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Why We Harm

Why We Harm

Lois Presser
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 180
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  • Book Info
    Why We Harm
    Book Description:

    Criminologists are primarily concerned with the analysis of actions that violate existing laws. But a growing number have begun analyzing crimes as actions that inflict harm, regardless of the applicability of legal sanctions. Even as they question standard definitions of crime as law-breaking, scholars of crime have few theoretical frameworks with which to understand the etiology of harmful action.InWhy We Harm, Lois Presser scrutinizes accounts of acts as diverse as genocide, environmental degradation, war, torture, terrorism, homicide, rape, and meat-eating in order to develop an original theoretical framework with which to consider harmful actions and their causes. In doing so, this timely book presents a general theory of harm, revealing the commonalities between actions that impose suffering and cause destruction.Harm is built on stories in which the targets of harm are reduced to one-dimensional characters-sometimes a dangerous foe, sometimes much more benign, but still a projection of our own concerns and interests. In our stories of harm, we are licensed to do the harmful deed and, at the same time, are powerless to act differently. Chapter by chapter, Presser examines statements made by perpetrators of a wide variety of harmful actions. Appearing vastly different from one another at first glance, Presser identifies the logics they share that motivate, legitimize, and sustain them. From that point, she maps out strategies for reducing harm.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6260-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 Making Misery
    (pp. 1-18)

    Angela Leisure lost her son, Timothy Thomas, on April 7, 2001, after Cincinnati, Ohio, police officer Stephen Roach shot him to death in a dark alley. Roach and fellow officers gave chase after discovering that Thomas had numerous outstanding arrest warrants. Thomas was the fifteenth African American man killed by the Cincinnati Police Department in the space of six years, and his death galvanized many in the community to protest police abuse as never before (M. Singer 2002). The most sustained protest took the form of an economic boycott, launched in July 2001, whose purpose was to hurt the city...

  5. Chapter 2 We Are Written: A Narrative Framework of Harm
    (pp. 19-30)

    I am after the cultural rhetorics that promote harm. The case studies presented in the coming chapters—concerning genocide, animal abuse, intimate partner violence, and punishment of offenders—lead me to rhetorics that communicate at their most basic level who we are. In this chapter I consider what we talk about and how we talk when we discuss ourselves and others. Two principal identity anchors or themes, position and power, are examined, along with the key role of narrative in forging identity. Whereas these are fundamentals of identity, I wed the discussion to harm, drawing connections between storied selves and...

  6. Chapter 3 Genocide, Harm of Harms
    (pp. 31-49)

    Each year on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in a grassy area between the Humanities and Social Sciences building and the main library, activists against abortion mount an outdoor installation of large vivid photos allegedly depicting fetuses removed from women’s wombs. Signs leading up to the installation read “Warning: Genocide Pictures Ahead.” Several of my colleagues have taken issue with the activists’ equating abortion with genocide. They reason that genocide—the purposive elimination of a people—is nothing like abortion, the purposive elimination of a fetus.¹ I suspect that the activists, not much concerned with accuracy, want...

  7. Chapter 4 Institutionalized Harm through Meat Eating
    (pp. 50-68)

    Unlike genocide, which figures prominently in the public imagination as harm, most of us take for granted the killing of nonhuman animals for food. The killing of nonhumans is mundane and implicates most of us. How do we do it? One answer is that we do not. In these times, for large segments of the world’s population, we delegate the killing of animals to other agents and reenter the scene as consumers of meat. I am referring here to the multibillion-dollar factory farm and meatpacking industries. These industries see to it that the harm they do to animals is largely...

  8. Chapter 5 Intimate Partner Violence: A Familiar Stranger
    (pp. 69-87)

    Having just examined genocide and meat eating, we have visited the outermost margins of the field of criminology. Intimate partner violence (IPV), the focus of this chapter, is a much more typical object of criminological concern. It is a horrifically common sort of conventional violence. In the National Violence Against Women Survey of more than sixteen thousand men and women in the United States, 22.1 percent of the women and 7.4 percent of the men reported having experienced physical assault by a romantic partner. The survey determined that IPV accounts for most of the violence suffered by women in the...

  9. Chapter 6 Penal Harm: Stigma, Threat, and Retribution
    (pp. 88-108)

    A harm that enjoys widespread if not universal support in modern societies is that which the state imposes on persons it deems criminals, orpenal harm(Clear 1994). The U.S. penal harm project stands out internationally. Our nation’s incarceration rate is the highest in the world (ICPS 2012). More than 2.2 million Americans—disproportionately blacks and Hispanics—were incarcerated in 2011 (Glaze and Parks 2012). More than 1 in 100 adults are behind bars, although that statistic obscures even more striking race specifics: 1 in 9 black men ages twenty to thirty-four and 1 in 36 Hispanic men are serving...

  10. Chapter 7 Synthesis
    (pp. 109-121)

    Why we harm, the question that launched this book, is broad, some might say audaciously so. But I hope to have revealed the far greater audacity of the rhetoric of harm:

    The circle of life constitutes some animals are bred to be nourishment (chapter 4).

    I know you’re not going to leave me, so I can crack you as much as I want (chapter 5).

    When we spotted a small group of runaways trying to escape by creeping through the mud, we called them snakes (chapter 3).

    We are not sufficiently alarmed by these discourses, least of all by those...

  11. Chapter 8 Unmaking Misery
    (pp. 122-130)

    We need a kinder way of living and interacting with one another. Where shall we start? This chapter outlines some ideas for unmaking misery, following the analysis laid out in the book so far and connecting where relevant to other perspectives.

    My thesis has been that certain stories engender misery. They motivate and legitimize harmful action. Therefore, storytelling per se is most assuredly not the solution to the problem of harm, as some would romanticize. But neither should storytelling be seen as the problem. After all, we humans rely on stories to make meaning. This book itself tells a story...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 131-134)
  13. References
    (pp. 135-150)
  14. Index
    (pp. 151-164)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 165-168)