POSTMODERN THEORIES OF CRIME
T. R. Young
The Red Feather Institute
June 8, 1996
Academy scholarship is now increasingly investigating the dynamics of gender, race, and class in various institutional contexts. Postmodern criminological research is also gaining greater attention and respectability in the discipline. Notwithstanding both trends, postmodern criminology has not yet examined the constitution of criminological theory with the intent of identifying how the voice of and ways of knowing for women, minorities, and the poor are represented within the discourse of theory. This article represents one preliminary step in that direction. At issue is the psychic configuration of existing criminological reality. Our method of analysis incorporates the conceptual tools of Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytic theory, especially his reliance on several topological constructs. Our provisional assessment suggests that while criminology has offered important insights relevant to gender, race, and class, it has essentially failed to makes sense of these differences within the discourse of its own theory. We argue that this is because the language of modernist (and premodernist) criminology is already prestructured (psychically encoded) to exclude these differences.
Challenges to the assumptions underlying criminological theory are now rather commonplace (e.g., Einstadter and Henry, 1995; Henry and Milovanovic, for critique in the academy addresses the variables of race, gender and class (e.g., Lynch and Patterson, 1994; Smart, 1995; Reiman, 1995; Schwartz and Milovanovic, 1996). These are important dimensions to theory construction which have, for far too long, been ignored, overlooked, or dismissed.
Related to this challenge in criminological theory is the persistence of postmodernism. More than an historical period rejecting Euclidean geometry, Leibnizean math, Aristotelian logic, Newtonian physics, and all globalizing approaches to truth, reason, and knowledge, this heterodox tradition offers several intriguing possibilities for developing "replacement discourses" (e.g., Henry and Milovanovic, 1991a:305-307; Arrigo, 1994: 102-106). In criminology, these are narratives which affirm positional, relational, and provisional justice (Arrigo, 1995a: 470-472). Application studies in such areas as policing and organizational practice (Manning, 1988) criminal justice and legal education (Arrigo, 1995b; 1996a), activist or oppositional lawyering (Bannister and Milovanovic, 1990), mental illness, crime, and legal narratives (Arrigo, 1993a; 1996b), rape and jurisprudence (Bell, (Howe, 1994; Arrigo, 1995c) bear witness to the profound vitality and utility of the postmodern agenda to produce new meanings relevant to the criminological sciences.
Interestingly enough, postmodern investigations exploring the categories of race, gender, and class in criminological theory are by no means routine (Arrigo, 1996c). In other words, while we now know something about the importance of cultivating a culturally plural criminology, and while we now know something equally important about the role that language assumes in structuring criminological truths, little is known about the interdependence of both in relationship to theories of crime.
In this paper we will broadly examine the constitution of modern (and premodern) theories of crime. Our method of analysis will rely upon the critical tools of the postmodern sciences. In this context we will provisionally apply several topological formalizations employed by the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. These topological constructs include: the Borromean knot, the Mobius band, and the Klein bottle.1 It is our contention that Lacan's more psychotropian schematizations regarding such devices reveal the unconscious mechanisms at work responsible for the psychic configuration of reality. The central question we will explore is how criminological theory, in the face of such topological constructs, can be understood to silence the voice of the oppressed and marginalized. In the context of a culturally plural criminology this would include theory that, knowingly or not, discounts or invalidates the constitutive dimensions of race, gender, and class.
Before proceeding with our analysis, it is necessary to offer some observations on what topology theory is in relationship to a postmodern criminology. The relevance of Lacan's psychoanalytic work also needs to be examined here. Crucial to the Lacanian critique will be some explication on the inextricable relationship which discourse and subjectivity embody. We begin, however, by defining what is meant by premodern and modern criminological theory.
PREMODERN AND MODERN THEORIES OF CRIME: AN OVERVIEW
The history of criminological theory suggests that crime rationales can be placed into one of two explanatory categories. There is the spiritual or "other world" perspective and the natural or "this world" perspective (Vold and Bernard, 1986: 6). Premodern theories represent the philosophy of the spiritualist point of view. Modern theories represent the philosophy of the naturalist point of view.
1. Understanding Premodern Theories of Crime
Spiritual explanations of crime were linked to religious convictions about the social order and about human social interaction. For most of human history, premodern theories of crime were based upon and limited to the boundaries of the tribe or clan.2 Thus, the problem of crime was viewed as a punishment for the wrongs committed by a member of the group. Newman (1985: 13-25), for example, makes the case that natural disasters such as earthquakes and famines, and human plagues such as death and disease were perceived as punitive responses from other-worldly powers inflicted on the community for the disrepute (wrong-doing) of one its tribal members.
During the Middle Ages, the socio-political dimensions of European feudalism produced a variation in the spiritual explanation of crime. Methods were devised by which a higher power (God) could indicate who was innocent and who was guilty of a crime (Vold and Bernard, 1986: 7; see also Barnes, matters as property rights, titles, and taxes, feudal lords instituted trial by battle. This mechanism cast a victim or his/her family member against the wrong-doer or his/her family member. The disputants would fight to the death. The assumption was that God would ensure a victory for the innocent party.
