Urban deviance, fears, idiocy, work-related harms and social disorganisation

Urban space has always been of special significance for criminology. The reason for this is no secret: modern adult crime, juvenile delinquency and other forms of deviant behaviour are - by and large - typically urban phenomena. According to a variety of available data (e.g. statistics generated by state institutions operating in criminal justice system, victim surveys and self-report studies), more harmful, dangerous and otherwise morally problematic acts, officially labelled and sanctioned as ‘crimes', take place in urbanised places than in mral environments. Needless to say, there are a number of criminological theories attempting to explain why this happens to be so, for instance due to: ( 1 ) moral erosion (anomie) accompanied by societal disintegration; (2) class, ethnic, racial and gender inequalities; (3) social disorganisation of disadvantaged communities; (4) differential association and differential social organisation; (5) deviant subcultures functioning as a compensation for status frustration, denied recognition, rejection, discrimination, exclusion or humiliation; (6) structurally induced strains (because of a discrepancy between the dominant cultural values and the lack of individuals' legitimate opportunities or resources); (7) relative deprivation connected to market atomisation and political powerlessness; or (8) capitalist production of ‘surplus population' that the system cannot incorporate in any useful or meaningful manner. There is really no shortage of variables and concepts aiming at the explanation of various urban crimes. Yet, also ‘the causality of contraries’ (Ruggiero 2001, p. 6) is to be taken into account: a specific aetiology ‘can always turn into its exact reverse' (Ruggiero 2001, p. 10). So, for example, crime X can be attributed to ‘relative deprivation' (or insufficient socialisation), while some other transgression can be explained by ‘relative affluence’ (or excessive internalisation of dominant cultural values).

Nevertheless, some things seem quite obvious. Owing to the huge concentration of people and commodities in the urban space, there are always a great deal of motivated offenders, vulnerable potential victims, badly protected targets and other alluring opportunities for acquisitive, destructive and violent transgressions. Also, there is a constant demand for illegal dmgs; counterfeit, stolen and smuggled goods; and prohibited services. On the other hand, owing to urban anonymity, sharp individualism, mobility, population turnover, weak community-based surveillance and overloading of the agents employed in the criminal justice system (entailing decreased likelihood of being caught, convicted and punished severely), crime is perceived by many as a relatively safe way of realising one's needs, desires, goals, projects or preferred lifestyle (mode of existence). Additionally, there are other threatening, troublesome or problematic occurrences (e.g. uncivil forms of behaviour) which are not criminal in legal terms, although they provoke worries, unease or fears and thus worsen the quality of life of the ‘respectable’, law-abiding and hard-working urban dwellers.

In the post-modern context, typical forms of coping with the fear of being victimised in some way or another are the fortification of homes and even of the whole neighbourhood (such as exclusive, socially isolated, gated communities), protective environmental and architectural design, avoidance behaviour, employment of private security guards, ‘zero tolerance’ approach to minor offences, aggressive policing of the ‘sensible’ areas and technologically supported control. The latter operates e.g. by means of mushrooming surveillance cameras, these miniaturised Benthamite Panopticons replacing unreliable human eyes with the artificial spectacle of constant deterrent and disciplinary monitoring.3

Unsurprisingly, urban space remains a principal ‘crime-breeding ground' also in the confused post-modern context, even though some traditional contrasts between city and rural life appear weaker, less clear-cut and blurred in many important aspects. On the one hand, countryside becomes increasingly urbanised, e.g. villages turn into small towns or get devoured by expanding nearby mega cities. Moreover, owing to communication and information technology, rural communities also are affected by cultural globalisation, particularly by incessant flow of news, points of value orientation, virtual reference groups, vocabularies of socially acceptable motives, possible role models, capitalist myths, images displaying diversified lifestyles, rapidly changing fashions, adorned celebrities, fictional characters, glittering commodities, joyful consumption and other charming signifiers of the First World dream.4

