Crimes Of The Powerful

Theory and Analysis

18th April 2022

How does researching crimes of the powerful re-direct criminological focus and why might this be important for the study of crime and justice as a whole?

There has been a fundamental attempt within amongst politicians and corporate media to often portray those at the bottom of the societal hierarchy as to be unfit to participate in civilized society (Banks and Moxon, 2013). The poor and needy have often been deemed to be incompatible with the vision of the world laid down by those with economic and legal power. Yet, these very people are still fit enough to propagate the bourgeoise’s material wealth and immoral hegemonic corrupt systemic abuse of power. Power is defined as the “ability to control people and events” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020). This essay will essentially highlight the corruption of power that has swayed public consciousness into an inhibited and restrained model of self-perpetuating restriction and enslavement. It will elucidate systems of power that are intrinsically weaved into the nature of modern society. This essay will also address philosophical laws that govern the actions of the powerless as well as the heinous actions of the powerful which cause direct zemological harm to billions globally. Moreover, this essay will look at how the powerful have used their position to orientate academia into being for the most part solely representative of their beliefs and intentions. Academics are encouraged to follow suit and subscribe to pre-existing systems of power or risk losing their careers due to lack of funding for anything alternative to the current status quo, with the criminological discipline being no exception to this. Criminology has long focused on blue-collar crime such as, property damage, civil unrest and anti-social behavior, predominantly blaming the powerless for crimes often committed out of desperation or as a result of a life of systemic oppression (Raphael, 1998). Recently, there has been a consolidated approach to upheave the criminological discipline from the dated elitist narratives of neoliberalist capitalist agenda and revert to evidence based fair and truthful research representative of those subjugated to the greatest amount of actual harm, also known as zemiology. Critical criminologists such as Stanley Cohen (1972), Steve Tombs (2002) and Dave Whyte (2002) have been absolute pioneers in creating contemporary research that attempts to create a discourse that shifts the balance to a position of moral understanding whilst scrutinizing preexisting models of power both on a wider scale and within the criminological discipline. Furthermore, this essay will incorporate the ideas first raised by Antonio Gramsci (1947) and Anthony Giddens (1997), exploring their notions of ideological hegemony and dominant ideologies, illustrating how both perspectives effect society. Finally, this essay will connote regulatory safety bodies and how the state and private institutions are causing zemological harm and disregarding employee safety in the quest for capital (Hazard Magazine, 2010). Finally, heavily critiquing the current approach of the governments health and safety executive (HSE) in attempt to elucidate direct abuses of power.

In order to create an academic and accurate response to the essay question, it is integral to critically analyse the modern political landscape and the hegemonic narratives that have become deeply embedded in society. During the 1960-s the UK had slumped into a political and economic juncture, the post-war social democratic approach had undeniably entered a period of prolonged crisis (Young, 1988). The overall living conditions and day to day lives of the working person were drastically improved due to the introduction of the welfare state and the socially democratic policies of the government. However, the criminality rates were continuing to increase, with an average of 2 million crimes per year throughout the 1970’s (Thompson et al, 2012). Neoliberalism was to be the new dominant political discourse. Neoliberalism began under Thatcher’s Conservative led government in 1979, with Regan joining the political fold upon his election in 1981, creating a neoliberalist Western super-power. The professional relationship between the two leaders, was described by Regan’s wife as “political soul mates” (Ronald Regan Institute, 2013). This is highly important, as the trans-Atlantic union between the two governments instantaneously created a power vacuum to the pre-existing notions of economic regulation within a global setting, birthing a catalyst for intense cultural, social and political change (Spolander et al, 2014). Neoliberalism relies on two main facets for its implication within the macro-structure of society. The first facet is escalating economic competition, this is executed through deregulation and allowing domestic markets, including financial, to be stripped of their protected status and opened up to foreign competition (Peck, 2013). The second facet is a decreased role of the state, gained from privatisation and restrictions of the government’s capacity to administer fiscal deficits and amass debt (Peck, 2013). This created a paradigm shift, previously accepted ideals about trade and the labor of production, national jobs and trade alliances that were once deemed to indefinite were now threatened; the powerful groups within society were changing. Power shifted from elected officials of state and government bodies to a reliance and a belief that the private interest of wealthy individuals and companies would be benevolent and beneficial to society. The hegemonic power was changing from the public institution to the private institution (United Nations, 2018).

