(p. ix) Foreword
(p. ix) Foreword
The Oxford Handbook series, under the general and able editorship of Michael Tonry, consists of one impressive volume after another. The individual works in the series differ in their substantive content, but they are special because they fulfill three core functions of the scholarly form of “the handbook”: they serve as a comprehensive resource, allow for the organization of knowledge, and establish the existence of a coherent field within criminology. The current contribution is no exception in addressing these concerns.
First, I am fortunate to have several Oxford Handbooks, which I keep close at hand in my home office. I find myself reaching often to pull them off the shelf and consult them. They are a ready and important resource as I write, prepare lectures, or wish to clarify my thinking on a point either forgotten or never quite learned. In this regard, David Farrington, Lila Kazemian, and Alex Piquero have used their wisdom to create an invaluable resource. They have done a masterful job in recruiting a roster of knowledgeable scholars to write chapters on virtually every aspect of developmental and life-course criminology. As I commented previously about another of David’s works, this volume is a “criminological Walmart,” containing under one cover almost everything anyone might need to know about crime across the life course! Indeed, I have been given advance copies of the chapters, and I am already plotting how I will put many of them to use.
Second, recent years have seen the proliferation of criminological handbooks and encyclopedias—a clear sign that they are profitable for publishing houses. In this instance, capitalism is working in a good direction by financing the organization of knowledge. Admittedly, some of these enterprises are of uneven quality. But this is a small price to pay for the production of volumes that bring together knowledge into a form that is accessible to all scholars—from the specialist writing an article to the generalist seeking to learn a new area or perhaps make up a lecture.
As with other scientific fields, criminology is designed to reward with status and employment the publication of the peer-reviewed research article. This reward structure is beneficial in that the creation of new knowledge is essential to the growth of our discipline. But the embrace of the research article should not be pushed too far and become a fetish. Too often, unless accomplished in the form of a meta-analysis, efforts to organize knowledge, such as in handbooks, are seen as the “mere” summary of “the literature,” only a half step above the devalued task of writing of a textbook. This scholarly arrogance is a mistake—for two reasons.
One reason is that individual articles, even those published in so-called tier-one journals, are just that—individual studies. As the replication crisis across scientific (p. x) disciplines is unmasked, it is becoming increasingly clear that many individual studies are idiosyncratic and that their findings do not replicate. Reading any one study inevitably provides a selective understanding of reality. Only when knowledge is organized—when all studies are assessed analytically in one place—is it likely that the best evaluation of the extant evidence is possible. Quality handbooks, such as the current contribution, serve that purpose.
The other reason is that, as criminology has grown and spread into diverse social science disciplines, the sheer number of individual articles produced has become too numerous for any single scholar to find and master. It is possible, of course, to read “everything” on narrow topics in a few months’ time and on many things over a career. Still, short of such intense specialization, the growth of knowledge means that scholars must rely on handbooks and similar high-quality reviews of research to gain a balanced understanding of the existing empirical and theoretical literature across topics. Again, the current volume fulfills this function of organizing knowledge by presenting 35 chapters in one location.
Third, a thick handbook containing tens of chapters cannot be compiled unless an area of study within a discipline has produced a large body of scholarship. The publication of the current volume thus serves another function: it confirms that developmental and life-course criminology is now a mature and vibrant area within the discipline. DLC criminology—and here I am using its now-standard acronym—has diverse roots. These include classic life histories (e.g., Shaw’s The Jack-Roller), the career criminal paradigm, the tracking of birth cohorts (e.g., Wolfgang, Figlio, and Sellin’s Philadelphia research), celebrated longitudinal studies (e.g., the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development), and early integrated theories (e.g., Thornberry’s interactional theory). But the turning point in criminology truly occurred in the early 1990s when, in a stroke of serendipity, three titles were published in close proximity: Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) A General Theory of Crime, Terrie Moffitt’s (1993) “Adolescence-Limited and Life-Course–Persistent Antisocial Behavior,” and Robert Sampson and John Laub’s (1993) Crime in the Making. These spectacular works made it impossible for scholars to ignore the reality that crime was a life-long process, extending from womb to tomb. A new criminological paradigm—DLC—thus emerged and came to dominate theoretical and empirical work. DLC criminology’s rising popularity is demonstrated empirically by entering the term “life-course criminology” into Google Books Ngram Viewer, which charts the frequency with which a term is used over time. Starting in the latter part of the 1990s, the Ngram graph for life-course criminology is nearly straight upward (a note of appreciation to Teresa Kulig for computing this graph for me).
In my 2010 Edwin H. Sutherland Address to the American Society of Criminology, I made the bold assertion that scholars should “accept that life-course criminology is criminology.” I did not mean that all other types of inquiry were irrelevant, but only that the DLC perspective would be the prism through which such work would now be interpreted. It was no longer defensible to ignore that humans have a life that unfolds over time. Behavioral trajectories have a beginning, a duration, and an end. To be general theories, perspectives could not furnish a still snapshot of an offender at a given (p. xi) time but rather needed to keep the criminological camera rolling. Life is ongoing and dynamic—patterned but also prone to unexpected twists and turns.
In this context, the current volume teaches us three important lessons. The first lesson is that all stages in life matter. In my formative years in criminology starting four decades ago, my academic cohort’s attention was affixed to the teenage years and to ideas such as social bonds to parents, drift and maturational reform, and delinquent subcultures rooted in blocked opportunity. By contrast, the DLC paradigm has taught us the importance not only of adolescence but also of childhood and adulthood. It is clear that, for many youths, the roots of a criminal career start in a biosocial process at or before birth. And for many adults, it is clear that desisting from offending is tied to events confined to this age period (e.g., marriage, jobs) and to cognitions that arise only after years of offending (e.g., “redemption scripts,” the “feared self”).
The second lesson is that the line between crime and antisocial conduct is fuzzy. Certainly, it matters if conduct is proscribed by law, and the choice to offend differs from the choice to engage in a so-called “analogous” or deviant behavior that does not carry state-imposed penalties. Still, the DLC perspective illuminates that the individuals who have early conduct problems are the same individuals who experience the early onset of delinquency, and that offenders are marked by the generality of deviance throughout their lives. The subject matter of criminology thus has broadened from a narrow focus on criminal acts per se to a broader focus on the complex of behaviors—of which crime is but one—that are interrelated across time and at any one time.
The third lesson is that because crime is developmental, the most rational and cost-effective means of preventing offending lie outside the criminal justice system. Indeed, DLC criminology is a potent antidote to the embrace of imprisonment as the lynchpin for crime control. A prison sentence represents a failure to act when the opportunity to do so presented itself. The DLC approach reminds us that most adult offenders show signs of misconduct as youngsters and are prime candidates for early intervention. Failing to act consigns these youths to a future of crime, harming others, and ultimately incarceration. Further, the DLC perspective teaches that the sources of offending are complex and vary over time, and hence they are unlikely to be changed by a punitive sanction aimed at scaring an “LCP” straight. Effective intervention needs to be guided not by crass political impulses but by the best criminological knowledge available.
In closing, to be a literate scholar, it is essential to possess a working knowledge of developmental and life-course criminology. The current handbook offers the opportunity to gain such an understanding. The volume is crafted so that readers are provided empirical knowledge pertaining to different life stages and contexts, key theoretical ideas, and insights on developmental prevention strategies. The result is a work of criminological consequence that promises to be the premier resource in the DLC area for years to come. I trust that readers will benefit from this special book as much as I have. An exciting criminological adventure awaits!
Francis T. Cullen
University of Cincinnati (p. xii)