Category Archives: Free Essays

Social Order Essay

Social order is the result of a common search for cohesion within a given group or society. Some theoreticians believe that social order comes from coercision, while others argue that it is a rational decision made by individuals.

As opposed to the brutal rule of the strongest, French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau explained in his classic book Le Contrat Social that in advanced European societies humans agreed to exchange their natural freedom and the possibility to get anything they could see around them with the guarantee of security and the incontestable ownership of what legally belonged to them. In his 1893 thesis on The Division of Labor in Society, French sociologist Emile Durkheim stated that social order exists because people need one another and try to agree on some shared moral values; therefore, social solidarity is the result of the need for people to live and work together to reach consensus.

Max Weber analyzed the moment when people begin to agree with a legitimized authority, which is central in citizenship studies, and whenever some people refuse the rules, which is of interest for criminology. In a classic passage in his posthumous book Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, Max Weber identifies three ideal types of legitimate domination: rational-legal authority, traditional authority (religious institutions), and charismatic authority (whenever citizens recognize a leader).

If Karl Marx explained the acceptance of the domination of the upper classes as a result of their power and dominant ideologies, it is the neo-Marxist Louis Althusser who coined the most efficient formula to explain the process. In his famous essay, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus,” French philosopher Althusser argued that social order could be maintained only through two levels of control made by the state—either through the dominant ideology or coercision made by the police or the army. Throughout history, various institutions were given a role of protecting social order, such as through a censorship commission.

According to its founder Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, anarchism as a system rejects the actual forms of domination from the state, and cries for another form of order emerging from individuals. In his Revolt of the Masses, published in 1930 (only six years before the Spanish Civil War began), Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote that the state represents the biggest danger for people. In the 1960s, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote extensively about how society reproduces itself, and in his book cowritten with Alain Darbel, La Reproduction, both authors argue that the habitus was like a second nature that made people accept social order as it is and as impossible to change.

Legitimacy is key to understanding how social order can or cannot be accepted. Studying the phenomena of riots in prisons, British sociologist Eamonn Carrabine (2005) demonstrated that there is more than one level of social order in jails, from the legal authorities but also through inner circles of social stratification among some privileged prisoners who can achieve some kind of control. Institutionized corruption in a given organization or country indicates a point of no-return for a society when authorities, such as political leaders, civil servants, the police, or the army, reach a certain level of organized corruption.

Some classic movies illustrate the limits of social order in situations of rebellion, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike and Potemkin, Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis, and Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion. Perhaps French poet and singer Leo Ferre gave the most efficient definition in 1972:”Disorder is like order, but without power.”


  1. Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus (Notes Toward an Investigation).” In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. London: New Left, 1971.
  2. Bourdieu, Pierre. On Television and Journalism. London: Pluto, 1998.
  3. Carrabine, Eamonn. “Prison Riots, Social Order, and the Problem of Legitimacy.” British Journal of Criminology 45, no. 6 (2005): 896–913;
  4. Durkheim, Emile. The Division of Labor in Society, translated by W. D. Halls, 1893. Reprint, New York: Free Press, 1997.
  5. Ferre, Leo. Leo Ferre sur la scene, 1972. Reprint, Monaco: Editions La Memoire et la mer, 2001.
  6. Hechter, Michael, and Christine Horne, eds. Theories of Social Order: A Reader. 2nd ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009.
  7. Weber, Max. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. 2 vols, edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. 1922.
  8. Reprint, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

Prison Corruption Essay

Fyodor Dostoevsky stated, “The degree to which a society is civilized can be judged by entering its prisons.” Prisons, as a part of the corrections system, occupy an important position in society by carrying out criminal sentencing, increasing public safety, and maintaining a just society. Prisons serve as an institution that “corrects” those who have committed offenses against society and enforces the moral rules of society. Prisons and corrections officers are generally valued as institutions and as individuals that are trusted to serve the community. When prison officials engage in corruption, the integrity of the system as a whole becomes questionable; a corrupt institution cannot serve the purpose of correcting offenders. Conditions within the prison affect the behavior and mental status of prisoners, which then influences their actions when they return to the community. Prisoners who experience corruption by prison officials have greater difficulties reintegrating into society because of the unjust treatment in prison.

Extent of Prison Corruption

Prison corruption is a widespread problem in American jails and prisons. Bernard J. McCarthy defined corruption as violations  of organizational rules and regulations for personal gain. Some examples of corruption are receiving bribes, smuggling contraband, and fixing a ticket for an inmate. The true extent of prison corruption is unknown. Most  of the  available  information stems from media reports, inmate reports, and officers who report  corrupt behavior  by other officers. There is currently no systematic tracking of prison corruption. One explanation for the lack of data is society’s view of prisoners. Many people believe that prisoners brought their problems upon themselves because of the crimes they committed. This leads to a lack of interest in what goes on behind prison walls. Another reason for the public’s indifference is that prisons are generally not visible to them, and aren’t a part of their daily routine. Finally, administrators often turn a blind eye to corruption because they don’t want to attract negative publicity.

Forms of Corruption

According to Sam Souryal, there are three main types of corruption: acts of misfeasance, acts of malfeasance,  and acts of nonfeasance. Acts of misfeasance are a form of wrongdoing where one does something lawful in an unlawful way, so that the rights of others are infringed upon. An example of this would be a prison official signing a contract with a company  in which the company may not be the best choice for the prison, but the official profits personally from the deal. For instance,  a prison may contract with medical services that are cheap, but also inadequate. The prison official owes the inmates the duty of care, but breached that duty of care by improperly performing a legal act. This is especially problematic when prison inmates are harmed as a result.

Acts of malfeasance are more blatant acts of misconduct. Acts of malfeasance are illegal acts, such as embezzlement, stealing from the prison, trafficking contraband, extortion, and oppression of inmates. For instance, in 2010, Lloyd Nicholson and two other guards who worked at Rikers Island Jail in New York, were convicted of gang assault on teenage inmates. Nicholson admitted that he and several other correctional officers had implemented a disciplinary program that they called “The Program.” Part of The Program was to order inmates to beat other inmates as a punishment. Inmate Michael Twiggs suffered a punctured lung due to the beatings. Another inmate, 18-year-old Christopher Robinson, was beaten to death in 2008. Nicholson was sentenced to six years in prison. Two of his colleagues received sentences of two years and one year, relatively light sentences, as part of a plea bargain in which they admitted to turning a blind eye when Christopher Robinson was beaten to death by other inmates. The guards also stated that they had recruited inmates for The Program by allowing those who cooperated to extort commissary money, phone privileges, and clothes from other inmates.  Inmates who did not give up their belongings were beaten by the recruits.

Finally,  acts  of nonfeasance describe  inaction, or the failure to act when an act would have been required.  The term nonfeasance  is used in tort law and officers can be held liable if three conditions are fulfilled: (1) prison officials owed a duty of care to inmates, (2) the officer failed to act on the duty of care, and (3) the officer’s failure to act resulted in injury to the inmate. The duty of officers includes the prevention of physical harm, such as assault or rape, to inmates. Other examples include not reporting misconduct by other officers or looking the other way when contraband is smuggled into the prison. A prominent example of acts of nonfeasance committed by correctional officers is the problem of inmate-on-inmate violence. One of the most scarring and inherently evil acts of violence is rape. According to the national inmate survey from 2012, 4 percent of inmates of state and federal prisons have been raped or sexually victimized by another inmate, and 1.6 percent of jail inmates (11,900) reported being sexually assaulted by another inmate.

Acts of nonfeasance are the most common type of corruption in prisons, and are the hardest type of corruption to prove. Acts of nonfeasance contribute to an atmosphere in which corruption is acceptable  within  the prison  work  environment. Officers typically claim that they did not know about the illegal activities going on. Officers very rarely report code violations by other officers because  “whistle-blowers” are treated as enemies by coworkers and administrators. Whistle-blowers often  face great  professional and personal  risks associated  with exposing a corrupt individual, group, or agency. These risks include loss of employment and benefits, problems with  securing  future  employment within the same occupational field, and being ostracized and/or terrorized by coworkers.

Explanations of Prison Corruption

Corruption often begins with minor  offenses, which then become more serious and can spiral out of control, as was the case in the 2013 Maryland jail scandal in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicted 13 state correctional officers for assisting Black Guerrilla Family gang members in their drug dealing and money laundering schemes. There is no single explanation of why some officers engage in corruption while others do not. Research shows that character is not necessarily a predictor of corrupt behavior; neither is the absence or presence of an ethical boss. There are multiple factors that contribute to corruption within prisons. These factors are related to the environmental and social forces inherent in the prison culture.

Sociopsychological Factors

Lucien X. Lombardo argues that prison guards, like prisoners, are captives. They are contained in the artificial, violent, and crowded prison environment. Guards  and inmates  alike are aware of the constant threat of harm to themselves and others. Guards are heavily outnumbered by prisoners and must use their authority to keep order and ensure a safe environment. The guards are required  to make decisions about  which privileges prisoners will receive by forming an opinion about the behavior of the inmates. Guards also have the power to remove privileges as a form of punishment. These decisions are highly discretionary and carry low public visibility. It is the nature of this captor-captive relationship and the low visibility that leads to corruption.

One of the most influential  studies on the impact  of the prison  environment on correctional  officers and  inmates  was the Stanford prison experiment by Phillip Zimbardo in 1971. The experiment involved a group of Stanford University students who were randomly divided into “guards” and “inmates” and left in an artificial prison environment in the basement of the university. After only a day the “guards” started to harass and manipulate the “inmates.” The leader of the mock guards took on the role of the tough guy and tried to “break” the inmates. All other  officers followed  his lead,  even if they disagreed with his methods. Several mock inmates had to be removed from the experiment due to severe psychological problems caused by the “prison environment.” The main conclusion of Zimbardo’s experiment was that anyone can become corrupted when confronted with certain situational forces and group dynamics. He called that phenomenon the “Lucifer Effect”.

In addition, the prison environment has changed in many places from the traditional linear design to a direct supervision design in the form of pods. The direct supervision environment puts inmates and officers in closer proximity, which can increase the emotional transference between them. Increased emotional transference may contribute to corruption in the form of bribes and doing favors. Kevin Gilmartin and Russell Davis refer to this as Correctional Officer Stockholm Syndrome. Officers begin to identify with the inmates because of the greater isolation from coworkers and the close proximity to inmates.

