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Criminology and the Transnational Condition: A Contribution to International Political Sociology

James Sheptycki
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-5687.2007.00028.x 391-406 First published online: 1 November 2007


This article contributes to international political sociology and the further enhancement of the interdisciplinary study of the global system by introducing some of the lexicon of critical criminology into the discourse. It suggests that the contemporary global system is ripe with existential anxieties that are symptoms of momentous historical change and it argues that, for good or for ill, issues of crime definition and control have become central to the transnational condition. As a consequence, criminological theories should be introduced into theoretical discussions about the nature of the contemporary global scene. Such interdisciplinary cross-fertilization is vital, given the centrality of the language of criminal threats in the language of global governance and the language of governance globally.

Understanding contemporary world affairs is not easy. This is partly because the field is so complex and partly because the inherited linguistic and theoretical habits of international relations (IR) theory, which all too often tends to dominate thoughts on the matter, do not allow for an adequate analysis of the complexity. Much of the theoretical debate in IR theory concerns the centrality of the state qua State as the linchpin of world society. The assertions of traditional IR theory about the primacy of the state and national security discourse in the contemporary world system play out alongside other discussions concerning the location of sovereignty; the construction of social or collective identities; the nature of communities in relation to regional localities and transnational mobility; contested definitions about threats to security; and the stark alternatives of a world system based on cosmopolitan democracy and the rule of law, or of national insecurity in international anarchy (Held 1995; Krause and Williams 1996, 1997; Krause 1998; Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, and Perraton 1999). The aim of this article is to contribute to international political sociology, and the further enhancement of the interdisciplinary study of the global system, by introducing some of the perspective and lexicon of critical criminology into the mix. This is useful because crime definition and control have been central aspects of governance since the early modern period and this is no less true now that governance has become transnational or global. The article suggests that the contemporary global system is ripe with existential anxieties that are symptoms of momentous historical change and it will argue that, for good or for ill, crime definition and control has become crucial to the transnational condition. As a consequence, criminological theories can be introduced into theoretical discussions about the nature of the contemporary global scene with fruitful results. Indeed, such interdisciplinary cross-fertilization is vital, given the centrality of the language of criminal threats in the language of global governance and the language of governance globally (cf. Andreas and Nadelmann 2006).

Theoretical Antecedents

Historically speaking the discipline of international relations has rested on the assumption that the interplay of nation-states is what really counts in world affairs. The discipline of IR put down its roots during the period after the First World War, a war that provided the impetus for a discourse about the international system which emphasized the power of reason and the rule of law in the enhancement of prospects for peace. Early IR theory focused attention on the conduct of states in a system of politics devoid of central authority. Given the scale of destruction associated with total war—where mass society and industrial production came together with the principles of balance-of-power politics in a frenzy of destruction and fratricide—newly established departments of international politics aimed to study how the system of states could be made to work more effectively so as to enhance the power of law, the peaceful management of interstate affairs, the preservation of order and especially the minimization of warfare. This reformist impulse rather quickly gave way to a theoretical emphasis on political power. This point of view was termed “realism” and it was reflective of so-called Realpolitik in practical international affairs. This theory held that the underlying structure of the nation-state system, established at the dawn of modernity within the “Westphalian peace” of 1648, created an essential contradiction whereby diplomats continued to see war both as a symptom of disorder and a means to achieve (their individually preferred versions of) order at one and the same time. Thus was established the basic thesis and antithesis of IR theory. On the one hand there were the “realists” (who stressed the inescapable nature of political power and its means, organized violence and the threat of organized violence) and on the other were the “idealists” who sought ways of enhancing the power of international law (law between states) and thereby ensure the peaceful management of interstate affairs and the preservation of international peace.

While war between states remains a potent source of insecurity in the world system, it is not the only one. Arguably in the present period a number of other threats to security—environmental degradation, poverty, and the weaponization of civil society that has accompanied the very nearly unfettered global market in small arms—are among those issues that constitute equally important challenges. Such issues are not easily incorporated into the traditional paradigms of IR, but by the time they were recognized as pressing, the theories had already come under challenge from a variety of quarters. Beginning in the early 1970s, or perhaps somewhat earlier, scholars began to recognize the limitations of traditional IR theory. For example, in the United States Robert Keohane and Joeseph Nye argued for a shift in emphasis away from international relations—which privileged the study of relations between sovereign nation states—and towards transnational relations, that is “contacts, coalitions and interactions across state boundaries that are not controlled by the central foreign policy organs of governments” (Keohane and Nye, 1970:xi). In the United Kingdom, John Burton was critical of the “billiard ball model” of international relations which only recognized inter-state relations. The object of study, he argued, should be “world society” as a whole (Burton, 1972). Immanuel Wallerstein produced a transhistorical analysis which located the origins and growth of the “world system” not so much in states, but rather in the dynamic transnational relations of capitalism; an historical trajectory which, according to this view, was already well established by the time of the Treaty of Westphalia (Wallerstein, 1974, 1980, 1989). These theoretical developments, and others, were much debated and contested; what could not be in doubt was that world politics was not static and unchanging, nor could theories about them remain so.

