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March 2014

Darren Thiel
Department of Sociology
University of Essex, UK.

Criminal ignorance
Forthcoming chapter for The International Handbook of Ignorance Studies, edited by
Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey, to be published by Routledge.

Ignorance and denial of the intentions and outcomes of transgressive activities are central
to understanding how individuals and organizations bend, break, create and manipulate
moral and legal rules. Indeed, the concept of denial has a distinguished pedigree in
criminology. This chapter describes how it has been used to understand crimes ranging from
minor youthful delinquencies to major genocides. Drawing on the work of Sykes and Matza
(1957) and Matza (1964), I begin by describing how techniques of neutralization - the
accounts and stories that structure various denials - are said to operate to release people
from moral binds and enable transgression. I then turn to the concept of pluralistic
ignorance - where members of groups inadvertently reinforce one anothers
misunderstanding of a situation - showing how it facilitates the commission of crimes, and
illustrating its pivotal role in patterning public reaction to crime and injury.

Next, drawing on Stanley Cohen (2001), I examine how large and powerful organizations, in
particular, modern states, also manufacture ignorance and use neutralization techniques in
order to break and manipulate moral and legal rules. Here, unlike individual transgressions,
techniques of neutralization have the effect of shaping organizational members behaviour
and the broader public understanding of crime and injury, facilitating state ability to commit
serious crimes and atrocities with often relatively little social reaction and legal sanction.
Lastly, I describe how ceremonial acknowledgment processes, which signify public
agreement about what constitutes immoral activity, are a necessary condition for the
creation and clarification of moral knowledge. I examine how such ceremonies act to
suppress denials and neutralizations, reshaping what is known about injurious activity and
realigning moral boundaries.

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2432073


Moral ambiguity and neutralization
While much early positivist criminology drew distinctions between the normal and the
deviant, framing those labelled criminal as somehow holding different norms and values to
mainstream conformists, Sykes and Matzas (1957) ground-breaking work drew attention to
how delinquents1, when asked, commonly expressed guilt and shame about their actions.
Delinquents also spent most of their time not being delinquent, valorised certain
conforming figures and distinguished between appropriate and inappropriate targets
(1957: 666) of their transgression. This, Sykes and Matza suggested, indicated a likelihood
that most youthful offenders were subsumed by the same broad morality as everyone else.
They were not Al Capone figures who held alternative values to the mainstream and which
drove them to break rules and laws, but they used various narrative techniques of
neutralisation to temporarily release themselves from the binds of their own morality.
These techniques have the effect of neutralizing inter-subjective and external disapproval of
the deviation through linguistic strategies that deny, ignore or transform knowledge of the
morally transgressive nature of an action or of ones ability to have been able to avoid it.

To convict someone of criminal behaviour, the law should establish both that the action
occurred and that it was intended. Intention implies that the offender held some knowledge
about what they doing, while, for instance, mistake, madness or accident the unknowing
commission of a crime should not be held fully criminal but only negligent or reckless (see,
for example, Haque and Cumming, 2003)2. Delinquent subcultures draw on and develop the
cultural recipes and forms of moral knowledge that underlay these laws pertaining to
mitigating circumstances and intent. The neutralisation techniques that result are not only
excuses and justifications offered post-facto but they are vocabularies of motive (Wright
Mills, 1940) said to pre-figure deviation3 - operating as narrative commands that act to
absolve or deny personal responsibility and the potentially injurious outcomes of delinquent
behaviour.

