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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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What to do about Shamima Begum?

Shamima Begum was just 15 years old when she left her home in Bethnal Green, London, to join Islamic State in Syria. Now, four years later, she has witnessed two of her children die of illness and malnutrition, and fears for the life of her third child, born in a refugee camp in Eastern Syria, from where she’s requested to return to the UK, having shown no remorse for her dealings with ISIS.

The ‘punishment’, if we can call it that, is to strip of her of UK citizenship, which the Home Secretary can only do in this case because he believes Begum has the right to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship, even though she has never visited Bangladesh.

Interestingly, the UK government isn’t simply allowed to strip an individual of their citizenship and render them stateless, they are only allowed to do so in begum’s case because her Bangladeshi heritage allows her to apply for citizenship there. However, the Bangladeshi authorities say she won’t be allowed in. 

This article in The Conversation provides an accessible insight into the legality of revoking citizenship.

Even if the UK government is legally allowed to strip Begum of citizenship, this still feels like the UK government is somehow denying responsibility for Begum – surely it would be more appropriate to bring her back to the UK, put her on trial, and actually punish her as the UK citizen she really is, rather than trying to revoke it.

The argument that she’s ‘our responsibility’ is rooted in the fact that she was radicalised in the UK and managed to leave without any effective ‘safeguarding intervention’.

What the UK government’s response shows is just how difficult it is for nation states to deal with such international criminals…. Maybe it’s because we’ve got no long-term solutions? Maybe the government doesn’t want to bring her back because the population would be so against it, as 78% of the population believe she should have had her citizenship revoked.

Shamima Begum

This could very well (probably is) an example of popular punitiveness, despite the fact that she’s not really being punished as such!

However, just passing the buck onto another country because of a legal technicality doesn’t seem right, and what kind of message does this send out about how to deal with international criminals more generally?

Whatever your opinion on the Shamima Begum case, it certainly illustrates a the problems of dealing out justice where international crimes which cross boarders are concerned, and maybe suggests that nation states are too small to deal with such criminals?

Maybe we need to take a lesson from Escape to LA? Rather than nation states dealing with them in country of origin, we just put by stateless regions on earth, and build a wall round them, and see how they get on…?

We could also film it with drones and turn it into a form of entertainment….. the scary thing is this doesn’t actually sound that far-fetched, I can actually see most people getting on board with the idea!

 

 

 

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Jailing Drill Musicians – justified, or a moral panic?

In January two ‘drill’ musicians from the Brixton group 410 were effectively jailed for playing a particular song: ‘Attempted 1.0’. Two artists from the group, Skengdo and AM, both received 9-month suspended sentences for performing this song.

Here it is with lyrics:

It’s still up as of 20th Feb…. I don’t how much longer it will remain up, but while it does it’ll give you a pretty good idea of what the authorities may have deemed to offensive: the strap-line for a start… ‘attempted… should’ve been a murder’ and then all the various references to guns and people getting knifed.

The problem is, by performing this song 410 weren’t technically engaged in an illegal act. The laws preventing inciting of violence only apply to specific acts, and this is not the case with this song.

The two artists were actually found guilty of breaking a criminal behaviour order (CB0) that had forbidden them from mentioning death, injury or rival drill crews in their songs. The nine-month suspended sentence is for breaking the CBO not inciting violence, which they weren’t technically doing by performing their song.

The authorities have criminalised this non-criminal act for these particular artists.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a good example of a ‘right realist’ policy in action – In fairness to the authorities, there has been a recent increase in knife crime, and this is all part of the response to that. I imagine most of the public would agree with this harsh treatment.

And it’s fair to say that some Drill songs which have been put up on YouTube do have specific references to gang’s ‘score cards’ and specific knife and gun and attacks. So there is a real basis for all of this it’s not just hyperreal. 

Moral Panic Drill.png

However, it also relates to the labelling theory of crime – here we have a legal act (performing a song) which is turned into an illegal act for this specific band by the actions of the authorities. Maybe this is an unnecessary moral panic about this form of artistic expression?

