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On Self-help in Modern Society

On Self-help in Modern Society

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Published by: Mujerwoman on Jun 15, 2014
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33
ON SELF-HELP IN MODERN SOCIETY
Donald Black, M.P. Baumgartner In a modern society, conflict between people is frequently defined as crime and is handled by officials of the state such as police, prosecutors, and judges. It is taken for granted that rdinary citizens must turn to law for help [1]. This mode of social control has several distinctive onsequences: it dramatizes the deviant character of an offense, for example [2], and it may escalate hostility between the parties involved [3]. Its patterns of detection and other procedures also affect the nature and distribution of crime itself, making some kinds of conduct in some places
more vulnerable to observation and
intervention, leaving other kinds in other places relatively immune. Finally, for the offender, law tends to be more stigmatizing and disabling than other social control and so may even render future onformity ess likely [4]. If, however, people were to engage in
more self-help rather than relying so heavily upon law, that is, if they were to exercise more social control on their own, a different kind of
public order would prevail [5]. In the nature
of the case, many incidents would effectively
be decriminalized, since they would no longer be formally defined and handled as criminal, and beyond this, many patterns of conduct themselves would surely hange in response to new risks nd opportunities. In this paper, we specify several conditions under which self help flourishes and suggest a number of techniques by which it might be stimulated. Self-help is by no means a new phenomenon. Rather, it is a social practice which has been commonplace in many settings, nd which is present to some degree nearly everywhere. It is a quantitative variable, which may be greater in one place and weaker in another. Historically, for instance, the degree of self-help has been highest in primitive societies, in bands and tribes, and has declined progressively with social evolution and the growth of law [6], Within modern societies as well, some groups of people engage significantly n self-help even to the point of organized vigilantism - while others are more dependent upon legal control [7]. The same individuals may have
recourse to self-help upon some occasions and
turn to law upon others [8J. t might also be noted that, like law, self-help has both
preventive and remedial aspects, and these vary quantitatively and to some degree independently across social locations. The
problem is to isolate the conditions which permit us to predict and explain variation of this kind. Developments in the theory of law and in the theory of altruism, or helping behavior, provide useful perspectives on this topic. The theory of law is relevant since self-help, like other non-legal social control, generally varies inversely with law [9], and what predicts the one may therefore predict the other in a pattern of opposition. The theory f altruism is relevant as well, since the exercise of
informal social control by one person on
behalf of another, including his or her
Donald Black is Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia. M.P. Baumgartner is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Dialectical Anthropology 12: 33-44 (1987) ? Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht
 
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willingness to intervene in a dispute and to attempt mediation, is itself variety of help.
Hence, whatever encourages altruism in
general may be important in the genesis of self-help as a system of social control. Our approach draws upon these theories, and also upon the body of work known as crime prevention through environmental design, insofar as that work addresses the phenomenon of social control [10]. Building on these traditions, we suggest several strategies by which it may be possible to increase the incidence of self-help in modern society. These include an
administrative, an architectural, and a
technological strategy. The first pertains to the allocation of police, the second to the design of physical space, and the third to the use of electronic and other devices. Each of these allows ready manipulation of variables
important to our problem. For these purposes, we leave aside strategies that would require large-scale reconstruction of society,
such as those affecting the distribution of wealth or the ethnic composition of communities. Our discussion begins with the
administrative strategy.
Depolicing
Most people concerned with crime and law enforcement take for granted that more police, with more power, will mean less crime.
Increases of this kind are claimed to work preventively gainst crime through the greater surveillance they ntail. They are also asserted to work remedially, by allowing more speedy and certain apprehension of offenders. While these ideas undoubtedly have some validity, especially in the short term, strengthening he police presence is not a sure means of crime reduction [11], and it has its
own disadvantages as well. Since the
relationship between law and self-help is
inverse, it follows that the larger and more
intrusive police force is, the weaker self-help will be, a pattern that could in the long term exacerbate the problem of crime. With the growth of law and the police - an evolutionary process involving many variables [12] - the citizenry becomes increasingly dependent upon the state to define and maintain order. As this happens, people increasingly ease to take responsibility for their own security nd dispute settlement, for instance, or to help others with matters of this kind. Waiting for the police to arrive, they may even stand by passively as an assault or other victimization takes place. Each expansion of police and other legal protection thus results n new and higher level of need for these very services, leading to their ever escalating proliferation. A classic analysis of this pattern was made by Kropotkin at the turn of the century:
The absorption of all social functions by the State necessarily favoured the development of an unbridled, narrow-minded individualism. In proportion as the obligations towards the State grew in numbers the citizens were evidently relieved from their obligations towards each other ... In barbarian society, to assist at a fight between two men, arisen from a quarrel, and not to prevent it from taking a fatal issue, meant to be oneself treated as a murderer; but under the theory of the all-protecting State the bystander need not intrude; it is the policeman's business to interfere, or not [13].
More recently, Michael Taylor has discussed the same phenomenon:
Positive altruism and voluntary cooperative behavior atrophy in the presence of the state .... Thus, ... the state exacerbates the conditions which are supposed to make it necessary. We might say that the state is like an addictive drug: the more of it we have, the more we 'need' it and the more we come to 'depend' on it [14].
It is partly this dependence that explains why an increase in the number and power of police is usually seen as the solution to problems of public order. Cutting back on the
police - or depolicing - is almost never considered as a way to ameliorate these
problems [15].
If police protection were reduced, however,
the volume and intensity f self-help would
 
