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Über dieses Buch

This book applies Owen’s unique genetic-social framework to the study of crime and criminal behaviour, with an emphasis on cybercrime. Moving beyond challenges which confront contemporary criminological theorizing such as: the stagnation of critical criminology, the relativistic nihilism of the ‘cultural turn’, posthumanism, and virtual criminology, the author codifies and ‘applies’ the latest version of the framework to the study of crime, both in and out of cyberspace.
Drawing upon evolutionary psychology, behavioural genetics and the philosophy of Heidegger, he introduces new terms such as ‘Neuro-Agency’ and notions of Embodied Cognition into criminological theorizing. Adopting a soft compatibilist approach to free-will, and Realist ontology, Owen’s meta-theoretical focus provides a new direction for criminological theorizing, in particular in the direction of the conceptualization and prediction of cyber violence. Exciting and timely, this book will appeal to scholars and advanced students of criminology, law, sociology, social policy, psychology, philosophy, policing and forensic investigation.



1. Introduction

This book reflects my growing fascination with crime, criminal behaviour and deviance in cyberspace and is a contribution towards metatheoretical development as part of the post-postmodern return to sociological theory and method associated with Archer (1995), Layder (1997, 2007), Mouzelis (1995, 2007), Owen (2009a, b, 2012a, b, 2014) and Sibeon (2004, 2007), in tandem with a cautious attempt to build bridges between criminological theory and selected insights from evolutionary psychology, behavioural genetics, neuroscience and the philosophy of Heidegger. To some extent, it reflects my role as Director of Uclan Cybercrime Research Unit (UCRU) at the University of Central Lancashire. Whilst there is no official ‘party line’ or philosophy in my UCRU research unit, the work that we do certainly draws heavily upon my ever-expanding, Genetic-Social framework. In what follows, I will suggest a way that criminological theory might move beyond several theoretical obstacles in order to conceptualise crime and criminal behaviour with a particular emphasis upon cybercrime and deviance in cyberspace. These obstacles are the nihilistic relativism of the postmodern and poststructuralist cultural turn, the oversocialised gaze and harshly environmentalist conceptions of the person; genetic fatalism or the equation of genetic predisposition with inevitability (Owen 2009a, 2012a) and biophobia (Freese et al. 2003) that appear to dominate mainstream criminology; and the sociological weaknesses of many so-called biosocial explanations of crime and criminal behaviour (see for instance Walsh and Beaver 2009; Walsh and Ellis 2003), which, although dealing adequately with biological variables, appear to neglect or make insufficient use of metaconcepts such as agency-structure, micro-macro and time-space in their accounts of the person. I will suggest that a way forward lies in the form of an ontologically flexible, metatheoretical sensitising device, alternatively referred to as post-postmodern or Genetic-Social in order to distance the framework from hardline sociobiology. In doing so, I demonstrate the explanatory potential of the latest incarnation of the Genetic-Social framework which has grown considerably in size, focus and application since my earlier attempts to expand Sibeon’s original anti-reductionist device to include ‘bringing in’ biology in analysis.

Tim Owen

2. Criminological and Social Theory: Surveying the Contemporary Landscape

There appears to be a mounting reaction in contemporary theory against the ‘cultural turn’ and the extreme relativism of postmodern and poststructuralist theory. Recently, Hall and Winlow (2012: 8) have drawn attention to the urgent need to, ‘abandon criminology’s weirdly postmodern, self-referential gaze’. The authors cogently refer to the recent trend in criminology towards rejecting or modifying the orthodoxy that crime and social harm are the products of criminalisation and control systems. Scholars such as Owen (2012a), Reiner (2012), Wieviorka (2012), Wilson (2012), Ferrell (2012) and Yar (2012) are bringing causes and conditions back into play, and into criminological analysis. More recently, Hall and Winlow (2015) delivered what is arguably a major statement in the form of their cogent call for a ‘New Ultra-Realism’ in criminological theorising. To an extent, it could be argued that there has been a ‘return to’ sociological theory and method reflected in the work of Mouzelis (1991, 1993a, 1996, 2007), McLennan (1995), Holmwood (1996), Stones (1996), Sibeon (1996, 1997a, b, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2007), Layder (1984, 1994, 1997, 2007), Archer (1982, 1988, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000), and Owen (2006a, b, 2007a, b, 2009a, b, 2012a, b, 2014). This so-called ‘return to’ sociology has been the ‘accumulation of relatively separate intellectual moves that are a blend of renewed interest in classical sociology and in perennial explanatory problems, together with theoretical reflection arising from critical engagement with comparatively recent perspectives that range from neo-functionalism to actor-network theory’ (Sibeon 2001: 1). It is the contention here that the ‘return’ to sociology and the employment of Realist and Ultra-Realist ontologies are certainly welcome moves in the right direction, but we also need to encourage the development of a biological literacy among criminologists, and not be afraid to draw from behavioural genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology in criminological analysis. What appears to unite many contemporary criminologists (Owen 2014; Hall and Winlow 2015) is a scepticism towards the knowledge-claims of relativistic postmodernism and poststructuralism, whether in the form of Lyotardian or Foucauldian relativism or in the so-called, ‘later’ forms such as the criminological theorising of Milovanovic (1996, 1997, 1999, 2013).