In this environment, guards may shift loyalty to the inmates and engage in minor rule infractions to make life easier for their people. These minor infractions could be bringing extra food, candy, or other goods into the pod, and the officer may not perceive these favors as rule violations. Over time, however, infractions usually become more serious. This puts the officer in a vulnerable position, and the threat of inmates snitching on him may force him to continue doing favors. Inmates who are now in a position of power may ask for favors such as smuggling in drugs, cell phones, and other contraband. Thus, a naive officer may be a greater risk for corruption in a direct-supervision jail because of the lack of the presence of other more experienced officers.

Organizational Factors

Neal Trautman attributes prison corruption to a lack of leadership, accountability, and training. He states that too many departments have poor hiring and training  standard, and lack quality role models for new hires. As a result the new recruits  adopt  unethical  behaviors  and accept them as normal.  Interference from administrators and politicians also increases prison corruption, leading to a lowering of hiring standards, unfair promotion practices, and inconsistent accountability. Employees who experience misconduct  by  their  supervisors,  unfair  promotion practices,  and inconsistent accountability will likely become angry and bitter toward the department. As a result, they rationalize their own misconduct as justified. This is exacerbated when employers ignore the personal needs of the corrections officers. Many departments struggle to retain their employees because of the high-stress environment and the lack of positive experiences. Retention is also low if promotion is not based on quality but rather  on political decisions. If those promoted to work as supervisors are not the best and brightest, the morale among employees deteriorates and rationalization of corruption increases.

Finally, lack of courage contributes to corruption. Officers and administrators alike ignore misconduct. The guards learn in the training academy that they have to work together and “have each other’s backs” to keep order in the prison, since they are outnumbered by the inmates. Guards become part of an organization that emphasizes loyalty to the organization rather than to morality and professionalism. Similar to police officers, corrections officers follow a code of silence, and snitches become enemies. The adherence to “the Code” ensures that corrupt officers are not exposed, and inmates have little chance of finding witnesses for assaults against them if guards were directly or indirectly involved.

Preventing Corruption

A major concern regarding the topic of prison corruption is how to minimize it. Trautman proposes  several  solutions  to  prison  corruption. First, prisons must ensure quality recruitment  and  background  investigation, because past behavior is often the best predictor of future behavior. Also, prisons should provide a high-quality field training program to ensure that new recruits  understand the ethical issues involved in their job and create a positive culture. The institution should provide fair and consistent accountability as it is one of the most effective ways to prevent unethical and corrupt behaviors. Prisons should conduct effective career survival training  that  includes  ethical-dilemma simulations because they will help store the learned material in the long-term memory. Also, supervisors must be positive role models, since they act as trainers, counselors, and mentors for all prison employees. They need to prevent officers from becoming angry and bitter because that is a major rationalization and impetus for engaging in corruption. Prisons should implement an effective employee intervention program that enables the early detection of corrupt behavior via performance tracking and internal training. Prisons should make character and moral standards the most important considerations for promotion. Finally, prison officials must have the courage to acknowledge and resolve integrity needs.


  1. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The House of the Dead. David McDuff, trans. 1860. New York: Penguin, 1985.
  2. Gilmartin, Kevin M. and Russell M. Davis. “The Correctional Officer Stockholm Syndrome: Management Implications.” National Institute of Corrections. First Annual Symposium on Now Generation Jails, 2006.
  3. Karoliszyn, Henrick and Larry McShane. “Rikers Island Correction Officers Get Short Jail Terms for Role in 18-Year-Old Inmate’s Death.” New York Daily News (January 17, 2012).
  4. Lombardo, Lucien X. Guards Imprisoned: Correctional Officers at Work, 2nd ed. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson, 1989.
  5. Sabol, William J. “Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12.” Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, 2013.
  6. Souryal, Sam S. “Deterring Corruption by Prison Personnel: A Principle-Based Perspective.” Prison Journal, v.89/1 (2009).
  7. “Stopping the Cellphones That Foster Jailhouse Corruption.” Baltimore Sun (May 12, 2013).
  8. Trautman, Neal. “How and Why a Department or Jail Becomes Corrupt.” National Institute of Ethics. (Accessed September 2013).

Gang Subculture Essay

Gang subculture is rooted in American mainstream culture, sharing some of its beliefs and behaviors. However, gang subculture also possesses unique and often antisocial features, setting it apart in many ways. Along with identity and a sense of belonging, gang subculture provides adherents with a system of rituals, language, signs, colors, clothing, tattoos, graffiti, and code of conduct. Its alternative morality offers rules for behavior and severe consequences for failure to abide by the rules. It is critical to note that this system of values and behaviors is not random; its uniformity promotes loyalty and group cohesion, differentiating its membership from those who are “not gangster.” While there are variations among racial and ethnic groups, for the most part gang expectations, core values, and behaviors are fairly consistent. Primary among these is the pursuit of respect. Additionally, for active gang members, whether male or female, commitment and loyalty to the gang is paramount.

The concept of the gang subculture can be traced to the early 1900s and the seminal work of the Chicago School, shorthand for researchers who worked at the University of Chicago Sociology Department from 1915 onwards. Foreshadowing modern global positioning systems (GPS) mapping, these researchers uncovered a connection between high rates of crime and communities exhibiting multiple social problems. This early “mapping” of social dysfunction gave rise to the innovative notion that crime could be linked to specific community factors including family dysfunction, poverty, inadequate housing, immigrant adjustment, high unemployment, and underperforming schools. These factors reinforced community and social instability brought on by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. The resulting “social disorganization” led to the rise of subcultures, including the gang subculture that usurped traditional cultural practices. Frederic Thrasher’s groundbreaking research described how gangs evolved from conditions of poverty, lack of resources, and community instability. Youth growing up in such disorganized communities proved to be at high risk of socialization into the gang subculture.

For several decades, empirical research has supported both the overall validity of social disorganization theory and its usefulness when applied to the problem of gangs. At the same time, researchers outside the Chicago School began examining how subcultures evolve. In particular, anthropologists focused on the dynamics of the subculture, describing it as any group whose members maintain values and exhibit behaviors that differentiate them from the larger culture in which they exist. Subcultures sometimes develop rapidly, as a collective response to social events; at other times they grow cross-generationally, over time. Building on this idea, Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin theorized that gang subcultures arose as youth experienced multiple obstacles to opportunities and achievement. In turn, James Diego Vigil examined Mexican American cholo subculture and its relationship to gang subculture. Cholo subculture was viewed as an understandable response to feelings of inferiority and socioeconomic pressures experienced by marginalized Mexican American youth, who believed that mainstream success was inaccessible. The combination of chronic poverty and restricted social mobility was a precursor to development of and involvement in gang subculture.

Together these theoretical approaches advanced the idea that gang subculture exists and thrives through a complex interaction between individual traits, needs, personality, and the surrounding behavioral environment. As part of this interaction, gang subculture is particularly attractive to adolescents, providing youth with a sense of identity along with rules and rituals to organize the world. This enables youth to experience social engagement and devotion to a cause larger than one’s self.

The gang subculture is antiauthority and oppositional in myriad ways. Sexuality is flaunted, although safe sex practices are devalued. Education is disparaged in a silent conspiracy between schools enacting “school push-out” through “opportunity transfers” and youth no longer engaged in attending classes. The other signposts of rebellion all appear: dress, music, language, drugs and alcohol, crime, and violence.

Gang Subculture and Mainstream Culture

As gangs proliferated, so did the gang subculture. This growth can be tied to the marked increase in gang activity and violence throughout the 1980s and 1990s, which gang scholar and researcher James Howell has attributed to several factors. First, as federal legislation fostered an increase in Latin American immigration, these groups encountered problems with assimilation and social disorganization, rendering their youth susceptible to gang influences, ultimately enlarging gang membership. As their numbers increased, disparate neighborhood sets united, with both African American and Hispanic gangs expanding into street alliances or “nations.” At the same time, law enforcement attempted to reduce gang activity in urban centers such as Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago, enabling gang alliances to further expand as membership migrated to less urban settings from Fairfax, Virginia, to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Additionally, street-level drug use and sales increased, with crack cocaine fueling individual dysfunction and community disorganization. Middle-class families moved to city suburbs and exurbs, further reducing financial and community resources. As money for social programs diminished, funding for law enforcement increased— with a resulting emphasis on suppression and deemphasis of prevention and intervention.

Alongside these developments, the relationship between gang subculture and the media deepened significantly. With the 1980s emergence of “gangsta rap” and the elevation of rap music artists, several who claimed gang association, gang subculture strongly impacted mainstream culture. Past portrayal of gangs in films and on television had been largely antiseptic, with law enforcement prevailing over gangs. But by the late 1980s, popular imagery was profoundly altered. Language was no longer bound by mainstream conventions, with the profanity of rap music rendering it unacceptable for radio airplay.

In lyrics and street poetry, the most commonly used noun was “nigga”; the police were the object of death threats; women (aside from mothers) were denigrated as sex objects: “nigga hoes and freaky bitches”; and life was seen as a dangerous, short-term “game.” The gangsta rapper embodied the gang subculture—profane, cynical and antisocial—while rap music and gangster videos all glorified the extremes in violence, sadism and cruelty. Gangster rap—whether black or brown— maintained an antisocial tone, stirring class, race, and gender hatred. And it was wildly successful, particularly among white, middle-class youth. However, its most enduring audience was and continues to be composed of marginalized youth for whom rap represents a system of transmitting values and behaviors applicable to the environments in which they live.


Over the past two decades, clothing has transformed from an exhibition of gang rebellion to a style heralded in mainstream photo shoots, with everything from silver chains to pants worn low on the hips co-opted by fashion enthusiasts. Nevertheless, despite popular acceptance, within gang subculture an approved range of gang clothing and appearance still exists. A shaved head exhibits menace and is used to display gang tattoos. Clothing is carefully starched and ironed, shirts worn untucked over baggy pants, imitating prison issue attire while hiding weapons. The manufacturer and brand of shoes have particular significance for gangs as do the size and design of personal jewelry.

Colors compose a staple of gang subculture; different gangs wear specific colors to both identify members and enemies and to signal association to one another. They may be subtly displayed on shoelaces or overtly displayed on hats, shoes, shirts, and bandanas, all in one representative color. In certain cases, gang members will even wear colored ballpoint pens clipped to shirt pockets to “represent.”


