Locality and Community
Though often not explicit, realist criminology is a criminology of place. Likely because of its general focus on street crime and violence, its analyses and policies tend to focus on particular communities in particular locations (e.g. DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 1991. p. 256; Matthews, 2014, p. 4). At the same time, realist criminology must transcend locality as “the forces that shape local crime problems are never just local in provenance” (Hogg, 2016, p. 72). As Donnenneyer (2016, p. 36) explains, place “represents a micro-expression or microcosm of all the inequalities found in the larger society.” He adds that “within a specific locality ... are multiple forms of collective efficacy, buttressed by overlapping networks or forms of social capital” (ibid). Place is a nexus point where the structural and the situational collide. It also provides a starting point for mapping the social relations of crime (a point to which we will return momentarily). For many crimes, particularly street crimes, victims, offenders, police, community leaders, and other relevant parties tend to be geographically concentrated. This proximity facilitates interaction and cooperation to create social democratic solutions.
Place presents a challenge for online crimes. In the words of Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there.” Yet, the concepts of space and place are not useless in analyses of the internet and online crime—they need only be reconceptualized. Scholars have devoted significant time to understanding how place manifests in the digital realm (e.g. Castells, 1996; Futrell & Simi, 2004). While each of these conceptualizations is useful in its own right, this chapter details the four concepts Hayward (2012, p. 455) uses to orient criminologists grappling with “virtual/net-worked spaces”: convergence, virtuality, telepresence, and presence. Convergence refers to the intersection between technological change and regulatory processes—that new technologies may create situations that may test current regulations or create strange and contradictory legal situations. Virtuality denotes the creation of electronic, artificial, or simulated persons and environments. In particular, Hayward (2012) highlights how the “virtual” may blur and intersect with “the actual,” rendering the distinction between online and offline increasingly tenuous (see also: Brown, 2006). Indeed, this is supported by recent research which argues that online crimes may actually involve significant offline components and locally situated social networks (Lusthaus & Varese, 2017). Telepresence is the ability of telecommunications technologies to “alter the way we experience the sense of being in an environment” (ibid, p. 456). Phenomenologically, humans may exist in virtual and physical environments simultaneously and thus the experiences of these spaces may be inseparable. Presence, on the other hand, speaks to the ability of an identity to endure and exist in the form of scattered fragments across online profiles, account registrations, blogs, social media posts, and other interactional markers that creates a “quasiprivate disembodied virtual ‘persona' that exists at various points across the spatial architecture of the internet.” (ibid, p. 457).
These concepts, and others, speak to the complexities of “place” when the experiences of space become less dependent on physicality; technology can change the known terrain and create new interactional environments; the actual and the virtual become increasingly inseparable; people can now “exist” in two spaces simultaneously; and identities may persist in virtual spaces long after people have left (Powell, Stratton, & Cameron, 2018). Each of these dimensions may need to be considered when thinking about viable solutions to online harms and generating realist explanations of online victimization problems.