the fear of crime as a phenomenon shaping the life of cities

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Over a decade ago (and, perhaps significantly(?), before 9/11), Rachel Pain reviewed the literature on “fear of crime as a phenomenon shaping the life of cities” (p.899), focusing on  “debates on race, age, gender and fear in the city, as these are the social identities which have received most attention.” (p.899). She wrote:

Much thinking about social identity and fear of crime has tended to be dichotomised. … For example, different groups of young people are widely constructed either as threatening, or threatened; there are powerful discourses which position people of colour as offenders or victims; and in much of the literature men are viewed as fearless but fear-provoking, and women as fearful and passive. Such dualisms reflect a wider criminological fallacy that certain groups commit crime and other are victims of it (except for people in low-income areas who are widely viewed as involved in both). Recent research is pointing to the diversity and complexity of issues around social identity and fear; so that although theoretical frameworks can and should be developed (one which emphasises social exclusion is applied in this paper), the currency of stereotypes and even the usefulness of gender, race and age as social categories need to be critically appraised and the intersections between different identities in their relationships to crime and fear require further explorationAnother set of dualisms which the geographical literature has begun to problematise is around the spaces and places in which fear is situated—for example, public versus private, safe versus dangerous, low-income estates versus suburbs—and the ways in which people negotiate them. In fact, most discussions of fear in the city deal only with public spaces which are shared with strangers. As recent research has shown, crimes such as domestic violence, acquaintance violence and elder abuse also have a role to play in the construction of fear. This paper includes in its scope homes, workspaces and other private and semiprivate places, which are as much a part of ‘the urban’ as streets, shopping malls and parks. While many people strongly associate fear with speciŽfic places, reflecting wider [-p.900] ideologies of public space as dangerous and private space as safe, fear and safety in different spaces are interconnected—for example, experiences of danger in private space affect feelings of security in public at an individual and societal level.” (pp.899-900)

For the purposes of this paper, Pain defines ‘fear of crime as “as the wide range of emotional and practical responses to crime and disorder made by individuals and communities.” (p.901)

Fear of crime can be considered to create and reinforce exclusion from social life and from particular urban spaces in a number of ways [which she goes on to discuss ].” (p.902)

“Almost every survey of fear of crime Ž finds that women report being more fearful of crime than men. Whether in the home, the workplace or the city, it is fear of sexual violence and harassment from men which underpins women’s higher fear (Gordon and Riger, 1989; Valentine, 1989). Feminists have viewed women’s higher fear of crime as a manifestation of gender oppression and a damaging form of control of women’s lives, reproducing traditional notions about women’s ‘place’ in society (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Pain, 1991; Valentine, 1989).” (p.903) “However, there are some conflicts between theoretical development and empirical evidence around women’s fear of urban spaces […and it has been suggested] that men’s fear may be considerably higher than previously thought….” (p.903)

“Much relevant research on women’s fear has revolved around two key paradoxes. / The Ž first and earliest is the paradox between levels of fear and violence discussed in the introduction—when women’s high fear of crime was Žfirst discovered, it appeared far greater than their actual risks of victimisation….” (p.903) “A second paradox has been identiŽfied and explored by geographers—most research shows a mismatch between the types of location in which physical and sexual violence usually occur (private space) and the locations in which most women fear (public spaces), calling into question the idea that levels of victimisation can explain fear alone. To resolve this spatial paradox, feminists have argued that women are misinformed about the main location of danger, through the institutions of the family, the education system and the media (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Valentine, 1989). More recent research has indicated that misinformation does underlie fear in public space; most women are aware that domestic violence is more common than stranger attacks, but this knowledge has little effect on their fear of crime unless they have personal experience of domestic violence (Pawson and Banks, 1993; Pain, 1997).” (p.903)

“…feminist writers such as Wilson (1991) have emphasised that the city is frequently a place of excitement and opportunity for women, not just a place to be feared. City centre spaces at once have varying meanings to different people (Pain and Townshend, forthcoming). / Different notions of femininity are also entwined with different constructions of the fear of crime. For example, some have suggested that the emphasis on ‘fear’ and its negative consequences in writing about women and crime reproduces notions about feminine weakness (Segal, 1990).” (p.904) [I couldn’t help thinking about the typical kick-ass female protagonist of much (recent!) urban fantasy here…]

“Koskela’s (1997) analysis of women’s fear of attack in Finland emphasises that women respond to the threat of crime with ‘boldness’ as well as fear and ‘spatial conŽfidence’ as well as spatial avoidance.” (p.904)

