Visions of Social Control (1985) is an important but unconventional work within British criminology. Its academic unconventionality is perhaps most clearly displayed in the final chapter What is to be Done? in which Cohen appeals to criminologists to be intellectual adversaries in projects of demystification and institutional reform.
While the book’s overall aim is explicitly utopian, the narrative is one of an underlying pessimism. A question at the heart of Cohen's ‘pragmatic utopianism’ is whether social science can provide a more effective theoretical understanding of the institutions of social control in relation to their location in the social and physical space of the city.
This paper will outline the key arguments of Cohen's Visions of Social Control, offer an account of his pragmatic utopianism and consider what a pragmatic utopianism may look like under today's changed historical conditions.