Jock Young as supervisor, mentor and friend.

by Nigel South

presented to the American Criminology Society in San Francisco, November 2014


Jock the rock star

I first read Taylor, Walton and Young The New Criminology in its original Routledge and Kegan Paul blue cover edition in 1976, while working at a summer camp in mid-state New York. It was a student exchange thing and other students were glad to be having nothing to do with their coursework and thought perhaps I had a strange religion as I sat reading my blue book…

This was of course nonsense. Jock and the NDC generation weren’t religious figures to me and my contemporaries – no, they were rock stars!

I (and perhaps many of us here) were fans. And undoubtedly Jock gave us some of the greatest hits.


Jock even dressed like a rock star – with white cricket boots and the big red ruby ring he wore. Jock was an outsider, a rebel and iconoclastic in the sense of being someone: ‘who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions.’


He was, as Ken Plummer, one of Jock’s former students and then colleague in the late 1960s and early 1970s, put it: full of ‘extraordinary enthusiasm and energy, wry wit,’; someone who ‘often seemed half crazed and slightly mad.’ With a ‘kind of cheeky passion’ emanating ‘from his fast-talking, fast-moving body.’


Ken describes Jock as ‘a fine ethnographer, a dazzling theorist and a great enthusiast for getting rid of the old criminology’ and notes that in later years he wrote major studies ‘which put him in the ‘great traditions’ of social theory’. For some, this kind of career trajectory, as described by Ken, is taken as representing changes and shifts in Jock’s thinking over time. There’s obviously some truth in this but I also think that in many ways Jock was remarkably consistent.


While some of Jock’s earliest work carries an optimistic tone about aspects of the values and artefacts of the bohemian culture he studied, his analysis of ‘The hippy solution: an essay in the politics of leisure, published in the 1973 collection Politics and Deviance (edited by Ian Taylor and Laurie Taylor), has a much more pessimistic flavour in discussing the limitations of alternative subcultures and the contributions to change and personal enhancement of ‘self’ that drugs could offer.

In this 1973 analysis, both social structure as well as individual consciousness and interpersonal social relationships all need to change.


And here is Jock, thirty years later, in his 2003 essay ‘Merton with energy, Katz with Structure’:

‘For Robert Merton (1938) crime was an alternative route to the American Dream. …’ While: ‘Jack Katz in his Seductions of Crime (1988) points out that the Mertonian vision of crime simply does not fit the phenomenology of crime: the versatility, the zest, the sensuousness of the criminal act.’ The problem is that in his ‘correct emphasis on the neglected foreground of infraction’, Katz ‘rejects the structural background.’

‘Our job’, says Jock, ‘is to emphasize both structure and agency and trace how each constitutes the other.’


From this early period I remember two intellectual eye-openers – this essay ‘The Hippy Solution’ in which Jock first made me realise how capitalism is so smart at appropriating, re-packaging and selling back any expressions of ‘resistance’. Just over 40 years later I’m still thinking about this;

And in a similar way, the book that Jock and Stan Cohen co-edited, again with the first edition being in 1973 (such a productive period!) – The Manufacture of News – is, I think, a tremendously under-rated and often forgotten link between critical criminology and critical cultural studies.


Which takes me to


Jock the intellectual

Jock was a scholar with a political vision, relentless drive and passionate curiosity. He saw himself and similar academics as intellectuals. But I remember a conversation I had with him when I was in my 20s, in the Highbury Corner pub where many PhD supervisions took place, where he was insisting that I too was an ‘intellectual’.


This was a label I was keen to reject. From my background, even after having been to university, – in the class-laden language of England, – I saw an intellectual as being part of an elite – inhabiting Oxbridge or certain circles I wouldn’t want to join even if they’d have me.


But Jock meant this in a way that took me a while to appreciate – rejecting the post-68, post-structuralist and post-modern proposition that there is ‘no longer anyway that anyone can speak for others’; and absorbing the way that Stuart Hall and colleagues at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies had adapted Gramsci’s notion of ‘the organic intellectual’.


