Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Collective Crime as a Source of Social Solidarity: A Tentative Test of a Functional Model for Responses to Mass Violence

Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Collective Crime as a Source of Social Solidarity: A Tentative Test of a Functional Model for Responses to Mass Violence

Article excerpt

Abstract: According to a classic notion by Durkheim, crime can lead to a collective indignation that is expressed through collective displays of solidarity. However, it is also possible that collective crimes represent a decline of the social order and a loss of community. Using two cross-sectional data sets collected in Finnish communities that experienced tragic school shootings, this article provides a tentative test of these two competing hypotheses. We ask how the local communities respond to heinous crimes such as school shootings. We also ask if it is possible that concerns about crime can, at times, promote social cohesion. The results indicate that both models may be applicable; however, contextual factors appear to limit the generalizability of either model.

Keywords: collective crime, emotional response to crime, fear of crime, functionalist model of crime, path analysis, school shootings, social solidarity


Nordic countries have recently witnessed unexpected and extremely shocking violent events. Before Anders Breivik murdered 77 people in Utøya Norway in 2011, numerous people were killed in rampage school shootings in Finland. In November 2007, an 18-year-old man opened fire at the Jokela upper secondary school in Tuusula, killing eight students and staff members before committing suicide. In September 2008, another rampage school shooting occurred in the small town of Kauhajoki, an act portrayed as a copycat of Jokela. There, a 22-year-old male student of hospitality management killed ten people before turning the gun on himself.

After these incidents, school shootings received extensive media coverage that raised intense public debates. Finnish governmental officials were forced to respond quickly to concerns about numerous issues ranging from school safety to gun laws. Officials also posited their concerns about weakened social ties and a sense of community (Ministry of Justice 2009; 2010). The perpetrators' violent videos and messages on the Internet posted prior to the murders raised national and international concerns about the contemporary social order (Lindgren 2010). Such responses are understandable since some criminal events are most frightening. Heinous acts such as school shootings remind everyone that terror can strike even small and peaceful communities (Warr 2000).

As crimes stir public sensibilities, people are expected to respond in specific ways. Growing demands to tackle crime may lead to a self-perpetuating process of increasing crime-related concerns. Crimes committed by young offenders are often perceived as a deterioration of social order (Farrall, Jackson and Gray 2009; Ferraro 1995; Garland 2001; Jackson 2006; Lee 2001; Lee and Farrall 2008; Loader, Girling and Sparks 1998; Warr 2000). Public appraisals and news reporting may also influence how individuals assess the quality of local relationships and social trust (Farrall, Jackson and Gray 2009; Smolej 2011). Tragedies reflect unpredictable moral sensibilities, and people often become more suspicious towards certain individuals and social groups who do not appear to conform to commonly shared values (Lewis and Salem 1986). This process may even result in people altering and limiting their everyday routines (Farrall, Jackson and Gray 2009; Ferraro 1995; Garofalo 1981; Liska and Warner 1991; Warr 2000).

Undoubtedly, fear-inducing events such as school shootings have negative individual- and community-level consequences. However, according to the functionalist model of crime, responses to collective crimes may also promote an enhanced sense of belonging to the community (Liska and Warner 1991). This argument is largely based on Durkheim's classical thesis, which predicts that responses to crime result in heightened social solidarity (see also Roshier 1989). Durkheim ([1893] 1997:58, 61- 63) asserts that "crime draws people to respond collectively in order to protect commonly shared values... …

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