Makerere University Criminology of Transgression Sociology Essay

Dear Tutor,

Please write a sociology assignment, its on “Merton with energy, Katz with structure: The sociology of vindictiveness and the criminology of transgression analysis” and basically you just have to write a response to it, no more than a paragraph   but it must include in text citations from the document

Theoretical Criminology
© 2003 SAGE Publications
London, Thousand Oaks
and New Delhi.
Vol. 7(3): 389–414; 034395
Merton with energy, Katz with
The sociology of vindictiveness and the
criminology of transgression
City University of New York, USA
This article traces the impact of economic and cultural globalization
pointing to the consequent rise of widespread resentment and
tension both within the First World and internationally.
Globalization exacerbates both relative deprivation and crises of
identity: such a combination is experienced as unfair, humiliating
and threatening and results in behaviour which is transgressive
rather than instrumental. Tension is also experienced among the
better off because of insecurities of identity, position and the level
of sacrifices demanded in their daily life. Punishment becomes
vindictive rather than instrumental and rational. Further, ‘criminal’
violence and the violence of war and terrorism have similar
aetiologies and characteristics. The article seeks to establish a
cultural criminology which puts the transgressive in a structural
context, which critiques the insipid rationalistic nature of current
neo-liberal discourses while reformulating Mertonian notions of
anomie in terms of energy, resentment and tension.
Key Words
criminology of war • cultural criminology • globalization • Katz
• Merton • punitiveness • resentment • underclass
In this article I want to discuss the crossing and blurring of boundaries in
late modernity. I wish to argue that not only is such a breakdown of
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demarcations characteristic of the times of economic and cultural globalization we live in but that such a spatial, social and moral overlap is the key
to the changing characteristics of crime and punishment today. Namely
that the criminology of transgression and the sociology of vindictiveness
must be understood in the context of the social dynamics generated by the
implosive nature of the cultural systems and the contradictory nature of
the spatial and social structures which both permit and restrict mobility.
Furthermore, that not only are there strong parallels between the dynamics
of crime and the desire to punish, but that there are close similarities
between violence associated with ‘common’ criminality and the violence of
war and terrorism.
In The Exclusive Society (1999) I contrast the inclusive world of the
post-war period of the 1950s and 1960s with the more exclusionary social
order of late modernity in the last third of the 20th century and beyond.
Eric Hobsbawm’s (1994) ‘Golden Age’ of high employment, job security
and stable marriage and community is contrasted with a more insecure and
divided society that followed it. For whereas the Golden Age granted social
embeddedness, strong certainty of personal and social narrative, a desire to
assimilate the deviant, the immigrant, the stranger, late modernity generated both economic and ontological insecurity, a discontinuity of personal and social narrative and an exclusionary tendency towards the
In my research I became increasingly critical of the various accounts of
this process where social exclusion was presented as a sort of hydraulic
process where the tides of inclusion had risen leaving behind the destitute
and the feckless without any reference to the dynamics of social antagonism and conflict (e.g. Wilson, 1987; Social Exclusion Unit, 1999). Further,
that such a separation was invariably constructed as a binary of inclusion/
exclusion where the excluded exist in an area which is spatially segregated
and socially and morally distinctive (see critique in Young, 2002).
It soon became clear to me that such a dualism was fundamentally
misconceived. It echoed the conventional wisdoms of the subject, to be
sure, but it did not adequately grasp the social and spatial terrain of the late
modern city nor the dynamics of the actors who traverse it. It rightly
suggests barriers and divisions but wrongly exaggerates their efficacy and
solidity: it mistakes rhetoric for reality, it attempts to impose hard lines on
a late modern city of blurred demarcation and crossovers. It posits a
hermetic localism in an age of globalization. Furthermore, it neither
captures the intensity of the exclusion—the vindictiveness—nor the passionate resentment of the excluded while painting a far too calm and
rational picture of the fortunate citizens—the included.
I have also become increasingly suspicious of explanations of crime
which are constituted around notions of opportunities, on one side, and
lack of controls, on the other. Such a rational choice theory of crime is
prevalent across a wide spectrum of theorists (e.g. Felson, 1998; Garland,
2001), while instrumental rationality is implicit in many of the classic texts
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Young—Merton with energy, Katz with structure
(e.g. Merton, 1938, 1957). In this the motivation for crime is usually
mundane, the illegal relief of deficit or the simple taking of opportunities
when there is a deficit of control. I have no doubt that much crime is
mundane, instrumental and opportunistic in motivation and that there are
people whose response to crime is cool, calculated and rationalistic. But an
awful lot of crime, from joyriding to murder, from telephone kiosk
vandalism to rape, involves much more than an instrumental motivation.
Recent work in cultural criminology, starting with Jack Katz’s seminal
Seductions of Crime (1988), greatly developed in the work of writers such
as Stephen Lyng (1990) and Jeff Ferrell (1997), and most recently in Mike
Presdee’s Cultural Criminology and the Carnival of Crime (2000) (and
Keith Hayward’s forthcoming City Limits: Crime, Consumerism and the
Urban Experience, 2003) all point to the wide swathe of crime that is
expressive rather than narrowly instrumental.
Cultural criminology reveals almost exactly the opposite of Felson’s
world of mundane crime stressing the sensual nature of crime, the adrenaline rushes of edgework—voluntary illicit risk-taking and the dialectic of
fear and pleasure (see Ferrell et al., 2001). The existential motivational
structure they explore inverts the very basis of routine activities, opportunities and control theory. Here the motivation to commit crime is not
mundane but the revolt against the mundane, rules are transgressed
because they are there, risk is a challenge not a deterrent (see Morrison,
1995) and the steady increase in control, ‘the creeping criminalisation of
everyday life’ as Mike Presdee puts it (2000: 159) provokes transgression
rather than conformity.
What is of great importance about this investigation into the existential
foreground of crime is that it reveals the intensity of motivation and links
this to a background of a world where pleasure has to be seized despite the
intense commodification of consumer culture, where control must be
struggled for in a situation of ever increasing rationalization and regulation
and where identity is threatened by the instability of social narratives. As
Keith Hayward points out, ‘put simply, many forms of crime frequently
perpetrated within urban areas should be seen for exactly what they are, an
attempt to achieve a semblance of control within ontologically insecure
worlds’ (2002: 225). And to this intense drive for ontological certainty, for
defining moments of pleasure and release, I would add the anger fuelled by
economic insecurity and deprivation. Thus the intense emotions associated
with much urban crime relates to significant and dramatic problems in the
wider society. What is important, here is a criminology which insists that in
a world of broken narratives, where economic and ontological insecurity
abounds, that the nature of crime and the response to it—is far from
mundane. That the actors are far from pallid creatures calculating the best
manoeuvres through the social world in order to minimize risk and
maximize contentment and that much of the dynamic behind crime is
resentment and much of the response to it vituperative. Crime has its
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excitement, its drama, its seductions and punishment, like it, its vindictiveness, its hostility, its thinly concealed satisfactions. In contrast the criminology espoused by rational choice theory, with its images of opportunism and
control, is quite simply the criminology of neo-liberalism, and its truth
claims are as limited as those that depict society as held together simply by
contractual relations of a marketplace. Furthermore, not only is the
discourse of cultural criminology in strong contrast theoretically to neoliberalism, the very appeal of the transgressive, the anxiety-provoking, the
transcendent is in itself a reaction to a world dominated by institutions and
discourses dominated by neo-liberalism (O’Malley and Mugford, 1994).
