November is here, which means the season of ghosts and goblins has come to pass. As an enthusiast of all-things-haunted, I filled the month of October with scary movie nights, Halloween costume parties, visits to a haunted house and Phantom Fright Nights at my local amusement park, and even an outing that involved shooting paintballs at zombies. As any good graduate student in the social sciences might do, I pondered the sociological aspects of these activities throughout the month. What makes this campy season of fear so popular in U.S. culture? Does it serve any purposes beyond providing consumers with themed entertainment, as the producers of frightening fun reap massive profits each fall?
In recent years, there has been a push for research to focus on prisoner reintegration. In response, researchers have begun investigating a number of important topics such as how to use theory to inform policy and practice, how to determine which prison programs work best to aid in reintegration, how to minimize the impact children face from having an incarcerated parent, how to acknowledge the important link that exists between sentencing and release, and how to take a holistic yet individualized approach when it comes to prisoner reentry. In this post, I will briefly summarize five recent research articles that deal with prisoner reintegration before briefly discussing which directions appear to be especially promising. (more…)
(If you’re interested in this topic, please see my earlier posts on neoliberalism (1) and (2))
Increasingly, there appears to be a connection between neoliberalism and the development of anomie. Such an association is unsurprising considering that neoliberalism encourages individuals to achieve ever greater success even though such a goal is unrealistic. In response to being blocked from realizing their never-ending aspirations, Merton (1968) argues that people in success-driven societies will feel deprived and frustrated as a divide forms between idealistic ambitions and factual reality. While such a divide has traditionally been the widest in developed capitalist states like the U.S., Passas (2000) contends that the growth of neoliberalism has exacerbated this problem in countries throughout the world. As a result, anomie, or the “withdrawal of allegiance from conventional norms and a weakening of these norms’ guiding power on behavior” has increased on a global scale (Passas 2000:20). Oozing with the anomie brought about by constant strain, neoliberalism can intensify the occurrence of violence as frustrated people struggle to live and to succeed in an unequal society. In response to this idea, it appears that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that anomie and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. (more…)
As prior posts may express, my attention has been gripped by the motivations and experiences of those engaged in deviant activity. More specifically, it is not major crimes under consideration but rather the marginal acts of expression and resistance – tagging, unsanctioned extreme sports, controversial fashions, and the like. While trying to empathetically understand the ‘deviant’ perspective, it seems this perspective is often dismissed as delinquent and nothing more, void of any further value. As scholars have often noted, this sentiment can be found along a rising fear of crime, profound sense of insecurity, and a perpetual need to safeguard against any act symbolizing little more than a threat to public order (see Garland, 2001; Hudson, 2003; Simon, 2007). This post then asks whether the practices and policies aimed at enhancing and maintaining civility are, in turn, provoking unrest, rebellion, resistance, and upheaval. (more…)
Knee deep in studying for comprehensive exams, the literature has drawn my attention toward (1) how an illegal activity can have a legal counterpart, and (2) how a deviant activity becomes socially acceptable and celebrated within mainstream culture. As examples, there is skydiving and its illegal counterpart of base jumping; wall murals and their illicit sibling of extravagant graffiti; or the ‘world’s fastest growing sport’ of MMA versus the back-yard-brawls caught on tape. While the actual activity performed for each legal-illegal example above may be similar (free falling, spray-painting, fighting) with the end purpose being the same, there is a distinction between which is allowed and which is deemed deviant and illegal. This development, the creation of legal and illicit phenomena, highlights an important trend: that is, the power of the state and market working on culture through a dialectic process.
Prior research has examined capitalisms tendency to package social phenomena for mass consumption/popular culture. Although this position is instructive, it does little to observe the formal mechanisms of the state in this process. For instance, sociological and criminological scholarship has tended to overlook the legitimization/legalization of deviant activities. Perhaps there are nuances being missed – a nexus that exists between the state and market. In essence, this post highlights a perhaps false dichotomy existing between the state and market. More consequently, it considers the role that legalizing and commercializing forces played in ensuring the survival of once ‘deviant’ activities. (more…)
In 2010, MSNBC published an article written by Alex Johnson entitled “Some schools rethink bans on cell phones: Bans don’t work, so administrators explore using mobile devices”. In the report, Johnson notes that 100 plus students were suspended – not for cheating, smoking, or bullying – but for having cell phones. While presented here as merely an anecdote, there can little doubt that the use of cell phones, and mobile technology more generally, is an issue that has caught the attention of school administrators across the nation. Within the article, Brian Begley, principal of Millard North High School, illustratively notes: “Cell phones aren’t going away.” As mobile devices become increasingly marketed to today’s youth and as their functionality blurs with that of computers, the issue of wireless, new media technology within high schools will reshape school operations.
