Anti-Social Behaviour in Britain

Book review published in the International Review of Social History / Volume 60 / Issue 02 / August 2015, pp 290-293. Copyright © Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis 2015.

DOI: (About DOI), Published online: 22 July 2015

Anti-Social Behaviour in Britain. Victorian and Contemporary Perspectives. Ed. by Sarah Pickard. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke 2014. xx, 375 pp. £75.00.

This collection of essays consists of twenty-five scholarly contributions by thirty academics in British Studies, Cultural Studies, Sociology and Criminology, and Urban Studies. Recent legislation in Britain on the question of anti-social behaviour (Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003) is put into perspective by case studies. The contents are arranged into three thematic sections covering issues coming under the general headings of urban and public space, vulnerability and marginalization, recreation and leisure.

It is something of a challenge to compare the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century Britain with the late Victorian period, yet this comparative approach brings insights and depth of understanding to what has been labelled as anti-social behaviour, though this term is not as recent as might be thought: the first occurrence being attributed to Gladstone in 1887 (T. Harris, p.21). The conclusions may serve as lessons for policy-makers today.

The comparisons highlight the difficulty of defining the term anti-social behaviour, as any definition carries a class-basis and normative standards are regularly imposed by moral crusaders. They place the discussion in the framework of the Foucauldian paradigm of the taming of the masses by institutional violence and Ellias’ theory of the civilizing process which, together, bring into play the notion of social constraints and codes of behaviour. Also at play are the Bourdieusian notion of a cultural elite (aristocracy) or a hierarchy of aesthetics. As Andrew Millie puts it: “There are clearly issues of power in who defines what is acceptable.” (p.105). Ultimately, it is the notion of power which permeates each contribution. […]