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The Sociology of Deviance: an Obituary

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The Sociology of Deviance: an Obituary by Colin Sumner

First published in 1994 by the Open University Press and Continuum (USA).

Now published as a pdf in 2012 and in paperback in 2013 with CrimeTalk Books, xi and 340pp. £3.95 or €5 and £15 or €18 respectively, plus postage and packing.

To buy, contact Colin directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

"...remarkably well written and informative……very well done indeed." [the late Edwin M. Lemert]

"...quite simply, a classic - a must read for any serious student of criminology, one that has stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time." [Steve Tombs, Open University]

"...an erudite, engaging and provocative history of sociological ideas... an outstanding piece of sociology." [Ian Loader, The Sociological Review]

“…an excellent essay that should be required reading for scholars engaged in deviance research….. an excellent example of the insights that can be gained by widening one’s theoretical and methodological horizon.” [Sudhir Venkatesh, American Journal of Sociology]

"Seldom have I been so impressed; the breadth and depth of scholarship in this work is awesome." [Charles E. Marske, St Louis U.]

“…a work of impressive scope, imagination and originality….. a distinctive contribution… essential reading for all students of criminology….” [Paul Roberts, Modern Law Review]

"What was meant and praised as a necessary, courageous and successful step of liberating and emancipating the discipline of criminology from the narrow boundaries of the penal law turns out to be another scientific blind alley - now at the level of society. This is the central message of Colin Sumner's fine and scholarly study on the conceptual career of 'deviance' - a literary journey that covers a century long period of theoretical reflection and analysis." [Fritz Sack, Hamburg University]

“…a brisk and quite outstanding tour… incisive and potent… penetrative and timely... deserves a wide readership” [International Journal of the Sociology of Law]

In this obituary to a branch of sociology whose central idea no longer exhibits any vitality, Colin Sumner charts the rise and fall of both the field of enquiry and the concept that were important to Western modernist thinking about morality in the twentieth century. The analysis is a thoroughgoing autopsy. The corpse is examined in detail, its features documented and set in their historical and cultural context, and the flaws that weakened it are revealed. This a critique that recovers the full meaning of its object in its own time and respectfully appreciates its virtues and justifications. In an unusual addition, the concept of deviance and its study in sociology are also judged against contemporary approaches that see deviance as not so much a scientific descriptor as another moral censure for the same old targets.

To do full justice to this very twentieth century liberal idea that contradicted and teased the old absolutist ideas of normality and moral health, the development of the sociology of deviance is paralleled to the history of modern art with its major doubts in the validity of flat perspective and the possibility of capturing a world beyond our subjective and emotional impressions.

The first part traces the beginnings in relativism and the 'roaring twenties', before documenting the formation of the concept of social deviation in late 1930's America - in a world where class, racial divisions and social structure seemed recalcitrant, immune to the New Deal and underpinning yet undercutting all ideas of unhealthy or anti-social behaviour. The second part looks at the heyday of the field and the concept in the early 1960's as arguably the most dynamic field in sociology at that time. In its pomp, the sociology of deviance seemed to show that the world of the deviant, whether that of the bohemian, the cool cat, the homosexual or the mobster, was a coherent, rational sub-culture formed in part in reaction to mainstream culture with all its censorious pompousness and hypocrisy.

In the third and final part, the author documents the radical criticism of conventional social control that emerged in this field in the late 1960's as Cliff's 'we're all going on a summer holiday' was replaced by Mick's 'street-fightin' man'. Not only could the control efforts of the parental generation be seen to make things worse and amplify deviance, but they could be linked directly to certain unwholesome vested interests within corporate capitalism and the military-industrial complex of Western imperialism. The caring 1930's anthropology of 'other cultures' had been spurned by an empire striking back. The cultures of 'others' have long since ceased to be in a mood to be censured for their authentic responses to a world that is not of their making. Deviance stands naked, exposed as the suppressed world of those who think they are normal.

Colin Sumner is creator and editor of CrimeTalk. He is also a professor of sociology and Head of the School of Sociology and Philosophy, UCC. Cork, Ireland. For many years he was a sociology lecturer at Cambridge University, at its Institute of Criminology, before becoming the Head of the Law School he established at the University of East London. 

Sociologìa de la Desviación: un Obituario

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Sociologìa de la Desviación: un Obituario

by Colin Sumner

2012. CrimeTalk Books. Translated by Farid Benavides. xv & 452 pp. 978-0-9570241-0-6 [h/b, £ or € 39.95], 978-0-9570241-1-3 [p/b, £ or € 10], 978-0-9570241-2-0 [pdf, £ or € 4.95]. First published in 1994 by the Open University Press and Continuum.

