Criminologists Answer the Question, “So What?”

This guest post is published around the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences conference in New Orleans, occurring February 13-17, 2018. #ACJS2018 #ACJS18

By Claire M. Renzetti, series editor for Gender and Justice Series

As criminologists are gathering in New Orleans, LA, this week for the 55th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justices Sciences (ACJS), they will be addressing the proverbial “So what” question that is not infrequently raised by the media, the general public, and certainly, by politicians, when presented with findings from empirical research. The choice of this theme, with the subtheme “What it all means,” by ACJS President Nicole Leeper Piquero (University of Texas at Dallas) is especially timely given, on one hand, opinion polls showing tremendous mistrust of academics by a swath of the public and conservative politicians, and on the other hand, the groundswell of voices documenting hate crimes and sexual abuse in this country. In the current social and political climate, with the country’s President labeling any story that contradicts his personal or political agenda “fake news,” it behooves us to answer the so what question more clearly and vehemently than ever before.

Indeed, criminological research has much to offer in response to the so what question. Consider, for example, the books in the UC Press Gender and Justice Series, which focus explicitly on how the experiences of offending, victimization, and justice are profoundly affected by the intersection of gender inequality with other social inequalities such as race, ethnicity, and social class. Jerry Flores (University of Toronto), in his monograph, Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance, and Wraparound Incarceration, examines the lives of incarcerated young women, particularly Latinas, in southern California. Through painstaking ethnographic research at a detention center, Flores shows the circumstances that led to girls’ arrests, what they experience during incarceration, and what typically happens when they are released. So what? Flores’ study demonstrates how the juvenile justice system, and in particular, the school-to-prison pipeline, are simultaneously gendered, raced and classed, such that both schools and detention centers, rather than cultivating avenues of success and safety for young women, largely ensure instead that they will plunge deeper into the labyrinthian criminal legal system.

Similarly, Barbara Owen (California State University, Fresno), James Wells (Eastern Kentucky University), and Joycelyn Pollock (Texas State University), in their book, In Search of Safety: Confronting Inequality in Women’s Imprisonment, take readers inside an adult women’s correctional facility to show how gendered power relationships, including those with correctional staff, result in violent victimization for incarcerated women for whom such victimization, throughout their lives, has constructed one of the pathways to offending that originally resulted in their arrest. So what? Owen, Wells, and Pollock remind us of the feminist slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights,” and their rigorous research raises policy recommendations for breaking the relationship between victimization and offending for women, which would reduce crime and eventually bring U.S. prisons into compliance with international human rights standards.

These are just two examples of how series authors, through their timely research and authentic writing, are answering the so what question. Their work offers blueprints for social action that fosters equity and refocuses national attention on the foundational elements of justice in our criminal legal system.

See the rest of the Gender and Justice Series titles:


Claire M. Renzetti, Ph.D., is the Judi Conway Patton Endowed Chair for Studies of Violence Against Women, and Professor and Chair of Sociology, at the University of Kentucky.


Peasants, Oil, and the Origins and End of the Disastrous Twentieth Century, 1870-1960

By Edward Ross Dickinson, author of The World in the Long Twentieth Century: An Interpretive History

This guest post is part of our AHA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, Jan. 4-7. #AHA18


In 1930 a professor of demographics at Miami University in Ohio, Warren S. Thompson, published a provocative short book titled Population Problems. Thompson was director of the Scripps Foundation for Research in Population Problems, a position he had been given on the basis of his earlier work on the political implications of world demographic trends. In Population Problems, Thompson offered a rather startling prediction and proposal. “[T]he only way to avoid war” with Japan, Germany, and Italy, he argued, was simply to give Japan and Italy land and resources in Asia and North Africa; and in the case of Germany “the way out is probably more difficult, but if only a tithe of the cost of the next war . . . were devoted to finding a way to avoid it . . . , much could be done to ease the present strains.” The author was not very hopeful that any of this would be done, however. The implication was clear: war with Germany, Italy, and Japan was pretty well inevitable.

In 1930 the Japanese seizure of Manchuria was still a year away; the Nazi seizure of power in Germany was still three years away, and the invasion of Poland nine; the Italian invasion of Ethiopia was still five years in the future. There was no Axis alliance of Italy, Germany, and Japan. The world was sliding ever deeper into the Great Depression. How did Thompson know so exactly what was coming?

The reason is simple: Thompson lived in western Ohio. Western Ohio was historically a crucial part of the heart of the food industry in the United States; and it was near the epicenter of the early oil industry in the USA. Thompson developed an elaborate theory regarding population pressure and the likelihood of war. But that understanding was fundamentally shaped by the fact that he also understood agriculture; he understood oil; and he understood that these were the issues over which World War I had been fought—and over which the next world war would be fought.

