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Modernization and Crime - Increasing Crime In Late Modernity

rates social countries contributed

Another contrast with the declining rates of violent crime in the long-term European perspective is the recent increase in crime rates in most Western societies. Clearly, these countries have continued their development toward urbanization, general education, economic growth, and technological innovation.

Time series indicate that crime rates in Western industrialized countries increased in the post–World War II period, especially after 1960. Rates of homicide doubled in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden between 1950 and 1986 (Matti Joutsen in Heiland et al., eds.). Assault rates more than tripled in Denmark and Sweden. Robbery rates, in the average, increased around tenfold. In the former West Germany violent crime rates more than doubled between 1963 and 1980 and then stabilized at a high level. Burglary rates increased sixfold through 1987 and fraud rates about twofold (Heiland in Heiland et al.; for more countries up to 1974 see Archer and Gartner). Trends were most extreme in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Violent and property crimes more than doubled during the 1960s. They increased by almost another 50 percent during the 1970s and then stabilized on a high plateau during the 1980s (Louise Shelley in Heiland et al., eds.). American crime rates, however, decreased sharply during most of the 1990s.

Rosemary Gartner, in probably the most sophisticated analysis of homicide rates in eighteen developed countries for the period 1950 to 1980, describes trends and offers a theoretically guided statistical analysis of their conditions. While homicide declined slightly during the 1950s, it increased during the 1960s and 1970s, for the entire sample of eighteen countries by almost 50 percent for women and by 62 percent for males. Combining measurements over time and across countries, Gartner finds that risk factors predicting homicide include indicators of material deprivation, weak social integration, exposure to official violence (e.g., capital punishment), and—most strongly—divorce rates. Specifically for women, the ratio of female labor force to households constitutes a risk factor. Children seem to be more at risk in countries in which spending on social programs is more limited and in which more women work outside the home.

All of the factors identified by Gartner are exposed to the modernization process. Yet, very long-term trends in Europe between the Middle Ages and the early nineteenth century may well have affected these factors and those identified by social historians differently than modernization in the second half of the twentieth century. (1) The nation state, strengthening during the era studied by social historians, has been weakened by recent trends toward globalization. (2) Recent waves of economic modernization have contributed to a bifurcated labor market in which the lower segment has suffered considerable decreases in income and social security. This trend has hit particularly hard in countries such as the United States in which disadvantaged minorities were especially affected by economic restructuration. It may thus have contributed to the especially steep increases in crime rates in the United States (Sampson and Wilson). (3) The incorporation of an ever-larger percentage of the population into the labor market may have initially contributed to growing social control (Foucault), but has more recently turned into a risk factor as it increases opportunities for criminal behavior and decreases social integration. (4) The continuing growth of institutions such as work places, schools, and urban areas has further contributed to challenges to social control and integration. The larger these units are the less closure of those networks do we expect that link individuals and households with schools, workplaces, religious communities, and neighborhoods. Also, ever larger economic and government organizations have become increasingly alienated from the population. Alienation from these institutions has grown, as offenses against them have become more frequent and often accepted (Coleman, pp. 15ff). Many of the factors show the dialectic of modernization, which up to one point may contribute to decreasing crime but beyond that point to increasing rates. However, even highly developed industrial nations may not necessarily experience high and increasing crime rates in the late stages of modernity, as the Japanese case illustrates. The Japanese exception has been explained through control forms in that country that have been described as reintegrative shaming (Braithwaite).

The current wave of crime has, in some countries, contributed to punitive responses, a greater willingness to commit people to prison and (only in the United States) a revival of capital punishment. Yet in this entry we have seen that crime is associated with basic factors of social development. Solutions to high crime rates in late modernizing societies may be sought in the manipulation of those societal conditions that have contributed to dramatically varying crime rates over time such as value commitment, social integration, and embeddedness in legitimate exchange networks (Savelsberg, 1999). States, of course, also appear to play an important role as social historians have shown. Violent crime did decline as nation-states were built (on the risk of state violence in overly centralized states, though, see Cooney). Yet crime rates in fully developed nation-states vary considerably over time and by place. What features of states inhibit or contribute to crime has not been fully understood. More research is needed. One important area of research would have to examine the impact of weakening nation-states under pressures of globalization on crime. The establishment of political and legal authority at the supranational level and their impact on crime should attract more research attention in the future.

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