The question below is a possible 10 mark question for the AQA’s Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods paper (paper 3)
Outline and explain two criticisms of the Functionalist view of society (10)
To be on the safe side you want to provide two very different criticisms, develop both of them and briefly evaluate. This is probably overkill to get you the 10 marks.
Conflict theorists (Marxists and Feminists) point out that Functionalists have a rose tinted view of society – they focus too much on the positive functions that institutions perform, ignoring the negative ways in which institutions and socialisation can have on certain people. Feminists for example argue that the traditional nuclear family, which is seen as necessary by Parsons, oppresses women, as they are expected to fulfil the housewife role, which ultimately makes women dependent on men for an income, and ends up benefitting men who benefit from women’s emotional and domestic labour. They also ignore the really ‘dark side of family life’ – domestic violence.
You could take this criticism even further by arguing that Functionalist theory is itself ideological – by arguing that societies need nuclear families to provide effective socialisation, this theory itself reinforces the social order. Radical Feminists would argue against the idea that the nuclear family is necessary, as shown by the fact that most single parent families do just a good job as socialising children as nuclear families.
However, Functionalists would still argue that most people are better off with clear boundaries provided by socialisation through institutions as this prevents anomie, which could still be regarded as a curse of modern societies.
Interactionists criticise Functionalism for being a deterministic theory – human behaviour is portrayed as being shaped by the social system, as if individuals are programmed by social institutions, being the puppets of social forces.
There is a considerable amount of evidence against this view – for example despite most people being socialised into traditional gender norms, many people today develop LGTBIQ identities; despite being socialised to obey the law, self-report studies show high levels of minor criminality. It as if people are just pretending to obey social norms, but when you dig deeper and look at things more qualitatively, behind closed doors, this isn’t necessarily the case, and everyone is ‘doing their own thing’.
Postmodernists would be especially critical of the idea that society shapes the individual a postmodern, consumer age, your background and socialisation matter less – consumer society and globalisation allow much more opportunity for individuals to shape their own identities in an active way.
However, it is easy to overstate how free people are – people may think their free, but human action is still patterned and things like suicide and educational success still seem to be shaped by an individual’s social background…
To focus on just one example, Frances was a straight A student who dropped out of the University of Durham because ‘it sounds ridiculous’ but she didn’t feel liked she fitted in.
Here’s some class-based theorising about why she may’ve dropped out… of course it’s just theory, with any luck she’ll comment and say whether there’s any truth in it or not, can’t beat a bit of qualitative feedback after all…
From a broadly Marxist perspective, the 18 year old Frances’ naive lack of awareness of the class structure may have played a role in her dropping out – had she realised in advance that elite universities are are chock full of hot-housed middle class students then she might have been better prepared to endure three years of alienation and anomie.
I imagine her first sense of dislocation came from her material disadvantage – it’s likely that many of her peers would be familiar with going for regular meals-out/ regular wardrobe changes/ maybe even ski-holidays, which someone from a poorer background (her step-dad was a truck driver) wouldn’t be familiar with – I’m sure Francis’ weekly budget was considerably lower than the average, and with no middle-class-daddy safety net to back her up, her days keeping up with the fillees were always going to be numbered.
Then you have to add to this her lack of cultural capital – Frances’ lack of knowledge of middle class values and tastes would further alienate her – I’m sure concepts such as weekend breaks , ponies, and ski holidays would be misnomers, for example, hardly grist for her conversational mill.
(UPDATE 30/12/16 – Frances did comment, and my speculation seems to have been ‘close to the mark’! What can I say – looks like social class barriers are a social fact!)
@realsociology a few comments close to the mark. Many had a sense of entitlement that didn't sit well with me.
If only Frances had read some Bourdieu in advance of going to uni, she might not have expected to fit in at all, and maybe this would’ve helped her to endure and get her degree – then again, maybe that would’ve left her worse off, she seems to have done alright for herself in the end, even if she doesn’t win Sugar’s cash.
Below are a few resources focusing on the causes and consequences of the ongoing (hopefully soon to be recent) civil war in Syria. (‘War and Conflict’ in relation to development is part of the A Level Sociology Global Development topic).
The causes of the civil war in Syria
This Guardian video does a reasonable job of explaining some of the causes of the Syrian Civil War in five minutes. NB it has its critics – see below!
The trigger event which caused the Civil War in Syria was when 1000s of people took the street in January 2011 to demand political reforms (e.g. elections) inspired by ‘The Arab Spring ‘ – a wave of violent and non-violent protests which had swept across many North African and Middle Eastern Countries in December – January 2012.