Not only is there a close symmetry between the aetiology and phenomenology of crime and punishment, particularly of violent crime and state
violence, but there are also close parallels with crimes occurring in war (by
both sides), in terrorism and the response to it, and in the development and
enactment of genocide. Further, much has been made of the striking
similarities between the violence of conventional crime and the violence of
war (not least being the young, male, working-class actors themselves) and
the parallels between the war against crime and war itself. Indeed the
emerging criminology of war seems to bring together the narratives of
crime and of war and remedying the surprising ignoring of war (see
Jamieson, 1998, and of genocide see Morrison, 2003) by conventional
I wish now to examine the structure of social inclusion/exclusion,
focusing on three areas: first the blurring of boundaries in terms of the
binary conception of social exclusion; second the cultural implosiveness of
late modernity and the phenomenon which I term ‘bulimia’; and third a
critique of the dual city depiction of spatial segregation.
Blurring the binary vision
Let us turn to the notion of the binary of inclusion and exclusion with the
associated notions of spatial, social and moral separation. I wish to argue
that it is the blurring of these boundaries which is the key to the dynamic
of antagonisms within society both of the poor towards the well off and of
the better off to those below them. Note that I wish to contest this thesis,
not from a perspective that there are no wide-scale disparities in late
modern society, nor that areas of the city are not particularly blighted by
crime and that their inhabitants experience social exclusion and stigmatization. Surely all of this is true and should be a target and priority of any
progressive policy. But the construction of the problem in a binary mode
obfuscates the issue, while the notion of social exclusion ironically exaggerates the degree of exclusion while underestimating the gravity of the
problem. The danger of the concept of social exclusion is that it carries
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with it a series of false binaries: it conveys the notion of actors being either
included or excluded—being on one side of the line or the other; it ignores
the fact that problems occur on both sides of the line, however much one
has clusters in one area rather than another and, more subtly, it conceals
the fact that the ‘normality’ of the majority is itself deeply problematic.
The concept of social exclusion implies that there is some homogenous
underclass, the repository of much of the current portfolio of vices or
deficits which contrasts with a relatively stable, virtuous majority of the
included. In fact they are, as Herbert Gans (1995) points out, a heterogeneous group. Furthermore, as John Hills and his associates (2002) have
indicated, the individuals concerned are often mobile throughout their lives
and exist in extraordinarily varied levels along any scale of inclusion and
exclusion. The image that I used in The Exclusive Society was that of a
beach where there is a tidal movement, centripetal and centrifugal, there is
little that is static or secure (see also Byrne, 1999). In contrast, the
conventional image of the excluded as similar and static betrays by its very
homogeneity and fixity its true nature, an ideological category, the bringing
together of folk devils in the process of othering. Further in respect of the
patterning of problems: unemployment, poverty, economic insecurity is
scarcely unknown outside the designated areas—indeed quantitatively they
are overall more prevalent in the supposedly secure majoritarian heartlands
of society than they are in the selected minority of ‘excluded’ areas. And the
same, of course, is true of illicit drug use, community disorganization,
unstable family structures, etc. In the case of the notion of ‘the normal
majority’ it assumes that, in this world, class differentials are somehow
insignificant, that paid work is an unambiguous benefit, that ‘stable’ family
life is unproblematic, licit psychoactive drug use is less a problem than
illegal drug ‘abuse’, etc.
But we can go further than this for there is widespread evidence that the
culture of contentment—which John Galbraith (1992) talks of: a ‘contented majority’ who are all right thank you, doing fine and sharing little in
common or concern for the excluded minority, are a myth. The demands
for a more and more flexible labour force coupled with the leap forwards
in automation and the sophistications of computer software caused great
reverberations of insecurity throughout the employment structure. Redundancy, short-term contracts, multiple career structures have become the
order of the day. Furthermore, as the recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Report, Job Insecurity and Work Intensification (Burchell, 1999), discovered, redundancy not only causes chronic job insecurity but the workers
who remain have to work longer hours and expand their skills to cover the
areas of those dismissed (Burchell, 1999: 60). For those in work the length
of the working day increases: it is, of course, easier for the employer to ask
more and more time when security of employment is uncertain. The market
does not compete in hard places, it goes for the soft tissue of time and
vulnerability. Moreover, while in the past the income of one wage earner
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was sufficient to maintain a family, the dual career family has now become
a commonplace where both partners are immersed in the labour market.
And if in the economic sphere precariousness and uncertainty are widespread so too in the domestic sphere: divorce, separation, single parenthood are endemic, with the pressures of work merely adding to the
instability of the late modern family.
Bulimia: not exclusion but inclusion/exclusion
There is a strange consensus in recent writings about the underclass. Both
writers of the right and the left concur that what one has is not a separate
culture of poverty as earlier conservative and radical writers presumed (e.g.
Edward Banfield, 1968 on the right, or Michael Harrington, 1963, on the
left), but rather that what has occurred is a breakdown of culture (see
Murray, 1984; Wilson, 1987).
All of these assessments of the morals of the poor are those of deficit: in
the recent writers they lack our values, in the earlier writers they have
different values which are seen as deficient. And, as it is, all of them
describe a fairly similar value system or lack of it, namely short-term
hedonistic, lacking in restraint, unwillingness to forgo present pleasures,
aggressiveness and willingness to use violence to achieve desired goals.
In The Exclusive Society I set out to examine this picture of mores at the
bottom of the social structure. I decided to look at the American black
underclass as a test case, for surely if this thesis were true, it would be
among these supposed outcasts of the American Dream that this distinct,
localized and anomic deficit culture would be found. In particular I looked
at Carl Nightingale’s (1993) brilliant ethnography of the black ghetto of
Philadelphia, On the Edge. What Nightingale discovered confounded such
an image. For instead the ghetto was the apotheosis of the USA. Here is full
immersion in the American Dream: a culture hooked on Gucci, BMW,
Nike, watching television 11 hours per day, sharing the mainstream
culture’s obsession with violence, backing, at the time of the study, Bush’s
involvement in the Gulf War, lining up outside the cinemas, worshipping
success, money, wealth and status—even sharing in a perverse way the
racism of the wider society. The problem of the ghetto was not so much the
process of it being simply excluded but rather one that was all too strongly
included in the culture but, then, systematically excluded from its realization. All of this is reminiscent of Merton—but where, in a late modern
context, the implosion of the wider culture on the local is dramatically
increased. We have a process that I likened to bulimia of the social system:
a society that choruses the liberal mantra of liberty, equality and fraternity
yet systematically in the job market, on the streets, in the day-to-day
contacts with the outside world, practises exclusion.
