “divorce it from its applications and tive, but he focused on a specific event—the great migration—as it was
render it vacant” (p. 223). The focus of empirical research should, experienced by its participants. It is his “thick description” that gives
consequently, be at the local or observational level. meaning to the great migration, and that meaning is provided by the
Geertz (1994) argued that interpretation served to expand the participants he interviewed.
diversity of ways one thinks through human cultures:
Convergences
The essential vocation of interpretive anthropology is not to
answer our deepest questions, but to make available to us answers The history of hermeneutic and scientific models of social science
that others, guarding other sheep in other valleys, have given, and is dense with disagreement and conflict. Indeed, one can argue that,
thus to include them in the consultable record of what man has from the early work of Gadamer forward, hermeneutics has aimed at
said. (p. 231) challenging scientific notions of social science. When the two
philosophies of social science are compared for their practical (as
Keeping interpretation grounded in the language and actions of opposed to philosophical) implications for theory development,
local traditions had implications for theory: it needed to be closer to however, they are not—at the level of research implications—so
the world of observation than is often seen in scientific notions of polar. To the contrary, they tend to complement each other in some
social science. Theory, because of this, was constructed from ways, and caution each other in other ways. A review of convergences
immediate generalizations from cultural data. The product of this between the two perspectives is consequently presented in this
way of constructing theory was not to “codify abstract regularities,” as section.
Geertz viewed scientific theorizing, but to “make thick description
possible” (Geertz, 1994, p. 228). In interpretive terms, thick descrip- 1. Both models represent a substantial advancement in social scientific
tion is a method that aids in understanding the “other” as completely maturity over normative criminal justice research. Academic criminal
as possible. justice in the U.S., Morn (1995) reminds, emerged from police
A student of criminal justice might challenge Geertz's notion of training in the early twentieth century and consequently has always
thick description, not with regard to its aptness for knowledge contained powerful normative characteristics. That means that the
production in the field of anthropology, but whether such a local way way it organized its teaching tended to mirror the organization of
of theorizing is adequate for studying the beliefs and practices of crime control practices in the U.S. It also meant that the focus of
criminal justice in the U.S. The challenge to criminal justice is to much of its early research was in relatively straightforward notions
develop a “thick description” of criminal justice practices that is of function—to what extent can knowledge produced by academic
locally based, yet broadly insightful regarding practices in the U.S. criminal justice contribute to the varied goals and purposes of
Consider LaFree and Russell's (1993) observation that all roads in criminal justice organizations, with those goals representing such
American criminology lead to race. Students of criminal justice, diverse ends as crime suppression and rehabilitation. Criminal
reviewing literature on race, might ask: is the criminal justice system justice theory, under this model, was that body of knowledge that
racist? How can “thick description” help to answer to this question? aided the practice of criminal justice.
Consider Lemann's (1992) study titled “The Promised Land” as a Both the scientific and the hermeneutic models for theory building
work built around thick description, though its overall purpose was to carry the capacity for critique of such normative approaches. The
describe broad social changes. This study provided a detailed scientific model, as it is presented in the works in this article, is a
description of the African American migration from the rural South broad-ranging effort to develop theory to understand the behavior of
to the urban North from 1900 to 1960, called the “great migration.” criminal justice organizations. Explanations of criminal behavior or of
Detailed historical references and oral histories provided an immedi- the behavior of those caught up in the crime control complex
ate, practical sense of the way in which individuals at the time represent an incorrect specification of the dependent variable—
experienced the great migration. A discussion of machine politics in which is the behavior of criminal justice organizations. Similarly, the
Chicago in the early 1960s provides a historical picture, at the level of interpretive model looks at normative practices, not from the point of
570 J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572

effectiveness, but what they tell one about the meanings and social institutional theory of organizations, popular in the study of police
constructions of justice organizations and their participants. and correctional organizations, argues that the behavior and values
2. Both models are radically democratic. The scientific model of social carried by criminal justice organizations in the value structures of
science is democratic, in the sense that the goals of research are the principal audiences, especially those in local communities, not in
development of knowledge about crime control practices according immanent notions of human behavior. In this way, institutional theory
to the interests of the researcher. Hence, conflict theorists may be seems to bridge both hermeneutical and scientific social science.