The protesters were protesting about the brutal rule of dictator president Assad who had ruled Syria in the interests of a relatively small elite since the year 2000, when he took over from his father, who had ruled the country since the 1970s, having modernised it while brutally repressing any dissent.
Assad’s response to the protests was to violently repress the initially non-violent protests by shooting over a hundred demonstrators. Over the coming months some of these armed themselves and formed small groups of rebels – the ensuing conflict between Assad’s security forces and the rebels resulted in 60 000 deaths in the first 18 months of the conflict.
The root of the conflict can be further traced back to the after math of World War I when France and Britain established the boarders of the Middle Eastern Countries, lumping many different ethnic groups and religions into Syria. The ethnic/ religious breakdown of Syria’s population is approximately 12% Alawites (President Assad’s ethnic group),8% Christians, 3% Shiites, and 74% Sunnis.
NB – The video has an equal amount of likes and dislikes – with many of the commentators pointing to the fact that the video misses out the role of the USA in causing conflict all across the middle east – commentators argue that the US has a long history of arming rebel groups in the Middle East as part of its foreign policy to deliberately destabilise the region.
Who is Fighting Who and Why?
This second video by VOX starts off by pointing out that the war in Syria is a mess, with four main groups involved:
The Assad/ government forces, backed by Russia and Iran,
The Rebels, backed by the Saudis, Turkey and the USA,
The Kurds, also backed by the USA
ISIS, which established a ‘Caliphate’ in an area which spread across the Syria-Iraq border.
This video focuses more on how the conflict has develop and points to the important fact that Syria has now become a ‘Proxy War’ in which other nation states are effectively fighting each other by funding different factions within the conflict, but without being directly involved themselves.
By 2013 money and troops were being funneled to the rebels by Sunni Muslims (e.g. the Saudis) While Iran (Shia Muslims) funneled money and troops to Assad.
In late 2013, the USA stepped into the war when Obama signed a secret deal for the CIA to train and equip the rebels.
In February 2014 ISIS emerges – which focuses on fighting the rebels and the Kurds, not Assad, and the US now has an ongoing dilemma which confuses matters and possibly prevents the US from taking effective action – who is it’s real enemy – ISIS or Assad?
Up until this time, Assad was losing ground to both the rebels and ISIS until September 2015 when Russia stepped in by bombing US backed rebels, and to date (December 2016) it seems like Assad is likely to defeat the rebel forces.
NB – As with the previous video, this also has its critics, so as with all sources, be skeptical of the validity!
Causes of the Civil War in Syria – A Summary
To my mind, for the purposes of A level Sociology you can simplify the causes of this conflict thus:
Nasty bad men (dictators) in the middle east don’t allow people to vote and oppress anyone who opposes them.
People in many middle eastern countries want the right to vote and basically governments who don’t abuse their human rights.
They use social media to organise and publicise protests – which spread all over the middle east and quickly to Syria
The nasty dictator, Assad, wants to cling onto power so he kills hundreds of the protesters
Other nations have a role to play in perpetuating the crisis – Russia and Iran by funding Assad and the USA by funding the rebels.
NB – Don’t fall into the trap of seeing the USA as backing the ‘good guys’ and supporting democracy versus the bad Russians and crazy Muslims who want to keep the evil dictator Assad in place because that’s in their economic/ ideological interests – the USA has a history of backing ‘evil dictators’ itself, when they support US interests at least.
You could further trace all of these problems back to the ethnic and religious divide/ tensions in Syria, which in turn was at least partially created by the French and British when they invented the country by drawing up artificial boarders after World War I.
Social Facts are one of Emile Durkheim’s most significant contributions to sociology. Social facts are things such as institutions, norms and values which exist external to the individual and constrain the individual.
The University of Colorado lists as examples of social facts: institutions, statuses, roles, laws, beliefs, population distribution, urbanization, etc. Social facts include social institutions, social activities and [the strata of society – for example the class structure, subcultures etc.]
The video below provides a useful introduction to the concept of social facts….
The video suggests that the concept ‘social fact’ is a broad term designed to encompass the social environment which constrains individual behaviour.
It uses the analogy of a how the physical structure of a room limits our actions (we can only go in and through the door or windows for example; in the same way the social facts which make up our social environment constrains us – norms, values, beliefs, ideologies and so on effectively limit our choices.
Sociology is about identifying the relationship between the social conditions and people’s behaviour.
This second video is a bit more complex…
According to Durkheim, social facts emerge out of collectives of individuals, they cannot be reduced to the level of individuals – and this social reality is real, and it exists above the level of the individual, sociology is the study of this ‘level above the individual’.
