Structural violence, deviance and social control in the urban life and space

Zoran Kanduc

Introductory remarks

Urban space is a complex, contradictory, socially and culturally (re)created, multilayered - objective, subjective and imagined (mostly intersubjective) - reality, uninterruptedly affected by world capitalist system and national politics. Therefore, it cannot be studied separately or ‘in the abstract’, irrespectively of the economic processes, ruling ideology and legal structures beyond its somewhat blurred limits. Clearly, urban space is a highly diversified entity, a veritable labyrinth of different localities.

In the post-modern ‘culture of fear' (Furedi 2002), what seems increasingly important is the classification of urban areas according to their safety. Valverde (2006, p. 133) suggests that some places are experienced as either safe or unsafe ‘independently of the persons who happen to be located there at any time' and even regardless of the actual crime rates in the locality in question. Of course, there are indeed places marked with enduring bad reputation or stigma, for example because of the visual signs (or cues) of decay, disorder or disorganisation, such as littered streets, broken windows, unemptied bins, vandalised public utilities, graffiti on the walls and deteriorating housing. These ‘no-go areas' are perceived as dangerous also because they are supposedly populated with too many morally questionable characters, unpleasant persons and potentially violent, aggressive or predatory individuals and groups (e.g. gangs controlling their ‘turf; sexual molesters; robbers; drug dealers; wild kids showing no respect, decency or civility; and ‘barbarian' young males waiting idly for the suitable prey or target of harassment and humiliation). According to Stark (1998), ‘deviant places’ - sites of high crime, delinquency and other social ills - are characterised by great density; overcrowded, dilapidated, substandard and mostly rented dwellings; deficient public services; population turnover; moral cynicism; cultural transmission of delinquent values; diminished formal and informal control; and - not to be forgotten - economic deprivation.1 Certainly, there are also urban localities with the exact opposite qualities and populated with ‘well-adjusted' people, although the effects of their mainly legal activities are much more socially, humanly and ecologically destructive; for example, this is the case for the headquarters of the international banks and corporations, and the apparatuses of ‘the supra-national state of capital' (Gorz 1999, p. 15),2 such as the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), etc.

Indeed, the differentiation of urban landscape in line with dwellers' economic power and social standing seems the most visible feature of urban space. In extremis, there are earthly heavens for the very rich, e.g. well-defended luxury ■fortresses' and flats in gentrified districts, and the hells for the very poor, segregated in filthy, stinky, unhealthy slums, ghettos and other 'deviant' areas. Undoubtedly, the city has always been the home of both the rich (the powerful) and the poor (the powerless), in addition to those nesting 'in between'. Yet nowadays, the worth of every person is judged in light of the common consumer culture, in keeping with one's economic achievements and material possessions. Moreover, neoliberal capitalism has not only enormously enlarged the gap between the rich and the poor majority of humankind; it has also managed to transform the perceptions of both the former and the latter. Nowadays, the rich are normally not experienced as plunderers who exploit employed workers, extract the value produced by others or receive overly high incomes that cannot be justified by their merits or contributions to the social welfare or common good. On the contrary, they are presented as 'self-made' incarnations of personal success who have to be respected, admired, imitated or at least left undisturbed on their secluded 'paradise islands'. The poor, on the other hand, are no longer described as the victims of capitalist 'structural violence’. They are deemed as basically responsible for their own misery, e.g. because of bad choices, wrong attitudes or insufficient competences. The only legitimate option they have is to lower their unrealistic expectations, accept willingly whatever job is offered to them by the workfare state, or earn an income in the ballooning informal sector. Further, more and more of them are no longer useful for the formal economy, neither as workers nor as consumers. They are simply superfluous beings - worthless human waste to be dealt with mainly as security or health threats.

This chapter first examines urban space as a site of ambiguous, even contradictory, phenomena (of social disorganisation and crime, as well as creativity and resistance) and as a reflection of dominant economic and ideological structures, particularly consumerism. It also bridges the urban-rural divide by inspecting the traditional and assumed contrasts between the city and the village, demonstrating the convergence of some of their essential elements, and exposes certain structural urban hanns (particularly those related to the neoliberal labour context and its social control) often neglected by mainstream criminology. In the second part, we zoom in on the negative impact of the introduction of capitalism on the quality of (individual and collective) urban life and space in post-socialist societies, specifically in Slovenia.

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