Crime and Control in the Culture of Late Modernity

By Beckett, Katherine | Law & Society Review, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Crime and Control in the Culture of Late Modernity


Beckett, Katherine, Law & Society Review


David Garland, The Culture of Control. Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Pp. vii + 307 pages. $30.00 cloth.

Evi Girling, Ian Loader, and Richard Sparks, Crime and Social Change in Middle England: Questions of Order in an English Town. New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp. xi + 211 pages. $27.99 paper.

I. Introduction

Although crime, disorder, and other threats to security often generate widespread concern, these problems have become more central to the political, social, and cultural life of many industrialized nations. At the same time, many Western governments-especially that of the United States-have adopted more punitive and explicitly retributive crime control policies. Both of these developments have had important consequences for the study of crime and control, as enhanced funding opportunities for research and increased student interest in crime and punishment fuel the growth of criminology and criminal justice studies. Although typically housed within social science units, the proliferation of free-standing criminology and criminal justice programs separates, at least at the institutional level, the study of crime and control from the more established social sciences. While quite diverse, these programs often define their subject matter fairly narrowly and prioritize a specialized body of criminological theory over more general social theory and research.

By contrast, the two books under consideration here locate the study of crime and control at the center of social scientific and historical analysis, and, in so doing, demonstrate in profound and insightful ways that these subjects are central to the social life of "late modern" societies. Both books are particularly concerned with the "cultural sensibilities" concerning crime, order, and security; that is the structures of feeling and ways of thinking and talking about these subjects. Both highlight the ways in which these cultural sensibilities are influenced by and have an influence on a wide range of social phenomena. In short, both studies bring historical, sociological, and cultural awareness to the study of crime and control, and, by illuminating how concerns about perceived threats to security are bound up with larger social issues, make a persuasive case for integrating the study of these topics with disciplines such as history, geography, sociology, law and society, and cultural studies.

Despite this similar framework, the two books approach their subject matter in very different ways. On one hand, Garland seeks to identify the broad themes, trends, and unifying principles of what he, drawing on Bourdieu, refers to as the crime control field. Having identified the key features of this field in the United Kingdom and the United States before and after the 1970s, he offers a comprehensive account of its transformation, arguing that "the patterns of risk, insecurities and control problems to which American and British governments, corporations and citizens have been responding are those typically generated by the social, economic, and cultural arrangements of late modernity" (2001:7). Given the broad sweep of his study, Garland relies primarily on secondary sources and published materials to map these developments and to construct his explanatory framework. By contrast, Girling, Loader, and Sparks (2000) provide a very detailed account of the cultural sensibilities of people living in a single town in `Middle England,' Macclesfield. The authors demonstrate that the complexity and variability of these sensibilities complicate the broad generalizations made by more macro-- sociologically inclined analysts, as well as those that emerge from the survey-based "fear of crime" literature. Their close, detailed examination of Macclesfield residents' "crime-talk" is based on primary research generated through multiple methods, including interviews, focus group discussions, observations, ride-alongs, and analyses of official documents, all aimed at capturing the complexity and nuance of residents' sensibilities regarding crime and control.

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