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Editorial. July 2009

Nicolas Carrier et Gilles Chantraine

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Narratives of Youthfulness

1Penal Field is a youthful journal: independent, free, online, bilingual (French/English), international, and altogether allergic to any temptation of authoritative disciplinary confinement.

2Indeed, TheNew International Journal of Criminology has become even more youthful with the recent integration of eight young intellectuals in the Reading Committee: Emmanuel Blanchard, Corine Cardi, Mathilde Darley, Sophie Dreyfus, Nicolas Fisher, Virgine Gautron, Marwan Mohammed and Cédric Moreau de Bellaing. With these fresh additions, the Reading Committee confidently asserts and solidifies the pluridisciplinarity of the Journal: history, sociology, critical legal studies, political science, philosophy, psychiatry, psychology, economics and criminology are represented here. And we look to further reinforce this pluridisciplinary character. For example, we envision potential contributions from geographers to renew analyses of the architectural spaces of penal institutions, as well as of the control and exclusivist logics animating contemporary transformations of urban spatiality.

3Despite its youth, the Journal has taken great strides beyond its first steps. Almost fifty articles have been published in French, of which more than half have been translated into English. Penal Field will continue to preserve its ambitions of transcending linguistic, national, and disciplinary boundaries, particularly in disseminating francophone work throughout, and beyond, la francophonie.

4Despite its youth, the Journal has also gained renown. Hosted by, a visible, respected and dynamic site hosting only peer-reviewed scientific journals, the Journal receives on average 10,000 visitors per month, principally from France, Canada, the United States, and Belgium. Further, the Journal already enjoys recognition and praise as demonstrated through grants awarded by France’s Centre national de recherche scientifique (CNRS) and Mission de recherche Droit et Justice (GIP Justice) to support its activities, particularly the translation of articles.  

‘For’ and ‘Against’ Criminology

5Throughout the West, where “criminology” has been firmly institutionalized or seeks to reinforce its institutionalization, diverse actors portray themselves as representatives of a strictly criminological field. In response, we are witnessing passionate reactions – or passive resistances – from diverse analysts of the penal field. They often feel compelled to distance themselves from any identification with criminology. Penal Field, however, does not reject an identification with criminology, because it apprehends criminology as a wide field of research (the boundaries of which are uncertain), rather than as a discipline. The borders of the penal field are contested in continually renewed debate. The vitality – indeed necessity – of such debate underpins Penal Field’s constant refusal of any project striving to arrive at an internal (theoretical, conceptual, etc.) harmony and consensus. The dynamism of a fertile space for critical thought pushes against the dark shadow that ‘criminology’ – in its dominant imagining – threatens to cast over the irreducible dissensions that run through, and structure, the field.  

6Against ‘mainstream criminology’, taken here as a bundle of scientist discourses and practices concerning ontologized and non-problematized objects (crime, ‘the’ criminal), and against ‘administrative criminology’, which imprisons itself implicitly, if not explicitly, within the categories of State apparatuses, the goal of The New International Journal of Criminology is to open its pages to various analyses of the penal field. This is an area of inquiry which convokes all social sciences. Rather thanfavouring the conventional empiricism of mainstream criminology (characterized both by its inability to reflect on its own genealogy, and by its claims to universality, signalling a blindness to the theoretical, cultural and socio-historical mediation of any capture of reality), the Journal elects to publish rigorous, original, empirical and theoretical contributions. Critical criminological research does not construct its bases through mimesis of mainstream and administrative criminology. On the one hand, critical criminological research takes root in disciplines that have now acquired their ‘patents of respectability’ (setting aside each discipline’s epistemological configurations and methodological requirements, and bracketing the necessity of a systematic, critical, self- and peer-based evaluation within proper scholarly arenas of results and interpretations that are obviously partial and provisory). On the other hand, it supposes a will to dialogue and to pursue pluri-, trans-, and inter- disciplinary exchanges (a will, of course, which is not specific to criminological debates and that pervades various fields of research in social sciences).

7It follows that the vocation of the Journal does not rest in the extension and promotion of cultural practices which, by inscribing themselves as scientific, partake in the naturalization and universalization of political categories and concepts, or presenting as ‘necessary’ and ‘unavoidable’ various social uses of criminal law. On the contrary, Penal Field favours the diffusion of rigorous contributions in which the epistemological postures, theoretical frameworks, choices of objects of inquiry, ‘fields’, and methodological decisions take distance from the socio-cultural, juridical, political, geopolitical, historical, ideological, economical, and scientific foundations of the (diverse and contradictory) practices and discourses of the penal field. Critical criminological debates nourish themselves on a political worry, always renewed in relation to the social uses of criminal law, and to their articulation with other coercive modalities of social regulation.

