Roots of a Perspective
I have been invited to reflect upon ideas that underpin my work, and also to include a discussion of personal intellectual history. The danger in such a task, is to become entrapped in the private. To escape that danger, I will attempt to describe how the development of ideas are influenced by the same forces that also influence both crime and forms of crime control. Theories on deviance and theories of theories on deviance might stem from the same root. This does not mean that I see myself as a robot, where my writing is fully determined by the surroundings. Nor do I look at persons sentenced for crime in that way.
Let me depart from a negative finding; there are so few monsters in my country. I have never met one, nor have I written on the theme. The closest I have come to the topic was during a meeting in The American Society of Criminology far back in time. Here, to my great astonishment, I found a session on "Monsters in Crime". I attended. On the black-board were listed several names. I can only remember one: Mr. Christie, - the at that time famous mass-murderer from London. And one more memory: But Queen Elisabeth was not on the black-board. Even though it was she - or her government - who hanged Mr. Evans for the killings they later found that Christie had committed. But later her government also hanged Christie, so justice was restored.
Why are there so few monsters in my country?
May be I have not looked around with sufficient energy?
I have. As a very young student, I was approached by Johs. Andenæs, professor of penal law, but at that time close to government, and Andreas Aulie, the general prosecutor. They had a problem. World War II was just over, Norway had been an occupied country for five years, now we were in the middle of a final cleaning process, those who had collaborated with the occupants or joined the nazi-party were all to be punished. Thousands were imprisoned. 25 Norwegians were executed, the last one in 1948.
But one problem intrigued the authorities: The Germans had created concentration-camps up in Northern Norway. They were for Yugoslavian partisans. 2717 arrived during the summer 1942. The first winter in Norway, 1747 were killed by the guards or died due to sickness, starvation or the extreme winter. 363 Norwegians served as guards, 47 were after the war sentenced for killing or maltreatment of the prisoners.
I had long talks with nearly all of these 47 Norwegian guards and with a sample of guards who had been in the same external situation without later being sentenced for having killed or maltreated prisoners. But I did not find any monsters, just ordinary people. I think I was able to explain some of the mechanisms that made killing possible, but concluded with a statement that I felt far from certain which group I would have ended up in myself, if I, at the age of 17, had been up there as a guard with gun in hand and surrounded with humans whom I did not see as such.
I published my preliminary results (Christie 1952). They were politely ignored. The extreme atrocities of concentration camps were for Germans to commit. If Norwegians took part, they had to be of a peculiar sort: Monsters. It was not until twenty years later, with a new generation of readers and with Milgrams (1965) results well known, that the full report was published and then received with considerable interest. (Christie 1972).
Later I have looked for monsters in and out of prisons, among drug users and importers, among people sentenced for violence as well as for disgusting sexual behaviour, but it seems possible to understand nearly everything without concepts that push the offenders outside the family of man. Once I was supposed to meet a guaranteed monster. It was a case in Sweden. He had - for reasons difficult to understand - killed several people and put the blame on his girl-friend. For a long period he was the public enemy number one, a man-hunt went on for weeks, a film on his life was made by a distinguished Swedish producer, a monster was created. I went to see him and met a man like most men.(2)
So, are there absolutely no monsters around?
May be I should not look so far away as to other people, but at myself and one or two colleagues. In a small country, those among us exposing controversial views become highly visible.(3) In the public arena of Norway, some of us might to some extent be seen as qualified for expulsion. In my case; arguing that people ought to get pensions rather than pain (Christie 1960), arguing that one of the primary functions of schools - an arrangement close to prisons - is to keep children away from the lives of grown ups (Christie 1971), that we ought to put "Limits to Pain", (Christie 1981), and that drugs are "Suitable enemies" (Christie and Bruun 1985,1996). With some colleagues, I have also been involved in actions of civil disobedience resulting in a formal sentences. But it never pushed us completely out of respectability.
What do I try to convey?
That Norway is badly suited for the creation of monsters. We are too few. To a large extent, we know each other as persons on a wide variety of attributes. Those who killed in the concentration camps up in the North, never saw the victims as full human beings. Those who did not kill, did. The man who made the film from Sweden had never talked to the supposed monster. Being visible in my home town, with friends and relatives of accepted calibre, being a member of a Faculty of Law with close ties to power, it cannot be denied that on most attributes, I am OK, a bit naive, but not necessarily evil. No fertile ground for expulsion or creation of monsters.
OK as a person, but not quite reliable. I have once functioned as a member of our Royal Commission on Penal Law. But only once, for a short period, and for a specific problem. The problem had to do with proposals for special measures for people seen as mentally deviant and potentially dangerous. I felt desperately alienated in the process, and ended up writing a 20 page dissenting vote denouncing forensic psychiatry in general and their predictive ability in particular. The minister of justice at that time actually listened to me and shelved the majority-proposal for new special measures.(4) But relations to the majority in the Royal Commission got somewhat tainted. They are the power-holders within our penal law establishment. I was never invited back. It has not filled my life with grief. On the contrary, in retrospect, I think it has been good, particularly for me, but may be also for certain aspects of criminology. Forced to be an outsider. Free to remain critical.