Sykes and Matza identify five types of neutralization. Firstly, denial of responsibility, which
claims an inability to prevent the transgression. Delinquents suggest they were somehow
pushed into it by accident, through being drunk or high, or by forces outside of their control.
They may draw on broader positivist constructions of human behaviour by saying that they

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2432073


went crazy, were led-on by a bad crowd, or that they knew no different because of their
impoverished neighbourhood and upbringing. Here, some forms of knowledge are utilised
to deny others in order to create a form of ignorance of intention to ones own and others
potential moral reactions to the deviation a denial of ones ability to choose. The second
neutralisation, denial of injury, denies the hurt occasioned by the transgression, reasoning,
for example, that the car stolen and smashed up was actually insured, or that the boy
attacked was seasoned fighter and so not affected. Thirdly, denial of the victim represents
the construction of a victim as actually a perpetrator or, at least, of no moral worth,
implying that there was no real victim of the deviation and, thereby, no injury caused. The
most frequent form of denial of the victim is the claim that they started it, and thus the
ensuing transgressive act was a rightful one of self-defence another common legal and
cultural precept that can and does morally allow for certain behaviours that would
otherwise be deemed immoral or illegal. I would add, following Cohen (2001), that another
frequent account for delinquency is I dont know implying a literal ignorance of ones
motivations or actions and, thus, again, linguistically evading moral precepts.

The final two techniques: condemnation of condemners implications made that those
condemning the delinquents behaviour are themselves transgressive and thus have no
moral right to pass judgement (who are they to say Im wrong?); and appeals to higher
loyalty implying that the delinquent did not act out of personal desire but rather as a
result of loyalty to others, like, for instance, their family, religion or gang. These later
neutralization types do not imply denial of moral responsibility but, rather, the elevation of
some forms of morality over others - although both forms do serve to minimise potential
knowledge of the wrongfulness of deviant behaviour. Nonetheless, what the theory of
neutralisation suggests is that to engage in transgression, people need not reject
mainstream norms or learn new ones but, rather, the seeds of deviation and criminality are
embedded in the necessary flexibility of law and custom themselves and in the
accompanying narratives pertaining to that. Through that flexibility, offenders are able to
rationalize and deny the immoral nature of their activities by selectively ignoring or
embracing forms of non- and novel knowledge that morally enable and justify transgression.
Indeed, we all learn techniques of neutralisation from an early age in order to temporarily

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ignore, adjust or reframe the rules and norms that we otherwise claim to agree to (cf.
Goffman, 1971).

Neutralization theory has been used to understand all manner of criminal behaviour from
fiddling and pilfering at work (Mars, 1982), to youth violence (Agnew, 1994), domestic
violence (Cavanagh et al., 2001), war crimes and genocide (Alvarez, 1997; Cohen, 2001). It
can be used to reflect on and understand the banality of evil (Arendt, 2006 [1963]) that
good people can and do engage in horrific acts - not necessarily because they are different
from the rest of us, but, in particular situations and circumstances, people use the inherent
flexibility of common cultural guidelines to deny - to themselves and others - the intentions
and outcomes of their actions. I return to techniques of neutralisations and the meaning
and process of denial below.

Pluralistic ignorance
David Matza (1964) develops his earlier ideas about the normative processes involved in
delinquency by drawing on the concept of pluralistic ignorance (from Schanck, 1932) - the
belief of individual members that the group hold particular norms and values which, in
actuality, no individual member holds to, or, alternatively, individuals wrongly believe that
they hold beliefs that no one else subscribes to when, in fact, others do share them (see
Dollard, 1937). Matza suggests that because the rules and norms of a delinquent subculture
are largely tacit and non-verbal, and thus ambiguous, members experience considerable
anxiety about their roles and status. That anxiety, however, is not discussed as it would
likely be seen as weakness and become the object of ridicule. Rather, it is expressed through
sounding - a form of mockery that members use to attack one others status (a process
known in the UK as piss-taking - see Willis, 1977).

Sounding is both a source of anxiety and a vehicle by which it may be temporarily


alleviated (Matza, 1964: 45). It is a means through which members attempt to overcome
their own anxieties but it simultaneously reinforces the normative framework that the
members are anxious that they do not want to live up to and secretly disbelieve. This makes
it appear that the group is committed to delinquent displays of, usually, machismo, when, in
fact, through sounding, group members are merely trying to dissipate their own anxiety. In

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the delinquent group, members thus misperceive the group norms and come to accept the
messages entwined in mockery. They may, then, via neutralization techniques, drift into
acting out the imagined norms despite their being counter to their own personal morality.
Pluralistic ignorance of this kind is self-reinforcing because, by acting out, the illusory norms
are further reinforced to other group members.

