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What is Racism?

The concept of Racism is central to understanding differentiation and inequality in society, and it is a fundamental key concept in sociology.  It is especially relevant to explaining differences in imprisonment rates and educational achievement, and (if you’re learning the correct second year option at A level), the issue of why some countries are less developed than others.

The problem with Racism (in addition to the actual problem of racism) is that it’s very difficult to define – because there’s a lot to it. Below are are a few thoughts on how Racism may be defined in different ways.

(All of the definitions below are taken from one source, which is US based, source below, so don’t forget to be critical of the ideas here!)

Racism: Race, Prejudice, and Power

Racism = Race Prejudice + Power 

Race

A specious classification of human beings created by Europeans (whites) which assigns human worth and social status using ‘white’ as the model of humanity and the height of human achievement for the purpose of establishing and maintaining privilege and power. The idea of Race, is based on the ideas of white supremacy and white privilege.

Prejudice

A prejudice is a pre-judgment in favor of or against a person, a group, an event, an idea, or a thing. An action based on prejudgment is discrimination. A negative prejudgment is often called a stereotype. An action based on a stereotype is called bigotry.

Power

Power” is a relational term. It can only be understood as a relationship between human beings in a specific historical, economic and social setting. It must be exercised to be visible.

1. Power is control of, or access to, those institutions sanctioned by the state.

2. Power is the ability to define reality and to convince other people that it is their definition.

3. Power is ownership and control of the major resources of a state; and the capacity to make and enforce decisions based on this ownership and control;

4. Power is the capacity of a group of people to decide what they want and to act in an organized way to get it.

5. (In terms of an individual), power is the capacity to act.

Structural Racism, Institutional Racism and Individual Racism

These are best seen as different levels of Racism – structural racism being TOTAL historical and systemic racism, institutional, is the next level down, at the level of institutions such as the police, and individual is obviously just at the level of the individual 

Structural Racism

Structural Racism in the U.S. is the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.

It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by white supremacy – the preferential treatment, privilege and power for white people at the expense of Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab and other racially oppressed people.

Structural Racism Structural Racism lies underneath, all around and across society. It encompasses:

(1) history, which lies underneath the surface, providing the foundation for white supremacy in this country.

(2) culture, which exists all around our everyday lives, providing the normalization and replication of racism and,

3) interconnected institutions and policies, they key relationships and rules across society providing the legitimacy and reinforcements to maintain and perpetuate racism.

Structural Racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism (e.g. institutional, interpersonal, internalized, etc.) emerge from structural racism.

Indicators/Manifestations:

The key indicators of structural racism are inequalities in power, access, opportunities, treatment, and policy impacts and outcomes, whether they are intentional or not.

Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually producing new, and re-producing old forms of racism.

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism is discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and inequitable opportunities and impacts, based on race, produced and perpetuated by institutions (schools, mass media, etc.). Individuals within institutions take on the power of the institution when they act in ways that advantage and disadvantage people, based on race.

Individual Racism

These are private manifestations of racism that reside inside the individual.

Examples include prejudice, xenophobia, internalized oppression and privilege, and beliefs about race influenced by the dominant culture.

White Supremacy, Whiteness and White Privilege

An aspect of Racism which often goes unconsidered is the idea of ‘whiteness’ as being the baseline from which everything else is judged. As with everything else in sociology, this idea started somewhere in history and is a social construction.

White

The term white, referring to people, was created by Virginia slave owners and colonial rulers in the 17th century. It replaced terms like Christian and “Englishman” (sic) to distinguish European colonists from Africans and indigenous peoples. European colonial powers established white as a legal concept after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 during which indentured servants of European and African descent had united against the colonial elite. The legal distinction of white separated the servant class on the basis of skin color and continental origin. “The creation of ‘white’ meant giving privileges to some, while denying them to others with the justification of biological and social inferiority.

White Privilege

A privilege is a right, favor, advantage, immunity, specially granted to one individual or group, and withheld from another. White privilege is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of:

(1) Preferential prejudice for and treatment of white people based solely on their skin color and/or ancestral origin from Europe; and

(2) Exemption from racial and/or national oppression based on skin color and/or ancestral origin from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Arab world.

White Supremacy

White supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.

In a white supremacy system, white privilege and racial oppression are two sides of the same coin. “White peoples were exempt from slavery, land grab and genocide, the first forms of white privilege (in the future US).”

Source

Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities POVERTY OUTCOMES Structural Racism By Keith Lawrence, Aspen Institute on Community Change and Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center at UC Berkeley For the Race and Public Policy Conference 2004

http://www.intergroupresources.com/rc/Definitions%20of%20Racism.pdf

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Social Class and Crime

In this topic we examine the relationship between social class and crime.

According to available statistics, class background is correlated with both the amount of and type of offending, but there are some significant limitations with the statistics on social class and crime and these limitations are the first thing we examine.

We then simply selectively apply some of the perspectives which we’ve already looked at earlier in the course: Consensus theory explains the higher rates of working class crime in terms of  differential access the working classes and middle classes have in relation to the legitimate opportunity structure, which generates different cultural responses; Interactionism broadly rejects the consensus theory arguing that the higher rates of working class crime are a social construction; Marxism recognises the fact that the high levels of working class crime are a social construction in that emphasises the role of crimogenic capitalism in generating crime.

Finally, we look at the realisms – Right Realism focuses our attention on the underclass, rather than the working class as the main cause of crime in society today, while left realism sees crime as an outgrowth of inequality and marginalisation, without blaming Capitalism per se as Marxists do.

social-class-crime-mind-map-1

Consensus Theories, Social Class and Crime 

Consensus theories generally accepted the fact that crime rates were higher among the lower social classes and set out to explain why – two theories which explicitly focused on the differences between working class culture and crime were Strain theory and Status Frustration theory.

Robert Merton: Strain Theory, Blocked Opportunities and Working Class Innovation

Robert Merton argued that crime increased when there was a strain (or gap) between society’s success goals (achieving material wealth) and the available opportunities to achieve those goals through legitimate means (having a well-paying job). Merton called this imbalance between goals and the ability to achieve them ‘anomie’.

Merton argued that crime was higher among the working classes because they had fewer opportunities to achieve material success through legitimate means and were thus more likely to adopt innovative cultural responses in order to achieve material success through criminal means – through burglary or drug dealing, for example.

Merton saw crime as a response to the inability of people to achieve material wealth, emphasising the role of material or economic factors.