The world wars of the mid-twentieth century were in fact responses to two key constraints in the world economy: the relatively low productivity of agriculture, and the differential access of major states to the critical energy resource of the modern industrial economy, petroleum.

This is not to say that World War I was not a giant struggle between imperial states, or that World War II was not a titanic ideological struggle between three modern ideologies—liberal democracy, fascism, and communism. It is also not to say that World War II was not decisively shaped by the idea of “race.” All three things are true. But seen from the perspective of global history—from “60,000 feet,” so to speak—both were wars over food and oil.

With respect to oil, numerous historians have pointed out in recent years that the struggle over access to oil—particularly in the Middle East—was an important contributor to the origins of World War I. That first war was in large part a war over the fate of the territories controlled by the Ottoman Empire, including what are today Iraq, Kuwait, and all the states of the Arabian Peninsula. And the grand strategy of German, Japan, and Italy in World War II was shaped—fatefully, as it turned out—by one critical problem: while the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain had direct or indirect control of plentiful supplies of oil (in the Caucasus region, in California, in Indonesia, in the Persian Gulf region, and in Latin America), these three rapidly industrializing states did not. This was why Japan turned south from the conquest of China to seize French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia); it is why the Nazi Armies turned south from Petrograd and Moscow to push into the Caucuses region; and it is why Italy and Germany launched their short-lived attempt to conquer Egypt from Libya. In each case, these campaigns over-extended the military capacities of these regimes. They would very likely have been defeated anyway, given the enormous industrial superiority of the Allies; but the war had the geographic “shape” it did because of oil.

But while by the 1920s it was clear that oil was the crucial foundation of military power in the short run, in the long run the Axis regimes could only build empires massive enough to stand up to their continent-spanning rivals (the USA, the USSR, and the British Empire) on the foundation of an agricultural sector rich and extensive enough to feed a gigantic industrial population. It was therefore a central problem for each of them that the productivity of agriculture had not risen, in the previous century, remotely as rapidly as the productivity of industry. Wheat yields per hectare in Western Europe, for example, had risen only by about half between 1880 and 1930; in contrast, production of steel had increased around fifteen-fold. Rice yields in Japan rose by less than one eighth between 1910 and 1930, while steel production rose more than twenty-fold. In that context, more food meant more land. And the Soviet Union and China occupied the greatest areas of agricultural land outside North America. Both the Japanese and the Nazi regimes set out to conquer that land, on the assumption that they could displace murder or expel the subsistence farmers (peasants) who occupied a great deal of the land in each case, and transform these areas into export-oriented commercial farming regions as the foundation of industrial growth in the imperial heartland. Italy made similar, though less explicit and ambitious, calculations regarding North Africa.

The two world wars, then, were a struggle for world power in which the two key determinants of victory appeared to be food and energy. Along with the economic and social pressures that generated the titanic revolutions and civil wars of the period (in Mexico, Russia, and China, for example), it was this struggle that made the early twentieth century probably the most murderous period in human history.

Why, then, was the later twentieth century not so murderous? Since 1950 world population has grown faster than at any time in human history or prehistory; world wealth per capita has too; world life-expectancy has lengthened radically as mortality rates have plummeted almost everywhere; average world health and education have improved drastically and rapidly. Repeated, spectacularly murderous episodes—most devastating in Cambodia or Rwanda, for example—are reminders of the terrifying destructive potentials of modern military and social technologies. But clearly those potentials have, thus far, largely been held at bay.

How that happened has everything to do with oil and peasants. The World in the Long Twentieth Century explains how those two “problems” were solved, and how durable the solutions developed in the second half of the twentieth century might be. It also suggests that these problems might in fact be twentieth-century problems which, for fundamentally important reasons, will not be problems of the twenty-first century. That may or may not be comforting, however; it might be preferable to live in a world whose central problems have been solved, rather than in a world whose central problems have not yet been defined.


Edward Ross Dickinson is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of The Politics of German Child Welfare;  Sex, Freedom, and Power in Imperial Germany; and Dancing in the Blood: Modern Dance and European Culture on the Eve of the First World War.


Visit Us at AHA. Save 40% on Our History Titles

If you’re headed to the 2018 meeting of the American Historical Association this week in Washington, D.C. (Jan. 4-7), be sure to visit UC Press at booth #430 for a 40% discount on our new and notable History titles. From searing critiques of power and wealth, to in-depth world policy investigations, and absorbing histories of race and social justice, our History titles offer a wide variety of subjects appropriate for your research and classroom use.

Take early advantage of the conference discount and start saving today. Visit our AHA page to browse these titles and more.