In the final decade of the 20th century, theories of globalization were in abundance and hotly debated (e.g., Castells 1996, 1998a,b; Giroux 2004; Hirst and Thompson 2001; Mann 1993, 2003; Rozenberg 2000; Sklair, 1995). It had become obvious that there had been a proliferation of new actors taking part in the dramas on the world stage and that the old way of scripting global relations in IR terms, which gave all the best lines to sovereign state actors, was no longer able to tell the full story. For one thing, the downsizing of the welfare state and the privatization of other state functions, concomitant with the transnational rise to prominence of neoliberal ideology, considerably weakened states’ capacities, indeed so much so that some theorists talked about the “hollowing out of the state” (Rhodes 1994). Globalization theory made states seemed weaker, just as it recognized new players in world affairs. Some of these new actors had formal legal status (for example transnational corporations) others not (for example transnational diasporic communities). Some were seen to act out of purely self-interest (for example, the mega-rich nurturing their wealth in offshore banking havens), some out of a conception of global well-being (for example human rights and environmental non-governmental organizations—NGOs). Theories aiming to describe and analyze a world system of transnational social relations, rather than merely international relations, raised questions about the nature, significance, authority, and autonomy of the state qua State in the global system. The “state” was theorized as a fragmented institutional terrain, as evidenced by politicians’ promises of “joined up government.” Transboundary relations were, by definition, transgressive and the myriad processes of transnationalization meant that states could no longer be conceptualized as the “containers” of cultural, economic, political, and social relations. The institutions that comprise states stood among many other kinds of institution that collectively make up what, at best, could be a polycentric transnational world governance system under the rule of law or, at worst, a competitive, chaotic and conflict ridden world-wide struggle for power.

The historical flux of theoretical ideas about the Global Village—to use Marshall McLuhan's famously contentious turn of phrase—mapped onto a fast changing world productive of a catalogue of anxieties. The spread of pandemic disease, natural disasters, human-made ones, environmental degradation of the air, land and sea, climate change, civil war, poverty, displaced populations, economic collapse, authoritarianism, terrorism, and crime formed a partial list of the major fears, but theories about these risk phenomena and their relation to the global system remained as inchoate and contested as the “liquid modernity” from which they sprang (Bauman 2000). In the somewhat confused “politics of fear” (Furedi 2005) that emerged in the early 21st century, states—or at least the captains of states—were often understood to be the predominant legitimated and responsiblized actors and many statesmen and -women acted as if this was, indeed, the case. Anxiously faced with a fast-changing present and an apparently dangerous future the temptation is to give in to the will to power, bolster the state and seek refuge in the static, predictable existence promised by national security. However, and echoing Keith Krause (1998:323), trying to escape the theoretical reification of state sovereignty and actorhood and its endless repetitions of the discourse of national-insecurity-in-international-anarchy means engaging with critical interdisciplinary scholarship in order to think seriously, creatively and beyond what are clearly very complex global problems.

Criminology Theory Counts

Criminological theory is not a well-trodden road for the majority of social scientists and its relevance to the previous discussion should not be assumed. It might therefore do to remark at the outset of this section that the three classical sociological thinkers—Weber, Marx and Durkheim—all provided ideas which connect criminology with important aspects of the transnational condition. With Weber it is the assertion that the state holds a monopoly of the legitimate use of coercive force in the maintenance of social order. For some time now, criminological theory has been attempting to come to terms with the privatization of penal and policing power and its consequences for the governance of social order beyond the state (Spitzer and Scull 1977; South 1988; Johnston 2000; Johnston and Shearing 2003; Wood and Dupont 2006). Marxian thought connects criminology to the transnational condition via the criminogenic consequences of class society and there have been theories attempting to understand the criminological consequences of growing global social, political, and economic exclusion (Taylor 1999; Young 1999, 2003). Durkheim's main intellectual concern was to analyze the possibilities of securing social cohesion in the face of rapid social and economic change, a theoretical concern as relevant to his time as it is to the present (Garland 2001). Central to Durkheim's sociology was the proposition that crime is a “normal social fact” and that all societies manifest crime. Social ordering is symbolically and functionally achieved by processes of crime definition and enforcement and these processes are causally linked to other aspects of social integration. This theoretical understanding informs us as to why feudal Europe had the crimes of witchcraft and heresy and the United States during the McCarthy era had communism and blacklists and, by extension, asks questions about crime definition and control in “world society.” Transnational and comparative criminologists have recently begun to grapple with these theoretical issues and associated empirical questions in earnest (Reichel 2005; Sheptycki and Wardak 2005) and a host of points of contact between the two disciplines can been staked out. The coordinates of Weber, Marx and Durkheim will surface again in this essay, however, not before mentioning that perhaps the most compellingly interesting reason to pursue questions regarding criminology and the transnational condition is because both traditional IR theory and criminological theory exhibit varieties of “realism.”