In the UK, the actual implications of applied neoliberalism were greatly felt amongst all and sent a destabilising shockwave across all areas of society, employment changed drastically and with it the existing social stability began to rapidly diminish. The UK entered a period of recession in 1980 to 1981. Unemployment rocketed, with 3 million people, 11.9% of the population were out of employment in 1984, the highest figure ever in the UK (Clarke, 2021). This paired with denationalisation and privitisation of state-owned industry caused changes to society, especially communities in the North of the UK. To illustrate this, the mining industry went from having 247,000 employees in 1976 to just 44,000 in 1993, 3 years after Thatcher resigned (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2020). It was clear that the panacea of neoliberal economic policy promised by Thatcher’s government was not the solution that the majority of the country needed (Edward, 2017). Yet, rather than admit fault Thatcher’s government continued to privatise or sell state industry including British Telecom and British Gas. A single policy change was directly responsible for more than 50 companies being sold or privatised (Osborne, 2013). In ‘Governing The Economy (1986)’, Peter Hall states “that market institutions depend on an ancillary network, of social institutions often generated and sustained by state action in order to function effectively” (pg.349) This highlights the need for efficient societal institutionary application for the wider community to better achieve social mobility and equality. Thatcher maintained this wasn’t so, all whilst withdrawing financial support for the welfare state, which was highly problematic for the 3 million newly unemployed, Paul Pierson (1996) describes this as “death by a thousand cuts” (pg. 146), a bleak synopsis of the actual implications of the applied neoliberal agenda to the working class. The majority of studies will highlight how unemployment inadvertently leads to criminality, this parallel however unfortunate can be argued to be a known variable and without employment, coupled with a breakdown of society for many, the crime rates had hit 3.5 million by the mid 1980’s (Rapheal et al, 1998, Olympic Britain, 2012). However, the shift in ideological power had become engrained in the public consciousness, with many deemed to follow through the agenda of previous years, the conservative party under Thatcher won a further two terms. The conservative slogan was “there is no alternative” (TINA), free market capitalism was the only system that works and critique or debate about the complexity of millions of people with different ideals and beliefs all living together was proclaimed as over (Bolick, 1995). Although social institutions and social welfare were collapsing, and crime was rising, the neoliberal narrative was still dominating the political discourse (Seymour, 2012).

Another shift was also occurring in the academic world, post-modernism. Post-modernism had arisen throughout the 1970’s in France, particularly through the work of the philosopher, Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984). Historically, this time was particularly poignant, the world was entering economic recession and the production of capital had slowed, social democratic capitalism and Keynesian economics were showing their fragility and radical alternatives initially presented in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were failing (Pettinger, 2017, Aron, 2011). A new epoch was beginning, the cold war was nearing an end and the preexisting militant notions of capitalism versus communism, west versus east were dissolving. The once upheld beacons of absolute truths were starting to be questioned, meta-narratives held staunchly throughout the early part of the 20th Century in “modern” society were deemed to be outdated and not fit for purpose (Rebellion Of Thought: Post-Modernism, The Church and The Struggle For Authentic Faith, 2006). Furthermore, attempts to hold on or proclaim the universality of certain ideals were deemed to be attempts to control others and academics became highly skeptical of this (Lyotard, 1984). Instead, it was proposed that reality is not mirrored in human understanding but rather individuals find their own truths, emphasis was placed on the micro analysis of the human experience, there was no longer universal constants but many subjective individual truths (Waldron, 2011). The truth or truths became fragmented and although this led to new ideals and a new lease for qualitative data this also led to people being intellectually pulled in many different directions, the once unified academic schools of thought were splintering, and it can be argued this led to a decline in objectivity (Iggers, 1997). Politically, this caused a disconnection between ideas of community, the state, society and the individual, people were no longer able to imagine radical societal change through a consolidated approach. Post-modern philosophy in some respects sounds appealing and seems to create autonomy and critical thinking. However, for the powerless within society the economic confines and parameters of life are both very real and very true (Gallacher, 2020, Elvidge et al, 2009). It can be argued that macrostructures of society can deny individual experience and make society seem mechanical. Though, for some post-modernists to willfully object the truth of economic poverty and the struggle of billions of people globally is to one, relinquish moral responsibility and two politically desensitise people into becoming reticent in the fight for equality and social mobility (Callincos, 1990). The dispersal of the proletariat, paired with TINA (There Is No Alternative) created a post-political age that created disillusionment, all whilst powerful groups in society began to expand through a connected globalisation network reaping the labour and benefits of a confused disconnected work force, with important decisions continuing to be based on the interests of capital (Zizek, 2012).

