The current field of political sciences is dominated by a multitude of ideas that have never in its history featured so prominently in this discipline. The general belief that it has lost its focus once and for all is from time to time counteracted by different opinions. One of those is that the world has come full circle, that mankind has experimented out all possibilities in terms of ideological thinking and that the liberal democracy as we know it has come out of the process as the prize winner both politically and economically. Some define this as the end of history. It also goes by the name of ultra modernism. Globalisation fits in perfectly and all reflects the increasing complexity that we are finding our world to involve us in and which, in order to come to terms with the bigger magnitude of the whole, we are describing in essentially vague terms.
The idea that history might have died a death was first launched in the 1980s by Francis Fukayama who wrote a now famous essay entitled ‘The End of History’, in The National Interest on the subject. The idea has persisted during the subsequent historic reality-altering events leading to our understanding of the world in terms of security and globalization, even though the liberal ground is under siege from left and right wing ideologies, parts of which are finding their way into the democratic liberal discourse.
However inappropriate it essentially is to define the new ‘winning ideology’ — the policical science discourse is rife with arguments in favor of departing from old fashioned foundationalism and swapping this for a-systemic ideas gathered from all other disciplines- we are at this time almost as happy with any theory that offers a firm grip on reality as the third world would be with a cure for poverty. Much though the world is changing and much though this fast change is reflected in the sciences, the a-systemic ideas making up the political sciences might not necessarily reflect what’s going on in society one hundred percent adequately.
Issues like crime and other ‘anti social behavior’ are significantly underexposed in areas of political scientific studies, say researchers. Our highly developed society and increased sophistication in all the disciplines that results in political sciences being a highly esteemed area for study, delivering no doubt high caliber students to society, does not necessarily guarantee a tangible decline in crime rates. We are missing out something big time. Is this the whiplash of a-systemic thinking we all intuitively fear?
If you may believe studies undertaken by political scientists, in future, we won’t have a lot of room for corruption and evil wrongdoers in our society. Leaf through an average new book on political science and find hardly a line, let alone a chapter, dedicated to the evil side of human nature. What makes us all think that synchronising everything automatically leads to a better world and therefore a less violence prone society? In the same breath, you might ask, what is the new Left, the new Right, the Libertarian and the other political mainstream thinking on issues such as the Third World? For all our great knowledge and speedy technology-supported understanding of what is going on, we are still not much better at remedying the main problems the world is faced with.
Criminology is part of the exercise of deconstructing the past, deconstructing other disciplines and constructing new ideas from a mixture of all of them which keeps social scientists busy these days. Yet it’s not enough apparently to translate into better thinking on the way safety and society can be organised.
Whether a certain approach to crime really is to blame for its rise is debatable. What is certain is that modern societies have become safer and more comfortable in many areas but that crime has risen in equal proportion. “When it comes to crime, or more broadly stated ‘antisocial’ behaviour, society has actually become less safe. Crime constitutes an insecurity risk which is difficult to control. Many citizens and organizations will at some stage fall victim – usually completely unexpected -to behaviour which can harm them, physically or financially”, according to a recent research report by the Foresight Institute of the Netherlands, a semi official consultancy. It is one of the few studies in this field.
The increasingly Old World definition of the nation state was primarily driven by the desire to resist this sort of danger, the researchers say. They continue that the way we deal with crime has evolved too. It is at this point that state organization is likely to really begin to crumble. A prime, if not the prime raison d’etre for governments is keeping a population relatively safe and free from crime. The more governments are perceived to be failing in providing the desired high level of societal safety, the less justification there is for governments and their imposing taxes on a country’s population.
Changes in the way crime is perceived include treatment of the issue in more scientific disciplines than ever. Yet some, including Fukayama, argue that the social sciences lack a distinct central view on human nature, which stems back from the post Kant era. The only reason that I feel you can raise the human nature argument again is that over the last 30 years in the life sciences there has been a lot of empirical work that has made the concept respectable to scientists. Yet social scientists and certainly people in cultural studies have yet to get that message, says Fukayama. They are very resistant to the notion of human nature.
The issue is grappled with mostly by people who try to integrate crime studies into a whole range of disciplines. “Crime has lost its exclusiveness, the approach to crime and crime prevention is no longer exclusively the responsibility of the police and the judicial authorities”, say the Foresight institution researchers. This coincided with a tangible change in society too. In the early 1980s, there was a sea change in the approach to crime and crime prevention. Inspired by understandable self-interest, individual citizens, organizations in the community and local authorities started to feel that they bore a responsibility for crime prevention. Nevertheless, the results are not particularly overwhelming and the researchers at Foresight say that for the situation by the year 2010, some areas of research are still vastly underrepresented.
