Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thoughts from and inspired by Durkheim

Durkheim presents crime as an aberration from social solidarity. Also, the fact of punishment defines the boundaries of crime.

"We use the term 'crime' to designate any act which, regardless of degree, provokes against the perpetrator the characteristic reaction known as punishment." (39).
"Indeed the only feature common to all crimes is that, saving some apparent exceptions to be examined later, they comprise acts universally condemned by the members of each society." (42).
"If adults are encountered who are ignorant of these basic rules or refuse to recognize their authority, such ignorance or insubordination are irrefutably symptoms of pathological perversion." (43).

So, from the Durkheim-ian perspective, anyone who ends up punished (so long as their punishment occurs along the lines of social demarcation [ie due process]) that person must be viewed as pathologically perverted.

From here, I have two things to think about:

1.) This idea of pathology. Social solidarity is natural and self-reproductive(?), it develops along with industrialization and the division of labor (I don't know much about this, and I'm not sure if it's worth exploring-- we'll see). Therefore, if you act/think outside of the socially constructed bounds, then you are pathologically perverted. I suspect that an underlying flavor here is that there is something irredeemable about the pathological. -- Which would lead to a particularly careless treatment of punishment.

2.) Okay, so how do I used this particular theory as part of my research? I can say that if we are analyzing society from this perspective-- then xyz. But how can I argue that this is how society works? My critique, thus far, is that the elite powers in society institutionalize social mores (that are developed dialectically with the populace), but that this development takes place in the context of fundamental social conflict. Therefore the construction of social solidarity takes on a specific narrative with a specific end in mind.
Therefore, the designation as pathological of those outside the bounds of social morality functions to define these people for those people within the bounds of social morality. The conflict is externalized. The criminals are problematic, and possibly uncurable, and therefore we can be pretty damn cavalier in what happens to them.

But how do I argue that? How can I use Durkheim to respond to material conditions, or can I only respond to Durkheim?

How do I discover how 'society' things about punishment? Do I maybe need to do interviews?
If I do interviews, how do I deal with IRB stuff. It would be pretty impossible to get to speak to prisoners, I think. But less difficult to speak to others in the punishment field (including possibly, probationers, parolees). I think I need to look at IRB rules.

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