Tierney’s (2006), Criminology: Theory and context (2nd ed.), provides a clear historical introduction to the field of criminology. His text combines an engaging style with a rich analysis of the discipline to enhance student understanding of this diverse and sometimes controversial field. Tierney provides insight into the development of the science, including its theories and models drawing on socio-cultural values. Ultimately, Tierney focuses on how to define crime and criminology in the current time, to engage students in the discourse as to what the field should focus itself on.
Tierney begins with a dissection of decisions and judgments that are based on common- sense. This is appropriate given that many undergraduate students have not been exposed to systematic analysis of the concepts and beliefs that guide much of their public lives. As such, early stage learners are at a stage of learning that is not self-reflective and tends to make generalised judgments about the society and world that they live.
For example, stereotyping, biased ways of thinking and adhering to ‘common-sense’ principles. It is of benefit to the student new to criminology to review of the concept of common sense, as it leads to learning strategies of critical analysis and self reflection. He earmarks the anthropologist Kroeber (1952) who determined that superstitions common within a social group are likely to become common beliefs guiding responses to anti-social behaviors.
Tierney supports this conclusion by providing statements from other theorists. For example, Becker (1974) contends that commonsense can readily mislead a person due to a rule-of-thumb approach which does not account for context and mitigating circumstances. As such, Tierney provides an excellent resource for readers to explore self-reflection and critical analysis of their cultural common-sense beliefs about crime, delinquency, the penal system and the field of criminology.
Furthermore, Tierney outlines the debates of interest to the field of criminology at the time of writing. He highlights contention as to what issues criminology should concern itself in the 21st century. For example, should the focus be on the offender or the offence? Reactions of others to an offender? An emphasis on the experiences of the victims? or A focus on a combination of the factors across debates?
Tierney also points to the field’s critical need for more research into prevention of crime, continual improvement of the prison system, identification of methods for determining reasons leading to criminal behaviour and determining best practice techniques for better policing. Hence, Tierney portrays the field of criminology as a dynamic discipline that encourages debate and systematic investigation of best practices and ethical standards.
Tierney’s text is of use to the undergraduate in training for a career of criminology. Exposure to grand theories of human behavior and life’s purpose, such as those of Functionalism, Structuralism, Marxism, a Feminist perspective, inter-actionism and phenonemonology, are sure to arouse the reader’s interest in questioning their place in the world, and their personal and social beliefs. In doing so, the student is provoked to consider research options to collect data to make comparisons between groups and concepts.
In this way, the practice of statistics is made more relevant to the student as they can place the research variables into a context that has meaning for them. Again, a reminder is made of the importance of using self-reflection to challenge one’s own beliefs, values and attitudes of crime or anti-social behavior, and to shine a light on broader socio-cultural principles, aims identification of best practices to define, observe, experience, measure, communicate and make use of phenomenon.
His descriptions of concepts, debates, research and insights provided by Tierney are easy to read and his writing style is highly engaging. In this it is doubtful that the student will be bored with the material. Though, given the abstract nature of much of the text, as well as the rich vein of geo-historical data and research findings, it would be wise for students to have developed note taking and summary skills.
The theories that he provides cover the basic schools of thought in Western philosophy and the development of criminology; important because these schools inform other areas of human life, such as medicine, education, social studies and ecology to name but a few. For the student to be able to place their personal life and social group within a broader body of knowledge across disciplines, affords the student a experience developing a more objective perspective. It is important that students learn how to create an objective-as-possible environment for study or state of mind for reflection.
Ultimately, Tierney provides the student reader with an overview of the field of criminology using deeply insightful examples to demonstrate systematic critical analysis and self-reflection. From a combination of discourses, Tierney illustrates the science of criminology as an innovative and adaptive socio-cultural phenomenon. He emphasises how the discipline of criminology is upheld within society for its potential to secure the safety and rights of people and the environments in which they live and function. It can only be hope that the questions he poses will be answered by his student readers who are inspired and challenged to make a difference.
Tierney, J. (2006). Criminology: Theory and context (2nd ed). Essex, UK: Longman.