Another, though later, example was trial by ordeal. In this instance, the accused submitted him/herself to arduous and painful tasks. These tasks were a test of the person's guilt or innocence. It was believed that God would protect the innocent. They would not experience any physical harm. The guilty, however, would not be protected by God. They would suffer and die from a torturous death. These and other examples of premodernity indicate that causal explanations of crime were somewhat non-linear; that is, uncertainty, unpredictability, absurdity, and serendipity, etc., were a part of the crime model equation. After all, issues of law, order, justice, punishment, and community were said to be in God's hands. Thus, there was greater room for individual acts of mercy, compassion, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. We will return to this observation of non-linearity again, particularly in our topological critique of criminological theory.
2. Understanding Modern Theories of Crime
Natural theories of crime generally rely upon phenomena in the physical world (e.g., poverty, genetic abnormality, cognitive impairment) to explain criminal conduct. Modern theories are linked to one of three frames of reference by and through which crimes, criminals, and the behavior of the criminal law are defined. These three modernist approaches include choice criminology3, causal criminology4, and constructivist criminology.5
Choice criminology asserts that people make rational decisions and that these decisions are freely chosen. Thus, criminals are recognized as intelligent enough to understand the consequences for their wrongful behavior (i.e., punishment and imprisonment) as much as they are clever enough to appreciate both the pecuniary and personal benefits for breaking the law (e.g., Stigler, 1970: 526-528; Vold and Bernard, 1986: 31; Reynolds,
Causal criminology maintains that individual accountability must be examined in the context of independent variables which are said to cause criminal conduct. In this model, explanations of crime can be based on either a single factor or a variety of factors. These factors are said to determine the behavior of an individual and, therefore, are beyond his/her control.
Early constructivist criminology considered the manner in which people helped fashion the world in which they found themselves. The processes which gave rise to the definitions of certain behaviors (and individuals) as criminal became the cornerstone of the early constructivist movement (for applications to law and the criminal sanction see Black, 1976). These criminological and sociological processes were subject to empirical verification through standard tests of reliability and validity (Lynch, affluent and indigent people are both capable of breaking the law but how poor people rather than rich people are more likely to be labeled as criminals because of society's different definitions of class (Reiman, 1995).
(Re)Considering Gender, Race, and Class
Despite the contributions of constructivist criminology, we maintain that both modern (and premodern) theories of crime have essentially failed to incorporate the dimensions of a culturally diverse society into the discourse of their respective explanatory models. Thus, such variables as gender, race, and class have assumed a minor or under-represented place in most theory construction. This statement may appear somewhat unfounded in light of the more recent (modernist) scholarship in the academy addressing the need to cultivate a criminology inclusive of women, minorities, and the poor. Indeed, this research has carefully considered how such citizens are exposed to the criminal justice system in various institutional contexts (e.g., Wilbanks, 1987; Petersilia, et al., 1988; Lynch and Groves, 1989; Simson and Elis, 1994; Daly, 1994; Fukurai, Butler, Krooth, 1993). As we contend, however, the problem is with how such efforts are undertaken. In other words, what are the pre-existing epistemological conditions or the pre-formulated criminological assumptions under which even these (and similar) efforts are envisioned and articulated.
In the premodern criminological paradigm the answer to this question was simple. The structural arrangements within the tribe (including the processes for identifying wrongs as well as for prosecuting and persecuting the responsible agents) reflected the "collective conscience" of its members (Durkheim, 1951: 80).6 The point is not that in these primitive societies there was an absence of diversity. Clearly, "there cannot be a society in which the individuals do not differ more or less from the collective type" (Durkheim, 1965a: for uniformity, was the cost individuals paid for membership and identity in the community (Vold and Bernard, 1986: 147). Thus, the imposition of criminal sanctions was, in part, a response to perceived deviation from conventional behaviors or beliefs. As Durkheim (1965a: pp.2-3) explains:
If I do not submit to the conventions of society...the ridicule I provoke, the social isolation in which I am kept, produce, although in attenuated form, the same effects as a punishment in the strict sense of the word.
The outcome, of course, was a premodern theory of crime
lacking any detailed, systematic appreciation for the intervening variables
of gender, race, and class. Indeed, others have examined Durkheimian social
theory as including a dominant theory on the disappearance of race
and class and a subordinate theory on the disappearance of gender
in modern, industrial capital societies (e.g., Lehmann, 1995: 568-580,
These observations suggest a profound Durkheimian tendency to dismiss social
plurality for the sake of social likeness.
Modern theories of crime (even those more sympathetic to a culturally diverse criminology) include built-in assumptions regarding theory construction which effectively neutralize the place of women, minorities, and the poor (Arrigo, 1995a: 446-451; also see Young, 1990: 91-100 for a critique of justice theory understood as the politics of difference). These suppositions are rooted in the conditions under which truth claims are conceived and announced reflecting, as they do, a specialized, though privileged, form of knowledge-power (Foucault, 1970, 1972, 1980; and for applications to legal, criminological, and penological theory, see e.g., Henry and Milovanovic, and Henry, 1991b; Howe, 1994).
Choice criminological theory discounts gender, race, and class differences by assuming cultural sameness among all people and, therefore, embraces a commonly accepted and equitable regard for individual blameworthiness. Traces of contrast, expressions of particularity, are cleansed and homogenized so that individual and collective heterogeneities are normalized.