Tim Owen

3. Neuroscience and Cybercrime

In this chapter, we examine Owen and Owen’s (2015) metaconstruct of neuro-agency and developments in neuroscience concerning notions of free-will, embodied cognition, neuroplasticity and neuroethics in relation to cybercrime. The metaconstruct, neuro-agency is employed in Genetic-Social metatheoretical reasoning as an acknowledgement of the neural influence upon human free-will. It is contended here that it is timely and essential to acknowledge recent developments in the neuroscience of free-will and to abandon the ‘old’ term, ‘agency’. Whilst, a neural influence upon human free-will is acknowledged here, it is not argued that free-will is an illusion, as has been suggested by the hardline, determinist work of Eagleman (2001). The suggestion here is that the most convincing model of free-will, and the one which has played the most significant role in the development of Owen and Owen’s (ibid) notion of neuro-agency, is the ‘soft compatabilist’ model of free-will offered by Dennett (1981) in which a belief in both determinism and free-will is not seen as logically inconsistent. In what follows, we first examine selected examples from the literature on the subject of the ‘neuroscience of free-will’.

Tim Owen

4. Do We Need a ‘Virtual Criminology’?

In this chapter, we briefly consider what is meant by virtual and hybrid cyber-criminologies (Brown), and then move on to examine the latest version of Owen’s (2014) Genetic-Social framework, which incorporates several new metaconcepts since the publication of the work of Owen (2014) and Owen and Owen (2015) which include Tim Owen’s concept of neuro-agency and Martin Heidegger’s concepts of Dasein and ontic truth. This is a ‘taster’ of the full codification and application of the sensitising framework in the final chapter. We then ‘apply’ some of the metaconcepts, which now incorporate insights from neuroscience (Dennett 1981; Dennett et al. 2007; Moll et al. 2005) and the philosophy of Heidegger (2010) to the study of these recent forms of criminological theorising pertaining to cybercrime. It is contended that virtual and hybrid cyber-criminologies should be rejected in favour of concepts of neuro-agency and psychobiography. The former metaconcept reflects the idea that when considering ‘Who is in charge?’, one should keep firmly in mind that human beings (Dasein) are the product of natural selection, a cocktail of the mutuality between genes and environment, and we must acknowledge the neuroscience of free-will (agency) and the evolved nature of moral reasoning. The latter metaconcept, psychobiography, refers to the asocial, inherited aspects of the person or disposition. Machinery and cyber technology may simulate a ‘merging’ between the human and the technical, but in the harsh light of a Heideggarian theory of pure surface, no cyborg or machine can ever qualify as Dasein. As Heidegger (2010) made clear, the human being is not an isolated subject removed from the realm of objects, but that does not mean that we can ‘merge’ with the non-human, as Brown (2006, 2013) appears to suggest. For Heidegger, being is time, to be a human being is to exist temporally between birth and death. No cyborg or machine can function without being programmed by human neuro-agency, and no cyborg or machine has the cognition to formulate and act upon decisions. It is the human being (Dasein) that can do so, and only the human being has a self capable of being what it is through confronting the reality of death. No cyborg has the capacity to grasp this finitude and ‘become who one is’.