To buy, contact Colin directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Este libro traza el ascenso y caída de un campo de investigación. Investiga y documenta las ideas que sustentan su lugar a finales de 1930 hasta su popularidad como parte de una crítica de la autoridad con mano dura en la sociología efervescente de la década de 1960.  La desviación era un área de la investigación científica social, un término psiquiátrico que resuena censura social, y un parque infantil conceptual para la cultura desafiante. Comenzó como un término genérico para un comportamiento que rompe con las normas sociales, pero terminó su vida cuando se reveló como una censura selectiva e incoherente, por ejemplo, de los adolescentes, de la bohemia, del delincuente, de los enfermos mentales, de los excéntricos y de los socialistas, una censura al poder de reciclar infinitas variaciones del temido ‘otro’ para alimentar a los muchos ‘pánicos morales’ de la sociedad de la inseguridad. Fue reemplazado en la década de 1980 por el concepto de la censura social.

Basándose en el análisis anterior del propio Sumner en su libro Reading Ideologies [1979], esta historia trata de evitar una reducción de este concepto sociológico clave para cualquier factor subyacente y se mantiene firme en la creencia en las condiciones causales múltiples y superpuestas para su existencia. Por lo tanto, la idea de la desviación social es analizada con simpatía como un concepto definitorio de la modernidad constantemente ocupado en la diferenciación, el etiquetamiento y la individuación. Para ello, el libro se centra en la lógica de la idea en sí misma, su significado en el contexto de un siglo convulso, su actualización en la investigación y el debate, y, en un único hilo en ejecución en todo, su desarrollo en comparación con los grandes movimientos en la historia del arte moderno. La edición en inglés del libro en 1994 utiliza una imagen de Desmoiselles d'Avignon de Picasso en la portada, así como una cita irónica de ese gran artista para cerrar el texto.

Colin Sumner es hoy el Editor de CrimeTalk, una revista de criminología online en www.crimetalk.org.uk, que él creó en 2010. Cuando escribió este libro era un sociólogo en el Instituto de Criminología de la Universidad de Cambridge, donde había enseñado desde 1977. Algunas de sus obras allí, tanto como docente e investigador, se encuentra en los dos libros que publicó con sus estudiantes de doctorado: Censura, Política y Justicia Penal [1990] y la Violencia, la Cultura y la Censura [1997]. Sus otros libros incluyen Reading Ideologies [1979], Delito, la Justicia y Subdesarrollo [1982] y El Companion de Blackwell a la Criminología [2004].  Posteriormente fue Director de la Facultad de Derecho en la Universidad del Este de Londres. Fue co-fundador de la revista internacional de Criminología Teórica.

Farid Benavides obtuvo su doctorado en Ciencia Política en la Universidad de Massachusetts en Amherst.  Esta terminando un doctorado en derecho con una tesis sobre Memoria histórica y memoria judicial. También esta terminando su tesis del doctorado en filosofía con una tesis sobre Dussel y la política de la alteridad.  Actualmente trabaja para el ICTJ en Bogotá.

Comentarios de la edición de Inglés

 "...remarkably well written and informative……very well done indeed." [Edwin M. Lemert, personal communication]

"...an erudite, engaging and provocative history of sociological ideas... an outstanding piece of sociology." [Ian Loader, The Sociological Review]

“…an excellent essay that should be required reading for scholars engaged in deviance research….. an excellent example of the insights that can be gained by widening one’s theoretical and methodological horizon.” [Sudhir Venkatesh, American Journal of Sociology]

"Seldom have I been so impressed; the breadth and depth of scholarship in this work is awesome." [Charles E. Marske, personal communication]

“…a work of impressive scope, imagination and originality….. a distinctive contribution… essential reading for all students of criminology….” [Professor Paul Roberts, Modern Law Review]

"What was meant and praised as a necessary, courageous and successful step of liberating and emancipating the discipline of criminology from the narrow boundaries of the penal law turns out to be another scientific blind alley - now at the level of society. This is the central message of Colin Sumner's fine and scholarly study on the conceptual career of 'deviance' - a literary journey that covers a century long period of theoretical reflection and analysis." [Professor Fritz Sack]

“…a brisk and quite outstanding tour… incisive and potent… penetrative and timely... deserves a wide readership” [International Journal of the Sociology of Law]

Bhopal: Flowers at the Altar of Profit and Power

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Bhopal : Flowers at the altar of profit and power

 

by

Frank Pearce and Steve Tombs

All authors' royalties from this book will go to the Bhopal Medical Appeal. The authors are Professor of Sociology at Queen's University, Canada and Professor of Criminology at the Open University.

