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Political Violence and Crime  

Vincenzo Ruggiero

Political violence includes an array of conducts and events that defy unilateral examination. It may be authorized or unauthorized violence, and while the latter is almost always associated with crime, the former is normally deemed an expression of the legitimate monopoly in the use of force characterizing modern societies. There are institutional and anti-institutional forms of political violence, namely violence of the authority and violent expressions of defiance against authority. Both have been the object of analysis by sociologists and criminologists, with some contending that theories of “common” violence should be applied to the analysis of political violence. It is assumed, for example, that both types of violence possess a goal-directed character: achieving results, extracting something of value from others, or exercising justice by punishing wrongdoers. Other analysts, however, link political violence with social conflict derived from collective grievance around inequality and injustice, thus locating this type of violence within the tradition of social movement analysis and the dynamics of collective action. Conflict theory provides a prime framework for this type of analysis, which focuses on contentious issues, organizational matters, and the shaping of identities that lead aggrieved groups to turn to violence. Sociological and criminological theories also offer a rich analytical patrimony that helps focusing on political crime committed by states and their representatives occupying powerful social positions. Many contributions, in this respect, cover atrocities perpetrated by institutional actors and the different forms of conscious, unconscious, personal, cultural, or official denial accompanying such atrocities. The term political crime, therefore, ends up relating to state crime, political and administrative corruption, and a variety of crimes of the elite normally included under the umbrella definition “the crimes of the powerful.” Conversely, when the focus moves onto political violence perpetrated by anti-institutional or non-state actors, the term “terrorism” is usually referred to, a term that is not likely to meet universal acceptance or unquestioned adoption due to the difficulties social scientists find in defining it. In sum, political violence and crime present scholars and practitioners with the same ambiguity that connotes definitions of social behavior and the processes of its criminalization. Such ambiguity becomes clear if, as proposed in the following pages, political violence and crime are examined through multidisciplinary lenses, particularly those offered by social theory, philosophy, and political science, along with criminology.

Article

Prison Abolition  

Kayla M. Martensen and Beth E. Richie

Prison abolition as an American movement, strategy, and theory has existed since the establishment of prison as the primary mode of punishment. In many of its forms, it is an extension of abolition movements dating back to the inception of slavery. The long-term goal of prison abolition is for all people to live in a safe, liberated, and free world. In practice, prison abolition values healing and accountability, suggesting an entirely different way of living and maintaining relationships outside of oppressive regimes, including that of the prison. Prison abolition is concerned with the dismantling of the prison–industrial complex and other oppressive institutions and structures, which restrict true liberation of people who have been marginalized by those in power. These structures include white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and ablest and heteronormative ideologies. The origins of the prison regime are both global and rooted in history with two fundamental strategies of dominance, the captivity of African-descended peoples, and the conquest of Indigenous and Aboriginal peoples, land and resource. Similarly, the origins of prison abolition begin with the resistance of these systems of dominance. The contemporary prison abolition movement, today, is traced to the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971 when incarcerated people in the New York prison rebelled and demanded change in the living conditions inside prison. The nature of the uprising was different from prior efforts, insofar as the organizers’ demands were about fundamental rights, not merely reforms. Throughout the history of abolition work, there is continuous division between reform and abolition organizers. When the lives, voices, and leadership of the people most impacted by the violence of these oppressive regimes is centered, there is minimal space for discussion of reform. Throughout the abolition movement in America, and other western cultures, the leadership of Black, Indigenous, women, and gender-nonconforming people of color play a pivotal role. By centering the experiences of those most vulnerable, abolitionists understand prison does not need to be reformed and is critical of fashionable reforms and alternatives to prisons which are still rooted in carceral logic.

Article

Public Knowledge About White-Collar Crime  

Cedric Michel

A considerable body of research on societal response to white-collar and corporate crime has evidenced a hardening of public attitudes, including increased perceived seriousness of upper-class criminality and punitiveness toward its perpetrators. These findings suggest that, over time, the public has gained a better understanding of white-collar crime and its deleterious social impact. However, none of the opinion surveys included a direct measure of public knowledge. As a result, it is difficult to determine to which extent U.S. citizens are objectively informed about crimes of the powerful. In fact, only a few studies have focused exclusively on the intersection between knowledge about white-collar crime and sentiment toward it. These scholarly efforts have concluded that the American people continue to underestimate the actual financial and physical consequences of white-collar crime, which may be the result of selective reporting by the mass media and biased research foci by scholars. By choosing to focus on traditional criminal law violations, such as homicide and theft, and relegating white-collar offenses to the rank of victimless crimes, journalists and criminologists have contributed to the construction and propagation of myths about upper-world criminality. In turn, continuous adherence to these myths might lead to polarized opinions about which type of penal policy to adopt against white-collar crime.