Throughout the conference, follow along for our AHA blog series as we share author guest posts. #AHA18


Criminology in a World Adrift

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Jeff Ferrell, author of the forthcoming Drift: Illicit Mobility and Uncertain Knowledge (March 2018)

Over the past few weeks two international tragedies have made the headlines. In Bangladesh, the number of Rohingya Muslim refugees driven from Myanmar by a military campaign of physical and sexual terror has now reached one million. Trapped on a strip of muddy land, welcome neither in Myanmar nor in Bangladesh, the refugees talk of being ‘lost in time.’ Meanwhile, Australia announces plans to close its primary detention center for refugees and asylum seekers – a center located not in Australia itself but in Papua New Guinea. There, refugees talk of ‘feeling lost and drifting’ after four years’ confinement. As Australia and Papua New Guinea argue over responsibility for the refugees, an Australian politician agrees that the refugees ‘are stuck in legal and physical limbo.’

Of course these aren’t the only groups adrift from citizenship and legal protection, adrift in time and space, adrift while made to move or made to stand still. Countless Central Americans refugees ride El Tren de la Muerte (the Death Train), a U.S.-bound freight train, up through Mexico. Millions of Syrian refugees, remnants of Syria’s ‘lost generation,’ flood across Europe. Africans crowd rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean, only to find themselves bounced between European borders. Chinese officials work to move 250 million rural residents into Chinese cities – cities where homeless rural migrant workers already occupy abandoned air-defense tunnels and shelter in McDonald’s restaurants.

So pervasive is this global dislocation that the defining trajectory of the contemporary world seems not so much up or down as simply adrift. For North Americans and Europeans this trajectory also plays out, not just in faraway headlines but in their own daily lives. Here urban economic development predicated on spatial privatization and high-end consumerism displaces residents from once-affordable housing and creates a vast army of part-time service workers and temporary employees. The legal regulation of these urban areas in turn operates around risk management and the policing of transient populations, with the razing of refugee and homeless encampments, the use of banishment and dispersal orders, and the aggressive ‘moving-on’ of street populations. Contemporary urban development spawns social dislocation, and the legal controls meant to protect urban development from transient populations serve to make such populations only more transient.

To make sense of all this, criminologists will need theoretical models that can account for drift’s intertwined social, spatial, and legal dynamics. They’ll need methods as fluid and flexible as are the groups to be studied. Perhaps most importantly they’ll need epistemologies attuned to the inherent ambiguity and uncertainty of drift. And in this work of disciplinary reinvention they can find assistance – from drifters themselves. Drifting certainly brings with it the profound pain of dislocation and loss. But as contemporary drifters themselves know and put into practice, drifting also forces open new ways of seeing and living in the world, offering dangerous disorientations that are also critical, cosmopolitan, and alive to possibility.


Jeff Ferrell is Professor of Sociology at Texas Christian University and Visiting Professor of Criminology at University of Kent. He is the author of Crimes of Style, Tearing Down the Streets, and Empire of Scrounge, and co-author of Cultural Criminology: An Invitation.


Congratulations to 2017 MacArthur Fellows Jason De Leon and Trevor Paglen

UC Press is proud to have two 2017 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award recipients on its publishing list. Congratulations Trevor Paglen and Jason De Leon, who are among the current crop of #MacFellow winners. Profiles of all the award winners, and the complete list of the 2017 class can be found here.

Trevor Paglen’s book, The Last Pictures, was published in 2012, and Jason de Leon’s book, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail, was published in 2015.

The awards come with a no-strings-attached grant of $625,000, which is awarded over a five-year period. More information on the 2017 MacArthur Fellowship geniuses was published in an article in today’s New York Times.


Frederick Law Olmsted and Yosemite Valley

Excerpted from The Mountains That Remade America: How Sierra Nevada Geology Impacts Modern Life by Craig H. Jones

In June of 1864, with the Civil War raging and re-election uncertain, President Abraham Lincoln signed a relatively minor bill transferring Yosemite Valley to California to be held “inalienable” for “public use, resort, and recreation.” Governor Low provisionally accepted the grant shortly thereafter and named a commission to oversee the new park. He chose as the head of the commission Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect already known for work on New York’s Central Park but then acting as manager for the Las Mariposas estate in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Olmsted attempted to describe Yosemite for others (especially the lawmakers who had not visited it but would soon vote on accepting the park and funding it). First noting the great cliffs, the waterfalls, the broad meadows, and the qualities of the light and climate, he came to the essence of Yosemite:

There are falls of water elsewhere finer, there are more stupendous rocks, more beetling cliffs, there are deeper and more awful chasms, there may be as beautiful streams, as lovely meadows, there are larger trees. It is in no scene or scenes the charm consists, but in the miles of scenery where cliffs of awful height and rocks of vast magnitude and of varied and exquisite coloring, are banked and fringed and draped and shadowed by the tender foliage of noble and lovely trees and bushes, reflected from the most placid pools, and associated with the most tranquil meadows, the most playful streams, and every variety of soft and peaceful pastoral beauty.