(More detailed notes on Merton’s Strain Theory)

Albert Cohen: Status Frustration and Working Class Subcultures

Albert Cohen put more emphasis on cultural factors (values and status) rather than material factors in explaining working class crime.

Cohen argued that working class boys strove to emulate middle-class values and aspirations, but lacked the means to achieve success. This led to status frustration: a sense of personal failure and inadequacy.

In Cohen’s view they resolved their frustration by rejecting socially acceptable values and patterns of acceptable behaviour. Because there were several boys going through the same experiences, they end up banding together and forming delinquent subcultures.

This delinquent subculture reversed the norms and values of mainstream culture, offering positive rewards (status) to those who were the most deviant. Status was gained by being malicious, intimidating others, breaking school rules or the law and generally causing trouble.

This pattern of boys rejecting mainstream values and forming delinquent subcultures first started in school and then becomes more serious later on, taking on the form of truancy and possibly gangs.

(More detailed notes on Subcultural Theory)

Interactionism, Social Class and Crime

The main piece of sociological research which has specifically examined the relationship between the police and the social class background of offenders is Aaron Cicourel’s ‘Power and The Negotiation of Justice’ (1968)

Cicourel argued that it was the meanings held by police officers and juvenile officers that explained why most delinquents come from working class backgrounds, and that the process of defining a young person as a delinquent was complex, involving mainly two stages of interactions based on sets of meanings held by the participants.

The first stage is the decision by the police to stop and interrogate an individual. This decision is based on meanings held by the police of what is ‘strange’, ‘unusual’ and ‘wrong’. Whether or not the police stop and interrogate an individual depends on where the behaviour is taking place and on how the police perceive the individual(s). Whether behaviour is deemed to be ‘suspicious’ will depend on where the behaviour is taking place, for example an inner city, a park, a suburb. If a young person has a demeanour like that of a ‘typical delinquent’ then the police are more likely to both interrogate and arrest that person.

The Second Stage is that the young person is handed over to a juvenile delinquent officer. This officer will have a picture of a ‘typical delinquent’ in his mind. Factors associated with a typical delinquent include being of dishevelled appearance, having poor posture, speaking in slang etc. It follows that Cicourel found that most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.

When middle class delinquents are arrested they are less likely to be charged with the offence as they do not fit the picture of a ‘typical delinquent’. Also, their parents are more able to present themselves as respectable and reasonable people from a nice neighbourhood and co-operate fully with the juvenile officers, assuring them that their child is truly remorseful.

As a result, the middle class delinquent is more likely to be defined as ill rather than criminal, as having accidentally strayed from the path of righteousness just the once and having a real chance of reforming.

Cicourel based his research on two Californian cities, each with a population of about 100, 000. both had similar social characteristics yet there was a significant difference in the amount of delinquents in each city. Cicourel argued that this difference can only be accounted for by the size, organisation, policies and practices of the juvenile and police bureaus. It is the societal reaction that affects the rate of delinquency. It is the agencies of social control that produce delinquents.

Marxism, Social Class and Crime

Marxists argue that while working class crime does exist, it is a rational response to crimogenic capitalism. Moreover, all class commit crime, and the crimes of the elite are more harmful than street crime, but less likely to be punished.

Crimogenic Capitalism

  1. Capitalism encourages individuals to pursue self-interest before everything else.
  2. Capitalism encourages individuals to be materialistic consumers, making us aspire to an unrealistic and often unattainable lifestyle.
  3. Capitalism in its wake generates massive inequality and poverty, conditions which are correlated with higher crime rates.

Marxist Sociologist David Gordon says that Capitalist societies are ‘dog eat dog societies’ in which each individual company and each individual is encouraged to look out for their own interests before the interests of others, before the interests of the community, and before the protection of the environment. If we look at the Capitalist system, what we find is that not only does it recommend that we engage in the self-interested pursuit of profit is good, we learn that it is acceptable to harm others and the environment in the process.

Marxists theorise that the values of the Capitalist system filter down to the rest of our culture. Think again about the motives of economic criminals: The burglars, the robbers, and the thieves. What they are doing is seeking personal gain without caring for the individual victims.

The Capitalist system is also one of radical inequality. At the very top we have what David Rothkopf calls the ‘Superclass’ , mainly the people who run global corporations, and at the very bottom we have the underclass (in the developed world) and the slum dwellers, the street children and the refugees in the developing world.

The Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman points out that the super wealthy effectively segregate themselves from the wealthy, through living in exclusive gated communities and travelling in private jets and armoured vehicles with security entourages. If people can afford it, they move to a better area, and send their children to private schools. However, this doesn’t prevent the poor and the rich from living side by side.

Marxists argue that the visible evidence of massive inequalities give people at the bottom a sense of injustice, a sense of anger and a sense of frustration that they are not sharing in the wealth being flaunted in front of them (the flaunting is the point is it not?) As a result, Capitalism leads to a flourishing of economic crime as well as violent street crime.

William Chambliss even goes so far as to say that economic crime ‘’represents rational responses to the competitiveness and inequality of life in capitalist societies”.  As we have seen from previous studies. Drug dealers see themselves as innovative entrepreneurs. So internalised is the desire to be successful that breaking the law is seen as a minor risk.

Marxists hold that more egalitarian societies based on the values of the co-operation and mutual assistance, have lower crime rates.

The Crimes of the elite are more costly than street crime

Marxists argue that although they are hidden from view, the crimes of the elite exert a greater economic toll on society than the crimes of the ‘ordinary people’. Laureen Snider (1993) points out that the cost of White Collar Crime and Corporate Crime to the economy far outweighs the cost of street crime by ‘typical’ criminals.

Key Concepts

White Collar Crime: Crimes committed in the furtherance of an individual’s own interests, often against the corporations of organisations within which they work.

Corporate Crime: Those crimes committed by or for corporations or businesses which act to further their interests and have a serious physical or economic impact on employees, consumers and the general public. The drive is usually the desire to increase profits.

The Cost of Financial Crime (Fraud)

Organisations such as Corporate Watch and…. Multinational Monitor, suggest that Corporate Fraud is widespread.  The General Accounting Agency of the USA has estimated that 100s of savings and loans companies have failed in recent years due to insider dealing, failure to disclose accurate information, and racketeering. The cost to the taxpayer in the USA of corporate bail outs is estimated to be around $500 billion, or $5000 per household in the USA.[1]

Case Study – Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme.

