The (Criminological) War of the Worlds

Sandra Walklate

Eleanor Rathbone Chair of Sociology, University of Liverpool conjoint

Chair of Criminology, Monash University, Melbourne.


H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel (from which the title of this presentation is taken) was first published in book form in 1898 arguably at the height of the Western colonial project. Indeed on the opening pages of this book he writes about the impending Martian threat in the following way, ‘And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?’

In this presentation I wish to use this novel as a touchstone and the notion of war as a metaphor, to reflect upon the current state of the criminological endeavour. Using the substantive example of the relative and ongoing (in)visibility of the interconnections between war and questions of gender, the inherent limitations of the criminological embrace of liberalism will be exposed. Once exposed, the constraints that this imposes on the future vision of criminology become visible and the demands of newer horizons come into view. These horizons de-centre the traditional, early twentieth century concerns of the discipline and arguably re-centre the concerns expressed by Bonger (1916) who, like Wells, was equally concerned with the consequences of oppressive militarism resulting from the dominance of hegemonic (Western) capitalism.


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