Meanwhile, “In direct contrast to women, men’s low reported fear of crime appeared anomalous from the earliest crime surveys because they experienced relatively high rates of violence. Aggregate data suggest that men are largely at risk from strangers and acquaintances in public places including streets, pubs and clubs, but there is also a risk from partners in the home.” (p.905)

Where men have been the subject of qualitative research, this has suggested that, at least for some, the effects of fear may be just as great as for women (Gilchrist et al., 1998; Stanko and Hobdell, 1993). Gilchrist et al. (1998) examine the cases of fearful men and fearless women in order to demonstrate that fear and boldness, although they may be gendered, are not essentially female or male qualities.” (p.905)

“…it is inappropriate to deal with race, gender, age and other social identities simply as descriptive categories in analysis of the fear of crime. Rather, in each case, fear of crime (and the crimes feared) are often structured by age, race and gender, as this paper has outlined. When gender, age and race are viewed as social relations which are based upon unequal distributions of power, they begin to explain who is most affected by fear, and where.” (p.910)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rachel Pain (2001) Gender, Race, Age and Fear in the City Urban Studies, Vol. 38, Nos 5–6, 899–913

A good point – folklore and conflict

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I just liked this point:

“…apart from its entertainment value, folklore also acts as a record of social events and processes. Myths thus act as social texts which record the various kinds of conflict, negotiation, and human and social relations that take place in society.” (p.8)

Actually, I liked this one, too, which summarises the gist of this article:

“Indian society is stratified into many castes and communities that manifest themselves in a myriad of fractured and contesting socio-cultural and political hierarchical layers. Many of these castes and communities belonging to the lower socioeconomic strata are engaged in a struggle to carve out their identity and acquire social prestige. In such a situation, the memory of an asymmetrical love relationship may sharpen the conflict among these castes, leading to violence and feuds. Each of the castes may remember and narrate the myths from their own vantage-point, giving rise to multiple texts and narratives of these memories that may be the foundational element of their collective memory and narrative. Thus the hiatus between the prevailing myth and the existential realities are completely blurred and the myths become transformed into reality and the reality becomes transformed into myth. Myth is no less powerful in creating contestations and violence around such happenings than the real incidents.” (p.23)

Ref: Badri Narayan (2003) Honour, Violence and Conflicting Narratives: A Study of Myth and Reality. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 5, 1 (June, 2003): 5-23.

the vampire’s sexual otherness

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In a 1997 essay, Andrew Schopp considered the homoerotic aspects of modern vampire literature, and while his approach is in a context pre-the-current-vampire-craze, his comments are still relevant. He wrote:

Although it has long held a formidable place in the heart of western culture, until the nineteenth century the vampire existed primarily as a creature to be feared, the revenant come back to torment the living. Paul Barber explains that the vampires of early folklore represent the way ‘preindustrial cultures’ interpreted, or misinterpreted, the ‘processes and phenomena associated with death and the dissolution of the body’ (1). In the nineteenth century, however, the vampire transformed from a feared cultural phenomenon to a desired cultural product, from mythic explanation of the unknown to receptacle of cultural desires. This transformation has culminated in the contemporary vampire product, which provides a space for articulating and reconstructing cultural desires, even for contesting dominant cultural narratives. Given this product’s subversive potential, its frequent reliance on the homoerotic would seem an especially compelling subject of analysis.” (p.231)

By its very nature, the vampire is an outsider, an ‘other’” (p.232) “Burton Hatlen explains that the vampire’s position as alienated ‘other’ produces a dual response in the audience: the vampire comes to represent that which we both fear and desire (125).” (p.233)

“Comments by fans delineate a specific set of characteristics that render the vampire attractive, and perhaps the most prominent characteristic is the vampire’s sexual otherness. For the fans, vampire entertainment provides an opportunity for sexual deviation, for the chance to engage in all ‘forbidden sexual practices… oral, necrophilic, incestual [sic], homosexual’ (Dresser 152). The vampire’s sexual otherness both reflects and fosters a desire to break free from sexual constraints, while its immortality reflects and fosters a desire to break free from physical constraints (152). Underlying these two characteristics is the vampire’s power. According to fans, this power enables one to challenge almost any socially imposed barrier.” (p.233)

A couple more quotes form Schopp’s essay that I liked include:

“As one fan commented, “[…] Perhaps part of the appeal of the vampire is it gives us the belief that there are beings who can live outside the problems of society that we, as mortals, must face everyday. (Dresser 160-161)” (Schopp, p. 233)