On this, Thomas (2007: chapter 3) points out that, ‘As Stuart Hall has noted on numerous occasions, Gramsci’s category of the organic intellectual, and [Stuart’s] own personal example, seemed to offer … a model for the integration of political commitment with a serious intellectual research project’ (Hall 1992: 281). (emphasis added).


Let me explore this further. I don’t think Jock was a huge fan of Jean Paul Sartre – but Sartre was undoubtedly one of the key literary and philosophical figures that student politics of the 1960s and early 1970s looked to and Jock would certainly have read him as a student and as a young academic. I do remember Sartre’s Nausea featured on the bookshelves in his study at the Parkholme Road house in Dalston, East London. (I knew those shelves very well – almost worshipping their diversity – but also occasionally looking for a book of mine that Jock had appropriated – He loved books and was a dangerous man to lend a book to …).


I mention Sartre because Sartre questioned what the identity and role of the intellectual could be in some ways that I think Jock also grappled with. To borrow from Gary Hall’s (1996) essay on ‘what is an intellectual?’ Hall writes that Sartre, in his essay ‘A Plea for Intellectuals’,[ Sartre 1974)],  ‘provides a detailed description of the figure he condemned after the events of 1968 as the ‘classical’ intellectual. The people he terms ‘intellectuals’ belong to a socio-professional group made up of what Sartre calls the ‘theoreticians of practical knowledge’.’


Now although both Sartre and Foucault would warn of the dangers of the technician of knowledge simply serving the ruling class or the status quo (perhaps even ending up being labelled an ‘administrative criminologist’!), here nonetheless is where I think we meet Jock and his version of intellectual work – as a ‘theoretician of practical knowledge’ – or someone engaged throughout his life’s work in ‘praxis’.


Mark Smith defines praxis in a way that I think sums up Jock and also hints at the critical, experiential, provocatively edgy elements of his work that were a constant:


Praxis ‘is not simply action based on reflection. It is action which embodies certain qualities. These include a commitment to human well being and the search for truth, and respect for others. It is the action of people who are free, who are able to act for themselves. Moreover, praxis is always risky.’ (Smith, 2011)


And as Jock was acutely aware, praxis, or political academic work is a struggle and faces limits. Gary Hall writes of the way that Sartre takes great care to distinguish the ‘theoretician’ from the intellectual, of how Foucault and Derrida and others question the basis for the category of the ‘intellectual’.

All of this goes round and round in ways that Jock would, I think, have found interesting but unhelpful – although there is one description of the resulting state of mind that Hall attributes to Hegel that I think Jock would have liked – the notion of ‘unhappy consciousness’.


I think this would have rung a bell because more than anyone else I’ve ever known – Jock could be joyous and yet anxious at the same time …

I think Jock adopted a ‘short-hand’, politically useful and practically malleable use of the term ‘intellectual’ but also struggled with what it actually meant – in the sense that he was both a passionate believer in the power of ‘intellectual work’ if it can be seen as the work of the writer, the theorist, the teacher – but he was also the constant questioner of – indeed worrier about – what was being achieved.

Why things didn’t change? – except in a way that gave little satisfaction other than the sociological triumph of being able to say ‘I told you so’ – as when the London riots occurred in 2011 and Jock wrote a letter published by the national newspaper The Guardian in which he said :


‘The surprising thing was it took so long: the tinderbox was dry and the spark of alienation everywhere. The background of urban riots is almost formulaic. A substantial section of the population who are economically excluded, a situation of political marginalisation where there is no party or politician to speak for them and, then, the final straw, an act of police injustice – real or perceived.’


In other words, – ‘I told you so’ …


In recent years the idea of the ‘public intellectual’ has achieved prominence in the social sciences and on the left – and here (as in so many other ways) Jock was a pioneer, writing for newspapers and popular media and reaching out to people.