Matza suggests that this form of masculine-bound pluralistic ignorance can also account for
why most young men appear to grow out of delinquency as they age - when boys become
men by virtue of work, physique or marriage, they no longer suffer masculine status anxiety.
Although, of course, men sometimes do continue to experience such anxiety, and there
have been a number of criticisms of this later view (see, for example, Foster, 1990).
Nonetheless, pluralistic ignorance has been shown to facilitate the conditions conducive to
adolescent (male) transgression, and it illuminates how ignorance frames and reinforces
some forms of macho-bound activity more generally (see, for example, Anderson, 1999;
Haas, 1977; Thiel, 2012: 106-130; Willis, 1977). As considerable data confirm, men and boys
commit the majority of both street and suite crime, and pluralistic ignorance of
masculine-bound norms may be seen to play a part in this. Pluralistic ignorance is not, of
course, a sole property of men and male delinquents but it can be seen to affect all manner
of groups. In studies of student alcohol consumption at Princeton University, for instance,
Prentice and Miller (1993) found that pluralistic ignorance of drinking norms was
widespread amongst male and female students. Yet, they also found that males, more than
females, were likely to adjust their behaviour towards the imagined norm and express more
support for high alcohol consumption than they privately believed.

Bystander ignorance and social reaction


It is a truism in criminology, and it stands to reason, that crime and deviance only become so
when they are reacted to and named as criminal or deviant - nothing is inherently criminal
or deviant (Becker, 1963; Plummer, 2011). It follows, then, that crime and the reaction to
crime are bound up with one another in a simultaneous process and, to understand crime,
one must understand the social reaction to it. Ignorance and denial play major parts in the
social reaction to crime, and this, therefore, can have deleterious consequences. Pluralistic
ignorance is, for instance, a fundamental ingredient of bystander apathy (cf. Latan and

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Darley, 1970) where crime or suffering is not reacted to or intervened in when those
witnessing it are members of large groups. The most infamous case was the violent assault
and murder of Kitty Genovese in New York in 1964 near to her apartment block where up to
38 people living nearby reported (afterwards to journalists) hearing her screams or seeing
the assault but few, or none, tried to assist or even call the police. Essentially, those hearing
her screams for help simply assumed that everyone else would also hear and, that if the
situation was serious, someone else would do something about it - resulting in no one doing
anything. Although the exact details of the event have since been contested (Manning et al.,
2007), many residents did hear, some saw, but none did very much, if anything, to prevent
the murder. Here, individual bystanders were ignorant of the ignorance of one another, and
this provided ready neutralizations for their inactivity.

Social psychologists have since carried out numerous experiments to explore the conditions
of bystander apathy (see Cohen, 2001: 140-168). They indicate that bystander intervention
is less likely when, firstly, there are many bystanders rather than few, resulting in pluralistic
ignorance which diffuses responsibility and thus enables its neutralization. Secondly, when
people are unable to identify with the victim because they are seen as outside of the
bystanders symbolic community. This is effectively a kind of moral ignorance - strategic,
partial or otherwise - of a victims humanity whereby identification and empathy are limited
by notions of the moral worth of various out-groups, most notably by stark racial and ethnic
categorisations. Lastly, bystander apathy occurs when audiences are unable to conceive of
an effective intervention to the situation implying ignorance or denial about what can be
done. Bystander processes are thus underpinned by various forms of ignorance which
facilitate non-intervention and muted-reaction to criminality and injury. This consequently
feeds back onto the commission of crimes and other injurious activity, providing anomic
spaces for particular forms of transgression to occur and sometimes flourish.

