Psychosocial Perspectives: Men, Madness and Violence

Jones, David W. (2012). Psychosocial Perspectives: Men, Madness and Violence. In: Hall, Steve and Winlow, Simon eds. New Directions in Criminological Theory. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 183–198.



The premise of this book is that there is something amiss in the way criminology has developed as a discipline. This chapter addresses the particular problem of the failure to integrate psychological theorisation within criminological thinking. Despite the fact that attention has been drawn to this gap for some time (Gelsthorpe 2009), it is still highly evident even amongst strains of criminological thought that are avowedly cross disciplinary. For example, Ferrell, Hayward and Young. (2008: 5) in outlining their case for a revitalised ‘cultural criminology’ suggest that it is necessary to go well beyond ‘orientations in sociology and criminology’, in order to ‘incorporate[s] perspectives from urban studies, media studies, existential philosophy, cultural and human geography, post modern critical theory, anthropology, social movements theory – even from the historical praxis of earlier political agitators like the Wobblies and the Situationists’. The absence of any notion of psychological theorisation from this, otherwise inclusive, list is suggestive of the deep antipathy between the disciplines of criminology and psychology.

The call for a psychosocial criminology (Gadd and Jefferson 2007, Jones 2008) points towards dissatisfaction with the continuing exclusion of psychological theorisation from mainstream criminology. The purpose of a psychosocial approach is not just that psychological theory ought to be considered alongside the commonly considered social and cultural issues but that an understanding of the individual that incorporates their internal world needs to be integral to analysis of the cultural and social circumstances of crime. The schism between the psyche and the social that is evident within criminology is only one aspect of a much deeper polarisation of our understanding of what it is to be human that has emerged from the development of the human sciences over the past 200 years. The separate developmental trajectories of the disciplines of sociology versus psychology represents a persistent tendency to see human beings as either psychological and therefore individualised, or as social phenomena where there is little room for consideration of individual subjectivity (Jones 2011, Rustin 2009 ). It seems more difficult to conceptualise us as an amalgam of the social and psychological. Yet it is just this kind of conceptualisation that is important to our understanding of a great deal of criminality. Whilst there are a number of different problems created by the exclusion of psychological thought that might be explored (Jones, 2008), this chapter will reflect on the problematic relationship between criminal justice policies, criminology and issues of mental illness; particularly in connection to the problem of ‘personality disorder’. Criminal justice processes have taken into account the insanity of perpetrators for many centuries (Walker, 1968). Indeed it is arguable that the roots of criminology can be most clearly traced in debates about the relationship between mental disorder and crime – particularly through discussion about the problem of personality disorder in its earlier manifestation of ‘moral insanity’(Rafter, 2004). Given the influence of those with clinical backgrounds in medicine and most notably psychoanalysis at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the irony of the exclusion of psychological theory by the middle of the 20th century thus becomes clearer (Garland 2002). By examining the phenomenon of ‘personality disorder’ (particularly ‘anti-social personality disorder’ associated with violent conduct) using a psychosocial lens that can capture the internal world of the individual we can begin to grasp the substantial links that exist between the expressivity of crime and gendered manifestations of violent crime. The so called ‘personality disorders’ need to be understood as failures of relationship that exist in the connections between people and not within individuals.

This chapter will briefly review the relationship between psychology and criminology, it will then consider the particular and problematic history of the diagnosis of ‘personality disorder’ before arguing that a psychosocial understanding, that incorporates psychoanalytic forms of understanding (that are rooted in clinical observation) can not only help us understand that particular phenomenon but throws light on commonplace dynamics of exclusion/inclusion, humiliation and violence.

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