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Crossing the borderline: against the dual city thesis
Thus the underclass is constructed as an Other, as a group with defective
norms who contrast with the normal majority. And here in this region lies
all sorts of crime and incivilities. From this perspective of essentializing
the other, the demand is to locate the problem areas: where exactly are the
demons, so to speak? Thus the underclass is said to be located within
the clear-cut ghettos of the inner city sink estates or the long-lost satellite
slums at the cities’ edge. But, in fact, there is no such precision here: the
poor are not as firmly corralled as some might make out. Thus, as Gerry
Mooney and Mike Danson write, in their critique of the ‘dual city’ concept,
based on their research in Glasgow—a city, some would say, of extreme
cultural and economic contrasts:
In discussions of the emerging ‘tale of two cities’ in Glasgow, the attention
which the peripheral estates received does not relate directly to the levels and
proportions of poverty to be found there. In part this is a consequence of
reluctance to define adequately the areas or social groups concerned. Further
within peripheral estates there is a marked differentiation between the
various component parts in terms of unemployment, poverty and deprivation. This is almost completely neglected in the dominant picture of these
estates which has emerged in recent years which stereotypes the estates as
homogeneous enclaves of ‘despair’ or ‘hopelessness’.
(1997: 84–5)
Similarly, John Hagedorn points to the variegated neighbourhoods in
Milwaukee which he studied: ‘a checkerboard of struggling working class
and poor families, coexisting even in the same block, with drug houses,
gangs and routine violence’ (1991: 534). Maybe urban geographers of all
political persuasions would like more of a clear-cut cartography than is
healthy but, in reality, the contours of late modernity always blur, fudge
and cross over (see Young, 2001).
Thus the spatial separation is scarcely as strict as is frequently suggested
because of important underlying economic reasons. Thus for this reason
one would be critical of Zygmunt Bauman when he writes of Washington
In Washington D.C. . . . there is an invisible border stretching along 16th
Street in the west and the Potomac river in the north-west, which those left
behind are wise never to cross. Most of the adolescents left behind the
invisible yet all-too-tangible border never saw downtown Washington with
all its splendours, ostentatious elegance and refined pleasures. In their life,
that downtown does not exist. There is no talking over the border. The life
experiences are so sharply different that it is not clear what the residents of
the two sides could talk to each other about were they to meet and stop to
converse. As Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked, ‘If lions could talk, we would
not understand them.’
(1998a: 86)
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This eloquent expression of the dual city thesis is wrong, not in its sense of
division, but in its sense of borders. For the borders are regularly crossed
and the language spoken on each side is remarkably similar. The most
obvious flaw in the argument is that of gender: maids, nurses, clerical staff
move across into work everyday. Women, as William Julius Wilson argues
in When Work Disappears (1995), are more acceptable to the world
outside of the ghetto than their male counterparts. It is after all ‘home boys’
who stay at home. But bellhops, taxi drivers, doormen, maintenance men
regularly ply their way across the invisible borders of Washington DC. It is
not, therefore, just through television that the sense of relative deprivation
of the poor is heightened; it is in the direct and often intimate knowledge of
the lives of the affluent (see also Rieff, 1993).
The dual city where the poor are morally segregated from the majority
and are held physically apart by barriers is a myth. The borderlines are
regularly crossed, the underclass exists on both sides anyway, but those
who are clustered in the poorer parts of town regularly work across the
tracks to keep the well-off families functioning. The work poor keep the
work rich going: indeed, it is only the availability of such cheap ‘help’ that
enables the dual career families to continue (see Gregson and Lowe, 1994).
Neither are the poor excluded morally; they are far from socially isolated,
and the virtues of work and the stable nuclear family are daily presented to
them. For not only do they actually directly physically experience it in their
roles of nannies, kitchen help, as waiters in restaurants and cleaners and
bell boys in hotels—they receive from the mass media a daily ration of
these virtues, indeed one that is in excess of that consumed by those who
work in the primary labour market.
Boundaries of bulimia
Physical, social and moral boundaries are constantly crossed in late modernity. As we have seen, they are transgressed because of individual
movement, social mobility, the coincidence of values and problems both
sides of any line and the tremendous incursion of the mass media which
presents city-wide and indeed global images to all and sundry while
creating virtual communities and common identities across considerable
barriers of space. Boundaries are crossed, boundaries shift, boundaries blur
and are transfixed.
The socially excluded do not, therefore, exist in some ‘elsewhere’ cut off
spatially, socially and morally from the wider society. To suggest this is not
to say that physical barriers do not occur. Traffic is often scheduled so as to
cut off parts of town, transport systems leave whole tracts of the city
dislocated from the rest and gated communities occur both in the fortunate
and unfortunate parts of the city. It is not to deny that a characteristic of
late modern society is the setting up of barriers, of exclusion. Nor is it to
suggest that cultural divisions are set up with society propelled by miscon-
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ception and prejudice. Indeed the discourse about social exclusion with its
binary structure is itself part of such an attempt to construct moral barriers
and distinctions. Rather, it is to say that such physical parameters are
exaggerated, that the virtual communities set up by the mass media easily
transcend physical demarcations and that values are shared to a much
greater extent than social isolation theorists would suggest.
The binary language of social exclusion fundamentally misunderstands
the nature of late modernity. Here is a world where borders blur, where
cultures cross over, hybridize and merge, where cultural globalization
breaks down, where virtual communities lose their strict moorings to space
and locality. The late modern city is one of blurred boundaries; it was the
Fordist city of modernity which had a segregated structure, a division of
labour of specialized areas, a Chicago of concentric rings. Now the lines
blur: gentrification occurs in the inner city—deviance occurs in the suburbs.
It is a world of globalization, not separation; of blurring, not strict lines of
demarcation; it is culturally a world of hybrids, not of pedigrees; of minor,
not major differences—the very decline in the physical community and rise
of its virtual counterpart means that it is impossible for an underclass to
exist separately.