As far as Durkheim was concerned this was no different to the concept that human life is greater than the sum of the individual cells which make it up – society has a reality above that of the individuals who constitute it.
A key idea of Durkheim – that we should never reduce the study of society to the level of the individual, we should remain at the level of social facts and aim to explain social action in relation to social facts.
(Not in the video) – this is precisely what Durkheim did in his study of suicide by trying to explain variations in the suicide rate (which is above the level of the individual) through other social facts, such as the divorce rate, the pace of economic growth, the type of religion (all of which he further reduced to two basic variables – social integration and social regulation.
In this way sociology should aim to be scientific, it should not study individuals, but scientific trends at the level above the individual. This is basically the Positivist approach to studying society, as laid down in Durkhiem’s 1895 work ‘The Rules of Sociological Method’.
NB Durkheim’s study of suicide is just about the best illustration of the application of social facts that there is – In which he researched official statistics on suicide in several European countries and found that the suicide rate was influenced by social facts such as the divorce rate, the religion of a country, and the pace of economic and social changed – Durkheim further theorized that the suicide rate increased when there was either too much or too little integration and regulation in society.
The major criticism of Durkheim’s concept of social facts is that the statistics he claims to be ‘social facts’ aren’t – suicide stats are open to manipulation by the people who record them (coroners) – and there is huge potential for several suicides (intentional deaths) to be mis-recorded as open verdicts or accidental deaths and thus we can never be 100% certain of the validity of this data, thus theorising on the basis of cross national comparisons based on said data is risky.
It is possible to apply this ‘social construction critique’ to a range of statistics – such as crime stats, unemployment stats, immigration stats, happiness stats, and a whole load more, which means that while there may be a really existing social world external to the individual, it’s not necessarily possible to know or measure that world with any degree of certainty or to understand how all of the various social facts out there interact with each other. NB This may well explain why no one seems to be able to make predictions about economic crashes, Arab Springs, or election results these days!
Other critics, such as phenomenologists (kind of like precursors to Postmodernists), argue that the whole concept of an external reality is itself flawed, and that instead of one external reality which constrains individuals there are a multitude of more fluid and diverse social realities which arise and fade with social interaction. From this perspective, we may think there is a system of social norms and values out there in the world, but this is only ‘real’ for us if we think it to be real; this is nothing more than a thought, and thus in ‘reality’ we are really free as individuals. (Monstrously free, if you like, to coin a phrase.)
Do Social Facts Exist?
Durkheim’s view of society and the Positivist method have been conceived over 100 years ago, and it has been severely criticised by Interpretivists and Postmodernists, but this hasn’t stopped many researchers from adopting a quantitative, scientific approach to analysing social trends and social problems at the level of society rather than at the level of the individual, and there does seem to be something in the view that society constrains us in subtle and often unnoticed ways, many of which you would’ve come across over the two year A level sociology course.
Firstly, the suicide rate still varies according to various social factors (‘social facts’?)
For example, after noting that the male suicide rate is 3 times higher than the female suicide rate, and highest for men in their late 40s, This 2016 suicide report by the Samaritans (UK focus) notes that ‘Research suggests that social and economic factors influence the risk of suicide in women as well as men’
Hence as Durkheim said in the 19th century, the decision to kill yourself isn’t just a personal decision, it’s influenced by whether your’re male or female and your age. (As a 43 year old male, I don’t find this graph particularly encouraging, then again at least I’m into ‘the hump’ rather than staring at it from my 30s and with only 8 years of shit to go.)
Secondly, the birth rate/ total fertility rate seem to be effected by a number of ‘social facts’
Think back to the module on the family – while the decision to have babies seems personal and private, the number of children women have, and the age at which they have them seems to be influenced heavily by society. The decline in the birth rate is now a global trend – and while there are different ’causes’ which have led to its reduction, some of the more common ones appear to be women’s empowerment and education , economic growth and state-promoted family planning.
According to the The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) there are a number of factors that can play a role in a country’s fertility rates, including its investment in education, the availability of family planning services, the status of women’s rights and the prevalence of early and forced marriage.
“Population dynamics are not destiny,” the UNFPA’s population matters report says. “Change is possible through a set of policies which respect human rights and freedoms and contribute to a reduction in fertility, notably access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, education beyond the primary level, and the empowerment of women.”
Thirdly, educational achievement still varies enormously by (the social fact of) social class background
It’s depressing to have to remind you about it, but from the Education module you learnt that social class background has a profound impact on educational achievement. The graph below shows achievement by FSM pupils compared to all other pupils. ‘FSM’ stands for ‘Free School Meals’ – to qualify for FSM status a child needs to be in approximately the bottom sixth of households by income -NB FSM is only a proxy for social class, one indicator of it, the only one we have to hand which is convenient. (The government doesn’t collect information on social class and educational achievement for ideological reasons).