However, unless the use of force is employed, social change can only be achieved by the relinquishment of the hegemonic narrative by the controllers of the dominant discourse. Powerful groups often retain power by their abilities to manipulate the information and language used within societal discourse (Pokladnik, 2019). This predominantly is achieved through control of the media as the media is able to penetrate all aspects of cultural, economic, political and social structures of life (Pokladnik, 2019). Furthermore, statistics highlight that the UK media is predominantly owned by three companies with News UK, DMG, and Reach dominating 83% of the national newspaper market (Media Reform Coalition, 2019). It is important to note that although the purchasing of print circulated media is and has for some time been declining, it is upheld by large online audiences and its content is paramount in setting the narrative for most other mass media outlets (Media Reform Coalition, 2019). This is a crucial factor on how powerful groups i.e., political parties retain power. Both private and state media in Britain are infamous for having a predominantly right-wing stance, this of course then naturally breeds a social attitude from the reader to be persuaded by the right-wing populist narrative of the media to vote for more right-wing leaning parties (Akkerman, 2011, Khan, 2012). It is also poignant to note that major newspapers in the UK such as The Sun have been showed to have a right-wing stance and also not have an anti-elitist stance either (Akkerman, 2011). Yet again, this highlights how powerful groups are managing to keep what may be crucial information to the majority of society out of the press and limit the damage and awareness of their actions. However, this is at a cost to other groups within society. Criminologists have long been concerned with moral panics (Cohen, 1972). By the media constructing right-wing populist opinions to protect the dominant discourse, not only are other groups within society being tarnished as a moral panic i.e., asylum seekers and refugees, but the real culprits of mass amounts of zemological harm are escaping unbridled to carry on perpetuating a self-sustaining model of corrupt hegemonic power (Khan, 2011). Again, this is another self-protecting construction of the elite. Academia is no exception to this, the modern focus of criminological study has been limited and conflict theories through a lack of funding and or publication have inadvertently created a discourse more tailored to a sole narrative, causing a dissolvement of critical thinking and a critical discourse (Hardjanto, 2017).