Once again none of this is to suggest that considerable forces of
exclusion do not occur but the process is not that of a society of simple
exclusion. Rather it is one where both inclusion and exclusion occur
concurrently—a bulimic society where massive cultural inclusion is accompanied by systematic structural exclusion. It is a society that has both
strong centrifugal and centripetal currents: it absorbs and it rejects. Let us
note first of all the array of institutions which impact the process of
inclusion: the mass media, mass education, the consumer market, the
labour market, the welfare state, the political system, the criminal justice
system. Each of these carries with it a notion of universal values, of
democratic notions of equality and reward and treatment according to
circumstance and merit. Each of them has expanded throughout the
century and has been accompanied by a steady rise in the notion of
citizenship encompassing greater and greater parts of the population in
terms of age, class, gender and race. And within the period of late
modernity the mass media, mass education and the consumer and labour
markets have, in particular, increased exponentially. Each of these institutions is not only a strong advocate of inclusive citizenship, it is also
paradoxically the site of exclusion. The consumer markets propagate a
citizenship of joyful consumption yet the ability to spend (and sometimes
even to enter) within the mall is severely limited, the labour market
incorporates more and more of the population (the entry of women into
paid work being the prime example) yet, as André Gorz (1999) has so
astutely stressed, precisely at the time when work is seen as a prime virtue
of citizenship, well paid, secure and meaningful work is restricted to a tiny
minority. The criminal justice system is on paper a paragon of equal rights.
The British Police and Criminal Evidence Act, for example, governs among
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other things the powers of stop and search. It is a veritable cameo of neoclassicist notions of equality of citizens in the face of the law and the need
for ‘democratic’ suspicion, yet on the streets, in practice, policing is
indisputably biased in terms of race and class (see Mooney and Young,
2000). Politics is an hourly interjection of radio and television, the mass
media speak on our part for ‘the common good’, and ‘the average’ man and
woman—they even parade and interview Joe Public with regularity yet the
vast majority of people feel manifestly excluded from political decision
making. Indeed even the tiny minority of active party members often feel
impotent and uninfluential. Mass education is the major transmission belt
of meritocratic ideas; it is the nursing ground of equal opportunity yet, as
subcultural theorists from Albert Cohen to Paul Willis have pointed out, its
structures serve to reproduce class divisions, and to exacerbate resentment.
Lastly the mass media have a pivotal role. The media have grown immensely and occupy a considerable part of waking life; in 1999, for
example, the average person in England and Wales watched 26 hours of
television, listened to 19 hours of radio every week and read, on top of that,
mass circulation newspapers and magazines. That is 40 per cent of one’s
waking life is spent on watching TV or listening to the radio, rising to 60
per cent of your free time if you are lucky enough to be in work. The lower
down the class structure—the more socially excluded if you want—the
citizen, the more mass media are consumed. Thus, paradoxically, cultural
inclusion is the inverse of structural inclusion. The media carry strong
notions of the universal citizen and they, of course, depict the other
institutions: the world of consumption, work, education, politics and
criminal justice. Yet despite this overall commitment to social order the
very stuff of news is the opposite: disorder, breakdown, mayhem, injustice
(see Young, 1981).
The phenomenon of cultural globalization fundamentally ratchets up this
process of bulimia. Television drama, news, advertisements contain not
only plot, story and product but a background of expectancies and
assumptions. First World culture permeates the globe and carries with it
notions of equality, meritocratic values, civil liberties—it proselytizes not
only expectancies of standard of living but notions of freedom and
I want to suggest that it is the bulimic nature of late modern societies
which helps to explain the nature and tenor of the discontent at the bottom
of the social structure. It is rooted quite simply in the contradiction
between ideas that legitimate the system and the reality of the structure that
constitutes it. But the tensions between ideals and reality exist only because
of the general and manifest awareness of them. Both the punitive anger of
the righteous and the burning resentment of the excluded occur because the
demarcation lines are blurred, because values are shared and space is
transfixed, because the same contradictions of reward and ontology exist
throughout society, because the souls of those inside and those outside the
‘contented minority’ are far from dissimilar, sharing the same desires and
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passions, and suffering the same frustrations, because there is no security of
place nor certainty of being and because differences are not essences but
mere intonations of the minor scales of diversity.
The very intensity of the forces of exclusion is a result of borders that are
regularly crossed rather than boundaries that are hermetically sealed. No
caste-like social order would be as transfixed with crime nor so ready to
demonize and pillory the other. For it is an altogether unsatisfactory
exclusion: borders and boundaries are ineffective; they create resentment
but do not achieve exclusivity. For the ‘excluded’ regularly pass across the
boundaries whether physically or virtually: they sense injustice, they know
about inequality, whereas those ‘lucky’ enough to be ‘included’ are not part
of the ‘culture of contentment’ which John Galbraith famously alludes to;
rather they are unsure about their good fortune, unclear about their
identity, uncertain about their position on the included side of the line.
But to understand the nature of the forces of exclusion, the barriers set
up to man the social structure, we must go further and look at the
predicament of the ‘included’.
The precariousness of inclusion
We have discussed in the process of bulimia how the excluded are included
in the norms and social world of the wider society. But we can blur the
binaries further for we must now understand how the social predicament
and experience of the insiders parallel those of the outsiders and how this
process is the key to understanding some of the most fundamental antagonisms within late modern society.
In order to understand this we must first of all distinguish the two basic
facets of social order within advanced industrial societies. First of all the
principle that rewards are allocated according to merit, that is a meritocratic notion of distributive justice. Second, that people’s sense of identity
and social worth is respected by others, that is justice of recognition. When
the first is infringed we speak of relative deprivation and when the second
is violated we talk of misrecognition and ontological insecurity (see Fraser,
1997; Young, 2001). If we examine the terrain of late modernity in these
key areas of distributive justice and justice of recognition, we find a high
degree of uncertainty. My assessment is that in both these areas late
modernity brings with it a sense of randomness: a chaos of reward and a
chaos of identity. To take distributive justice first of all, the unravelling of
the labour markets and the lottery of who finds themselves in each sector,
the rise of a service industry consisting of diverse and disparate units, the
seemingly random discontinuities of career, the profligate and largely
unmerited rewards in the property market and in finance, all give a sense of
rewards which are allocated by caprice rather than by the rules of merit.
Second, in the area of recognition, of sense of worth and place, of
ontology, there has been a parallel chaos. This is fuelled very largely by
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the widespread discontinuities of personal biography both in the world
of work and within the family, coupled with the undermining of a sense of
locality—of physical place of belonging (see Young, 2001). This disembeddedness (see Giddens, 1991) creates an ontological insecurity—an
identity crisis: the most ready response to this being the evocation of an
essentialism that asserts the core, unchanging nature of oneself and others.
This consists of three stages, first an insistence of some essential and valued
qualities (whether cultural or biological) which are associated with the
individuals in question (whether of masculinity, ‘race’, class, religion or
ethnicity), and second the denigration of others as essentially lacking these
virtues (see Young, 1999). Furthermore, such a process of mobilizing
negative essences with regards to others creates prejudices, exclusions and
stereotypes within society which further fuel the feelings of ontological
insecurity of others. That is there is, if you want, a third stage where those
who are thus ‘othered’ and essentialized, create a hardening of themselves
(the most typical example being the hardening of machismo) in order to
combat their humiliation and exclusion from society. The process of
othering has, therefore, a self-reinforcing circularity.
