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Using contemporary examples to evaluate the sociology of crime and deviance

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of crime and deviance. You’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

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The Extinction Rebellion Protests

Thousands of activists from Extinction Rebellion gathered in London last week to stage the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.

Extinction Rebellion is an apolitical network whose main aim is to persuade governments to take urgent action on the climate and ecological emergency. Their main tactic is peaceful, non-violent direct action.

They have three main demands:

  1. Tell the truth – Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Act Now – Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Beyond Politics – Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Tactics over the last week in London have included a range of disparate disruptive actions such as blockading bridges, people gluing themselves to selected targets and die ins, all of this in addition to their being larger ‘people’s assemblies’ at various famous landmarks in the capital, with the usual debates, street theatrics, music, and cook-ins.

 

The cost to the economy is estimated to be millions of pounds, and the number of people arrested stands at over 1000, but with not one single police officer was injured during the last week’s peaceful protests.

Relevance to A-level sociology

The best fit is in with ‘globalisation and green criminology’.

Easy to understand is the fact that this is a global movement, so it’s a great example of ‘political globalisation’. NB – you may have missed this in the news, because as far as I can tell the movement started in the UK and London is by far the largest event.

In terms of green criminology – some actions of some of the protestors are illegal – criminal damage and public order offences for example, but they would claim that the ‘real criminals’ are governments around the world for failing to act on climate change.

There’s lots of other links to, but I’ll let you find them!

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Green Criminology and Green Crime – Revision Notes

Introduction – Getting your head around green crime!

Green Crime – A simple definition of Green Crime is ‘crimes committed against the environment’.

Types of Green Crime – Nigel South (2008) classifies green crimes into two distinct types, primary and secondary.

Primary green crimes are those crimes which constitute harm inflicted on the environment (and, by extension, those that inflict harm on people because of damage to the environment – our classic ‘environmental victims’ who suffer health or other problems when the land, water or air they interact with is polluted, damaged or destroyed).

There are four main categories of primary green crimes – Crimes of air pollution, Crimes of deforestation, Crimes of species decline and animal rights, Crimes of water pollution.

Secondary, or “symbiotic green crime is crime that grows out of the flouting of rules that seek to regulate environmental disasters” (Carrabine et al. 2004: 318). South provides two examples of secondary crime: State violence against oppositional groups’, ‘hazardous waste and organised crime’

Criminology – Disagreements over the concept of Green Crime

Criminologists disagree over the appropriate subject matter of ‘green criminology’.

Traditional criminology argues that ‘green crime’ should be defined in a narrow sense – thus ‘green crime’ is defined as any activity which breaches a law which protects the environment.

Green criminology, on the other hand, argues that criminologists should study environmental harms whether or not there is legislation in place and whether or not criminal or other laws are actually broken. Green Criminology takes an ecocentric (environment centred) approach to crime, and criticises traditional criminology for being too anthropocentric (human- centred).

White’s (2008) three important principles of green criminology – based on environmental rights and environmental justice; it’s ecocentric – rather than based on human domination over nature; It should include Animal rights and species justice

Green Criminology is thus a type of ‘transgressive criminology’ – it breaks the boundaries of traditional criminology and focuses on the concept of ‘harm’ rather than the concept of ‘crime’.

Advantages of a green criminological perspective – Green Criminology thus follows in the footsteps of radical or critical criminology – Marxism and Interactionism. It is more interested in the question of why some harmful acts (pollution) are not labelled as criminal, while other less- harmful acts are.

Problems with Green Criminology is that its subject matter is not clearly defined – where do we draw the line about what constitutes harming the environment? Where does it all end, and who decides?

Key Term – ‘Zemiology’ – the study of social harms. Green Criminology is Zemiological.

The Late Modern Perspective on Green Crime – Ulrich Beck (1992) The Risk Society

Beck explains green crime/environmental damage as part ‘the risk society’, whereby modern industrial societies create many new risks – largely manufactured through modern technologies – that were unknown in earlier days.

New technologies are generating risks that are of a quite different order from those found throughout earlier human history.

The most obvious type of ‘new risky technology’ is that of nuclear power, which generates small, but hugely toxic (radioactive) forms of waste which stay radioactive for thousands of years.