8Furthermore, the objects of critical criminology are always, in the first instance, those that the analysts themselves appropriate, oftentimes against institutionally defined boundaries. This holds for a wide array of analyses: of the (always potentially criminalized) ‘problems-situations’, criminalized deviances, State regulation, social control and repression, alternative modes of conflict resolution, contemporary penal regressions, popular representations of crime, deconstructions of scientific knowledge and truth claims related to the question of crime, intimate relationships with crime, mass mediated images of the penal system, penal consequences of social policies, penitentiary consequences of penal policies, and so on. Since the penal field is not constituted by homogeneous discourses and practices that clearly and authoritatively fix its boundaries through formal and official criminalization, the spectrum of possible investigations is all the wider. The social uses of criminal law do not saturate the penal field. In other words, striving towards the constitution and solidification of a scientific, criminological, critical, and dialogical space is also a constantly evolving and reflexive project. As a corollary, the Journal refuses to close its pages to researchers who recognize themselves as other than ‘criminologists’. Openness and porosity – these are prerequisites to the Journal’s quality. If the expertise brought by the institutionalization of criminology is celebrated in certain countries, we also need to recognize the limits of any type of academic specialization.

9In a nutshell, critical criminology always works both ‘for’ criminology, because of its faith in the fertility of a pluridisciplinary approach, and ‘against’ criminology (to borrow from Stan Cohen), because criminology’s very terminology, and its institutionalization in various universities, always risk to convey and reinforce the idea that ‘crime’ is such a specific social phenomenon that only licensed and authorized experts can understand it. In this tension between ‘for’ and ‘against’ criminology lies a challenge and a call for rigor and imagination, but also a source of joy and of relative scientific democracy; it is the authors, and not only the editorial board, who shall through their contributions transform the editorial space and the very object of critical criminology’s dialogue.

From Potentialities to Strategies

10Penal Field has yet to fully capitalize on its internal and external energies and to better communicate its rich idiosyncrasies on the international scene. In this regard, various initiatives are envisioned, some of which are already in progress:

11- Since 2009, Penal Field no longer bears the subtitle ‘nouvelle revue française de criminologie’ but instead ‘New International Journal of Criminology’. This modification carries a strong signification. It underscores the essential contributions made to the Journal by scholars based in Germany, Belgium, Canada and the United States. We hope that such officialization of our international character marks the beginning of a definitive consolidation. It is with this objective in mind that for the first time, and for an experimental year, Penal Field opens its pages to un-translated English articles. (In the realm of its financial capacity, the Journal will maintain its policy of systematic translation of the articles published in French.) We are convinced that opening our pages to unilingual English contributions – also submitted, like the French ones, to the high standards of academic publications – will create increased possibilities for dialogue. Indeed, the Journal’s hospitality toward English-language contributions comes out of the drive to fuel exchanges and debates, and to partake in controversies raging in Anglophone intellectual, academic, and political spaces. Our objective is not merely to support Anglophone (plural and conflicting) discourses, since – for that purpose – there are already an impressive number of legitimate academic venues.  Rather, the desire to further enable and stimulate dialogue will be the criterion mobilized to reflect on this experimental year.  

12- In order to stimulate both the visibility and readability of the Journal, Penal Field will increase its listings in scholarly databases. This will follow some intensive ‘cosmetic surgery’ which, in Fall 2009, will provide the Journal and its website a new face. This surgery – thanks to – will notably enable the diffusion of the articles in the usual portable document format (pdf), condition sine qua non of their maximal circulation.

13- In the future, we will also strive towards a better exploitation of the potentialities of electronic support. For example, analyses of the penal field still overwhelmingly neglect the use of images and sounds (notwithstanding important exceptions from anthropology and some representatives of Cultural Criminology). Penal Field thus invites authors of original and rigorous contributions to innovate and to fully exploit the possibilities offered by online publications.

14- Finally, a last but important change: the Journal adds to its practices the constitution of “dossiers” (or special issues). They will accompany, not replace, the articles submitted to the regular review process. They will be published in our yearly volumes, with all the flexibility of the electronic format. Under the direction of one or more members of the Reading Committee, or in collaboration with a ‘guest editor’, the Journal’s dossiers will be composed of a minimum of four scientific articles on any given theme. A first call for papers, focused on the penalization of immigration control and edited by Nicolas Fisher and Mathilde Darley, is already circulating within international academic circles. This first dossier is particularly important, since it exemplifies the pluridisciplinary orientation of the Journal, as well as its critical vocation. Moreover, this dossier will be a privileged site for reflecting on the boundaries of criminology, a reflection that Penal Field will continue to nurture. Other calls for papers are envisioned, or are currently being prepared: sexual ‘deviances’; gender and violence; situated management of social disorders and the State; uses of law within spaces of confinement; abolitionism; politics of drug control; epistemology and critical approaches to the penal field.           

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Nicolas Carrier et Gilles Chantraine, « Editorial. July 2009 », Champ pénal/Penal field [En ligne], Editoriaux, mis en ligne le 20 octobre 2009, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL :

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