Article

Punishment, Marxism, and Political Economy  

Alessandro De Giorgi

The political economy of punishment is a critical approach within the sociology of punishment that hypothesizes the existence of a structural relationship between transformations of the economy and changes in the penal field. Inspired by a neo-Marxist framework, this materialist critique of punishment explores—from both a historical and a contemporary perspective—the connections between the reorganization of a society’s system of production and the emergence, persistence, or decline of specific penal practices. Thus, materialist criminologists have investigated the parallel historical emergence of factories as the main sites of capitalist production and of prisons as the main institutions of punishment in modern societies. Scholars in the field have also explored the correlations between incarceration rates and socioeconomic indicators, such as unemployment rates, poverty levels, welfare regimes, and labor markets. This materialist framework has been criticized in mainstream criminological literature for its alleged economic determinism. In particular, critiques have focused on the theory’s tendency to overlook the cultural significance of punishment and the politico-institutional dimensions of penality, as well as on its exclusive emphasis on the instrumental side of penal practices as opposed to their symbolic dimensions. In response to these critiques, some recent works have tried to integrate the old political economy of punishment with epistemological tools from different disciplinary fields in order to overcome some of the limitations of the materialist approach. This broadening of the structural paradigm in criminology could point toward the envisioning of a “cultural political economy of punishment.” Particularly in its more recent iterations, the materialist critique of punishment provides a powerful lens for investigating current transformations in the penal field, such as the advent of mass incarceration and the ongoing prison crisis in the United States.

Article

Race and Re-Entry After Incarceration  

Kayla M. Hoskins and Kaelyn Sanders

Racially minoritized individuals experience distinct challenges to re-entry following incarceration in early 21st-century United States. Mass incarceration and tough-on-crime policies have contributed to a system that disproportionately punishes and incarcerates racially minoritized people. For the correctional system, these racial and ethnic disparities translate to issues related to “successful” community re-entry following incarceration. Traditionally, re-entry success has been considered to be avoidance of lawbreaking. However, ideas about re-entry success have developed to include broader concepts of successful reintegration into society. Prominent scholarship investigating criminal justice policies, procedures, and processes has made strides in identifying facilitators and barriers to successful reintegration for formerly incarcerated individuals and has uncovered obstacles uniquely faced by minoritized groups. Specifically, researchers have identified racially disparate correctional issues in areas such as probation and parole experiences, familial ties, resource access, employment and educational opportunities, community disadvantage, civic disenfranchisement, and access to quality health care. Recent scholarship has provided a wealth of considerations to ameliorate these obstacles to re-entry. Withal, extant research indicates a need for reform initiatives targeted to meet the needs of diverse correctional populations, including a shift toward equitable evidence-based policies and interventions and show support for positive re-entry outcomes for minoritized incarcerated and re-entering persons. Assisting re-entering individuals with accessing vital resources (e.g., health care, housing, government assistance), equipping them with necessary skills to live stable and independent lives (e.g., prison-based services, educational assistance, professional training, employment opportunities), promoting healthy connections with their families and communities, and restoring their civic power are all steps that evidence supports to improve re-entry success and reintegration. Continued research on these areas and race is essential to understanding the dimensions of disparate re-entry experiences and creating an even road to successful reintegration after incarceration.

Article

Selling Sex in a Global Context  

Aimee Wodda and Meghna Bhat

Commercial sex continues to be an object of debate in the realm of criminological and criminal justice. The regulation of commercial sex in a global context varies due to local law, culture, and custom. Global criminolegal responses to selling sex include criminalization, decriminalization, abolition, neo-abolition, and legalization. In recent decades, global public policymakers have become increasingly concerned with the public health aspects associated with negative outcomes related to the criminalization of the purchase, facilitation, and/or sale of sex. These concerns include violence against those who sell sex, stigma when attempting to access healthcare and social services, increased risk of sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs) including HIV/AIDS, and economic vulnerability that leaves many who sell sex unable to negotiate the use of condoms and at risk of police arrest for carrying condoms. Those most at risk of harm tend to be young people, LGBTQ populations, and people who are racial or ethnic minorities within their communities—these are often intersecting identities. Organizations such as Amnesty International, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, UN AIDS, and the World Health Organization recommend decriminalization of commercial sex in order to reduce stigma and increase positive health outcomes. Scholars have also examined the challenges faced by migrant sex workers and the problematic effects of being labeled a victim of trafficking. Contemporary strategies geared toward reducing harm for those who sell sex tend to focus on rights issues and how they affect the well-being of those who sell sex.

