Better Understanding Youth and Crime
Merely being youths have never been so exasperating until now, at the close of the twentieth century – almost reaching an impasse when it comes to separating them and the crime predicament. The latter situation however, is mostly socially or culturally produced, gradually turning into a massive obsession of society at large. Brown attempts to draw attention to other feasible methods of seeing the ‘youth crime problem’ in this book, amidst the fixation with the youthful wrongdoer and his punishment.
She does this by addressing different spheres of influence, starting with the concept of age, or rather the expectations attached to it being largely social, culturally produced elements. Brown also makes it a point to stress on the fact that the notion of childhood innocence and dependency is a projection of an image constructed by ‘adult nostalgia and fears’ as opposed to children’s real lives. When children actually deviate from the conventional, adults are left in a state of incredulity and horror – Brown cites Douglas (1994) on her discussion of how this particular disorder symbolizes both power and danger. The latter poses a threat to society, hence resulting in the marginalization of young people—this being the concept of constructing the ‘other’, which Brown so strongly reiterates in her book. Brown also seeks to contrast Douglas’ structuralist perspective with the psychoanalytic tradition of advocating social exclusion to the maintenance of individuality, aiming to present a more equalized argument on the issue.
Brown’s empathetic stand for young people in trouble is evident throughout her book – the domains explored ranging from academia, media representation, policies adopted by the government, children and youth as sheer victims of oppression in ‘care’ and ‘control’ of social workers and gender were argued in such a way, advocating a more humanitarian youth justice system which safeguards both children’s rights and interests fully. Brown however, failed to appear impartial due to her overemphasis on the subjugation of the young, her pre-occupation perhaps a little too obvious – there were almost no arguments against youth in general. In this sense, she lacks the objectivity that most criminologists strive to achieve –though of course, objectivity is still questioned of its desirability in the field of social sciences.
Where typical books on criminology might dwell on the inexhaustible theories and studies of crime by respective sociologists/criminologists and such, Brown explores the evolvement of the study of problem youth in conjunction with history and theories she deem significant to the subject matter in a succinct manner, hence ceasing to put the reader to sleep. She initiated her discussion on the correlation of the academia and problem youth with positivism, gradually shifting to the other end of the spectrum, that of the interpretive school of thought. For a reader who might not have read the basics of methodology in the study of sociology, the terms ‘quantitative’, or ‘qualitative’ methodology may seem a little alien because no attempts have been made to enlighten the reader on this aspect.
The economic upsurge in the 60s, which resulted in the production of job securities and academic confidence, churned many keen young academics – the trend was the absolute dismissal of scientific methods (positivism), where radical criminology was making its ultimate breakthrough. Meanings attached to deviant behavior were now deemed important –the offender was self-determining, acting with a conscious will and the use of ethnography was at its pinnacle, kudos given for the authentic picture it paints when it came to fieldwork and research. Brown however, questions the validity and reliability of such research, declaring that it was up to the discretion of the ethnographer how he/she wanted to interpret a certain study – thus, the potential of radical cultural studies for offering a genuine and appreciative voice for young people falling prey to yet another series of the earlier mentioned adult concerns, marginalizing the youth even further.
“Repackaging of reality” – Brown’s choice of words couldn’t have been more precise for the contents of her arguments based on media representations. She produced a cohesive account of the amplification of deviant behaviour of the young by the media, exploring Stanley Cohen’s research on the sheer construction of particular subcultures (in this case mods and rockers, given the term ‘folk devils’) by a reciprocal relationship between the imagery portrayed by the media and the consumption of it by the public, hence creating a somewhat bogus depiction of the actual circumstance and so-called ‘moral panics’ of society – this distinction between ‘factual’ and ‘fictive’ categories gradually shattering into tiny fragments. Brown explained the processes of the demonization of the youth by the media, hence by society –this being somewhat another means of the isolation of the young.