It is important to note how such a process of othering, of mutual
dehumanization, promotes and facilitates violence. This mobilization of
aggression involves the two components of a feeling of economic injustice
(relative deprivation of some sort) and feelings of ontological insecurity.
Thus, in order to create a ‘good enemy’ we must be able to convince
ourselves that: (1) they are the cause of a large part of our problems;
(2) they are intrinsically different from us—inherently evil, intrinsically
wicked, etc. This process of resentment and dehumanization allows us to
separate them off from the rest of humanity (us) but it also permits us
to harden ourselves to deal with the special instance of a threat. We can act
temporarily outside of our human instincts because we are dealing with
those who are acting inhumanely. This technique of neutralization permits
the transgression of our general prohibitions against violence. It goes
without saying that such a process of essentialization occurs not only
domestically, for example justifications of gay violence and the vituperative
feelings of the general public towards ‘vicious thugs’, but also in terms of
the dramatization of evil between, say, the First World and its terrorists.
Both crime and punishment are areas greatly affected by these uncertainties. Relative deprivation especially when coupled with misrecognition and disparagement can readily lead to crime. The classic domestic
instance is the economic marginalization of a group, accompanied by police
harassment. Similarly, cultural globalization projects images of the ‘good
life’, economic success, the pleasures of consumption and of lifestyle
indeed, the relative longevity of life itself around the globe, while economic
globalization opens up the whole world as a marketplace generating, in
many instances, economic insecurity and subordination. Such a scenario is
tailor-made for global relative deprivation across the borderlines between
the First and Third Worlds, just as cultural dominance engenders the need
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for counter-images constructed out of tradition and essentialization. Out of
such an existential terrain, fraught with economic envy, ontological insecurity and righteous indignation, fundamentalism flourishes and terrorism readily takes roots.
The focus upon the underclass
Relative deprivation can also occur where someone higher in the class
structure looking down can see undeserved rewards unmatched with the
disciplines of work and restraint. Further, just as the relative deprivation
and ontological uncertainties of the poor can lead to crime, so perhaps
more paradoxically the deprivation and insecurity of the more wealthy can
lead to feelings of punitiveness. As we have seen, the hard-working citizen
of the majority perceives a world where rewards seem allocated in a chaotic
fashion. The underclass, although in reality a group heterogeneous in
composition and ill defined in their nature, is a ready target for resentment
(see Gans, 1995: 2; Bauman, 1998b: 66–7). Reconstituted, rendered clearcut and homogenous by the mass media, they became a prime focus of
public attention in the sense of the stereotypes: ‘the undeserving poor’, ‘the
single mother’, ‘the welfare scrounger’, etc., and an easy focus of hostility.
Such stereotypes derive their constitution from the process of essentializing,
so prevalent because of the prevailing crisis of identity. That is of negative
images, the very opposite of the ‘virtues’ of the included thus casting the
social world into the binary mould which I have discussed previously. Thus
if the chaos of reward creates ready hostility towards the underclass, the
chaos of identity grasps upon them as a phantasmagoric Other with all
the opposite characteristics of the world of honest hardworking citizens
and, therefore, a ready negative prop to their ontological security.
But note the paradox, here, an underclass which is, in fact, very similar
to the rest of society, generates antagonism and distancing. The poor
become more like the more wealthy, at the same time as they are ‘othered’
by them; the degree to which the poor become more like the rest, the
more they resent their exclusion. Indeed, it is the narrowing of cultural
differences which allows resentment to travel both ways along this twoway street. Thus the breakdown of spatial and social isolation in late
modernity, which I have documented: a consequence of globalization, the
mass media, the consumer market and, mass education leads to a diminishing of cultural differences and rise in discontent both within nations and
between nations.
Globalization and the generation of domestic and global
The twin forces of economic and cultural globalization impact together
with considerable effect both domestically and globally. Although the
extent and level of economic globalization is debatable (Hirst and
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Thompson, 1999) the impact is worldwide. The First World poor are not
left behind stranded in the inner cities deserted by capital, they live in
intense and self-involved marketplaces and their eyes are on the outside
world. The Third World peasant may not contribute much to the world
economy and to the triad of the United States, Europe and Japan (see
Thompson, 2000) but this does not mean they are outside the forces of
economic globalization: their coffee is sold on the world markets, they buy
Coca-Cola at their local stall. Furthermore, the cultural globalization that
encompasses the global market raises people’s aspirations, threatens their
identities and fuels their discontent.
I wish to argue that the discontent arising out of material and ontological
uncertainties which globalization engenders has compelling parallels both
on a domestic and a global level. Furthermore, these discontents collide and
exacerbate each other. For brevity’s sake I will outline this process schematically:
1. Widening of income differentials. On a domestic level there has been a
widening of income differentials in the First World (for the USA see Mishel
et al., 2001), whereas on the global level there has been a growing gap
between the rich and poor nations (see UN, 1999).
2. Cultural globalization and relative deprivation. Widening income differentials, however severe, do not in themselves generate discontent; what does
is the relative deprivation generated by cultural globalization. Internally in
the First World the poor are regaled with images of consumption and
meritocracy while encountering structural inequality and unfairness while
worldwide cultural globalization presents standards of consumption, health
care and material well being which are presented as human universals yet
are palpably unfairly and grossly distributed. The saturation of media
exposure both in the poorest parts of the First World and the far reaches of
the globe in the context of gross inequalities has a bulimic quality.
3. Globalization and the crisis of identity. The impact of neo-liberal policies in
the First World exhorting a flexibility of labour and underwritten by
economic globalization and advances in automation generates instabilities
of employment, career and community while putting great stress on family
life (see Currie, 1997). Parallel to this the individualism of a market society
generates marital and family upheaval. All in all, biographies become
constituted by broken narratives, a situation of social disembededness
occurs and there is a widespread crisis of identity. The impact of cultural
globalization in the Third World is to threaten tradition, undermine takenfor-granted realities and destablize identity. Although such a crisis of
identity envelopes major swathes of the population this is particularly acute
among the poor who suffer both economic and political marginalization;
that is, domestically they feel not only economically discarded but also
misrecognized and disrespected whereas, globally, minority groups and
whole nations and cultures feel both economically dependent and politically
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4. Relative deprivation and ontological insecurity. The combination of material deprivation and ontological insecurity engenders attempts to secure
identity by essentializing one’s own culture and endeavouring to harden this
identity by blaming and negatively essentializing others. Such a process of
dehumanizing the other in order to secure oneself provides a major technique of neutralization with regards to the use of violence. That is if
unfairness provides a rationalization for violence, dehumanization permits
5. The narcissism of minor differences. Such a crisis of identity evokes the need
for hardened and distinct identities whether they be centred around
machismo, community, nationality or religion. This has both a difficulty and
an urgency, given that in an era of cultural globalization, cultures once
distinct have become both within a nation and internationally more similar.
