Crime, Social Control and Criminology in the Society of a Postmodern

The postmodernism possess

                                                                devastating action.

                                                          P. Bourdieu

The Postmodernist Society

We all live in the new world, the postmodern world. There are some characteristics of a postmodern society, which are important for understanding contemporary forms of crime, social control over crime and the development of criminology. 

What are the main characteristics of a postmodern society?

  1. Globalization of economy, transport, finances, technologies and – crime (especially organized crime – drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking, etc.). Globalization is a natural phenomenon. This process is and will be, whether we like it or not. The policy of an isolationism is a crime in the postmodern world.
  2. Active migration of people and as result of it is “the conflict of cultures” (T. Sellin)[1]“Hate crimes” is a result of mass migration, conflict of cultures, and policy of the authorities “Divide et impera!” (“Divide and dominate!”)[2]. The relations between the indigenous inhabitants and migrants is a modern problem of many countries of Europe and Russia.
  3. Virtualization of life and activity, including cybercrime. We live in the real world and in the virtual world. This process will develop, we will depend more and more on modern IT. Already today we cannot imagine life without various gadgets’, IT. 
  4. Consumerism. Postmodern society is a “consumer society”[3]. The slogan “all on sale” is realized in numerous crimes: street crimes (thefts, robberies, fraud) and white-collar crime, including corruption, and different deviance[4]
  5. Relativism, relativity of realities and our knowledge of them. Crime is not objective reality, but social construct. The same (identical) actions recognize as criminal or not criminal in different societies and at different times. It was clear in Roma: ex senatusconsultis et plebiscitis crimina exercentur (crimes arise from senatorial and national decisions). Designing of criminality, crimes is aresult of activity of the power, the legislator. It is a pity, but the Russian legislator (“Gosudarstwennaja Duma“) criminalizes new and new acts. Each citizen of Russia becomes “criminal” because of such legislator’s activity.
  6. In addition, other social phenomena are constructs (terrorism, prostitution, corruption, drug consume, etc.). Relativity, uncertainty, discrepancy dominate in the world of a postmodern! It is possible to agree, that “the most important for postmodern science is the principle of uncertainty including at the same time gnoseological, semantic and ontological measurements supplementing each other”[5]
  7. Ch. Jencks said that postmodern civilization is the world of pluralistic tolerance and excessivechoice[6].
  8. Refusal of illusions of the possibility of creation of “happy” society (“society of general prosperity”). The World wars, Auschwitz, Holocaust, Hitler’s concentration camps and Stalin’s GULAG destroyed residual illusions concerning mankind. And the modern Russian situation is another proof of crash of illusions…
  9. Totality and system violence, including violence of the power (D. Becker, M. Foucault, S. Žižek)[7]. There are criminal violence, economic violence, educational violence, religious violence, sports violence and another’s. “The violence is built in system” (D. Becker).
  10. The fragmentariness of society, as a result of globalization, generates fragmentarization of norms. Interference of cultures, traditions, religions, social and ethnic groups “washes away” normative system. Deviations become norm. It is “normal” for youth, but disturbs and irritates adults, including the legislator and police…. 
  11. Catastrophic grows the economic and social inequality is the main factor (reason) of crime and others deviance[8]. Catastrophic grows the quantity and a share of “excluded” is the main social base of crime and deviance. 

Crime in the Society of a Postmodern

Firstly, since the end of the 1990th – the beginning of the 2000th years observed the tendency of reduction of a crime rate and the majority of its types around the world. Rate of crime decreased in Africa, Northern and South America, Oceania, Asia, Europe. 

For example, we can see rate of crime and homicide (per 100 000 population) in Russia (Tables 1, 2) and in the World (Table 3).

Table 1

Rate of crime in Russia (1999-2014)

YearsRate of crime

We see the reduction of crime rate in Russia with 2006 to 2014 by 1.8 times

Table 2

Rate of homicide in Russia (1999-2014)

YearsRate of homicide

We see the reduction of homicide rate in Russia with 2001 to 2014 by 2.8 times.

