Micro and Macro harms of Neoliberalism through the lens of violent and structural crime

By Liam Miles, Second Year Criminology student

Day after day, the wider media issue reports on violent crimes, with a heavy focus on knife crime. 

Neoliberalism 1200x450 - Man holding knife

It can be argued that the way in which violent crime is reported in the media focuses on pointing the blame on race, age, gender and the local communities in which they are immersed into. This blog aims to explore these narratives and to point out that the representation of violent crime, in the media is often misguided and does not truly reflect the reality as well as exploring central social structures and political philosophies which need to be held to account as well.

On Monday April 1st, 2019, BBC News published a headline on their website titled, - ‘Schools and NHS could be held accountable over Youth Crime’.

The article discussed the ways in which schools and the NHS have ‘failed’ to prevent youth groups falling into violent crime. First, this article is blatant evidence that the wider media are not willing to accept that the Policy implemented by the Government has been destructive and a facilitator to these acts of violence, Secondly the article suggests that violent crime is wholly an issue relating to youth and race. Additionally, this is a clear example of where Neoliberalism and the values it possesses have been enshrined and not held accountable.

However, this blog aims to look beyond the statistics as they are presented to us in the news and wider media, and to examine the political philosophies and values which arguably have both directly and indirectly caused the levels of violence in society we are seeing now, and to examine the media’s role in these misrepresentations and inaccuracies.

Harvey (2005) interprets neoliberalism as a theory of liberation whereby individualism, autonomy, free markets and free trade is promoted and encouraged by the state through the lens of Capitalism.  Harvey (2005) also mentions that a neoliberal state is responsible for producing, maintaining and protecting this structural framework. It is argued by Thorsenand Lie (2006) that we are living in an ‘age of neoliberalism’ an age of autonomy and collective individualism. It can be argued in this case that we see a rise of social capital and aspirational values which are entrenched in our mainstream society and values. To contextualise this debate, it is interesting to explore the values of the education system. You are told that you can achieve this career, with this money that you will legitimately earn, and all will be well. However, it can be argued that these aspirational values have been made unattainable, especially for minority groups who face marginalisation and social exclusion both on the micro and macro levels.

According to Bakkali (2017), many ‘gangs’ are constructed and perceived through the lens of a moral panic.  Bakkali identifies that groups of collective individuals are formed as a method of having an identity and a way in which to gain higher levels of social capital, which have otherwise been made unattainable through legitimate means. However, Austerity and intrusive methods of policing have resulted in what Bakkali refers to as a ‘listening gap’. This means that there has been an ever-widening gap of understanding between the Police and these ‘gangs’. 

This displays a destructive cycle, starting right at the top of the chain at the hands of the Government. When the Conservatives came into power in 2010, they began a policy of cuts to public spending and investment. According to the Guardian (2018), the YMCA conducted research which found that overall spending on youth centres and service in England has dropped by £737 million (62%) since the 2010 Coalition. This has resulted in 600 youth centres closed, 3,500 youth workers out of work and 140,000 places for young people on youth projects disappearing. There is a common theme of deprivation within ‘working class’ communities in the UK. The ever-widening gap between the aspirations pushed by Neoliberalism and its rate of attainability could be argued a driving factor as to why we are seeing a rise in violence on the streets. These statistics show that the cuts made by Conservative policy has left a detrimental effect on these communities, yet the blame is still being placed on the Police, Schools and NHS, all of whom have faced extreme levels of cuts which have left them ill equipped to manage the rise in violent crime that we are seeing.

Hall and Wilson(2014) describe the way in which society is turning as ‘competitive individualism’. This is a reference to the rise of socio-economic inequalities and competition which arguably has stemmed from neoliberal values. This displays evidence to suggest that the rise in autonomous values have meant that individuals are becoming left behind through unattainability and social/economic marginalisation. The natural response to this is to form social alliances and unity through what we now construct as ‘gangs’ and gang behaviour.

It is Important to establish that exploring through the lens of serial killers, is an extreme and unique way of exploring and signifying wider trends of inter-personal violence within contemporary society. Lynes (2018) argues that the growth of liberal capitalism has had a role to play in the disintegration of socio-economic marginalised groups. Empirically, the result of what we have seen through the drive of marketization and capitalism is the formation of ‘non places’. Hall (2014). Lynes (2018) argues that this environment has allowed the rise of serial killers and violent offenders to surface through the perspective of social exclusion and marginalisation.

From this empirical evidence, the way in which we understand violence is not wholly its reality. There are deeply entrenched structural, social and philosophical issues which have been pushed to the frontline of our society but have not been held accountable. It can be argued that the Government and wider media do not want the impacts of neoliberalism and consumer capitalism to be blamed, as this would undermine and critique their policy. Instead it is a lot easier to point the blame at marginalised groups and to say this is their problem within their own communities. From empirical understanding, it can be argued that is makes sense as to why the media focus so heavily on constructions such as ‘black on black’ violence, and pinpointing increased responsibility and accountability onto Schools, the NHS and the Police, all of whom have faced detrimental cutbacks.

  • Bakkali Y (2018) life on road: symbolic struggle and the munpain, University of Sussex, Sussex.
  • Coughlan S (2019) Schools and NHS could be held accountable over Youth Crime, available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47768631, date accessed: Friday 12th April 2019.
  • Hall S and Wilson D (2014)- New foundations: pseudo-pacification and special liberty as potential cornerstones for a multilevel theory of homicide and serial murder, European Journal of Criminology, Vol 1, pp651.
  • Harvey D (2005) - A brief history of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Lynes A, Kelly C, Uppal P (2018), Benjamin’s Flaneur and serial murder- an ultra-realist literary case study of Levi Bellfield- SAGE Journals, Vol 1 pp2,8,9.
  • Smith C (2018), by slashing youth services, the Tories have betrayed a generation, Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/31/slashing-youth-services-tories-betrayed-generation-labour-legal-requirement date accessed: Monday 15th April 2019.
  • Thorsen E.D and Lie A (2006) ‘What is Neoliberalism, Research Gate. Vol 1, p1.
  • Treadwell J, Hall S, Winlow S (2012), shopocalypse now: consumer culture and the English Riots of 2011, British Journal of Criminology vol 1.