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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Geography, crime and social control Lowman, John


The purpose of this dissertation is to describe and challenge some of the basic premises, implicit ontological and epistemological beliefs and, by extension, the political values which form the core of the geography of crime. While the discussion concentrates on published research undertaken by geographers, it also introduces relevant research conducted in kindred disciplines utilizing a spatial or environmental perspective (urban sociology and environmental criminology). As a critical theoretical exegesis, the principal focus of the critique is the analytic separation of crime from the control of crime, which characterises much of the geographer's research manifesto. Geographers have tended to study either crime or (much less frequently) the judicial system without any systematic consideration of the impact of the control system on crime patterns. In explaining crime patterns geographers have focused their analyses on the criminal actor or, more commonly, the criminal event. In advocating the advantages of alternatives to the instrumentalist or positivist philosophy guiding the geography of crime, the discussion of interactionist and critical perspectives is designed to show how they facilitate an understanding of the way that control processes exercised by police, the courts, and by elected officials are vital to the explanation of crime patterns. The introduction of these alternative theoretical positions also serves to raise questions about the correctionalist impulse of much of the geography of crime, and its technocratic purpose. The discussion of the philosophical, theoretical and political consequences of research strategies which treat crime and control as analytically separate entities lays the foundation for a geographic perspective on crime in its socio-legal context, for an examination of the effects of criminal justice policy on the actual geography of crime; in short, for an integrated analysis of crime and its control. The effect of the "control environment" is conceptualized at three different levels. The first concerns the influence of various interpretations of official crime statistics on "scientific" images of who the criminals actually are. Conflicting interpretations are reviewed, particularly interactionist and critical perspectives which suggest that maps of crime based on official police statistics may be seriously distorted in a way that geographers have rarely considered; crime maps may be "mental maps" reflecting the selective activity of control agents as much as they represent officially sanctioned criminal behaviour. The second effect of the control environment on criminal behaviour is examined in terms of "ecological labelling", the process through which law enforcement practices may (in part) help shape the "problem" status of various city neighbourhoods or subcultural groups. The third level of analysis concerns the most direct impact of control practice on the configuration of crime. In terms of a geographic perspective at this level of analysis the relationship between crime and control is systematized through the concept of "displacement". Displacement effects are defined as changes of criminal (or related) behaviour in response to changes in legislation, case law, law enforcement policies, or crime prevention programs. In this section the emphasis changes from an analysis of who the criminals are, to an analysis of what certain offenders do (particularly in terms of their adaptive spatial behaviour). A review of research demonstrating the wide-ranging occurrence of displacement phenomena is presented to supplement two empirical vignettes of crime in Vancouver (one on street prostitution patterns, the other on patterns of burglary) which demonstrate the spatial adjustments of offenders to changes in the "control environment". The dissertation concludes by describing the implications of an integrated analysis of crime and control for a philosophical, epistemological and methodological reorientation of the geography of crime.

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