Causal criminological theory dismisses gender, race, and class differences by privileging epistemological sameness through the scientific method. Perceived as objective, neutral, impartial, and, therefore, similarly applicable to all (criminal) citizens, this logic of unity, this politics of identity (Adorno, 1973), presupposes that people and phenomena can be reduced and then studied through one exacting prism, one absolute "scientific" criminological lens (for application studies in legal and criminological theory see Arrigo, 1992b: 23-29, 1994: 95-101). Constructivist criminological theory evades gender, race, and class differences by identifying the marginal statuses of women, minorities, and the poor in criminal and legal contexts, but only from within the specialized discourse of modernist theory building. As others have shown, this grammar is saturated in masculine and materialistic ways of knowing, expressions of culture, and forms of consciousness (e.g., Irigaray, 1985:70-72; Arrigo, 1992a: 19; Smart, 1995; also see Derrida, 1973, 1976 for a critique of the philosophy of logocentric science). It is a code which anchors definitions of women, minorities, and the poor from within a sea of essentialistic meanings (Arrigo, 1995a: Thus, while constructivist criminology makes sense of gender, race, and class differences in society it has yet to examine these differences from within the discourse of criminological theory.
TOPOLOGY THEORY: AN OVERVIEW
Topology theory is regarded as the rubber math or the rubber sheet geometry within the physical sciences (for an accessible introduction including its mathematical scions see Weeks, 1985; also see Hilbert and Cohn-Vossen, 1952; Frechet and Fan, 1967; Barr, 1964). Social science interest in topology theory can be traced to psychoanalytic theory (Nasio, 1987; Granon-Lafont, 1990) and clinical practice (Granon-Lafont, 1985; Skriabine, with topological references and illustrations (e.g., Lacan, 1977).
Topology theory is a conceptual and qualitative paradigm. It entails the pulling, twisting, stretching, contorting, and turning of shapes without, at the same time, destroying their essential properties. Thus, topology theory examines the intrinsic continuity of phenomena. There is no addition or subtraction of shapes. This process would be more akin to quantitative procedures which topology theory rejects. Let us consider the example of "Play-Doh." When a child takes a lump of "Play-Doh" and begins to make different shapes with it and does so without breaking-off and re-fastening pieces together, then the child is creating various topological constructs.
Objects considered topological equivalents would include: a basketball and an orange; a "hoola-hoop" and a doughnut; a lamp shade and a rigatoni shell. The basketball and orange have no holes in them. The "hoola-hoop" and doughnut each have one hole in them. The lamp shade and the rigatoni shell each have two holes in them. Mixing such objects (e.g., comparing an orange to a lamp shade or a "hoola-hoop" to a basketball) produces no topological equivalents. Remember, when configuring shapes cutting, tearing, and pasting together is not considered sound topological practice.
1. Relevance of Topology Theory for Postmodern Criminology
Postmodern criminology examines how, in the context of law and social control, crime and punishment, justice and order, etc., those who experience marginalization, disenfranchisement, or oppression are engulfed in a discourse which fails to embody their unique appreciation for the world and for human social interaction (e.g., Milovanovic, and Henry, 1991a; Schwartz and Friedrichs, Thus, for example, postmodern criminology indicates how jailhouse lawyers situate themselves and are inserted within a language system (i.e., legalese) representing the specialized ideology of the law and, hence, how such litigators ensure that their case will not be declared non-justiciable (Milovanovic, mental health citizens appearing before an administrative tribunal adopt speech-thought-behavior patterns consistent with clinicolegal wellness and, thus, how they avoid sustained institutional confinement (Arrigo, respond to emergency calls by relying upon a professional code of conduct (speech-behavior), regardless of the danger level involved, and, thus, how they obviate charges of ethical misconduct (Arrigo, 1995d: 115-121; Manning, 1988).
Postmodern criminology seeks to rediscover or reclaim the opinions, attitudes, frames of reference, or ways of knowing of all those whose voices would otherwise slumber in despair. Thus, it calls into question the human subject and one's singularly felt and articulated regard for events in the world, for others, and for oneself within a particular spatio-temporal context. Postmodern criminology investigates how narratives (the stories of people and events) are constructed, how they are uttered, and how they are lived (Arrigo, 1995a: 449-451). As we will demonstrate shortly, understanding this process requires a deeper appreciation for the inseparable relationship between discourse and subjectivity.
While postmodern criminology concerns itself with language and human agency, topology theory offers several conceptual tools by and through which to make this foray into "relational, positional, and provisional understanding possible" (Ibid.: 470-472). The key topological constructs of the Borromean knot, the Mobius band, and the Klein bottle represent descriptive devices with which to examine the psychic configuration of (criminological) reality and theory construction. As we contend, such devices, when incorporated into a postmodern criminological critique, tell us something about the place of women, minorities, and the poor in conceptual analysis. Topology theory has only recently gained some attention in studies on law (Milovanovic, 1994, 1993) and criminology (Milovanovic, 1996, Arrigo, 1997b). These efforts have been mostly theoretical in their design. They have also been studies embracing the postmodern agenda.