IR realism has its philosophical roots in Hobbesian “state of nature” analogies and in social contract theories which come from Lockean inspired thinkers. From this starting point there can be no society in the absence of authority and the state becomes the primary locus of security, authority and obligation whereby the well-being of the citizen is guaranteed by the state which secures a monopoly on violence (cf. Tilly 1985). Needless to say, those who stand outside the state represent potential or actual threats and relations between states are those of strategic maneuvering in the pursuit of states’ interests—a worldview which provides the basis for international anarchy (Krause 1998:309). IR realism encompasses a number of different approaches with slightly different emphases, but a common assumption is that of rational choice theory which depicts human behavior as guided by instrumental reason. For IR realists, states remain the principal actors, but frequently attention is given to forces above and below individual states thus bridging the structure-agency relation in the international system through a differentiation of levels of analysis. The international system is seen as a structure acting on the state with individuals below the level of the state acting as agency on the state as a whole. “Rational choice” binds the structure together and sets it in process, it depicts humans acting at the various levels as conscious decision makers who realistically weigh up incentives and constraints and act in ways that they believe will produce the most desirable outcomes, but the logic is overdetermined by the supposed will to power, Hobbesian or Machiavellian assumptions about the nature of humanity and resultant expectations of violence and deception.

Importantly in the context of this essay, the many variants of IR realism have a critical theoretical antithesis (Krause 1998:316–317). There is variety here too, but these theories tend to argue inter alia: that the actors in world politics, whether states’ actors or not, and along with the discourses they deploy, are the products of complex historical processes that include social, political, and ideational dimensions. That is, they are social constructs constituted through political practices (see also Booth 1997). Criminological realism has its roots in similar philosophical soil, but its target elements render it superficially very different than its IR counterpart.

The historical roots of criminological realism lie in the early 1970s, when the Harvard-based political scientist James Q. Wilson situated his theories between so-called liberals who sought to alleviate the causes of crime found in poverty and racism and conservatives who had an overly simplistic faith summed up by the bumper sticker which read: “support your local police” (Wilson 1985:3). Wilson's work was immensely influential throughout the English-speaking world and, interestingly, he was an advisor on crime to the Reagan Administration. Rational choice in criminological theory is premised on a vision of a hedonistic calculus where the actor weighs up the potential rewards of crime and balances that against the probability of being caught and the severity of punishment. The two signal ideas of Wilsonian realist criminology are “broken windows” and “zero tolerance policing.” The broken windows idea suggested that, if a window is smashed in a building and it is not repaired, the indication to the surrounding community is that no one cares about the property. Consequently, it will only be a matter of time until other windows are smashed and the building falls prey to squatters and criminals (Wilson and Kelling 1982). Wilson and Kelling strongly argued that this developmental sequence of crime and disorder needs to be recognized by governments and appropriate policy initiatives undertaken. Significantly, criminological realists following in Wilson's footsteps, viewed tackling the social causes of crime (e.g., poverty and racism) as unrealistic (Wilson and Herrnstein 1985). Realistic criminological practice focused on deterrence and its first recourse was “zero tolerance policing.” The allegory of broken windows required that on-the-street law enforcement focus on sweeping the streets of undesirables—beggars, drunks, prostitutes, vandals, and other antisocial misfits—because the assumption was that by making inroads against lesser crimes then eventually more serious criminality would cave in leaving neighborhoods free of endemic criminality. This version of criminological realism is highly tendentious, but perhaps no more so that traditional IR with its deterrence doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Interestingly, criminological realism, like its IR counterpart, had its own theoretical antithesis which had an efflorescence about a decade after Wilson's initial impact (Mathews and Young 1986, 1992). To be sure, strict parallels between “critical,” or “left realist” criminology and “critical security studies” are not easy to draw. The scholarly communities that sustain these realisms so seldom meet but, as is the contention here, this is less the case now than in an earlier time when global flows were not so strong.