Keep in mind that this is the bottom sixth by income compared to all other pupils. If you separated out the top sixth, you’d probably see a 90% 5 A-C achievement rate (or something like that).
Again if you think back to the lessons on material and cultural deprivation, coming from a poor background seems to weigh heavily on ‘poor kids’ while coming from a middle class background confers material and cultural advantage on the children of wealthier parents. Sad to say but educational results in England and Wales are most definitely NOT a reflection of just intelligence.
Chapter by chapter, graph by graph, the authors demonstrate that the more unequal a rich country is,the worse its performance is likely to be in a whole range of variables including:
amount of mental illness
use of illegal drugs
teenage pregnancy rates
homicide and imprisonment rates
levels of mutual trust between citizens
maths and literacy attainment
social mobility (children rising in social scale compared with their parents)
spending on foreign aid
The authors consider and eliminate other possibilities, and conclude:
‘It is very difficult to see how the enormous variations which exist from one society to another in the level of problems associated with low social status can be explained without accepting that inequality is the common denominator, and a hugely damaging force.”
Inequalities erode “social capital”, that is, the cohesion of a society, the degree to which individual citizens are involved in their society, the strength of the social networks within it, and the degree of trust and empathy between citizens.
The mechanisms by which inequality impacts on societies, it is suggested, is that individuals internalise inequality, that their psyches are profoundly affected by it, and that that in turn affects physical as well as mental health, and leads to attitudes and behaviours which appear as a variety of social and health problems.’
So if you’ve got an anxiety disorder, blame Thatcher, she’s the one whose government kick started the march towards inequality.
Social Facts… In summary
According to Durkheim (a French dude from the 19th century), society exists at a level above the individual and it kind of has a life of its own. It consists of social facts such as institutions and the class structure which constrain individuals depending on their relation to said social facts.
Durkheim believed that we should limit ourselves to studying ‘social facts’ at the level of society – aim to understand how and why social trends vary, and do this in a scientific way.
Understanding more about how these social forces drive social change, and deriving the laws which govern human interaction is the point of sociology according to Durkheim, and doing this requires us to study social facts at the level of society, there is no need to focus on individuals.
Some of the findings of this type of research based on social facts include…….
Being male, 40-50, poor, and divorced means you are more miserable and more likely to kill yourself (Oh yeah, I’m not poor, or divorced, so yay I’m OK!)
Economic growth, female empowerment, and family planning policies have led to women having fewer babies
Being from a poor household means you’re much more likely to get crap CGSEs
The more unequal a country in terms of wealth and income the worse of everyone is in pretty much every way imaginable, especially those at the bottom.
So that’s all pretty useful, right? Basically we need to make the world more equal, empower more women, and help poor children and middle aged men more and everything’ll be a whole lot better….
Green and Ward (2005) define state crime as ‘illegal or deviant activities perpetrated by the state, or with the complicity of state agencies’. State crimes are committed by, or on behalf of nation states in order to achieve their policies.
Types of State Crime
Mcloughlin identifies four categories of state crime:
• Crimes by security forces – e.g. genocide, torture, imprisonment without trial and disappearance of dissidents
• Political Crimes – e.g. censorship or corruption
• Economic crimes – e.g. violation of health and safety laws
• Social and cultural crimes – e.g. institutional racism
Crimes of Security – Genocide
Genocide means any act committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group or Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (Source – teaching genocide –).
Three of the best known genocides include The Holocaust, The Cambodian Genocide and The Rwandan Genocide
The Holocaust was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed about six million Jews. From 1941 to 1945, Jews were systematically murdered in one of the deadliest genocides in history. Every arm of Germany’s bureaucracy was involved in the logistics and the carrying out of the genocide. Other victims of Nazi crimes included Romanis, ethnic Poles and other Slavs, Soviet POWs, communists, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled. A network of about 42,500 facilities in Germany and German-occupied territories were used to concentrate victims for slave labour, mass murder, and other human rights abuses. Over 200,000 people are estimated to have been Holocaust perpetrators.
In Cambodia, a genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime led by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979 in which an estimated one and a half to three million people died. The KR had planned to create a form of agrarian socialism which was founded on the ideals of Stalinism and Maoism. The KR policies of forced relocation of the population from urban centres, torture, mass executions, use of forced labour, malnutrition, and disease led to the deaths of an estimated 25 percent of the total population (around 2 million people).
