Aqa a2 Sociology Unit 4 Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods

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Exam-style question

Green crime can be an example of both state crime and corporate crime. As an example of the latter it can be invisible (as with nuclear emissions), but because of its nature it is often visible, resulting in the scarring of a landscape and harm to people or other living organisms. With a growing green political agenda, such crimes are viewed with increasing concern and treated seriously. Therefore, both nations and corporations are anxious to play down their environmentally unfriendly activities.

The issue of green crime is introduced here. It is defined and located in the context of a changing
political climate.

One of the problems with green crime is operationalising exactly what constitutes this phenomenon. Since governments are law-makers, they can manipulate context and definitions in order to avoid accusations that they have broken the law. Therefore important ‘policers’ of green crime are not the agents of the state but environmental pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

The difficulties in operationalising green crime in practice are highlighted here. In addition, it shows how easy it is for governments to avoid prosecution and even identification as law-breakers, since they are the law-makers and enforcers.

Swale borrows Matza’s concept of ‘techniques of neutralisation’ to describe how nations and corporations attempt to dilute the impact of their actions on the environment. This is a useful concept centred on lessening the impact and justifying illegal activities.

Jill Swale makes an interesting point that corporations can engage in Matza’s concept of techniques of neutralisation. Examiners will reward excellent lateral thinking like this.

Through the skilful use of the media and public-relations teams, firms are able to gloss over environmental crimes by defending their activities with arguments such as providing employment, boosting export earnings, advancing technology. An example of this would be the Canadian government and Shell’s defence of the destruction of large areas of Canada for the extraction of oil from sand deposits.

The manipulation of the media is an important idea here. This could be developed into a significant synoptic link back to the topic of mass media. A useful up-to-date applied example of environmental damage is given.

Bruno et al. talk about the ‘5 Ds’ to refer to ways in which corporations attempt to lessen the impact on the environment of their actions. These are ‘denial’, such as that global warming is a myth; ‘delay’ whereby the environmental impact is viewed as nothing to worry about in the present time; and ‘dumping’ whereby waste is disposed of abroad rather than at home where it would be politically and socially sensitive. The other two ‘Ds’ are ‘divide’ whereby public opinion is divided through issues like loss of jobs; and ‘dupe’ whereby polluting firms dare to manifest themselves as friends of the environment by engaging in tokenistic and highly publicised green activities.

The work of Bruno et al. is discussed here. His ideas provide a lot of content that is useful for answering this question.

In conclusion it can be seen that there are a number of ways in which both nation states and corporations can minimise accusations of green crime. With regard to governments, it is relatively easy for them to avoid prosecution and even identification, since they are the law-makers and enforcers. With regard to business offenders, it really depends on the will of the government to pursue them. If this is lax, then corporations will find it easy to avoid accusation.

There is not much published material on this topic. Use newspapers and magazines to add to your cuttings library on green crime.

Media and crime

1 Pearson highlights how the media shape both a fear of becoming a victim of crime, but also a fascination with all aspects of crime. The media are full of police and crime stories: both factual (news) and fiction (drama).

2 While the media are often portrayed negatively in terms of their impact on crime levels, they can also play an important role in challenging deviance as wrong. An example of this would be how the media have reinforced the ‘zero tolerance’ message about domestic violence. This behaviour has now become recognised as a crime rather than a ‘family matter’.

3 Clacton, Essex (over the Easter weekend, 1964).

4 The national newspapers were short of a main story, so when reports of disturbances at Clacton came through they were suddenly blown up to a front page that exaggerated its seriousness. As Cohen points out, seaside disturbances had been taking place since the 1950s, so this was neither a new nor, in the case of Clacton, a serious disturbance.

5 Cohen believed that moral panics result at times of rapid social change, causing instability and resulting in people looking for scapegoats to blame for their insecurity. He identified how moral entrepreneurs (people who make a stand about the nation’s morals, such as newspaper editors, politicians and church leaders) use the media to spread this sense of insecurity until it develops into a moral panic.

6 Miller and Reilly present the idea that moral panics are a form of ‘ideological social control’ in that they are often used to soften up public opinion. An example of this would be the media’s Islamophobic coverage of Islamic terrorism that has subsequently justified government anti-terrorist reforms even though they have significantly curtailed people’s civil liberties.

7 McRobbie and Thornton argue that Cohen’s work on moral panics is outdated because moral panic has become so common that it is now used by the media on an increasingly sophisticated audience. Whereas moral panics might once have been an unintended outcome of media involvement, they argue that the media now deliberately target moral panic as a goal. In addition, they argue, some groups may actively use the media to generate moral panics.

8 Missing white-woman syndrome highlights how the social status of victims can influence media coverage. It is argued that the media give significantly more attention and coverage to victims if they are middle-class, young, white and attractive. This is also known as ‘missing pretty-girl syndrome’.

9 Marxists see the media as biased in their coverage of crime. Because they are owned by the ruling class (or, in the case of the BBC, regulated by the ‘great and the good’ drawn from the establishment — effectively the same thing), they present a pro-capitalist agenda and reflect the world-view of the rich and powerful. As a consequence white-collar and corporate crime receives limited coverage and its significance is played down, when and if it is reported. In this way the media reinforce the idea that criminals are typically working class and moral panics frequently arise in connection with powerless groups, who are often scapegoated for society’s crime problems. Marxists stress how the media reinforce an ideological position that regards crime as something associated with the working class, youth and ethnic minorities. The media in their coverage of crime are viewed as distorting reality and reinforcing a sense of fear, enabling, as Hall et al. showed, an increase in state and police powers while limiting individual freedoms.

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