Contemporary legal scholarship on criminalization focuses on evaluating the legitimacy of legislative decisions according to abstract standards of justice. In recent years, socio-legally oriented scholarship has attempted to do away with this focus by linking the theory of criminalization to the study of the real trends of criminal law enforcement. The article offers a critique of both approaches in what refers to the traditional area of application of the theory of criminalization, namely symbolic criminalization. It argues that whereas traditional papers discuss the legitimacy of the “enforcement of morality” through the criminal law, symbolic criminalization conflicts actually originate in disputes about meaning in plural societies. The real question that this phenomenon poses is thus not whether the enforcement of neutral morality is legitimate, but rather whether meaning framing through criminalization is.

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