Ulrich Beck’s (1986) argument is that environmental problems are truly global – he argues that ‘Smog is democratic’, which suggests that traditional social divisions — class, ethnicity and gender — may be relatively unimportant when considering the impact of many environmental problems.

The future demands innovative political responses to the new environmental challenges we face. Beck doesn’t offer any solutions to how we might tackle green crime, he just points out that the emergence of the problem is new, and that it’s going to be difficult to tackle it in an uncertain, postmodern age.

A broadly Green Criminological/ Marxist Perspective on Green Crime

According to Marxists, the single biggest cause of Environmental Crimes according to Marxists (and most of the Green Movement) is Industrial Capitalism

Given that the primary aim of most governments is achieving economic growth, and the means whereby we achieve this is through producing and consuming stuff, Marxists would not expect any significant global agreement safeguarding the environment until Capitalism is either eradicated or severely controlled. As it stands, companies are all too often given the green light by governments to extract and pollute.

Marxists offer an alternative analysis of the consequences of Green Crime to that of Ulrich Beck. Marxists argue that current social divisions are actually reinforced in the face of environmental harms, with poor people bearing the brunt of harms.

An important part of a Marxist analysis of green crime is to explore who the victims of green crime are, and the victims of pollution tend to be the poorest in society. We have already explored things like the Bhopal Tragedy and the many victims in the developing world of Corporate extraction, but another interesting line of analysis here is that of ‘eco-racism’

Sources

I used two text books to put the first half of this together – Chapman and Webb, the last two points I mainly made up myself!

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Displacing the Poor from London (and its relevance to critical victimology)

Local Councils in London are increasingly resorting to moving poor homeless families out of London, because they can’t afford to meet their housing needs within London. In most cases they’re being moved to Kent and Essex, but in sometimes moves are made much further afield:

What the map above shows is the literal relocation of the poor – shifting poverty out of London and into poorer parts of the country. It’s the real life version of what happened at the end of ‘People Just do Nothing’.

The main cause: the high price of housing in the capital, fuelled by 30 years of cheap mortgages and foreign speculative investment on property in London.

The negative consequences for the poor 

At the very least these families are being removed from all of their local social connections and having their children’s schooling disrupted,  but in some cases they suffer much worse: cramped housing conditions and being housed in the same block of flats as ex criminals, as the recent case study of Terminus House suggests….

Various London councils have housed hundreds of poor recently-made homeless Londoners at Terminus House in Harlow, Essex, several miles outside of London.

The building is a 1960s 14 story, former office block converted into flats and run by the private company Caridon Property since April 2018.

The problem is that the complex is also home to several ex-offenders, including at least 25 people recently released from prison, and it’s something of a crime hot-spot, with high levels of anti-social behaviour, burglary and criminal damage.

Police figures show that in the first 10 months after people moved in, crime within Terminus House itself rose by 45%, and within by 20% within a 500m radius of the property.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This strikes me as a great example of how the poor in London are the victims of local council policies (not defined as illegal of course) – they get moved out from their local areas, and then are more likely to become the victims of crime. It illustrates perfectly how the poor are more likely to be victims of social injustice and crime than the rich!

Sources 

https://www.essexlive.news/news/essex-news/harlow-terminus-house-nightmare-tower-2721068

 

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How the rich cheat their way into elite universities

Federal prosecutors in the U.S. recently charged dozens of wealthy parents with committing fraud in attempts to get their children into elite universities such as Yale and Stanford.

Parents have adopted strategies which range from faking athletic records and test scores to outright bribes.

Lori Loughlin (a sitcom star) and her husband Mossimo Giannulli (a fashion designer) allegedly paid $500 000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California’s rowing crew, even though they weren’t actually rowers.

Felicity Huffmann (of Desperate Housewives) allegedly paid $15 000 to an invigilator to ensure her daughter did well on a SATs test.

The institution which facilitated all of this elite education fraud was called ‘The Key’ – a ‘college counselling business’ in Sacremento which paid off invigilators to provided certain students will correct answers or even correct their test sheets. He also bribed college sports officials to take on students who didn’t play sports.

This was all covered up by getting parents to donate to a bogus charity to help disadvantaged students, in reality of course the money went to the bent officials faking the test scores etc.

