#Blog ‘Crime, Disorder and Symbolic Violence’ by Matt Bowden

The Irish Criminology Research Network is very pleased to present a guest blog from Dr Matt Bowden. Matt has written a blog on his new book (forthcoming, November 2014) from Palgrave, Crime, Disorder and Symbolic Violence: Governing the Urban Periphery. His guest blog provides an overview of the work, and a fascinating insight into the continued relevance of its subject matter and the publishing process.

What I have tried to do in Crime, Disorder and Symbolic Violence is to use some of Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas on the formation of the state to draw out a theory of governance of territories and of subjects. In this way we might come to understand state power as a penetrating force in physical space, symbolic space and in social space. Like Gramsci, Bourdieu was interested in the state’s quest for legitimate power as an agent of dominant classes. However Bourdieu’s emphasis is upon the use of symbolic violence – the manipulation of meaning through the imposition of arbitrary frames on reality. The state therefore acts as the shaper of conscience and appoints and legitimises various institutions and allies into this project.

In a nutshell, I have put forward a theoretical case of symbolic violence. This centres on how youth crime and disorder was dealt with in the urban periphery. Previously many social scientists had sought to conduct, like the social Darwinists at the Chicago School, ecologically informed studies of the inner-city. My focus was on the urban periphery as a new socio-spatial formation – seen by politicians and planners as a developmental environment that was supposed to be an improvement on the living conditions experienced by the working classes in inner-city areas. The outbreaks of urban disorder in these planned communities in the 1990s were upsetting for all those planners and beneficent politicians who built them. Manuel Castells in his book City, Class and Power spoke of the urban periphery as a productive ensemble of labour and the means of production: the Irish urban periphery, primarily in Dublin was an ensemble of labour power and little else. Industrial policy in the 1980s had dispersed new FDI based industries to the provinces, leaving cities surrounded by pools of surplus labour – the very conditions for urban disorder. Hence that state had to make a phoenix-like resurrection after its own benign neglect, and this is best captured in the report of the Interdepartmental Group on Urban Crime and Disorder published in 1993. Recognising the wider complexities of the problems in the urban periphery, the report effectively placed the Department of Justice as a central driver of development in a number of governing arenas. It had to find additional ways of penetrating the space and the people who lived there. Thus the argument of the book is the state found itself governing its way out of a crisis through symbolic violence.

It took me a long time to write this book but I have long since given up on seeing that as a shortcoming. Apart from the fact that the subject matter is of a type that needed the passage of time to protect those who informed it, the finished product I hope has an aged flavour. An article that I wrote based upon this book was rejected by two international journals.  Of course I could have done a better job writing it but a reviewer in one journal said that it was dealing with historical events that did not reflect what was happening in the country now. My initial anger on reading this turned later to pity for that poor soul as this year I watched, read and listened to day after day reports about how the police were treating whistleblowers, reports of the secretive and silo culture in the Department of Justice, and the cosy relationship that existed between government and police. I am very pleased that the book will be a repository for the 15 years I put into researching and writing this material and so I am cool with that.

Crime Disorder and Symbolic Violence

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