Thus as Carl Nightingale (1993) shows in his study of the black underclass
of Philadelphia or as Michael Ignatieff has vividly shown in Warriors Honor
(1999) with his examination of the Croatian–Serbian conflict, differences
have to be actively constructed. Thus in Freud’s (1929) terms ‘the narcissism
of minor differences’ engenders passionate and intense conflicts (see also
Blok, 1998). Traditions are invented and differences improvised whether it
is the generation of masculine cultures of an almost burlesque nature (at
precisely the time where male–female gender differences are narrower) or
the evocation of myth and legend in Northern Ireland and the Balkans.
6. Identity wars. Nancy Fraser in Justice Interruptus (1997) notes how the
present period has been characterized by the politics of identity rather than
that of class. Class, of course, has scarcely disappeared but perhaps more
accurately class politics are often enveloped in a discourse of identity. Crime
in this present period similarly manifests itself in a concern with identity; the
instrumental crime of the past seems to be superseded by crimes of passion,
rage against humiliation, concerns with expressivity and lifestyle. Similarly,
Mary Kaldor (Kaldor and Vashee, 1997) talks of the new wars—the ‘wars
of identity’—with ethnic group pitted against ethnic group or on a more
global scale ‘crusades’ of the West against ‘terror’ where a fundamentalist
President using the language of fundamentalism sets himself up against the
forces of fundamentalist Islam.
Towards a sociology of vindictiveness
Oh tell me brave Captain why are the wicked so strong?
How do the angels get to sleep when the devil leaves his porch light on?
(Tom Waits, ‘Mr Siegal’, Heartattack and Vine, Asylum, 1980)
Relative deprivation downwards, a feeling that those who work little or not
at all are getting an easy ride on your back and your taxes, is a widespread
sentiment. Thus, whereas the ‘contented’ middle classes may well feel
sympathy towards the underclass and their ‘relative satisfaction’ with their
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own position translates into feelings of charity, those of the much larger
constituency of discontent are more likely to demand welfare to work
programmes, stamp down on dole ‘cheats’, etc. Such a response, whatever
its rationality, is not in itself punitive: it is at most authoritarian but it is not
necessarily vindictive. But tied to such a quasi-rational response to a
violation of meritocratic principles is frequently a much more compelling
subtext that seeks not only to redress a perceived reluctance to work but to
go beyond this to punish, demean and humiliate (see Hallsworth, 2000;
Pratt, 2000).
The key features of such resentment are disproportionality, scapegoating
and stereotyping. That is the group selected is seen to contribute to the
problems of society quite disproportionally to their actual impact (e.g.
teenage mothers, beggars, immigrants, drug users) and they are scapegoated and depicted as key players in the creation of social problems. Their
portrayal is presented in an extraordinarily stereotypical fashion that bears
little relationship to reality. Thus in The Exclusive Society I note how there
seems to be a common narrative about such depictions of late modern folk
devils in which is common from ‘single mothers’ to ‘drug addiction’ (see
Young, 1999: 113).
Svend Ranulf in his pathbreaking book Moral Indignation and Middle
Class Psychology (1964 [1938]) was intrigued by the desire to punish those
who do not directly harm you. Such ‘moral indignation’, he writes, is ‘the
emotion behind the disinterested tendency to inflict punishment [and] is a
kind of disguised envy’ (1964: 1). He explores this emotion using the
concept of ‘resentment’, which was first used by Nietzche in his condemnation of the moral basis of Christian ethics and developed by Max Scheler in
his Das Ressentiment im Aufbau der Moralem (1923). Resentment has
within it the impulse, as Merton put it, to ‘condemn what one secretly
craves’ (1957: 156). Ranulf’s innovation was to locate resentment sociologically and to tie the source of envy to restraint and self-discipline. Thus
he writes:
the disinterested tendency to inflict punishment is a distinctive characteristic
of the lower middle class, that is, of a social class living under conditions
which force its members to an extraordinarily high degree of restraint and
subject them to much frustration of natural desires.
(1964: 198)
It cannot be an accident that the stereotype of the underclass: with its
idleness, dependency, hedonism and institutionalized irresponsibility, with
its drug use, teenage pregnancies and fecklessness, represents all the traits
which the respectable citizen has to suppress in order to maintain his or her
lifestyle. Or as Albert Cohen famously put it:
The dedicated pursuit of culturally approved goals, the eschewing of
interdicted but tantalising goals, the adherence to normatively sanctioned
means—these imply a certain self-restraint, effort, discipline, inhibition.
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What effect does the propinquity of the wicked have on the peace of mind
of the virtuous?
(1965: 7)
Such a social reaction is moral indignation rather than moral concern. The
demons are not the fallen and the pitiful that fixate the philanthropist,
rather they, at once, attract and repel: they are the demons within us that
must daily be renounced. Thus the stereotype of minorities is not a wholly
negative identity, for as Homi Bhabha reminds us, in a telling phrase, it is
a ‘complex, ambivalent, contradictory mode of representation as anxious
as it is assertive’ (1993: 70).
The rigours of late modernity extend such restraints and insecurities far
beyond a narrow class band. A large part of the population is subject to
relative deprivation and ontological uncertainties and on top of this the
pressures and restraints necessary to function exacerbate this even further.
To survive in the late modern world demands a great deal of effort, selfcontrol, restraint. Not only is the job insecure and poorly paid, the hours
worked are long—extra hours are expected as a sign of commitment and
responsibility—children are often not seen for long after the long commute
home—people talk of ‘quality time’ as a euphemism for ‘little’—the
weekends seem short and enjoyment has to be snatched, often with the
liberal aid of alcohol. The dual career family more and more becomes a
norm with the planning both of adults’ and children’s schedules that this
entails. It is the experience of restraint and sacrifice that turns simple
displeasure (a sense of unfairness) into vindictiveness. Furthermore, as the
climate of work pressure and job uncertainty pervades a wide swathe of the
class structure, it is not restricted to the lower middle classes—which
Ranulf pinpointed, in line with much of the thinking at the time with its
concerns about the rise and social basis of fascism (see also Luttwak,
It is surely not difficult to see how an underclass who, at least in
stereotype, are perceived as having their children irresponsibly early, hanging around all day with their large families, having public housing provided
almost free, living on the dole, staying up late drinking and taking exotic,
forbidden substances and on top of all that committing incivilities and
predatory crimes against the honest citizen, are an easy enemy. They set off
every trigger point of fear and desire.