interested in the way in which political economy variables affect Another example is seen in contemporary class theory, with its strong
social control which carries an implicit (and sometimes explicit) traditions of Marxist influence, that has often focused its work on
critique of the organization of political and economic power in the what can only be called an open rejection of the authority of the state
U.S. Similarly, “thick descriptive” research on police organizations, in human affairs.
such as VanMaanen's (1978) “asshole” may reveal information The hermeneutic approach is openly resistant to the normative
not particularly attractive in its descriptions about attitudes and model. It is grounded in notions of multiple truths rather than one
behaviors of police officers. Importantly, both models of theoretical truth, with such truths characteristic of the particular traditions of
development invoke methodologies that focus the researcher to local communities. For this reason, truth is never immanent, but is
real world activities, and that require for the determination of their always tied to some group's traditions. The predictive power of any
ideas of appropriate social science development by criteria external scientific model is thus rejected, because the ideas and traditions
to the observer. In the case of scientific social science, that criteria is that mark the future cannot be known to present actors. Thus, in the
represented by standards of validity and reliability, and in the case play of research work, both hermeneutical and scientific social
of hermeneutic social science, the criteria is integrity—the extent to science have proven themselves to be highly rebellious to normative
which an explanation comprehensively explains what it seeks to criminal justice and to support for state crime control practices
explain. generally.
3. Both emphasize the empirical and distrust “armchair theorizing.” The
discussion of hermeneutics above emphasized the grounding of Conclusion: elements of good theory
hermeneutic inquiry in the concrete traditions of particular
communities of interest. Geertz's (1994) work in anthropology Today's class is nearly finished, and everyone is restless. Students'
was presented as a “thickly descriptive” example of empirically eyes flicker toward the clock. One can hear hallway chatter and rustle.
based efforts to understand the focus or a research project. In the back of the room, a graduate student raises his hand as the class
Similarly, scientific notions of social science focus on the grounding lurches to its finish. “I have just a quick question. So is Invitation to a
of theory in “empirical” research. Gibbs (1972) described the Beheading good theory or not?”
linkages between the “real world” and broader conceptual schemas It's a good question, and like all good questions, the answer is yes
in terms of epistemic statements, which were inductive linkages and no. If the instructor applies the scientific model of social science to
that allowed vertical generalizations from real world observations, it, Invitation is not good theory. It does not provide a scientific
through data, to empirical hypotheses, and to conceptual hypoth- sensibility from which one can derive empirical hypotheses. One
eses. Indeed, both perspectives find theory only meaningful to the cannot even be sure what questions to ask of Invitation in order to
extent that it can be tied to concrete observations. derive empirical hypotheses.
4. The primary challenge to hermeneutics and scientific social science in It certainly bears on the practice of criminal justice. Many criminal
the field of criminal justice is positivistic social science. Positivistic justice students will enact the will of the state as if it were their own
social science is that form of scientific social science, associated will. They should understand the way that rough force and blunt edge
with Comte, that places moral value in the pursuit of underlying is experienced by those on whom the state takes a dislike. Are they
social “truth.” A mathematical social science could identify “truth,” ready for the arbitrary outcomes that sometimes accompany the
thus it could be used to predict human behavior for the betterment criminal sanction? Can they fathom what it does to the human psyche
of humankind. That in turn would enable social scientists to set to put it in a cage for decades?
