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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.

Article

Although the field of international criminology has mostly employed quantitative methods to test universal theories, there is a growing recognition of the potential value of qualitative methods in understanding crime and criminal justice in a globalizing world. The difficulties in developing this field are partly practical and financial. It is difficult visiting different countries and overcoming language barriers. But there are also conceptual challenges. Criminology generally is only just starting to understand and engage with the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research methods and to discover the wide range of qualitative methods employed in interdisciplinary fields, such as education, health, environmental, media, and management studies, and to recognize that theories are important in this field.

Article

As the most serious crime, homicide is both relevant and suitable for cross-national comparisons. The global homicide rate of ca. 6 per 100,000 people is an average of hugely diverging national rates ranging from 0.25 in Singapore to ca. 100 in El Salvador. The validity of global homicide statistics suffers from various differences in definitions as well as reporting and registration processes. Both criminal justice and causes of death statistics are used by the World Health Organization to construct rates, yet these are available only for a minority of countries. An overview on homicide in history and non-state societies shows that violence levels were considerably higher compared to those in today’s developed world and have dropped dramatically in Europe and North America during the early modern period. The rates first increased and then declined between ca.1960 and today in most developed nations in a synchronized manner, hinting at common influences. In recent years, homicide trends have shown a polarizing pattern, with increasing rates in Latin America and decreasing rates in most other world regions, especially East Asia and the Pacific, where rates have fallen below the European average concurrent with rising scores on the Human Development Index. Except in Eastern Europe, the frequency of homicide is strongly linked to the use of firearms, which account for 44% of homicide cases worldwide. Longitudinal studies have produced robust evidence for the pivotal role of deprivation and inequality in fostering lethal violence and of social welfare policies in reducing it. Although the transition to democratic political systems seems to increase homicide rates temporarily, the legitimacy of state institutions and the suppression of corruption are connected to lower homicide rates. Because of conceptual and methodological problems, questions concerning the generalizability of effects across space and time remain. Nevertheless, the research findings are sufficiently robust to draw important conclusions for violence prevention: reductions in poverty and income inequality, investments in welfare policies and gender equality, and improvements in the legitimacy of state institutions will help to bring homicide rates down.

Article

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.

Article

Joachim J. Savelsberg and Wahutu Siguru

Today, genocides and other episodes of mass violence are, under specific circumstances, subject to extensive media reporting. A case in point is the mass violence in Darfur, unfolding during the first decades of the 21st century and categorized as genocide by many, including the International Criminal Court. Media reporting about Darfur shows noteworthy patterns. They are revealed by a study supported by the National Science Foundation, involving content analysis of 3,387 reports and opinion pieces published in prominent newspapers of eight countries in the Global North, accompanied by expert interviews, and a doctoral dissertation on the journalistic field in Africa and its reporting on Darfur. First, today’s media reporting replaces denial with acknowledgment. Second, it frames the violence most often as criminal, and frequently as genocidal, even though humanitarian emergency and armed conflict frames also fare prominently. Third, throughout the history of reporting, Africa correspondents, central actors in the journalistic field, adapt to opportunities and external pressures from surrounding social fields. Economic forces (media markets) and politics affect the frequency of reporting. The criminal justice-oriented human rights field, the humanitarian field, and the diplomatic field influence the frames through which the violence is interpreted. Fourth, the criminal justice-oriented human rights field is especially effective in coloring reports, despite substantial barriers between criminal courts and the journalistic field. Fifth, reporting in all countries is affected by interventions by international institutions, including the UN Security Council, the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC’s decision to charge Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, for example, intensified reporting in all countries. Sixth, the receptivity to the criminal justice frame varies by country. Seventh, in addition to cross-country similarities and differences within the Global North, a comparison of journalistic fields in the Global North with those in Africa shows distinct patterns, but also astonishing similarities between Global North and African reporting on Darfur.