2. Lacan, Psychoanalysis, and Postmodern Theory
Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst. During the 1950s through the of how the spoken word communicates universal (i.e., shared) meaning at the expense of personal (i.e., intimate) being (Lacan, 1981: 211, 218; Smith, 1988: 73).10 For Lacan, these meanings were saturated with "desire" (desir); a sense of identity consistent with only certain points of view that often failed to embody a more complete, a more meaningful, regard for the person who speaks (Fink, 1995).11
This notion of desire and language or "desire in language" (Kristeva, Indeed, much like Freud before him, Lacan endeavored to discover something more about this phenomenon and its presence in our lives-- especially in his explorations of the unconscious.12 It was the psychic apparatus which was understood to be the repository, the treasure house, of language. In other words, for Lacan the unconscious (the "Other" or Autre) was structured much like a language system (Lacan, 1977: 146-175). In order to understand the inseparable relationship between discourse and subjectivity (i.e., language and desire), careful examination of the psychic mechanism was therefore required.
Lacan's emphasis on investigating the inner workings of the unconscious was also an effort to locate and define the discordant and mellifluous voices of the Other seeking recognition in the act of speech production. Further, Lacan's commitment to an exploration of the psychic apparatus was an attempt to show how, despite the Other's inherent logic of multiplicity, only certain forms of desire were embodied in discourse. These privileged and anchored communication patterns were understood to represent both intersubjective meaning as well as narrative coherence (Lacan, systems was the reconstitution and re-legitimation of entrenched ideologies, knowledges, and truths along with the perpetuation and reaffirmation of personal alienation, repression, and marginalization.13 Mindful of this dialectics of struggle and linguistic control, several postmodern criminological theorists have called for the development and articulation of replacement discourses; that is, codes of speech more compatible with the stories and points of view of various disenfranchised collectives (e.g., Henry and Milovanovic, 1991b, 1996; Arrigo, 1995a; Smart, 1995; Howe, 1994).
From our preceding and cursory discussion on Lacan, it is apparent that what one says and how one says it conveys more than mere service level meaning. Language and desire are inexorably linked. Discourse and subjectivity represent a specialized reality that invalidates alternative constructions; constructions which inhabit the unconscious awaiting articulation, and, therefore, legitimacy within everyday communication and interaction.
The example of clinicolegal (i.e., psychiatric and legal) jargon is particularly insightful for purposes of summarizing the relationship between Lacanian psychoanalysis and postmodern theory. Elsewhere, we have shown how the clinicolegal establishment creates "master" (i.e., dominant) narratives embodying the desire of medical and juridical science thereby reflecting and sustaining the knowledge-truth claims of psychiatic justice ( , 1996b). We have examined this in the context of understanding mental illness and civil commitment ( , 1993a); criminal insanity and disordered defendants ( , 1994); punishment and the psychiatric courtroom ( , 1996d,
To amplify the matter, consider the words or phrases we employ to convey our regard for persons with mental disabilities. If we describe such individuals as "sick," "in need of treatment," "diseased," there are a constellation of meanings communicated, whether we intend these messages or not. Conversely, if we refer to persons with mental disabilities by invoking such words or expressions as "differently abled," "consumer," "psychiatric survivor," there are an assortment of meanings telegraphed, whether we intend these messages or not. The first set of meanings ostensibly borrows from the lexicon of medical model philosophy and science. Psychiatric persons are understood through their deficiencies; that is, they can be made well and normalized by correcting their mental health limitations. The second set of meanings ostensibly borrows from the grammar of empowerment philosophy and economics. Psychiatric persons are understood through their competencies; that is, they are participants in the psychiatric marketplace (e.g., attendees of out-patient therapy, users of psychotropic medications) engaged in ongoing decision making practices. In both instances, we are describing the same thing; namely, someone with psychiatric disabilities. In each case, however, the sub-text is markedly different.
A Lacanian postmodern psychoanalytic reading would ask us to consider which meanings we intend when discoursing about the mental ill, or any other person or collective. Further, a Lacanian postmodern psychoanalytic reading would ask us to examine those constructions endorsed in our speech and those constructions which are dismissed. In other words, which form of desire finds embodiment in discourse and which form(s) of desire seek embodiment in it. In the context of persons with mental disabilities, the clinicolegal establishment rejects alternative articulations (i.e., the grammar of empowerment philosophy and economics) because the messages embedded within such descriptions are not compatible with the master narratives of psychiatric justice ( , 1996b). As we have demonstrated elsewhere, both mental health case and statutory law are replete with medical model descriptors and metaphors and are devoid of expressions representing the discourse on empowerment philosophy ( , 1993a).
THEORIES OF CRIME AND CRIMES OF THEORISTS:
A TOPOLOGICAL APPLICATION
The application of topology theory to modern (and premodern) criminological theory construction requires some further consideration of the seminal contributions of Jacques Lacan. In this section we are particularly interested in how language and desire are configured in criminological discourse. This enterprise entails an examination of Lacan's schematizations on the discourse of the master and the Three Orders. Both are conceptually significant for further understanding his regard for the configuration of the unconscious. Their discursive features will then be linked to several topological constructs which graphically illustrate how all criminologies (including choice, causal, and constructivist variations) psychically invalidate, neutralize, or otherwise dismiss the dynamics of women, minorities, and the poor in their respective theory-building strategies.