Table 3

Rate of homicide in some countries (1999-2011)

South Africa51.248.646.839.839.736.831.830.9

We see the tendency towards a reduction of homicide rate in different countries of different continents.

What is a matter? Why crime drop? 

There are a few hypotheses.

Most general hypothesis: the crime as a complicated social phenomenon develops under conformity to natural laws, irrespective of activity of police and criminal justice. From 1950th years until the end of the 1990th – the beginning of the 2000th years the crime grew around the world. After that, the crime has started decreasing around the world. Such undulating changes, fluctuations are typical for many social, economic, natural processes.

More concrete hypothesis: the biggest contribution to statistics of crime made by so-called “street crimes” (homicide, rape, robbery, theft, and so on). Their main subject are teenagers and youth, and they lately went to the virtual world of the Internet. On the Internet the youth meets, loves, shoot, kills, creates. The youth satisfies the need for self-affirmation, self-realization now is more often on the Internet, than in the real world… 

On panel session “The Crime Drop” of 12th Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology (Bilbao, 2012) there was proposed a hypothesis of “securitization” of the modern world as the reasons of decrease in a crime rate. “Empirical evidence on the relationships between improved security and drops in motor vehicle theft, household burglary and crime on industrial sites suggests that improved security is the key driver of the ongoing drops in volume crime”[9]

This can be crime restructuration: highly latent cybercrimes and “white-collar crimes” force out usual “street crimes”. 

Prof. V. Poklad (the Ukraine) considers, the second half of the 20th century was the transition period to “the New World” when, according to E. Durkheim, there is an anomy and crime grew. To 21st century in the majority of the country’s transition to “the New World” ended. Therefore, the anomy ended, and according to E. Durkheim, the countries have come back to a “normal” crime rate. 

But everything is only hypothesis. It is necessary to continue to analyze the world trends of crime and its types. It is quite possible that new criminological discoveries expect us… 

Secondly, there is a globalization of organized crime (drug trafficking, human trafficking, the weapon trafficking, etc.)[10]. The organized crime seeks to enter legal economy and power structures. It occurs around the world and in all regions of Russia (so-called “the Kushchevskaya phenomenon”).

Thirdly, further development of the crimes connected with modern technologies, cybercrime and cyber deviance[11]

Fourthly, it is the international terrorism, very dangerous phenomenon, threat to people on all continents[12].

Fifthly, it is globalization (internationalization) of corruption, especially – “top” corruption[13].

Social Control in contemporary Society

We know about “crisis of punishment”. One of the main topics of postmodern criminology is how to optimize means and methods of social control over criminality. How to make social control, including punishment, more effective?

The content-analysis more than 6500 reports on eleven European criminological conferences and the Four World congresses showed that over 35-45% of all reports were about problems of social control over crime. 

Than is it possible to replace imprisonment? What is the role of mediation (“Mediation versus imprisonment”)? How to improve police work and administration of prisons? There are the main issues of criminologists. 

The most important tendencies of social control during a postmodern era: unconditional refusal of the death penalty; reduction of terms of imprisonment; creation in penal institutions of the conditions which aren’t breaking self-respect of the condemned; imprisonment replacement with alternative measures of punishment; ban of imprisonment of teenagers; formation of restorative justice[14]; put into operation the mediation in criminal trial.

Main Tendencies of Contemporary Criminology

The main ideas of “critical (radical) criminology” and postmodern criminology are:  

  • All positivistic theories and modern criminology is erroneous.  
  • All contemporary societies and powers are bad, poor and give rise to crime and different negative deviance. 
  • Crime is not objective reality, but social construct
  • The main factor (cause) of crime is social and economic inequality.  
  • Modern theories of chaos, catastrophe, the concepts “strange attractor”, bifurcation have to be methodological base of postmodern criminology. 

