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Lethal Violence: A Global View on Homicide  

Dietrich Oberwittler

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.


Institutional Anomie Theory Across Nation States  

Andreas Hövermann and Steven F. Messner

Institutional Anomie Theory (IAT) was originally formulated as a quintessentially macro-level theory of crime focused on the properties of large-scale social systems. The main substantive claim of the theory is that an institutional structure characterized by the dominance of the economy over other, non-economic institutions tends to be conducive to high levels of crime. Such economic dominance in the institutional structure is theorized to be manifested through three primary processes: the norms and values associated with the economy penetrate into other realms of social life; non-economic roles tend to be accommodated to the requirements of economic roles when conflicts emerge; and non-economic functions and roles are devalued relative to economic functions and roles. Economic dominance in the configuration of social institutions is linked with crime via complementary institutional and cultural dynamics. The enfeeblement of non-economic institutions accompanying economic dominance limits their capacity to perform their distinctive social control and socialization functions, and anomie permeates the culture. The defining feature of such anomie is that the egoistic or utilitarian motives associated with the market economy prevail, and technical expediency guides the selection of the means to pursue personal goals. IAT has informed a growing body of research dedicated to explaining cross-national variation in crime rates. While empirical studies have generated mixed results, the research literature has offered support for some of the key implications of the theory. The most consistent conclusion from these studies is that the scope and generosity of the welfare state are associated with reduced levels of crime, especially lethal criminal violence, either directly or by mitigating the effects of other criminogenic conditions, such as economic inequality or economic insecurity. The precise nature of the effects of the different social institutions on crime, for example whether they exhibit “mediating” or “moderating” relationships, remains uncertain. The cultural dynamics informed by IAT have received less attention, but some efforts to incorporate culture have been promising. Along with the studies conducted exclusively at the level of nation states, an emerging area of research applies IAT in a multilevel framework. The results have been mixed here as well, but these studies have indicated how structural marketization translates into shared values that help explain individual variation in criminality. Moreover, the scope conditions of IAT have been expanded as its theoretical framework has proven to be fruitful for explaining prejudices, such as anti-immigrant attitudes and devaluations of groups purportedly seen as “unprofitable.” Several challenges remain for future research. IAT is cast at a high level of abstraction, which creates ambiguities about the precise nature of any causal structure among variables and the most appropriate procedures for operationalizing the main concepts. Moreover, research indicates that it might be important to focus not only on the strength but also on the content of non-economic institutions as the economy penetrates into non-economic institutions. Another challenge pertains to the role of religion as a non-economic institution, given research revealing that its functioning as a protective non-economic institution deviates from that of other non-economic institutions.


Hate Crimes in a Cross-Cultural Context  

Keller G. Sheppard, Nathaniel L. Lawshe, and Jack McDevitt

Hate crimes are criminal offenses that involve elements of bias based on some individual characteristics of the victim, including race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and religion. The passage of laws criminalizing or enhancing the punishment for crimes featuring bias motivations has been met with intense controversy. In addressing criticism of such legislation, proponents of these laws highlight the considerable harms caused by hate crime. These incidents are considered especially heinous as they not only violate the civil and human rights of the immediate victim but also send a message of fear to the entirety of that victim’s community or social group. Prior scholarship on these offenses have employed numerous theoretical frameworks—psychological, historical, sociological, and economic theories—to describe why perpetrators target victims based on perceived group identity. Other work has provided insight into the causes of hate crime by considering factors distinguishing bias-motivated offenders from other criminal offenders. Conflicting legal definitions of hate crime add to the complexity of its conceptualization. At the international level, hate crime statutes are strongly influenced by the different social, cultural, and historical contexts across nations. Hate crime laws differ markedly across countries with respect to the specification of protected groups’ identities, treatment of hate speech, legal standards for establishing bias motivation, and utilization of hate crime statutes for criminal prosecutions. These differences, coupled with nationally distinct methodologies for recording bias-motivated incidents, have stymied attempts to engage in cross-national comparisons of the quality and extent of hate crime.


The Eurogang Program of Research  

Finn-Aage Esbensen and Cheryl L. Maxson

The Eurogang Program of Research is a loosely knit network of researchers and policymakers with an interest in better understanding troublesome youth groups. While the group is guided by a steering committee, that is the extent of the organizational structure. Members of the network volunteer to host the website, maintain the electronic mail service, organize workshops, and engage in research that adopts the Eurogang definition, instruments, and methodologies. The Eurogang Program has as its primary goal the fostering of multisite, multi-method, comparative research on street gangs. Since 2000, this group of more than 200 scholars has convened 21 international workshops in Europe and the United States. The Eurogang Program does not have a steady funding source; however, over the years various network members have written proposals for funding to government agencies, sought support from non-profit organizations and foundations, and requested funding from their universities. Through a series of workshops from 1998 through 2004, the Eurogang group developed common definitional approaches, an integrated research design, and model research instruments. From 2005 through 2023, the group has continued to host substantively focused workshops that examine research informed by the Eurogang framework. Since its inception, this Eurogang group has spawned several retrospective cross-national studies, articles in professional journals, six edited volumes of scholarship, and a manual that provides a history of the group and its guiding principles as well as information on the development and use of the five Eurogang research instruments (i.e., city-level descriptors, expert survey, youth survey, ethnography guidelines, and prevention/intervention program inventory). The Eurogang Program Manual and instruments are available on the Eurogang website. While much has been accomplished, much remains to be learned.