The master discourse is but one of four structural forms developed by Lacan (1991) for purposes of understanding the process by which language and subjectivity are uniquely interconnected. The discourses account for how desire finds, or does not find, expression or embodiment in speech production. They also explain how certain bodies of knowledge are constituted, reconstituted, and perpetually legitimized while others are routinely marginalized or rejected. Several commentators have examined Lacan's lectures on the four discourses (e.g., Fink, 1995; Bracher, 1993; Milovanovic, 1992a; Lee, 1990; Salecl, 1993). These translations have also been applied to various studies in criminology (Milovanovic, 1996; Arrigo,
Each of Lacan's four discourses incorporates some arrangement of four corresponding terms. Depending upon this arrangement, a specialized Lacanian discourse is produced. These terms include: S1, S2, $, and a, le plus-de-jouir.
The S1 term represents what Lacan identifies as master signifiers. Master signifiers are words and/or phrases which represent key ideas, beliefs, and attitudes (often developed in early childhood) that are subsequently crystallized and assimilated into our regard for events, for others, and for ourselves. In the criminological context, for example, we may speak of "harm" or "wrongfulness" as related to personal conduct, individual responsibility, and criminal accountability. Master signifiers, then, represent the appearance of universally shared and embraced meaning.
S2 represents the knowledge term. According to Lacan, knowledge is situated within a chain of words (a sequence of signifiers) mediated through the act of speech. Meaning is understood to "insist" within these series of words. Knowledge is therefore self-referential. It exists within a particular code of speech where it finds support. Thus, for example, to communicate effectively about baseball, engineering, prison inmate life, medicine, accounting, law, etc., one must insert oneself and be situated within that grammar defining the coordinates of the language system in use (Arrigo, 1995a: 451-452).
The $ term represents the slashed, divided, or de-centered subject in Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. The subject is recognized not so much for being in control of what s/he says and how s/he says it, but for being regulated through the activity of speech. In other words, our selection of words and phrases used to communicate meaning as well as our choice of how these words and phrases will be arranged to form a coherent narrative, is not in our control (Lacan, 1981, 1977; Smith, 1988). Instead, language speaks through us. Thus, the subject, the person, when communicating, is unstable and divided (MacCabe, 1985).14
The final term is the a, le plus-de-jouir. It represents that beyond enjoyment or that which is in excess of fulfillment (jouissance), left out in intersubjective communication. It is the not-all (the pas tout). This felt sense of lack can be traced to the slashed subject ($) and what is lacking in the articulated exchange between one's master signifiers (S1) and one's knowledge (S2).
Related to the four terms are four corresponding positions. Unlike the four terms, however, the four positions cannot be configured differently. They are static. Each position locates and identifies the role that each of the four terms assumes in a given Lacanian discourse. The four structural positions are as follows:
The left-hand structure (agent/truth) represents the sender of a message
(i.e., speaker). It depicts what factors (i.e., S1, S2, $,
a) are at work in the person speaking. The right-hand structure
(other/production) represents the receiver of a message (i.e., listener).
It symbolizes what factors are activated or elicited in the person listening.
Factors assuming positions above the bar are more conscious, overt, active.
Factors assuming positions below the bar are more unconscious, covert,
The upper left-hand position ("agent") is the generator of a message. The upper right-hand position ("other") is the receiver of the message or, alternatively, what is enacted in the listener stemming from the message sent by the agent. The lower right-hand position ("production") is the effect(s) spawned in the unconscious of the listener. The lower left-hand position ("truth") is that which supports and sustains the sender's message.
The discourse of the master is produced by arranging the four terms in the following manner:
S1 --------> S2
$ <-------- a
Lacan (1991, 1977) has argued that science is an expression of the discourse
of the master. Bracher (1993), too, makes a similar observation in
his treatment of cultural criticism and social change. In addition, both
Milovanovic (1992a) and Arrigo (1996b) provide an analogous reading in
the case of law, particularly within several of its institutional forms.
Following a more postmodern psychoanalytic reading, the way in which language
is uttered, desire is embodied, and knowledge is produced is comparable
within each of these instances. Within this section's remaining paragraphs,
we wish to broadly demonstrate how discoursing in modern (and premodern)
criminological theory can be viewed as a form of the master discourse.
In the discourse of the master, the S1 term is in the position of "agent." In other words, key signifiers representing criminological science are privileged in theory construction and are transmitted to the "other." There are a plethora of master signifiers in criminology which are related to the field's assorted theoretical paradigms. Words or phrases such as "control," "transitional neighborhoods," "techniques of neutralization," "strain or status frustration," "culture of poverty," "anti-social personality disorder," "atavist," "focal concerns," "secondary deviance," "routine activities," "degradation ceremonies," etc., represent more than the mere words or phrases themselves. Individually and collectively they embody a constellation of ideals regarding sound criminological theory construction. These phenomenal forms receive further solidification as master signifiers when subjected to crucial tests of verification. These crucial tests assess the explanatory and predictive capabilities of the criminological theory in question. The theory is imbued with specialized meaning through the assigning of content to the master signifiers. The terms/expressions and what they embody, then, are at the very core of discoursing about criminological theory.
