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International Critical Perspectives in Rural Criminology

What are the theoretical and conceptual framings of rural criminology across the world? Thinking creatively about the challenges of rural crime and policing, in this stimulating collection of essays experts in this emerging field draw from theories of modernity, feminism, climate change, left realism and globalisation.

This first book in the Research in Rural Crime series offers state-of-the-art scholarship from across the globe, and considers the future agenda for the discipline.

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The shape of rural communities depends greatly on what is practised everyday by rural people. In addition to everyday life, rural areas are structured by the actions of states, by the economy and technology – and so we must regard the rural as a distinct socio-spatiality. Moreover, the rural is connected to and shaped by local and global forces that organise both in and beyond its boundaries. The rural therefore intersects with economy, environment and politics at the macro level, but also with gender, class and ethnicity and with struggles for power, resources and identity that shapes its cohesion and (in)security. This chapter is structured in three parts. First, it reflects upon the rural as a socio-spatial nexus comprised of rural practices and shaped by the external world and the state. Here, the chapter reflects further on the shared space between rural and green criminology with reference to the Anthropocene. Second, it considers some of the ways in which the rural and rural people are represented in popular discourse. It contemplates some of these themes through the lens of rural criminology. Third, the chapter provides an overview of the various contributions in this book.

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Late-modern times have been described as a ‘runaway world’; fast paced, globalised and consumerist. The transition to this stage of modernity, it is held, has been made possible by advances in computer technology and telecommunications that would transform the nature of work, leisure, consumption and, more importantly for our purposes, the relationship between the citizen and the state. Capturing the criminological implications of some of these changes, various criminologists have described how citizens in a hollowed out, smaller nation state, could not expect that state to provide security: that would now be the responsibility of the citizen to self-discipline and to fit themselves with security gadgetry for their own protection. This chapter draws a conceptual map of theories of late modernity and applies them to the nature of transformations in the rural. A theoretical case is developed, based upon ongoing empirical work in a highly globalised society with that has undergone a high-tech–driven economic growth, colliding both urban and rural worlds. The chapter considers how security responsibilisation becomes manifest in the rural, centring on the inclusion (and potential exclusion) of rural citizens in information flows.

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Perhaps it was Emile Durkheim who was the first rural criminologist in Europe when he described mechanical societies as small, homogenous, traditional people controlling each other using informal social control mechanisms. He also delineated organic societies that are big, heterogeneous and where people are alienated from each other. This is presumably the first social science work on the divide between the rural and urban. There has been a considerable change since Durkheim’s passing – mass migration from the ‘old’ world continued into the early twentieth century, swelling populations in cities in the ‘new’ worlds of the United States, of Australia and in Europe. We can only imagine how he would feel if he could witness the blurred and complex nature of the urban and rural divide in these contemporary globalized times. Rural criminology has in Europe, as elsewhere, been slow in formation given the focus of the social sciences on the problems of crime that we have associated with urbanization. Since 2000, there have been research projects and publications on rural perspectives, discussing rural criminology, crime, victimization, fear of crime, policing and crime prevention and reflections on rural criminology. These contributions have utlized a wide variety of theoretical approaches and methodologies. The multidisciplinary backgrounds of rural criminologists working in Europe include sociology, law, geography, safety and security studies and psychology ought to be noted; and the potential exists for transdisciplinary perspectives and approaches to emerge especially in the area of security studies. This stems from considerable work in areas of the natural and computer sciences on diverse areas such as environmental sustainability, food security and critical infrastructure protection such as cyberattacks.

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Modernity and tradition have long been presented as a dichotomy in sociology and the social sciences to distinguish social development based on industrialization from that based upon agriculture. The former represents an ideal type for the process of transformation to urban society which we can date following the industrial revolution to the late twentieth century. The latter, by definition, is regarded as the stage from which most industrial societies have transitioned in this period. In sociology, and indeed introductory criminology, students are taught that the traditional society is based upon social institutions that are ascriptive, agrarian and have extended families; the modern is meritocratic, industrial and has nuclear families. However, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, transformations in technology, politics and culture gave rise to the weakening of the established institutions of industrial modernity – the end of paid work for life, the introduction of lean production or flexible specialization and the closing of heavy industries. The closure of mines in the valleys of Wales and in other industrialized countries such as Belgium undermined the industrial working-class communities that had been built around them. These were the crisis years accompanying the economic model of neo-liberalism ushered in by regimes in the United Kingdom and United States under Thatcherism and Reaganism. Skilled and semi-skilled industrial jobs were exported to lower cost countries in the developing world, public utilities were privatized and were met with considerable resistance. Whilst the automation of production undermined ‘good’ manual jobs in trades and industry, computers aided design and manufacturing enabled products to be made with higher precision.

