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Praise for Cadenza
In radical criminology, Thomas Mathiesen is the oppositional thinker non plus ultra – the scholar-activist who gave us the concepts of “the competing contradiction” and “the unfinished” and showed us how to deploy them in radical penal reform. In this compelling memoir, Mathiesen traces the intellectual, institutional and personal struggles out of which these concepts emerged. A singular work by a singular sociologist.
David Garland, author of The Culture of Control
This book provides a fascinating insight into the singular career of one of the world’s best-known sociologists working on questions of penal and social control. Weaving the personal with the political, the local with the international, Thomas Mathiesen recounts his long experience as participant-observer of the key social trends of the last seventy years, showing how the field of sociology can have a concrete influence on the real world. This is not just a book about the author, but about the many individuals who worked alongside him as ‘action researchers’, notably as part of KROM, the Norwegian penal reform and abolitionist association. Mathiesen’s book provides valuable insights into the creation and perpetuation of progressive forces for change. As such, it constitutes important reading at a time when such forces seem more necessary than ever.
Emma Bell, Professor of British Politics, Université de Savoie Mont Blanc,
Not only a fascinating account of the professional life of a distinguished Norwegian criminologist and socio-legal scholar, but also an inspirational account of his research and the political activity arising from it in ‘defence of the weak’: not only prisoners but also others threatened by excesses of state power and neglect. Thomas Mathiesen calls for a revival of the approach that he and Nils Christie championed in Scandinavia, namely to promote criminology as a ‘distinctly oppositional activity’, the goal of which should be not simply to recommend reforms but to work to bring them to fruition through political activity and ultimately to eliminate the prison from the armoury of the state. Mathiesen provides a vivid account of some of his major struggles, involving considerable personal sacrifice and bravery in face of opposition to authority over 60 years—most notably the successes, as well as some failures, of KROM the prison reform movement established in 1968 under his chairmanship and later unwavering support. This book will fascinate and energise academics who, like Thomas Mathiesen, seek to ensure that all citizens are accorded justice, are treated humanely and with the dignity they have a right to expect, especially the condemned and the marginalised.
Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology, University of Oxford
Thomas Mathiesen’s academic and activist lifework coincides with the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control’s core activities and principles since its 1973 foundation in Florence, which Mathiesen attended and to which he has been dedicated ever since. His lifelong combination of research and activism, through both the prisoners’ rights movement KROM, part of the groundwork for the European Group, and otherwise, is here rigorously documented in a most inspired and engaging way. This book will be a huge inspiration for ongoing efforts, struggles and work yet to come within Mathiesen’s main focus areas; most importantly through the science of opposition, abolitionism, action research and perspectives from below. This book tells the history of prison abolitionism and fights for social justice, primarily in Norway, covering victories and achievements, including abandoning forced labour and the vagrancy act, while pointing out future directions in a way that makes us see not only the necessity, but also the possibility, of a more just society; both within academia, where Mathiesen resists theoretical colonization while promoting emancipatory theory, and as an activist engaging emancipatory action. Perhaps most important, and increasingly so, is the combination of the two, forming emancipatory knowledge. Mathiesen putting it on the agenda is therefore much appreciated within a gradually streamlined, neo-liberalized academia where individualized careers and knowledge provided for the powerful is structurally foregrounded, suppressing the urge and aspirations for change and a more just society. This book is majestic, an accomplishment of inspiration toward a socially conscious academia striving for emancipation and social justice.
Ida Nafstad, Co-ordinator of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control
Thomas Mathiesen through his writings and visits has inspired for many decades South American criminology and sociology of law. Books like Prison on Trial and The Politics of Abolition have been and still are read throughout the continent. Mathiesen, who now we know experienced the material and social consequences of war, and lived and reacted against knowledge colonisation, presents us now with Cadenza and its science of opposition. Understanding the epochs in which this science from below developed is a welcomed and urgent source of inspiration for all the regions of the world that host immense numbers of marginalized people that science should desperately listen to.
David Rodríguez Goyes, PhD student, University of Oslo; and researcher, Universidad Antonio Nariño, Colombia
I have expressed on several occasions my view that Thomas Mathiesen’s work possesses a double originality: one associated with the longevity of his radical analysis that applies to decades ago as well as to the current times, the other linked to its standing out as radical even within radical thinking. Orthodox radicalism focuses on working class organisations and struggles, confining the excluded to the amorphous army of vagabonds who have no particular historical mission to accomplish. The marginalized are often attributed political passivity, if not, as Marx suggested, moral putrefaction.
Mathiesen’s distance from this analytical tradition is evident, in that it is exactly what others would regard as the surplus population the objective of his work as a sociologist and activist.
Mathiesen is a transgressor amongst transgressors, a noble subversive amongst subversives. His is an ‘unfinished’ (his term) call to action, like this splendid autobiography which will never ‘finish’ to inspire us and the future generations.
Vincenzo Ruggiero, Middlesex University, author of Penal Abolitionism
Cadenza is an insightful and engaging read from one of the most distinguished penal abolitionists. Having encountered the pioneering work of Thomas Mathiesen throughout my career it was a delight to become fully acquainted with the personal and political struggles experienced throughout his career. As his work has championed a view from below, it should be no surprise to readers that his autobiography would adhere to the same moral principles. Indeed, as he notes, a perspective from below is rare in criminology, and as such his autobiography stands as a testimony for the need for criminological inquiry to engage and stand with the powerless. This book charts the struggles to achieve this in a discipline dominated by a view from above. I've no doubt that it will inspire future generations of critical scholars.
Helen Elfleet, Graduate Teaching Assistant -Edge Hill University
This important book deserves wide readership. In Cadenza Thomas Mathiesen reflects upon the personal relationships shaping his more than 50 year career as a critical criminologist. His autobiography is filled with intimate and heartfelt accounts of his professional career, which alone would make essential reading given his global standing in the academy, but a light is also shone on the evolution of his thoughts, ideas and analytical brilliance as we travel with him on his professional journey. Rather than simply being a soloist performing alone, as the title of the book suggests, what we find is that social struggles and social justice lie at the centre of his intellectual endeavours. Cadenza is undoubtedly a major contribution aiming to revive the science of opposition in sociology, law and criminology as well as providing an important contribution to the still relatively neglected story of the development of critical criminology and abolitionism in Norway. Throughout his autobiography there are delightful anecdotes coupled with stories of great historical significance, like his detailed account of the birth of the prisoner rights movement KROM. Thomas Mathiesen tells us that he always wanted to be a professional musician rather than an academic scholar. What this book demonstrates is that we should all be thankful for his decision to ultimately pursue an academic career, for his life story evidences how this choice has been of enormous benefit for the emergence and consolidation of what is today referred to as critical criminology.
David Scott, The Open University