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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

The Characteristics of Illegal Markets  

Matías Dewey

The phenomenon of illegal markets is pervasive. The circulation of illegal goods and services reaches all social segments, crosses national boundaries, and produces enormous revenues. Scholarship has typically addressed issues of illegal exchanges by focusing on criminal organizations, their members’ activities, internal structures, and businesses while leaving the very notion of illegal markets conceptually underdeveloped. Different from organized crime, the notion of “illegal market” compels us to consider the demand side and to investigate the varied ways it relates to the supply side. Following the path opened up by economic sociology scholarship, this article brings illegal markets to the center of the scene in order to develop them conceptually, observe them in a differentiated way, and investigate their relationships with legal structures. From this perspective, the social organization of markets comes to the fore, highlighting such aspects as the formal and informal institutions sustaining illegal markets; the modes of internal coordination that deal with problems such as value, competition, or trust; moral attitudes toward the production, exchange, or consumption of certain products or services; the cultural elements or cognitive dispositions that promote illegal exchanges; the role of state power in defining what is and is not illegal, and thus how it controls certain exchanges; and the role of the enforcement of the law in the emergence, expansion, or extinction of these markets.

Article

Gangs and Globalization  

Alistair Fraser and Elke Van Hellemont

It has been a century since Frederic Thrasher researched his pioneering text on youth gangs in Chicago. In it he depicts gangs as a street-based phenomenon that emerged from the combined forces of urbanization, migration, and industrialization—with new migrant groups seeking to find a toehold on the American Dream. Gangs were discrete and highly localized, drawing on names from popular culture and the neighborhood, seeking ways to survive and thrive amid the disorganization of the emerging city. In the 21st century, street gangs have been identified in urban contexts all over the world and have become increasingly viewed as a transnational phenomenon that is qualitatively different from Thrasher’s neighborhood groups. Processes of globalization have created a degree of flow and connectedness to urban life that is unlike any other stage in human history. Yet a close reading of Thrasher shows that some of the key themes in the study of gangs in a global context—urban exclusion, grey economies, human mobility, and cultural flow—were presaged in Thrasher’s work. In a global era, however, these processes have intensified, amplified, and extended in ways that could not have been predicted. We elaborate the spatial, economic, social, cultural, and technological implications of globalization for gangs across five principle areas: (1) Gangs in the Global City; (2) Gangs, Illicit Markets, and the Global Criminal Economy; (3) Mobility, Crimmigration, and the “Transnational Gang”; (4) Gangs and Glocalization; and (5) The Gang Mediascape. Taken together, these themes seek to offer both a conceptual vocabulary and empirical foundation for new and innovative studies of gangs and globalization. Empirical evidences from Europe, the United States, and beyond, emphasize the uneven impacts of globalization and the ways in which national and cultural dynamics are implicated in the study of gangs in the 21st century.