In 2009 the disgraced financier Bernie Madoff was sentenced to the maximum 150 years in prison for masterminding a $65bn (£38bn) fraud that wrecked the lives of thousands of investors.

The US district judge Denny Chin described the fraud as “staggering” and said the “breach of trust was massive” and that a message was being sent by the sentence. There had been no letters submitted in support of Madoff’s character, he said. Victims in the courtroom clapped as the term was read out.

Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 counts of fraud, theft and money laundering. The sentencing, in what has been one of the biggest frauds ever seen on Wall Street, was eagerly anticipated. Described by victims in written testimony as a “thief and a monster”, Madoff has become an emblem for the greed that pitched the world into recession. Nearly 9,000 victims have filed claims for losses in Madoff’s corrupt financial empire.

Madoff masterminded a huge “Ponzi” scheme. Instead of investing client’s money in securities, it was held with a bank and new deposits used to pay bogus returns to give the impression that the business was successful. At the time of his arrest in December, he claimed to manage $65bn of investors’ money, but in reality there was just $1bn left.

Right Realism/ Underclass Theory and Crime 

Right Realists disagree with Marxists – Right Realists point to the underclass as being responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime in society.

Charles Murray and the Underclass

 Charles Murray argued that changes to family structure was responsible for much of the increase in the crime rate in the 1970s and 80s – he largely attributes the growth of crime because of a growing underclass or ‘new rabble’ who are defined by their deviant behaviour and fail to socialise their children properly. The children of the underclass fail to learn self-control and also fail to learn the difference between right and wrong.

The underclass has increased because of increasing welfare dependency. Murray argues that increasingly generous welfare benefits since the 1960s have led to increasing numbers of people to become dependent on the state. This has led to the decline of marriage and the growth of lone parent families, because women can now live off benefits rather than having to get married to have children. This also means that men no longer have to take responsibility for supporting their families, so they no longer need to work.

According to Murray, lone mothers are ineffective agents of socialisation, especially for boys. Absent fathers mean than boys lack paternal discipline and appropriate male role models. As a result, young males turn to other, delinquent role models on the street to gain status through crime rather than supporting their families through a steady job.

Increasing crime is effectively a result of children growing up surrounded by delinquent, deviant criminal adults which creates a perfect crimogenic environment.

Unemployment and Crime –

A recent comparison 4.3 million offenders in England and Wales whose names appeared in court records or the Police National Computer with separate benefits records held by the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that more than 1.1 million of the 5.2 million people claiming out-of-work benefits had a criminal record, or 22 per cent. This means that people who are claiming unemployment benefit are more than twice as likely to have a criminal record as those who are not.  (Source: More than a fifth of people on unemployment benefits have a criminal record.)

NEETS and Crime

NEETS stands for young people aged between 16 and 24 Not in Education, Employment or Training. They first came to the government’s attention in the mid 2000s when they numbered 1.1m. At that time, a study by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) conservatively estimated that each new NEET dropping out of education at 16 will cost taxpayers an average of £97,000 during their lifetime, with the worst costing more than £300,000 apiece.

Their impact on crime, public health and antisocial behaviour was so marked that the study found that a single 157,000-strong cohort of 16 to 18-year-old NEETs would cost the country a total of £15 billion by the time they died prematurely in about 2060. They are, says the study, 22 times more likely to be teenage mothers; 50% more likely to suffer from poor health; 60% more likely to be involved with drugs and more than 20 times more likely to become criminals.

Left Realism, Social Class and Crime

Left Realists Lea and young conclude that they can explain this using the following key concepts; relative deprivation, marginalisation and subculture.

Relative deprivation

 Lea and Young argue that crime has its roots in deprivation, but deprivation itself is not directly responsible for crime – for example, living standards have risen since the 1950s, so the level of deprivation has fallen, but the crime rate is much higher today than it was in the 1950s.

Left Realists draw on Runciman’s (1966) concept of relative deprivation to explain crime. This refers to how someone feels in relation to others, or compared with their own expectations.

The concept of relative deprivation helps to explain the apparent paradox of increasing crime in the context of an increasing wealthy society. Although people are better off today, they have a greater feeling of relative deprivation because of the media and advertising have raised everyone’s expectations for material possessions – we are wealthier, but we feel poorer, and thus there is more pressure to get more stuff to keep up with everyone else, which generates historically high crime rates.

Marginalisation

 This is where people lack the power or resources to fully participate in society. According to Left Realists marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisations to represent their interests. Groups such as workers have clear goals (such as wanting better pay and conditions) and organisations to represent them (such as trades unions), and as such they have no need to resort to violence to achieve their goals.

By contrast, unemployed youth are marginalised – they have no specific organisation to represent them and no clear sense of goals – which results in feelings of resentment and frustration. Having no access to legitimate political means to pursue their goals, frustration can become expressed through violence.

Subculture

Left Realists see subcultures as a group’s collective response to the situation of relative deprivation, and they draw on Cohen’s theory of status frustration to explain how they emerge. There are many different subcultural adaptations to blocked opportunities, and not all result in crime – but those subcultures which still subscribe to the mainstream values of material wealth but lack legitimate opportunities to achieve those goals.

Revision Notes for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Notes  – 31 pages of revision notes covering the following topics:

  1. Consensus based theories part 1 – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory
  2. Consensus based theories part 2 – Sub cultural theories
  3. The Traditional Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspective on crime
  4. Labeling Theory
  5. Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology (including situational, environmental and community crime prevention)
  6. Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)
  7. Sociological Perspectives on  controlling crime – the role of the community and policing in preventing crime
  8. Sociological Perspectives on Surveillance
  9. Sociological Perspectives on Punishment
  10. Social Class and Crime
  11. Ethnicity and Crime
  12. Gender and crime  (including Girl gangs and Rape and domestic violence)
  13. Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others
  14. Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)
  15. The Media and Crime, including moral panics

Related Posts

Outline and analyse two ways in which patterns of crime may vary with social class (10)

Social Class – An Introduction to the Concept

The Marxist perspective on crime – is especially relevant to this topic

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Analyse two ways in which patterns of crime may vary with social class (10)

Just a few thoughts on how you might answer the above 10 mark question – a possibility for the A Level Sociology Crime and Deviance/ Theory and Methods Paper 3

NB – There is every possibility that the actual 10 marker will be much more convoluted (complex) than this, but then again, there’s also the possibility of getting a simpler question – remember you could get either, and there’s no way of knowing which you’ll get – it all depends on how brightly the examiner’s hatred of teenagers is burning when he (it’s still probably a he!) writes the paper… 

FirstlyUnderclass – New Right – highest levels of crime – unemployment/ single parents = low attachment (Hirschi) also less opportunity to achieve legitimate goals (Merton’s strain theory), also more relative deprivation, marginalisation and subcultures (Young). Results in more property crime (theft) , possibly violent crime because of status frustration (Cohen). Backed up by prison stats – disproportionate number prisoners unemployed etc.