For the types of street crimes that so much haunt the public imagination like the attack on
Kitty Genovese, when the bystander ignorance was made public knowledge, its occurrence
was met with subsequent shock, guilt, and investigation. Yet, in the case of many highly
injurious crimes initiated or facilitated (cf. Kramer et al., 2002) by complex and powerful
organisations, particularly modern states, the manipulation and creation of pluralistic and

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strategic ignorance has the effect of motivating perpetrators, pacifying bystanders, and
shielding the organization from public and legal reaction often long after the event has
occurred.

Power and denial


Juvenile offenders brought before the courts tend to be drawn from relatively powerless
positions, and, their neutralization techniques, when offered as post-facto explanations or
excuses, tend to be judged as lies and excuses. Indeed, the criminal justice system
commonly views neutralisations negatively and, in many circumstances, applies increased
sanctions as a result (see Maruna and Copes, 2005). Of course, as suggested above, modern
legal systems do also take into account mitigating circumstances (although in many Western
nations this is increasingly less so - see Garland, 2001). The very existence of specific
juvenile justice systems are testament to this, whereby being a juvenile is seen as mitigating
in itself4. For powerful organizations, on the other hand, neutralisations too serve to evade
legal and moral conjunctions but, as a result of their elevated power and influence, they can
also shape the actions of incumbent perpetrators, influence the form of social reaction to
the injurious event, evade censure, and, by fostering ignorance of harm and criminality, may
temporarily reframe morality itself.

The way in which modern states construct and manage knowledge about their involvement
genocides, illegal wars, terrorism, torture and widespread abrogation of human rights are
the subject of Cohens (2001) work on state crime and denial. Cohen follows other state
crime scholars in wondering why illegal and highly injurious state crimes often receive less
attention than much less injurious street crimes - especially within criminology itself. To
comprehend this, he adopts denial as a master category for understanding the
normalization of state-influenced suffering, and he uses techniques of neutralisation as a
fundamental part of his conceptual armoury. In Sykes and Matzas original work, however,
the meaning of denial is taken-for-granted and un-examined but, Cohen digs into this,
highlighting how denial implies not simply non-knowledge of something wrong, injurious or
upsetting but it is a simultaneous condition of both knowing and not knowing. This is what
Cohen calls the denial paradox - in order to evade the knowledge of something, we must

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have some knowledge of what to evade. For denial to occur, then, at least a partial
knowledge must exist but this is somehow not attended to or fully acknowledged.

Processes of denial are likely to be influenced by a psychological inability to live life with full
knowledge of disturbing or deleterious events - as in Freudian understandings of the term.
This occurs, for instance, where family members are unable to comprehend the ugly
knowledge of intra-familial child abuse (see Russell, 1986; Turton, 2008) or where European
Jews in the 1940s and 50s did not accept the scale and nature of the holocaust (Cohen,
2001:140-142). Yet, Cohen suggests, collective and individual denial is also constructed,
shaped and enabled by the various vocabularies, neutralizations and justifications
constructed by powerful organizational perpetrators.

Crimes of obedience
As Max Weber (1970 [1919]) maintained, modern states legitimately monopolise violence to
enforce their order, and, presently, those monopolies constitute vast armies and killing
technologies. The bureaucratic organization of modern states and their military capacity
have been refined over history to enable the effective manipulation of soldiers and other
personnel (Collins, 2008), and bureaucratic organization itself provides ideal conditions for
the will to ignorance (McGoey, 2007) and subsequent cover up (Katz, 1979). Complex
divisions of labour, the compartmentalisation of specialist knowledge, and the organization
of dirty work specialists allow organizational members to deny their role in injurious
activity: those at the top of a hierarchy claim they did not know what those at the bottom
were doing; and those at the bottom claim they were unable to know the consequences of
their actions and were only following the orders of those at the top. The most abhorrent
examples of this are state-sponsored genocides where ignorance is spun and utilized
throughout the state organisation of killing. In Zygmunt Baumans (1989) analysis of the
holocaust, for example, he describes how the modern division of labour enabled German
soldiers and civilians to divorce themselves from the outcomes of their and their
neighbours actions, facilitating denial of personal responsibility and a largely unquestioning
obedience to bureaucratic aims and authority.