Article

State Crime  

Thomas MacManus

While state crime is a relatively recent event in the discipline of criminology, tracing the roots of its modern form to the 1990s, it has attracted some of the best minds to research and theorize on the immense and fatal excesses of the modern nation state. State crime is defined most convincingly by Penny Green and Tony Ward as state organizational deviance involving the violation of human rights. The crimes are organizational in nature and are carried out by vast state systems and corporate structures. This approach can be contrasted with the individual criminal liability, “scapegoat” ideology of international criminal law and other criminal law regimes. The definition relies on the criminological concept of deviance, a label applied by a social audience, to make up for the lack of criminal legal definition of the behaviors, legitimacy, and human rights norms in order to differentiate it from crimes that are carried out without harm to human or planet (such as minor international economic treaty violations). A sub-field of state crime, state-corporate crime has developed to track those crimes which occur at the intersection of the state and the market.

Article

Theory and Green Criminology  

Kimberly L. Barrett and Rachelle F. Marshall

Green criminology refers to a perspective within criminology that, broadly speaking, is devoted to the study of crime against and harms to the natural environment. Initially, green criminology was introduced as the study of environmental harm from a political-economic vantage point and was informed by theories from critical, radical, and political-economic (e.g., “conflict paradigm”) perspectives. Over time, however, new definitions of green criminology have emerged, as have new terms for the criminological study of environmental crimes (e.g., “conservation criminology”). These developments have invited new theoretical interpretations of environmental crime and justice. While conflict theories still maintain a degree of centrality in green criminology, the perspective has expanded to include mainstream theoretical orientations (e.g., “classical paradigm,” “consensus/positivist paradigm”) as well.

Article

Using Social Media to Resist Gender Violence—A Global Perspective  

Bianca Fileborn and Rachel Loney-Howes

The development of social media, and Web 2.0 more broadly, has revolutionized all aspects of our social, cultural, and political lives. Notably, social media and online platforms have opened up space for resisting gender-based violence (GBV) in a way that, in some respects, was not possible “offline.” Some authors, drawing on Nancy Fraser, have conceptualized online spaces as a form of “counter-public”—a site in which collective and individual resistance to, and contestation of, dominant norms is enabled. Given the well-documented trajectories of victim-blaming and the perpetuation of various myths and misperceptions in relation to gender violence, social media spaces can function as a counter-public or countercultural forum in which victim-survivors can give voice to their experiences in their own words, and in doing so challenge persistent norms and stereotypes. Such practices have been documented across the Global North and South, with the potential of social media as a space of resistance and contestation most recently evidenced by the #MeToo global phenomenon, which was preceded by a string of digital activist efforts such as SlutWalk, Hollaback, #WhyIStayed, and #EndRapeCulture. Yet the use of digital platforms to resist gender violence brings with it a range of concerns and limitations. While some activists and victim-survivors are able to harness social media to share experiences and be heard, the ability to do so continues to be shaped by factors such as age, (dis)ability, sexuality, socioeconomic status, race, and geographical location. Online resistance has likewise faced critique for actively reproducing certain myths and stereotypes about gender violence, or for providing a limited or partial picture of what this violence “is.” This suggests that only certain victim-survivors and experiences are recognized and validated as such online. In addition, online disclosure and the “naming and shaming” of perpetrators raises serious concerns regarding due process and “vigilantism.” Moreover, social media spaces can themselves be sites of gender violence, with the routine harassment and abuse of (particularly) women online increasingly well documented. Together, such perspectives illustrate the complex, nuanced, and deeply political role of social media as a site of resistance to gender violence.

Article

Vigilantism in Comparative Perspective  

Ray Abrahams

Vigilantes have arisen at many times in different regions of the world, taking the law into their own hands as defenders, often by force, of their view of the good life against those they see to be its enemies. They have a strong attraction for some commentators and they rouse equally strong hostility in others. For yet others, who attempt to take a broader view, they are a source of deep ambivalence. Academic interest in the phenomenon has grown strongly over recent years, and this has contributed significantly to an increase in knowledge of its distribution beyond the bounds of western Europe, the United States, and particularly in many parts of Africa. Although vigilantes are most commonly male, increased evidence of women’s vigilantism has also come to light in recent years. Vigilantism is difficult to define in rigorous terms, partly because of general problems of comparative study, but there are also special reasons in this case. Vigilantism is not so much a thing in itself as a fundamentally relational phenomenon which only makes sense in relation to the formal institutions of the state. It is in several ways a frontier phenomenon, occupying an awkward borderland between law and illegality. Many of its manifestations are short-lived and unstable, nor is it always what it claims to be. For these reasons, definitions of vigilantism are best treated as an “ideal type,” which real cases may be expected to approximate to or depart from. This approach provides the possibility of comparing different cases of vigilantism and also allows one to explore the differences and similarities between it and other “dwellers in the twilight zone,” such as social bandits, mafias, guerrillas, and resistance movements.