I got a sort of confirmation of that through later contacts with the same minister of justice. She is the best we have had in my life-time. Open, imaginative, with a sincere wish for creating reforms, and in addition kind and pleasant as a person. Nonetheless, I have, 20 years later, to confess to a slight feeling of relief when a political shift brought her out of office. She asked me now and then for advice. And I had so little to say, at least of the sort that might be useful for a politician. Youth-crime was seen as a national problem. So, in my view, we ought to abolish youth and instead let children pass directly into adulthood. Not too helpful for the Labour Party. She also wanted to create a huge State-committee for crime-prevention. I felt as observing the mosquito attacking the elephant, and again an explication of this feeling would not be particularly helpful, neither to this person I admired so much, nor to her party. Now and then the media asked for comments. She was the best minister ever. I did not want to hurt her. By not doing it, I was not free any more. May be it is not the worst of all solutions to preserve some distance between Government and Universities, with room for critical thinking.
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Will Norway continue as an arena badly suited for the creation of monsters?
In 1973, and in a new edition in 1982, I published a book called "How tightly knit a society?" The leading idea was introduced through a diagram on crime against other people's honour - libel, or defamation. My reasoning was simple: While everybody was concerned about the rise in crime, my concern was the rapid fall in this particular crime. My interpretation was not that people had become kinder to each other, that they took more care of other people's honour, but the opposite, that honour was not that important any more. Honour is important in a living society, one rich in social interaction, one where there exists social capital that can be lost. Honour might, in such a society, be so important that it leads to violence and killing. But we live in the opposite situation, where honour is of limited importance, and where it therefore is little reason to raise complaints against defamation. Here there is nothing to lose(5). At the same time, such a society is one where individuals are more free, - for good and bad. Therefore the question; "How tightly knit a society?" How far, and with what sort of consequences, can our societies develop in the direction where other people's opinion does not matter? How much can such societies endure of mobility, geographically and socially without falling into pieces? How much can they take of one-dimensionallity in the reward-system, - how much can the goal of economic success gain priority over alternative, old fashioned goals as moral fulfilment, artistic development, humanistic development, wisdom...? How much strain can a society absorb without losing its cohesive character?
A majority of Norwegians have decided, in two referendums, to remain outside the European Union. I agree wholeheartedly with my country fellows, - also out of criminological theory. To remain in the periphery, to remain outside a gigantic organization for increasing market forces, means at the same time an attempt to preserve Norway as a country with some possibilities for keeping important civil qualities. But we are on the losers side. The belief in the beneficial effects of the market economy removes power from national states. Even outside the E.U., welfare states build down welfare when money-movers can select the cheapest base for their operations, - a country with a minimum of welfare.
The result is increased difference between social segments. The common market, globally, leads into uncommon lives, nationally. We experience these days a reappearance of the term "the dangerous classes". And we also meet concepts and thinking from the military sector: Not the war against poverty any more, but the war against crime, the war against drugs, with ghettos of the inner cities as the battle-ground. And the military men are also mobilised, not only in words. The ministry of justice and the ministry of defence have joint meetings in Washington and elsewhere and the minister of justice convey to the military people: You won the war abroad. Now you must help us to win the war at home. And slowly, the military industry adapt their production to what is understood to be the needs of law and order.
And here we are back to the fertile ground for monsters. The guards in concentration-camps were no monsters. But those who killed saw their prisoners that way. With the resurgence of the concept of "dangerous classes", combined with military technology, the ground is fertile for the reappearance of monsters - dangerous non-humans as seen by those in power.
We can observe how this develops, day by day. I have described some of it in "Crime Control as Industry" (Christie 1993) At the writing of that book in 1992, USA had 1,25 million prisoners, or 505 per 100 000 inhabitants. In the second edition, written in 1994, they had 532 prisoners per l00 000 inhabitants. Writing this article in the end of 1996, I have calculated that they now have more than 1,7 million prisoners, or 650 per 100 000 inhabitants. Included those on probation and parole, they have just now more than 5,6 millions under control of the penal law system, or more than 2% of the population. Among males, there will be close to 4%, and among the younger half of males, at least 10% will be under penal law control, in some states close to 20%. This comes close to a civil war. A civil war where the privileged have created their protected territories and use the state machinery or private police as their soldiers and the prisons as places for internment. We are back to the great internment.
Are we - also in Europe?