NB – this may not actually be as bad as the legal situation – if you look at Harvard’s entrance stats, 42% of students whose parents made donations got in, compared to only 4.6% of the wider population, and of course the whole of the university system is already stacked in favour of the rich given that it’s so expensive to get a university degree!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is clearly relevant to the reproduction of class inequality within education, and supports the Marxist perspective on crime, within crime and deviance.

Sources 

https://www.thisisinsider.com/felicity-huffman-college-admissions-scheme-allegedly-disguised-bribe-as-charity-donation-2019-3

https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-idiots-guide-to-bribing-and-cheating-your-way-into-college-11552479762

https://www.vox.com/2015/6/15/8782389/harvard-donation-rebuttal

 

 

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China – The World’s Biggest Tech Thief?

Chinese theft of intellectual property from other countries (mainly the US and those in the EU) represents the greatest transfer of wealth in history according to Keith B Alexander, former director of the US National Security Agency.

intellectual property includes such things as patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and software, and China has a long history of stealing such things ever since it opened up its economy to foreign trade in the late 1970s. China has long been known as the country of origin for counterfeit DVDs (among other products), but more recently one its largest tech firms, the phone manufacturer Huwai was accussed of encouraging employees with bonuses for gathering confidential information from competitors.

To give you an idea of the scale of this, The United States estimated in 2017 that Chinese theft of American intellectual property costs between $225bn and $600bn annually,

The type of information stolen covers a huge range of sectors: everything from the designs for wind turbines to cars, medical devices and computer chips. In one infamous case, Germany’s Siemens introduced the high-speed train to China only to find that subsequent extensions of the system were manufactured by its Chinese partner, China National Railway Corporation, which had developed similar technology suspiciously quickly.

How has China managed this?

Back in day China was more likely to engage in full on cyber-espionage, but more recently it has developed a set of policies which forces foreign multinationals working in China to divulge secrets while they are forbidden similar access to Chinese companies’ information.

Technically this is against WTO rules, but it seems that China, being a ‘big player’ on the international scene can get away with this.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is a great example of a ‘state crime’ – state sponsored theft of intellectual property, and it’s a great example of a crime that up until this point has gone unpunished!

It also reminds us that where globalisation is concerned, there is no such thing as genuine free-trade, it’s only as free as the large nation states allow it to be.

NB – as a final note, Chinese intellectual property theft might be a thing of a past, China has invested so much in skilling its population up in technology that it is likely to become a cutting edge tech innovator in its own right in the not too distant future!

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Nine criticisms of the theory that school exclusions are to blame for knife crime

Last week, senior police chiefs wrote to Theresa May arguing that there was a link between the increase in the number of formal school exclusions and ‘off-rolling’ (where heads informally get parents to withdraw their children, without them being formally recorded as ‘permanently excluded’) and an increase in knife crime.

The theory is that those excluded or off-rolled are more likely to ‘drift’ because they are less effectively cared for and monitored in alternative provision institutions. The problem is believed to be especially bad for those who are off-rolled. When a pupil is off-rolled, the parents are responsible for finding alternative provision, and it is their kids who are much more likely to end up out of education altogether.

If we look at the stats, there does seem to be a correlation between the increase in school exclusions and the increase in knife crime:

School exclusions have been increasing since 2013

Knife crime has been increasing since 2015

And regionally:

HOWEVER, it is a well-known mantra in sociology that correlation doesn’t mean causation, and there is very good reason to think that this is the case here.

Numerous commentators (see below for links) have criticised the police for suggesting there is a causal link between the increase in exclusions and the increase in knife crime, and here’s a summary of why we should be critical…