Towards a criminology of transgression
But what of the underclass? Precisely the same forces that shape the
resentment of those higher in the structure to those below, serve to
constitute the feelings of exclusion in the lowest point of the structure.
Thus, relative deprivation and a crisis of identity affect both parts of society
although the direction of the hostility so conjured up and the poignancy of
its impact are very different indeed.
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In the case of the underclass the acute relative deprivation forged out of
exclusion from the mainstream is compounded with a daily threat to
identity: a disrespect, a sense of being a loser, of being nothing, of
humiliation. The source of this systematic disrespect lies, of course, in the
dynamics of deprivation, identity crisis and restraint among those in the
secondary labour market—the precariously included which I have outlined
above. It is crystallized in particular in the institutions of policing, where
the poor become the overwhelming focus of police attention, a ‘police
property’ (Lee, 1981).
Humiliation and rebellion
I’ll chill like Pacino, deal like De Niro, Black Gambino, die like a hero.
(Rakim ‘Juice (know the Ledge), Nightingale, 1993: 184)
Carl Nightingale’s ethnography of the black Philadelphian underclass
makes the brave, almost audacious leap of understanding that the culture
of the ghetto is not one of isolation and alienation but involves a wholehearted yet desperate embracing of mainstream American values. And
indeed all the portfolio of values are available out there: the stress on
consumption and immediacy, on machismo, on the use of violence as a
preferred means of settling problems both in movies and in military
adventures (and more recently in movies about military adventures) and in
racist stereotypes and divisions. It might be useful if we return to the two
stigmas which the underclass confront, that of relative deprivation (poverty
and exclusion from the major labour markets) and misrecognition (lower
status and lack of respect). Both of these are forms of humiliation with
poverty among abundance the most humiliating stigma of all; as Bauman
puts it ‘a meta-humiliation of sorts, soil on which all-round indignity
thrives, a trampoline from which multiple humiliation is launched’
(Bauman and Tester, 2001: 154). Such a crisis of identity, a need to combat
a feeling of being a ‘nobody’, a ‘loser’, a worthless person produces
precisely the same process of essentialization which I have described earlier,
experienced by those who are part of the socially included—however
precariously and tenuously. But it is done with a much a greater intensity
and with a different context and outcome. That is the generation of a
notion of hardness, a fixity, a difference of self based on gender (e.g.
hypermasculinity), ethnicity, ‘turf’ (locality) and age (e.g. the gang). This is
seen most in hypermasculinity where, as Nightingale points out, by the fifth
or sixth grade ‘the bright eyes of the boy students start to glaze over in
preparation for assuming a tough look’ (1993: 47). The children metamorphose before one’s eyes. And such a process of essentializing oneself is
greatly facilitated by essentializing others. But it is not the rich and the
celebrated who are othered, it is not vertical but horizontal divisions: by
men against women, by ethnic group against ethnic group, by gang against
gang, by locality against locality. Even the essentializing projections of the
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better off, the othering of the poor becomes utilized by the poor to
essentialize themselves. Thus the widespread self-referral as ‘nigga’, the cult
of ‘badness’, the ethical inversion of ‘motherfucker’, ‘pimp’ or ‘b-boy’.
The criminology of transgression
He looked at the briefcase filled with money, the grocery bag filled with
cocaine, the briefcase and the bag side by side in the corner of the room.
Funny how neither one meant a dam thing to him. The money couldn’t buy
him anything better than he had right now, than he had felt that afternoon:
the risk of just taking something you decided was yours, the head-up feeling
in your stride afterward when you were walking away. The ride . . . It was
all about the ride.
. . . Cooper was going to take this ride as far as it would go ’cause it felt
good. Course, he knew the way it was going to end, the same way it always
ended for guys like him who never had no chance, and didn’t give a good
fuck if one came along. The point of it all was to walk like a motherfuckin’
man; if you had to, go down like one, too.
(Pelecanos, 1998, emphases in original)
As a criminal I have been a lamentable failure. Whatever money I have
gained by crime, I could have earned as a labourer in half the time I have
spent in prison. My character, which is uncompromising and addicted to
taking risks, was a guarantee that I could not be a success as a thief or a
bandit. But money has always been a secondary goal; crime has always been
directed to more powerful objectives. I took to crime as a course which was
dictated by life itself; success or failure in the actual commission of criminal
acts was never a matter of much concern to me, nor did they stand in the
way of what I was really seeking, which was a particular kind of life
Also I am not a really materialistic person. Money has never been, or ever
will be, my primary object. Inside or outside, I was always liked by my own
kind. My life was always exciting and dramatic; wherever I was, I was part
of the action. Psychologically, I had the satisfaction of personifying the
counter-culture with which I identified myself, and I found this was confirmed by my notoriety and prestige. I embodied the supreme virtue of the
criminal underworld, and I revelled in the greatest compliment it can
(McVicar, 1979: 197–8)
I have noted how the response of the included to the poor is more than
simply a meritocratic desire to ensure that benefits are drawn fairly and
work is not actively avoided. There is a vituperative quality pasted on
the back of the rationale of control. Similarly with regards to crime, the
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punitive turn has a vindictiveness that goes beyond the principles of neoclassicism and deserved punishment. Just so with crime: the criminality of
the underclass is not simply a utilitarian affair involving the stealing
of money or property or food or drink or drugs for that matter—although
all of these elements are indeed part of the motivation. Violence is not a just
simple instrument for persuading people to part with their cash nor a
management technique in the corporate world of organized crime. Drug
use is not a prosaic matter of the pleasures of the poor—an alternative
psychoactive experience to gin and tonic or a light and bitter, after a hard
day at the office. Rather it involves all of these things, but above all it has
a transgressive edge. For the transgressors are driven by the energies of
humiliation—the utilitarian core is often there, but around it is constructed
a frequent delight in excess, a glee in breaking the rules, a reassertion of
dignity and identity. It is this that the cultural criminologists—Ferrell
(1997), Presdee (2000), Hayward (2002, 2003) for example—have highlighted in their critique of neo-liberal criminology.
In this revision of the conventional liberal wisdoms of the causes of crime
we need to look back at the classic texts. For Robert Merton (1938) crime
was an alternative route to the American Dream. In his famous typology it
was an ‘adaptation’ or an ‘adjustment’ where the ‘strain’ of not having
access to legitimate opportunities led to recourse to illegitimate avenues.
