Crime versus Criminalization

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The translation of the from Latin derived word ›crime‹ (lat.: crimen), renders the problematic visible, due to which the use of the word in any fixed category seems to be impossible (or is even impossible). Accusation and guilt are just two of its possible translations. Both refer to one and the same term but they determine two individual states of affair or perspectives. Crime in a fixed category, describing different types of offences, is indeed far too condensed and abstract to describe the phenomena behind the act. Offences are often verbalized upon their features, which do not describe the circumstances of the case in a true manner, but simplify it. The responsibility of the action, which has taken place, is then solely placed upon the person, who has committed the act.

»Societies general knowledge regarding ›crime and punishment‹ is also about the fact to render certain phenomena incomprehensible. Punishment and exclusion is at its easiest, where little knowledge exists about the persons and their actions, which are to be judged.
The event or the person involved is made to become incomprehensible and therefore not understandable, but can be explained.«*

Therefore it remains essential to question the norms, which define »criminal« activities. Also, the controlling instances who set a certain behaviour as being criminal need to be viewed critically in order to render visible the contingency of the background of these definitions. »Rights« and the »law« are categories, which are in continuous flux that reverberates with ongoing social change. Thus social activities, which were still defined as a criminal offence and therefore punishable some years ago, are today no longer to be found in the catalogue of actions described as criminal.

*Source:  Cremer-Schäfer, Helga; Steinert, Heinz: Straflust und Repression: Zur Kritik der populistischen Kriminologie, Münster 1998

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