Understanding The Community And Its Social Benefits Criminology Essay

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What do you understand by the term community? How could a community benefit from either social or situational crime prevention? Very broadly a community is "group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common", another definition for the term could be described as, "a group of people living together and practising common ownership" (Oxford dictionary 2010). Whilst these definitions may be commonly associated with the word 'community', in the context of this essay, we will be focusing on academic meanings of community and assess the different interpretations of the word. Within the criminology field many authors and academics have attempted to give 'community' a heterogeneous meaning. This being said, firstly this essay will discuss work from Anderson, Bauman, Rose, Etizioni among others who have given the word 'community' a meaning. By doing this, the following essay will give a clear understanding of the term community.

Secondly along with this, the National community safety plan (NCSP) 2008-2011 will be analysed. In analysing this document, this essay will draw out the NCSP's definition of the term 'community' in conjunction with analysing some of the main principles. This essay will also give a general understanding of the report, in addition to relating it with the last section of my essay, the Chicago school theory. Lastly this essay will explore the Chicago school theory and will provide an overview of the theory. In this section the essay will examine mapping, zones in transition and crime hot-spots, along with exploring the strength and weaknesses of the theory itself. In conjunction with the latter, this essay will discuss how this might actually benefit a real life community. Finally real life examples of initiatives from case studies and news articles will be investigated before ultimately concluding the essay and providing a clear understanding of the term 'community' and how it could benefit from the Chicago school crime prevention principles.

Along with the above, a wide range of academic sources such as academic books, articles, and journals. Plus the national community safety plan 2008-2011 and web page resources will be used to portray a clear understanding and support a clear organised framework.

Anderson (1983) argues that communities are not social or territorially-based, but are "imaginary" ideas based on a shared consensus of membership to a group of individuals. While Anderson focussed on the idea of the nation as an "imagined community", Rose (1990) argued that communities can also be imagined beyond the nation - she defines the imagined community as "a group of people bound together by some kind of belief stemming from particular historical or geographical circumstances in their own solidarity" (Rose 1990: 426). Similarly, Dwyer points out that multiculturalism and community are interlinked because minority communities are imagined communities that have no territorial boundaries: for Dwyer (1999: 54), "ethnic communities cannot be imagined as existing in an organic wholeness with self-evident boundaries."

Bauman (2001: 1-6) extrapolates upon this idea of community as imagined, by looking at how economic, political and ideological factors shape its conception. First, he argues that community "is nowadays another name for paradise lost" (2001: 3). However, what this "dream" of community fails to appreciate is that the realization of community comes at a cost: namely, "The price is paid in the currency of freedom, variously called 'autonomy', 'right to self-assertion', 'right to be yourself'" (2001: 4). In other words, for Bauman, the contemporary concept of community is oppositional to our dominant idea of individual freedom of consumer choice. The role of the consumer in society runs counter to our idea of community because the consumer-producer relationship erodes the norms required to maintain it. The consumer society, for Bauman, replaces these community norms with the norm of excess: "In a world devoid of norms, excess had turned from poison into medicine for life illnesses" (2001: 131). Thus, in a society where excess is the fundamental norm, the idea of community remains an imaginary paradise because "imagination, unlike the harsh realities of life, is an expanse of unbridled freedom" (2001: 3). The notion of community is therefore defined by Bauman as a loose set of imaginary ideals that counter the harsh realities of the consumer-driven society of excess.

Similarly, Etzioni (2000: 198) defines communalism as oppositional to individualism. However, contrary to Bauman, he stresses that community is a "social harmony" (2000: 198), rather than a non-social imagined ideal. Moreover, the complete erosion of these values as a result of an excess-driven consumer society is not inevitable - instead, Etzioni argues that these community values "need to be balanced with concerns for individual rights and subgroup autonomy" (2000: 198). In other words, community, for Etzioni, is a series of values that can be practically used to oppose the unfettered individualism of free market capitalism.

From the following paragraphs regarding a 'community' definition, it is clear to see and important to note that the term is heavily contested. In the following couple of paragraphs, this essay will consider the National community safety plan 2008-11. In this, we will learn what the NCSP's definition of 'community' is, along with linking it with the Chicago school theory.

Contrary to ideas about multiculturalism and of "imagined" communities, the National Community Safety Plan (HM Government 2008) defines community in a heterogeneous fashion - in other words, it suggests that one dominant idea of community exists. In addition, these values are applied according to local areas and, while some concession is made to the issues of ethnic and sexual discrimination, "community" is used to define a set of common, communal interests related to territory and crime. As such, the plan uses a number of Chicago School principles, who define community as "the product of biotic activity [which can be] understood through ecology" (Valentine 2001: 107). The ecological principles of community outlined by Park and Burgess (1921) consist of the three following factors: firstly, competition creates different pricing systems, which leads to economic segregation; secondly, ecological dominance causes affluent areas to cluster together as a result of business interest; and, thirdly, invasion and succession, in which successful businesses can drive out less successful ones. As Watts, Bessant and Hil (2008: 57) summarize, "The ecological idea suggests that distinctive patterns of human conduct are shaped by the organization or design of space in which that conduct occurs." In other words, crime is the result of normal human beings being forced to live in abnormal urban conditions. However, what abnormality and normality consists of depends upon how these community values are defined and, as Watts, Bessant & Hil (2008: 57) continue to suggest, the Chicago School "promoted the idea that no single factor explains criminality". As such, individuals within the Chicago School present a wide variety of different factors that determine "abnormality" and consequent levels of social disorganization. These relate to both social and situational elements of community.