The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 70% of the Tutsi and 20% of Rwanda’s total population. The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the National Police, government-backed militias and the Hutu civilian population.
Political Crimes – Corruption
Political corruption can take various forms, but the most common examples appear to be politicians siphoning public money off to their private bank accounts, unfairly granting government contracts in return for bribes and electoral fraud (vote rigging).
According to the Corruption Index put together by Transparency International there seems to be a correlation between corruption, war and conflict and poverty – Somalia, North Korea, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq come out bottom of the Corruption Index, while the usual suspects – the Scandinavian countries plus Canada come out as the least corrupt.
To give you an example of how blatant corruption can get take the case of Teodoro Mbasogo who is the leader of Equatorial Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, but is also paradoxically one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state, with an estimated net worth of $600 million. For perspective, Barack Obama has a net worth of about $11.8 million.
Equatorial Guinea, despite having some of Africa’s largest oil reserves, has one of the most underdeveloped infrastructures and poorest populations in the world – so where does the money go?
The answer, at least from the outside, seems to be directly from the corporate accounts of Exxon Mobil and other oil companies straight into the pockets of Obiang and his family. In 2003, Obiang announced that to combat corruption in public service jobs, he would be taking full control of the national treasury. He then withdrew half a billion dollars (that’s billion with a B) in state money from the national treasury and deposited it into accounts in his own name at Riggs Bank, based in Washington D.C., effectively siphoning off all of the state’s money into his own pocket.
In addition to draining the country’s accounts, he’s also been implicated in various human rights abuses, electoral fraud, nepotism, and using security contractors to maintain control over the country.
Of course corruption doesn’t just happen in less developed countries – In 2009, the MP’s expenses scandal erupted in the UK, where numerous members of parliament and members of the house of Lords were found to be claiming expenses dishonestly. This resulted in 8 successful criminal prosecutions, any many more resignations, although most of the MPs got away with very minor punishments, as with Derek Conway MP who only received a 10 day suspension for paying his Son, Freddie, thousands of pounds for apparently doing nothing.
State Crime and Human Rights
One thing that has made it easier to hold states accountable is the emergence of the of the United Nations after the second world war, which developed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – developed after world war two, designed to protect individual citizens from oppressive regimes – this is legally binding on member states. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains a list of freedoms which states are supposed to protect such as…
Article 4 – No one shall be held in slavery or servitude
Article 5 – No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Article 20 – Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
Article 24 – Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable working hours and holidays with pay.
The Scale of State Crime/ Human Right’s Abuses
The fact that Nation State’s maintain power and control over large territories and populations mean that they have the potential to engage in large scale crimes which victimise extremely large numbers of people – for example the Cambodian Genocide in the 1970s is estimated to have wiped out 25% of the population.
Ian Taylor, writing from a socialist perspective, argues that economic globalisation (basically the spread of Capitalism) has led to more crimes being committed by elites – crimes which go unnoticed in the West
In ‘The Political Economy of Crime’ (1998) Ian Taylor wrote about important changes in the world economy in recent years, many of which have accelerated since he wrote the book. Three of these are covered below: The problems of global finance and tax havens, the problem of Transnational Corporations and ‘Law Evasion’ and the problem of increasing inequality caused by globalisation.
Global Finance, Tax Havens and Tax Evasion
For Elites, the ability to move finance around the world with minimal control enables a whole range of financial crimes, from tax evasion and insider trading to defrauding transnational organisations such as the EU out of grant and subsidy money. According to one 2012 estimate, the Global Super Rich have $21 trillion dollars squirrelled away in offshore bank accounts which are evading tax.
The existence of tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands, also allows organised crime gangs to launder the profits from illegal activities such as drugs production and distribution, because of said lose controls over capital movements.
Transnational Corporations and Law Evasion
The last half a century has seen many Transnational Corporations shift their production to developing countries in search for greater profitability. One of the reasons they do this is because poorer countries tend to have fewer environmental regulations, and so corporations can pollute more freely in those countries. Not having to clean up your mess is good for profits.
TNCs often subcontract out their production processes to various local companies – subcontracting encourages the employment of people who are working illegally, because it is often cheaper to hire illegal immigrants because they are prepared to work for less. This often happens in clothing, food and building industries. Subcontractors break rules to cut costs in order to get and retain contracts in competitive industries and to maximise their profits.