In contrast Middle classes supposedly have lower crime rates because they experience the opposite of all of the above.

However, Interactionists argue this difference is a social construction – Media over-reports underclass subcultures and deviance (Stan Cohen), Police interpret working class deviance as bad, middle class deviance as acceptable (Becker).

Secondly… Elite social classes – Because of greater access have the ability to commit different crimes – Corporate Crime – health and safety negligence (e.g. Bhopal) – Marxists = cost is greater than street crime – more people die annually than from street murders (Tombs and Whyte) – Also white collar financial crimes (e.g. Kweku Adeboli/ Madhoff/ Enron) – Total economic cost greater than street crime (Laureen Snider) – often go unpunished because of selective law enforcement (Gordon) – e.g. Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley paying below the minimum wage – but crimes = technically more difficult to prosecute and the public generally aren’t that worried about them.

In contrast ‘the rest of us’ don’t have the ability to commit high level Corporate Crimes, and so any one crime committed by an ordinary individual is relatively low-impact in comparison, although more likely to be picked up by the media and the authorities.

Finally (relevant to both of the above) – the government doesn’t collect any reliable stats on the relationship between social class and offending so we can’t actually be sure how the patterns vary any way!

And a few bonus thoughts on a related question… 

Outline and analyse two reasons why crime statistics may not provide us with a valid picture of the relationship between social class background and patterns of criminal behaviour (10)

First way into the question = pick two different sets of stats on crime and talk them out…

1. Prisoner statistics suggest that…..

2. The Crime Survey of England and Wales suggests that…

Second way into the question…. More general points (easier, but more danger of repeating yourself)

1. The types of crime committed by elite social class are different to those committed by those from lower social classes…..

2. According to Interactionists, the different labels agents of social control attach to people from different class backgrounds mean the crime stats may lack validity…..

3. There are so many different ways of measuring social class and the government doesn’t collect any systematic data on the relationship between social class and crime….

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Crude – The Real Cost of Oil

This documentary is the story of a lawsuit by tens of thousands of Ecuadorans against Chevron over contamination of the Ecuadorean Amazon.The case, worth $27 billion is one of the largest and most controversial legal cases on the planet.

The Plaintiffs are suing Chevron for damage cause by 30 years of operation in the Amazon between 1960-1990. The plaintiffs claim that Texaco – which merged with Chevron in 2001 – spent three decades systematically contaminating one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, poisoning the water, air and land. The plaintiffs allege that the pollution has created a “death zone” in an area the size of the Rhode Island, resulting in increased rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and a multiplicity of other health ailments. They further allege that the oil operations in the region contributed to the destruction of indigenous peoples and irrevocably impacted their traditional way of life.

Chevron fights the claims, charging that the case is a complete fabrication, perpetrated by “environmental con men” who are seeking to line their pockets with the company’s billions.

In some respects the film is depressing, in others enlightening – it’s only being fought in Ecuador because Chevron demanded so, after spending 9 years dillydallying in American courtrooms, to get the case moved from the USA to Ecuador.

The film mostly follows the legal team representing the Indians – and it’s a bleak picture – we learn, for example, that the brother of one of them was tortured and  murdered, and we also get see what a drawn out process this legal battle is – most of the time this team looks on the edge of exhaustion – but not as exhausted as some of the people living near Chevron’s oil spills who are suffering from Cancer.

You also get to see and hear from Chevron’s lawyers – who play a cunning game of ‘it’s  not our fault, you have to blame the government that allowed us to drill here’ or ‘OK –  we see that there’s oil here – but how can you prove it’s a result of our drilling processes rather than just natural seepage’? and similarly ‘how can you prove the skin rashes are due to oil and not just poor sanitation’?

The Movie doesn’t conclude, as at the time of production the legal battle was ongoing – but in Feburary 2011 Chevron were found guilty of environmental damage and slapped with a $9 billion dollar fine – only 1/3rd of what the Plaintiffs were asking for.

Chevron of course, rather than pay the fine are fighting back – arguing that the lawyers in the Movie have been engaged in Fraud in that they’v emade false allegations against Chevron, and they hold the state owned oil company of Equador, which took over prodcution since 1990, responsible for the pollution.

This is just about the perfect resource for teaching ‘environmental crime’ in the A2 Criminology course!

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The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein – A Summary

Naomi Klein is one of the leading thinkers in the anti-capitalist movement and this book is one of the most important historical narratives of this century.

Taken from the web site –

‘At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts…. New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters — to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.’

 My summary –

The Shock Doctrine is the story of how “free market” policies have come to dominate the world. Klein systematically explores how neo-liberal economic policies have been pushed through following ‘shocks’ – typically either natural disasters or wars ore oppressive state apparatuses.

Klein argues that these policies work against the interests of the majority because they transfer wealth and power from the people to the global corporate elite, thus why elites need to implement these policies of in times of shock following disaster.

The book traces the origins of the ‘shock doctrine’ back fifty years, to the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and follows the application of these ideas through contemporary history, showing in detail how the neo-liberal agenda has been pushed through in several countries following shocks

Some of the events Klein covers include –

  • Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973,  
  • The Falklands War in 1982,  
  • The Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989,  
  • the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,  
  • the Asian Financial crisis in 1997  
  • The war in Iraq 2003 
  • Hurricane Katrina 2006 

All of the above are cases where the Corporate Elite, often in conjunction with the US government and oppressive regimes in some of the countries above have sought to profit out of times of disaster. Most of feel sympathy for people at such times – neo-liberalists see opportunity.

Once again, for me, the most important argument Klein makes is that Neo-Liberalists require situations of Shock to push through their policies of privatisation, deregulation and cut backs to public spending because the majority of people would not accept such policies because they mean a transfer of wealth and power to corporate elites.

Towards the end of the book, Klein talks about an extremely worrying trend in the USA – which is the privatisation of war and security – both of which are used in times of disaster – and we now have a situation where Capitalism benefits from disaster.

All in all this is an excellent book highlighting the links between advanced capitalism and growing human misery – as Klein says, you should read it and make yourself shock resistant.

