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Video: Questioning assumptions
Duration: 00:24:20
Date: 07-03-1982
David Scott is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at The Open University
Image : Senior Lecturer David Scott
Date: 2021

Questioning Assumptions: Voice, Power and Blame

Stan Cohen was a hugely influential criminologist. Throughout his work, Cohen aimed to challenge dominant and common-sense ideas about ‘crime’, justice and social control and offer more sophisticated, theoretical and sociologically informed explanations than those that were then available. 
The video highlights the importance of hearing the views of social actors, and you can learn more about how Cohen drew upon marginalised voices in his co-authored book Psychological Survival, which explored the lived experiences of long-term prisoners in E Wing in Durham Prison (Cohen and Taylor, 1973/81). Perhaps here inspired by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, Cohen encouraged Walter Probyn, a prisoner he had befriended whilst doing research for Psychological Survival, to write his autobiography: Angel Face. Cohen wrote the introduction and a commentary/ postscript for the book (Cohen, 1977a; 1977b). 
There is a lengthy discussion in the video about exploring competing explanations and the relationship between knowledge and power. This connects both to (i) Cohen’s PhD thesis, published as Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Cohen, 1973), where he developed the hugely influential concept of ‘moral panic’ to explore how certain people were first defined as a threat to society and then presented as such by the mass media; and (ii) his later book Visions of Social Control (Cohen, 1985). The video was filmed in 1982, when Cohen was writing the latter book which draws greatly upon the ideas of Foucault around ‘truth,’ power, knowledge and classification. 
The discussion closes with a conversation on how social science explanations may undermine blame and punishment. Cohen wrote about guilt and blame (e.g. Cohen 1988) and also the problems of justifying state punishments (see Scott, 2016 for an overview).
Cohen is also known for writing widely on the topic of vandalism (e.g. Cohen, 1973) offering a detailed analytical categorisation of ‘vandalism’ and graffiti, which continues to have influence today. For example, his ideas are discussed in the Open University Module DD105 Introduction to Criminology (Scott and Drake, 2019).
Suggestions for further reading:
Cohen, S. (1972) Folk Devils and Moral Panics London: Routledge 
Cohen, S. (1973a) “Property destruction: motives and meanings” in Ward, C. (ed) (1973) Vandalism London: The Architectural Press.
Cohen, S. (1977a) “Introduction.” In Probyn, W. (1977) Angel Face. London: George Allen and Unwin.
Cohen, S. (1977b) “Commentary (by Stan Cohen): Notes on the reformation of a criminal” in Probyn, W. (1977) Angel Face London: George Allen and Unwin.
Cohen, S. (1985) Visions of Social Control: Crime, Punishment and Classification Cambridge: Polity Press .
Cohen, S. (1988) Against Criminology Cambridge: Polity Press 
Cohen, S. & Taylor, L. (1973/1981) Psychological Survival Harmondsworth: Penguin. 
Scott, D. (2016) “A disobedient visionary with an enquiring mind”: an essay on the Contribution of Stan Cohen”  in Scott, D. (2016) Emancipatory politics and Praxis London: EG Press http://oro.open.ac.uk/52385/.
Drake, D.H. and Scott, D. (2019), ‘Graffiti: Art, Crime or Political Resistance?’ in Drake, D., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D (eds.), (2019), Introduction to Criminology, London: The Open University, pp. 13-38.
David Scott
David Scott is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the Open University.
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Bernard Williams (page 7 of 8)