Funding and the lack of funding is a contentious issue currently within academic discourse. Both Steve Tombs and Dave Whyte pioneer this contention of issues throughout their plethora of detailed works. “Unmasking Crimes of The Powerful” (2002) outlines clearly the main challenges to objectively criticising the current dominant discourse. The four key areas outlined in the text are: research agendas, funding, access to information and the dissemination of material once produced. Research agendas, highlight how ideological hegemony has become increasingly institutionalised. Research is funded through either state, private or charitable funding however, it would be in conflict of the interests of a private institution for example to fund work that is in contention with their own narrative. This seems at first to be a rational decision based again on the will of powerful groups within society ultimately grounded in the production of capital. However, the domination of academic discourse is ultimately leading to a decline in the production of knowledge (The Student Hub Live, 2018). Furthermore, the rise of neoliberal managerialism within all sectors of society paired with cuts to education can lead to universities and other educational institutions conforming to the needs of the research agenda (Tombs & Whyte, 2003). This fundamentally challenges the production of knowledge as academic pursuit is becoming secondary to satisfy an institutional need and agenda. Furthermore, theoretical macro-analysations about society are lost in quick fix, short term, self-serving research agendas (Tombs & Whyte, 2003). This threatens the integrity of academic study which is crucial to the very existence of philosophical discussion as research and enquiry shapes how society thinks of the world. Again, this highlights how powerful groups within society are able to control this hegemonic narrative (Tombs & Whyte, 2003). In addition, empirical data on the actions of global corporations and states isn’t readily available. This creates an intellectual gap and makes it hard for researchers to create a meta-analysis of the reality of people’s experiences within the workplace. Ideally research would be undertaken by academics who then distill the information through universities to create the next generation of workers who are equipped with the resources to implicate the world view of its inhabitants (The Student Hub Live, 2018). However, if research is only being conducted for a preplanned, predetermined result then society is only obtaining a snippet of its own reality, and fair, objective research and scrutiny is being lost to the dominance of powerful groups within society (Whyte, 2008). If these obstacles are able to be overcome there is still issues in the dissemination of the work its self. Publishers can be unwilling to print critical research as it can cause issues with their own business relations, ultimately effecting their accumulation of capital (Solhiem, 2018). Alwizani (2017), denotes that proper audience is integral to the dissemination of research. However, if the current structures of power mentioned above, coupled with dominant ideologies and hegemonic narratives continue to ensue then the audiences that will most benefit from the research may not even have knowledge of such issues let alone access to the research.

There are some areas in which academics and activists can challenge such issues as dissemination of work and research agendas, this includes investigative journalism and teaching. Investigative journalism when undertaken, applied, and disseminated effectively can create a mass benefit to the discourse within society (Carson et al, 2018). Investigative journalism is able to penetrate areas of societies, communities and government that academics cannot. Journalism, at its core is the process of researching and writing information concerning events both within the public and private sphere. Many individuals within society hold the belief that journalism is a useful and pragmatic media outlet, which provides accurate and appropriate knowledge, which in turn allows people to create their best judgment and decisions upon (Carson et al, 2018). Despite this optimistic interpretation, journalism can be exploited to favour the powerful groups within society, these elitist groups utilise the media to orchestrate the hegemonic narratives within societal discourse. Oppose to merely scrutinising the reality of a bias media institution, it is important to recognise that thorough application of true investigatory journalism can lead to society becoming aware of previously unknown realities of life and instantaneously deliver crucial points of information and knowledge on mass to society. Teaching is also a key driver for the dissemination of knowledge to all within society. However, due to managerial implications of applied neoliberalism the teaching profession and teachers are having their autonomy dissolved (Anderson, 1987). Teachers have become more systematic, they are no longer able to stray too far away from the compulsory curriculum decided upon by powerful groups within society (Walker, 2016). Furthermore, teachers that offer truthful insight or critique of subscribed notions of the hegemonic narratives can be deemed radical and lose their own agency (Floden, et al, 1993). In addition, this strict clenching of text book style teaching is ultimately creating students that are learning that comprehension through secondary sources is the only way of self-progression, both academically and in self-advancement (Floden et al, 1993). Students are becoming themselves less equipped to deal with issues both in their careers and personal lives as their own autonomy is being rejected and unneutered. Teachers are rapidly becoming more of a figure of social-authority and control rather than learned professionals and pathways to enlightenment. This is ultimately creating a workforce that is unwilling to challenge authority and hegemonic narratives, one that may be incapable of thinking critically about their own oppression (Floden et al, 1993). This ultimately leads to powerful groups being able to manipulate the career path of the powerless with regulatory standards of living, work safety and economic depravity remaining widely unchallenged (Hollinger, 1986).

