Book review: Ian Loader and Richard Sparks, Public Criminology?

AuthorMike Hough
Published date01 February 2012
Date01 February 2012
Subject MatterBook reviews
Book reviews 103
he is surely right to note that the continuation of an essentially humanitarian ethos in
probation practice is probably (from the probationer’s point of view) an important
moderator of more punitive and exclusionary policy discourses.
The final chapter of the book looks to the future of probation under the Con–Dem
coalition government, and ends with the question of whether this administration wishes
to pursue toughness, contestability and punitiveness, or ‘to journey along (and fund) the
complex road to effectiveness via a positive, curious, humanistic practice’ (p. 188). It is
somewhat depressing then to be reviewing the book a week or two after the rehabilitation
revolution stalled or crashed before it ever really embarked on the kind of journey
Deering commends.
But leaving the vagaries of UK penal politics aside, Deering’s enduring contribution
is to edge us towards a better understanding of the contemporary construction of proba-
tion as a penal practice, and especially towards a deeper understanding of its current
practitioners. Whatever their fate and their services’ fates, the reader is left enriched with
a better understanding of how they see what they do.
Ian Loader and Richard Sparks
Public Criminology? Routledge: London, 2010; 208 pp.: 9780415445504, £23.99 (ppk),
9780415445498, £85.00 (hbk)
Reviewed by: Mike Hough, Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Birkbeck, University of London, UK
DOI: 10.1177/1748895811430574
As one would expect from Ian Loader and Richard Sparks, this is an engaging, well-
crafted book about the public roles of criminologists. It is written by criminologists for
criminologists, and will probably have limited reach beyond academic audiences. It is
none the worse for that: it is one of the most stimulating academic books I have read for
some time. It is a largely descriptive exercise in the sociology of criminology, but at the
same time is gently prescriptive about what criminology ought to try to achieve as a
discipline. The authors set out a conception of a pluralistic criminology, the different
elements of which should combine to help to build a better politics of crime. What marks
it apart from other writing on the roles and functions of our discipline is its good
manne rs – a sort of diplomacy aiming to maximize points of consensus in a field that has
its fair share of factions and schisms.
The book opens with an analysis of the state of the discipline, tracing the paradox of
‘successful failure’ – a continued growth in academic popularity, as reflected in student
numbers, coupled with a waning of influence on policy. It then offers a five-fold typol-
ogy of approaches to criminological engagement with policy and politics. Identifying
oneself in typologies of this sort is always fun, and we are offered the choice between:
those who style themselves as scientific experts; those who define their role as policy
advisers; those who are academic observers turned players; social movement theorists
and activists; and lonely prophets. This is a useful heuristic device: even if the categories
are in no sense mutually exclusive, most policy-engaged criminologists will be able to
find some sort of reflection of themselves in one or more of these mirrors.

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