The knowledge term (S2) is in the position of the "other." Persons representing the "other" would include students, fellow criminologists, jurisprudes, the public, and the media. The "other" listens to or receives the master signifiers and all that they represent. In other words, a specialized criminological knowledge is communicated. This specialized criminological knowledge may assume several forms (e.g., differential association, labeling, power-control, cultural transmission); however, the coordinates which define and underscore sound criminological theory construction (e.g., syllogistic reasoning, principles of coherence, non-contradictory explanatory rationales, globalizing assumptions) remain the same (Lyotard, 1984). Thus, the listener of criminological discourse receives only a certain type of knowledge; that is, the listener acquires sense-making claims that are circumscribed. This knowledge always and already embodies the desire of those master signifiers symbolizing criminological science and that version of it articulated in one of its respective theoretical forms. Absent from this episteme are alternative expressions grounded in non-conventional criminological constructions or replacement categories of reasoning.15
The a, le plus-de-jouir is the term in the position of the "product." Positions below the bar are more unconscious, concealed, repressed. The fact that only a certain criminological knowledge has been transmitted to the receiver of the message means that replacement constructions are left out (pas tout). Alternative narratives in criminological theory-building would include speaking through the discourse (and master signifiers) of women, minorities, and the poor. This is not the same as criminological theory which, knowingly or not, cleanses, filters, or otherwise sanitizes gender, race, and class perspectives so that the coordinates defining these stories are re-languaged and made compatible with the coordinates defining acceptable crime speech (Arrigo, 1995a, 1996c). As others have shown, for example, in the context of activist lawyering (Bannister and Milovanovic, representing a different manifestation of jouissance is to risk conviction and institutional confinement respectively. Again, however, according to Lacan, to not entertain such a risk in discourse is to experience alienation, isolation, and a lack of being.
The final term is the $ in the position of "truth." It is below the bar and, therefore, it is more concealed. Modern (and premodern) theory is responsible for producing bodies of knowledge that inadequately discourse in culturally plural criminological voices and contexts. Gender, race, and class narratives are, at best, re-languaged and made consistent with the coordinates defining conventional theory construction. Although stories embodying replacement knowledges exist, they struggle to be heard amidst a swell of conventional crime speech. Notwithstanding, these narratives are the sense-making claims of marginalized subjects whose points of view seek recognition and legitimacy. Women, minorities, and the poor, then, represent de-centered or slashed subjects in criminological theory construction.16
As divided subjects whose stories remain silent, women, minorities, and the poor nevertheless turn to the modern criminological sciences for understanding and for the embodiment of their desire. It is in this activity of turning to the established, modernist paradigms that such constituencies help re-legitimize and reaffirm the power of the master discourse in criminological theory construction and, as well, in their particular lives.17
2. Lacan and the Three Orders
While the discourse of the master accounts for the structured process through which certain forms of (criminological) desire are embodied in theory construction, Lacan's Three Orders explain how the unconscious is constituted. According to Lacan, the psychic apparatus is composed of three main orders: the Symbolic, Imaginary, and Real. The interactive effects of these three discursive forms are responsible for the manifestation of the speaking-being and, thus, are responsible for the subject's regard for all social phenomena18, including the construction of criminological theory.
The Symbolic Order is the sphere of language and culture. It is also represented by the idea of the Other. This Other is where signifiers19 (words), unique and integral to one's being, are located. The Symbolic Order is primordial; that is, it is always and already. As children, we are born into the Symbolic Order. Our initiation into this Order enables us to locate identity through a (shared) language that embodies desire. However, the child also is alienated and removed from all directly lived, phenomenal experiences. In other words, the Symbolic Order privileges (communal) meaning at the expense of (personal) being. Thus, we can speak of the Lacanian subject as the presence of an absence. This absence, then, represents a fundamental loss establishing a lack-in-being. The matheme used by Lacan to designate this condition is the slashed or divided subject ($).
The Imaginary Order is the sphere of specular images (imagoes). It is the outcome of the mirror stage of development; a point in time (between a fantasy, an ideal likeness, of the unitary subject, of the subject in relation to others, and of objects in the world (objet petit [a]) that potentially fill the subject's desire. For Lacan, these primordial specular images are illusory and remain with the child throughout its life span as manifested in the subject's everyday interactions and constitution of self.
The Real Order is the natural, sensory, and biological sphere. It is beyond knowledge. It is in excess of words. It defies accurate symbolization through speech production. The subject's experience of alienation, of symbolic castration felt through the Symbolic Order, is the experience of separation from the Real Order. It is this felt lack which mobilizes desire.
According to Lacan, the interactive effects of these three Orders identify how the speaking-being is de-centered ($). In other words, contrary to modernist epistemology which affirms the stable, unitary, self-regulated, rational, determining subject, Lacan (1977: 166) suggests that the desiring subject is more unstable, disunified, regulated, irrational, and determined (see note 14). Again, rather than embracing the plenary "I;" a Cartesian subject who freely produces discourse and action, the Lacanian version of subjectivity has it that we are represented in discourse by signifers which speak through us.
The creation of sense and the activity of speech production, then, represent a moment in time in which our desire is given expressive form. In other words, we embody desire through language precisely when we attempt to respond to that felt lack in being or, when we attend to the gaps in our being (manque d'etre). As Lacan (1977) has it, we suture or mend the gaps by locating objects of desire (objet petit [a]). This suturing returns us to the three Orders. The Symbolic Order provides a treasure chest of signifiers (words/phrases) which potentially can embody desire for us. The Imaginary Order offers only fantasy constructions of self, others, and objects in the world. In other words, these illusory manifestations are an incomplete source for filling in the lack-in-being. The Real Order, always insisting, always awaiting anchorage (capitonnage), slumbers in the distance yet makes its presence felt.