“To an extent […] certain vampire products use the vampire ‘space’ simply to reinscribe dominant cultural ideologies and mandates, rather than using that space to revise such mandates, or offer alternatives.” (p.237)

“…the contemporary vampire product clearly functions as a site for playing with sexual alternatives, for acting out socially prohibited roles, and for reconfiguring desire. Though it can easily reinscribe heteronormative ideology, the vampire space has the potential to articulate alternatives and to contest dominant modes of structuring sexual desire and identity.” (p.241)

Ref: Andrew Schopp Cruising the Alternatives: Homoeroticism and the contemporary vampire The Journal of Popular Culture Volume 30, Issue 4, pages 231–243, Spring 1997

Note – reference is to: Dresser, Norine (1989) American Vampires: Fans, Fictions and Practitioners.  New York: Norton

The reference that look interesting in this article (to me, at least) is missing from the reference list at the end… ‘Rosemary Jackson’ on ‘paraxic’ worlds? Schopp explains: “Unlike science fiction characters who tend to live in a world removed from our everyday life, the vampire often has dependent connections to our world. The vampire product constitues a prime example of what Rosemary Jackson has termed a ‘paraxic’ world, a space that exists both inside and outside of our world. According to Jackson, paraxis ‘is a telling notion in relation to the place, or the space, of the fantastic, for it implies an inextricable link to the main body of the ‘real’ which it shades and threatens’ (19).” (Schopp, p.233)

Summarising the Twilight product

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Firstly, I like the way Happel and Esposito summarise the production of Twilight

“The movie Twilight, directed by Catherin Hardwicke and produced by Summit Entertainment, was released in November of 2008. The screenplay was based  in the 2005 novel of the same name, which was the first of four novels in a series written by Stephanie Meyer. Meyer’s book series has sold more than 42 million copies worldwide, and it has been translated into 37 languages. The novel was adapted for the screen by Melissa Rosenburg in 2007. The popularity of the book series led to the overwhelmingly positive reception of the film. Following the books, the film was an immediate success; it grossed 70.5 million dollars on its opening weekend, and has since grossed over 310 million in box office sales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twilight (2008 film)).

The film has been very popular with young adults, and it has been marketed heavily to preteens and teenagers. Besides the usual movie marketing strategies, the marketers of Twilight invested heavily in online marketing that specifically targeted young adults. The advertising for Twilight was Web savvy, and it included easily accessible trailers of the movie, along with advertisements in heavily trafficked young adult online spaces such as Myspace, I-tunes stores, Facebook, and YouTube. The age-specific marketing strategies, along with the popularity of the book series, have facilitated the tremendous popularity of the film. Indicative of its popularity among young adults, the film was nominated for seven MTV movie awards and won five of the awards in June of 2009. Given the film’s popularity, and also its spawn of material goods and related products, we view the film as an important part of youth’s lives and, thus, a site in need of critique. We need to [-p.525] understand the ways the film speaks to, for, and about youth. It is for these reasons we have chosen to review the film. We argue that, although this movie works to interrupt some stereotypical notions of gender, overall, it sexualizes violence. We see the movie as one way in which young girls are taught to romanticize sexualized violence and, as feminists within the field of Education, we believe it is vital for those of us working with youth to critically engage patriarchal messages being sold to young girls.” (pp.524-525)

Also, their framing of Twilight in terms of postfeminism is interesting. It’s only a short article and they don’t get into any deep criticism, but still …. Their criticism of the film is based largely on what they describe as its postfeminist representation of Bella as having the right to choose any kind of relationship, even a dangerous or violent one; they explain:

Twilight’s main theme, Bella’s love for a boy who wants to kill her, sexualizes violence. Throughout the movie, Edward warns Bella about the dangers of being around both him and his family, yet she continues to put her life in jeopardy because of her love for him. The movie is consistently sensual, and the eroticism seems to be heightened during scenes involving violence. Bella’s body language during violent scenes throughout the movie is noticeably sexual; she often appears breathing heavily with her mouth open and her cheeks flushed. Also, the movie suggests that there is a correlation between her love for Edward, and how dangerous he is to her. This sexualization of violence is related to postfeminism in that postfeminism claims that women have the power and agency to choose any kind of relationship for themselves, even relationships that have the potential for danger and/or violence. Postfeminism’s insistence on individualism and assumed equality is the foundation for the audience to view Bella’s relationship with Edward as an innocuous choice that does not need to be contextualized in histories of violence against women. This ahistorical and decontextualized presentation of sexualized violence through the employment of postfeminism actually serves to uphold and perpetuate patriarchal [-p.530] (and highly dangerous) notions about love, sexuality, and gender roles. Because postfeminism assumes that women have already fought for equality and won, Bella’s choice to be with Edward is seen as a personal choice that was made autonomously, and therefore should be respected and not challenged.” (pp.529-530)