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Civic community theory is one of several ecological approaches to understanding the associations of crime with various characteristics of places. It was developed by Matt Lee, an American rural sociologist, and his colleagues, who published extensively on the results of various statistical tests using the theory’s framework in both criminological and other social science journals, mostly during the first decade of the twenty-first century. It is similar to social disorganization theory, yet very distinctive from it. First, its approach begins from a non-criminological literature about the core elements of a civil society that define civility based on the strength of community groups and a culture whereby local citizens are involved in activities at the places where they live. Indicators for a strong local ecology includes such social characteristics as home ownership, locally-owned businesses and voter turnout, amongst others. A second distinctive characteristic of civic community theory is that its origins are not based on an urban criminology, but on a body of previous scholarship in rural sociology. Rural sociologists have long examined how social change impacts the socio-cultural make-up of smaller places. Subsequently, some of these rural scholars turned their attention to examining how change influences the emergence of various social problems, such as crime. It is from this heritage of research and theory that civic community theory emerged. It is similar to social disorganization and most other criminological theories of place because it views crime as a product of social change, assuming that change disrupts established forms of social control within a community.

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The key reference guide to rural crime and rural justice, this encyclopedia includes 85 concise and informative entries covering rural crime theories, offences and control. It is divided into five complementary sections:

  • theories of rural crime;

  • rural crime studies;

  • rural criminal justice studies and responses;

  • rural people and groups;

  • rural criminological research.

With contributions from established and emerging international scholars, this authoritative guide offers state-of-the-art synopses of the key issues in rural crime, criminology, offending and victimisation, and both institutional and informal responses to rural crime.

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This chapter contemplates the past, present and future of rural criminology, considering its transformation from a niche area of interest in the criminological field, oft overlooked, to what has become a burgeoning subdiscipline in its own right with an enviable growth trajectory. It reflects on the chance encounters that have brought together scholars and others from disparate academic spaces and geographic places to study rural crime. In so doing, it considers the notion of borders in a globalised world, the role and importance of networks, rural criminology as public criminology. The chapter contemplates what the future might hold, and recommends several actions to facilitate its advancement well into the twenty-first century. Even in a globalised world, both physical and intangible borders persist. Sometimes these borders can be glaringly obvious, some are curious, and others are controversial and contentious both historically and now. Borders also serve as metaphors for the divisions imposed in the academy. The chapter muses on how rural criminology provides an effective crossing of our own boundaries, and in the process how it has created an inclusive and dynamic space for research, scholarship and practice.

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‘Rural’, most crudely, is defined as ‘non-urban’, but this dichotomous delineation is grossly inadequate because it neglects the consideration of the nuances of geography, demography, attitudes, culture and issues of access both tangible and amorphous. These are vitally important considerations: there exists significant cultural and spatial separation between urban and rural because what is taken for granted in the city is not accessible or available outside of it. There exists, most certainly, definitional difficulties about rural that will never go away. Should we just consider physical and demographic measures, such as population size and density, accessibility and remoteness? Such imprecision is typified by the existing definitions even within the same jurisdictions by different organizations and agencies of the same governmental units. Adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach is unwise, though, as a universal measure will not account for the non-homogenous nature of geographic location, both within and across jurisdictions. For instance, a coastal location in Australia dominated with former city dwellers cannot be easily compared to a rapidly populated boom town in Canada reliant on imported labour, to a primarily agricultural community in Ireland with multiple generations of the same families present, to the Yanomamo and Kayapo and other tribes in the rain forest regions of South America, nor to a remote settlement in the Siberian region of Russia or in the state of Alaska in the United States. Indeed, different places have different cultural origins – as scholars such as Hayden, Weisheit et al, Donnermeyer and DeKeseredy, Ceccato, Harkness (see suggested readings) and many other scholars already have observed.

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