The Case Study of Union Carbide in Bhopal, the biggest industrial accident in world history, illustrates the problem of law evasion and corporate irresponsibility perfectly. Union Carbide, an American owned multi-national company, set up a pesticide plant in Bhopal in order to take ad-vantage of the cheap labour in India. In 1984, the plant accidentally leaked deadly gas fumes into the surrounding atmosphere. The leakage resulted in over 3500 deaths and caused permanent injury to at least a further 25 000. Investigations have since revealed that the company set up this particular plant because pollution controls in India were less rigid than in the USA and the escape of gas was caused by inadequate safety procedures at the plant, making this a criminal case of negligence.
Campaigners say Bhopal has an unusually high incidence of children with birth defects and growth deficiency, as well as cancers, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. These are seen not only among survivors of the gas leak but among people born many years later, they say.
Twenty years ago Union Carbide paid $470m (£282m) in compensation to the Indian government, and in 2010 (26 years after the disaster) 8 people (all Indian) were sentenced for 2 years for their crimes of negligence. No one on the board of the company has faced criminal charges.
Examples of corporations which have caused social or environmental harm due to law evasion (moving to a poorer country to cut costs)
1. Apple (in China)
2. Shell (in Nigeria)
3. Primark (in Bangladesh)
Increasing Global Inequality and Crime
The staggering extent of global inequality is one of the major causes of International Crime. Wealth in the developed world increases demand for global goods and services, and poverty in the developing world creates supply of criminal products and services.
On the demand side – In developed countries and among the wealthier segments of the population in developing countries, consumer culture pressurizes people into buying more and more material items and to engage in more and more leisure pursuits – and there literally billions of consumers in the world: the sheer volume of consumers means there is enormous demand for a huge range of products. Most people want to get these products and services as cheaply as possible, and getting hold of things through the global black market is often the cheapest way to keep up with consumerist pressure – illegally imported cigarettes and alcohol are cheaper than their taxed legal alternatives, and sleeping with a trafficked prostitute in Estonia is cheaper than paying for one in the UK.
The demand for outright illegal products such as drugs, guns and human organs (in Europe at least) is much smaller, but simply given the high numbers of people involved in the global consumer market place, it only takes a tiny percentage of people to generate significant levels of demand for such products.
On the supply side – In poorer, developing countries, providing illegal goods for shipment to wealthier people can be more lucrative than producing something legally. In Columbia for example it is estimated that 20% of the population depend on the Cocaine trade, which is more profitable than growing coffee, while in Afghanistan growing opium poppies, the basis of heroine, has remained the country’s largest export and the main source of income for the population during three decades of conflict.
In other poor countries where the climate isn’t conducive to growing drugs for export to the west, other illegal opportunities can be attractive – such as selling your children into a life of prostitution or other forms of slavery through human trafficking networks.
A further effect of TNCs being mobile is that they have reduced job security of full time staff and this increases the amount of part time, temporary and insecure employment, which in turn breeds the conditions for criminality.
This material is relevant to the topic of ‘State Crime’ and ‘War and Conflict’ as an aspect of development. The point of it is to illustrate that the United States is pretty much the biggest military aggressor in recent world history, and thus a good candidate for the country which commits the worst state-crimes.
The United States military is responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in The Middle East, South West Asia, and North Africa, as Part of the United States Government’s Ongoing War on Terror. Civilians are protected under International Humanitarian Law, which means that every single civilian death is potentially an example of a State Crime committed by the USA.
Civilian Deaths and the United States’ ‘War on Terror’
The United States uses cutting edge military hardware to kill what it believes to be terrorists. Most of the killing the U.S. army and air force do these days is remote, typically involving missiles released from drones many miles away from their targets, with the drones themselves being piloted by people even further away.
Increasingly, the weapons of choice, used throughout the Middle East, are Predator and Reaper drones, but the US Air force also still operates F16s, Apache attack helicopters and AC-130 gunships, in Afghanistan for example.
Whether you go with the lower or higher estimate of deaths, the percentage of civilians killed in the War on Terror is somewhere in the region of 20-25% of the total (what the US would call ‘collateral damage’).
The U.S. claims that a combination of painstakingly gathered intelligence and precision-targeted missiles have enabled it to make sure that the people it’s targeting are actually enemy combatants and to minimise the number of civilian casualties, but nonetheless thousands of civilians have also been taken out by the United States in this process over the last decade and a half.
The United Nations has questioned the legality of drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, with which the United States isn’t actually at war, and has further criticised the U.S. government for not releasing its own data on the numbers of casualties due its drone war – hence the need to rely on investigative journalism.
So it seems that at least 20-25% of these drone attacks are state-crimes in the sense that this is the proportion which take out innocent civilians; then there’s the possibility that the entire drone-campaign itself is illegal, given that the United States isn’t technically at war with most of the countries it’s operating its drones in.