The union of the deepest sublimity with the deepest beauty of nature, not in one feature or another, not in one part or one scene or another, not in any landscape that can be framed by itself, but all around and wherever the visitor goes, constitutes the Yosemite the greatest glory of nature.

The essence of the physical landscape was the juxtaposition of the steep cliffs with the flat valley floor. In numerous areas, the flat floor of the valley comes right to the base of the soaring cliffs, and through this valley the Merced River lazes its way along in view of the majestic falls. As Olmsted noted, other places had the same ingredients; Yosemite stood apart in the assembly of the parts.

If we ask what geologic process made Yosemite unique, the answer would have to be glaciers acting on very heterogeneous granitic rocks. Yosemite’s special nature relies on the far greater depth the glaciers cut compared with the other “yosemites,” (the other deep glacial canyons of the Sierra) and this was made possible by the vulnerabilities of its complex geology. While California’s state geologist Josiah Whitney was therefore unquestionably wrong in arguing that Yosemite was created by faulting and John Muir, despite exaggeration, correct in identifying glaciers as the valley’s sculptors, neither fully traced back Yosemite’s origin to its roots. The awe-inspiring Yosemite Valley existed—and could serve as the template for the most extensive national park system in the world—because of the accident of many chemically different bodies of granitic rock coinciding with the right elevation in the Sierra Nevada where glaciers could carve a massive, steep-walled valley.


Craig H. Jones is Professor of Geological Sciences and Fellow with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has published peer-reviewed research in ScienceNature, and prominent earth-science journals, and he is also the coauthor of Introduction to Applied Geophysics. He blogs as the Grumpy Geophysicist.


3 Books That Go Beyond Borders for Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA

Kicking off this month throughout Southern California, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. Led by the Getty, PST: LA/LA is a joint effort from more than 60 cultural institutions across the region, and UC Press is thrilled to be publishing three books in conjunction with this unprecedented collaboration. 

Learn more about each title and find out about related events below. #PSTLALA

The Tide Was Always High: The Music of Latin America in  Los Angeles 
Edited by Josh Kun

The Tide Was Always High gathers together essays, interviews, and analysis from leading academics, artists, journalists, and iconic Latin American musicians to explore the vibrant connections between Los Angeles and Latin America. From Hollywood film sets to recording studios, from vaudeville theaters to Sunset Strip nightclubs, and from Carmen Miranda to Pérez Prado and Juan García Esquivel, Latin American musicians and music have helped shape Los Angeles culture since the birth of the city.

Related events: Musical Interventions, a series of six live musical events presented by Josh Kun at multiple PST: LA/LA institutions. Details and more at tidewasalwayshigh.com. September 23 – December 2, 2017

And tune in for monthly playlists curated by editor Josh Kun.

Ism, Ism, Ism / Ismo, Ismo, Ismo: Experimental Cinema in Latin America
Edited by Jesse Lerner & Luciano Piazza

Ism, Ism, Ism / Ismo, Ismo, Ismo is the first comprehensive, United States–based film program and catalogue to treat the full breadth of Latin America’s vibrant experimental film production. The fully bilingual catalogue features major scholars and artists working across nationalities, mediums, and time periods. Lerner and Piazza assemble a mix of original content authored by key curators, scholars, and archivists from Latin America: eighteen essays and articles translated for the first time pertaining to the history of Latin American experimental film, historical image-documents that are fundamental to the history of experimental film in Latin America, and program notes from the exhibition’s programs.

Related events: In partnership with the Los Angeles Filmforum, a series of screenings will take place between September 2017 and January 2018. The first weekend of screenings will take place September 22–24 at REDCAT. See a complete calendar of events at www.ismismism.org.

California Mexicana
Missions to Murals, 1820–1930
Edited by Katherine Manthorne

California Mexicana focuses for the first time on the range and vitality of artistic traditions growing out of the unique amalgam of Mexican and American culture that evolved in Southern California from 1820 through 1930. A study of these early regional manifestations provides the essential matrix out of which emerge later art and cultural issues. Featuring painters, printmakers, photographers, and mapmakers from both sides of the border, this collection demonstrates how they made the Mexican presence visible in their art. This beautifully illustrated catalogue addresses two key areas of inquiry: how Mexico became California, and how the visual arts reflected the shifting identity that grew out of that transformation.

Related exhibition: California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820–1930 October 15, 2017 – January 14, 2018 at the Laguna Art Museum