At the first Scottish Criminology Conference in Edinburgh, September 1996, James Q. Wilson was invited. His message was clear and in harmony with his earlier writings: Increased use of imprisonment was the only practical solution in the USA. And Great Britain ought to follow that example. As David Garland expressed in his prepared comments to Wilson:
It is as if 19th century doctors, discovering that purgings and leeches and surgery were much less effective than basic hygiene, decided that changing everyone's daily practices and building a new infrastructure of sewers would be too much trouble, too impractical, and so decided to stick to the old medicine, even if mortality rates and iatrogenic diseases were embarrassingly high.
But there are also some signs of counter forces:
The extreme growth in the number of intellectuals in industrialized societies might open for a certain protection against the extreme consequences of market economy and the accompanying dangers of ending up in conditions close to civil war. The growth in the number of students will probably create a huge academic surplus. Surplus in the meaning that they will not all get a paid job where their education is of relevance. They might in the future end up as members of a highly educated proletarian class with income from social security, or in the best case; from a basic minimum salary for all. But they will in this situation remain as a category particularly trained for cultural activities. Intellectuals, artists and old fashioned craftsmen - probably what is called artisans by Englishmen - have one activity in common; they build. They build with music, clay, paint, figures or words. Absorbed in their métier, their activity will often be transformed from labour to work, or in the German version: "Werk", that final goal for creation. Again, when that happens, the market economy looses its totalitarian reign, human beings find other reasons than money for labour and wealth as the symbol of fulfilment of life.
Life in smaller societies might strengthen these developments. Several regions in Europe struggle for independence. It is a sort of counter culture. To be a Basque, a Corsican, a Sicilian or a member of the Sami-community in the North of Scandinavia might give identities more important than the market-value of that individual. Several religious movements might have the same function. Identity becomes established on alternatives to money.
With this observation I have not implied any belief that these small scale societies represent a sort of paradise. They might be terrible to live in, with strict standards, extreme surveillance, all knows all about all, deviants are killed, modern man and woman escapes into loneliness with a sigh of relief. But we do also know that some of them have extraordinary qualities, qualities we have to analyze and understand.
Living in small regions, or small national states, will certainly influence the type of science carried out. In small societies, two things happens. First, It is not so easy to shy away from taking part in the general cultural/political debate on how to run the country. It is as living in a small cottage, there are no janitors around, we have to mend damages ourselves. People get more active, scientists also. Small nations tend to have an extreme number of newspapers and readers. Iceland is at the top in Europe. The population is concerned. For many social scientists, a consequence of this is a wish to talk so that everybody can follow. In addition comes that we do not need to write for national colleagues. They are so few. We can talk when we occasionally meet. But this gets some consequences for style of writing among at least some social scientists. If I want to participate in the running of my country, and I do, I have to write for a general audience. Write with your favourite-aunt in mind has been my advice to myself as to students and colleagues. Favourite-aunts are willing to give my ideas a try, but do not finish reading if points are mystified in scientific jargon.
The effect of all this has been increased by an accidental factor in my life. It has so happened that I often lecture to people seen by most people as dumb, retarded or feeble-minded. I call them extraordinary. This experience has helped to strengthen a deep conviction that I have nothing of importance to say that cannot be understood by most people. I have described some of this in Christie (1989).
These experiences have also consequences in situations where it is necessary to express ideas in other people's language. This can be done in two ways; the academic one in that particular country, or in my native way, - inspired by aunts and extraordinary people. Of course I cling to the last alternative, try to keep the melody of my Norwegian and the simplicity inherent in my limited vocabulary. Favourite aunts, extraordinary people and linguistic handicaps force me down to basic. This is dangerous, it is not possible to hide behind elegance and form. Feeling safe in my little sanctuary, I can afford to take that risk.
But clearly, this wish to take part in the general debate in a small country, and particularly to communicate with all sorts of people, is far from unproblematic. The choice of research-themes will not so easily be determined by the agenda in the international literature. (Even if I must confess to a considerable amount of fatigue browsing some of the international journals.) Instead the choice will be influenced by what is seen as important by a broad segment within the national system. The researcher might thus loose connection with relevant theories. On the other hand, small scale societies makes it natural to look for totalities, which leads the researcher back to variables of general theoretical nature. Another problem with small-scale societies is once more the danger in ending up too close to power. Norway is a hawk in drug policy. Our extreme restrictions on methadone makes people suffer and die. With colleagues, I take part in attempts to convince the Minister of Social Affairs that she has to change this policy.
