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Paper 105: Inventing Community Safety: Representation and performativity in the criminological imagination

Adam Edwards and Gordon Hughes

What is a criminological imagination for? This paper considers developments in criminological theory that question orthodox concerns with contesting representational claims about crime and control, emphasising instead the performative qualities of criminological thought; that theory brings into being the very social relations it then explains. Against the proposition that performativity liberates criminological thought from the burdens of sociological realism, it is argued the two are interdependent; criminological futures are invented through representations of the present. Further, a rejection of sociological realism obviates the anterior conditions of any particular imagination, notably other, competing, imaginaries. This anteriority is demonstrated through reference to four inventions of ‘community safety’, a floating signifier within contemporary criminology with no fixed referent and a multiplicity of significations. Rather than demonstrating the detachment of performative and representational claims, the polyvalence of this concept reveals the necessary dependence of each invention on contested representations of the present; of what community safety ‘really’ is about.

Cardiff School of Social Sciences, (2008)

Additional Information

 A version of this working paper is forthcoming in Carlen, P. (200) Imaginary Penalties, Devon, Willan Publishing.