35
rise correspondingly, reversing the trend
toward ever-greater dependence upon law
[16]. This too follows from the inverse relationship between law and self-help. Everywhere, people would undertake more preventive surveillance on their own, would work out more informal settlement f their disputes with the other parties involved, and would lend assistance to those in need of help more readily [17]. Experimental evidence already exists to show that people are generally most helpful when the need for their
assistance seems most apparent - that is, when
alternatives to their participation are most clearly lacking [18]. The same pattern operates in social institutions. t has been argued, for example, that in societies where blood donorship is entirely voluntary the need for blood is more likely to be met than in societies where blood is bought and sold so that, in effect, eople are hired to perform this service [19]. In light of this, it would seem that making police conspicuous by their absence would lead citizens to draw upon their own
resources and assist one another in solving their problems.
Given the currently high level of reliance upon police, it might be advisable to begin a transtion f self-help with small cutbacks and, from there, proceed gradually. Indeed, in a
society in which people have become conditioned to depend on the government for public order, a sudden and complete removal
of officials could well precipitate a Hobbesian war of all against all [20]. There have been, in
fact, a number of cases in which a drastic decrease of police service has resulted in
widespread rioting, looting, and assault [21]. Nevertheless, extensive disruptions of police service often produce self-help smoothly and quickly. In the wake of disasters such as
earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods, for
example, routine operations by the police and other authorities frequently break down, while the demand for their services increases
sharply. At such times, individuals in the
stricken ommunities typically take command of the situation nd willingly lend assistance to one another. Informal social control exercised by citizens themselves virtually always maintains order; plundering and fighting re rare [22]. Even a sudden breakdown of police control, then, may give rise to self-help without large-scale disorder, and a program of gradual depolicing should encourage this all
the more.
Once depolicing has begun, for whatever reason, the self-help that arises tends to feed upon itself. Just as self-help atrophies when law grows, with law continually creating conditions that make itself necessary, so the
reverse is true: Self-help engenders more self
help. The more people come to rely upon themselves for dispute settlement nd other social control, the more established does their
self-reliance become. The more people help
each other in any way, the more their mutual aid flourishes [23]. This idea has received considerable support from experiments and
other research on the phenomenon of altruism. Perhaps more relevant is evidence
that people are more likely to behave altruistically f they re presented with models of altruism in the behavior of others [24]. For example, in one study t was found that people were more likely to help a motorist with a disabled vehicle if they had recently bserved
a similar situation (staged for the experiment)
in which help was being given by another
motorist [25]. It seems reasonable to infer that
people are more likely to provide help to
victims of crime or related problems when they are aware of others who engage in similar behavior. There is also evidence that people
are more likely to behave altruistically f they
themselves - or persons close to them - have
been recipients of altruism. Thus, for example, many blood donors are people who have been benficiaries of blood provided by others [26]. It seems that the same should apply to beneficiaries of self-help. Moreover, it is likely that if people were more dependent upon self-help they would come to expect this service from each other and would hold in

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