Alongside “gangster” clothing, tattoos are considered mainstream, displayed by celebrities, college undergraduates, and even Olympic athletes. Nevertheless, tattoos have always indicated loyalty and commitment to the gang, serving as a source of identification, signaling set membership and belief in “la vida loca.” Easiest to interpret are tattoos featuring gang names, initials, logos, or numbers: for example, the number 13 indicates loyalty to the Mexican Mafia while the number 18 signifies membership in the large Hispanic gang, 18th Street. However, tattoos also depict changed life events: teardrops indicate murders committed or deaths experienced.


Along with tattoos, graffiti plays an active role in gang subculture and is distinct from tagging. Increasingly visible in urban settings, tagging represents either self-expression or vandalism at an individual or small-group level. Most tagging “gangs” are rarely associated with street gangs, who regard them as a nuisance. Unlike tagging, gang graffiti is considered sacred, making use of specific styles and sophisticated design, often mimicked by popular “street” artists. Similar to tattoos, gang graffiti may prominently feature numbers—English, Spanish, and even Roman numerals, or numbers and words together in large block or gothic-style lettering.

Gang graffiti is commonly used to announce gang presence, to mark territory or turf, and to honor individuals, mainly deceased. Housing developments and gang-impacted areas often feature colorful murals accompanied by graffiti memorializing fallen homies. Graffiti is often quite specific, describing cliques or subsets of established gangs, distinguishing male and female gangs, and using Spanish to meld ethnic and gang subculture. It also expresses ongoing disrespect, as exemplified by the Bloods replacing any Cs with Bs in their graffiti as part of their lengthy rivalry with the Crips. However, graffiti has functions beyond identity and territory, providing a “real-time” record of gang conflict, a communication system which Professor Al Valdez accurately labeled “gangland’s newspaper.” It offers constant updates regarding gang boundaries, membership, alliances, and conflicts for other gangs to read and understand. As a warning sign, gang appearances in rival territory, crossing out graffiti of the home gang, often precede conflict. These “announcements” frequently attract the attention of law enforcement as an indicator of probable violence.


There are few formal rituals associated with gang subculture. Instead most ritual practices tend to be ad hoc and associated with specific gangs. Still, there are rites of passage recognized by gang subculture. Most common is the initiation ritual of being “jumped in” to gang membership, which involves being beaten by multiple gang members. However, most youth are slowly socialized into gang membership, with the initiation ritual marking the point at which they are considered full members. The ritual of individuals being jumped-out or leaving the gang is much less prevalent than thought. Probably, the most common ongoing ritual associated with gang subculture is the use of gang signs.

Gang subculture is confirmed through the ritual display of hand signs. These signs portray allegiance to the gang and a specific set or clique along with demonstrating disrespect for enemy, rival gangs. Gang hand signs represent incendiary nonverbal behavior, particularly when a hand sign is demonstrated or “thrown” at a rival gang member. This behavioral ritual, also referred to as “set tripping,” provokes conflict and violence.

Gang Morality, Ethics, and Control

Gang subculture offers both structure and socialization in the absence of family or community. Many parents are not totally withdrawn from family life, instead composing the working poor, holding down multiple jobs to make ends meet, leaving children unsupervised. Other parents’ absence is due to substance abuse, mental illness, and criminal activity. Gang-involved youth frequently, but not exclusively, come from families whose encounters with the criminal justice system have been highly negative. Within these families, there are often absent fathers, mothers who are victims of partner violence, and children who are abused; violence is the sole “problem-solving strategy.” In the worst circumstances, both parents are absent, leaving children to either fend for themselves—learning the lessons of survival or confronting the vicissitudes of the child welfare system. Gang subculture fills this void of family structure with a formal code of values and conduct, which includes rules and consequences derived from the gang ideology. Additionally, gang subculture offers a pathway toward the development of masculinity.

Gang core values serve as guides to appropriate behavior and govern the proper conduct of self in relation to others. They are transmitted by older guides, “big homies,” to developing gang members, “little homies,” through an oral tradition intrinsic to each gang. Gang members learn to employ violence strategically, not indiscriminately, through information handed down regarding how to respond to threats and how to engage or avoid aggressive action. Additionally these values encompass both sanctioned and proscribed behaviors, from ritual displays and respect for gang colors, fighting and loyalty, business practices, and strategic protection. Approved behavior crosses racial and ethnic lines: idealization of mothers, overall denigration of nonfamilial women, homophobia, protection of children, and unconditional commitment. The consequences for engaging in prohibited behaviors, particularly snitching, may be violent— including beatings, having one’s tongue cut out, and even murder.

The core values of gang subculture promote solidarity and ensure survival of the gang, while addressing specific needs of gang members. Exploring these core values, criminal justice scholar Robert Duran outlined four gang ideals: (1) displaying loyalty strengthens gang attachments, while reinforcing commitments and increasing internal cohesion in response to external pressures; (2) responding courageously to external threats requires individuals to demonstrate their toughness and courage, earning respect from others. Incarceration is also valued, signifying that an individual has behaved with courage and honor; (3) promoting and defending gang status involves daily reinforcement and glorification of the gang name through symbols such as tattoos, graffiti, and nicknames. Because visible signs of gang membership draw the attention of law enforcement, established gangs often employ subtler forms of representation; and (4) maintaining a stoic attitude toward gang life is epitomized by the gang truism, “Smile now, cry later.” Gang subculture requires members to maintain an appearance of impassiveness and emotional indifference.

However, paramount among all these values is respect. Respect cannot be conferred but must be earned and then maintained through the demonstration of courage and loyalty. Gang members earn respect by appearing brave and unflinching in the face of danger and violence; they are regarded with a combination of awe and esteem.

Within the gang subculture, respect is viewed as hard to earn but easy to lose. The gang member who commands respect must remain wary of efforts to disrespect or “diss” his reputation. These efforts differ from physical danger and involve psychological aggression ranging from as seemingly superficial an offense as staring or mad-dogging another for too long, approaching one’s woman, or throwing gang signs in the presence of rivals. Despite the shallow character of the effort to “diss,” the response may be violent. Children raised within families belonging to the gang subculture learn early on that humility is an undesirable trait; they are told to fight back when disrespected. Respect is also seen as a limited commodity and individuals within the gang subculture compete for it aggressively. Because youth do not possess alternative sources of esteem or validation, gang status often becomes the only source of respect available. In the most extreme cases, young gang members will die in order to preserve respect.

Respect is related to honor, a nebulous value that incorporates ancestral and cultural history. Youth believe they enter gang life with a sense of honor they must uphold. Most significant, it is not simply individual honor that is at stake but the honor of their family as well. This belief has recently expanded to instances of gang retaliation against domestic violence; when a sister or daughter is a victim of domestic violence, honor requires gang family members to retaliate. Honor is strongly related to disrespect; the violation of gang honor demands a response.

Within the gang, the bonds of male attachment and masculinity are highly valued but rigidly defined. Men are required to be strong, emotionally inexpressive, sexual, and in control of the environment. Strength is measured by the ability to “put in work” upholding gang reputation and territory, hurting and in some cases killing enemies, and earning revenue for the gang, while remaining calm under pressure.

Earning respect validates manhood. Within gang subculture, masculinity and respect are interdependent, embodied by appearing in control, in charge of one’s fate and quite possibly the fate of others. As part of masculinity, gang members share an ideology of brotherhood, relating to one another as brothers or “homies.” However, brotherhood has its limits: in gang subculture, there is rampant homophobia. Individuals who are “down for” or loyal to the gang must carefully avoid displaying any behaviors associated with gay men. Interestingly, this value does not extend to lesbians who, over the past two decades, have acquired increasing influence within gang subculture.

Hedonism constitutes another core gang value, often channeled through sexual promiscuity and drug use. But, while recreational drug use and partying strengthens social cohesiveness, addiction does not and is usually limited to sub cliques of gangs. Individuals who exhibit serious drug dependence, such as meth addiction, are considered unreliable and dangerous to the gang. Similarly, individuals who act strategically crazy are viewed as embodying core gang values; it is appropriate to demonstrate rage and violent behavior when disrespected. However, being consistently crazy, mentally ill, or excessively violent in response to minor conflict are all viewed negatively. These individuals are ultimately excluded from gang activity as part of the selective exclusion of weak individuals who might endanger the gang.

Sociologist Elijah Anderson posits that the code of conduct and its enforcement represent a subcultural “street justice” alternative. The practice of street justice demonstrates the generalized mistrust of police and the criminal justice system, which gang members believe is rigged against them. Gang members insist they would rather police themselves than rely on law enforcement. Understanding the gang subculture is ultimately critical to creating and sustaining any gang reduction and youth development activity. Both causes and control of gang activity and violence are ultimately tied to such knowledge.


  1. Duran, Robert J. Gang Life in Two Cities: An Insider’s View. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
  2. Howell, John. Gangs in America’s Communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage , 2011.
  3. Leap, Jorja. Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
  4. Moore, Joan and James Vigil. “Chicano Gangs: Group Norms and Individual Factors Related to Adult Criminality.” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies, v.18/2 (1987).
  5. Venkatesh, Sudhir. Gang Leader for a Day. New York: Penguin Press, 2008.
  6. Vigil, J. D. Barrio Gangs: Street Life and Identity in Southern California. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988.

Social Movements Essay

One of the developments in both global and national political systems since the end of the Second World War (1939–1945) has been the emergence of groups, organizations, and individuals who seek to influence society, the state, and public policies that are directly or indirectly concerned with public interest. Indeed, increasingly, these organizations and individuals have come to occupy significant positions when issues of societal advancement are considered. For example, the emergence of the green movement, whose dynamics have portrayed its transformation from one state to the other, clearly points to the various groups, organizations, and individuals who argue that there is need to ensure sustainable use of resources in the environment.

Conceptualization Of Social Movements

Social movements are a wide range of social forces and their organizations that seek to influence society and public policies. They provide some sort of counterweight to the state on serious matters of public interest.

Social movements are organizations, groups of people, and individuals who take collective actions to bring about transformation in society. These groups of people and organizations contrast sharply with those of other groups and organizations, such as political parties and governmental organizations. For example, modern social movements in many countries do not seek to capture state power.

Social movements deal with issues that are deemed important for the advancement of society. These movements could take global and national shapes, but it remains that they are issue-driven. The issue creates the need for formation of organizations, but it also could be the other way around, in which already existing organizations enlist to deal with an issue that has been deemed to be of national or global concern for the interest of affected groups.