Nine criticisms of the ‘school exclusions cause knife crime’ theory

  1. For starters, even with the above crude statistics there isn’t a perfect correlation – it’s true that London has a higher exclusion rate and knife crime rate than any other city, but then the West Midlands has a higher knife crime rate than Yorkshire and Humber, but a lower exclusion rate.
  2. The above data only includes formal exclusions, not off-rolling, so we don’t get a full picture (there are validity issues) – true, it might be more likely that someone who is off-rolled turns to knife crime compared to someone who is formally excluded, but I these figures don’t show us the off-rolling.
  3. This government report from June 2018 which examined the relationship between educational background and knife crime found that ‘knife possession rarely followed exclusion’.
  4. There may be another cause behind both ‘being excluded from school’ and ‘being convicted of knife crime’ – possibly rooted further in the past of these individuals, such as their having come from a troubled family and/ or having experienced neglect or abuse during their childhood.
  5. It is unfair to blame schools for excluding children in greater numbers as they have been hit by 10 years of Tory funding cuts – schools actively educate about not getting involved in knife crime, but have become less effective at dealing with ‘troubled kids’ because they now have fewer resources to help them do so.
  6. The fact that someone has previously been excluded from school may make it more likely that they are going to get a knife-crime conviction – being excluded from school puts you on the police radar and doesn’t sit well with judges and juries. It could be that there are proportionally just as many people who have not been excluded from school who commit knife crime, but they just don’t appear in the official statistics because they are less likely to get caught and convicted.
  7. Back to underlying causes, it’s possible that a ‘deeper’ reason lying behind why people who are excluded from school are also more likely to appear in the knife crime conviction figures is because they are victims of discrimination by the system – males, the poor, and African Caribbean children are more likely to appear in both the exclusion figures and the knife rime conviction figures – it could be that both are caused by a sense of injustice at being excluded in the first place.
  8. The stats available to us tell us nothing about the life-histories, or the journies people take from being excluded (or not) to knife-crime. This could be a more complex few years than we imagine, and these possibly diverse journies are simply not going to be unveiled by crude statistical analysis. The data simply isn’t there!
  9. Finally, there are number of other variables that cause knife crime to increase – the changing nature of drug-dealing (county lines), and cuts to police funding come to mind as being two of the most obvious. These would somehow need to be factored in to any ‘causal’ equation.

In conclusion it’s a well-known mantra in sociology that correlation does not mean causation, and this particular topic is a great one to use to illustrate this.

To my mind there are so many problems with maintaining the causality argument here that the only possible reason anyone would try to make it in the first place is to distract attention away from all the other social problems that correlate with the increase in knife crime – the kind of problems government policies either exacerbate or can do little to combat.

Relevance to A-level Sociology: this is a great topic that bridges education, methods and crime!

Sources not already linked above

Huffington Post – Don’t blame school exclusions for rise in knife crime

The Guardian – Knife crime and exclusions are a symptom of wider malaise.

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How do we explain the surge in knife crime?

Fatal Stabbings in England and Wales are now taking place at the quickest rate since records began in 1946 (Source: The Guardian). This is clearly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module!

Two recent cases suggest that violent crime is getting out of control – Jodie Chesney was stabbed in the back while chatting with her friends in a park in Romford and in an unrelated case, Yousef Makki was stabbed to death in a leafy suburb of Cheshire. Neither victims appeared to have any links to violent individuals or crime.

According to Brooke Kinsella in the Daily Telegraph, Knife crime spiked at the beginning of the decade and then fell for several years, due to a range of policies from increased mandatory sentencing for knife crime and improved youth services

However, it started to increase again from about three years ago, with a sudden spike last year, so the above two cases do seem to be part of a recent trend.

Possible reasons behind the recent increase in knife crime 

  • There have been £250 million in budge cuts in this areas since 2010, resulting in the loss of 20 000 police and cuts to youth mental health services.
  • The growing number of children being excluded from school has also been highlIghted in the news recently, something I’ve blogged about here, and something I’ll probably come back to later as well!
  • Writing in The Times, former MET police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe suggests the rise is linked to a increased supply of cocaine from Colombia – resulting in a price fall and more competition between drugs gangs for business. So the roots here are global.
  • Related to the above, county lines also have something to do with it according this Guardian article.

To my mind, it’s likely a combination of factors that are driving this… genuine ‘external causes caused by the influx of drugs and then failed Tory policies – a double header of marketisation leading to increased exclusions (as schools look to boost their league table position) and funding cuts leaving the poor with little option other than to turn to crime.

Maybe all we’re seeing in these innocent victims of knife crime is years of neoliberalism finally catching up with the middle classes?

 

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How effectively does the government deal with criminal employers who fail to pay the minimum wage?