Powerful corporations commit criminal offences (Tombs and Whyte, 2003). In 2010, the United Kingdom were placed 30th globally on the Health and Safety report (HSE, 2010 , Hazard Magazine, 2010). Official statistics published by the HSE illustrate that in the year 2010, 151 deaths occurred within the workplace, although this fails to acknowledge the 393 “fatalities” published in their own report and the further air, sea, work-related traffic accidents and work-related illness deaths, estimated to reach 50 thousand a year (Tombs and Whyte, 2010, HSE, 2010). Direct zemological harm is occurring daily to the powerless and under surveilled corporations are being successfully prosecuted at a rate of 1% (HSE, 2010). To understand how prosecution figures became so polaric in regard to the actuarial data it is imperative to understand the policy surrounding employee safety and workplace regulation. Work safety regulations have been rapidly diminishing since the deregulation of the markets, first occurring under Thatcher in the late 1970’s/80’s. However, since Tony Blair’s Labour Government came into power there was a terminological shift in the workplace from “deregulation” to “better regulation” (Weatherill, 2007). This ultimately meant a philosophical shift in both the governments approach to workplace regulation and the nature in which businesses are now held accountable. Better regulation created policy predominantly through the recommendations of the Hampton report (2005), a comprehensive look at 67 national regulators and 468 local regulators. Hampton (2005) advised that there was too much enforcement and that the process of Better regulation is to improve not hinder business competitiveness (Hampton, 2005). However, this advice is intrinsically invalid, as something that is designed to regulate business interest and the production of capital can not at the same time make businesses more productive. The Hampton report (2005) constructed the political hypothesis of Better regulation into a reality for society, however, it also set the dominant narrative as to how the government as an institution now views regulation, workplace safety and the private production of capital (Tombs, 2015). Hampton’s (2005) findings conveys that most businesses abide within the law the majority of the time, therefore society need not worry and survey them as punitively. However, statistical data highlights this is not a fair representation, and this is clearly a neoliberal narrative and furthermore indicates how the government decided to side with the interests of the private companies rather than the safety of the public (Tombs, 2015, Tombs & Whyte, 2015, Tombs & Whyte 2020). Additionally, the Hampton report (2005), advised that the government should “advise” and “educate” the companies that do break the law to not break the law, an attempt to persuade powerful groups within society to conform to commonality of law that the rest of society are subjugated to. This is a clear example of how powerful groups within society are not subjected to the same levels of scrutiny and prosecution that the rest of society does and are setting their own ideology of self-regulation.

In 2008 the global recession hit and debate around the production of capital and its regulation was quickly quelled and sidelined (Tombs, 2015). The looming disaster of economic collapse meant that the government deemed less enforcement and regulation as crucial to the rapid production of capital, a neoliberal echo of the 1980’s ideological dominance of TINA (there is no alternative) (Tombs, 2015, Middleton, 2017). This coupled with similar attitudes concerning regulation stemming from Europe, notably the 2005 statement “less red tape = more growth” was ultimately resulting in a new dominant linguistical construction of a ‘common sense’ narrative about the social attitude towards regulation (European commission, 2005, Tombs, 2015). Regulation of workplace safety quickly became seen as a barrier to productivity within the workplace (Tombs, 2015, Tombs & Whyte, 2015). Regulation began to be deemed anti-entrepreneurial and anti-productive; it was perceived as a barrier of the day-to-day life of the worker. However, the internalising of this dominant narrative is deadly as the very systems that are put in place to protect the workers are being shunned by the people, they are there to protect (Tombs & Whyte, 2015). This therefore highlights another example of how powerful groups govern through linguistical discourses used daily by many members of society with an inability to think critically about the hegemonic abuse they are subjected to (Tombs & Whyte, 2015). The latter research convicts that this is intellectual violence and should be deemed so by law and reform is needed to prevent greater zemological harm. Throughout the ‘Better regulation’ period institutions were set up within government notably the: Better Regulation Task Force (BRTF) (1997), Better Regulation Unit (BRU) (1997) and Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) (1998) all these independent bodies were eventually brought under the Regulatory Impact Unit (RIU) (1999). This rampant approach in consistently questioning and reviewing the regulators has a direct effect on the experience of the people trying to enforce the laws against corporations and effects their psyche and their ability to do their job effectively (Tombs, 2015). Furthermore, this highlights the systemic abuses of power that go unnoticed and how ideological hegemony is achieved through subtle workings of neoliberal agendas and setting of dominant narratives (Tombs & Whyte, 2015). Additionally, neoliberalism attempts to withdraw the state from the economy, but this is clearly highlighting how the secondary effects of the state are impacting all areas of the economy and the workers experience. The effects of the changing of social and governmental attitudes towards regulation has led to deregulation and regulative decline (Tombs & Whyte, 2015). Between the period of 2003/4 to 2012/13 at national level there were 53% fewer inspections and 40% fewer prosecutions (HSE Report, 2003/4, HSE Report 2012/13, Tombs, 2015). Moreover, at local level there were 90% fewer local inspections, 56% fewer total inspection and 40% fewer prosecutions (HSE Report, 2003/4, HSE Report 2012/13, Tombs, 2015).