Activities of social movement organizations signify existence of civic culture and consciousness associated with broad conceptualization of civil society. Civil society is both a descriptive and normative category in relation to the political process and policy politics of nations.

Social movements are issue-based and tend to be contentious. Although not always in ways that lead directly to violence, their contentious character is because they often lack regular access to formal political process.

They are modern phenomena that evolved from premodern forms of contentious politics over the years to deal with issues around humanity and the political system. In fact, it has evolved from traditionalist models of protest that endorsed use of violence to the use of nonviolent and civilized methods of resisting authorities, seeking social change, or influencing public policy. They are divided into the old and new social movements. The former use strategies such as protests, strikes, and the like to address the state. The labor union, the anticolonial, or various nationalist organizations that emerged in the nineteenth century represent the old social movement. In contrast, the new social movement, such as the human rights, gender, environmental, peace, and nonviolence, give voice to the frustrations of the educated middle class and professionals. They are concerned with rights, demanding what Mary Kaldor (2003) has described as radical democracy. In any case, an important area of difference to note between the old and the new social movement is that whereas the old social movement adopted traditional methods of protests that were often violent, the new social movements are basically nonviolent in their approach to issues.

The point of social movements is that they seek to influence government, public policy, and society in general and specific ways. In many respects, social movements such as the environmental movement seek to achieve goals that are directly related to individual rights to a safe environment. The environment is a public good whose protection does not benefit only a section of the world but does add to life for all peoples, especially within the context of human activities, change in climate, and depletion of the ozone layer.

Social Movements And Society

In recent times, collective actions of social movement organizations have had tremendous influence on politics, public policy, and society in general. They are sometimes discussed within the context of civil society.

Emphasis on democracy in recent times requires vibrant and dynamic civil society. Indeed, social movements for most of democracy in the developing and developed countries today are centers of power that relate with the political system in ways that shape both the structure and content of politics. Activities of these movements are remarkable because of the effects they create in public policy, partisan politics, and the general political system. Political leaders often respond by repressing groups such as labor, environment, and others who protest certain policies or business organizations or government policies. For instance, the events of mass protests of labor and other civil society groups in Nigeria in June 2007 over a hike in the price of petroleum products and the sale of government business organizations without following due process led to the repeal of the policies. This has had profound implications for current democracy in that country.

Social movements provide the social capital that is needed for civic engagement with policy makers and governmental institutions in democracies. Social capital is simply the characteristics of organizations that help to coordinate and facilitate mutual benefits. One way of measuring social capital is the participation of individuals in the activities of social movement organizations. By participating in such activities, especially when it is about serious issues of public concern, social movements serve as a platform for oversight influence on the state and its power.

They sometimes initiate debates on social problems and may mobilize citizens toward it, a feat that more often than not the regular political machineries such as political parties are unable achieve due to bureaucratic procedures and a generally slow approach to certain issues. Response of the state to social problems is sometimes quicker when public interest and demand have been ignited by the civil society.

More often than not, issues of public importance that have remained out of public view are stirred by social movements, bringing focus to the issues’ merit for the purpose of winning governmental attention. The merit of such issues may not be so judged by authorities until some sort of organizing is started by these social movements.

They resist certain policies and programs of government seen to be against the public interest. Success in achieving this depends substantially on the availability of resources for the concerned group. The success of such groups in getting government to change a particular policy or even to adopt a definite measure in the interest of the public depends on the regime type—democratic or dictatorship. For instance, various groups involved in the human rights and environmental movements in the Niger Delta of Nigeria today might count their successes based on regime type. The military regimes were intolerant of opposition over issues of violation of economic, environmental, and other human rights.

The institutional and associational life of any democracy is important for the success of democracy. Given the nature of democracy, whether in normative or descriptive terms, the emergence and activities of social movement organizations in pursuit of a social goal do have a positive impact in the performance of democracy. Indeed, this is why Western democracies such as the United States are regarded as such. The blossoming of associations in response to issues of governance and development of society is a fundamental signpost that the leaders in the near future will be more conscious of the existence of these groups.

Social movements are issue-based, and this is the more reason to make sure that their emergence and possible contributions to debates on societal issues are not hindered. The experience in many countries of the developing world is that most regimes are antagonistic to social movements. This is worse with military regimes.

Social Movements And Politics

Social movements seek change in society. Achievement of such change depends on strategies. The choice of strategies sometimes also depends on the goals of the movement.

In certain instances, leaders of such movements may directly engage political strategies, such as support for political parties that address the problems that define particular social movements. They may sponsor bills of particular societal concern in the legislative institutions. They may field candidates to seek elective positions. All these and more are direct political strategies that leaders of social movements might use.

The success of social movements in the use of political strategies depends on the social forces at work. For instance, interpretations of the intentions of certain movements might depend on the leaders of such movements. In the case of the Niger Delta of Nigeria, the local environmental movement often is interpreted to mean an ethnic project by members of other ethnic groups in the country. Some actually use partisan political methods to effect change in society. The examples of the global environmental movement in European countries have not been very successful, but it does seem that such movements have supported in specific ways green political parties.

Social movements can serve as the vehicle for engendering the mass attitude needed for the sustenance of democracy where it has been challenged by ant democracy forces. They also can be instrumental in creating the pro-democracy mass attitude needed for establishment of democracy where denied. These processes involve gradual engagement with the citizens to mobilize them toward ant democracy forces and create democratic institutions where denied. In the political culture literature social movements and other social groups have been identified as important agents of shaping political attitudes of citizens. Indeed, they are very often highly motivational factors for an otherwise apolitical and apathetic population of people and creation of a mass attitude that is supportive of pro-democracy activist groups.

When discussed within the context of civil society, strong social movements facilitate democracy, although this has been contested in literature for transitional societies. Indeed some have argued that civil society in the contemporary sense is a necessary condition for democracy. This argument makes a lot of sense given the fact no democracy in history has ever emerged or consolidated without a strong civil society. Civil society reflects the emergence of a variety of groups with interests that demand recognition and reflection in the political system.

Civil society faces an empirical challenge of definition, but in terms of relationship to social movement organizations, it may be seen as any group that represents collective interests or the entirety of civic engagements of citizens in a polity that tend to promote associational life. Several arguments have been made for the positive effects of the civil society in society. This has been so essentially because of the functional role that social movement organizations have played in development and democratic accountability. Indeed, studies have shown that social movements and their organizations can challenge state authorities to respect the rights of groups or individuals. For example, in Africa, Asia, and eastern Europe, various organizations came together to sign petitions and organized protests against despotic regimes. In other parts of the world, such as Poland and the Philippines, social movement solidarity played significant roles in dismantling authoritarian structures.

It should be noted, however, that existence of the civil society is not a sufficient guarantee for democracy. To be sure, civil society can exist without democracy. Indeed, some civil societies contain undemocratic elements and need to be democratized. Some are also disruptive of social order.

It seems that civil society plays different roles in societies, although this may vary between the developed and developing countries. Civil society is required for maintenance of the plurality of interests, democratization, and provision of the basis for associational democracy. Appreciation of these roles depends on the perception or conceptualization of civil society. Whether seen as a set of societal conditions, conflict resolution mechanism, or organizations as actors, definite roles are expected from the civil society. For example, understood as organizations as actors, the idea is that ordinary citizens might join together in associations or groups to form a public sphere in order to influence public policy on the basis of what Ezra Vogel (1969) has described as rational critical discourse. If seen as a set of social conditions, it will imply how integrated these organizations or groups are in society. When lacking access to the public decision-making process or political system, there might exist a tendency for these groups to be conflictive or violent in their approaches of seeking to affect public policy. When integrated, with a tangible sense of that integration among members of such groups, dialogue, and nonviolent strategies are more likely to be employed in the quest to influence public policy and the social structure in general.

Some governments today are beginning to use social movement organizations for the execution of certain programs. For instance, various nongovernmental organizations are in partnership with the government in Bangladesh, Liberia, Nigeria, and South Africa, to mention but a few, in the designing and administration of certain government programs. Development nongovernmental organizations have long partnered with these governments in areas such as containment of HIV/ AIDS. Some of these organizations also campaign for more human-centered and comprehensive government policies to address the problem.

Many of these organizations have long begun to act internationally. One study suggests that international nongovernmental organizations involved in addressing various issues numbered more than one thousand in the 1950s. By the 1970s, it had grown to five thousand. Recently, by the end of the 1990s, it had risen to well over twenty-six thousand.


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Gang Rape Essay

Gang rape is a serious and greatly understudied form of rape. Gang rape is also sometimes referred to as group rape. Both terms refer to a rape or sexual assault committed by more than one perpetrator against one victim. Most research on gang rape has focused on cases reported to police or incidents in college populations. In general, research has shown that gang rape is less common than rape committed by one offender against one victim, yet more serious in terms of the number and severity of sexual acts suffered by victims.

Prevalence, Reporting, and Risk Factors

Research has shown estimated rates of gang rape range from under 2% in student populations to up to 26% in police-reported cases. However, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, there were 28,350 rapes/sexual assaults in 2005 that involved multiple offenders. That year there were 94,347 forcible rapes known to the police; therefore, approximately 30% of rapes in 2005 were gang or group rapes. Less than one third of rapes overall are reported to police, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, and only 5% or fewer rapes of college students are reported to police. It is likely that gang rapes are also underreported to police, but data on this issue are lacking. Past studies of students and police-reported cases have shown that there is a preponderance of young offenders and victims in gang rapes, and greater levels of violence by offenders and substance use involved in gang rapes. Evidence is mixed about the demographic characteristics of offenders and victims in gang rapes, but some data suggest that victims and offenders in these incidents may more likely be of lower socioeconomic status. Although researchers and journalists have documented gang rape cases occurring in the context of fraternities and sports teams, no statistical evidence exists to show that these contexts pose greater risk of gang rape than other situations.

Comparisons of Gang and Individual Rapes

A few studies have compared gang and individual (e.g., single-offender) rapes, and most research shows that victims experience more completed rape and a greater number of other forced sexual acts in gang rape attacks. Studies have shown either no differences or higher levels of physical injuries for victims of gang rapes. Research on police-reported stranger rapes has found more alcohol and drug involvement, fewer weapons, more attacks at night, and less victim resistance in gang rapes. On the other hand, some research with college students has shown no difference in substance use involvement, but more victim resistance and more offender violence, including weapons, in gang rapes. A recent study of sexual assault victims recruited from the community showed that gang rapes are more likely than single-offender rapes to occur outdoors, be committed by stranger assailants, and involve more offender violence and weapons and greater physical injury to victims. These offenses are also more likely to involve substance use and victim resistance.

