Big Trouble or Little Evils: the ideological struggle over the concept of harm

Steve Hall, Simon Winlow

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This chapter builds upon the authors' previous work, which suggests that there has never been a 'civilising process' across the course of modernity but an economically functional conversion of harms from physical brutality to socio-symbolic aggression. Although harm is integrated into the system's generative core, it appears as morbid symptoms during dysfunctional intervallic periods. The subject's acceptance of core harms and their various manifestations can be best explained in a theoretical framework of transcendental materialism, with a focus on the process of deaptation, which proliferates harms as morbid symptoms appearing in the tension between a changing real world and ossified ideologies. Capitalism can be best explained as a process of managed deaptation, which constantly puts us at risk of the continuation and unpredictable mutation of a broad spectrum of harms. The criminalisation of harms is maintained in a state of imbalance by the catastrophising negative ideology of capitalist realism, which compels us to legitimise the existing spectrum of harms. Capitalism's conservative and liberal political classes constantly warn us of the far greater harms we would risk should we instigate a process of transformation. Given star billing in an endless cautionary tale, potential transformative harms are condemned as absolute, intolerable and inevitable whilst the system's everyday morbid harms are excused as relative, tolerable and contingent. This dominant ideology operates at the core of the criminalisation process, legitimising negative rights and compelling us to regard specific types of crime as the 'price of freedom' whilst downplaying the harms they cause. As such, this ideology is resistant to the centralisation of zemiology in the criminological discipline.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationZemiology
Subtitle of host publicationReconnecting Crime and Social Harm
EditorsAvi Boukli, Justin Kotzé
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783319763125
ISBN (Print)9783319763118
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


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