State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption

By Markantonatou, Maria | Capital & Class, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview
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State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption


Markantonatou, Maria, Capital & Class


Penny Green and Tony Ward (eds.) State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption Pluto Press, 2004, 251 pp. ISBN 0-7453-1784-7 (pbk) £14.99

Reviewed by Maria Markantonatou

The study of state crime-crimes committed by states-constitutes one of the most crucial fields of criminology, for it reveals and examines various aspects of the modern state's structure and its legitimating power in relation to crimes committed by governments. Although crimes committed by states are the most serious ones, research about them has so far not been able to provide a concrete and profound sociological analysis on the topic. This is exactly where Penny Green and Tony Ward's contribution lies, in the form of State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption.

An important issue relating to state crime is that of its very nature. If a crime is an act defined by the state and its institutional mechanisms, then who is to define state crime? The epistemological problem of defining state crime has probably been one of the reasons why the research category 'state crime' has been marginalised by contemporary criminology. The authors offer a new approach to state crime, defining it as 'state organisational deviance involving the violation of human rights' (p. 2), and they underline the role of civil society in 'defining state actions as illegitimate where they violate legal rules or shared moral beliefs' (p. 4). In their Gramscian perspective on 'civil society', they argue that 'civil society can label state actions as deviant' (p. 4) and can therefore push such actions to the centre of the public agenda.

In order to explain the concepts involved in their definition of state crime, they focus on three aspects. First, they discuss the state not only in Marxist terms-on the basis of Engels's notion of the state and of Gramsci's concept of 'hegemony'-but also with reference to Weber's 'monopoly of the legitimate use of force' (p. 2). As they note, 'All states, from the most autocratic to the most liberal, share one crucial characteristic: they claim an entitlement to do things which if anyone else did them would constitute violence and extortion' (p. 3). second, using the term Organisational deviance' they categorise state crime as a form of crime 'along with corporate crime, organised crime, and the neglected area of crime by charities, churches and other non-profit bodies' (p. 5). According to the authors, basic criminological concepts such as control, motivation and opportunity structures can be applied to organisational deviance just as well as to individuals (p. 5). Third, they use the concept of human rights, as ratified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and by the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and seek to explain the 'enormous gap between the normative ideal of human rights ... and the selective and hypocritical promotion of such rights by powerful states and transnational institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The role that human rights play in the strategies of such states and institutions can in our view be understood in terms of the concept of global hegemony' (p. 9).

Green and Ward explore various forms of state crime, and use case studies from different parts of the world. Corruption, a form of so-called 'whitecollar' (and state) crime, 'which victimises people indirectly and without their knowledge' (p. 11), includes 'the form of simple bribery, of an exchange of "favours" between state and non-state actors, or of the embezzlement which is tolerated as an informal "perk" of an official position' (p.

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