The mobilization of desire in the psychic apparatus makes possible the constitution of meaning. It is this meaning which overcomes our gaps-in-being. Remember, however, that, following Lacan, such occasions as these are phantasmic in nature; that is, there is always and already something missing in the creation of sense (i.e., a more complete sense of one's being). Lacan was to depict this experience as follows: $ < > a. The arrows "< >" represent movement. The subject ($) disappears into its objects of desire (a). When criminologists engage in crime talk, there is a loss, a surrendering, of the self (of being) when invoking this discourse which speaks for and through the speaking subject. This discourse temporarily, although incompletely, closes (sutures) the inherent lack-in-being, saving one from psychic disequilibrium and social disorganization.
The operation and effect of the discourse of the master and the Three Orders as described above can be graphically, although differentially, depicted in several topological constructs. This section, then, is an effort to provisionally illustrate how gender, race, and class dynamics in criminological theory are unconsciously invalidated. In other words, despite both premodern and modern explanatory categories and despite the modernist frames of reference (i.e., choice, causal, and constructivist), the application of several topological constructs can show us how the psychic configuration of existing criminological reality essentially fails to include the possibility for cultivating a culturally plural criminology within the discourse of conventional theory.
The later works of Lacan (1988) examined Borromean knots as topological
constructions. Lacan's interest in such figurations was in providing a
re-tooling (a different graphing) of the psychic apparatus and the constitution
of sense. In the Lacanian topography, Borromean knots are homologous; that
is, they are corresponding and interpretive devices which explain how sense
production occurs, how it is reproduced, and, therefore, how it ensures
the stabilization of "hierarchically constituted discursive formations"
(Milovanovic, 1993: 177).20
As we will demonstrate, Borromean knots are instructive mechanisms for
further appreciating the limitations of existing criminological theory
to produce discourses and narratives inclusive of a culturally diverse
Diagram 1 represents a two-dimensional21 Borromean knot constituted by three concentric rings. We note that two rings or loops are knotted by a third. Each loop represents one of the three Lacanian Orders. A Borromean knot is configured in such a way that by cutting one of the rings all three disentangle. In other words, the Borromean knot signifies the subject's psychic stability through speech production. Hence, we may speak of a Borromean chain; that is, a sequencing of knots, emanating from the subject, which represents a coherent narrative embodying desire.
|S= Symbolic Order I
R= Real Order
I= Imaginary Order
a= objet petit(a) or;
object of desire
The Mobius band is a rectangular shape that is altered to produce a different figure without changing the original shape's essential properties. The Mobius band is constructed by taking a rectangle, twisting it once, and then joining the edges. Diagram 2a depicts a rectangular strip. Diagram 2b depicts the rectangle after
|DIAGRAM 2a||DIAGRAM 2b||DIAGRAM 2c|
being twisted. Diagram 2c depicts the twisted rectangle joined
at its edges.
The Mobius band was a topological device which enabled Lacan to demonstrate how that which is interpersonal (conscious and spoken) is connected to that which is intrapsychic (unconscious and pre-spoken). Thus, for purposes of our inquiry, the Mobius band helps explain the internal dialogue of the subject (the speaking-being), the operation of metaphors in criminology, and the reification of certain ideologies in criminological theory construction (Milovanovic, 1996: 35).
Lacan (1977) indicates that in speech one often receives their message back in inverted form. For example: "Why did you go to the store?" ... "I went to the store because..."; "What time did you get up this morning?" ... " I got up this morning at..."; "What are the causes of crime?" ... "The causes of crime include...," etc.
According to Lacan (1977: 310-315), with internal dialogue the exchange can also be interpreted as a person posing a question to one's Other (the unconscious). For example: "What do you want?", to which the answer begins "I want...[objet petit a]" (Milovanovic, message in inverted form indicates how internalized ideological constructs anchor speech when evaluating such things as origin, nature, and effect of crime.
The very syntactical construction of such questions as: "What is crime?," "What factors contribute to crime occurrence?," "How can crime be controlled?," etc., are normatively, essentially and positively structured (i.e., languaged) in such a way that they already telegraph certain normativistic, essentialistic, and positivistic syntactical responses which will always invalidate or neutralize alternative articulations. When considering whether race, gender, and class differences are reflected within the discourse of criminological theory, the postmodern questions to be asked are: "What are the linguistic conditions under which we come to say what crime is?," What are the linguistic conditions under which we come to say what factors contribute to crime occurrence," What are the linguistic conditions under which we come to say how crime can be controlled" (Arrigo, 1995a: 466). This more self-reflective activity not only considers the values embedded in the criminological discourse in use, it also acknowledges how diverse ways of knowing are often reduced to certain patterns of speech, certain expressions of criminological logic (Ibid.).