The above discussions hardly scratch the surface of potential connections between criminological interests and theories about international affairs. Clearly, however, there are a number of interdisciplinary overlaps. Surely it is interesting to note that, despite the huge differences in detail, a sentinel point for realism in both its criminological and IR guises is deterrence through threat or use of force. This suggests that an essential route of future enquiry in international political sociology will be to further interrogate the epistemological and ontological similarities and differences across the disciplinary divide. In the context of this essay, it is particularly useful to establish that both brands of realism have produced critical antitheses. Critical cross-fertilization between criminological theories and theories about world affairs is vital. Interdisciplinary theorizing is a contribution to processes by which critical approaches percolate through the growing number of topics concerning security and anxiety listed previously. The argument that criminology theory counts in world affairs is part of the further evolution of critical views of approaches to security studies (CASE Collective 2006). Lastly criminology counts especially because, morally speaking, its field of concern is based on justifications about the use of coercive power.

Classic Critical Criminology

Starting in the 1950s, criminology started to move away from an exclusive emphasis on pathogenic explanations of crime to a sociology of deviance which sought to locate the study of crime and delinquency in a much broader and more complex perspective. What emerged could be characterized as second-order reflection, focusing on how different forms of deviance are selectively defined, imputed, acted out and subjected to social control (Downes and Rock 1971). Building on the symbolic interaction or social constructionist perspective (Berger and Luckman 1966), the new criminology evolved through a series of stages. The first move was to recognize that criminal or deviant behavior was simply “behavior people so label” (Becker 1963:9). The second was to highlight the amplificatory potential of social control; to show that criminalization, the process whereby phenomena become defined as crime and reacted to on that basis, may contribute to the reproduction of the phenomenon. Lesley Wilkins (1964) first introduced the notion of “deviance amplification” into the criminological lexicon. The insight was that societies may be more or less tolerant of deviant behavior and that some tend to define more acts as criminal than do others. In so doing, more of social life falls under the purview of criminal law enforcement institutions. The paradox is that the social reaction to social practices defined as crime has the tendency to alienate those individuals and groups thus defined, thereby actually increasing the perceptions of their criminality by all concerned, affirming the initial intolerance. Thus proceeds a delinquency amplification spiral (Cohen 1972).

The initial iteration of constructionism in criminological thinking took its primary cue from Durkheimian sociology. The criminological Other was a normal social fact and social solidarity was shaped in important ways by the manufacture of deviance. Importantly, the manufacture of the criminological Other was the key to the construction and maintenance of major social institutions of control, but it is not the case that this was an entirely smoothly functional relationship, which could create difficulties for the critical appreciation of this interactive phenomenon. As Becker put it:

For a great variety of reasons, well-known to sociologists, institutions are refractory. They do not perform as society would like them to…officials develop ways both of denying the failure of the institution to perform as it should and explaining those failures which cannot be hidden. An account of an institution's operation from the point of view of subordinates therefore casts doubt on the official line and may possibly expose it as a lie. (1967:128)

This initial phase in the development of the critical outlook in criminological theory developed without much allusion to power, politics and social exclusion. However, following very closely on the heels of this initial breakthrough was a more radical perspective (for example, Box 1971, 1983, 1987; Cohen 1985, 1988; Taylor, Walton, and Young 1973, 1975). It is not possible to summarize this literature here, but it is possible to describe the central points made in what remains the cardinal contribution to the perspective: Stuart Hall's (1978) book Policing the Crisis (written with Charles Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts). The study opens with a painstaking analysis of the manufacture of an apparent crime wave which was termed colloquially at the time a “mugging crisis.” The term was not a category in English law, and was not previously a common term of expression in London or elsewhere in the British Isles. It was, in fact, a term borrowed from the United States—no doubt inserted into common English parlance via the medium of imported police action-dramas. The authors trace the construction of this term and its insertion into common parlance. In considerable detail they show how statistics were manufactured in order to give substance to the claim that there had been a huge increase in “muggings,” which were a coded reference to predacious crime by ethnic minorities, especially Afro-Caribbean youth. Different crimes were conflated in news representations of official statistics in order to give the impression of an unprecedented rise in street crimes of violence. Other scholars admitted that “the much quoted rise of 129 percent in “muggings” in London over the 1968–72 period was derived from figures clouded in ambiguity” (Downes and Rock 1988:249). This unpacking of the statistical picture of a seemingly mortal threat to social order—the Black Mugger—laid the foundation for a considered analysis of the power effects of this crime panic.