The article cites that although 69 percent of American high schools have placed a ban on cell phones, 63% of student respondents nonetheless reported using them on campus. Recognizing that simply banning the devices does little to discourage their usage, Johnson notes that “a growing number of school districts are exploring other ways to shut them down.” Rather than employing suspension as a punishment, certain schools have resulted to more invasive forms of social control, including “confiscating phones…keeping them for 30 days and searching them for evidence of cheating, pornography or other ‘illicit activities.’ If such evidence is found, it’s turned over to the sheriff’s office”.
Whilst illustrating both the complications for banning cell phones and their potential applicability within schools, the issue of cell phones points to a larger development. Scholars have recently begun to document how two large-scale trends are transforming the socialization of youth within school settings. The first stems from a late-modern preoccupation with safety and security (see Garland, 1996, 2000; Simon, 2007; Foucault, 1977). Whether accelerated by internal events such as school shootings, or external factors like reported rates of youth violence, it is clear that crime has now become a chief organizing principle shaping school discipline. Consequently, issues such as cell phone use are caught in the proverbial cross-hairs and mobilized against in the name of promoting school safety. (more…)
Foucault wrote that the nineteenth century ushered in a new way to inspect the body; recognizing that medical personnel had placed the patient under “perpetual examination” (1975). His interest, however, was on the discourse that produced, maintained, and extended the medical look or “gaze” (1975). The “clinic,” for Foucault, became an apparatus of examination; a site of knowledge production bound by rules and regulations. It became an authoritative institution where the individual became the object of scrutiny (Long, 1992).
Following Foucault, there can be little doubt that the medical field has garnered power and authority in today’s society. Its utility and influence can be found in school immunizations, sports-related physicals, annual check-ups, seasonal vaccinations, yearly shots, and the like. However, as Conrad (2007) notes, this is only part of the picture. He, among others, proposes that the medical field has grown beyond shots and treatment; those in the medical profession now have the authority to define and/or redefine once thought non-medical issues as medical conditions. (more…)
The process to create hate crime laws in the United States has wrestled with the core issues of freedom of speech and greater harm. This article looks at the evolution of bias crime laws, culminating with President Obama’s signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The constitutionality of the laws is ‘discussed and suggestions for sociological research are made. Four elements of hate crime laws are discussed; criminality, intent, perception, and protected statuses. The logic of hate crime laws is based on the argument that hate crimes are a form of terrorism, designed to intimidate large groups of people. Readers should be familiar with the basic case for the existence of such laws.
The General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing [RCN], Peter Carter, has called for the prescription of the (currently illegal) drug heroin to be prescribed on the National Health Service [NHS]. Although, not the first to suggest this radical approach to problematic drug (mis)use, his intervention at this particular juncture raises questions. Given the upcoming UK General Election (6 May 2010), as well as the recent controversies surrounding the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD], Carter’s comments appear somewhat provocative.
Despite evidence to suggest the success of trials (undertaken in London, Brighton and Darlington) – crime cut by 66% and 75% of those involved showing significantly reduced drug use – reactions to Carter’s comments have been diverse. If Peter Carter is correct and an extension of the scheme would continue to cut crime and improve opportunities for drug users to receive help with their addictions, it would seem a logical step. However, given the dichotomy as to whether drug (mis)use is seen as a criminal justice, or a medical matter, it is perhaps unsurprising that many people may feel uncomfortable with the idea of funding such therapy on the NHS. Either way given the role Peter Carter undertakes for the RCN, his positive endorsement for the scheme can only help to broaden the debate.
Eric L. Jensen on Adult Drug Treatment Courts: A Review
Bob Howard of the BBC has recently published an article looking at a scheme to combat sex offender recidivism. Originating in Canada, friendship circles are ‘based on the premise that while some offenders have friends and family to return to when they come out of prison, others have not and the more isolated they are, the more likely they are to re-offend’. Throughout the article, Sarah from London talks about her experiences as a volunteer for the child protection charity The Lucy Faithfull Foundation
Given the emotive nature of the crimes these particular offenders have been found guilty of, it is unsurprising that Sarah admits to some trepidation and concern prior to volunteering for the scheme. However, taking into account the positive results reported by Canada (currently a reduction in reoffending of 70%) it would appear to be more effective than traditional and arguably, more punitive methods.
Perhaps understandably, the scheme is not without its critics. For example Peter Saunders of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood suggests that electronic tagging would be a more appropriate response. Judging by the angry public comments which invariably follow any news story on the rehabilitation of sex offenders (this one included) it would seem that supporters of this scheme will have their work cut out.
Kelly M. Socia Jr and Janet P. Stamatel on ‘Assumptions and Evidence Behind Sex Offender Laws: Registration, Community Notification, and Residence Restrictions’
Chas Critcher on ‘Moral Panic Analysis: Past, Present and Future’
Sociology Lens is the associated site for Sociology Compass, Wiley-Blackwell’s review journal on all fields sociological. On this site we host daily posts, video files and news items from our team of contributors. Read more...