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Drugs and Violence in the City Shadows

“Julia” nervously emerges from her shabby tent in the suburban wastelands on the outskirts of Madrid to face another day of survival in one of Europe’s most problematic ghettos: she is homeless, wanted by the police, and addicted to heroin and cocaine. She is also five months pregnant and rarely makes contact with support services.

Welcome to the city shadows in Valdemingómez: a lawless landscape of drugs and violence where the third world meets the Wild West. Briggs and Monge entered this area with only their patience, some cigarettes and a mobile phone and collected vivid testimonies and images of Julia and others like her who live there. This important book documents what they found, locating these people’s stories and situations in a political, economic and social context of spatial inequality and oppressive mechanisms of social control.

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Tackling anti-social behaviour (ASB) has, over the last decade, become a government priority in the United Kingdom. As the officially recorded crime rate continues to drop, there has been no let-up in government pressure to maintain ‘law and order’, with the passing of a number of pieces of legislation designed to control the range of activities that have become identified as ASB. In this process, there has been a shift in terminology and in the meaning of key terms such as ‘disorder’, ‘crime’ and ‘anti-social behaviour’, with a blurring of the distinctions between them. This chapter examines the ways in which ostensibly punitive and disciplinary policies on ASB have been interpreted and implemented in the past few years in England and Wales. Drawing on the research conducted in three London boroughs in 2006, it explores the gaps between rhetoric and reality and between interventions and outcomes. In doing so, the chapter argues that there are substantial difficulties and inconsistencies in the implementation of ASB strategies.

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Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) have become the main sanction for dealing with anti-social behaviour in the UK. This book provides one of the first assessments of this sanction, which has become widely used but remains extremely controversial.

The report is based on detailed interviews with ASBO recipients, practitioners and community representatives in areas affected by anti-social behaviour. Examining its use and impact from these various perspectives, the book assesses the effects of ASBOs on the behaviour and attitudes of recipients as well as examining the various issues which arise in relation to their implementation.

The report should be read by academics and students who want to make sense of ASBOs, practitioners who are involved in implementing them as well as policy makers who are responsible for designing this sanction. It will also be of interest to all those who have an interest in addressing the issue of anti-social behaviour.

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A Critical Blueprint for the Social Sciences

In challenging social science’s established orthodoxies, this first in a series of books is a call for its disciplines to embrace new theoretical paradigms and research methods to better understand the reality of life in a post-COVID world.

By offering a detailed insight into the harmful effects of neoliberalism before the pandemic, as well as the intervallic period the world is currently living through, the authors show how it is more important than ever for social science to evolve and take a leading role in contextualising the biggest crisis of the 21st century.

This is a critical blueprint for ongoing debates about the COVID-19 pandemic and alternative modes of research.

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In the time since our fieldwork completed in November 2016, we are still reminded everyday about the people we met in Valdemingómez because we exposed ourselves to a brazen reality which is far from public consciousness and yet close to political inertia. This is especially the case when we walk around the glory and city-centre paradise in Madrid’ city centre, knowing that only a few kilometres south, in some forgotten corner of the city, there exists an unimaginable poverty which has turned socially septic. We got to know the people there rather than judge them for their disheveled appearance, brutal attitudes towards damaging drug use and absolute destitution. Here we acknowledge for a time that Valdemingómez had us hooked; the peoples’ circumstances, their stories, and the sight of it all. And in doing so, we have unlocked a consciousness about how the world works which we cannot seal for we are able to recognize where else similar destructive processes are taking place which ravage the lives of the most vulnerable in society. For we see the below the opulence and pizzazz of the commercial city centres, we see its oppressive undercurrents in action on a daily basis; in the city’s shadows, where rampant inequality lurks and the conventional fractures.

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The normalisation of drug use which came in the wake of the transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy, was exacerbated by a collective ideological feeling of “freedom” and loose attitudes to drug consumption. However, as the drug markets expanded, principally across urban areas which had started to disintegrate as a consequence of deindustrialisation, addiction and HIV soared. The AIDS epidemic which thereafter followed in the 1980s was eventually curbed with the delayed introduction of drug awareness campaigns and harm reduction initiatives. Even these, however, couldn’t stop the increasing punitive approaches to dealing with high levels of urban crime. Police powers were expanded, the penal code was amended and the prisons started to fill with drug-dependent offenders. This chapter charts these shifts and provides the further foundation to the findings of the study which follow in Chapter 5.

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In this chapter we show how these structural and cultural experiences are important because they all play a part in their foreground subjective decisions and actions to try and return to drugs. The people who we met in Valdemingómez are from seriously deprived zones of urban centres, poor rural areas and/or are immigrants who have struggled with life in Spain. Many of these people had disrupted families, grew up in poverty and where crime and drugs was often all around them, did poorly in schools, and often had temporary stints in various types of precarious work industries such as construction, and other manual labour posts. Further investment in drugs does not necessarily occur because of their ‘addictive propensity’ – although this is not to deny that drugs have compulsive properties - but because of the motivation these people associate with the need to continue to us drugs to deal with changing situations of their lives such as failing to get an education or work. Addiction is further accelerated by the structural processes we pointed out in the previous chapters which produces variations of “dependence displacement” as they are moved from “poblado to poblado”. This culminates in a “dependence acceleration” when they come to stay/live in Valdemingómez.

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Valdemingómez, however, revolves around its own norms and codes which defy and violate conventional everyday conceptions of normative behaviour. This congregation of crime, violence and victimization in a spatial and legal no-mans land like Valdemingómez means that grave misdemeanours occur without consequences and violence is normalized part of the everyday fabric of social life. For this reason, in Valdemingómez almost anything goes and this produces a series of tensions in the social hierarchies that are attached to cultural interactions in the area which permeate elements of work and labour, the moral economy, daily life and social relations. In this chapter, we take a detailed look at the cultural milieu of Valdemingómez and its operations, and show how people survive there and how the various players attempt to foster some self-respect from these harsh realities.

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What is precisely contributing to the continued functioning of the drug market in Valdemingómez? How is it so many people arrive here at this point in their dependency yet so few are able to recover? If the council and police know where the problem is, why are they not able to intervene? It is simply not just only because of the ready availability and demand for drugs because there are high levels of police corruption taking place and the harm reduction team, with all good intentions, are only able to ‘maintain’ people in their misery: both of which are directly linked to wider political deficiencies. In this chapter, we discuss the importance of this because a moot point arises from potential meaningful intervention because the “problem” - and its complexity, gravity and cultural genetics – carries the same liability as the “intervention”: so in short intervention merely sustains the problem.

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The introductory chapter sets the scene for the book and in it context is given to the main participants, Juan and Julia, and how we came to know them. Thus, we reflect on the relatively little research which exists on Valdemingómez, its location with regard to the city, give some clues to its spatial and social aetiology and present our case for a new form of empirical, theoretical and methodological analysis. We reflect honestly and openly about our methodology and offer the reader a concise description of structure of the book’s chapters.

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