Postassault Functioning

Few studies have examined measures of postassault victim functioning. It is unclear whether gang rape victims are more likely than single-offender victims to tell others about their assaults. However, when they do disclose, research shows that gang rape victims are more likely to seek help from police, medical, and rape crisis services than single-offender victims. They also are more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, have greater likelihood of having posttraumatic stress disorder, and are more likely to seek therapy after the assault than single-offender rape victims. Some research suggests that gang rape victims have greater histories of other traumatic events and child sexual abuse in their lives than single-offender rape victims.

Social Networks

A recent media-recruited community sample of over 1,000 sexual assault survivors in a large metropolitan area showed that 17.9% of sexual assaults were committed by two or more offenders. Although the gang rape victims in the sample did not differ from individual rape victims in their frequency of contact with social networks, they did perceive themselves to be getting along more poorly with others. In addition, even though the gang rape victims reported getting the same degree of positive social reactions from others whom they told about the assault, they also received more negative social reactions to sexual assault disclosure than individual rape victims received. This is important because other research shows that negative social reactions (e.g., being blamed) relate to more posttraumatic stress disorder in sexual assault victims. It is possible that gang rape victims may have poorer relationships or ability to elicit social support from their social networks and/or face greater stigma from others following assault.


Although cases of gang rape have been reported in the media and in research, this form of sexual assault is understudied. Unfortunately, statistics on the incidence and prevalence of gang rape from representative community samples are lacking. More research attention and intervention are needed to address this serious crime. A small body of existing research comparing gang to single-offender rapes does suggest that gang rapes are more violent and appear to have more serious consequences for victims. Treatment and intervention efforts are needed for victims of gang rape to address this high-risk subgroup of rape victims.


  1. Bachman, R., & Saltzman, L. E. (1995). Violence against women: Estimates from the redesigned survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  2. Gidycz, C., & Koss, M. P. (1990). A comparison of group and individual sexual assault victims. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 14, 325–342.
  3. O’Sullivan, C. S. (1991). Acquaintance gang rape on campus. In A. Parrot ; C. Bechhofer (Eds.), Acquaintance rape: The hidden crime (pp. 140–156). New York: Wiley.
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  5. Ullman, S. E. (2005, November). Comparing gang and individual rapes in a community sample of urban women. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Toronto.
  6. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics online:

Prison Abolition Essay

Broadly, prison abolition concerns a critical movement to rethink penology and the reliance on incarceration as the primary tool of punishment. Advocates of prison abolition encourage greater criminal justice imagination and call for the use of more productive  alternatives to the incarceration of mostly poor, minority, youthful men. Though these advocates recognize the contributions of prison reform, they also lament it as inherently legitimatizing the prison industrial complex. Lacking clear unity and focus, some abolitionists suggest a considerable reduction in the reliance on prisons while others outright question the utility of such institutions, arguing that prison incarceration is an oppressive tool aimed at the continued subjugation of minorities. Relating incarceration to social evils such as slavery, critics suggest alternatives to prison such as restorative justice that can pave the way for an institutionally free society.

The abolition movement has been motivated primarily  by disparities  present within the rising prison population. The mass incarceration movement  of the last three decades has been well documented. As reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are in excess of 2 million adults behind bars in the United States, a figure that far exceeds other industrialized nations. That said, the prison and jail population has, despite an upward trend for decades, begun to decline slightly since 2010 at a rate of about 1 percent each year. Nonetheless, there are about 2.2 million adults incarcerated in state or federal prisons and local jails. That equates to about 1 in every 100 adults, a slogan popularized by the 2008 Pew Center on the States’ report. Incarceration is characterized by a heavy disparity against young adult minority men, especially African Americans. One in 15 black adult men are incarcerated compared to 1 in 36 for Hispanic men and 1 in 106 for white men. Figures are somewhat less dramatic for females as they are for males, but racial disparities do exist with black adult women incarcerated at a rate of 1 in 100 compared to white women at 1 in 355.

Such disparities  in the incarcerated population have led many to question the legal system and prison industrial complex. Many prominent have criticized the mass incarceration movement for disproportionately targeting  minority  populations. Additionally, the incarcerated are provided little opportunity for social improvement, often further alienating these individuals. To further illustrate the disparity, African Americans represent about 14 percent of drug users nationally, about equal to their representation in the general population. However, they represent 35 percent of all drug arrests, 55 percent of drug convictions, and 75 percent of prison admissions for drug offenses. African Americans are not only more likely to be processed by the justice system, but also more likely to serve lengthier sentences. As Bruce Western has poignantly illustrated, African American men are as likely to go to prison as they are to get married. Such a prevalence of incarceration for a population stands to disrupt and perpetuate disadvantages for generations of families. Furthermore, prison does little to turn criminals into productive citizens or capable parents, often offering little in terms of vocation or educational services. An estimated 1.5 million children are growing up with an incarcerated parent.

To further elaborate on the issue of human warehousing, both academics and public advocates contend the prison industrial complex is designed to punish the poor and deal with persistent social problems through a criminogenic enterprise. Simply put, they assert the prison is an instrument of oppression. Advocates have emphasized  the bias of the justice institutions and made calls for a reversal of the reliance on prisons. However, there has been little practical effort to heed such calls for action and most recent changes in reducing or ceasing further expansion of institutions has been the result of economic woes, not the moral pleadings of the abolition movement. Clearly, critical criminologists contend that the institution represents a new form of slavery, or perpetuation of slavery that had previously been abolished. However, others have contended the comparison to slavery is not entirely accurate given forced labor within institutions is considered a privilege and in reality inmates are mostly warehoused with little to do. Instead, it is argued the institution represents an attempt at mass containment and the elimination of many poor African American people from mainstream society.

There is some uncertainty in terms of what the abolition movement intends or hopes to achieve. In many cases advocates stop short of suggesting the full abolition of prisons, but rather  a pronounced reduction in their use. Such advocates seek alternatives that may be more productive than incarceration and cite approaches such as restorative justice and peacemaking, some of which have been derived from experiences working with Native American tribes. Others, however, cite the need for greater criminal justice imagination and the absolute abolition of prisons. They argue that U.S. society has become indoctrinated by the presence of prisons. Some even cite the reliance some communities have formed on the prison industry as a means of work and social prosperity. Though admittedly utopian, these voices urge more creativity and the realization that a world can exist without prisons.

Abolitionists typically argue against prison reform. Their explanation is simple, but straightforward. Prison reforms, while often necessary and beneficial for protecting individuals while incarcerated, mostly serve to perpetuate the institutions’ existence. In other words, reform further legitimizes the existence of the prison. Though guidance is limited, there has been some discussion that the means to achieving abolition may come best through the shifting of resources from  corrections to  other  macroinstructions such as education, housing,  health  care, and other community-based services. In reality, the trend has been in the opposite direction with corrections costs rivaling that of education and health care in many states. Only with the economic depression of the recent decade has the construction of  additional penal  institutions been halted. Further, some advocates argue that a new vision of the world, a world devoid of prisons, must be communicated to the masses, and the link between the penal system and poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other oppressive biases must be exposed. To do this some call for an interdisciplinary field of prison  studies at universities, and some even recommend high school courses that discuss penology. Given the permanency of male institutions, some authors, particularly feminist criminologists, have supported the abolition of female prisons as a social experiment with less risk to public safety. The success of such an experiment could serve as the basis, some have argued, for the eventual abolition of male prisons as well.

Finally, abolitionists comprise a wide variety of individuals including academics, former prisoners, teachers, researchers, policy scholars, and criminologists. One issue faced by abolitionists has been that the movement represents a population that historically has little political power. In other words, former prisoners represent a marginalized population as a result of their criminal background, severely limiting the impact of their voice in the larger political sphere. Though the roots of the movement can be traced back to the mid-1970s, its message has not changed dramatically since, and the fears it placed in the overreliance of the penal institution continue to be realized.


  1. Davis, A. Y. and D. Rodriguez. “The Challenge of Prison Abolition: A Conversation.” Social Justice, v.27/3 (2000).
  2. Gilmore, K. “Slavery and Prison—Understanding the Connections.” Social Justice, v.27/3 (2000).
  3. Heimer, B. “Commentary: Social Death and the Relationship Between Abolition and Reform.” Social Justice, v.30/2 (2003).
  4. Leyva, M. and C. Bickel. “From Corrections to College: The Value of a Convict’s Voice.” Western Criminology Review, 11/1 (2010).
  5. Mathiesen, T. Prison on Trial. 2nd ed. Winchester, UK: Waterside Press, 2000.
  6. Ostertag, S. F. and W. T. Armaline. “Image Isn’t Everything: Contemporary Systematic Racism and Antiracism in the Age of Obama.” Humanity & Society, 35 (2011).
  7. Piche, J. and M. Larsen. “The Moving Targets of Penal Abolitionism: ICOPA, Past, Present, and Future.” Contemporary Justice Review, v.13/4 (2010).
  8. Quinney, R. “The Life Inside: Abolishing the Prison.” Contemporary Justice Review, v.9/3 (2006).
  9. Rubin, S. “Developments in Correctional Law: From Abolition of the Death Penalty to Abolition of Prisons.” Crime & Delinquency, v.19 (1973).

Socialist Transition Essay

In classical Marxist theory, the transition to socialism is the period between the overthrow of capitalism and the achievement of communism. Although there is a sketch in Marx’s writings of what communism will look like, the institutional and social features of the socialist transition were not comprehensively outlined by Marx or his successors. According to Marx, communism, which also is called the second or higher stage of socialism, will be achieved when there is an end to social alienation. An end to alienation would be achieved when there are no social differences—which are created by economic inequality—and human beings enjoy mastery over themselves and nature. When this condition is achieved, there no longer will be any need for the political management of social division, and consequently, the state will wither away and political conflict will cease.

The socialist transition is, in the revolutionary tradition, the stage before this higher stage of socialism is reached. Coming as it does between the end of capitalism and the achievement of communism, it contains some elements of both. However, Marx did not specify how elements of communism and the capitalist past were to be reconciled and the latter transformed, and he did not work though how his ideas on the political organization of socialist transition might fit with his ideas about economic management. Indeed, Marx’s analysis of socialist transition was coincidental. His main description of the economic nature of the transition came in a polemic, the Critique of the Gotha Programme, against opponents in the German Social Democratic Party, and his main description of the political form of transition came in an extended piece of political journalism on the 1870 Paris Commune uprising, The Civil War in France.

