Beyond 'Criminology vs. Zemiology': Reconciling crime with social harm

Copson, Lynne (2018). Beyond 'Criminology vs. Zemiology': Reconciling crime with social harm. In: Boukli, Avi (Paraskevi) and Kotze, Justin eds. Zemiology: reconnecting crime and social harm. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 33–56.



Since its emergence at the start of the twenty-first century, zemiology and the field of harm studies more generally, has borne an ambiguous and, at times, seemingly antipathetic relationship with the better-established field of criminology. Whilst the tension between the perspectives is, at times, overstated, attempts to reconcile the perspectives have also proved problematic, such that, at present, it appears that they risk either becoming polarized into mutually antagonistic projects, or harmonized to the point that zemiology is simply co-opted within criminology. Whilst tempting to view this as nothing more than an academic squabble, it is the central argument put forward in this chapter that the current trend towards either polariziaton or harmonization of the criminological and zemiological projects, risks impoverishing both perspectives, both intellectually and, more fundamentally, in terms of their capacity to effect meaningful social change. To this end, this chapter offers a critical reflection of recent attempts to reconcile the social harm perspective with criminology, focussing in particular on Majid Yar’s attempts to do so using the concept of ‘recognition’ derived from critical theory. It is suggested that such attempts, whilst important in the contribution they make to developing a theory of harm, are necessarily flawed by their reliance on an implicit assumption of a shared conception of harm underpinning both the concept of ‘crime’ and ‘social harm’. By contrast, it is the central argument put forward in this chapter that zemiology and criminology are best understood as divergent normative projects which, whilst sharing many of the same goals with regards to the improvement of the criminal justice system and the tackling of social problems, differ primarily in the means by which they seek to achieve these. Therefore, rather than denying this debate through the collapsing of one perspective into the other, or polarizing them into hostiles camps, it is only by recognising the nature of this debate and fostering dialogue between the perspectives that we can achieve our shared goals and effect meaningful change.

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