NB – SOME MIGHT ARGUE THIS IS NOW GOING ON IN THE UNITED KINGDOM – WE ARE GOING THROUGH AN ‘ECONOMIC CRSIS’ (IN SHOCK) AND SO MILLIONNAIRE TORIES ARE NOW CUTTING PUBLIC SPENDING AND OUTSOURCING MORE AND MORE OF OUR PUBLIC SERVICES TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR!

See also –

http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine – the web site is an excellent resource that provides more contemporary examples of how neo-liberalism shafts the majority.

http://www.zimbio.com/watch/iIZMtUS-owU/The+Shock+Doctrine/The+Shock+Doctrine

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPTBZrBmlfI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dubkrQ7HfG8

Neo- liberalism is an economic and political ideology that believes state control over the economy is undesirable and seeks to transfer control of the economy from the state to the private sector. It gained popularity amongst politicians and influential economists following the economic crisis of the late 1970s. It involves three main policies –

  • Deregulation – Nation States placing less restraint on private industry. In practise this means fewer laws that restrict companies making a profit – making it easier for companies to fire workers, pay them less, and allowing them to pollute.
  • Privatisation – where possible public services such as transport and education should be handed over to private interests for them to run for a profit.
  • Cut backs in public spending – taxes should be low and so investment in public services would be cut back.
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Why Marx Was Right

Why Marx was Right refutes ten criticisms levelled at Marx and Marxism over the years by drawing on material from Marx and Engel’s original writings and by looking at how Marxism has evolved over the last century and a half.

Just some of the ten criticisms of Marx Eagleton refutes – in ten chapters -include ..

  • Marxism is no longer relevant in a changed, classes society
  • Marxism is economically reductionist
  • Marxism has all too often lead to oppression
  • The notion that Marxism is about equality which is not possible
  • The idea that other struggles are more important – Feminism, anti-colonialism and ecological for example.

To summarise the very short (one page) conclusion on why Marxism is still relevant!

  1. Marx had a passionate faith in the individual and a suspicion of abstract dogma
  2. He Marx  was in fact wary of the notion of equality and did not dream of a future in which we all wear boiler suits. It was diversity, not uniformity that he hoped to see.
  3. He was even more hostile to the state that right-wing conservatives are, and say socialism as the deepening of democracy, not as the enemy of it.
  4. His model of the good like was based on the idea of artistic self expression.
  5. He believed that some revolutions might be peacefully accomplished and was in no sense opposed to social reform.
  6. He did not focus narrowly on the manual working class. Nor did he see society in terms of two starkly polarised classes, he was well aware of the growing power of the middle classes even in 1860.
  7. He did not make a fetish of material production – he thought this should be done away with as far as possible. His ideal was leisure.
  8. He lavished praise on the middle class and saw socialism as the inheritor of its great legacies of liberty, civil rights and material prosperity.
  9. His views on nature and the environment were for the most part startlingly in advance of his time. There has been no more staunch champion of women’s emancipation, world peace or the struggle for colonial freedom that Marxism more generally.
This would be a great read for students – it’s very accessible, although at times it does drift into a rather sarcastic tone and sometimes assumes you know something about Marx’s original works too, still, highly recommended –
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Sociological Perspectives on Punishment

One way of controlling and reducing crime is to punish offenders. Given that punishment typically involves restricting people’s freedom and sometimes inflicting harm on people, it requires some justification as a strategy for crime control. Two main justifications exist for punishment: Crime reduction and retribution. These methods link to different penal policies.

Reduction

One justification for punishing offenders is that it prevents future crimes. This can be done through:

  • Deterrence – Punishing the individual discourages them from future offending – and others through making an example of them. This relates to Durkheim’s Functionalist Theory that crime and punishment reinforce social regulation, where prison sentence for a crime committed reaffirms the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

  • Rehabilitation – The aim is to change offenders’ behaviour through education so they can earn an ‘honest living’ on release

  • Incapacitation – Removing the capacity for offenders to re-offend through long term prison sentences, cutting of hands, chemical castration or the death penalty.

Retribution

Reducing crime is not the only function of punishment, it also performs a straightforward ‘retributive function’ – in which the criminal is simply punished for harming another person, and the victim gets a sense of satisfaction that the criminal is ‘paying for their crime. This is an expressive rather than an instrumental view of punishment – it expresses society’s outrage at the crime.

Left Realism

Left realists believe that prison alone is an ineffective method at reducing crime. They believe it needs to be combined with the practice of restorative justice…which involves the offender actively doing something to make up for the harm done as a result of their crime. This may involve measures such as reparation, (paying back) mediation, (offender meeting victim) reintegrative ‘shaming’, (facing offenders with the consequences of their actions and family conferencing which seeks to bring offender, victim and members of the community into some form of dialogue and ‘healing’ process. All this is very unlike the anonymous processing and exclusionist shaming of the courts and prison sentences.

Home office research suggests meeting the offender benefits 80% of victims who choose to participate. For some victims it is about forgiveness – letting go of anger in order to move on with their lives. But for many, meeting the offender is about confronting them with the real impact of their crime, asking the questions that never get answered in court, and the hope that – for some offenders at least – understanding the impact of their actions might help to prevent them reoffending.

The research evidence on RJ is stronger than for almost any other criminal justice intervention. Research using randomised control trials (Home Office/Ministry of Justice seven-year, £7m evaluation of the impact of RJ) has found that offenders who met their victim compared to those who did not, the frequency of reoffending fell by 27% (ie 27% less crime after RJ). However, at present fewer than 1% of victims of crime have access to a restorative justice process. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/17/restorative-justice-cuts-crime)

Marxism

According to the Marxist Sociologist David Gordon prison benefits the Capitalist system in three major ways:

  • The imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system, keeping potential revolutionaries from forming together and taking political action.
  • The imprisonment of many members of the underclass also sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it
  • By punishing individuals and making them responsible for their actions, defining these individuals as ‘social failures’ we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty that create the conditions which lead to crime. Our attention is diverted away from the immorality and greed of the elite classes.

NB – We are not talking about small numbers here – Focussing on the USA, David Garland argues that we have entered the era of mass incarceration. Approximately 2.3 million people are in jail in the US (about 750/100 000)

Focusing on the UK, the prison population has doubled since 1993 from approximately 40 000 to nearly 90 000 today.

There is evidence to support the Marxist view that it is mainly the marginalised who end up in jail – Looking at stats on prisoners we find that…

10% of men and 30% of women have had a previous psychiatric admission to hospital before they come into prison.