What ‘blaming Drill’ for the increase in knife crime fails to take account of is all of other underlying factors which result in inner city violence – such as funding cuts, relative deprivation, poverty, and structural inequalities which stretch back to the 1980s. 

This is also a new development in the censorship of particular cultural forms: using ASBOs to effectively restrict certain forms of freedom of speech. What’s next I wonder:

– Banning violent video games?
– Preventing campaigners discuss poverty and inequality?
– or climate change?

It’s highly unlikely that Criminal Behaviour Orders are going to be used to stop people spreading Fake News or Politicians lying to us.

Sources

The Guardian

Vice – A nice article on the moral panic over Drill. 

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Victimology

Victimology is the study of who the victims of crime are, why they are victims, and what we can do about this.

 

Victimology is a relatively recent edition to the A-level sociology Crime and Deviance specification, and is mainly addressed through applying the sociological perspectives.

Patterns of Victimisation

The risk of being a victim of crime varies by social groups.

  • Social Class – The poorest groups are actually more likely to be victims of crime. The Crime Survey of England and Wales shows us that crime rates are higher in areas of high unemployment and deprivation.
  • Age – Younger people are more at risk of victimisation – those most at risk of being murdered are infants under one (infanticide), while teenagers are more vulnerable than adults to assault, sexual harassment, theft and abuse. While older people might be abused in care homes, this is something of a media stereotype, in general the risk of victimisation declines with age.
  • Ethnicity – minority ethnic groups are at greater risk than whites of being victims of crime, as well as of racially motivated crimes. In relation to the police, ethnic minorities, the young and the homeless are more likely to report feeling under-protected and over controlled.
  • Gender – Males are at greater risk of being victims of violent attacks, about 70% of homicide victims are male. However, women are more likely to victims of domestic violence than me, sexual violence, people trafficking and rape as a weapon of war.
  • Repeat Victimisation – There are a few people who are unfortunate enough to be a victim of crime many times over. According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, a mere 4% of people are victims of 44% of all crimes in any one year. In contrast, 60% of people experience no crime in any given year.

Evaluation – Where do these statistics come from?

The most representative Victim Survey is The Crime Survey of England and Wales. This covers approximately 35 000 adults in England and Wales in private households. The survey asks about crime the individuals have been victims of within the last year, and asks whether they reported these crimes to the police.

A problem with this survey is that certain aspects of victimisation are absent:

    • Some people are missing from it – such as children and the homeless
    • Some crimes are not asked about – e.g. corporate crimes
    • Some crimes even if asked about might still be under-reported (e.g. domestic violence because of the setting)

Sociological Perspectives applied to Victimology Positivist Victimology

  • Mier’s (1989) defines Positivist victimology as having three main features:
  1. It aims to identify the factors that produce the above patterns in victimisation
  2. It focuses on interpersonal crimes of violence
  3. It aims to identify how victims have contributed to their own victimisation.
  • Earlier Positivist studies focussed on the idea of ‘victim proneness’, seeking to identify the social and psychological characteristics of victims that make them different from and more vulnerable than non-victims. For example, Von Hentig (1948) identified 13 characteristics of victims, such as that they are more likely to females, elderly and ‘mentally subnormal’. The implication is that the victims in some sense ‘invite’ victimisation because of who they are.
  • An example of positivist victimology is Marvin Wolfgang’s (1958) study of 588 homicides in Philadelphia. He found that 26% involved victim precipitation – the victim triggered the events leading to the homicide, for instance, being the first to use violence.

Evaluations of Positivist Victimology

  1. It is easy to tip over into ‘victim blaming’.
  2. Positivism tends to focus on ‘traditional crime’s – it doesn’t look at green crime and corporate crime for example.
  1. It ignores wider structural factors such as poverty and powerlessness which make some people more likely to be victims than others.