To conclude, research into the crimes of the powerful should be one of the paramount objectives for the criminological discipline and all social sciences to bring about reformative social change and fair justice. This essay has highlighted numerous areas that show how deeply engrained systemic abuses of power are and how corruption maintains their dominance. The rise of neoliberalism in the 1970’s and 80’s has caused irreparable damage to the experience of the powerless within society. Furthermore, the rampant privatisation of state industry during this period created a reliance on private institutions. TINA has become the dominant ideology within the political landscape and efforts made by post-modernists to create a more subjective and detailed discourse ultimately rendered unfruitful in regard to wider social change. The fundamental factor enabling this cycle of self-perpetuating tyranny is ultimately capitalism. Capitalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations, this is leading to a disunified workforce and society that are trying to better themselves on the degradation of another person’s life. The real effects of which is clearly outlined in the latter stages of this essay regarding regulation within the workplace. Governance and law enforcement have been categorically changed to make the production of capital the fundamental denominator in society not public safety or law. The quantitative data exposed in the latter section of this essay shows how the state reacted to economic constraints. However, the very nature of the state’s reactions to the economy is so polaric to the needs of its citizens that it leads to questions about its allegiances and own agendas. The government since the late 1970’s has been working on behalf of capital. Furthermore, the lack of state regulation is leading capital to become its own unbridled entity, essentially free market capitalism. Therefore, modern research and education predominantly still is bound by the constraints of ideological hegemony and the dominant narratives of neoliberalist capitalism. Through the dominant power structures intrinsically woven into society, citizens have become reliant on top-down organisation and conform to unfair and unjust figures of social authority. Through research agendas, managerialism and dissolvement of teacher autonomy society has become unable to think critically about its own oppression. Because of this intellectual violence society has become dependent on the dominance of powerful groups and somewhere along the line stopped believing in themselves to create the ability to change. Overall, the redirection of academic focus could be the intellectual counterpart that brings merit to revolutionary ideas and creates social change.

Joshua Bannister
Josh is a Critical Criminologist, trainee lecturer and activist, with a background in Anarchism and left wing philosophy. Oh and he like's to drink lots of good beer when he's not putting the world to rights!


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28th June 2024
Tax Riots in Kenya | International

At least 200 people have been injured, there have been at least 100 arrests and one protester has been murdered by the police following demonstrations against president William Ruto’s tax increases.

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15th May 2024
Gaza Aid Direct | Mutual Aid

When discussing the on-going situation in Palestine we are often asked “What can I do?” and “Who would you suggest I give aid too?”. Our answer is Gaza Aid Direct, the organisers of which our members can vouch for and assure. “We're fundraising for those under assault in Rafah, so far we've sent 59 families […]

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6th May 2024
Encampment | Opinion

You never forget your first police violence. Some of us, we grown up with the boot tight on our throat, casually accepting the daily PMCs and pushing about, cops and security watching your every step in town and vans of thugs shoving you to the ground on the slightest provocation. We accept it as the […]

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13th March 2024
What Solution for Palestine? | International

There is just no escaping the absolute inadequacy of statism and nationalism for resolving questions of social justice. Here the Anarchist tradition has an old proposal that looks much more promising.

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