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Monday, June 02, 2014

Law and Society, Minneapolis 2014

Hi, Everyone, and thank you, Dan, for the gracious invitation for a recidivist visit.

I'm just back from the Law and Society Association's Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, where I had the great pleasure to co-chair CRN 27, Punishment and Social Control. Terrific meeting. The panels were great, people's work was of truly high quality, and commentary was incisive, constructive, and elegant. We also had some great social times. 

Several interesting threads of thought came up at the meeting. First, there is a growing interest in misdemeanors, street policing, and quality-of-life offenses, both through quantitative and qualitative eyes. People are increasingly seeing cops, prosecutors, and jail officials acting as "valves" distinguishing these folks from the "real" criminals. I read this trend as part of the general contraction of the recession-era punishment mechanism that John Pfaff discussed here last month - but with the introduction of more mechanisms to punish only as many people as we can afford comes a retrenchment of the system's idea of who the "real" criminals are. 

This became really poignant to me on the flight back to San Francisco, when I was reading this piece of delightful trash from Bill James. James basically provides an overview of violent tabloid crime in the United States, and even when he describes truly heinous crimes and the trials that followed them, I was astonished at how much less punitive the state seems to have been toward these very "real" criminals at the time.

Second, there's a very interesting discussion among sex offense scholars that seems to transcend the victim/offender dichotomy. There was a panel that included Santhi Leon's Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophiles; Rose Corrigan's Up Against a Wall; and Ross Cheit's The Witch-hunt Narrative. This third book is the most disquieting one for me, because Cheit marshals a lot of archival research to show that the pendulum in penalizing sex offenders for child abuse may have swung way too far in the last three decades. To those of us, like me, who grew on false memory syndrome, who heard countless social psychologists present lab tests proving that children were untrustworthy witnesses and their memories malleable, and who have grave concerns about overcriminalization in general, this comes as quite a shock, and I'm very anxious to read Ross's book and make up my own mind.

And third, our CRN also sponsored panels on very extreme forms of punishment, including detention in Guantanamo, various forms of solitary confinement, and undocumented immigrant detention around the world. This provoked a great discussion as to what counts as "extreme" punishment.

It was an overall excellent meeting, and I'm all fired up to wrap up the projects I'm working on and send them out. I'll be spending some time here this month discussing them: a coauthored piece with Gwendolyn Leachman of Wisconsin examining how the polyamorous marriage activism nascent movement can learn from the success of the same-sex marriage struggle; an examination of same-sex marriage in prison in the aftermath of Windsor and Perry; and a study of Durkheim-like deviance-turned-into-law in the establishment of the Global Rules of the Marathon Swimming Federation. I'm also planning on telling you all a bit more about my upcoming book, Cheap on Crime: Recession-Era Politics and the Transformation of American Punishment (forthcoming Jan 2015, UC Press). Let the fun begin.

Posted by Hadar Aviram on June 2, 2014 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

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