On the other hand, according to Mitchel (2014) and Attoh (2017), urban life adopts some characteristics that were traditionally connected to niral ‘idiocy' (Draper 2004, p. 220), which does by no means imply low intelligence of peasants or backward, conservative nature of their customs, for it refers essentially to privatised isolation from wider society, apolitical withdrawal from public issues and general concerns. Following this lead, Andrejevic (2020) suggests that, nowadays, a growing number of city dwellers seem to prefer a rather enclosed, isolated, ‘ solipsistic ' life, conforming more or less to the original sense of the Greek word ‘idiotai’, which is supposed to mean that they solely ‘mind their own busmess'. In other words, they function as mutually competitive, self-seeking market atoms. They show little or even no interest in local and national politics, communal problems, social solidarity or ‘common good' (as if ignoring their ‘sense of citizenship' and implicitly accepting the view that ‘there is no alternative’ to the capitalist status quo). They transport themselves by privately owned cars.5 They avoid public places and events, e.g. because they are too risky or too expensive. They purchase desired goods and even basic life necessities in the consumption universe of the Internet, in a ‘friction-less’ maimer, so to speak. They work diligently at home (for leisure cannot generate any money). They follow customised news and individualised entertainment programmes. They upload self-presenting - or rather, self-promoting and interactive - relations onto conmiercial digital platforms or social media. They communicate with (and control) significant others by ‘smart' phone, and so on. Of course, regardless of the widespread ‘urban idiocy’ (Andrejevic 2020, p. 90), cities are occasionally still places of massive protests, demonstrations, uprisings and riots, although their political effectiveness have been rather modest so far (often because of the brutal official repression, deficient organisation, lack of strategy or insufficient public support).

Still, the key reason for diminished, impoverished neoliberal sociality might be much more trivial or prosaic. Namely, innumerable adults simply do not have enough time and energy either for engaging in social, public or political activities, or for the development of their human powers (or potentials) as an end in itself -which is, by the way, the very essence of the realm of freedom existing beyond the economic sphere of necessity as its irreducible basis. They are forced to sacrifice the majority of their waking hours on the altar of the capitalist economy, getting or commuting to workplaces (and back home), serving obediently, productively, eagerly, efficiently and gratefully to their temporary masters who need them as long as they can produce surplus value (profit) or fulfil their desires, plans and projects. Besides, one's time has to be devoted to eventual parental activities and inevitable household routines. So, the free or disposable time left for social life, leisure and particularly autonomous, self-determined activities comes to be quite niggardly apportioned and, consequently, to be carefully, rationally used, not only for play, distraction, fun or relaxation but also for improving or preferably optimising one’s competitive abilities, e.g. by acquiring new competences and skills required by employers, clients or impersonal 'market forces’.

In view of the dynamic, complex, accelerated, unceasingly pulsating urban life (connected predominantly by impersonal, contractual, monetarised ties), the city seemingly contains great potentials for individual’s authentic choices in terms of self-creating, self-invention, self-development and self-differentiation. Yet, there are many obstacles also in this regard. To be sure, in the urban milieu, where people live in physical proximity, yet keeping others at social and psychological distance,6 the individual is free from allegedly stifling restraints of the rural, close-knitted ‘organic community’ and its intruding control, based on more or less permanent scrutiny of one’s everyday activities, local gossip, reprimand, mockery, scorn, avoidance and other informal sanctions (violence included, and indeed often used as a punishment for sexual or otherwise deviant women who do not conform to the patriarchal rule). Undoubtedly, urbanity - defined conventionally as ‘a combination of density, size and diversity of its population’ (Plostajner 2016, p. 181) - fascinates and attracts with its variety of shops, restaurants, cafés, bars, nightclubs, historical buildings, cinemas, theatres, galleries, (post-)modern architecture, museums, public and commercial services, subcultures, social and ethnic heterogeneity, novelties, surprises, encounters (being generally events without past and future), music and sports events, and so on.7 However, in spite of an astonishing - and possibly at times also wearing - richness of urban impressions, experiences, stimulations and opportunities, the individual’s freedom is severely limited by the sheer fact that he or she needs money, ‘the object of meta-desire’ (Lordon 2010, p. 26), the supreme good - or rather, a secular (albeit solely fictional or imagined) god of all commercial goods. First of all, of course, you need money so as to survive (that is to say, prolong the inevitable encounter with death, our absolute master), preferably in a way that is culturally regarded as a decent or at least acceptable human existence. Then, one needs money in order to compensate everyday alienation due to heter-onomous work, and maintain a consumption that best reflects one’s tastes, values, identity, professional or market successfulness, achieved level of self-actualisation and, probably most importantly, status, i.e. position in the social hierarchy.8