The Mobius band is also illustrative for understanding Lacan's reading of metaphor. In the social theory of Lacan, metaphor is significant because the unconscious is said to be structured like a language. According to Lacan, metaphor is one of the ways in which speech production is coordinated. By relying upon the topological device of the Mobius band, we see how, through metaphors, a master signifier "crosses the bar" to the unconscious and is replaced with another, though less substantial, signifier. Consider the following examples: "He has the heart of a lion," She thinks like a robot," He's a real cupcake." In each instance, there is a reduction of the subject. Diagram 3 illustrates Lacan's algorithm for metaphor and then applies it to the examples cited above.
like a lion
|like a lion
|----> S's heart||1
idea of lion
like a robot
|like a robot
|----> S's thinking||1
idea of robot
like a cupcake
|like a cupcake
idea of cupcake
One of Lacan's more unexamined topological constructs is the Klein bottle
(Granon-Lafont, 1985: 93-106). The Klein bottle is significant for underscoring
the relationship between master signifiers (Lacan's S1) anchoring speech
and the sequencing of words or phrases (Lacan's S2) used to give content
to these key phenomenal forms. Put another way, the Klein bottle is instructive
for graphically demonstrating how a certain consistency in thought is maintained
within and throughout one's speech. For purposes of a postmodern psychoanalytic
reading of criminological theory, the Klein bottle further explains how,
within discourse, the particular words and phrases selected to convey meaning
are saturated with circumscribed ideological content that supports and
anchors the speaking-being's desire.
Diagram 4 depicts the construction of a Klein bottle. Diagram shows the bottle's shape being configured to form a topological equivalent. Diagram 4c shows the completed Klein bottle topologically reconfigured.
|Diagram 4a||Diagram 4b||Diagram 4c|
(Adapted from Weeks, 1985: 59, 311; Barr, 1964: 34, 36, 71)
In the case of the Klein bottle, Lacan (1977) was to refer to master
signifiers (S1) as "unary" signifiers (also see, Milovanovic,
of certain drives. In theory construction, for example, there is a desire
to think sequentially, be organized, use syllogisms, remain dispassionate,
reason coherently, etc. These drives reflect the production of speech and
the constitution of theory. Unary signifiers are outside of the speech
chain; however, they insist in and through the discourse in use. In other
words, for example, embedded within modernist (and premodernist) criminological
theory is the lingering notion of how to construct an argument, how to
be persuasive in thought, how to craft an insight, how to respond to detractors.
It is this lingering notion or "whisper" which breathes meaning
into all other signifiers and their corresponding signifying chains (Nasio,
chain; yet, they are saturated within it.
Unary signifiers thus represent the unspoken truth (and desire) of the speaking-being veiled in the act of speech. In the construction of criminological theory cloaked truths for the drives mentioned above include such things as the soundness, erudition, sophistication, originality, etc., of the ideas presented. Other shrouded truths here include a circumscribed desire regarding how best to think, to reason, to question, to know, and to be. It is here, then, through the topological construct of the Klein bottle, that we can begin to see how gender, race, and class differences are psychically quashed or silenced through unary signifiers. In other words, the linger notions which define how different groups (or individuals within these different groups) come to experience social phenomena and know the world are not reducible to one similarly shared and universally applicable perspective.
The example of polarized racial tensions over the O.J Simpson jury verdict and the acquittal of police officers in the first Rodney King trial amply demonstrate this point. On balance, Blacks were delighted by the Simpson verdict and outraged by the outcome in the first King case. On balance, whites engendered just the opposite attitude. They were outraged by the Simpson verdict and delighted by the outcome in the first King case. Apart from the words and phrases (Lacan's master signifiers) used to communicate their respective sentiments (Lacan's S2) regarding these criminal trials, response from both communities was predicated upon a unique clustering of unary signifiers. While justice, fairness, equity, due process, etc., were the drives at work for all citizens, the unary signifiers for Blacks and Whites were different. In the case of African Americans, the unary signifiers were more about doing "right" by Black people; that is, remembering the historical context in which Black's suffered non-legitimized persecution and victimization. In the case of non-African Americans, the unary signifiers were more about doing "right" by White people; that is, accepting the failure of affirmative action policies in which White's become the fettered victims of reverse discrimination. In both instances, however, the unary signifiers forged the avenue through which an expression of the drives could be articulated and effected, despite their being differentially embodied.
We note that in the Klein bottle diagram there is a "folding back" (the bottle's neck) which represents the passage of the unary signifier always insisting through the speech chain (Ibid.: 158). This insisting or asserting is the desire of the subject. This whisper or "trace" (Derrida, 1976) consistently infuses the words or phrases used to convey one's meaning without being spoken as such. Thus, there is uniformity in the unarticulated, though felt, desire of the speaking-being communicated through their discourse. As criminologists create theories of crime and delinquency they do so by relying upon uniary signifiers that ubiquitously encode their discourse while remaining outside of it. We contend that these unary signifiers embody desire and, therefore, ways of knowing which fail to include women, minorities, and the poor.
This paper was a provisional foray into the world of modernist (and premodernist) criminological theory construction informed by the contributions of Jacques Lacan and his postmodern use of several topological constructs. We argued that the psychic configuration of existing criminological reality knowingly or not invalidates, dismisses, or otherwise neutralizes the dynamics of gender, race, and class in conceptual analysis.
Our work here should not be mistaken as an effort designed to reject modernist criminology; rather, we are simply challenging the linguistic and epistemological conditions under which it is conceived and articulated. Clearly, the task which lies ahead is to advance a more rigorous examination of the language of criminological theory. Indeed, if we are to fashion a culturally diverse criminology, the questions to be answered must necessarily go to the very heart of how difference is embodied within the discourse of theory. Regrettably, our preliminary conclusions suggest that the academy has thus far been woefully lacking in its ability to develop and voice explanatory rationales supportive of this meaningful and timely agenda.