The idea of “cultural criminology” (Ferrel J., Garland D., Hayward K., Young J.) is important that not only the crime is generated by culture, but also means, methods of social control over crime are generated by culture[15].  Can be therefore in Europe the death penalty cancelled, it remains in the USA, and in China annually execute thousands of people… 


We must to understand that we live in the new world – the world of a postmodern. It is the global world, isolation in which is death. Globalization, virtualization, consumerization, fragmentarization, relativization of all processes and the phenomena belongs to both to crime, and to social control over crime. The postmodern criminology must to understand, study this. Moreover, the power, the legislator must to understand and to realize this in legislature and law-enforcement activity. For example, it is necessary in Russia to exclude the death penalty from the list of punishments, to reduce imprisonment terms, to decriminalize not really dangerous actions and “crime without victims” (E. Schur), to stop criminalization everything new and new acts.

[1] Sellin T. Conflict of Behavior’s Norms // Culture Conflict and Crime. NY, Social Science Research Council, 1938, pp. 63-70.

[2] Gerstenfeld Ph. Hate Crimes: Causes, Controls and Controversies. SAGE, 2004Gerstenfeld Ph., Grant D

(Eds.) Crime of Hate: Selected Readings. SAGE Publications, 2004; Hall N. Hate Crime. Willan Publishing, 2004; Jacobs J., Potter K. Hate Crimes. Criminal Law and Identity Politics. Oxford University Press, 1998.  

[3] Bauman Z. Work, Consumerism and the new Poor. Buckingham: Open University press, 2001; Bauman Z. Consuming Life. Cambridge: Polity, 2007.  

[4] Gilinskiy Y., Shipunova T. (Eds.) Deviation in the Consumer Society. SPb: Alef-Press, 2012 (in Russian); Hall S., Winlow S., Ancrum C. Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture. Crime, exclusion and the new culture of narcissism. Willan Publishing, 2008. 

[5] Chestnov I.L. Postmodernism as a Challenge to the Law // Society and Man. 2014, N4 (10), p.45 (in Russian).

[6] Jencks Ch. What is Post-modernism? L., 1986.

[7] Kressel N. Mass Hate: The Global Rise of Genocide and Terror. Plenum Press, 1996; Žižek S. Violence. Picador, 2008. See also: Gilinskiy Y. Social Violence. SPb: Alef-Press, 2013 (in Russian).

[8] Gilinskiy Y. Social and Economic Inequality as Deviantogenic Factor // XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology.  Book of Abstracts. Yokohama, 2014, p.313; Grover Ch. Crime and Inequality. Willan Publishing, 2008.

[9] Criminology in the 21st Century: a Necessary Balance between Freedom and Security. Book of Abstracts. Bilbao, 212, pp. 236, 268, 373.

[10] Gilinskiy Y. Russia. In: Kego W., Leijonmark E., Molcean A. (Eds.) Organized Crime and the Financial Crisis. Recent Trends in the Baltic Sea Region. Stockholm, 2011, pp. 111-126; Gilinskiy Y. Organized Crime in contemporary Russia. In: Plywaczewski E. (Ed.). Current Problems of the Penal Law and Criminology. Warszawa: LEX, 2012, pp.167-181; Gilinskiy Y., Kostjukovsky Y. From Thievish Artel to Criminal Corporation: The History of Organised Crime in Russia. In: C. Fijnaut, L. Paoli (Eds.) Organised Crime in Europe: Concepts, Patterns and Control Policies in European Union and Beyond. Springer, 2004. Vol. 4, pp. 181-202.

[11] Humphrey J. Deviant Behavior. Prentice Hall, 2006. Chapter 13. Cyberdeviance, pp.272-295.

[12] Gilly T., Gilinkiy Y., Sergevnin V. (Eds.) The Ethics of Terrorism. Innovative Approaches from an International Perspectives. Charles C Thomas Publisher, LTD, 2009.

[13] Inozemtsev V. Whether it is possible to win against corruption only one country? // (in Russian).

[14] Consedine J. Restorative Justice. Healing the Effects of Crime. Ploughshares Publications, 1995; Karnozova LM. Introduction to Restorative Justice (Mediation in Response to the Crime). M.: Prospect, 2015 (in Russian).

[15] Ferrell J., Hayward K., Young J. Cultural Criminology. SAGE, 2008; Garland D. The Cultural of Control. Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Oxford, 2003; Presdee M. Cultural Criminology and the Carnival of Crime. Routledge, 2000.  

                                                                                     Yakov Gilinskiy