The Destruction of the Kunduz Trauma Centre
On 3 October 2015, a United States Air Force AC-130U gunship attacked the Kunduz Trauma Centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in the city of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. At least 42 people were killed and over 30 were injured. This appears to be a pretty unambiguous example of a war crime committed by the U.S. military.
The video below (5.20 – 7.00 minutes) will give you an idea of the capability of an AC-130 Gunship, basically a very large plane which houses various different types of guns and missile and bomb launchers along with LOTS AND LOTS of ammunition. (NB these gunships cost somewhere between $130-190 million, depending on the model, at 2001 prices).
On 7 October 2015, President Barack Obama issued a rare apology and announced the United States would be making condolence payments to the families of those killed in the airstrike.
Background to the Attack
On 28 September 2015, Taliban militants seized the city of Kunduz, driving government forces out of the city. After the reinforcements arrived, the Afghan army, backed by U.S. airstrikes, began an offensive operation to regain control of the city; after several days of fighting, Afghan forces claimed to have retaken the city. However, fighting continued, and on 3 October, a US-led airstrike struck and badly damaged Kunduz Trauma Centre operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), killing doctors, staff members and patients.
Médecins Sans Frontières reported that on the night of 3 October, the organization’s Kunduz hospital was struck by “a series of aerial bombing raids” and that the building was “partially destroyed”. It further said the hospital had been “repeatedly & precisely hit” and that the attack had continued for 30 minutes after MSF staff contacted U.S. and Afghan officials during the strike.
MSF had informed all warring parties of the location of its hospital complex. MSF personnel had contacted U.S. military officials as recently as 29 September to reconfirm the precise location of the hospital. Two days prior to the attack Carter Malkasian, adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emailed MSF asking if the facility had Taliban militants “holed up” inside.
Attacks on medical facilities are forbidden under international humanitarian law unless the facilities “are being used, outside their humanitarian function, to commit acts harmful to the enemy”. Even if enemy combatants are inappropriately using the facility for shelter, the rule of proportionality usually forbids such attacks because of the high potential for civilian casualties. Human Rights Watch said the laws of war require the attacking force to issue a warning, and wait a reasonable time for a response, before attacking a medical unit being misused by combatants
At the time of the airstrikes, MSF was treating women and children and wounded combatants from both sides of the conflict. MSF estimates that of the 105 patients at the time of the attack, between 3 and 4 of the patients were wounded government combatants, while approximately 20 patients were wounded Taliban. MSF general director Christopher Stokes said, “Some public reports are circulating that the attack on our hospital could be justified because we were treating Taliban. Wounded combatants are patients under international law, and must be free from attack and treated without discrimination. Medical staff should never be punished or attacked for providing treatment to wounded combatants.”
It’s difficult to put a positive spin on this, but I guess you could say it’s better than when the United States unnecessarily nuked Hiroshima in 1945 where the civilian to combatant ratio must have been significantly higher – so while the US clearly isn’t respecting International Humanitarian Law by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, at least they’re doing better than in the past.
Postscript: International Humanitarian Law
What enables us to determine that the above acts by the United States military and government are in fact state-crimes is the existence of International Humanitarian Law.
According to Amnesty International ‘International law prohibits arbitrary killing and limits the lawful use of intentional lethal force to exceptional situations. In armed conflict, only combatants and people directly participating in hostilities may be directly targeted. Outside armed conflict, intentional lethal force is lawful only when strictly unavoidable to protect against an imminent threat to life. In some circumstances arbitrary killing can amount to a war crime or extrajudicial executions, which are crimes under international law’
International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. A major part of international humanitarian law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions (1864 -1949).
The basic principles of International Humanitarian Law include:
Those who are not taking part in hostilities (e.g. civilians) shall be protected in all circumstances. Parties to a conflict shall at all times distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. Attacks shall be directed against legitimate military targets.
The wounded and the sick shall be cared for and protected by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. The emblem of the “Red Cross,” or of the “Red Crescent,” shall be required to be respected as the sign of protection.
Captured persons must be protected against acts of violence and reprisals. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
Parties to a conflict do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. Humanitarian law has banned the use of many weapons, including exploding bullets, chemical and biological weapons, blinding laser weapons and anti-personnel mines.
Once conflict has ended, anyone breaching any of the rules laid down by International Humanitarian Law can be tried through an international tribunal. However, it’s unlikely that any U.S. personnel will ever see justice for their part in killing innocent civilians.
Finally, just a quick reminder of the point of this post – it’s not just Islamic Fundamentalists killing in the name of ideology, America does it too, and by the objective (ish) standards of International Humanitarian Law, many of these killings are state crimes.