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Kelman and Hamilton (1989) identify three main conditions of crimes of obedience, which
can be seen as organizational conditions that enable perpetrators of various state crimes to
deny the moral intentions and outcomes of their actions. Firstly, authorisation enables the
denial of personal responsibility by allowing individuals to pass and defer responsibility to
the authority issuing orders, claiming they had little choice other than to comply. Secondly,
routinization functions to normalise morally dubious activity and thus inhibits moral
reflection on it, enabling the denial of injury. Indeed, stopping and questioning ones
previous murderous routine would involve acknowledgement of the morally dubious nature
of previous behaviour and it is thus psychologically simpler to remain in denial and carry on
(Bauman, 1989). The final condition is dehumanization of the enemy commonly through
reframing people as lowly and unwanted animals. This excludes people from the moral
human moral universe, denies their humanity and moral worth, and thus permits their ill-
treatment. I would add that pluralistic ignorance is also likely to play a part in crimes of
obedience, as, if perpetrators do not discuss with one another moral concerns about
organizational aims and activities, situational norms will be developed and confirmed
through interpretations of the behaviour of others within the organization, further
routinizing and thus normalizing murderous behaviour (cf. Kelman and Hamilton, 1989: 18).

Each of these conditions of crimes of obedience enable otherwise good people to


neutralise, deny and ignore the morality that they would usually adhere to (cf. Alvarez,
1997; Arendt, 2006 [1963]). Just like Sykes and Matzas delinquents, however, this does not
mean that all such perpetrators are able to totally suppress their own morality rather,
denial is partial. As Milgrams (1963) studies into behavioural obedience illustrate, many of
those following orders to administer (unknowingly bogus) electric shocks to a human
subject, demonstrated all manner of concern, anxiety and worry about their actions. Yet,
they (or 98% of them) nonetheless continued until 300 volts when the subject had fallen
silent, apparently collapsed or dead (and 65% continued long after that until they reached
the capacity 450 volts). Moreover, many frontline soldiers involved in the holocaust had
psychological breakdowns, were issued medication for stress, and some committed suicide
but they nonetheless engaged in murderous activity (Alvarez, 1997; Browning, 2001).

Spirals of denial

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Outside of the back regions of state bureaucracy, the front stages or, public faces, of states
manage impressions of themselves through what Cohen (1993) calls spirals of denial that
aim to hide, reframe and refract public and outsider knowledge of illegal and injurious
events. States may claim complete ignorance of an injurious event through literal denial
suggesting that it simply did not happen. The Turkish states total denial of the genocide of
at least one million Armenians in 1915-1917 is a clear example. If literal denials come under
continued scrutiny, states may turn to interpretative denial where it is admitted that
something happened that seems bad but they claim that it is actually not what it seems. A
contemporary example is the Allied forces reframing of civilian deaths in the war in Iraq
with euphemisms such as collateral damage, denying and, at the same time, justifying,
injury. Under the pressure of critique of their interpretative denial, or simultaneously, states
also engage in implicatory denial where the facts of an event are acknowledged but not
their implications, which are denied, rationalised and neutralised. Here, states reframe
knowledge about an injurious event in order to construct a form of moral ignorance in the
eyes of their own public and outside observers, and, akin to individual offenders; they
employ denials of injury, responsibility, and victims. In the contemporary war on terror, for
example, the USA defined the use of hooding, stress positions, deprivations and water
boarding not as injurious physical and psychological torture but as mere stress, and they
framed the death and injury of some of the victims of torture lite as a non-intended
negligence of troops on the ground resulting from the stressful conditions of war. Moreover,
torture victims were not deemed victims at all but unlawful combatants, which denies and
evades both moral and legal culpability (Cohen, 2006; Gourevitch and Morris, 2008; Kramer
and Michalowski, 2005). States also regularly engage in condemnation of their condemners
and they appeal to higher loyalties in order to justify and neutralise their transgressions.
These are commonly constructed through claims to exceptional mitigating circumstances
(cf. Agamben, 2005) and the constriction of defensive Manichean frameworks that
obliterate the moral character of the enemy, denying their humanity. Yet, as Cohen (2001:
61) suggests, Denial of the responsibility is the master account - states most frequently
claim they did not intend the injurious activity.

