Postmodern and Late Modern Criminology

A Summary sheet covering post and late modern theories of crime – focusing on Jock Young’s ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’, the cultural criminology of Katz and Lyng (edgework), and Foucault’s concept of discplinary power and the shift to control through surveillance. 

Post and Late Modern Theories of Crime

(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 1)

Introduction – Post/ Late Modern Society and changing crime

  • Post-Modern society refers to society since about the 1970s

  • Numerous social changes mean that both the nature of crime and the causes of crime are more complex

  • Some of the key social changes which influence criminal behaviour (and crime control) include

  • The rise of the consumer society – the norm of high consumption

  • globalisation, de-industrialisation and increasing instability and uncertainty

  • The fact that we live in a media-saturated society which celebrates celebrity-culture

  • The increase in individual-freedom (individualisation) and cultural diversity

  • Various technological changes, especially the increasing centrality of ICT.

  • This revision sheet (and the main class-notes) only look at sociologists who have developed new theories about the relationship between changes in post/ late modernity and changing crime.

  • Other areas of the course which could be included under postmodernism include gloablisation and crime, and aspects of the media and crime.

Jock Young – Late Modernity, Exclusion and Crime

  • The 1950s was a ‘golden age’ of full employment, cultural inclusion and low crime

  • Today, de-industrialisation has resulted in low-employment, instability, insecurity, uncertainty, social-fragmentation and high crime rates

  • Economic exclusion combined with the pressure to consume and be a celebrity result in anomie

  • Crime is a means of coping with this anomie – it offers us a ways not necessarily to get rich (like Merton says), but to ‘be somebody’, vent our frustrations, or simply escape.

  • As a result, crime gets more diverse, more spread out in society, and nastier (more extreme).

Cultural Criminology – Edgework

  • Developed by Katz and Lyng in the 1980s and 1990s

  • Criticises Rational Choice Theory – crime is not always rational, it is done for emotional reasons

  • Crime is increasingly about ‘edgework’ – flirting with the boundaries of the acceptable because it’s exciting, or thrilling.

  • This is very much part of living in a risk-society (Ulrich Beck)

Simon Winlow – Violent Night

  • Researched young working class men in Northern cities who regularly engaged in binge-drinking and violence at the weekends.

  • Found that their jobs were low-status and insecure, they offered them no sense of identity

  • Binge-drinking was a way to escape the boredom and low-status of work.

  • Fighting meant numerous things – it was about status, but also simply thrilling and exciting.

  • Offers broad support for both the theories above.

Surveillance and Crime Control

(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 2)

Michel Foucault – The Birth of the Prison and the rise of Surveillance

  • Punishment used to be violent, carried out on the body and it used to be done in public, now punishment is psychological, it expects people to change the way they think, and it is carried out in prisons, behind closed doors.

  • This reflects a shift from sovereign power to disciplinary power.

  • Sovereign power involved controlling people through the threat of force – people were punished severely and other people obeyed because they were afraid of the same punishment.

  • Disciplinary power now involves controlling people through surveillance and expecting people to change their own behaviour – prisoners are locked away and monitored, and change their own behaviour because they know they are being watched.

  • This logic of control now extends to everyone – even non-criminals – surveillance is now everywhere in society – it is not just criminals who are under surveillance by agents of social control, we are under surveillance from cradle to grave – school, work, pregnancy, child-birth, on the streets and roads, our health data.

  • Most people now obey the rules because they know they are being watched – they regulate their own behaviour for fear of becoming the wrong kind of person – a failing student, an unproductive worker, a bad mother, an obese-person, for example.

  • NB – This is quintessentially sociological – it is only in very recent human history that we have become so obsessed with monitoring every aspect of our daily-lives, and one of Foucault’s points is that this constant surveillance doesn’t necessarily improve our lives – there are both winners and losers.

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One Response to Postmodern and Late Modern Criminology

  1. Pingback: Outline and analyse some of the ways in which crime has changed in postmodern society | ReviseSociology

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