Tim Owen

5. Cyber Violence

In what follows, an updated version of Owen’s (2014) Genetic-Social, metatheoretical framework which has been employed in nearly 30 publications and certain metaconstructs is ‘applied’ to the study of online violence. On 24 September 2015, the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations, published a report on ‘Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls: A World-Wide Wake-Up Call’. The report, which at the time of writing (November, 2015) has been formally retracted, appeared to define ‘cyber violence’ in terms of ‘online trolling’ and ‘online hate-speech’ targeted at women and girls. It is contended here that we need to conceptualise ‘cyber violence’ in broader terms. Cyber violence can be regarded as behaviour by an actor which takes place online and which is hostile and aggressive, and which may also be offensive, indecent, obscene or of a menacing character. The victims can be of any background with regard to age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or social class. Such cyber violence can be found within both the ‘known’ parts of cyberspace, the social media sites, forums, chat rooms and ‘normal’ webpages indexed by conventional search engines, and the ‘dark net’, which ‘has come to mean the encrypted world of Tor Hidden Services’, where users cannot be traced, and cannot be identified (Bartlett 2015: 3). The intention here is to illustrate the explanatory potential of the framework, in particular metaconstructs such as the biological variable and Psychobiography, in conceptualising cyber violence, and to construct an ontologically flexible model of cyber violence which may be of help in predicting such behaviour. The term, the biological variable, refers to the evidence from behavioural genetics and neuroscience for a, at least in part, biological basis for some human behaviour. Psychobiography refers to the unique, asocial aspects of the person such as inherited disposition. Another particular metaconstruct from the framework plays a key role here and that is the notion of neuro-agency. As has hopefully been made clear in previous chapters, this ‘new’ term is employed in preference to the standard term ‘agency’ in order to acknowledge the role of neurons in human free-will. In the course of examining cyber violence through the Genetic-Social lens of thebiological variable and inherited Psychobiography, we consider evidence from Tiihonen et al. (2014) for the role of CD H13 and MAO-A genes in violent behaviour; evidence for the role of disinhibition in violence from Suler (2004) and Spiegel (2009); evidence for the role of anti-social personality disorder and de-individuation in violence from Bishop (2014) and Buckels et al. (2014); evidence for the role of cortisol in aggression from Martin (1997); and evidence for links between an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex in teenagers with impulsivity which may be linked to violence in the work of Eagleman (2011). The approach employed here is interdisciplinary in the sense that the conceptual toolkit draws upon criminological theory, sociological theory, the philosophy of Heidegger, behavioural genetics, the neuroscience of free-will and evolutionary psychology. This post-postmodern, ontologically flexible framework represents an attempt to ‘build bridges’ between the biological and social sciences and suggests a way in which criminological theory might move beyond its main theoretical obstacles. It is contended here that interdisciplinary research and collaboration which seeks to ‘build bridges’ between the biological and social sciences is of great benefit to the development of Realist, post-postmodern criminologies and ‘aspects of our intellectual life that are complicit in the stagnation of critical criminology’ (Owen 2014: 4).

Tim Owen

6. Codification and Application of the Genetic-Social Framework

The Genetic-Social sensitising device employed in this book has been used in earlier forms to suggest a ‘way forward’ beyond post-postmodern relativism, in tandem with its application to the study of human biotechnology in the work of Owen (2006b, 2009a) and applied by the author to several other areas of interest such as masculinities, Globalization, ageing, notions of ‘trust’ and professional power, among others. Notably, the framework has been recently applied to criminological theory in general in the work of Owen (2014), to ‘Virtual Criminology’ in the work of Owen and Owen (2015) and to ‘Cyber Violence’ in the work of Owen (2016). Here, it is applied to the study of crime and criminal behaviour with an emphasis upon behaviour within cyberspace in much greater depth. To recap, the ontologically flexible framework is an example of metatheory. It relies upon methodological generalisations as opposed to substantive generalisations, and multi-factorial analysis, preparing the ground for further theoretical and empirical investigation involving large-scale synthesis. The intention now is to show how the framework may be applied and how it may inform criminological theorising, particularly but not exclusively in relation to cybercrime, and first we must turn to what criminological theorising must avoid. This entails an examination of the latest incarnation of the Genetic-Social, metatheoretical framework in relation to the ‘cardinal sins’ of illegitimate reasoning. It is argued here that all these identified forms of theoretical reasoning have severe limitations for criminological theorising.

Tim Owen


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