Seminar: Lynne Copson – Exploring ‘Harm’: Why can’t criminology and legal theory play nicely together?


This paper will explore the contemporary treatment or location of harm within academic research.  The focus will be on three primary areas which, it will be argued, have either colonised the notion of harm and/or social harm, or been assigned it without further discussion or critique: legal/moral philosophy; criminology; and the sociology of risk.

Whilst legal/moral philosophy, interrogates the concept of harm on an abstract level divorced from lived experiences and understandings of harm, both criminology and the sociology of risk work with the assumed notions of harm operating within contemporary philosophy without subjecting these to more critical, sociological analysis.  The result, it is contended, is a preponderance of individualised discourses of harm within contemporary research, which serve to separate out contemporary forms of harm from both one another and a broader social system of harm embedded within the structure of society.

Having identified the relative absence of discussion or critical exploration of the concept of harm within social research, the focus of the paper is to explore the role of disciplinarity in producing a distorted lens around harm which only recognises harm in discrete, individualised ways: asking why there seems to be a tension between sociological and philosophical approaches to crime, harm, and justice and how, if at all, they might be resolved.

Discussant: Paul Burgess