Community as a shared set of values is often linked to Chicago School theorists. Many Chicago School theorists argue that criminality occurs partially because of a lack of these shared community values that are treated as universal and national in scope. For Shaw & McKay (1942), crime is the result of a lack of "stable families" that function as institutions from which social and cultural norms can be promoted. Others argue that poverty and situational factors, such as the architectural design of estates, leads to the development of crime in certain areas. In both cases, the Chicago School argues that the idea of community should be defined in both situational and ideological contexts. In other words, community is both a shared set of ideals, as well as something which is practiced among groups of people. Institutions are fundamental factors in cementing community ties because they bring communities together in a situational sense, and promote these shared ideals. As Siegel (2008: 9) notes, the Chicago School argues that "urban neighbourhoods maintain such a high level of poverty that critical institutions of social organization, such as the school and the family, begin to break down." The way to combat this disintegration is by promoting the community ideals of the stable family unit, as well as promoting the situational development of stable communities within areas with high criminality and poverty.

The National Community Safety Plan (9:14) targets some of these elements of social disintegration by focussing policing policy on disorganized communities, and by working with existing partnerships within criminogenic areas. The results, however, are highly variable. In some instances, anti-social behaviour is targeted which, in practice, mainly focuses on young males within those communities. The decision to focus on the concept of "anti-social behaviour" is controversial precisely because it is difficult to determine what, in practice, anti-social behaviour constitutes. As Watts, Bessant & Hil (2008: 158) argue, "the characteristics identified […] as indicators of 'antisocial' behaviour" may be nothing "more than a bundle of prejudices about the world of the 'typical' young, male, juvenile delinquent." Furthermore, the decision to focus primarily on "increasing take-up of tools and powers for tackling anti-social behaviour" may further ostracise adolescents from their community (National Community Safety Plan 2008-2011: 11). As Bauman (2001: 1-6) and Etzioni (2000: 198) suggest, community is oppositional to individual freedom - furthermore, the duality between these two opposing ideas create the society in which we live. Consequently, the danger of a policy that discriminates against a group of individuals based on particular "prejudices" is that it undermines this shared system of values. For Chicago School theorists, this erosion of a universal notion of collective social responsibility within local communities creates crime because it segregates and separates particular individuals from that community, thereby creating a criminal class of individuals who share a common set of distinguishing values. While Bauman (2001: 130) argues that the underlying problem with crime in "disorganized zones" is the result of the consumer society and its individualistic, anti-communitarian traits, Etzioni argues that individualism and communitarian aspects should be aligned through the enactment of particular privacy and policing laws. Thus, the National Community Safety Plan fails because it does not tackle these communitarian aspects in a consistent fashion.

Before concluding the essay, the next section will consider local examples of how a community could benefit from both social and situational crime prevention. In this section examples from Hasting and Preston will be examined to portray a clear understanding. Furthermore a link will be distinguished between the following examples and how they relate to the Chicago school theory and the NCSP.

Siegel suggests that, for the Chicago School, the fear of crime further exacerbates the degeneration of community values by isolating individuals from one-another (2008: 9). In Hastings, for example, the National Community Safety Plan has "launched a long-term plan to increase feelings of safety and repair the image of the town." The resultant reduction in the fear of crime by focussing on anti-social behaviour, and fostering a sense of community through the media has reduced the communal fear of crime, which, for Chicago School theorists, exacerbates social disorganization and leads to the rise of crime rates. However, they argue that reducing the fear of crime does not treat the underlying causes of crime, such as poverty, the failure of institutions, and the failure to promote relevant community values. According to The Chicago School, crime rates will only permanently lower when the ecology of the disorganised zone is changed. While a focus on the perception of crime may potentially rekindle community values, this is unlikely to have a long term effect because the institutional problems and the resultant degeneration of community values remain.

Policing strategies in Preston, Lancashire have been employed which more directly echo the ecological theories of the Chicago School. These focus directly on both "situational" and "social" causes of crime in deprived areas. Situational crime prevention measures involve changing the "design of the estate", such as changing the "lighting and fencing, changing access points," and "cleaning up and installing CCTV" (National Community Safety Plan 2008-2011: 12). In addition, social factors were introduced such as "youth services outreach, Prince's Trust projects and a buddy system for new residents" (National Community Safety Plan 2008-2011: 12). In this case, an attempt is made to rekindle communities and prevent the alienation of marginalized youth groups by fostering an idea of community involvement. Isolation from communities (and subsequent individualism) is countered through the "buddy system" and via the use of institutional and situational mechanisms. As a result, crime rates reduced by 49 percent (National Community Safety Plan 2008-2011: 12).

In the final part of this essay we will ultimately come to an understanding of the term 'community' and how that benefits the Chicago school theory crime prevention principles. In addition, this essay will refer to the main points that have been presented and summarise the argument above; to more generally answer the essay title.

In conclusion, since 1915 the definition of 'community' has always been a contested term. Since C.J.Galpin first gave a sociological definition, a number of competing definitions of 'community' rapidly emerged. A major problem with the term is the sheer scale of context it could possibly derive from. However, considering the essay, it could be said that we need to work to "gain control over the conditions under which we struggle with the challenges of life" (Bauman 2001: 149). By this Bauman discusses the idea of abolishing ''disorganized zones'' because of the struggle of the community within these zones. In regards to how a community could benefit from either social or situational crime prevention. As discussed above a community could greatly benefit from social or situational crime prevention as the NCSP declare findings of 49% crime reduction rates as a result of these factors. Ultimately it can be said; the term 'community' can neither simply nor quickly be defined. But to truly understand the term we need to know the nature of the specific community, and how they behave.

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