“Like Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the [Rihanna being beaten up by Chris Brown] incident encourages girls to help tame their beast, to make him into a better man. We believe Twilight encourages a similar message.” (p.530)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Alison Happel & Jennifer Esposito (2010): Vampires, Vixens, and Feminists: An Analysis of Twilight, Educational Studies, 46:5, 524-531

Gender Norms in the Twilight Series

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Just collecting the discussions… Rebecca Hayes-Smith had the following complaint about Meyer’s Twilight series…

“Among tween girls and their moms, these books have achieved tremendous popularity. On the one hand, I understand it. The books are entertaining (I read all four in a little over a week), and the romantic vampire story is somewhat beautiful and mysterious.” (p.78)

“What nags me is how, as a sociologist, I find it difficult to ignore the underlying message of gender conformity in Meyer’s books. As a society we have multiple ways to communicate how men and women should act in order to be happy. These messages play an important role in the marginalization of women and girls, and Twilight reinforces these messages in several ways: through traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, and intersecting stereotypes of race, class, and gender. / Throughout the series, women are weak, passive, and in need of protection, while men are strong and violent.” (p.78)

“[Bella’s] insecurity is what makes her easy to identify with, but how can we change women’s (and society’s) views without challenging the romanticization of victimhood?” (p.78)

“In the real world, most female victimization occurs between intimate partners, and this theme is prevalent in Twilight. When Bella has “sex” with Edward (if that’s what you can call it), she walks away from the event literally injured…. The expression of dangerous love-making in other vampire-themed novels is likely similar, but at least in those, the vampires are considered evil.” (p.79) [I thought this last point an interesting one, the ethical  thread of which is also in the following statement….] “In the end, Edward maintains his masculinity by acting aggressively even in a situation that is supposed to be about intimacy and love. The subtle message is that as long as you’re in love or at home, violence is not objectionable.” (p.79)

“Yes, these are novels: should feminists and scholars lighten up? These books might simply be innocent entertainment, or potentially harmful to young women. Plenty of research describes how people construct their social reality depending on the cultural messages around them. This is especially important when considering the sheer volume of media images young people now constantly absorb (both actively and passively). It occurs at all ages, but is especially important among teenagers who are navigating the in-between years of not quite being an adult, yet not a kid anymore. My concern is that the most popular young adult books of the last few years are repeating stereotypes sociologists have been debunking for decades.” (p.79)

Ref: Rebecca Hayes-Smith (2011) ‘Gender Norms in the Twilight Series’ Contexts 2011 10: 78

Desired physical attributes, sex and culture; Erotica vs. Pornography

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Jane and James Ritchie once wrote that “Ford and Beach show that every sexual attribute valued in one culture will be either of little consequence or rejected in another ([Ford and Beach]). In one society buttocks are highly valued; in another, large hips or distended ear lobes are highly prized. Frequently, the desired physical attribute is further enhanced by decoration, colouring, or display. In some cultures there is mutilation, or a total cover-up designed to protect women, but which may inflame male fantasies. Note, for example, the way in which nuns are used in pornography. The provocativeness of cover-up is simply the mirror-image of strip-tease.” (p.112)

They go with Steinem’s distinction between erotica and porn, writing that: “A feminist distinction is useful here. Erotica, which may range all the way from classical literature to masturbatory handbooks, generally depicts mutually enjoyed sexual behaviour between consenting equals. Pornography, on the other hand, is characterised by unequal power relationships between the sexes and therefore by exploitation of women ([Steinem, G]). A very high percentage of pornography involves violence with women being bound, beaten, and raped, because that is how sexual power relationships come to be expressed.” (p.114) The Ritchies go on to acknowledge the argument for freedom of chioce, but ask: “How free is choice if consumers of pornography have been commercially maniupulated? Not all freedoms are equally defensible, and not all freedoms are in fact free.” (p.117) It’s an interesting statement.

Ref: Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington

Note that reference is made to: Ford, C and Beach, FA (1951) Patterns of Sexual Behaviour New York: Paul Moeber; Steinem, G (1980) ‘Erotica and Pornography: a Clear and Present Difference’, in L Lederer (ed) Take Back the Night New York: W. Morrow