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May 16, 2018 / C H Thompson

State crimes – revision notes with evaluative points

The social conditions of state crime

Kelman and Hamilton (1989) argued that crimes such as torture, genocide etc. are all part of a role that people are socialised into. They look at the conditions that make these behaviours acceptable by focusing on crime of obedience:

  • Authorisation -> this is where individuals are acting according to orders approved by those of higher authority, and their moral principles have been replaced by a duty to obey – following orders.
  • Routinisation -> the crime is being carried out as part of a regular routine, a common practice that can be carried out in a detached manner – part of a job and routine.
  • Dehumanisation -> the ‘enemy of the state’ is portrayed as a sub-human, where normal rules of behaviour don’t apply – taking away their name.
  • (-) This theory takes the blame away from the perpetrator
  • (-) It only explains one type of state crime – genocide

Techniques of neutralisation 

S Cohen applied Matza’s techniques of neutralisation to explain state crime, by arguing that states justify their crimes. He showed how states use the same techniques of neutralisation to attempt to justify their human rights violations:

  • Denial of victim -> deny that enemy are victims of abuse such as terrorists
  • Denial of injury -> say that we are victims
  • Denial of responsibility -> they were just obeying orders (often used by police and guards)
  • Condemning the condemners -> everyone is picking on us
  • Appeal to higher loyalty -> appealing to  higher cause

These seek to enforce a different creation of the event from what might seem to be the case.

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