Urban structural violence in a neoliberal labour setting

So, how can one get money, this fetishised, indifferent, essentially conventional means for virtually infinitely diversified purposes,9 measuring uninterruptedly all market items with a cruel objectivity? Well, human beings who are separated from the means of production, and are thus characterised by radical material heteron-omy (i.e. structurally imposed and enforced dependency upon the ruling capitalist class), have to sell their ‘labour power' to some employer, objective or fictional/ legal person possessing money for their wages or payments. Yet, unfortunately, they cannot sell solely their ‘labour power' (e.g. imaginative, cooperative, com-municational, creative, linguistic, intellectual and physical capacities and abilities), for this bizarre ‘commodity’ cannot be sold separately from the whole person in question. Consequently, they have to ‘enslave’ themselves, waive their freedom freely, although solely in legal terms (meaning without being induced to work by violence, threat or fraud), as in reality they are under the sheer biological compulsion, the inexorable need to reproduce themselves. Entering the universe of heteronomous, alienated, alienating, and exploited work, controlled and directed by one’s temporary masters (whose economic power is legally guaranteed and politically protected by the state's monopoly of ‘legitimate’ use of means of coercion), entails manifold negative effects, many of which are very similar to those typically associated with conventional violent and acquisitive crimes. To begin with, work ‘steals’ too much energy (or libido, if you prefer a Freudian term) and time from workers, for it takes up the largest part of their dominated, oppressed, all too often also humiliated lives. It routinely ruins their bodies and souls. It kills, injures and worsens workers’ physical and mental health, not to mention their aesthetic appearance. One should just think of innumerable occupational illnesses and ‘accidents’ taking place in unsafe, poorly protected workplaces. Furthermore, too many ‘happily’ employed people have to toil under torturing pressure, and acute or chronic stress, in degrading or ‘dehumanising’ conditions, with primitive, unpleasant or bothering ‘colleagues’, in great hurry, and even with suspicious stimulating help of legal or illegal drugs. Also, more often than not, they work in fear of losing their jobs (precarious employments, projects or clients). Paradoxically perhaps, they are chased by this unpleasant emotion, although they do not like or even hate the more or less unsecure work in question, e.g. because it is poorly paid; unbearably intense; fatiguing; annoying; repetitive; demeaning; lacking dignity, respect or recognition; stupefying; boring; frustrating; dirty; dangerous; ecologically destructive; socially harmful; or simply subjectively meaningless (or even stupid).

Taking into account deplorably numerous and varied direct and indirect negative effects and repercussions of heteronomous work in the city under the parasitic capitalist rule (protected carefully by the bourgeois nation-state and legitimised by its legal system forming a normative, structural basis for exploitation, oppression, extortion and humiliation of subordinated classes), it is really hard to understand why mainstream criminologists pay so little or even no attention to this predominantly harmful and dangerous activity. Paid work is - unlike punishable acts - by no means restricted to spatially and temporally isolated events. Further, it is the source of many more troubles and especially fears10 (and other unpleasant emotions or painful experiences) than conventional urban crime, delinquency, incivilities or so-called anti-social behaviour. It hardly needs saying that functionally specialised and divided social work should and of course could be radically reduced and evenly distributed (together with the wealth it produces), especially in view of increasing gains in productivity (due to the scientific and technological progress), enormous quantities of unemployed or ’superfluous’ people, growing number of socially unnecessary or even harmfill employments, and easily dispensable jobs which are somehow useful only in the profit-oriented, competitive economy or capitalist society.

Alas, something completely different happens. Work is indeed being reduced due to insufficient opportunities for profitable production and investments, and it is ‘saved’ (i.e. irreversibly abolished in all sectors of the economy) under the ‘irresistible’ impact of sophisticated information technology, automatisation and digitalisation, and the use of robots, ‘intelligent’ machines and algorithmic systems. Although, paradoxically, increases in productivity function not as blessing, but as a curse for the subjugated sellers of ‘labour power': they are often obliged to fiercely compete for progressively insecure employments, bend obediently and thankfully their backbones, increase and keep the productivity at the globally demanded level, or accept longer working time, lower payments and the diminishing of the rights obtained by industrial working classes, usually by great effort. In addition, such a situation seems ideal for the capitalist masters, indisputable winners in the class warfare for the time being, who delight in enviable privileges. For instance, they can select workers from a vast ocean of eager candidates, hire labour ‘just in time’ (and dismiss it easily after profitable use), pass the burden of intensified competition on economically dependent ‘partners’ (workers and subcontracting companies) and demand more or less constant state help, e.g. in terms of subsidies, provision of infrastructure, diminished (or even zero) taxes, deregulation, privatisation of the public sector, loosening of laws protecting human and natural resources, suppression of dissidents, strikes, rebellions and protests, and so forth.

Is there anyone or anything to be blamed? Well, to begin with, we cannot accuse technology as such, as replacing human labour with machines contains liberating potentials in terms of reduction of the kingdom of necessity and concomitant enlargement of the realm of freedom. Also, we cannot criticise the capitalist economy, for its main purpose is neither the promotion of social welfare, individual freedom or self-fulfilment, of common good and democracy, nor the provision of enough productive work for all. Its basic - indeed, its sole - purpose is valorisation of capital, production of surplus value and infinite accumulation. Capitalists use humans (formally free and equal legal subjects, i.e. private owners of what they possess) and natural resources as means in their never-ending race for profits. However, they are forced - by the inexorable ‘law of competition' - to do so if they want to stay (avoid economic ruin) and prosper in the market ‘game’ (which is obviously not ‘free’). In this respect, capitalism functions as a system of mutual pressures and threats. Virtually, each capitalist is under constraint and, at the same time, constrains other competitors. Consequently, all economic agents (capitalists, producers and consumers) have to conform to the ‘blind force of things' (Heinrich 2013, p. 110), the unpredictable, unplanned movement of commodities and their market prices. Clearly, neither the society nor the bourgeois state, whose fiscal well-being depends heavily upon the ’health' of the economy (i.e. successfill accumulation of capital), controls the production, exchange and consumption.