In the contemporary world with increased democratization and pressure for transparency,
Cohen (1993, 2001) suggests that states are less able to engage in total denial but, as a

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result, more interpretative and implicatory denials are spun. These can serve to evade and
inhibit legal censure but they also reframe public knowledge, forming smokescreen-like
frameworks that enable state operatives, bystanders, and future populations to deny
deleterious events. Indeed, this leads into Cohens main question - why it is that in a multi-
mediated global world where all of us know at least something about the everyday suffering
that is initiated or facilitated by state action or inaction people, even humanists, somehow
stand by and largely go on with their lives in denial of the suffering of others? For Cohen,
the entire affluent world is a passive bystander to suffering.

In order to answer this question, Cohen turns to theories of denial and bystander apathy,
and the research and practice of rights organizations and moral entrepreneurs that aim to
forge public acknowledgment of suffering. He suggests that public denial of suffering is
perhaps partly subconscious and un-strategic, the result of psychoanalytic processes that
split the self and shut out traumatic information, or through our becoming caught up in
pluralistic ignorance processes - knowing that someone else will do something, that
nothing can be done, or simply being unable to identify with the victims. Yet, denials may
also occur in bad faith (Sartre, 1956) but, Cohen maintains, as a result of the denial
paradox, they are largely an unknowable combination of the two and that ambiguity is, of
course, part of the power of denial. Nonetheless, state manipulation of knowledge, the
human ability to deny, and readily available techniques of neutralisation have, at least to
some degree, normalized barbarism and suffering in the contemporary world.

Knowing and acknowledging


As denial is a peculiar form of both knowing and not-knowing, Cohen argues that awakening
people from its suppressive capabilities is not simply a case of replacing bad knowledge with
good, or false with correct knowledge. Rather, the neutralizations, normalizations, and
routines of knowledge surrounding abhorrent actions and events require collective and
ceremonial rejection and renouncement. Here, agreement and the ensuing negation of
epistemological ambiguity, turns partial or non-knowledge into actual knowledge or
acknowledgement - that closes the space in which vocabularies of denial can occur (2001:
75). Indeed, it may be said that all knowledge requires public agreement and ceremony to
become recognised as such (cf. Berger and Luckman, 1991 [1966]), which is partly why state

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denial is so powerful in suppressing full knowledge the state or, at least democratic states,
masquerades as the ultimate representative of moral agreement (see Garland, 1991).

Private knowledge, rumour, or open secrets without official confirmation or broader


agreement are, then, effectively ambiguous forms of belief or speculation rather than actual
knowledge. Yet, once transformed into official truth, they enter into public discourse,
lowering the tolerance threshold for such crimes and opening the space for victim
narratives. As an example, Cohen describes the changing meanings of domestic abuse in the
West, describing how until the quite recent campaigns to publicly raise the issue, victims
were often silenced by spirals of denial in families and institutions. Of course, denials and
cover-ups by those in powerful positions continue to hide instances of abuse and silence
their victims. It was only in 2011, for instance, when the spirals of denial about sexual abuse
of teenage girls at British Broadcasting Corporation in the 1970s and 80s were unravelled,
transforming previously open secrets into activated knowledge, which was followed by
new accusations against other British TV and radio presenters and a rise in reported
offences of child sex abuse in Britain more generally (Greer and McLaughlin, 2013). This
trail by media had lead to official court proceedings, and, indeed, it is the courts
themselves that constitute the major ceremonial representatives of moral agreement and,
therefore, the primary creators of moral acknowledgement.

