Ten percent of the world’s population lives on islands, but until now the place and space characteristics of islands in criminological theory have not been deeply considered. This book moves beyond the question of whether islands have more, or less, crime than other places, and instead addresses issues of how, and by whom, crime is defined in island settings, which crimes are policed and visible, and who is subject to regulation. These questions are informed by ‘the politics of place and belonging’ and the distinctive social networks and normative structures of island communities.
This chapter explores what a criminology of islands might look like and offer. It describes the historical example of the mutiny and horrific execution-style murders of approximately 125 babies, children, women, and men on the Houtman Abrolhos chain of islands (Indian Ocean) in 1629, following the wreck of the Dutch East Company ship, Batavia. The example provides a means to introduce key concepts that reappear throughout the book, including by exploring how the isolation and remoteness of the Houtman Abrolhos islands may have played a role in the dramatic and brutal subversion of existing social order that resulted in the violent murders that ensued. The chapter closes by setting out how islands are defined in the context of the book, and by introducing the concepts of place, space, ‘islandness’, and what we refer to as the politics of place and belonging; a conceptual lens that we return to and extend upon in later chapters.
Chapter 2 develops a critical framework to examine islands and crime, and functions as something akin to a literature review. It situates island criminologies within these existing criminological lines of inquiry, while also taking an interdisciplinary, global, and critical approach to exploring how islandness might further inflect extant criminological theorizing. The chapter initially examines criminological interest in geographies, including criminology’s general bias towards urban life in the Global North and concomitant neglect of crime in island spaces and places, which exist on the periphery of peripheries. The chapter then draws on fictional accounts of islands and crime and attempts to provide some foundations for an interpretive or cultural approach to island criminologies. In doing so, it extends the concept of islandness to account for two broad, polar visions of islands, which are best operationalized through the lens of power relations: island idylls and island horrors. We argue here for a criminological approach to small-scale and remote societies that conceptualizes both place and space, and which centres the importance of power in understanding different forms of social regulation.
This chapter explores how the isolation and remoteness of islands might influence and inflect criminological theorizing. As touched on in Chapter 2, islands have tended to be imagined through a Western lens as spaces that are both idealized and feared; their separateness and isolation prompt visions of paradise, but also dislocation and banishment. Island isolation promises a reprieve from the pressures of ‘mainstream’ (‘mainland’) society, but for those who emigrate (or are exiled) to islands, also implies abandonment – the island-dweller either abandoning mainland society, or indeed mainland society abandoning them. This chapter considers the use of islands as sites for managing sick and polluted bodies, including through quarantine stations and lock hospitals, drawing parallels to the way that islands have been used for banishment of the criminal body (for example, islands as prisons). Overall, we argue that criminology has often lacked critical engagement with public health, despite its historical and contemporary significance in regulating bodies, and despite frequent crossover in the use of isolated island spaces to prevent pollution of the body politic by ‘disappearing’ sick, poor, and criminal classes. This chapter seeks to at least partially correct this.
This chapter explores islands as locations that have been shaped, but also created, through processes of human invasion. It considers the role of (neo-)colonial forces in moulding the spaces and places of islands, broadening previous theorizing of island spaces to incorporate islands situated on terra firma and bounded by desert. In respect of the latter, the chapter focuses primarily on the example of remote Indigenous communities scattered across Australia’s sparsely populated ‘outback’ as islands in the desert. These islands have been created and shaped under violent settler colonialism as carceral reserves, thereby producing distinct crime histories and patterns. This enables an exploration of how island spaces can be created and mobilized as part of a broader array of governing techniques for dealing with deviance, which are interlinked with racialized Othering, including bordering of spaces, places, and bodies. ‘Islanding’ is in this case co-opted as a socio-political technique to maintain and perpetuate the white settler state’s legitimacy and claims over stolen Indigenous lands: a sort of ‘islanding as erasure’. The chapter draws comparisons to settler colonies elsewhere and demonstrates the importance of weaving together socio-political and spatial histories to enable a fuller understanding of how islands can inform criminological theorizing.
Although much has been written about rural policing, accounts of policing islands are generally rare. Research in the Global North has presented policing in remote and small-scale societies as community focused, owing to low crime rates in such societies. But is there actually less crime or less reportage of crimes, such as domestic violence, which recent research has found to be endemic in all social contexts? This chapter examines the issue of integration in relation to policing in the Pacific, where most research on policing islands has been conducted. The Pacific Islands are loosely sub-divided into cultural and geographic groupings of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Most Pacific Island communities (PICs) are microstates with small, geographically dispersed populations. Popular culture has provided a largely idealized account of policing in remote and small societies – characterized as homogenous if slightly eccentric communities. However, policing islands demonstrates the need for caution about valorizing specific models of policing as universally appropriate and functional.
Although it is hardly a new insight that social integration as much produces crime as it prevents it, this chapter draws on the case of Pitcairn Island – Britain’s smallest colony and the last British territory in the Pacific – to more deeply explore how intensive social ‘bonding’ capital can be both crime protective as well as criminogenic. The ‘social glue’ of Pitcairn has been a source of both idyllization and horror; it demonstrates a strong sense of island communitarianism, illustrated for instance in the interdependency of the island’s families and the role of local gossip and surveillance in encouraging compliance with local norms. It is, however, these same features that have been attributed to Pitcairn’s secret sex culture that defined Island life and resulted in the Pitcairn Island sexual assault trials (2004), where a third of the Island’s male population were charged with a range of sexual offences, including against minors. This case holds important lessons for criminological theorizing regarding different forms of social capital, emphasizing how extreme insularity, buoyed by island isolation and remoteness, can subvert social norms.
Drawing on green criminology and its broadening of ‘crime’ to include harm to both people and environment, this chapter examines the extraction of natural and human resources as part of the economic ‘development’ of small islands, spurred by colonial and commercial interests. It focuses specifically upon the cases of Nauru and Bougainville islands in the Pacific, which illustrate the role of ‘extractivism’ in increasing the vulnerability of islands, damaging health and environment, causing instability and conflict, contributing to global climate change, and leaving many islands uninhabitable and economically dependent. The chapter interprets the impacts of extractivism in these two cases through a critical lens, returning to earlier arguments about how colonialism socially constructs crime in the image of undesirable Others (for example, by criminalizing political resistance), while the crimes of the powerful (for example, corporations, governments) are ignored. To conclude, the chapter briefly considers alternatives to extractivism that are health promoting, community building, and, arguably, crime preventative. Drawing on Indigenous philosophies, the chapter examines the notion of stewardship, which stands in contrast to extractivism, involving an emphasis on regeneration and ensuring future life continues as we continue to the move through the Anthropocene.
This final chapter presents a more comprehensive vision for island criminologies, drawing together several theoretical and conceptual threads that are woven through preceding sections of the book. Much of what we build on here is an extension of what has been called ‘rural criminology’. However, because of its cultural and ideological baggage, the idea of ‘rural criminology’ in a neo-colonial era has become anachronistic and the field has itself often played a part in reinforcing dominant cultural constructs of space and existing power-relations. Thus, while this book seeks to situate island criminologies within existing criminological lines of inquiry, it also takes an interdisciplinary, global, and critical approach to exploring how islandness might further inflect extant criminological theorizing. This attention to the space and place of islands in criminology is timely, given the relatively recent interest in Southern, Indigenous, and decolonizing criminologies, which similarly involve a shift away from the metropole. Although this book offers first, tentative steps towards finding a place for islands in a criminology informed by ecology (with a particular focus on the relationship between people and the environment of a place), islands demand greater criminological attention into the future.
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