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Clive Emsley, Crime and Society in England 1750-1900

London and New York, Longman, 1996 (2nd ed.), 287 p., ISBN 0 522 25768-9
Martin J. Wiener
p. 131-132
Référence(s) :

Clive Emsley, Crime and Society in England 1750-1900, London and New York, Longman, 1996 (2nd ed.), 287 p., ISBN 0 522 25768-9.

Texte intégral

1The first edition of this work, bringing together for the first time the findings of specialized scholarship in a concise overview of the subject, immediately became a standard reference. In less than a decade, the large amount of scholarly work in the decade since has called forth a revised edition, one which maintains the work's position as an indispensable introduction to the field. Like its predecessor, this edition provides not only authoritative brief summaries of specialized research (including the author's own), but a most attractive text for undergraduate and graduate students. Emsley has managed to marry precision of exposition with the vividness of a multitude of examples drawn from the archives. The original edition is updated throughout, as findings and arguments of work done in the intervening decade are smoothly incorporated - including some work not yet published. As the focus within the field has moved from crime as a social activity to how crime was defined and dealt with, Emsley's chapters on these subjects have become richer, without giving up the clarity of the first edition.

2The most important difference between editions is the addition here of an entirely new chapter on gender, a perspective that was barely acknowledged a decade ago. This chapter opens with Frances Heidensohn's apt observation that, even more than class, gender is « the crucial variable in predicting criminality. » Yet the overwhelmingly male nature of most criminal activity was just what allowed gender to be dismissed by earlier scholars. Crime was an affair of men, and that acknowledgment was the beginning and end of the gender issue. Now, however, that « fact » is seen to raise, not close, questions central to the entire enterprise of criminal history. The perspective of gender affects the older history of crime in two ways. First, Emsley brings women fully into the story. He examines criminal activity by women (chiefly petty theft and offences associated with prostitution) and against women (in particular domestic violence and sexual assault). Such activities (usually very under-reported) have traditionally but not necessarily correctly been seen as either trivial or « private, » and thus of less broad import than others (which generally involve few women) like rioting, poaching, forgery, robbery or murder. He also describes evidence for a long-term decline during this period in female criminal participation and notes possible explanations recently advanced. Second - and here the scholarship does not yet support an extended discussion, so Emsley is very brief -looking closely at gender opens up fresh questions about how behavior is criminalized, and how it may be differentially treated, by police, courts and penal systems. In these questions the increasing interest in gender dovetails with that in how crime is defined and dealt with. Perhaps in another decade a third edition of this work may be able to provide a fuller discussion of these questions.

3In the meantime, we are fortunate to have Emsley's work as a judicious and knowledgeable marker of the present state of modern English criminal justice history.

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Référence papier

Martin J. Wiener, « Clive Emsley, Crime and Society in England 1750-1900 », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, Vol. 3, n°1 | 1999, 131-132.

Référence électronique

Martin J. Wiener, « Clive Emsley, Crime and Society in England 1750-1900 », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [En ligne], Vol. 3, n°1 | 1999, mis en ligne le 03 avril 2009, consulté le 22 mars 2017. URL :

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Martin J. Wiener

Rice University

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