Economic And Political Aspects Of Transition

Economically, Marx simply noted that the first stage of socialism would see a continuation of unequal rewards for work. This, Marx argued, was necessary because socialism would still bear the “birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it has emerged.” Only later, when distinctions between different forms of labor had been eradicated and work had become an activity through which people expressed themselves, rather than a means of survival, would differentials in reward be ended and distribution take the form of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Politically, Marx saw the socialist transition as being governed by a dictatorship of the proletariat, and the Paris Commune of 1870 was an example of this dictatorship. The commune was a democratic reflection of a unified and indivisible proletarian political consciousness for Marx. There were no differences between politicians and workers, and workers were politically active and could recall deputies to the commune who did not reflect the popular will. The commune represented a unified proletariat, and there was no meaningful difference between the commune as an institution and the proletariat as a class. Lenin copied this vision of socialist democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat in his The State and Revolution, in which he described the soviets of the Russian revolution as a version of the Paris Commune. It was not a vision that recognized pluralism or dissent; such things would not exist because of the proletariat’s unity. This unity would ensure that the state, as an autonomous force of class repression, would begin to wither away as soon as the socialist transition began.

Marx’s failure to devote much time to a theory of socialist transition was not accidental. Underlying what he wrote on the subject was the assumption that the time between the collapse of capitalism and the achievement of the higher stage of socialism would be fairly brief. The demise of capitalism would occur only when it had fulfilled its historical mission and developed a high level of material wealth and a unified proletariat with a pronounced socialist consciousness. Socialism would thus emerge when the time was ripe for it so that the organization of the transition from the lower to higher stages would be minimal. As a dominant and unified socialist class, the proletariat would not require a large political organization, and economic productivity would be high so there would be no need for an extensive state role to ensure the economic abundance on which communism would rest.

No communist party took power in Marx’s ideal circumstances; indeed, most of them took power where the proletariat were a minority and the economy was underdeveloped. Therefore, communists came to power where there were no supports for socialist development. Engels had warned of the disasters that this would bring: The “worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents . . . .

Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost” (1966). The result was that an already ant pluralist conception of popular democracy became even more hostile of and repressive toward political and social difference as communist parties consolidated their control as representatives of the missing proletariat and forced economic modernization to try to create the material circumstances necessary for socialism. As they did this, they created more stages of socialist transition to mark their “progress.” These new stages of socialist transition sought to excuse the state’s continued existence and vaunt the moral superiority of socialism over liberal democracy. They also were used by communist states to distinguish themselves from rivals within the socialist camp. Hence the USSR proclaimed it had built developed socialism before the rest of the socialist camp, while China proclaimed it could leap ahead of the USSR when it split from its sphere of influence in the early 1960s. In the end, the theory of socialist transition became an instrument of foreign policy and a device used by dictatorial rulers to legitimate themselves.


  1. Engels, Friedrich. The Peasant War in Germany. New York: International Publishers, 1966.
  2. Lenin,V. I. “The State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution.” In Selected Works. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968.
  3. Marx, Karl. The First International and After: Political Writings, volume 3, edited and introduced by D. Fernbach. London: Penguin, 1974.
  4. Polan, A. J. Lenin and the End of Politics. London: Methuen, 1984.
  5. Priestland, David. The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World. London: Allen Lane, 2009.

Preventive Detention Essay

Preventive detention is the incarceration or detention of an individual deemed to pose a risk to society. Versions of preventive detention operate both within and outside the criminal justice system. Within the justice system, both pretrial detention and the criminal detention of dangerous persons differ from traditional criminal imprisonment in that they address potential—not actual—offending on the grounds of risk. The emergence of a postrehabilitation “new penology” has transformed dangerousness and risk prediction into key concepts. Outside of the criminal justice system, preventive detention has been used to quarantine contagious patients, civilly commit mentally ill persons, and isolate Japanese American citizens during World War II. The use of preventive detention varies across jurisdictions, but its use is often controversial, since it raises difficult questions about what it means to punish and how to balance the rights of dangerous persons against those of society at large.

U.S. Context

In the mid-1970s, the criminal justice system’s focus upon criminogenic pathologies yielded to a focus on incapacitation. For example, noting that a handful of offenders commit a disproportionate volume of crime, Peter Greenwood published a 1982 report outlining the logic of selective incapacitation. Malcolm Feeley and Jonathan Simon characterized the shift from rehabilitation to a criminal justice system based on risk analysis and the incapacitation of the dangerous classes as a “new penology.”

In the United States, Fifth Amendment guarantees of due process and Eighth Amendment prohibitions against excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment provide constitutional limits upon the use of preventive detention. However, these prohibitions are not absolute. For example, courts enjoy broad discretion in detaining pretrial defendants on the basis of dangerousness. The District of Columbia Court Reform Act of 1970 permitted judges to detain dangerous defendants, even those who might otherwise post bail (ensuring appearance at trial), so long as the defendant was granted an expedited trial (and released if trial had not commenced within 60 days). In Schall v. Martin (1984), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a New York law authorizing the detention of juveniles on the basis of dangerousness. The court noted that sufficient due process safeguards existed, and that detention served a regulatory, not a punitive, purpose. Employing similar reasoning in U.S. v. Salerno (1987), the court upheld the preventive detention of adult defendants under the Bail Reform Act of 1984. In these cases, the court effectively held that the government’s legitimate interest in community safety can outweigh a criminal defendant’s liberty interests.

The United States can detain citizens via quarantine orders, such as during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. In 2007, attorney Andrew Speaker was diagnosed with extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis and served with an involuntary quarantine order. However, it is not just contagious disease that justifies preventive detention. Authorities can involuntarily commit psychiatric patients who represent a danger to themselves or others. On this basis, the federal government and many states have implemented regimes of involuntary, indefinite civil commitment for high-risk sexual offenders. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld civil commitment legislation in Kansas v. Hendricks (1997). Upon release from prison, Leroy Hendricks was civilly committed under Kansas’s Sexually Violent Predator Act (requiring both a mental abnormality and risk of reoffending).

Although Hendricks acknowledged that he might not be able to control his pedophilia, he claimed that civil commitment violated prohibitions against double jeopardy and ex post facto laws and did not provide adequate due process protection. Upon review, however, the court held that the Act established sufficient due process procedures and concluded that, because Hendrick’s detention was civil, not criminal punishment, the prohibitions against double jeopardy and ex post facto laws did not apply. The state’s ability to preventively detain sexually violent persons (SVPs) does have limits, however. In Kansas v. Crane (2002), the court considered the case of a defendant who claimed that he could control his behavior and challenged his commitment as a violation of due process. In Crane, the court held that the state must demonstrate that sexually violent persons suffer from some volitional impairment.

Another controversial form of preventive detention is the incarceration of enemy combatants. During World War II, in Korematsu v. United States (1944), the court upheld the authority of the U.S. government to compel the relocation of approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, some individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism (e.g., Zacarias Moussaoui) have been charged criminally in federal court and imprisoned in federal correctional institutions; others, however, have been detained at the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Enjoying neither the constitutional protections of traditional criminal defendants nor the rights afforded to prisoners of war, the enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay languished  in what some commentators called a legal “black hole.” The legality of such detention was challenged in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004). Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. citizen, challenged his detention as a violation of due process. The court acknowledged the government’s authority to detain enemy combatants, including its own citizens, but ruled that the government cannot detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without access to due process protections enforced through judicial review.

Preventive detention is also applied to noncitizens. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), folded into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, uses preventive detention. While intended as a short-term solution, many immigrants have been detained under harsh  conditions for  years.  In  2010,  nearly 400,000 immigrants were detained. In Zadvydas v. Davis (2001), the Supreme Court held that illegal immigrants can be detained if they are under a deportation order and the United States cannot identify a country to accept them. Citing Salerno, the court noted that indefinite detention is not permitted; if detention exceeds six months,  the government must articulate special circumstances or demonstrate removal in the foreseeable future. In Demore v. Kim (2003), the court held that the INS could detain for the purpose of deportation, even in the absence of evidence of dangerousness or flight risk, as long as mandatory detention was subject to “stringent time limitations.”

Global Context

Preventive detention is used outside of the United States, as well. It has been enacted through statutes such as New South Wales’s 1905 Habitual Criminals Act, New Zealand’s 1906 Habitual Criminal Act, and the United Kingdom’s 1908 Prevention of Crime Act. Though the statutes differ in the offenders who are targeted and the conditions under which the sentence can be imposed, several nations authorize the indefinite detention of dangerous persons on the basis of risk: Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Norway, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Focusing upon serious violent and sexual offenders, these jurisdictions employ preventive detention as a nonpunitive mechanism to protect the public. Some countries (e.g., New Zealand) authorize indefinite preventive detention only as part of a trial sentence, while others (e.g., Germany) permit its imposition near completion of a definite sentence.


Preventive detention is controversial and raises difficult questions. Despite the construal of preventive detention in terms of protective incapacitation  instead  of criminal  punishment, thorny ontological questions about punishment remain. Dangerous persons serving indefinite sentences of preventive detention are typically incapacitated in prisons, under prison conditions. Merely labeling it as “nonpunitive” may not make it so. Those

sentenced  to  preventive  detention often  serve prison terms that exceed the maximum punishment normally available for the crime.

Some suggest they are not punished for what they have done, but rather for who they are. Questions about  the validity and reliability of risk-assessment instruments  make  these  questions even harder. Incapacitation of those who have served their sentence (i.e., civil commitment) raises difficult questions about double jeopardy and ex post facto laws; incapacitation of those who have never been sentenced (i.e., enemy combatants) raises questions about the ability of the state to sacrifice the liberty interest of an individual to safeguard the well-being of the community.


  1. Contreras, Jorge. “Public Health Versus Personal Liberty—The Uneasy Case for Individual Detention, Isolation and Quarantine.” SciTech Lawyer, v.7/4 (2011).
  2. Dow, Mark. American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
  3. Feeley, Malcolm M. and Jonathan Simon. “The New Penology: Notes on the Emerging Strategy of Corrections and Its Implications.” Criminology, v.30/4 (1992).
  4. Fletcher, George P. “Black Hole in Guantanamo Bay.” Journal of International Criminal Justice, v.2/1 (2004).
  5. Greenwood, Peter W. Selective Incapacitation. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1982.
  6. Jackson, Patrick. “The Impact of Pretrial Preventive Detention.” The Justice System Journal, v.12 (1987).
  7. Miller, Marc and Martin Guggenheim. “Pretrial Detention and Punishment.” Minnesota Law Review, v.75 (1990).
  8. Robinson, Paul H. “Punishing Dangerousness: Cloaking Preventive Detention as Criminal Justice.” Harvard Law Review, v.114 (2001).