Critical Victimology

Critical victimology is based on conflict theories such as Marxism and Feminism. From a critical point of view the powerless are most likely to be victimised and yet the least likely to have this acknowledged by the state (this is known as the ‘hierarchy of victimisation’).

victims grenfell tower
Victims of the Grenfell Tower Fire, June 2017.

  • Critical Criminology focuses on two elements: the role of structural factors in explaining patterns of victimisation and power of the state to deny certain victims victim status.
  • Structural factors are important in explaining why some people are more likely to be victims of crime than others. Factors such as poverty and patriarchy make some people more likely to victims of crime than others.
  • Structural factors are important, because from a Marxist perspective because poverty and inequality breed crime and thus living in a poor area means that you are more likely to be both a criminal and a victim of crime while Feminists emphasise that the structure of Patriarchy perpetuates crimes against women such as sex-trafficking and domestic violence, meaning that women are far more likely to be victims of sex-crimes than men.
  • At another level, global power structures mean that many people are the victims of harms done by Western Corporations and State Crimes carried out by Western World Governments (Bhopal and the Drone Wars are two good examples) and yet victims in faraway places are highly unlikely to see justice.
  • Criminologists who focus on ethnicity and crime would also suggest that Structural Racism means it more likely that ethnic minorities are going to face not only racial crime from the general public, but also discrimination at the hands of the police. Refer to the ethnicity and crime material for more details!
  • To overcome this, critical criminologists suggest that criminologists should focus on ‘Zemiology’ (the study of harm) rather than the study of crime, to pick up on the true nature and extent of victimisation in the world today.
  • The state’s power to apply or deny the label of victim can distort the actual extent of victimisation. From a critical criminological perspective, the state often sides with the powerful, and does not define their exploitative and harmful acts as crimes. Tombs and Whyte (2007) for example showed that employers’ violations of health and safety law which lead to thousands of deaths of workers in the UK each year are typically explained away as industrial accidents, thus leaving no one to blame and leaving the injured and dead workers as non-victims.
  • From a Feminist point of view sexism within the CJS means that most women who are victims of DV and rape fail to come forward, and those who are do are often treated as the guilty party themselves in court, and so are often denied formal victim status and justice.
  • Tombs and White note that there is an ideological function of this ‘failure to label’ or ‘de- labelling’ – by concealing the true extent of victimisation and its real causes, it hides the crimes of the powerful and denies the victims any justice.

Evaluations of Critical Victimology

  • It disregards the role victims may play in bringing crime on themselves (e.g. not making their home secure).
  • Realists argue that it isn’t the job of criminologists to criticise governments and the police, this isn’t the most effective way to reduce crime and thus help victims of ‘ordinary crimes’ such as street violence and burglary.

Sources:

A combination of the main A-level text books were used to write this post.

 

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Sociological Perspectives on the Environment Protests in London

Thousands of protestors have been engaging in various acts of civil disobedience to protest the British government’s lack of action over climate change.

The week’s protests culminated in up to 6000 people blocking bridges causing significant traffic disruption as well as some of them gluing their hands to the department of the environment’s building.

The protestors say they are doing this because they’ve tried everything else to get the government to take effective action on climate change, but to no avail, and this seems to be something of a last resort!

To find out more you can read this news article here.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

The people who took part in these protests will almost certainly identify themselves as ‘global citizens’ taking part in a global social movement to being about positive social change. It’s a nice illustration of people engaging in life-Politics (Anthony Giddens’ concept) – it’s highly likely that if you’re committed enough to engage in this level of civil disobedience for the sake of the planet, then you probably live your life in an environmentally friendly way.

These protests and the people who took part in them are most definitely not ‘postmodern‘ – they clearly believe in ‘the truth’ of climate change as outlined by the United Nations, so it’s a nice reminder that not everything about British society is ‘post modern’, this is very much more ‘late modern’ – people coming together to effect what they perceive as positive social change.

It’s also a good example of Giddens’ theory that in the context of globalisation, nation states are too small to solve big problems such as climate change – and this is possibly why so many governments have been ‘dragging their feet’ over taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions…. they can use the fact that ‘they are just one nation among 200’ to not do anything.