2012, an e-book in pdf, price £ or € 3.95. ISBN 978-0-9570241-6-8.

Multi-user in perpetuity licences available for universities and colleges at £ or €35.

To buy, contact Colin Sumner of CrimeTalk Books directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

“We are not flowers offered at the altar of profit and power. We are dancing flames committed to conquering darkness and to challenging those who threaten the planet and the magic and mystery of life”.

So said Rashida Bee, a Bhopal survivor who lost six family members in the disaster.

In December 1984, a massive gas leak killed thousands in and around a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India; tens of thousands have died since, and many more have had their lives and livelihoods devastated. The US-based company and its CEO remain absconders from Indian justice. They have consistently denied, obfuscated and used the resources at the disposal of the powerful to evade any legal judgment.

This book draws on a considerable literature to make a social scientific judgment of their liability for the world’s worst industrial ‘disaster’. It attempts to convey some of the horrendous events and consequences of the gas leak itself, before examining Union Carbide’s responses to and 'explanations' of the disaster, contrasting these with more persuasive explanations.

 

The book then poses, and answers, a key question: was the disaster unforeseeable and therefore preventable? In conclusion, we explore corporate rationality and in particular reflect on the view that everything has its price, that money can compensate for any loss or injury. It is this view which helps to explain the manoeuvrings that went into the determination of the deeply problematic legal “settlement” for the victims of Bhopal – a sordid compromise between unequal parties which offers no justice, but underlines why the struggle of Rashida Bee and others around the globe continues.

"This is the most incisive, persuasive and detailed account of the Bhopal disaster yet written. In clear, beautiful prose, using hundreds of documents and contrasting accounts, Pearce and Tombs meticulously document the causes, effects and aftermath of the world’s worst industrial “accident” (so far). Through its own corporate documents they trace the lines of responsibility from the parent company, Union Carbide (now Dow), to Bhopal, revealing the duplicity and venality of its efforts to distance itself by laying all blame on Indian management or the elusive “saboteur”. Their concluding argument shows how the world-view championed by neo-liberal economics - that market values must take primacy in all human relationships and that everything has its price – both legitimates Bhopal and fuels continuing cultural, environmental and social damage. This superb, important book should be read by activists, politicians and everyone working for a more just, equitable world." (From the Foreword by Laureen Snider, Professor Emerita, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario)

Frank Pearce is Professor of Sociology at Queen's University, Canada

Steve Tombs is Professor of Sociology at Liverpool John Moores University

 

 

CrimeTalk Books

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CrimeTalk Books have now published three titles. We will publish both e-books and print volumes, both scientific and general books - in any area of criminology: crime, deviance, criminal justice systems, prisons, criminal law, jurisprudence, morality, psychology, investigation, policing, history, economics, anthropology and social justice. We will be especially interested in both academic and popular books that exploit the capacity of the e-book format, with its potential for integration with the web via its use of weblinks, graphics, photos and video.

 

 

The Sociology of Deviance: an Obituary by Colin Sumner.  Pdf and now reprinted in paperback.

Sociologìa de la Desviación: un Obituario by Colin Sumner. H/b, p/b and pdf

Bhopal: Flowers at the Altar of Profit and Power by Frank Pearce and Steve Tombs. Pdf.

To potential readers: we aim to deliver high quality criminology in contemporary formats using the latest technology. 

To potential writers: As a publisher editor and university professor, I am an experienced editor with both books and journals. Your book will get my close attention, and so receive a higher quality service than you can expect from a traditional publisher - you will be working with a social science professor not a young English graduate or an unpublished commissioning editor. Your royalties will be greater than is usual in traditional publishing contracts.

E-books have been very successful with fiction writing and students in the USA at least now regularly use a Kindle or an iPad. Industry formats are converging. There is no reason why quality scholarship or non-fiction cannot be similarly commercially viable. The kind of writing I have been encouraging in CrimeTalk - literary and general not technical and exclusive, high quality but comprehensible - would make good use of e-book formats. As the e-book evolves, it is easy to see it coming into its own as a distinct form of publishing with unique features and possibilities. 

Our first few books will come from myself and people who have written for CrimeTalk. But I am interested in any good ideas, so please do write to me  at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are interested in publishing with me. Young scholars are especially welcome and may well make the best use of new e-book formats. Our books will be aimed at a broad, global market, and conventional academic manuscripts will certainly be welcomed, providing there are foreseeable sales. Discuss your idea or project with me at an early stage for the most efficient procedure and format. 

 

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