As scholars of international politics know, the period was one of considerable political and economic crisis in Great Britain. The period was characterized by numerous strikes coupled with rapid inflation—much aggravated by the “oil crisis” of 1973–74. The circumstances culminated in a spate of strikes so numerous that the winter of 1978–79 was christened in the popular press as the “winter of discontent” (a phrase taken from Richard III) (Sked and Cook 1984). According to the analysis pursued in Policing the Crisis, the British state was undergoing a “crisis of legitimation.” Hall and his colleagues argued, in effect, that the “Black Mugger” was a perfect folk devil, a scapegoat for all the social anxieties experienced by a society in the midst of rapid transformation and destabilization. In an increasingly divided and embittered class society where the traditional armory of political consensus (power, deference, fatalism, external enemies) was exhausted, diminishing or absent—it followed that “the State” was faced with a “crisis of hegemony.” As crime is such a strong source of symbolic unity, war on crime-type rhetoric can provide a useful tool for re-legitimation. Hall and his colleagues observed how class struggle had brought the government to its knees during strike action that coalesced around the Coke and Coal depot at Saltely Gates in 1972 and that the period was marred by a series of increasingly violent confrontations between racist Far-Right groups and anti-Fascists. All four themes (political and economic crisis, ideological struggle and the politics of race) were to be understood as a potentially explosive historical conjuncture during which “the State's” main aim was to set the terms by which the crisis would be perceived, all in order to reproduce State hegemony and the interests of the dominant groups it represented. In the end the crisis was redefined as a crisis of legitimate authority which had been prevented from doing its proper job, thus laying the foundations for an “exceptional State” with strong police powers (Hall 1980). The “politics of mugging” was understood to provide ideological cover for the exceptional emergence of a strong State and the continued enforcement of iniquitous power relations; thereby the crime panic surrounding the policing of “blacks,” the poor and the unemployed amounted to “policing the crisis.”

Criminology Theory and Globalization

For more than a quarter of a century, criminology has been honed in an attempt to theorize the social, economic, cultural, and institutional embeddedness of the dialectics of crime and social control. In C. S. Lewis's famous literary metaphor, classic critical criminology aimed at seeing through the details of crime “waves” or “epidemics” and the froth of “moral panics” created by the campaigning of “moral crusaders.” In its most robust forms, critical academic criminology was not mere literary deconstruction and its most illuminating practitioners made good use of many of the social scientific research techniques and products of what was differentiated as the “administrative criminology” of governmental programmers (Young 1994). Critical criminologists were wont to undertake detailed analyses of a variety of official crime statistics, contrasting these with representations of crime and disorder in the popular media, in order to show how the underlying phenomenon had been institutionally constructed more as a reflection of the predilections of the institutions of social order than of the phenomenon itself (Box 1971, 1983, 1987). Some critical criminologists undertook empirical work of their own using the standard research instruments of administrative criminology such as crime and victimization surveys as well as detailed analyses of official statistics, their production and dissemination (Bowling 1998; Jones, MacLean, and Young 1985; Kinsey, Lea, and Young 1986; Lea and Young 1984; Mooney 2000). As previously explained, realist criminology of the kind propounded by J.Q. Wilson and George Kelling explicitly rejected the attempt to fathom the social causes of crime—a symptom of what Jock Young referred to as the “etiological crisis” (Young 1994). This abandonment of interest in the social causes of crime was partly, one suspects, because the control responses advocated by Wilsonian realist criminologists might themselves be thought of as criminogenic. Iatrogenisis, the notion that the administered “cure” was itself a link in the chain of crime causation, had become an important feature of critical criminological thinking (Gladstone, Ericson, and Shearing 1991). Critical criminology has long attempted to look through the fogged window of perception created by apparently realistic administrative criminology in order to expose underlying power relationships based on institutional positioning, age, class, ethnicity, and gender; and further, to show how those relationships folded into crime control strategies all in the maintenance of an exclusive social order (Young 1999).

How do these insights from criminological theory look when focused through the lens of globalization theories and how will criminological theory be adapted to take account of the transnational condition? The easiest way to answer to the latter question is, perhaps, to echo John Urry's (2000) arguments for a “sociology beyond societies.” Urry argues for a sociological view that does not remain fixated upon a static nation-state/society couplet but rather one that analyses global flows and transnational complexity. Criminology, like sociology of this ilk, seeks to problematize the fixed, given and static notions of social order (Urry 2003:59). The transnational perspective requires transcendence of boundaries and the expansion of the thematic scope of criminology. Although criminology has often been rather bound up with the parochial order of territorial jurisdictions, many criminologists now clearly recognize limitations in the “belief that national political communities can be relatively autonomous because they have the capacity to control their own destinies” (Ericson and Stehr 2000:32). Faced with this recognition, one contradiction of globalization crisis talk strikes a particularly strong chord: while politicians profess a limited capacity to influence the economy, and in some places appear to have given up trying to do so, very nearly everywhere politicians are vouchsafing their determination to “fight crime” by various measures (Christie 2004).

