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Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies  

Hugo Goeury

In the mid-1970s, the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), which came to be known as the “Birmingham School,” published two major books that contributed substantially to the field of critical criminology: Resistance Through Rituals (RTR) and Policing the Crisis (PTC). These two groundbreaking and complementary works aimed to contribute to the two main topics of criminological enquiry: deviance/crime and social reaction/punishment. In both cases, the Centre deployed a Marxist-inspired and sociologically driven approach whose main objective was to study both deviance and social reaction from a critical perspective that takes into consideration the broader social, political, economic, and cultural context in which they take place. RTR challenged the dominant discourse of the postwar era, which proclaimed the end of class antagonism and the exhaustion of “class” as a relevant social category. The Birmingham School’s research demonstrated that the many subcultures—punks, mods, teddy boys, rastas, etc. —that flourished in the United Kingdom at the time were not symptomatic, as many argued, of the rise of a “classless youth.” On the contrary, RTR made the case that subcultures are part of a century-long tradition of symbolic, working-class resistance against the hegemonic order. From this perspective, subcultures were seen as an attempt, on the part of working-class youths, to solve the many contradictions of their class experience at a time of broad, multidimensional changes. While the Birmingham School’s work on subcultures was a celebration of working-class resistance and agency, ultimately, it reached the conclusion that this form of resistance, which remained restricted to the symbolic sphere, could not offer a solution to the exploitation and oppression faced by working-class youth, which stemmed from the material, social relations of production of capitalism. While RTR focused on “deviance,” PTC shifted the analysis to the other side of the equation, that of social reaction and punishment. In this second publication, Stuart Hall and his co-authors developed an impressive “conjunctural analysis” approach that allowed them to move from the study of the so-called “mugging crisis” of the United Kingdom in the early 1970s, to the elaboration of their groundbreaking theory on crisis of hegemony and the rise of a new, “law and order society.” PTC is one of the pioneering studies that argued that the rise of “authoritarian populism” and the birth of a “law and order society” that were taking place in the United Kingdom in the 1970s were not temporary phenomena but were representative of a long-lasting change of epoch. More than 40 years after the publication of this seminal work, it leaves no doubt that the Birmingham School’s predictions have been validated, as is corroborated by an extensive literature studying the “punitive turn” that has taken over the globe over the last few decades. Overall, at a time when criminology was becoming increasingly dominated by positivism and disconnected from the sociological tradition, the Birmingham School’s most influential and long-lasting legacy resides in RTR and PTC’s invitation to critically investigate what the CCCS members called the “social and political ‘conditions of existence’” of both deviance/crime and social reaction/punishment.

Article

Gangs and Social Media  

David C. Pyrooz and Richard K. Moule, Jr.

It was once presumed that costs of Internet adoption were too great for gang members to absorb. They lacked the financial resources to access the Internet or the technological know-how to use it. That is no longer the case, which leads to two questions: What are gang members doing online? What are the responses to gangs online? The growing research on this topic indicates that gang members are online and using the Internet at a rate comparable to their peers. This occurs in the United States and abroad. Gangs do not exploit the Internet to its criminal potential, even though the law enforcement community suggests otherwise. This is most likely due to the low technological capacities of gang members. However, gang members do engage in higher rates of crime and deviance online than their non-gang peers. Gang members also use the Internet to posture, provoke, and project group power, particularly on leading social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which in turn allows activities occurring online to have ramifications for crime and violence offline. It is debatable whether online space is as important to gangs as physical space, but the Internet is undoubtedly a valuable medium to gangs. The potential for conflict and the posting of gang images has attracted the attention of law enforcement as well as researchers to document this activity. Platforms are being developed to anticipate the spilling of online gang conflicts offline. Since the Internet is a value-neutral medium that engages youth and young adults, it is anticipated that social media and the Internet will continue to appeal to gangs and gang members for the foreseeable future.

Article

Global Development and Crime  

Mahesh K. Nalla, Gregory J. Howard, and Graeme R. Newman

One common claim about crime is that it is driven in particular ways by development. Whereas the classic civilization thesis asserts that development will yield declining crime rates, the conflict tradition in criminology as well as the modernization school expect rises in crime rates, although for different reasons. Notwithstanding a raft of empirical investigations into the matter, an association between development and crime has not been consistently demonstrated. The puzzling results in the literature may be owing to the challenges in conceptualizing and operationalizing development. They are also almost certainly attributable to the serious problems related to the cross-national measurement of crime. Given the current state of knowledge and the prospects for future research, evidence reportedly bearing on the development and crime relationship should be received with ample caution and skepticism. Refinements in measurement practices and research strategies may remedy the extant situation, but for now the relationship between development and crime is an open and complicated question.

Article

Virtual Currency, Cryptoassets, and Cybercrime  

Tessa Cole and R.V. Gundur

Cryptoassets, particularly cryptocurrencies and nonfungible tokens, which are underwritten by distributed ledger technology, have become an increasing focus of financial institutions, investors, government regulators, and criminal actors. Colloquially known as “crypto,” cryptoassets represent a small proportion of value in financial systems around the world. Nonetheless, cryptoassets represent a potentially disruptive force and are, in their own right, a financial ecosystem. Cryptocurrency, specifically, has a variety of properties that are appealing to both licit and illicit actors: It is, generally, pseudonymous and irrevocable, and its transactions do not necessarily require a third party. Despite these features, the value of cryptocurrency has been volatile, and even though one, bitcoin, has been adopted as legal tender in two countries, cryptocurrency has not replaced fiat currency or become part of most people’s financial experiences. Crime related to cryptocurrency has increased with its proliferation and appreciation, with victims’ losses being in the tens of billions and increasing on an annual basis. Cybercriminals steal both cryptocurrency outright and the resources to “mine” it. Extortionists, such as ransomware operators and online blackmailers, may request cryptocurrency for payment, since cryptocurrency can be difficult to trace. Fraudsters defraud people by taking advantage of low-information environments, increasing interest in cryptocurrency, and consumers’ fear of missing out on the “next big thing.” These frauds include misinformation campaigns that convince investors to buy into bogus projects, the manipulation of cryptocurrency and nonfungible token projects, and the mimicking of legitimate projects to convince people to send their investments to scammers and not to legitimate technologists’ accounts. As the losses related to, and volume of, cryptocurrency and victimization in cryptoasset-related crime have increased, so too has the attention that governments pay to cryptoassets and cryptoasset service providers (CASPs). However, regulating cryptoassets is difficult, but not impossible, although decentralized finance presents its own challenges. Most cryptocurrency users make use of centralized CASPs. Moreover, the Financial Stability Board and the Financial Action Task Force have issued guidance regarding the regulation of cryptocurrency and cryptoassets. Uptake of these suggestions has been uneven but is increasing. Even so, capacity to investigate crimes and cryptocurrency is limited; however, there is broad recognition that governments must develop public–private partnerships to approach a semblance of oversight.