The theatres of acknowledgement for state crimes are international courts, tribunals, and
various transitional justice systems and forms of memorialisation. They include, for
example, the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals, the International Criminal Courts for
Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions
(TRCs), the Rwandan Gacaca, and various public commemorations of past atrocity such as
those memorialising the holocaust, slavery or colonial violence. While the notions of truth
and readdress differ for each kind of theatre (see Parmentier et al., 2008; Teitel, 2003), each
has the effect of producing official narratives and knowledge about abhorrent state-
sponsored events. TRCs, for instance, were set up specifically to banish various denials
about the apartheid system of South Africa by encouraging, though amnesty, perpetrators
to truth-tell and victims to air their narratives. This acknowledged the perspectives held by
victims and their families, and, thereby, their status as victims that had previously been

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denied to them. More punitive systems like Nuremburg work to uncover different types of
truth and knowledge but they nonetheless serve to reject offender denials as lies. What the
different mechanisms share, however, is the production of a knowledge stripped of denial
and moral ignorance. While more restorative forms like TRCs produce admittances,
apologies and victim narratives to replace previous denials, more punitive systems produce
counter-arguments to rule that offender denials are false. Once established, the punitive
mechanisms engage in status degradation ceremonies (Garfinkel, 1956) in which
perpetrators moral character are ceremonially besmirched. This may be said to signify that
any claimed ignorance or ambiguity about offender responsibility and injury must have been
made in bad faith. Stripped of their moral status, offenders neutralizations, denials and
justifications can only be wilful ignorance. Previous official denial is acknowledged as false,
opening an agreed space for alternative narratives and knowledge to move into.

Of course, it tends to be the losers of wars or revolutions, or relatively weak states, which
are bought before truth commissions or international courts (see Teitel, 2003; Kramer,
2010). States that win the battle are left ceremonially immune from challenges to their
denials and, consequently, their methods of war or of suppressing revolutions thereby
remain speculative non-knowledge. There are many contemporary examples. The various
denials made about torture in the war on terror described above, for instance, have
received little ceremonial challenge. Their perpetrators moral status thus remains officially
intact and their denials accepted, paving the way for what Cohen (2006) calls a new
paradigm of 21st century torture. Similarly, Ronald Kramer (2010) describes how, as a result
of the USA being on the winning side of World War Two, their large-scale terrorist atrocities
against civilians through area bombing during World War Two and later atomic bombing of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, went largely unacknowledged. This, Kramer argues, opened the
way for the normalization of the mass murder of civilians in US conflicts since, killing
between two and three million Koreans in the 1950s, up to four million Vietnamese in the
1970s, and an as yet unknown number in contemporary Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The
denials and neutralizations of todays winner states pattern our social reaction to their
atrocities, and this opens up an ambiguous moral space in which they can flourish.

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Notes
1
Delinquents would today be called offenders or transgressors. Also, almost all early criminology refers
largely to the criminality men and boys only (see Smart, 1977).
2
The law on wilful blindness, however, rules that ignorance of ones crimes cannot be mitigating if the
perpetrators should and could have known. The ostrich principle is thus not defensible in law and wilful
ignorance is viewed as equivalent to knowledge (see Robbins, 1990).
3
Although very problematic to conclusively test, there have been criticisms this aspect of neutralization theory
but, nonetheless, neutralizations certainly allow the repeated occurrence of transgressive behaviour (see
Maruna and Copes, 2005).
4
Paradoxically, as Matza (1964) suggests, legal mitigation is regularly viewed by delinquents as inconsistent
and thus unjust, thereby further weakening legal and moral constraints on their behaviour (cf. Tyler, 1990).

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