The National Minimum Wage is currently £5.20 and hour for 18-20 olds, rising to £7.83 per hour for those aged 25 and over.

According to one recent study (based on a survey of 4000 workers), 20% of 18-30 year-olds reported being paid less than the minimum wage, which is, on the part of their employers, illegal.

Formal detection and prosecution rates, however, are much lower than this reported 20%…

Between 2013-2018 the government fined around 17, 000 employers for failing to pay their workers the minimum wage, with a total number of 67 000 workers being underpaid. Collectively, these criminal employers have had to pay £9 million in back pay for and have been fined an additional £6.3 million in total.

The most likely offenders were retail and hospitality, but it’s not just small businesses illegally underpaying their workers, there are some big names in there too, such as certain branches of Wagamama’s and TGI Friday’s.

Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 10.06.31.png

The stats suggest that the government isn’t punishing these criminal employers sufficiently 

  • This doesn’t seem to be very ‘victim centred’ – from the perspectives of the victims (the underpaid workers) – If you work out the average underpayment (£9m/ 67K) this = £134 per worker, now this not may sound like a lot, but if you’re on minimum wage, then this could well be a significant amount of money!
  • The government has the power to fine underpaying employers 200% of wages not paid, whereas if they’re paying back £6 million on £9 million not paid, this is nearer 60%. Minimum wage is around £7, and if you get caught underpaying then you pay an additional £4 on top – it is a deterrent, but not much of one… these are the kind of figures that could well encourage some employers to gamble and try and get away with underpaying workers.
  • As far as I’m aware, none of these criminal employers have gone to jail for failing to pay minimum wage, they have only been fined, so there’s no physical deterrent – unlike if you steal something, which is basically what this is.
  • Add to this the fact that these employers have to know what they are doing… underpaying the minimum wage simply is not something you can do accidentally! The above fines seem like very soft punishment for powerful actors pre-meditatively steeling from their vulnerable workers.

So it appears if you’re unfortunate enough to be employed by an employer who breaks the law and pays you less than the minimum wage, then you’re not going to get justice under the present government.

Overall this seems to be great evidence to support the marxist theory of crime and punishment – the idea that elites do not get punished effectively when they break the law.

 

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A Useful Example of a ‘State Crime’ – The British Government’s Illegal Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

The British government has been accused of breaking international law by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

A recent report by the International Relations Committee (made up of members of the House of Lords) has concluded that it’s highly likely that British Weapons are the cause of significant civilian casualties’ in Yemen, where Saudi-backed forces are fighting Houthi rebels.

A few stats on the Saudi-Yemen conflict and Britain’s role in it…

  • Britain has sold £4.5 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began in 2015.
  • Independent experts have estimated that around 150 civilians died every month in autumn 2018 as a result of Saudi airstrikes.
  • 85 000 children have died of famine or disease since the conflict began, and a further 14 million people are at risk of famine.

The report concluded that the UK government is just on the wrong side of international humanitarian law, because on balance of evidence it believes that the Saudis are using British weapons to kill civilians.

The report recommends that the UK government should be making independent checks to see if UK- arms are being used illegally by the Saudis, instead relying on ‘inadequate’ investigations by the Saudis themselves.

Germany and Norway have already banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, based on their own independent assessments of the Saudi’s killing of civilians in Yemen.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a contemporary example of a state crime – the UK government selling arms to a country which then uses them to kill non-combatant civilians, which is in breach of international humanitarian law.

It’s also a good example of how ‘money trumps human rights’, or at least how it trumps the human rights of the 100s of civilians being killed each month in Yemen. £1 billion a year in arms sales is a LOT of money, it represents a lot of UK jobs, and a lot of tax revenue for the UK government.

It’s also a good example of selection-bias on the part of the UK government – they choose not to listen to certain independent reports of Saudi Arabia’s illegal use of UK weapons, because then it makes it possible to carry on profiting from selling them arms.

It’s also worth pointing out how agenda setting in the media works to keep the Yemen tragedy out of the news – this is largely a conflict which is hidden from view. To give you some idea of how long this has been going on for, Dianne Abbot pointed the illegality of the conflict back in 2016!

Finally, it’s evidence of the continued importance of nation states in our globalised world… Saudi Arabia depends on the UK government to legitimise its war in Yemen.