Of course, it’s also a straightforward example of positive cultural (and kind of political) globalisation.

If you’re an optimist you could interpret these events through a Functionalist lens – it’s possible that these people are showing us the ‘morality of the future’ – they actually identify explicitly with the Civil Rights activists of the 1960s.

Finally, I think this is an example of secondary green crime…. a crime (the public order offences which led to several arrests) emerging out of a conflict over the environment. it may not be because this concept is not explained very clearly in the A-level text books!

 

 

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Evaluate the usefulness of functionalist approaches in understanding crime and deviance (30)

This is an example of a 25/30 answer to the above question, as marked by the AQA.

In the pictures below, I’ve highlighted all of the candidate’s evaluations in red to show you the balance of knowledge and evaluation required to get into the top mark band!

This is also a good example of a borderline Band 4-Band 5 answer… it just wants a little more evaluation to go up even higher.

The mark scheme (top two bands)

crime-deviance-essay-full-mark-answer.png

Student’s Response (evaluation highlighted in red)

NB It’s the same response all the way through, I’ve just repeated the title on the two pages!

Evaluate functionalist views crime essay (30).png

Evaluate consensus theories crime (30).png

 

Examiner’s commentary

This is a thorough account of a range of functionalist studies. There is sophisticated understanding of the material presented.

Analysis is clear and the material is well explained using appropriate concepts. This conceptual detail in some evaluation is shown, although this is limited to internal evaluation between the various functionalist perspectives.

Other perspectives are only briefly mentioned in the final paragraph. This could be developed further to show a clear debate between perspectives. The answer shows application of material from the item and also from the student’s knowledge. This is accurately applied to the question.

The final concluding paragraph could be more developed. The brief points on Marxism and feminism could be developed throughout the answer rather then simply stated at the end.

Analysis is explicit and relevant.

Source 

AQA specimen material 2015

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Outline and explain two advantages of choosing overt participant observation as a source of data compared with covert participant observation (10)

This 10 mark (no item) question could appear at the end of either paper 1, or paper 3.

In this post I consider a ‘top band’ answer (provided by the AQA here) which achieved 10/10.

The Question

Outline and explain two advantages of choosing overt participant observation as a source of data compared with covert participant observation (10)

The Mark Scheme:

outline-explain-10-mark-question-mark-scheme-top-band.png

Note: there are no marks for evaluation on the 10 mark no item questions (there are for the ‘analyse with the item’ 10 mark questions!)

Student Response:

Highlighted to show the different stages of development.

One advantage is that participants are aware you are researching them and so you’re able to write down notes about what you are observing and record it. However, with covert PO you are unable to do so because it would be suspicious, especially if you are observing dangerous ways of life. For example, Venkatesh’s required covert PO as he was unable to write down all the information and relied on retrospective data – from his memory. This means the data could lack validity because he could have forgotten less important aspects from the observation. This issue doesn’t arise with overt observation and so the data is more likely to be valid. 

Overt PO is more objective and can be ethical. The participants are aware that the data is for a study and publication and they are less likely to withdraw. Whereas with covert PO, informed consent has not been collected and participants, after realising they have been deceived may choose to withdraw and not allow the researchers to use the data collected. This means that the data from covert PO may go unpublished and the researcher may have to reconduct another research method, wasting time and energy. 

Examiner Commentary: (10/10 marks)

outline-explain-10-mark-question-full-mark-commentary-2017

KT’s Commentary

  • It seems that the examiners just want you to explicitly compare overt with covert… simple really, punishingly simple.
  • And what was that your teacher told you about case studies?! Obviously here, they matter not at all!

 

 

Source:

Student responses with examiner
commentary
AS AND A-LEVEL
SOCIOLOGY
7193

Reproduced here for educational purposes!

 

 

 

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Outline and explain two arguments against the view that sociology is a science (10)

This 10 mark (no item) question could appear at the end of either paper 1, or paper 3.

