Broadening the Criminological Terrain – Public Criminology meets Southern Criminology

Karen Joe Laidler1
1Sociology and Centre for Criminology, University of Hong Kong

At present, Northern criminological circles are in heated debate about the nature and meaning of their role in the public arena. Within public criminology discussions, Turner (2013) reminds us of the importance of considering the characteristics of the discipline and contemporary socio-political circumstances. At the same time, calls from “afar” are emerging for a broader, even alternative criminologies, including Southern criminology. Those from “far” have challenged the dominant frames with reminders of the salience of culture, geopolitics, globalization, and colonialism in understanding crime, its control, and justice. This paper examines these two dialogues in the context of doing criminology in Asia where there has been increasing interest in the discipline and its role in public policy. NGOs, government departments, and policymakers in the region are increasingly turning to criminology in an attempt to make sense of emerging social problems – establishing estimates and trends of crime, evaluating treatment and control strategies, and reviewing crime control philosophies and practices from other countries. This growth in criminology in Asia, is due, in part, to the emergent social issues and problems arising from the rapid and phenomenal growth and presence of the region in the global economy, global consumption, large scale migration. What has emerged in many Asian locales is a type of administrative criminology (differing from that of the North) that has fundamentally shaped the ways research and policy questions are raised, projects funded, and influenced public policy. In what ways are these directives in the Asian context similar and different from what is being asked of public criminology? I draw from several research projects and ongoing justice issues to examine these questions.


Karen Joe Laidler is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Criminology. Her research focuses on drugs, sex work, youth gangs, and women’s imprisonment. As a native San Franciscan, she has been involved in criminological research since the 1980s, working with non-profit organizations and government agencies in Northern California. She has worked on a variety of primary and policy related research including: evaluation of drug intervention programmes; juvenile court intervention; inmate grievance processes; bail reform; sentencing guidelines; risk assessment for juvenile detention; prison planning and classification systems for adult prisons; and drug use problems among methamphetamine users.

She moved to Hong Kong in the 1990s, and has witnessed the development of the city’s drug market over the past two decades. Her recent projects include a study on how young people obtain their drugs and social supply, drug use and risks among young gay men, investment fraud, and social harms and service access for ethnic minority youth in Hong Kong.

She sits on the editorial board of Contemporary Drug Problems and Feminist Criminology, and on the international associate editorial/advisory board of Punishment and Society and Criminology and Criminal Justice respectively. She serves as a member of the Hong Kong Law Reform Commission’s subcommittee in a review on laws and policies related to sexual offenses.

Karen teaches criminology, social problems, and gender studies courses.

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