Lethal interests

Homicide Studies
October 16, 1998

Is there a need for a journal devoted exclusively to the study of homicide? There is if one accepts and contributes to the segmentation of academic disciplines and intellectual interests. The founders of this journal implicitly do both though, ironically, the narrower their focus the wider their expectations regarding the fields of study of potential contributors. Thus, researchers in criminology, criminal justice, public policy, sociology, psychology, public health, political science, geography and history are all called upon to submit contributions. The two volumes published so far are compiled mainly by sociologists.

This preliminary comment is not meant to detract from the quality of the articles in the journal, which are interesting and well presented. A study of homicide in Miami links lethal violence to the changing flows of ethnic groups into urban areas, concluding that, with the rise in ethnic diversity, intra-racial rather than inter-racial homicide grows. Cohabitation, in this case, seems to cause less explosion than implosion. However, several articles in the different issues do connect cohabitation with violent explosions and murder. One such article discusses the decline in intimate partner homicide against the background of changing living arrangements between women and men. It concludes, somewhat tautologically, that this decline is a function of declining marriage rates.

In a similar vein, a paper on the impact of growing imprisonment on the homicide rate finds a negative correlation between the two. The authors analyse the homicide-prison relationship from 1930-94, "finding that a 10 per cent increase in prison population is associated with roughly 13 per cent fewer homicides". They also study assault and robbery and again find negative associations with prison population. However, their dry account, which over-emphasises imprisonment's incapacitation effect, reduces the causes of crime to the nature of responses to it, obscuring broader social aspects and causation. Moreover, the incapacitation argument could also be used by "reformers" of the labour market: to cut unemployment, for example, one could suggest that high numbers of unemployed people should be incarcerated.

The dangers of narrowing the focus in analysing social phenomena should be borne in mind, a concern that only rarely emerges in this periodical.

In conclusion, the editorial statement that the journal is not ideologically bound is not fully borne out by the journal's content. Not one article so far deals with legitimate forms of homicide such as wars and other institutional types of lethal violence. While seeming to share the preoccupation of George Orwell, who lamented the decline of contemporary murder for the lack of feelings and strong emotions behind it, the editors have ignored the forms of homicide described by Simone de Beauvoir: "Those crimes socially authorised, even more inhuman, because abstract and anonymous."

Vincenzo Ruggiero is professor of sociology, Middlesex University.

Homicide Studies

Editor - M. Dwayne Smith
ISBN - ISSN 1088 7679
Publisher - Sage
Price - £44.00 (individuals) and £155.00 (institutions)

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