And so, on to

Jock the writer

I had always been struck by Jock’s ability to sprinkle his work with surprising references or illuminating quotes. He concludes the first chapter of his book The Exclusive Society with a section subtitled ‘The news from Gent’, in which he cites colleagues from Gent University in his discussion of the limitations of a ‘right realism’ that engages in backward-looking nostalgia. But he is, of course, also being a good Scottish / English schoolboy, referencing a famous poem taught in poetry classes to this day, the Robert Browning (1845) poem ‘ How They Brought the Good News from Ghent (to Aix)’

And he starts his important (1979) essay on ‘Left idealism, reformism and beyond’ with a quote from Russell Jacoby on ‘social amnesia’ that is always worth remembering (there’s a little joke there):

‘The history of philosophy is the history of forgetting – problems and ideas once examined fall out of sight and out of mind only to resurface later as novel and new’.


He was fond of pointing out this is also the history of criminology.


Jock wrote with sympathy and empathy, the ethnographic eye and the pen of the social chronicler. For all its romanticism I love this passage from Jock’s manifesto piece on ‘Working Class criminology’ in the TWY (1975) Critical Criminology volume:

‘Forms of deviancy occur as attempts to create unhampered and liveable space, the tyranny of the workplace and conventional sexuality being left momentarily behind. Marijuana and booze, pub life and gay bars, black music and white rhythm and blues – a tenderloin of the city where a sense of ‘the possible’ breaks through the facticity of what is.’ (1975: 91)




If Jock was your friend then generally speaking you had a friend for life. If he was a source of inspiration, he could inspire you for life as well.


I wasn’t always in touch with Jock over the years – but you could meet up again after any gap – short or long – and just pick up the friendship and conversation again – especially if helped along by a glass of pinot grigio.


Jock moved to NYC and I got pulled into University management and so, in the way that life plays these funny tricks as you grow older and suddenly find yourself in strange and ironic positions – I was at one point a holder of an impressive-sounding title in my university and found myself writing a reference for Jock when he wanted to become more involved in the graduate centre at CUNY.


The words I wrote then were about the enormous amount that he could bring to a new phase of his career in an exciting city that he had come to love (albeit in his usual love-hate sort of way) – and they seem to me now to still stand as a good way of remembering Jock :

So I wrote:

‘From The New Criminology through What is to be done about law and order to The Exclusive Society, Young has continually challenged, refreshed, stimulated and re-defined the field of criminology. He has demonstrated the finest characteristics of a true intellectual career of scholarship, always developing, never resting on his laurels (though such honours have been many), and importantly, being a kind, generous and inspirational figure in the lives and careers of many of his colleagues and students.

His work always has something to say and demonstrates enviable familiarity with a wide body of knowledge and ability to synthesise and develop ideas. His CV indicates that yet further new areas of work are now being developed.


Jock Young is one of our foremost commentators on crime, modernity and metropolitan life and I am certain that CUNY and the New York environment will prove to be a stimulating home’


– and, of course, so it proved …


Thank you //Ends.


Jean-Paul Sartre, (1973) ‘Revolution and the Intellectual’, Politics and Literature, trans. J. Calder and J A Underwood (London: Calder and Boyers, 1973), 13.

Jean-Paul Sartre, (1974) ‘A Plea for Intellectuals’, Between Existentialism and Marxism, trans. J Matthews (London: New Left Books, 1974).

Hall, G (1996) ‘Answering the Question: What is an Intellectual’ Surfaces Vol. VI. 212 (v.1.0A – 22/12/1996) – ISSN: 1188-2492.

Smith, M. K. (1999, 2011). ‘What is praxis?’ in The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. [ Retrieved: 24th October 2014].

Thomas, P (2007) “Gramsci and the Intellectuals: Modern Prince Vs Passive Revolution”, in D. Bates (ed) Marxism, Intellectuals and Politics , Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2007

Young J ‘Left idealism, reformism and beyond’ In: Fine, B et al. Capitalism and the Rule of Law, London: Hutchinson

Nigel South, Essex University


  1 comment for “REMEMBERING JOCK YOUNG : nigel south

  1. Pete Harper
    January 9, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    It is difficult to explain the many talents of Jock, from his infectious enthusiasm to his intellectual prowess. From his warmth to his professionalism. Nigel South’s comments do however, make some major inroads into describing this wonderful man. Thanks

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: