Value judgments and criminalization

Published: March 2011

Fuelled by contemporary concerns of risk and majoritarian calls to adhere to ‘the values the majority hold dear’, there can be said to be a ‘crisis of criminalization’ in liberal democracies. Whilst criminalization is clearly an important theme in criminology, there has been little attention on the value judgments behind processes of criminalization.  By drawing on elements of moral philosophy and by applying these ideas to everyday criminalization in Toronto, this article takes a first step towards addressing this omission.  The article adopts a pluralist and social constructivist perspective where differential interpretations lead to the same behaviour being celebrated, tolerated or censured, depending on context and power.  A model of value judgment and criminalization is offered that includes consideration of moral, prudential, economic and aesthetic judgments.  Value consensus is questioned and the political capital required to dictate values is considered.


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