Is Prevention Inherently Good? A Deconstructionist Approach to Prevention Literature, Policy and Practice1

Article excerpt

Abstract: Framing deconstruction as a useful tool prior to engaging in research and practice, this paper views the notion of "prevention" through a deconstructionist critique. By exploring prevention as a value-laden rather than value-neutral discourse, the paper illustrates the implications of the routine practices of professionalization, risk calculation and responding to the "other." It asks readers to cautiously engage in praxis so as not to re-inscribe dominant hegemonic discourses, and instead to become comfortable with tentative, emergent and ever-changing forms of knowledge related to prevention issues. The paper suggests that by opening up our field to a deconstructionist critique we acknowledge its importance while recognizing our own contribution to the open architecture of knowledge.

Keywords: crime prevention; deconstruction; evidence-based policy; neo-liberalism; prevention; postmodernism; post-structuralism; risk society

INTRODUCTION

The practice of "prevention" carries with it im-measurable rhetorical power. Although it is itself an elusive notion (Haggerty 2003; Gilling 1997), being in favor of prevention and thus in opposition to harm evokes one of the most powerful binaries in both Western society and throughout the larger global terrain. Consequently, labeling or framing any course of action as preventative carries with it implications of goodness, moral righteousness, ethical justness and all of the power associated with being on the "right" side of the binary. Prevention, however, should be recognized as a broad and unwieldy notion - a tangle of values, beliefs and perspectives complete with all-encompassing moral undertones. While the concept is held to have a self-evident definition - the anticipation of harm produces pro-active solutions that then reduce or eliminate the threat of harm - the discourse of prevention is necessarily laden with values and binaries. Although the connotations of prevention, indicative of its moral value, hold that prevention is an ethical, humanitarian, and even cost-effective goal, this commentary sets out to ask how the postmodernist deconstructionist critique might begin to unsettle and destabilize the hegemonic aspects of prevention to inform those who wish to research and practice within the crime prevention discourse. The paper analyzes the specific ideas that inform the discourse on prevention (power, professionalization, state-versus-individual responsibility and risk assessment) incorp-orating ideas from Jacques Derrida's conceptual tool of deconstruction and also drawing on the theoretical work of Michel Foucault (social control, anti-essentialism, power/ knowledge), Emmanuel Levinas (ethics of the other), and Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze (rhizomes and fractal ontology).

Referring throughout to crime prevention strategies and their coinciding evaluations on local, national and international fronts, some important and widely relevant considerations include: (1) What is meant by prevention-ism as both a culture and a discourse? (2) How is the "other" constructed and maintained throughout the prevention discourse? (3) What are the moral and ethical components embedded within notions of "doing good," through "preventing harm"?, and (4) How is power used and re-inscribed in the prevention discourse? Prior to engaging in, theorizing upon, and practicing crime prevention, and programs bearing that label, theoreticians, researchers and practitioners should consider the importance of each of these questions, and recognize this commentary as an expression of the uncertainty surrounding meanings, agenda, and the political and ethical content of prevention.

The themes espoused here are designed to be relevant to a wide audience, to apply to the preliminary thoughts of academics pursuing research on prevention, to remind researchers that we are all implicated in the ideologies beneath our research, and to spark debate and thoughtfulness on the eve of practice. …