48% of all prisoners are at, or below, the level expected of an 11 year old in reading, 65% in numeracy and 82% in writing.

71% of children in custody have been involved with, or in the care of, social services before entering custody.

NB2 – While Right Realists would claim that locking more people up is a causal factor in the crime rate going down over the last two decades, this claim is challenged. This correlation may be a coincidence – other factors (such as abortion and the rise of ICT meaning more people stay indoors) may also play a role in this).

 Interactionism

Once a person is labelled as deviant, it is extremely difficult to remove that label. The deviant person becomes stigmatised as a criminal or deviant and is likely to be considered, and treated, as untrustworthy by others. The deviant individual is then likely to accept the label that has been attached, seeing himself or herself as deviant, and act in a way that fulfils the expectations of that label. Even if the labelled individual does not commit any further deviant acts than the one that caused them to be labelled, getting rid of that label can be very hard and time-consuming. For example, it is usually very difficult for a convicted criminal to find employment after release from prison because of their label as ex-criminal. They have been formally and publicly labelled a wrongdoer and are treated with suspicion likely for the remainder of their lives.

Total Institutions and The Mortification of the Self

Erving Goffman (1961) argued that places such as mental asylums, concentration camps and prisons function as ‘total institutions’ – places which are closed off to the outside world and where inmates’ lives come under the complete control of the institution.

According to Goffman, becoming an inmate in a total institution involves a process of “mortification of the self” – inmates are subjected to degrading and humiliating treatments designed to remove any trace of individual identity. For instance, personal clothing and items are confiscated, inmates are strip searched, their heads are shaved, and they are issued an ID number. The point of such treatment is to mark a clear separation between the inmates’ former selves and their institutional selves. Inmates are constantly under surveillance and they have no privacy. Minute behaviour is observed and assessed, and if necessary, sanctioned.

As a result of having every aspect of their daily lives controlled, inmates effectively lose the ability to construct their own identities and function independently. Rather than making sick people well, asylums make them more insane, and rather rehabilitating, prisons actually make prisoners more criminal.

Post and Late Modernism

In his classic text, entitled ‘discipline and punish’ Michel Foucault’s points out that punishment has changed from being very direct, immediate and physical – involving torture and sometimes death to being more focused on incarceration and rehabilitation. However, although punishment today may be less severe than in the past, the state has expanded its control over its citizens in more subtle ways and ‘invades’ our private lives much more than at it ever used to. This is especially true when you look at the way criminals are treated today. While prisoners are unlikely to be subjected to torture or death (unless you’re Muslim, black or stupid and live in Texas) they are subjected to an ever increasing array of what Foucault calls ‘technologies of surveillance’ – they are kept under surveillance programmes and are expected to reform their behaviour.

Prison is the most obvious example of this – with prisoners under (potential) constant surveillance, while those who avoid prison might have to subject themselves to being tagged, visit probation officers, or turn up to ‘rehabilitation classes’ (such as drug counselling or anger management) all of which involve surveillance and behavioural modification.

Foucault sees the growth of prison as a means of punishment as reflecting the move from sovereign power to disciplinary power – Sovereign power involves direct physical coercion to get people to obey the laws, and under this system punishments are carried out on people’s physical bodies – punishment is harsh – it is a spectacle.

Today, however, political and economic systems are maintained through ‘disciplinary power’ – power is exercised through surveillance – people change their behaviour because they know they are being watched. Prison seams more humane than physical punishment but in reality it is much more invasive as a means of social control.

NB – As with Marxism above, we are talking about huge numbers 7 million people (1/32 of the population) are either in jail, on probation or parole, and Garland uses the concept of Transcarceration to refer to this shift. Certain people move between various state institutions – from care – to prison – to mental hospital – throughout their whole lives, effectively being under constant surveillance by the state.

David Garland – The Punitive State and The Culture of Control

David Garland argues that there has been a relatively recent shift in attitudes towards punishment.

He argues that in the 1950s the state practised ‘penal welfarism’ – in which the criminal justice system did not just try to catch and punish offenders, but also tried to rehabilitate them, so that they could be reintigrated into society

However, since the 1950s individual freedoms have increased, while social bonds have weakened, life is more uncertain and less predictable, and (despite the fact that crime is now decreasing) the public are more worried about crime than ever.

As a result, the state has now abandoned ‘penal welfarism’, it is much less concerned with rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners, it’s primary concern is now convincing the public that it is taking a tough approach on crime and reassuring communities that something is being done about crime.

Garland argues that we have now moved into a new era in which a ‘punitive state’ enforces a ‘culture of control’ – there are three main ways in which the state now seeks to control crime and punish offenders:

  • The state increasingly identifies potential groups who are at risk of offending at a young age and take early interventions. This links to the Actuarialism (risk management) strategy referred to in a previous topic.

  • The state locks increasing amounts of people up, Garland argues we have entered the era of ‘mass incarceration’ and ‘transcarceration’.

  • Politicians increasingly use the issue of crime control, and ‘being tough on crime’ as a means to win elections – in effect, crime control has become a political tool which politicians use to win power, rather than being about reducing crime perse.

Evaluations of Garland

  • This is an important contribution in that it draws our attention towards the ‘political nature of crime control – and it helps to explain the increasing prison populations and ‘transcacerated’ population even though crime has been decreasing for decades.

  • This is a rather cynical theory – Garland seems to be saying that politicians today simply use their ‘tough on crime’ approach to get votes and maintain power, rather than trying to do anything which will really address the underlying causes of crime. Is this really the case?

  • Michel Foucault would probably argue that this theory is too simplistic in terms of its understanding of political power – it diverts our attention away from other agencies of social control in preventing/ constructing deviance through surveillance.

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Yummy Mummies – A Sociological Explanation

Yummy Mummies may think they’re expressing their individuality, but they’re really just a product of our neoliberal society according to one recent piece of Analysis:

The rise of the ‘yummy mummy’: popular conservatism and the neoliberal maternal in contemporary British culture by Jo Littler

I’m not a huge fan of cultural studies, but I like this…. It’s helped me understand why I’m so intolerant of them, and maybe why I’m right to be.

What is the yummy mummy?

In short, she is a white, thirty something in a position of privilege, shoring up the boundaries against the other side of the social divide (so-called ‘pramfaces’).

