Beyond Fear: Sociological Perspectives on the Criminalization of School Discipline

Paul J. Hirschfield, Katarzyna Celinska

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74 Scopus citations


Since the early 1990s American schools have adopted a number of practices - zero tolerance, school police, metal detectors, drug sweeps, and surveillance cameras - that signal a shift from a discretionary student disciplinary framework to a crime control paradigm. The sociological sub-field that centers on the examination and interpretation of the criminalization of school discipline is still in its formative stages and, consequently, even basic conceptual issues remain unsettled. However, sustained by a growing body of ethnographic research, the field's theoretical discussions and debates regarding the causes, consequences, and social distribution of school criminalization are complex, vibrant, and synergistic. In the broadest terms, this field explores how school criminalization expresses, accommodates, and reinforces broader fears and political-economic changes. The field also includes a disappointingly but understandably small number of quantitative studies that bear directly on these theories. The field's critical, sociological insights will find and resonate with a broader audience (including policy-makers) only after an equally innovative and vigorous quantitative empirical tradition emerges to refine and validate its theoretical contributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalSociology Compass
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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