goals and achieve progress. Invitation invites quite good literary theory. A great deal of
commentary has been written on it (see Connolly, 1998). It is full of
The goal of early positivistic science was the identification of broad descriptions of coarse, banal art perhaps intended to convey a discourse
theories aimed at explaining human activity conceived broadly, and of totalitarian regimes. The story unfolds and collapses in on itself as it
uncovering the truths of that activity. “True” concepts could be unfolds. The animate living and the stony background confuse each
identified if social scientists gathered enough information. Strong other, sometimes changing roles. The end is unclear, ambiguous, and
prediction could be attained by studying the same concepts in dramatic. The story line seems to end as one knows it must, but when it
multiple settings, and an understanding of human behavior, imma- does, one do not know what happened. Well, one knows—the words are
nent and apart from its empirical setting, could be acquired. With there, plain enough—but the meaning is not in the words. It is hidden
prediction, one could control behavior that was inappropriate, by behind them. Invitation is, in short, everything empirical hypothesis
manipulating in a human setting the various local indicators of testing, using a scientific notion of social science should not be.
general theoretical concepts. From the perspective of interpretive social science, Invitation looks
This positivistic notion of social science, though looking much like much more promising as theory. In the interpretive field, one would
the scientific model of social science, differs on important dimensions read Invitation, one would review the traditions that have emerged
when one looks at contemporary criminal justice theory conducted around it—a literary tradition is, from the point of view of interpreta-
under the scientific model. After a great deal of research in the field of tion, part of the work. One would ask what it tells about the
criminal justice, few strong universal predictors of behavior have totalitarian Soviet Union and its manner of policing. One would ask
emerged. Moreover, none of the criminal justice models for predicting what the purpose of the author was, and what purposes have been
crime, including models based on previous criminal activity, work seen by other writers who wrote in similar traditions—perhaps
very well, in the sense that they explain a large quantity of the Tolstoy, and certainly Dostoevsky. Is there a non-totalitarian way to
variance across fields of activity. think about the prison experience? Can one use Invitation to better
One also witnesses a variety of social scientific works that are understand the empirical traditions of Soviet penal practices?
openly resistive to general prediction and to any notion of behavioral Finally, one could look at this material and ask what “themes,” or
control of human subjects. For example, research conducted into broad sensibilities and central issues—underlay Invitation the work,
J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572 571

and how can those themes be related to contemporary criminal justice shows how some group or individual conceptually organizes some
practices. This is the general method of the hermeneutic circle— real world problem faced by that community of interest. Even if a
expanding horizons to understand the other—and as one does so, one theory may seem to defy empirical investigation—and it may or may
increasingly merges their horizon with the horizon of the traditions not—it is fecund if it stimulates interest over time. Marx's work has
encompassed by the work. It is this search for common themes—the been fecund—it is tied to the industrial revolution, another profoundly
patterns that allows one to make sense of the work and its traditions fecund idea—and it stimulates interest in the inequalities of wealth in
in terms of the justice institutions—that give rise to an understanding a capitalist system. The issue of race in criminal justice is fecund,
of Invitation that is indeed theoretical. So yes, Invitation is good theory, because many constituent groups consider it to be of considerable
but to recognize it as such one has to view the field of criminal justice importance and because issues of racial differencing and exploitation
as an interpretive social science. It is not good theory because it is a have haunted the U.S. since its founding.
brilliant work of fiction. It is good theory because it is fecund—it The organization of theory by Crank (2003) and Kraska (2004,
stimulates ideas, it forces one to think in unaccustomed ways, and it 2006) appear to be consistent with the criteria of fecundity. Kraska
locates one within the important justice issues of recent times. To use selected his “orientations of understanding” because they were areas
it as theory though, one has to tie it, in some practical way, to the penal he had found, through his career, that they were the most widely used
practices prevalent in the Soviet Union in the era in which it was general categories of explanation for criminal justice behavior. Crank
written. Standing alone, it is better conceived as literary theory, not selected five general categories that he said reflected contemporary
social science theory. Applied to social traditions empirically specified thought, and also had been of interest in other social sciences. The
in time and space, then one can use it as theory. work of both Kraska and Crank seem to fall clearly into the category of
Another student looks around, then raises her hand. What, then, is fecundity—they represent ideas that have been around for a while, and
good theory? How does one know it when one sees it? A few students have been sustained by communities of interest independently of
sigh—they are ready to go. There is no right answer, of course. There is assessments of their internal coherence.
