Environmental Crime, Victimisation, and The Ideal Victim

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Christie’s seminal piece on ‘The Ideal Victim’ opens with remarks on being a victim: ‘It is often useful within the social sciences to rely on personal experiences, or at least take this as our point of departure’ (1986: 17). He goes on to make two preliminary reflections: ‘Firstly, being a victim is not a thing, an objective phenomenon’; ‘Secondly, the phenomenon can be investigated both at the personality level and at the social system level…..At the level of social systems, some systems might be of the type where a lot of victimization is seen as taking place, while others are seen as being without victims’ (Christie 1986: 18). He states he will concentrate on the sociology of the phenomena.

In the same way that Christie chose to introduce his ideas about the concept of the ideal victim with a focus on the sociology of phenomena, this chapter, as indeed the book as a whole, does likewise. I use a case study to explore the sociology of phenomena. The case study I use draws on personal experience and by using this as my point of departure I illustrate a number of issues surrounding victims and victimhood. The case study is of the closure of the Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) aluminium plant at Lynemouth, Northumberland, in the north-east of England, where for many years my husband worked. I have already written about this closure from a feminist influenced victimological perspective (Davies 2014). Part of this chapter does likewise. However, the chapter as a whole gives a more sustained emphasis to the way in which Christie’s work has impacted upon my own critical analysis of the closure. It dwells on the particular ways in which his insightful and highly original way of explaining his sophisticated theoretical propositions have steered my own thinking and victimological imagination. His work has impacted upon what I feel is important to write about. As a self-labelled feminist influenced criminologist-cum-victimologist I strive to make observations about my own position and relationship to what is happening in the social world. The case illustration I have chosen to focus on in this chapter is personal but political and it has been significant in terms of furthering my own understandings and conceptualisations of victim identity and experiences of harm and injustice and has provoked me to be at pains to communicate the impacts of the global at the local and personal levels.

The remainder of this chapter revisits the ideal victim concept and explores how this has influenced my own thinking – in this case – about specific tensions between social and environmental justice and indeed, victimisation from environmental governance. Before outlining the case study which forms the basis for my reflections, I first briefly explore the victim in the context of environmental justice. I then reflect upon the non-ideal victim and contemplate the theme of ‘witches and workers’ in Christie’s thesis under the heading of defining victimisation. This reflection clearly illustrates the contested nature of victimisation and how there are alternative conceptualisations of victimisation that are at complete odds with the individualised concept of the ‘ideal victim’. The section commencing ‘corporations as monsters’ serves as the context for an examination of the non-ideal offender and this is a segue into a broader discussion about green harms, victims and social conditions at local and global levels, social conditions being a topic that concerned Christie in the final section of his article.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRevisiting the 'Ideal Victim'
Subtitle of host publicationDevelopments in Critical Victimology
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPolicy Press
ISBN (Print)9781447338765
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2018


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