Freda Adler proposed that the emancipation of women and increased economic opportunities for women lead to an increase in the female crime rate. Her basic idea was that as women attain social positions similar to men, and as the employment patterns of men and women become similar, so too do their related crimes. Adler claimed to have found a cross-national correlation between levels of women’s economic freedoms and their crime levels.
One evaluation of Adler is found in the Marginalistaion Thesis which states that women’s Liberation has indeed lead to increased job opportunities for women, but women are much more likely to be employed in part-time and/or low paid jobs which are unrewarding and insecure. This has led to the creation of a ‘pink collar ghetto’ – with women suffering higher levels of economic deprivation than men.
NB The Marginalisation thesis might not actually contradict Adler’s Liberation Thesis – if you apply Strain Theory.
Sex Role Theory explains gendered differences in offending in terms of the differences in gender socialization, gender roles and gendered identities. The norms and values associated with traditional femininity are not conducive to crime, while the norms and values associated with traditional masculinity are more likely to lead to crime.
Female socialization, traditional female roles and low female crime rates
Parsons (1937) argued that because females carry out the ‘expressive role’ in the family which involved them caring for their children and looking after the emotional needs of their husbands, that girls grew up to internalise such values as caring and empathy, both of which reduce the likelihood of someone committing crime simply because a caring and empathetic attitude towards others means you are less likely to harm others.
The child caring role also means that women are also effectively more attached to their families and wider communities than men – It is traditionally women who keep in touch with relatives and get to know their children’s friends families and thus bond local communities together. In terms of bonds of attachment theory, women are thus more attached to wider society and thus less likely to commit crime.
Similarly, because traditional female gender roles involve women being busier than men, especially since they have taken on the ‘dual burden’ and ‘triple shift’ in recent decades, this reduces the opportunities for women to commit crime.
It has long been theorized that the early socialization of boys into traditional masculine identities is at least partly responsible for the higher male crime rate. Sociologist Sutherland (1960) stated this very simply by saying that ‘boys are taught to be “rough and tough,” which makes them more likely to become delinquent’. Talcott Parsons (1964) purported that masculinity was then internalized during adolescence, which led to boys engaging in more delinquent behavior than girls, and sub cultural theorists Cloward and Ohlin (1960) proposed that in gangs, younger members learn through contact with older males that traits such as toughness and dominance are necessary in order to assert a strong masculine reputation.
One possible criticism of sex-role theory is that it is less relevant in today’s society because of the decline of traditional gender roles.
Amey, a private company, contracted by Sheffield council to maintain roads and pavements has chopped down 4000 trees in Sheffield in recent years.
Some of these trees were a hundred years old, and there was absolutely nothing wrong them; the main reason for chopping them down seems to be economic – it’s cheaper to maintain roads in the long-term without the roots of old trees pushing up paving slabs and road surfaces.
(NB – The council claimed the reason for chopping down the trees is that they were diseased, but this appears to have been a lie, with experts having confirmed that there was nothing wrong with 75% of them.)
Chopping down trees is good for the company and council because it saves them both money, but it does at least the following harms –
It reduces the property values of local residents (think about it – semi-detached houses, tree lined streets, these are desirable areas to live).
It reduces the quality of life for everyone in the city – basically just look nice for everyone walking around the city.
It kills the trees, which are living organisms after all.
Trees contribute to flood alleviation and reduce pollution, so chopping them down does further environmental damage beyond just killing the trees themselves.
However, despite these harms, chopping down these trees is not a criminal act. Under the terms of the PFI contract with Sheffield council – chopping down these trees is totally legal*, so the company doing this is breaking no law, and thus will suffer no criminal prosecution.
In fact, the law actually sides against the handful of people who have protested against these trees being cut down. Some protesters (including two 70 year old women) who tried to disrupt a 5.00 a.m. dawn tree-chopping raid in one street were arrested and held in jail for 8 hours, and face up to 6 months in jail for their actions.
While existing law treats as criminal those few people who are protecting the trees, according to Green Criminologists the real criminals are the company and the council who are committing a ‘crime against the environment’, even though technically under UK law they are not actually doing anything criminal, because the council owns the trees are on council property – the pavements.
According to Green Criminologists this case study represents the limitations of existing laws designed to protect the environment -basically existing laws are too anthropocentric (human centered) and fail to adequately protect the environment; it also points to the limitations of traditional criminology – which would limit itself to focusing on the protesters, rather than the company and council who are the ‘real criminals’ for harming the environment.
(*at least one assumes this must be the case, because even thought public money is being spent here, the public has no right to see details of PFI contracts)
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