Under conditions of transnationalization, the role of the state in the social response to crime is contradictory. On one hand, as global neoliberalism develops apace, there is evidence that even while modern states increasingly “govern through crime” (Simon 1997), they are increasingly unable to govern crime, and in the prosperous countries of the west there is a tendency to simply manage crime fear. Over the past three decades criminologists have charted the exponential growth of privatized forms of security, as well as the growth of private prisons and numerous other institutional aspects of the penal apparatus (Johnston 2000). Nils Christie conceptualized “crime control as industry,” and observed that many western states, albeit to greater or lesser extents, increasingly leave the provision of security to market forces (Christie 2000). Does this amount to a withering away of the state? The answer seems ambiguous, since in parallel with this outsourcing, there has been a striking growth in the size of prison populations and penal apparatus in many countries (Stern and Niehaus 1998; Stern 2006) and, although measurement is difficult, a general growth in the policing apparatus as well (Henry and Smith 2007). Moreover, in the aftermath of the world-wide declaration of a “war on terror” there is a palpable enhancement of state capacities, especially evident in the intensification of border controls and the enhancement of state sponsored surveillance and bureaucracy. Far from withering away, under transnational conditions the heavy muscle power of the state—that is, the coercive capacities of states—is growing.

Decoupled from the traditional emphasis on studying crime in national societies, and aware of the advent of “global cities” where, for the first time in human history, the urban masses—and especially the urban poor—outnumber the rural ones, criminological theory has incorporated important aspects of globalization theory into the corpus (Davis 1998). The “city of walls” (Caldiera 2000), which divides the locally grounded urban poor from the trasnationally cosmopolitan upper classes, has required new techniques of social ordering: witness the massive installation of CCTV and the other technological paraphernalia of surveillance society (Lyon 2003); the militarization of state backed crime control strategies and the growth of private security (Johnston 2000; Johnston and Shearing 2003), and the mushrooming of ghettos side-by-side with “gated communities.” The overriding characteristic of the global city is an “ecology of fear” (Davis 1999), partly, one suspects because, as the sociologist Richard Sennett (1998) has observed, the new global elite wants to operate in the city, but not rule it. Thus is composed a regime of power without responsibility. Which, of course, makes necessary the brute repression of “deviants”—that is, the economically surplus population—so as to lock down their mobility and preserve the collective sameness and relative ease of mobility of the those included in the transnational market society (Hayward 2004).

Ethnographic criminology has been particularly effective in describing the consequences of these processes. For example Philippe Bourgois's study of El Barrio is a powerful account of the lives of young drug dealers in a marginalized neighborhood sitting amidst the wealth of Manhattan (2003). For these people, the possibility even of casual labor, which occupied earlier generations of the urban lower class (Liebow 1967), is nonexistent. In the “post-Fordist city,” factory employment has been slashed, and in its place has risen a feminized labor force in the service sector (Hobbs, Hadfield, Lister, and Winlow 2003). The cultural identity of young men, macho and tough, which could function effectively on the factory shop floor, is dysfunctional in the white-collar office environment of the service sector which demands subservient modes of interaction. Instead of passively accepting such structural marginalization, Bourgois's informants are enlivened in the violent inner-city street culture which is dominated by the illicit drug economy, the choice employer. The street culture he describes does indeed offer its participants the possibility to achieve wealth, status and alternative forms of dignity through conspicuous consumption—just as the economically better off who surround them do—but, only at a cost because this alternative lifestyle “ultimately becomes an active agent in personal degradation and community ruin” (Bourgois, 2003:9). Contemporary criminological ethnography generally shows that the illicit drug economy is not so much the cause of inner-city decline, but rather a symptom of deeper structural problems (see also: Wright and Decker 1997). The problem is so deep seated that illicit drug markets could never be suppressed and “knocked out” by repressive policing and penal interventionism, and that is why such strategies tend only to compound the problem—iatrogenisis. The marginalized dangerous classes are a category of fear, but as Bourgois points out, their “self-destructive addiction is merely the medium for desperate people to internalize their frustration, resistance and powerlessness” (2003:319).