no truth, but there are many truths. That's the central point of this For the young field of academic criminal justice, the integrity of its
essay. If one were to distill the previous discussion, bring it to a theories is of central importance. To acquire legitimacy in a scholarly
conclusion that said what good theory was, one can identify two community, the field must focus empirically on its domain of interest.
general characteristics of good theory. By addressing issues of integrity the theory developed in the field will
First, a good theory has integrity. Integrity means that a way of survive legitimacy challenges. Integrity, as recognized in terms of
thinking through a problem—a theory—associates itself with criteria scientific rules of social science and in interpretive principles of em-
for its own evaluation. Within the interpretive literature, integrity is pirical completeness of explanation, legitimizes criminal justice
the notion that a way of thinking—a theory, in this case—is able to theory in a scholarly community concerned with empirical applic-
provide a more complete explanation of its domain of interest than ability. Integrity is particularly important when it is applied to one of
any other explanation. The question of integrity is this: does the Giddens' (1976) criteria of good science—it is unflinchingly critical of
theory provide not only a way of giving meaning to the world but also its own work.
for assessing whether the meanings it provides are accurate? Here, Fecundity ensures that the field continues to seek important ideas,
one should take Kuhn's (1962) central lesson to heart—all theories are even though it does not sometimes seem to know what to do with
limited in time and place, and all eventually will be replaced by new them. Fecundity insures that the field keeps open to important ideas,
ways of thinking. There is no “right” theory in an absolute sense, but or put interpretively, that it seeks the richness of ideas that make up
there can be many right theories. important justice issues in the world. Integrity facilitates intellectual
Integrity is often cited as a criterion for assessing the goodness of honesty, and fecundity helps the field stay focused on important ideas.
interpretation. How can one know if one interpretation is better than
another? One looks at the breadth of its explanatory power, when it Notes
focuses on the meanings that infuse behavior. Interestingly, when this
1. Vladimir Nabokov's (1989), Invitation to a Beheading, New York, Vintage (reissue
very hermeneutic notion of integrity is applied to a scientific model of edition). Cincinnatus' story is one of the great Russian novels of life in a totalitarian
social science, it holds up quite well. A scientific model has a great deal regime. Cincinnatus bears on the field of criminal justice because the story line is about
of integrity. It carries with it mutually agreed upon criteria for proving prison and execution. All the interpretations of those events, however, are highly
or disproving the explanations it provides. Scientific social science is, interpretive, and there is substantial literary disagreement on central meanings in the
narrative. The essential question here is—should one seek a definition of criminal
in a sense, good interpretation. justice theory so encompassing.
If scientific social science is to appeal to interpretation for 2. The use of scientific techniques in the social sciences is frequently called
legitimacy, it must work within the constraints to good interpretive “positivist.” This term, however, carries a great deal of intellectual baggage and
theory imposed by interpretation—that it is recognized as the ex- ideological conflict, so will not be used until later in the article, where positivism is
compared to contemporary notions of scientific criminal justice.
pression of a tradition that provides local truths, rather than the
3. These categories are not mutually exclusive. Hypothesis testing for theoretical
guarantor of a broader or more fundamental notion of truth, and development is clearly a very big idea, providing the framework for the scientific
that its truths are not independent of its empirical settings and the revolution that characterized the Enlightenment. Both positivist and interpretive
local meanings that append to those settings. Even with these traditions, however, have each staked out their intellectual territories in ongoing
constraints, the works by Bernard and Engel (2001) and Duffee and debate in the philosophy the social sciences (see e.g., Martin & McIntyre, 1994), and are
accordingly distinguished here.