One real life example of high profile people sharing this concern is the situation on the Guernsey islands off the coast of the UK. You’d say this small island offers a perfect case to study the governability of a country with a limited population, to try and test the limits of a system to the full. Politicians might well be aware of this. At least, they appear to have a clear idea and are aware of the unique nature of their society and of the effects of the rules they invent. The measurability of crime renders the subject a good target for analysis, sophisticated ideas of governance and societal structures. The self consciousness leads to frequent interesting debates by politicians on this island. Recently, a senior politician attributed the perceived rise in crime and anti-social behavior the effect of “woolly liberal” thinking. He said the increased emphasis on human rights in particular is to blame for the rise in crime.
The politician said that his government’s human rights act had led to offenders becoming “untouchable” by the authorities. Warning of the dangers of liberal thinking, he pointed out that there’s no common sense in Guernsey’s human rights laws which others believe ensure rights and responsibilities of citizens are balanced out rather evenly. He said the woolly thinking underlying the human rights ideas on the island led to alcoholism among the younger population for one.
This is one of the issues where the argument that improved technology in the hands of police and law enforcers is going to do the trick, won’t do completely. Developments in modern technology and improved understanding of changes in social control are central to ideas about stamping out crime. The foresight researchers recommend that there should be a radical reorganisation of how financial resources are made available to this effect, if crime prevention is to bear any fruit.
Research efforts need to be stepped up dramatically if modern society is to develop adequate knowledge in any form or shape. They believe that the demand for scientific knowledge by the institutions, municipalities, government departments and private sector agencies might seem to be a professionalization of the area, but that in fact it does often not mean anything, especially not in the long run.
Fundamental scientific research into issues which are already playing a part at this time needs to be stepped up, the institute believes, in order to keep up with the criminal sector. They predict that by 2010, crime will have changed radically as a result of technological and economic developments and changes in social control and cohesion. There is a great need for fundamental research, for interdisciplinary knowledge and knowledge about long-term, ongoing issues such as criminal careers, say the researchers. In the next ten years there will also be a need for more theoretical research focusing on normative and empirical issues.
The wildly diverging ideas about human beings in the social sciences is exacerbated with a dramatically lowered emphasis on any blatant negative aspects of society in postmodern political science due to the death of positivist thinking. You could argue that this is at the heart of the problem of surging crime despite increased wealth of societies.
The political sciences appear most promising in their capacity for addressing the anomalies. It is the best discipline to do so, because it does not plan at neutrality. And, what’s more, the political scientist´s loyalties and engagements will not necessarily be predictable and stable over time. If it doesn’t yield immediate tangible results, it at least is a start. And it makes for less dry reading of the articles and books describing what’s perceived as the state of play in these sciences. You’d imagine that anyone coming up with a theory involving the axiom that history has ended, would be prone to fantasy.
And that’s somewhat true; academic attention for total fantastic ideas as a means to understand or create is on the rise. It’s much under attack from critics who say this is a foolish activity, especially when keeping in mind the idea that when you walk the streets of your town you can be subjected to a criminal attack at any given moment. Sceptics will imply that much of the storytelling anyway misses out large parts of reality, especially the less attractive features. Which is, however, not to say that blind spots are not being reduced.
But somehow, the rationale itself is changing for the criticism of the ways modern science works. The criticism for instance on the way politicians work, who seem keener to know about the cultural trends, popular culture, the media and power than in the labyrinthine workings of party and parliamentary democracy is that they are not sticking to their own field. Yet the new approaches favored in the political sciences leave more leeway for alternative ways that allow for a greater number of methods to assess reality than many predecessors ever dreamt of.
In stead of a total abandonment of all serious work, modern political science presents us with a mixture of both regurgitated theories of old time philosophers and original, rather broad based ideas. And in new, often surprising, ways.
Sceptical post modernists will contend that as there is no correct method for political research and researching the political, that it might be wise to adopt an anti-rules method, while the affirmatives may adopt something that can be termed ‘anything goes’. But perhaps several methodologies are best blended together to come to a robust approach to researching a problem. Much hinges too on one’s perspective on history.
Angelique van Engelen is a freelance writer living in Amsterdam. She runs http://www.contentClix.com and is available for article and research assignments.