Gambling Essay

Gambling, also called gaming, appears to have been a common phenomenon since the advent of recorded human history. Sporting events, notably horse racing, reflect both licit and illicit gambling. The common law definition of gambling is wagering something of value on the outcome of a game in which chance predominates over skill.

Gambling, while popular within many cultures, has often reflected the morality of the ruling or majority elements in society. Certain religious sects have long demonized public gaming and occasionally succeeded in imposing prohibitions. This was the case with Puritan New England.

The Genesis of Gambling in the United States

In the 1930s, Las Vegas, Nevada, was built on gaming, albeit with questionable legitimacy during these early years. Throughout most of the 20th century, illicit gambling was associated with organized crime along with black-market alcohol (during Prohibition) and drug trafficking, prostitution, and loan sharking. Gambling as a legitimate source of revenue began with state lotteries and Indian gaming—two events that began during the latter half of the 20th century. By the same token, efforts at the federal level were instituted to combat illicit gambling through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Clearly, the legitimization of Indian gaming, initiated by President Ronald Reagan, set the stage for the widely accepted practice through most of the country today. Indeed, gambling in the United States is widely accepted and promoted. In May 2013, a $590.5 million Powerball Lottery jackpot was won by a single ticket holder.

Informal gaming was prolific during the frontier days of rapid U.S. expansion especially within mining boom towns in the west and Alaska. Historically, gambling existed in cities with substantial ethnic communities, like New Orleans, Louisiana, or those that attracted transient populations like Miami, Florida, and Galveston, Texas. However, the economic, social, and human devastation associated with the Civil War led to a conservative backlash within the United States and along with it, prohibitions against gambling. This conservative backlash began during Reconstruction and was legitimized with passage of Prohibition—the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—and the Volstead Act. Prohibition became effective on January 18, 1920, and while specifically addressing alcohol consumption, it is widely associated with attempts to legislate morality, especially among targeted groups—mainly Jews and Catholic immigrant populations (Irish, Italian, French, Polish), the same groups long associated with gambling, notably bingo.

The repeal of Prohibition (in the Twenty-First Amendment) occurred in 1933. This coincided with the establishment of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a gambling destination. In 1931, Nevada passed Assembly Bill 98 authorizing most forms of gambling. This and the state’s legalization of prostitution, in all but two counties, made it a mecca, especially for residents of southern California. Soon Las Vegas became one of the main sites for organized crime in the United States. “Bugsy” Siegel took Las Vegas gambling to a new level with the construction of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Howard Hughes’s investment in Las Vegas slowly brought about changes in the 1960s, and passenger air travel opened up Las Vegas and other Nevada gambling centers to a greater number of travelers. In the 21st century, Las Vegas is billed as a family-friendly vacation and convention center. The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas depicts the sordid history of gambling in the southwest.

State Lotteries

Interestingly, the state lottery phenomena began in a conservative state, New Hampshire, one of the original Puritan colonies (Congregationalists and Presbyterians). On April 30, 1963, Governor John King signed the Sweepstakes Bill making New Hampshire the first state to legalize a state run gaming program. Given that New Hampshire prides itself on not having either a general sales tax or state income tax, the sweepstakes program was intended to provide aid to public education. New Hampshire has 221 towns and 13 cities, where local option voting was put to the residents in a special ballot in order to see if they supported the sale of sweepstakes tickets within their jurisdictions. The incentive to the communities was that the sweepstakes funds would defray property taxes, the main source of income for the state.

Only 13 communities voted the measure down and sweepstakes tickets went on sale on March 12, 1964. Since then, 37 other states, along with the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and five Canadian provinces have established lotteries. (Puerto Rico has had a lottery since 1934). A consortium of lottery states joined forces under the Mega Millions and Powerball labels. The latter is coordinated by the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), and in October 2009, MUSL and the Mega Millions consortium allowed U.S. lotteries to sell both games to their customers. California joined the 42-state consortium in April 2013, contributing to the largest single winner jackpot ever in the United States.

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act—RICO

The Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-452) represented the federal response to organized crime such as the Mafia, but was eventually expanded to include any organized criminal enterprise including motorcycle gangs, professional sports, street gangs, and insider trading. Under its broad authority, RICO applies to 27 federal statutes and eight state crimes, with a 10-year statute of limitation. A RICO conviction can lead to a 20-year sentence, a substantial fine, and forfeiture of assets and property. Illicit gambling is one of the RICO-specific statutes. Both the Gambino crime family and the Chicago Outfit have been adjudicated under the RICO statute. Illegal gambling is often a component of most organized crime enterprises, along with prostitution, extortion, and substance trafficking.

Indian Gaming

The legal battle over Indian gaming began in the late 1970s when the Seminole tribe of Florida established a high-stakes bingo hall on reservation land just seven miles from Fort Lauderdale. The tribal operation ran six days a week, in violation of state law limiting bingo operations to twice weekly, and offered jackpots far exceeding the state winning limit of $100. The tribe sought a federal injunction when the sheriff threatened to shut down the operation. In 1980, the federal district court ruled in favor of the tribe, a decision upheld by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court in 1981 basing its decision on tribal sovereignty.

A similar situation occurred involving both the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and the Morongo tribe, both located in Riverside County, California. Again, the lower federal courts defended the Indians’ right to establish gaming facilities. California appealed these decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld them in 1986. Twenty-one other states joined California in its appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled six to three in favor of the tribes, stating that bingo halls could operate under tribal laws and were justified because of the dire economic needs within Indian communities. The court also stated that if Indian gaming is to be regulated, it must be by provisions of the U.S. Congress and not the states.

This action by the U.S. Supreme Court led to passage of Public Law 100-487, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), in October 1988. IGRA provided federal standards for gaming on Indian lands and established the National Indian Gaming Commission. Essentially, IGRA distinguishes between three classes of Indian gaming, providing regulations for each class. Class I gaming is limited to traditional games of chance that are likely to involve the participation only of tribal members. Class II gaming represents games like bingo and similar games of chance with a targeted audience that transcends tribal membership and therefore must meet with federal approval. Class III (casino-type) gaming in Indian Country requires a tribal-state compact as well as federal approval. Type II and III gaming is prohibited in two states that have a broad prohibition against all types of gambling—Utah and Hawai’i. Casino-type gaming has now spread to non-Indian operations as more states view this as a viable revenue resource.


  1. Durham, S. and K. Hashimoto. The History of Gambling in America. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010.
  2. Duxby, Neil. Random Justice: On Lotteries and Legal Decision Making. New York: Oxford, 2003.
  3. French, L. A. “Indian Gaming.” In Legislating Indian Country: Significant Milestones in Transforming Tribalism. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.
  4. Gabriel, K. Gambler Way: Indian Gaming in Mythology, History and Archaeology in North America. Boulder, CO: Johnson Books, 1996.
  5. Wilson, Richard L. “Lotteries.” In Ethics. Rev. ed. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2004.

Socialism Essay

Socialism was the most influential secular movement of the twentieth century, worldwide. It was a political ideology (or world view), a wide and divided political movement, and a socioeconomic model tried and developed on a large scale. Weakened in the current twenty-first century, it is still a significant political current, particularly in Europe and Latin America.

A Confluence Of Currents

Socialism became a public social movement in western Europe of the 1840s, but it grew out of the radical Enlightenment and the leftist cur rents of the French Revolution (1789–1799). Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a key precursor as an egalitarian and as an icon of the Jacobins and the left wing of the French Revolution. Several currents of thought converged in nineteenth-century socialism.

There were the radical traditions of the Enlightenment, egalitarianism, rationalism, and discrete materialistic atheism. There were the far left activists of the French Revolution, whose legacy was carried forward by post-revolutionary activists like Francois-Noel Babeuf, Filippo Buonarroti, and Auguste Blanqui into the embryonic French labor movement of the 1830s and 1840s. There was the sociological analysis of Henri de Saint-Simon and his followers, heralding the arrival of a post-revolutionary industrial society with a new constellation of classes and social forces. There was the enlightened employer Robert Owen, with ideas of producers’ cooperatives, inspiring one of the major French “utopian socialists,” Eugene Cabet, who was exiled to Britain in the 1830s. There were the new, postfeudal conceptions of labor, incorporated into French Revolution ideas of citizenship by one of its most influential thinkers, Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes, and there were the Ricardian socialists of Britain, developing David Ricardo’s early-nineteenth-century political economy into a critique of capitalism.

Socialist ideas of equality, association, cooperation, and mutualism began coming together in radical labor movements, largely by skilled workers and artisans of France and England in the early 1840s. By 1842, it had become the topic of a major academic analysis by a German scholar, Lorenz von Stein, in his Socialism and Social Movement. They came to the forefront, if not to victory, in the European-wide national democratic revolution of 1848. The German League of the Just, a diasporic association of left-wing artisans, commissioned Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to write a program for them. It became the most famous political pamphlet ever— the Communist Manifesto.

As a modern political ideology, socialism was a rival of liberalism, as well as of traditional popular deference to royals or religion. Its most distinctive values were solidarity—which in its collective identification differs radically from charity or compassion—and equality. Both may be seen as manifestations of collectivism. This was a collectivism mainly deriving from workers’ experiences, with little means to defend their interests as individuals in the face of merchants, factory owners, master craftsmen, landowners, the propertied, and the generally well-heeled. In the socialist value system, individual freedom is located within parameters of collective responsibility.

Socialism stands for the rights of labor against those of property. Socialism also drew on the modern idea of democracy, which came to the fore, if more in rhetoric than in reality, during the radical phase of the French Revolution. The socialist labor movement became the major international force of universal suffrage and democracy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in the period when there were severe restrictions and fraudulent manipulations of civic political rights everywhere.

Most socialist currents affirmed the modern world of industry, mobility, exchange, science, and rationalism. This modernism was particularly pronounced in Marxism and in Latin European socialism of republican and anticlerical roots, while at the same time condemning capitalism as an exploitation of modern possibilities as well as of human labor.