In this post I consider a ‘top band’ answer (both are provided by the AQA here) which achieved 10/10.

NB – If you would like to attempt this question BEFORE looking at the full mark response below, then you can review the topic first by clicking here >>> ‘Is sociology a science?‘.

The Question (no item!)

‘Outline and explain two arguments against the view that sociology is a science’ (10)

The Mark Scheme:

A-level-sociology-7192-paper-1-outline-explain-10-mark-scheme

Note: there are no marks for evaluation on the 10 mark no item questions (there are for the ‘analyse with the item’ 10 mark questions!)

Student Response:

Highlighted to show the different stages of development

Interpretivism is the view that sociology is not a science. Interpretivists argue that, because humans think and reflect, scientific methods are inappropriate as they do not allow us to truly understand and dig beneath the surface of behaviours and actions. Unlike objects, which can be analysed using scientific methods, Interpretivists argue that human beings change their behaviour if they know they are being observed, called the Hawthorne Effect, therefore if we want to understand social action, we have to delve into meanings using qualitative, unscientific methods. Interpretivists are subjective, meaning science is not appropriate for sociology in their opinion as it gives objective results and data. Interpretivists argue that the purpose of sociology is to understand human behaviour, no quantify it using scientific methods, therefore it cannot possibly be a science.

Kuhn stated that science is paradigmatic, meaning there is a fixed set of rules and principles which science uses. It is like a set of norms and values and is accepted by all scientists. Therefore, according to Kuhn, sociology is pre-paradigmatic and hasn’t reached the stage where there is a general paradigm shared by most social scientists. This is seen by the fact that sociology has a range of views and theoretical perspectives and there is no agreed set of norms and values. Feminists will always disagree with functionalists. Sociological perspectives may also have internal disagreements such as Merton’s criticism of other functionalists. Those who criticise Kuhn, however, would question whether science itself has a paradigm. Many sciences exist with different sets of paradigms such as psychology

Examiner Commentary: (10/10 marks)

A-level-sociology-7192-paper-1-examiner-commentary

KT’s Commentary

If you’re freaked out by the above response, don’t be: if this wasn’t written by an examiner, it’s written by an outstanding candidate.

Students typically find this topic one of the most difficult, and most answers will come NO WHERE NEAR this standard.

Technically, I don’t think the last sentence should get any marks, because it is not focused on the actual question.

Source:

AQA 2015

Student responses with examiner
commentary
AS AND A-LEVEL
SOCIOLOGY
7191 AND 7192

Reproduced here for educational purposes!

 

 

 

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Contemporary Sociology: The Parsons Green Tube Bomber

The Tube Bomber: A “Duty” to Hate Britain?

The case of Ahmed Hassan, the 18 year old Iraqi asylum seeker who planted a homemade bomb onto a London tube train in September 2017, injuring 51 people is a good candidate for the most serious crime of 2017. Had his device worked properly (it ‘only’ created a fireball rather than actually exploding) dozens of people would have died.

Hassan was sentenced to life in March 2018, and ordered to serve a minimum of 34 years.

Hassan claimed that he never wanted to kill anyone, he said he was depressed and seeking attention and thrills, having watched Mission Impossible films and developed the fantasy of being a fugitive pursued by Interpol across Europe.

However, there was also the fact that he seemed to have harboured intense loathing of the UK, which he blamed for his death in an explosion in Iraq a decade ago. When he arrived in the UK in 2015 (illegally in the back of a lorry) he told immigration officials that he’d been seized by Islamic State and ‘trained to kill’ (although he claimed to have made this up in court); and he had previously been seen watching extremist videos and apparently sending money to Isis. He’d also told one of his teachers that he had a ‘duty to hate Britain’.

What’s interesting about this case, is how all of the ‘standard’ preventive measures just failed to work….he had been given a foster couple who ‘showered him with love’ and was getting on well with his education – in fact, he seemed to be flourishing, having been made student of the year in 2017 in his college in Surrey: although he actually used his £20 Amazon voucher prize to buy chemicals for his bomb, which he then packed with knives, screwdrivers and nails.