The yummy mummy, as constructed through autobiographical celebrity guidebooks (see below for online versions) and ‘henlit’ novels espouses a girlish, high consuming maternal ideal as a site of hyper-individualised psychological ‘maturity’. ‘Successful’ maternal femininity in this context is often articulated by rejecting ‘environmentally-conscious’ behaviour – disavowing wider structures of social political and ecological dependency in order for its conservative fantasy of autonomous, individualising retreatism to be maintained.

Whilst the characteristics of the yummy mummy might appear as changeable as her clothing, most often the term is used to symbolise a type of mother who is sexually attractive and well groomed, and who knows the importance of spending time on herself. She is, according to Liz Fraser’s book ‘The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide’ (2006) ‘the ultimate modern woman: someone who does not identify with the traditional, dowdy image of motherhood… who knows her Gap from her Gucci’.

claudia-shciffer-yummy-mummy
Yummy Mummy Claudia Schiffer – ‘More Gucci than Gap’?

There are various blogs and websites maintained by women ready to embrace the term, and is frequently used to describe glamorous celebrity mothers – books by Myleen Klass and Melanie Sykes are two well known examples in the UK.

Yummy mummys tend to think of themselves as exemplary successful individuals who are making the most of their lives and through their high-consumption lifestyles they demonstrate to the rest of us that it is possible to ‘have it all’ – the children, the job and the looks. Truly, they are (in their heads) the ultimate modern women.

yummy-mummy
In her head she’s the ultimate ‘modern woman’

However, just as with the yuppie, or the new man, the emergence of the yummy mummy can also be read as indicative of an underlying social crisis, in which case her emergence can tell us about how ideas of femininity and parenting are changing and about the times in which we are living….

Sexualisation

Most obviously the yummy mummy positions the mother as a sexually desirable being. This is a substantial cultural shift – previously, mothers had been perceived as asexual.

For generations, patriarchal norms had typically constructed women as either Madonnas or Whores – either asexual Sacred Virgins or sexual beings deserving of brutalisation (hence witches being burnt at the stake) – It was precisely this myth of the asexual female which second wave Feminists such as Germaine Greer, Ann Oakly and Kate Millet criticised, (although little was said by any of them about the constructed asexuality of mothers in particular).

A brief history of motherhood in western cultures looks something life this (from Woodward 1997)

  • The 1950s domestic goddess – groomed yet chaste
  • The 1970s oppressed housewife – made-up and miserable
  • The 1980s working mother – powerful and be-suited

Given this history, the yummy mummy’s positioning as desirable and sexually active might be regarded as emancipatory because now mothers themselves are encouraged to look hot, however, there are other ways of interpreting the yummy mummy – as outlined below…

A) As expressing a very limited (traditional) femininity and sexuality

Littler points to three limitations with the yummy mummy’s sexuality

Firstly, certain aspects of performance come to be expected – mothers are not just allowed to express their sexuality but are expected to express a particular kind of sexuality. Treatments like facials, for example, are now advised as necessary and routine. As minor UK celebrity (I love this description) Melanie Sykes tells us….

‘Being a gorgeous mum just takes a bit of imagination and more planning than it did before, but you  really have no excuse for sinking into frumption and blaming it on parenthood’

It is harder to imagine a clearer expression that this of how the onus, no matter the extent of resources or income, is on a self-governing subject to regulate herself. Such urgings are part of a wider canvas of neoliberal responsibilising through self-fashioning. In this context the yummy-mummy is an aspirational figure, with the specifics of how to become her outlined in various guidebooks such as The Fabulous Mum’s Handbook.

Second, sexuality is delimited because the preferred model of femininity is ultra-feminine – well-groomed, wearing fashionable clothes and being very slim. In other words, this is the extension of a fashion and beauty complex to the post-pregnant body.

Even the ‘slummy mummy’ still aspires to the yumm-mummy, the former being a Bridget-Jones type of mother – Still accepting the ideal, but endearing through her failure to live up to it. Both types (according to Mcrobbie) share in common a rejection of Feminism.

Third, the yummy mummy is more of a desired than a desiring object, although unlike with the pornoised MILF, there is something eerily infantile about the yummy mummy construction – part of the identity involves a coming down to the level of the child and depoliticising yourself, suggesting you are incapable of dealing with political issues, rather all you can do is consume.

(B) The yummy mummy as neoliberal agent (a social class based analysis)

In the UK there are generally two routes to motherhood, and there is now a significant gulf between working class younger mothers who are demonised and middle class mothers in their 30s who are the ideal, and it is from this later type that the yummy mummy emerges.

The yummy-mummy is basically a high-consuming, stay at home mum drawn from the top 10% of society.  She does not think about the wider social context which affects all mothers, because she does not have to, and rather than doing politics she retreats from public life and and focuses on a very delimited range of concerns – deciding what consumer-oriented activities her and her child should engage in. The message of the yummy mummy is clear – you have the power to solve your own problems, and the solution to these problems is consume more – no need to get political.

The problem with this is that the very visible yummy mummy construction ignores completely the wider structural context of motherhood and parenting….

This context is that neoliberal policies have reduced support for working mothers make it very hard for most mothers to stay at home for any length of time outside a year’s paid maternity leave – Working conditions remain very inflexible and radically unfriendly to families. On top of this there is still an expectation that the mother will be the ‘foundation parent’ (NB recent changes to paternity leave may help change this). This makes it very hard for parents (and especially women) to combine work and social care in equitable and supportive fashion –

As a result the majority of mothers (say 90%) simply do not have the resources to be yummy mummys, only (say 10% do), and it is these 10% who get the air-time and get to publish books and tell the other 90% what they should be worrying about.

Thus in sociological terms the yummy mummy is a neoliberal agent whose function is to encourage individualisation and responsibilisation on the part of all mothers and to demonise mothers who are working class, in any way political and/ or do not subscribe to a traditionally feminine (infantalised) sexuality.

C) – Finally, the yummy mummy is inherently anti-environmental

She is basically a pro-corporate consumer, and she has wider agency in encouraging and driving consumerism. In many contemporary novels, high end consumers are often contrasted against frugual-consumer mothers who are cast as freaks and social misfits.

It is not hard to see why the yummy-mummy is anti-environmental when you think that environmentalism is overtly political whereas the YM is high-consumption, individualistic and narcissistic.

In conclusion

This article has helped me understand my own high degree of irritation at yummy mummys and their brats disturbing my peace and quiet in coffee shops around Reigate. Before reading this I was somewhat concerned that I should find this so annoying.