Fear and Control

The fear of crime has become an object of governance distinct from the governance of crime itself (Lee 2007). The present has been described in terms of a “politics of fear” (Furedi 2005) and criminologists now argue that fear, anxiety and insecurity have been a potent factor behind a variety of innovations in crime control (Hope and Sparks 2000; Zedner 2003). According to Jock Young (2003) conditions of more or less permanent and all pervasive insecurity globally have emerged and serve as the perfect seedbed for many forms of crime, not to mention the wellspring for the intensely punitive response of the “discontented majority.” Taking a cue from the sociologist Anthony Giddens, Young and other criminologists have attempted to come to grips with a standard feature of global neoliberalism, namely the anxiety provoked by flux and change and especially the anxiety brought about by the “casualization” and “flexibleization” of labor. In Giddens's turn of phrase “ontological insecurity” stems from the lack of “confidence that most human beings have in their self-identity and the constancy of the surrounding social and material environments of action” (Giddens 1990:92). As a result, “anxiety, fear and self-interest become the new emotional responses to life in advanced capitalism” (Hall and Winlow 2005:32). Small wonder, then, that the middle-middle classes of the west “are unsure about their good fortune, unclear about their identity, uncertain about their position on the included side of the line” (Young 2003:399). The contradictory effects of globalization on states’ capacities—on the one hand, eroding the ability to produce welfare, and on the other enhancing the “power to punish” (Garland and Young 1985)—lends itself to nostalgia for a bygone age:

For whereas the Golden Age [of the Keynsian Welfare State] 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 deviant. (Young 2003:390)

In the present, Gabe Mythen and Sandra Walklate (2006:388) suggest “far from a global politics of risk which emphasizes responsibility and equality, what is emerging instead, it seems, is a politics of fear and vengeance.” This is recognized in the more general sociology of risk; for example, Beck (1992:75) observes that “the risk society contains an inherent tendency to become a scapegoat society” (italics in the original).

These intensifying fears need to be situated in the context of globally exacerbating divisions between the winners and losers of the new world order. Zygmunt Bauman (2000:205) describes “the wasteful, rejecting logic or globalization” and sees globalization essentially as the production of “human waste.” Ethnographic confirmation of this perspective can be found, for example, in Beatrix Campbell's (1993)Goliath; Britain's Dangerous Places, which describes the local council estates for lower class families and people more as a human dumping ground rather than housing for capitalism's reserve army of labor. Worldwide, about one-third of the population presently lives on less than one US dollar per day, while the richest 1 percent of adults own 40 percent of planetary “wealth” and the richest 10 percent own more than 85 percent of global “assets” (Randerson 2006). The relationship between crime and inequalities of wealth and power has been long studied in criminology and the view that has emerged about it is complex. Observing how contemporary consumer capitalism both absorbs massive populations into the order of consumption and simultaneously “vomits up”—that is, structurally excludes—those same populations, Jock Young settled on the colorful metaphor of bulimia in order to describe this strange contradiction. A striking fixture of flavellas, slums, banlieue, and ghettos around the world is the protrusion of TV satellite dishes, because through global mass media the planetary masses have intimate connection with the lifestyles of the rich. Already pervasive social inequalities are amplified through the constant display of wealth and consumer products in the media, ensuring that the indignity of relative deprivation is kept burning in the living quarters of the world's working poor.

It is against this backdrop of fear that a variety of “suitable enemies” (Christie 1986) are paraded—Outsiders, in the same sense that Howard Becker (1963) used the term more than 40 years ago—a normal social fact both constituted by and constitutive of the social order more generally. Only now the drama is global and, because the levels of fear and anxiety that surround deviance are far beyond anything imaginable in that earlier time, the control responses are themselves more punitive. This type of theorization, which obviously echoes Durkheimian sociological ideas from the nineteenth century, has considerable purchase in the present and has been picked up by a number of criminological scholars precisely because “punitive populism”—and the spirit of vindictiveness it represents—has so displaced the instrumental rationality the discipline was intended to foster (Garland 2001a,b; Pratt 2007). Two folkdevils in particular stand out against this backdrop: the illegal immigrant and the terrorist (Bigo 2002).

Xenophobia and renewed debates about the viability of multiculturalism surround discussions about the unscrupulousness of human traffickers, and cultural practices such as honor killings and the circumcision of female genitalia. Under transnational conditions the cultural outsider is always “over here” and the anxiety prompted by the general ontological insecurity of the times calls for heightened control responses. One barometer of this social effect is police use of stop-and-search powers. For example, in London in mid-2005, it was reported that the use of such powers in the context of counterterrorism had increased sevenfold in the month following the July 7th bombings on the London underground. According to figures released at the time, between July 7 and August 10, the British Transport Police had carried out 6,747 stop-and-searches under antiterrorism laws, mostly in London. Of those 2,390 stops were of Asian people, 35% of the total, and 2,168 of white people, who were 32% of the total. In London, Asian people comprise 12% of the population, while white people are 63%. One month previously, in June, the force stopped 408 people nationwide, with less of a focus on Asian people: of that month's stops, 51% were white, 8.6% were Afro-Caribbean, and 16.2% were Asian (Dodd 2005). Reportedly, the stop-and-searches during the surge led to 25 arrests, mainly for drugs and possession of weapons (mainly knives) offenses. The bombings on the London transport system created fear and alarm, and the reaction of authorities signaled something: the folkdevils would be put in their place and the social order preserved. On July 22, in the midst of the heightened police dragnet on the underground transport system, Metropolitan undercover police shot and killed a Brazilian national named Jean Charles de Menezes in the mistaken belief that he was a lone Middle Easterner intent on a suicide bombing mission.

