Crime, Authority and the Policeman-State
Gatrell in this article considers how attitudes towards crime and policies have been constructed, by whom and how. The writer discusses from when the ideas about disciplining occurred and how the definition of crime has changed its meaning as the society has evolved over the centuries. So the writer begins with the history of crime and moves to up to present.
During and later 18th Century, there was growing assumption that lawlessness existed amongst the proletarian classes. They were seemed to threaten the consensual values, which the dominant social class was trying to construct around this time. Therefore the proletarian classes were seen inferior to them. This suggests the politicians were not exactly concerned with the breaking of law as crime, but protecting the considered better sector of the society. This was enforced by gaining control of the criminal justice system, the term referred to ‘policeman-State’.
The term ‘Police-man State’ refers to the power exercised by the state in the 19th Century. They used their authority to implement beuracratic control over the state to reinforce social discipline; the police were the agency of this. Gatrell points out in the context of the article that criminal problems were socially created by the elite to serve their purpose. In the 19th Century the authority over emphasised trivial problems that had little significance to the society, inorder to expand their functions in all areas of the Criminal Justice system.
Over the past couple of centuries the ‘Policeman-State’ protected and still protects the considered better half of the society. The public was persuaded into believing that criminals were likely to be found amongst the proletarian classes.
The turning point in the history of crime was during the 1780’s. Before the 1780’s crime was not thought to be a problem as a whole. Crime was not even a subject then. The term usually referred to the personal depravity of an individual. Crime was not thought as the result of social change yet. It was during and after 1780 that this disposition was beginning to alter. Reformers were beginning to think it was not largely down to the individual but thinking about crime agregatively, it was becoming a social issue.
The writer goes on to point to the modern meanings. By the nineteenth century crime acquired its modern meaning: ‘change’ at the age of transition- the Industrial revolution. Where towns were expanding and along with it the social changes, where morality was thought to be in decline. So during the eighteenth century the law penalised the iniquity of an individual act to the nineteenth century where the criminal was sorted in to the abstract category, thinkers believed that crime was the effect of physical and mental aswell as moral defectiveness.
Entering the nineteenth century ‘crime’ was being shrouded with the growing social value of ‘order’. If an individual’s act is misconduct they will be pursued for the offence they delivered to ‘society’.
Gatrell reviews ‘crime’ in the overall context of history and social changes around the time. The author approaches the topic from a historical point because this is the way that ‘crime’ can be most understood. For example, Gatrell first gives an overview of the main points, then launches in to the history, the first part being how responses to crime were changed between 1750 – 1850 and goes on to point to the new meanings which were acquired when there was social change. The author discusses the topic from a sociological perspective, suggests that it is the way the society is organised and structure of the class system. Gatrell further implies that what comes to be labelled as crime depends on the social structure and those rule makers who sit at the top of the social hierarchy. The rule makers only recognise their group and reject those who do not have their way of life.
Gatrell appears cynical of the ruling class and how they use their power for their own benefit. The writer surely is speaking from a Marxist point of view, for example when discussing how the elite used their authority to expand their functions in the Criminal Justice system; it was to safeguard their social order and their interests. They achieved this by producing insubstantial evidence through statistics that crime was increasing and ‘inflamed unreal fear’ amongst the public about created problems. This was taking place as early as 1801 and has been continuos ever since, which was the result of other social changes occurring in the 19th Century and to retain social order the ‘criminals’ were used as scapegoats.
The term ‘displacement’ is derived from psychological perspective. Displacement is the transfer of strong feelings of antagonism and anger aimed at objects that are not real origin of those feelings (Giddens, A). This is usually the result of consciously fixed thinking (stereotypical). These objects are blamed for problems that are not their fault. In the context of Gatrell’s extract the term ‘displace’ refers to these negative emotions displaced on to criminals. The elite had created fear amongst the public by social construction of crime. Mixed feelings about fear of change and lawlessness were transferred on to the inferior classes who were likely to be criminals in their mind, so that there comes no social interaction between two different classes incase it evokes ideas that may be followed or may try to change existing rules.
When the state gained power in the 19th Century they imposed their authority by using the law-enforcing advocate – the police, as the means to protect their part of the society. In this way the working classes were exploited by the politicians. The author states that criminals had no part in ‘change’ in society, if it did occur. Change is inevitable, though the ruling class do not want to acknowledge this. Another reason can be to enforce the proletarian positions of where they are through legal enforcements, so that the elites believe they have safely secured their place for a permanent basis. Although the fears about disorder and change were displaced onto them and then avoid law breaking which goes on at all social levels.
The term ‘Scapegoat’ is connected to the term displacement, as discussed above. The terms are similar in the way a person is subject to disapproval and how false conceptions are shifted upon them. However, scapegoat refers to how a person is subjected to for a problem that was not even created by them (Giddens, A 1997). Those who normally are labeled scapegoats are the ones who are defenceless, who are less likely to do anything about it. These will be the ordinary who differ in characteristic from those members who are higher in society who impose the ideas.
During the 19th Century, new theories were being identified to explain criminal behaviour such as the ‘pathological nature’; of the character from the biological point of view. There was more focus on biological and psychological explanations. The later nineteenth and the eighteenth century, professionals were beginning to categorise criminals, separating one from another according to their motive. Gatrell uses the term ‘scapegoat’ for these criminals because of the ‘ideological burden’ imposed on them by the middle/upper class professionals. Scapegoating is aimed at these groups who are distinctive and powerless; therefore they are seen as easy target. In the historical context of crime, the lower classes were used as scapegoats to expand the government’s function in the Criminal Justice system (as discussed earlier); they were likely to be criminals because they did not derive from their part of the society. Scapegoating was carried out by the ones who had the power to do so, the lower classes did not have the power to discard the image in which they were portrayed.
‘Consensus’ is significant in the context of Gatrell’s article. Giddens (1997) defines consensus as set of agreements ‘over basic social values by the members of a group, community or society’. In Gatrell’s article, beliefs on the consensus are those of the capitalists. Those are criminals who do not conform to the consensus of the elite. In the eighteenth century, the proletarian classes were disciplined according to the definitions of order by the consensual societies who were the middle and upper class. The government selected law that would protect their idea of social order. The ones who can only break that law are the ones who do not belong to that consensual society which were the lower classes.
The laws were based on the middle/upper class social order through legal order that would maintain and regulate class domination because they did not want social change that could threaten the stability of social hierarchy. The ruling class sanctioned their interests, but also tried to make sure that the working class does not become class conscious and aimed to prevent the working class to realise the exploitation they endure. Gatrell mentions in the third part of the article how ‘crime’ was acquiring new definitions because of social change around this time, which was the Industrial revolution. Along with this revolution it bought ‘moral decay’ and perhaps decline in traditional social class values. There was a need for order, and the consensus of society seemed to be changing. As Gatrell pointed out earlier, the ruling class were afraid of social change and the security of social status did not seem determined for long.