But there were also currents inspired by dissident Christianity, often in Britain and then usually coming out of left liberal politics and a romantic anti-industrialism. Socialist communitarianism has always had several entrances. It could even be hijacked by nationalist tendencies. This was a particular risk in Germany, with its strong statist and romantic traditions. What became Nazism started out as an extreme nationalist alternative to the internationalist socialist labor movement, the German National Socialist Workers’ Party.

An International Movement

Socialism developed into a large, well-organized political movement from the last quarter of the nineteenth century, beginning on the European continent. The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), founded in 1875, soon became the largest socialist party and a leading international source of inspiration. In Britain, labor politics and trade unionism developed without separation from the liberal party until the end of World War I (1914–1918), while around the turn of the century, labor became governing parties in the White Dominions of Australia and New Zealand.

Socialism was an international ideology and an international movement. In 1864 the First International, the International Working-Men’s Association, was formed, with Karl Marx as the leading figure on its general council. Polarized between anarchist followers of Bakunin and Marxian socialists, it remained small and ineffective. In the conservative repression after the popular uprising in France, the Paris Commune of 1871, the headquarters of the First International were moved to New York, where it soon petered out. A new beginning was the forming of the Second International in Paris in 1889, as an unofficial part of the Centenary of the Revolution. Up to 1914, the regular congresses of the Second International were the major events of international socialism. It was overwhelmingly Eurocentric, though American, Australian, and Japanese delegates occasionally attended. Important extra-European socialist parties—the very European Labor transplants in Australia and New Zealand excepted—were first created by the communists of China, India (though a small minority), Indonesia, and Vietnam.

World War I split the International, with most parties siding with its own warring nation. An even more bitter split was caused by the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) in Russia. The Bolsheviks were the core of the antinationalist minority of the International, and now their reckless one-party revolution (the Mensheviks was another Russian socialist party of the International) led to a deep, lasting divide of international socialism, between revolutionary communism, which set up its own Third Communist International, and democratic socialism or social democracy.

The Comintern was dissolved in 1943, for reasons of Soviet geopolitics, although there remained de facto an international communist movement, aligned with the Soviet Union. The noncommunists were divided between the world wars, but in 1951 the Socialist International was reconstituted. It was reinvigorated during the presidency of Willy Brandt, in 1976 to 1992, who as a major statesman (former chancellor of West Germany), gave it a high profile and pushed it throughout the third world. The Socialist International is still active and organizes conferences and seminars all over the world but has become too heterogeneous to be a very important global player. It currently has 115 parties as full members, a few countries having two or three. Its membership is strong in Europe—east, including postcommunist parties outside Russia, and west—and in Africa, Latin America, and Oceania, but weak in Asia and Brazil.

Socialism has always had particular difficulty in setting roots in North America, in the United States in particular. The German social scientist Werner Sombart devoted a short book in 1906 to the question, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? The term socialism then meant as a mass movement, like in continental Europe. Sombart’s analysis is fairly complex, referring both to the established two-party system and to socioeconomic factors, such as high average wages, less visible everyday class differences, and opportunities for social mobility—while unexpectedly concluding that the factors that until now have prevented socialist development in United States are about to disappear.

While many factors certainly contributed, latter-day historians have tended to put strong emphasis on the establishment of a mass two-party system well before the rise of the socialist movement. In Britain, which at the time when Sombart wrote did not have much of a socialist movement either, the party system was shaken by the horrendous casualties of the world wars, aided by the war-related split of the liberals. The late and much less costly American entry into the war could sustain an enthusiastic nationalism, while shattering the pacifist Socialist Party.

What the classical socialist movement was striving for was a new socioeconomic order, socialist as opposed to capitalist. There was no blueprint for it, since the utopian communities outlined in the first decades of the nineteenth century had been left behind. Marxism was explicitly dismissive of a concrete program for what was seen as something going to evolve, on an international scale, out of the contradictions and class struggles of capitalism. But there was wide agreement that a socialist society would include public ownership of the industrial means of production and of banks and major trading enterprises. About land there was a lively internal debate and no agreement on household ownership or collective organization. Ample room was usually given to cooperatives of various kinds, which the European labor developed extensively and in varied forms: consumer cooperatives, mutual insurance funds, and, less often, producers’ cooperatives.

Building Socialism

Before the end of World War II (1939–1945), democratic socialists never got a political chance to transform the socioeconomic order, albeit Scandinavian social democracy got into office on a platform of alleviating the Depression, providing employment and support for the most vulnerable, but with no majority of their own before the war.

What they could do in a number of places was to develop municipal socialism, not only in many European cities but also, occasionally, in the United States, such as in Milwaukee. The most ambitious and successful example was Vienna, under social democratic control from the end of World War I until a reactionary coup in Austria in 1934. An extensive housing program, with lots of collective services (kindergartens, schools, libraries, and other collective leisure space), was at the centre of Red Vienna and inspired socialists all over western and central Europe.

In the Soviet Union, the communists embarked upon a huge experimental undertaking, without precedent even in theory, to “build socialism in one country.” The enterprise was seen as a struggle for survival of a poor country ravaged by the world war and by subsequent civil wars and foreign military interventions. It entailed a brutal collectivization of agriculture to pay for a frantic industrialization under state ownership, and a centrally planned economy, driven more by political targeting and mobilization than by economic calculation. The human costs were enormous, largely because of tenacious peasant resistance, with which the Bolsheviks brooked no compromise. However, the contrast of the spectacular industrial growth of a planned economy in the midst of the global depression made a huge impact far outside communist circles. Most important was probably its impact of the generation of anticolonialist nationalists who were to lead their independent countries after World War II. Soviet socialism emerged as a major model of national development. It also seemed to have passed a crucial test in the war when, unlike Russia in World War I, the Soviet Union was not crushed by the formidable German war machine and in the end was victorious.

A planned economy with full control over finance and investment and state-led industrialization was a widely popular development model, guiding not only new communist-ruled countries in Asia and Europe, but also in Burma, India, Indonesia, and somewhat later revolutionized Arab countries such as Algeria, Egypt, and Syria. A “socialist pattern of society” was the official goal of independent India. It was adopted by African liberation movements, which tried to implement them after independence. The latter even set out to collectivize agriculture, something the Asian noncommunists avoided. In Latin America there had been some interest in the Soviet economic development, but before the Cuban Revolution (1959) it never went far in economic practice.

The first results could very well be taken as promising. Communist eastern Europe was catching up economically with long richer western Europe, and also in terms of education and life expectancy, while refraining from repeating the Soviet brutality of the 1930s. After a century of economic stagnation, both Communist China and democratic socialist India started to develop, economically as well as with respect to health and education.

Most postwar European social democracies still had no full political mandate. But the British and the Norwegian Labor Parties did began what they intended as a socialist transformation, the Norwegians by starting a system of sophisticated macroeconomic planning, the British by nationalizing a good part of what was called the “commanding heights” of the industrial economy: the coal and steel industry and transport. The 1970s to early 1980s saw bold social democratic attempts at socialist change. In Sweden the strong unions developed a plan for so-called wage-earners’ funds, financed out of corporate profits and controlled by trade union representatives, which would gradually become the main owners of the big business corporations. The plan was reluctantly accepted by the social democratic leadership, but when they returned to office, the political momentum, in the face of stiff right-wing opposition, had been lost. The French Union of the Left, led by the socialists but also including the Communist Party, came to power in 1981 on a program of rupture with capitalism. It took the form of a series of important industrial and bank nationalizations. But the attempt soon became bogged down in the international economic crisis of the early 1980s, and the government beat a retreat to liberal policies.

In December 1949, one of the world’s most renowned economists of the first half of the century, the heterodoxly conservative Austro-American Joseph Schumpeter delivered an address before the American Economic Association, titled The March into Socialism. His argument was that capitalism was destroying itself and was most likely to be superseded by centralist socialism. The very success of business and capitalism was about to make the “civilization of inequality and family fortune” sustaining them pass away.

Schumpeter’s prospect drew on a special argument about family enterprise, but was part of a very broad public opinion at the time. Forty years later, in 1989, not only maverick conservatives but also many socialists and communists, as well as others in between, would regard the centralist socialist order as bankrupt. What links the two different assessments was the unexpected, historically unprecedented economic growth in the decades after World War II.

It seems that what the socialist economy could achieve, provided there were enough skilled and dedicated organizers to run it (which was often lacking in Africa), was what has been called extensive development, mobilizing idle resources and providing basic social needs. But in a world of rapid economic advance, socialism faced problems in developing innovations— outside of strategic political goals, such as the Soviets beating the United States in the first rounds of the space race—and in providing large volumes of discretionary consumption to wide varieties of taste. From the late 1960s, communist eastern Europe began to fall behind western Europe again.

There is also the vulnerability of an alternative economy in a competing, hostile world, something the French Mitterand government soon had to take notice of, and which has guided European social democracy to caution and gradualism. The South African ANC in power has found it easier to promote a black capitalist class than to construct a socialist economy as a base of urgently needed social development.


Socialism is little likely to regain its extraordinary influence from the second third of the twentieth century, although it is not unimaginable, and it remains an important part of twentieth-first century politics. The Soviet chapter is closed, but the Chinese government retains at least a rhetorical commitment to socialism, which might conceivably be turned into something more tangible. There remains unsettled the question of how capitalism and socialism should be defined and their boundaries delimited, entailing new possibilities of identity and opposition. Issues of how much public or private owner ship, how much public regulation, how many social entitlements, and how many private markets are still central controversial issues. State ownership, public planning, and public regulation have played a very different role in the recent economic success of East Asia than they have done in the United Kingdom and the United States. Generous social entitlements are part of the open, competitive economies of northern Europe, while deemed to be incompatible with international competitiveness in other parts of the world. The financial crisis of that began in 2008 and the increasing urgency to get climate change under control have pushed those issues of socioeconomic order into the political spotlight.

Socialism as an ideology has lost its development model and its visible horizon of a rupture with capitalism, which has diminished its appeal. But its core values of solidarity, equality, and collective responsibility are still widely used as critiques of the current world.

As a political movement, democratic socialism is a significant force of the new century, in a wide if neither universal nor coherent Socialist International, and as the second (in size) political grouping of the European Parliament. Communist parties are still ruling China, Cuba, and Vietnam, claiming socialist aspirations, and new powerful socialist movements have recently emerged in parts of Latin America.


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