Now, however, I realise that I haven’t just been being irritated by the mums their brats, it must have been my unarticulated subconscious telling me that these people are the shallow, selfish, narcissistic agents of neoliberalism.

In short, my peace in those coffee shops was being disturbed by the agents of everything that’s wrong with global politics, not to mention the reproduction of it at the level of the life-world.

Examples of ‘how to’ Yummy Mummy guides

The Yummy Mummy How to Guide

 

 

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The Role of the Police in Controlling and Reducing Crime

This post simply applies a few perspectives to the role of the police in society

Consensus Theory and Right Realism

The Consensus Approach views the police as a neutral force who generally do a good job, having a close working relationship with law abiding citizens and responding effectively to the needs of local communities, defending them against the anti-social and criminal behaviour of a minority people. From this point of view most failings of the police are due to lack of funding and there not being enough police on the streets.

Right Realists – believes more emphasis should be put on Zero Tolerance policing – the main role of the police is to work with local communities and businesses to target those areas and individuals who are persistently anti-social and criminal and to clamp down hard on even minor offences. This obviously involves targeting weapon and drugs dealers, but also clamping down on anti-social behaviour, and the police being very visible on the streets to act as a physical deterrent against crime. Obviously Zero Tolerance policies would also involve the police working closely with the courts after offences have taken place.

Zero Tolerance Policing can incorporate ‘military style policing’ where the police act against whole communities.

Left Realism

Left Realists believe that ‘Zero Tolerance’ policies are legitimate but that the police should spend more time getting to know local communities – which involves a less militaristic approach to policing, speaking to and befriending local youths rather than pouring their beer down the drain and constantly ‘moving them on’. This will also involve more referrals to social outreach projects. Policing for Left Realists is more about working with communities and not alienating them through ZT in order to prevent crime in the very long term. Community Support Officers are a good example of ‘community policing’ – they do not have enough powers to engage in Zero Tolerance approaches.

Marxism

According to Marxists the police engage in ‘selective law enforcement’
David Gordon argues that the police mainly focus on policing working class (and underclass) areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals. By and large the system ignores the crimes of the elite and the middle classes, although both of these classes are just as likely to commit crime as the working classes.

Marxists argue that the government puts more police on the streets in working class and underclass estates and underfunds the policing of businesses and Corporations engaging in Corporate Crime. Evidence for this lies in Tombs and Whyte’s study which found that The Financial Services authority (which investigates complex financial crimes) and the Health and Safety Executive (which investigate health and safety breaches by Corporations have had their funding cut in recent years.

Interactionism

Howard Becker suggests that police interpret working class and middle class behaviour differently – In a low-income neighbourhood, a fight is more likely to be defined by the police as evidence of delinquency, but in a wealthy area as evidence of high spirits. The acts are the same, but the meanings given to them by the audience (in this case the public and the police) differ.

Those who have the power to make the label stick thus create deviants or criminals. Eventually, ‘over-policing’ alienates marginalised groups and makes it more likely that they will actually turn to crime (a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy).

Aaron Cicourel also developed a class-based analysis of how agents of social control interact differentially with people from different class backgrounds in ‘The Negotiation of Justice’ – he suggested that middle class parents have more power to ‘negotiate’ effectively with the authorities and are more able to get their children off being given deviant labels – by convincing the police that their kids are really ‘good kids’ and their anti-social behaviour is a ‘one off’.

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Zero Tolerance Policing – An Evaluation

A brief evaluation of Zero Tolerance Policing

Zero Tolerance Policing involves the police strictly clamping down on minor criminal activities such as littering, begging, graffiti and other forms of antisocial behaviour. Clamping down might take the form of on the spot fines, or mandatory jail sentences, as with the ‘three-strikes’ rule in California.

The best known example of Zero Tolerance Policy was its adoption in New York City in 1994. At that time, the city was in the grip of a crack-cocaine epidemic and suffered high levels of antisocial and violent crime. Within a few years of Zero Tolerance, however, crime had dropped from between 30 – 50%.

In the UK Zero Tolerance has been applied in Liverpool, a relatively high-crime rate city. Following its introduction in 2005, overall recorded crime fell by 25.7 per cent in the three years to 2008 with violent crime falling by 38%.

Another application of Zero Tolerance is the ASBO – you can get an ASBO for antisocial rather than criminal behaviour, and go to jail if you breach it, thus ASBOs police minor acts of deviance.

The rationale behind the ASBO stems from the right realist (right wing/ new right/ neoliberal view of the causes of crime – they hold the individual responsible for crime, seeing the individual as making a rational choice to commit crime – if people believe the reward of committing crime outweighs the risk of getting caught and the cost of the punishment, they will commit crime – ZT addresses this by increasing the punishments for minor crimes. This also fits in with Broken Windows Theory – by focussing on minor crimes, this prevents these spiralling into major crimes, and it fits in with the New Right’s view that the state should be ‘tough on crime’

The biggest strength of ZT is that it seems to work – as the figures above demonstrate. It is also relatively cheap to implement and seems to have an immediate effect on crime, unlike the more expensive, long term, social solutions preferred by Left Realists. It also makes the public feel as if something is being done about crime, and gives victims a sense of justice.

However, there are many downsides – Firstly, Zero Tolerance Policing in New York resulted in a lot more people being arrested for possession of marijuana – 25 000 a year by 2012 (one every ten minutes) – some of those people lost their jobs or rental houses as a result. If labelling theory is correct, once labelled as a criminal, these people will find it very hard to get jobs in the future.

Secondly, despite the claims of the right wing governments who implemented them, comparative analysis shows that there are other causes of crime reduction – crime has gone down in cities in the US and the UK without the widespread use of Zero Tolerance techniques – Target Hardening, the increased time people spend online (and thus not on the streets), the declining use of drugs, and even abortion have been suggested as the REAL reasons crime is going down.

Thirdly, Zero Tolerance might be racist in consequence – somewhere in the region of 85% of people dealt with under Zero Tolerance in New York were/ are black or Hispanic.

Fourthly ZT focuses on minor crimes, and street crimes, ignoring the more serious crimes committed by elites, which Marxists see as more harmful. It also does little to address the underlying causes of crime.

Finally, and in conclusion, there is the very real possibility that rather than being about reducing crime, ZT policies are ideological in nature – they allow politicians to claim that they are the ones reducing crime by being ‘tough on crime’, but in reality, crime is going down anyway because of other reasons. Thus maybe ZT has been so widely used because it benefits politicians rather than society as a whole.

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