CUSP, Forensic Psychology, Social Psychology, Uncategorized

Psychosocial perspectives on criminality and violence

Following a launch event last June, what used to be the Social Psychology Research Group (SPRG) has recently transformed into the ambitious Culture and Social Psychology (CuSP) collaboration – offering what promises to be an exciting programme of cutting edge external seminars for 2019, to be held at the OU’s Camden Town location, as well as an Annual Lecture. More on these events soon!

At the same time, we continue to engage with each other’s work at our Milton Keynes based monthly discussion group meetings. In September, we discussed Stephanie Taylor’s recent paper entitled “A practitioner concept of contemporary creativity”, a wide-ranging empirical paper in which the author introduces various theoretical discourses on artistic creativity and then juxtaposes them with the concept emerging from discussions with contemporary artists.

In our recent October meeting, it was towards darker waters that we proceeded, looking at David Jones’ “Public Violence and Crimes of Terror”. This is a newly composed draft chapter from the coming second edition of the author’s important psychological-psychosocial intervention in the understanding of criminal behaviour: Understanding Criminal Behaviour: Psychosocial Perspectives on Criminality and Violence (Routledge, 2008).

The chapter proposes an important distinction between violent crimes that are by their nature intimate and those that are aimed at the public: both in the sense that visibility is an essential element of these crimes and that they literally take aim at aspects/characters of the public. What is more, David’s argument is that whilst some of these crimes (e.g., the assassination of political figures or acts of suicide terrorism) may carry political contents, to understand them we also have to locate them in the life-stories and the subjectivities of the perpetrators. That is to say, sometimes in striking distance from the apparent political message, they externalise an internal psychological conflict the criminals had has in their lives. The fragile grandiosity they represent stems from this intersection between the personal-psychological and the public-political.

The chapter covers the assassination of John Lennon as well as the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan; the phenomenon of school killings in the US, suicide bombings and the 7/7 tragedy in London specifically; concluding with the sinister figure of Anders Breivik shooting at Norwegians in the name of a white male masculine Europe. Our discussion likewise was divergent. Yet we regularly returned to the necessity to contextualise crime not just in terms of a-personal (political or culture) contents but personal experiences. The non-dogmatic way in which the chapter does this was repeatedly remarked upon.

Whilst it unequivocally argues for the crucial importance, for instance, of the concept of shame in bringing about these crimes and it approaches shame from what appears to be the fertile ground of psychoanalysis, it does not claim exclusivity and remains tangibly open for forays into shame from multiple theoretical and disciplinary perspectives.

Of great interest from a CuSP perspective (on the relationship between psychological experience and cultural practices) is the question of how powerful experiences associated with shame find public forms of symbolic expression, in this case forms of expression which are in themselves deeply disturbing and damaging, but nevertheless seemingly culturally contagious. Many public crimes of violence, it seems, are symbolising the desire for a complete exit from the social order they are part of, and a thoroughly destructive mythology of regeneration.  

The second edition of the book is expected to come out at some point next year!




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