In other words, social control does not exist, at least in the original sense of this concept, as defined by American sociologists in the first quarter of the 20th century. Sumner (1997, p. 131) rightly points out that, from the very beginning, ‘social control' was not solely a scientific concept but 'part and parcel of the social-democratic political movement in the USA'. Social control aims at the creation of a society which is able to regulate itself autonomously (and not 'by decree’ supported by the threat of monopolised violence or market competition), in a democratic manner, generally perceived as meaningful, morally acceptable and just by its members. Self-regulated community is characterised by an order that is somehow ‘truly social’ (suitable for humans as fundamentally - even naturally -social beings), based upon complex, albeit consciously organised, social division of work, cooperation and interpersonal relations which are not solely interactive, but essentially social, i.e. collaborative.

According to Fischbach (2019), the original concept of‘social control" - or that of ‘social organisation' (meaning self-regulation) as understood by the Chicago school of criminology11 - bears telling resemblance to the very idea of socialism. In a nutshell, the principal political goal of socialism is also to transcend disorganised, chronically ‘anomic’ (Durkheim 2006, p. 215) capitalist society characterised by fierce class antagonism, profit-oriented production, merciless market competition (an economic ‘war of all against all'), exploitation and oppression of workers, ‘pathological’ (or forced) division of labour,12 dismal contrast of wealth and poverty, destruction and degradation of natural resources, and other evils. The socialist ideal refers to the interlocked goals such as: ( 1 ) emancipation of society and of its members from the blind power of objective, heteronomous, quasi-natural forces or Taws’; (2) social (autonomous and democratic) control over the economy; (3) rational and just organisation of division of work (leading to ‘organic’ solidarity) accompanied by the socialisation of the means of production; (4) abolishment of chaotic market competition; (5) radical reduction of the working day; (6) severe restriction of the anachronistic hereditary transmission of wealth; (7) cooperative and humanised regulation of production; and (8) collaboration between mutually dependent workers in such a way that that everyone is indispensable for others (and therefore also recognised by them),13 because one’s contribution supplements others' contributions. Socialism should not. however, be confused with ‘collectivism' of any sort, i.e. subordination of individuals to some reified social entity sui generis, the monopolistic rule of avant-garde political party or elitist leadership. On the contrary, the key socialist goal is to assure all necessary social conditions for the free, autonomous development of everyone's individuality, powers and potentials as an end in itself.14

However, judging from the appearance, socialist (and even traditional socialdemocrat) ideas are dead, buried, forgotten, discredited and cursed. In the eyes of the dominant, omnipresent neoliberal orthodoxy (increasingly allied with right-wing, authoritarian, nationalist, ethnic, chauvinist, antifeminist populisms), socialism equals totalitarianism, an absolute evil. On the other hand, the concept of social control has turned into an academic term conveying a variety of meanings, different from its original Chicagoan sense.15 Still, things are more complex than that. As Graeber (2014) has shown, communism - i.e. a system of social collaboration in line with its principle ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’ - makes up the very basis of our everyday lives. It can easily be seen in relationships between family members, friends, lovers, colleagues working on a common project, and ordinary people coping with a natural catastrophe or economic crisis. Moreover, as Gregorcic (2009) has shown, globally, there are numerous communities (mostly ignored by the mainstream media), which have succeeded in the implementation of effective self-regulation or social control (or organisation) in the original Chicagoan sense. Two examples of this are the self-managed city El Alto in Bolivia and the autonomous community in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Nevertheless, capitalism and the bourgeois state as its armed guardian angel are still much and indisputably alive, expecting a new tsunami of economic crises, this time due to an invisible biological enemy (COVID-19). Apart from that, we should keep in mind that people in ex-socialist societies gladly (or at least without protests) accepted the introduction of a capitalist system, irrespective of many enviable advantages they enjoyed in the liquidated socialist system (e.g. economic and social security; small inequalities in incomes and material wealth; not-too-hard work burdens; housing, educational and health systems; safety) seeming retrospectively almost as a ‘paradise lost’.16 Let us take a look at how capitalism has transformed the urban space and social life in Slovenia, a formally socialist child of the European ‘family’.

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