The goals of success were unaltered, the cash to achieve them merely was
achieved by illegal means. Jack Katz in his Seductions of Crime (1988)
points out that the Mertonian vision of crime simply does not fit the
phenomenology of crime: the versatility, the zest, the sensuousness of the
criminal act. He points to the attractions of evil, the ways of the ‘badass’,
the transformative magic of violence. All of this is very much to the point,
but in his correct emphasis on the neglected foreground of infraction, the
heightened mental state of the offender, he rejects the structural background, any such determinism he sees as a gross materialism, a liberal
apologia which attempts to link too easily structural poverty to crime—bad
background to bad behaviour. I think Katz throws the baby out with the
bath water, simply to invert the conventional wisdom by highlighting
agency and rejecting structure. Our job is to emphasize both structure
and agency and trace how each constitutes the other (see Willis, 1977;
Bourgois, 1995; MacLeod, 1995 and social reproduction theory). Further,
the structural predicament of the ghetto poor is not simply a deficit of
goods—as Merton would have had it—it is a state of humiliation. And
crime, because it is driven by humiliation not by some simple desire to
redistribute property, is transgressive. The theory of bulimia which I have
proposed involves incorporation and rejection, cultural inclusion and
structural exclusion, as with Merton, but it goes further than this, emphasizing that this combination of the acceptance followed by rejection
generates a dynamic of resentment of great intensity. It is Merton with
energy, it is Katz with structure.
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The humiliation of exclusion
For Merton (1938) crime was an alternative route to the American Dream,
so that for the citizen cut off from legitimate opportunities and where
illegitimate chances were readily available, criminal behaviour was as
normal as going out to work. The rich subcultural tradition that followed
Merton represented today by theorists such as William Julius Wilson
(1987, 1995), carry forward this analysis presenting forcefully the notion
of crime occurring where there is ‘social isolation’ from the world of work
(see also Wacquant, 1998).
Contrary to this, I have argued throughout that marginalization does
have an impact. Philippe Bourgois’ crack dealers in East Harlem, for
example, are far from unaware of the world of legitimate work. They are
ridden with self-doubt about their exclusion, had fantasies about being a
‘normal working nigga’, had been in work and had been humiliated by the
world of work. Simultaneously wanting to be legitimate and despising it
but far from being oblivious of it (see Bourgois, 1995: ch. 4). It is this
humiliation that leads to the transgressive nature of much crime, however
utilitarian its core. It is this transgression which means that although crime
may be a substitute for work it is rarely like work as many theorists would
like us to believe. For example, it is not just the psychotropic qualities of
cocaine that make cocaine dealing an erratic, violent and irascible affair,
nor do the international aspects of its trade make the cartels like the
corporations that deal in margarine or aluminium.
The ‘crime as work’ metaphor is one that is hopelessly overburdened. In
its higher echelons organized crime has always involved the brash, the
brazen and the extravagant. Dick Hobbs, in his excellent obituary of John
Gotti, the New York Mafia boss, cites him as saying to his underlings:
You got to go in there with your suits and your jewellery . . . Put it in their
face. When people go to the circus, they don’t want to see clowns. They
want to see lions and tigers, and that’s what we are.
(Hobbs, 2002: 18)
And lower down the pile anyone who believes that cocaine dealers are
lower managers of a distribution company and that their guns are just there
to enforce contracts because of the lack of legal protection, are suffering
from an acute dose of neo-liberalism. Just go to any club in Dalston, East
London, or Brixton in the South, look at the gold, the jewellery, watch how
the action mixes with the ragga and the jungle, look at the swagger, listen
to the patois: the guns are not just instruments they are sexy, his is not a
job, it is excitement, this is not an alternative to work, it is a sensual riposte
to labour.
From turf war to real war
We have seen in Carl Nightingale’s study of the black ghetto of Philadelphia the extent of the immersion of the urban poor in the consumer
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culture of the United States. This is paralleled by an embracing of the
notion of violence as an immediate and ready means of solving problems
whether it is in the advocacy of ‘forceful parenting’, the enthusiasm for
Hollywood ‘action’ movies or support for Bush I in the First Gulf War.
And, of course, it is precisely the young men of such a culture who provide
a high proportion of the frontline soldiers. For as John Galbraith has
pointed out, the poor contribute greatly to the soldiers who risk death
whereas the children of the middle class ‘community of contentment’
provide very few combat troops. Thus at the time of the First Gulf War he
Writing this during the days when the conflict was under way and much
applauded. I asked the Harvard dean responsible for student matters how
many of his charges had rallied to the war or been commanded there to, he
replied ‘very few’. I pressed for a precise figure. He replied ‘zero’.
(Galbraith, 1992: 141)
Paul Willis depicts the development of the culture of lower-working-class
boys as a ‘Pyrrhic victory’. First they see through their predicament and
then create a culture of hardness and machismo to protect them against
humiliation. Yet it is this heavy culture of resistance that traps them in this
predicament. ‘The cultural celebration’, he notes wryly, ‘has lasted it might
seem just long enough to deliver him through the closed factory doors’
(Willis, 1977: 107). In these days of unemployment and ‘new wars’ the
contemporary culture of machismo delivers not so much to the factory
floor as to the front line.
Hip hop across the borders
In this article I have pointed to the phenomenological and aetiological
similarities between criminal violence and the violence of the state. I have
noted parallels between the essentialization and dehumanization that facilitates violence whether it is on the streets, in war or in actions for and
against terrorism. I have argued against the use of binaries, against the
current discourse on social exclusion which contrasts an included citizen
who is contented, secure and ontologically certain with the excluded
member of the underclass who lacks all of these positives. I have criticized
the notion of the dual city where lines are not crossed and where each part
of the binary inhabits different moral universes. None of this dismisses the
very real physical and social exclusions that rack late modern societies and
the system-driven stigmatization and othering which characterize these
relations. But such an intensity of exclusion—and the corresponding
resentment of the excluded—is propelled by the similarities of values and
the transgression of borders. The world of late modernity abhors separateness just as it avidly sets up barriers. Globalization means nothing if it does
not imply transgression: of a world brought closer together and the
diminishing of cultural differences where the barriers are daily breached by
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the mobility of labour and the all-pervasive penetration of the mass media.
The values of the majority constitute the normative life of the minority and
generate the bulimia that fuels their discontent. The very similarity of the
underclass, indeed its over-identification with the values of consumerism
and hedonism, sets itself up almost like an unwitting target for the
resentment of the included. Each facet of their behaviour mocks the daily
restraints of the included. Yet there is fascination here as well as disliking
and fear. The culture of the underclass with its compensatory masculinity,
resorts to violence and rampant individualism—all over accentuations of
the wider culture and, then, in turn influences film, fashion and popular
music. The street scripts the screen and the screen scripts the streets. The
borders are transgressed, the boundaries are criss-crossed, and the centre
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Theoretical Criminology 7(3)
JOCK YOUNG is Distinguished Professor of Sociology, John Jay College, City
University of New York. His most recent book is The Exclusive Society
(1999). He is at present finishing its sequel Crossing the Borderline and a
book on criminological theory Merton’s Dream and Quetelet’s Warning.
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