Hassan had also been referred to the ‘Prevent’ deradicalisation programme, but this clearly didn’t work, and social services didn’t even warn his foster parents about his extremist leanings.

Relevance to A-level sociology…

At first glance, this seems to be a good case study which illustrates the necessity the take a stronger line on illegal immigration…if someone can commit a crime of this magnitude with all of the Preventative measure we already have in place, surely it’s impossible to prevent something like this happening again? Maybe a tougher line on immigration would have prevented this?

However, what we’re not seeing with just one dramatic case study is the bigger picture – all of the other cases that the authorities are preventing with their various crime control techniques… and let’s not forget that in complex risk society it is practically impossible to eradicate all ‘bad things’ from happening, so perhaps we just have to need to learn to live with this without panicking unduly.

This could also possibly show us the failings of ‘categorical suspicion’ as a means of crime control – possibly the fact that Hassan had ‘good foster parents’ and he was doing well at college were enough for the authorities to disregard all the other warning signs?

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Applying material from Item A, analyse two reasons why situational crime prevention strategies may not be effective in reducing crime (10)

This is the 10 mark question in the crime and deviance section of the AQA’s 2015 Specimen A-level sociology paper 3: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods.

I used this question as part of our department’s own paper 3 mock exam this year (February 2018).

In this post I consider a ‘lower middle mark band’ student response (4/10 marks) to this question and the examiner commentary (both are provided by the AQA here) before considering what a ‘top band’ answer might look like.

The Question (with the item!)

sociology exam question

The Mark Scheme:

AQA sociology 10 mark question mark scheme.png

Student Response:

student response.png

Examiner Commentary: (4/10 marks)

sociology examiner commentary.png

A top band answer?

The first problem with situational crime prevention techniques such as installing burglar alarms is that they mail fail to increase the risk of getting caught in the subjective opinion of the burglars.

Many criminals are indeed rational and thus may reason that burglar alarms are ineffective – most members of the general public ignore them after all, and some may even be ‘fake’. There is also the fact that the police may take a long time to respond to an alarm, thus if criminals can act quickly enough, they may ‘calculate’ that they can get away with a smash and grab type robbery before the police respond, thus reducing the likelihood of getting caught.

A more effective form of situational crime prevention, other than a burglar alarm, might be a security guard, which would increase the risk of getting caught significantly as they can simply phone the police if there is any suspicious behaviour nearby.

However, security guards are expensive compared to alarms, and so while those places which hire security guards may be protected, crime will just be displaced to those areas with lesser protection (like ineffective alarms or no alarms’.

Finally, if we apply Felson’s ‘Routine Activity Theory’, we know that criminals ‘size up’ their targets when going about their day to day business, so they know the areas which are the least effectively protected and the least risky…. thus target hardening strategies like those mentioned in item are only going to be effective if all properties. use them equally, which is unlikely.

A second problem with Situational Crime Prevention talked about in item A is that not all crime is a rational decision, some crimes are done on the ‘spur of the moment’, for the ‘thrill of the act’, or out of sheer desperation.

Situational Crime Prevention failed, for example, to prevent the London Riots happening – here many of the rioters engaged in looting and vandalism in order to ‘have fun and join in with the party atmosphere’ despite the fact that all of the properties looted were locked and under surveillance, and there being thousands of police on the streets.

The Riots were also fueled by a sense of injustice at police brutality and economic inequality, which suggests that inequality in society ultimately fuels crime, which can spill-over at flash points, no matter how much one ‘hardens targets’: and target hardening does nothing to address the underlying causes of crime such as injustice and inequality.

Another example of a crime which is not rational is football hooliganism – which increasingly just seems to be about ‘fun’ – ‘teams’ of hooligans arrange fights after the match for thrills, and it is difficult to see how situational crime prevention can reduce this, as it’s just about ‘fun’ rather than ‘reward’ in the eyes of those involved.