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Oxford University Press - Online Resource Centres

Hale et al: Criminology 3e

Chapter 16: Chapter synopses

When we consider the term 'race relations' or mention the term 'ethnic minorities' in relation to crime there is an inherent assumption that people have a shared understanding of what these terms mean and who falls into these proscribed categories. However, on closer inspection, it becomes clear that the terms 'race' and 'ethnicity' can mean different things to different people in different contexts.

The term 'race' is often assumed to hold some kind of scientific weight in its application, however, it has been made clear within the natural sciences that each individual human being is genetically unique within the basis of an overarching human biological framework. Thus, to group people based on broad biological similarities is a flawed notion and dismissed within scientific circles. Groupings made on the basis of 'race' are often crude and arbitrary, serving little purpose beyond promoting negative stereotypes.

When it becomes necessary to categorize people for the purposes of research, academics counter the use of the socially constructed notion of 'race' with the arguably more meaningful concept of ethnicity. Ethnicity, as noted by Yinger (1986), is considered in the following light:

'?a segment of a larger society is seen by others to be different in some combination of the following characteristics ? language, religion?and ancestral homeland with its related culture; the members also perceive themselves in that way; and they participate in shared activities built around their (real or mythical) common origin or culture'.

The chapter takes a critical look at how we conceive of 'ethnicity' in Britain as well as the possible explanations for the over-representation of 'ethnic minorities' within the criminal justice system and at some of the challenges this poses criminologists.