Maguire (2007) are high in integrity. The notion of empirical 4. Chapter four (Castellano & Gould, 2007) is an exception and focuses on the
hypothesis testing, whether or not one agrees with it, is a widely neglect of justice in criminal justice theory.
held, mutually agreed upon set of conventions for assessing the 5. This article not saying that it is Duffee and Maguire's intent to produce
truth of theories. grounded theory. Instead it is saying that their theory is generated from a mass of the
findings produced by a mass of specific research efforts.
Secondly, good theory is fecund. Fecundity is the ability to
6. The opening four chapters each provide different notions of boundaries, and the
stimulate the imagination. Good theory is that which can excite the authors suggest that the reader develop her own notion of criminal justice theory and
way one thinks through justice and criminal justice issues. Something what it ought to be.
is fecund if, over time, it continues to generate interest, whether or not 7. That justice should be the organizing domain of academic criminal justice also
it has been empirically rejected. was advocated by Castellano and Gould (2007), whose work appears in one of
the works considered here, Duffee and Maguire (2007). The authors begin with a
Why are some works fecund and others not? In this article, the question—whether the American justice system, and in particular U.S. penal practices—
authors argue that an idea is fecund because it is tied to some problem are just. The question cannot be answered in a meaningful way if the boundaries of the
faced by a community of interest. A theory, then, is fecund because it field are defined by state-based justice systems. The question propelled justice theory
572 J.P. Crank, B.A. Bowman / Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008) 563–572

into the realm of values, acknowledged by the authors. They argued that justice Cover, R. (1986). Violence and the word. Yale Law Journal, 95, 1601−1635.
scholarship should recognize and assess the ideological bases for current justice Crank, J. (2003). Imagining justice. Cincinnati, OH: Lexis/Nexis.
practices. Only through an inquiry grounded in notions of justice could one think Crank, J. (2004). Standpoints of police culture. In Q. Thurman & A. Giacomazzi (Eds.),
meaningfully about the broader purposes and ethics of justice practice in the U.S. Controversies in policing. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.
8. Does the appeal to historical tradition predetermine the conclusions drawn as Crank, J., & King, K. (2007). Babble: A theater in justice and discourse. Critical
Criminology, 15, 343−363.
regards a particular tradition's conceptualizations of justice? The answer is a qualified
Dubin, R. (1978). Theory development. New York: The Free Press.
yes. Central to hermeneutic notions is that key concepts and ways of thinking find their
Duffee, D., & Maguire, E. (2007). Criminal justice theory: Explaining the nature and
meaning within historical traditions, and that, to understand those meanings one must
behavior of criminal justice. New York: Routledge.
learn to think in the manner of thought characteristic of those traditions. For example, Editor and Publisher. (2006, March 8). Gallup: More than half of Americans reject
MacIntyre's (1988) work on justice locates “justice rationalities,” or ways of thinking evolution, back Bible. Retrieved from http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/
about justice as it ties to socially expected ends, to specific historical periods and news/article_display
writers who were characteristic of those periods. It is a qualified yes, in that any Gadamer, H. (1976). Philosophical hermeneutics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
interpretation involves both self and other, and so other's justice is qualified by self's Gadamer, H. (1981). Reason in the age of science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
ability to comprehend other's justice. Geertz, C. (1994). Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture. In M. Martin
9. One should not be sanguine that science, based in scientific method, will & L. McIntyre (Eds.), Readings in the philosophy of social science (pp. 213−232).
continue to hold sway over authoritarian bases of knowledge located in church and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
state. It is not clear that the principle accomplishment of the Enlightenment—the Gibbs, J. (1972). Sociological theory construction. Binghampton, England: Dryden Press.
overthrow of hierarchical authority as the source of knowledge about the world—will Giddens, A. (1976). New rules of sociological method. New York: Basic Books.
Kraska, P. (2004). Theorizing criminal justice: Eight essential orientations. Long Grove, IL:
endure.
Waveland Press.
10. Any language one turns to simply is an interpretation of the first interpretation,
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