With this activity, I am back to the old danger of co-optation. We have to relate to power, close, but not too close. Close because we live here, meet people in severe troubles in need of help or conditions so bad that it is a moral obligation to strive for change. But not so close as to loose the ability to look at the phenomena as outsiders, with the joy and freshness of etnographers or social anthropologists. Distant and close. In the old days the Courts had a jester around. Not the worst position for observation, insight and some influence. Today, some of these activities might be seen as cared for by cultural commentators. Impractical women and men of letters. The criminology I like is one carried out from the impossible position in the middle of a triangle between Government, Human misery and Academic demands. My identity is one of a cultural worker, one close to other men of letters. We know so little that Government is willing or able to use. But at the same time we see so much misery that we have to act. We need to conceptualise our insights and give them forms that enable us to take part in the great intellectual dialogue. Not out of any hope for progress. I do not believe in any general development towards general higher social forms or states. My life has been more a number of attempts to understand where we are and who we are, combined with a struggle for decency within these forms
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So many authors stick to the same theme during most of their lifetime. So also with me. I commenced my scientific life with a deficit in monsters. I am now enlarging on that topic in essays where one of the major propositions is that crime does not exist (Christie 1996, A and B). Again, the theme is simple: In the beginning were acts. Then followed discussions on their qualities. Some acts are seen as terrible, according to most standards in most societies, certainly also according to my own. But terrible acts can be met in various ways. In certain situations they are given the meaning of being crimes, and actions seen as crime-control is initiated. In other situations the same unwanted acts are again seen as terrible, but here as suited for sanctions as social distance, expulsion, ridicule, - or may be demands for compensation. One of the challenges for criminology is to analyse the social conditions giving unwanted acts their particular meaning. In this activity, criminology might be able to give advice on how to find, preserve and nurture those social conditions which works against recent trends in seeing so much of the unwanted acts as crime in need of penal action, and instead open for alternative forms of perception of the acts and alternative ways of their control. Doing this, criminology might come to play an important role in the defence of civil society.
Braithwaite, John: Crime, Shame and Reintegration. Cambridge University Press l989, 226 p.
Christie, Nils: Fangevoktere i konsentrasjonsleire /Guards in concentration camps/ Nordisk Tidsskrift for Kriminalvidenskab s. 439-458 Vol.40, 1952 og Vol.41 1952 s.44-60.
Christie, Nils: Fangevoktere i konsentrasjonsleire /Guards in concentration camps/ Oslo Pax 1972, 191 p.
Christie, Nils: Tvangsarbeid og alkoholbruk. /Forced labour and use of alcohol/ Universitetsforlaget Oslo 1960, 106 s.
Christie, Nils: Hvis skolen ikke fantes. En studie i skolens sosiologi /If the school did not exist/ Universitetsforlaget Oslo 1971, 157 s. German edition: Wenn es die Schule nicht gäbe. Ketzerisches zur Schulreform, München 1974. Paul List
Christie, Nils: Hvor tett et samfunn? /How tightly knit a society?/ Oslo/Copenhagen 1973, new and enlarged edition 1982,208 p. Universitetsforlaget-Ejlers forlag.
Christie, Nils: Limits to pain. Oxford Robertson 1981, 122 p.
Christie, Nils og Kettil Bruun: Den gode fiende. Narkotikapolitikk i Norden. /The useful enemy. Drug-policy in the Nordic countries./ Universitetsforlaget, Ejlers. Oslo/Copenhagen 1985, new and enlarged edition 1995 2.. p. Also in German; Der nützige Feind. Die Drogenpolitik und ihre Nutzniesser. 1991 Bielenfeld AIZ.
Christie, Nils: Beyond loneliness and institutions. Communes for extraordinary people. Oslo 1989, 114 p. Norwegian Univ.Press.
Christie, Nils Crime Control as Industry. Towards GULAGS, Western Style? London and New York, 1993, 192 p. Enlarged edition 1994 Routledge
Christie, Nils - A.:Sosial kontroll./Social control/ pp. 87-95 in: Høigård, Cecilie og Liv Finstad, (ed):Kriminologi.Oslo 1996 Pax.
Christie, Nils.- B: Kriminologi. /Criminology/ pp. 340-347 In Boe, Erik (ed): Veien mot retsstudiet. Oslo 1996 Tano-Aschehoug.
Milgram, Stanley: Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience to Authority. Human Relations 1965, pp. 57-75
(1)Thanks to the editors, and to Stan Cohen, Randi Ervik, Katja Franko, Hedda Giertsen and Cecilie Høigård for stimulating comments.
(2) He was a Finn of Sami descent, particularly well suited as raw material for images of extreme deviance. It is one of my many cases of omission that I have not written down the life-story of this man.
(3) It is particularly Cecilie Høigård and Thomas Mathiesen I have in mind, both social scientists within the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo.
(4)Last year a new proposal for special measures - new, but with essentially the old content - was launced, and was accepted by both minister and Parliament
(5)These ideas are of course close to Braithwait's (19..) on shame. But he could not know and quote. My ideas on honour were safely hidden in a Norwegian/danish edition, it was not until 1980 I wrote my books in English (and thereafter re-wrote them in Norwegian).