The delinquent is illustrated as a lifeless, hapless creature waiting to be devoured by the many doldrums of political and popular insatiable appetites in Brown’s chapter on policies versus the interests of the youth. She emphasized on the underlying themes of each decade dating back, for example, to the advancement of welfare in the 1960s, which dominated the choice of policies adopted by the government in power. Brown launched her discussion with the concentration of welfare in the Children And Young Persons Act 1969, directing reference to recommendations of the Molony Committee in 1927, and underlined few consequences following the enactment of the legislation, one vital effect being the establishment of Juvenile Courts meant for the adjudication of youth crimes exclusively. Brown cynically looks upon the categorization of youth as a separate form being another structure of gross marginalization, being constructed through policy “not as citizens, but as objects of increasingly repressive modes of governance.”(p.116) She, however, fails to identify the positive consequences of this separation.
Brown condemns the society being in a state of denial regarding the topic of young people as victims because there existed a mental dependency of adults on blaming the young but is too terrified to recognize adult crimes against them. However, she did not rule out completely the fact that young people are also offenders, although she ceased to reflect on the nature of the relationship between the state and its citizens being one of reciprocity, harping on the criticism that the state does not fulfill its duties of protecting the welfare of the youth as citizens when certain youths do not fulfill their obligations as citizens of a state.
Although countless futile attempts have been made to include females in the study of criminology – satirically labeled “malestream” criminology, inspiring accounts of feminist theory were asserted to provide a comprehensive overview on the extent of the non-existent nature of females in this field of study. Kicking off with the biological theory of how it was only natural for the lack of tendency to commit crime in females by Lombroso and Ferrero (1895), Brown gradually provided another outlook via Heidonsohn’s (p.100) theory on the sexual division of labour and conformity –how it severely limits access to more serious forms of crime (instead of petty shoplifting crimes and prostitution excessively concentrated on when it came to women/girls) and the fact that evidence showed how strikingly more conformist females are to social mores. The liberal feminists in terms of gender role socialization also explained this conformity. Brown however never clarified why, from any of the cited theorists’ point of view why a considerable number of women still do commit crime, if their socialization into conformity was as effective as assumed.
Patriarchal and egalitarian family structures, the chivalry thesis, paternalism and the sheer lack of empirical studies on crimes committed by females were elaborated by Brown, citing their respective theorists to serve a more well rounded argument on the matter. With ongoing gender-structured analysis over the last two decades, perhaps the almost inseparable elements of youth and male in the study of criminology will finally be deconstructed, opening doors for a new branch of criminology literati? She also notes the relatively new field of masculinity implied in the study of youth and crime being ‘attempts’ to achieve ‘hegemonic masculinity’ –this glorified portrayal of the macho male as opposed to the weak male, tying in the particular subject with the study of youth subcultures explored earlier.
Brown would probably have achieved a more solid presentation had she included her own personal research on the study of youth and crime; nonetheless, the arguments presented were comprehensive enough with her compilation of excerpts and theories. The astute reader will find that Brown confined the scope of her book to the United Kingdom exclusively – the slightly narrow perspective might render her seemingly ignorant of the immense variety of ways which youth and crime are intertwined in diverse countries, especially that of developing countries where the crime and poverty rate ranks much higher than the UK. A better picture of reality may have been observed to offer a more genuine outlook of such. There lies no prerequisite in order to get hold of the book’s main aims. For the layman however, Brown’s book might seem a little too intricate although the glossary of terms used was more than helpful. I personally appreciated the layout of the book – the fact that I didn’t need to conventionally start with the first chapter all the way through due to the concise introduction of the contents at the start of each chapter.
‘Understanding Youth and Crime: Listening to Youth?’—Brown’s utter skepticism on any constructive attention paid to the young at all was absolutely palpable. She certainly exudes a profound fervour in her quest for justice for the segregated youth. When Brown spoke of the amplification of youth deviancy by the media, how confident was she that she had not ‘amplified’ the apparent victimization of the young?
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