These are all symptoms of a broader global malaise. Fear and anxiety, and the racial and religious intolerance that accompanies it, have transnational effects:

  • A 2004 Newsweek report concerning the murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands was banned in Pakistan because one of the illustrations in the article included an image taken from Van Gogh's film (dramatizing the ill treatment of women under Sharia law) which showed verses from the Qur’an written on the body of a seminaked woman (AP 2004).

  • In 2005, the annual pilgrimage to Bondi Beach was upset after several weeks of large-scale public order disturbances—termed “riots” in the local newpapers—by gangs of fighting white-Australian and Lebanese-Australian youths, and debates raged about the extent to which the violence was some strange echo of the Bali Bombings in 2002 (which killed 202 people—many of them Australian holidaymakers) or merely “home grown” racism (O'Riordan 2005).

  • In 2006, the publication of satirical caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper led to the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, while in Damascus the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish embassies were attacked, and in Istanbul Turkish ultra-nationalists marched to the Danish consulate hurling eggs and burning the Danish flag. In a number of European capitals the cartoons were republished. In Paris the front page of the France-Soir tabloid carried the headline “Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God” with a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian divinities floating on a cloud (Short and Barnwell 2006).

These are symptomatic reaction formations which have their basis in the pluralistic ignorance of the transnational condition. They cannot be countered by the threat or use of force, nor can they be deterred by recourse to the control orders of realism, indeed such responses only make the symptoms worse. But perhaps that is precisely the point with global governance through crime. As Giorgio Agamben (2005) points out in State of Exception, when Francis Galton and Alphonse Bertillon pioneered judicial photography for anthropometric identification—the historical precursors to DNA profiling and retina scanning—the procedure was reserved for some few specified criminals. In the present there is a tendency to generalize these types of procedure to all people, placing the population as a whole under a permanent condition of surveillance and suspicion. In a manner reminiscent of “policing the crisis” in 1970s Britain, the contemporary politics of crime, insecurity and fear provide ideological cover for the global emergence of a “state of exception” and the global body politic becomes the criminal body.

Synthesis and a Conclusion

As an interdisciplinary scholarly pursuit, international political sociology can be usefully positioned between theories about international affairs and criminological ones. This article has merely suggested a number of different ways in which the intersection of these ideas can provide fruitful lines of enquiry. Theories about international crime control and the changing nature of state sovereignty as articulated by political scientists have a tendency to reify and naturalize the nation-state as the primary locus of international crime control agendas (Andreas and Nadelmann 2006), but as the literature reviewed here shows, this is an inadequate explanation. Realism in foreign affairs has its domestic counterpart in criminological realism and it has been argued here that neither work well, either as explanations or as recipes for good governance. In the present period, Weberian assumptions regarding states’ monopoly of coercion within specified territorial limits are simply passé. Moreover, states’ capacities are brought into question by the existence of what Lesley Sklair (2001) has named the “transnational capitalist class,” a venal class whose interests do not coincide with any territorially based form of power, but rather exist in the circuits of the transnational financial system. It is an alarming contemporary truth that seigneurial states’ capacities to muster coercive force (in the form of the military, security services, police, and penological apparatus) has, in many instances, grown considerably. It is also a sad contemporary truth that many of those same states’ capacities to look after the health, education and welfare of the populations on which they draw sustenance have notably withered. How to account for these apparently contradictory developments is an intriguing question. They have dire criminological consequences, of course. It is therefore vital to observe the symbolic aspects of crime control discourse. The manufacture of suitable enemies provides a potent impetus to social control. Mystified by the folkdevilry projected by globalized media, attention is drawn away from the social causes of crime and insecurity and the underlying structural conditions remain largely unchallenged. Animated by apparently realistic policies, the control response turns out to be iatrogenic and an amplification spiral sets in, which triggers yet more anxiety and ontological insecurity in a vicious cycle. Critical insight is crucial if we are to break out of the current cycle of fear and insecurity which means seeing through the fog of globalization crisis talk. Theories from criminology are a useful addition to international political sociology and there seems little doubt that such insights will be called upon again and again as crime and insecurity are repeatedly muscled onto the agenda of global governance. The situation is one of great complexity and it is not the case the there are but two choices—idealistic politics or Realpolitik (cf. Cohen 1988:233)—rather there is a choice to couple critical thinking with a sense of determination to turn away from the global governance through crime and do the future differently.


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