Big Trouble or Little Evils: The ideological struggle over the concept of harm

Stephen Hall, Simon Winlow

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    This chapter builds upon the authors’ previous work, which suggests that there has never been a ‘civilizing process’ across the course of modernity but an economically functional conversion of harms from physical brutality to socio-symbolic aggression. Although harm is integrated into the system’s generative core it appears as morbid symptoms during dysfunctional intervallic periods. The subject’s acceptance of core harms and their various manifestations can be best explained in a theoretical framework of transcendental materialism, with a focus on the process of deaptation, which proliferates harms as morbid symptoms appearing in the tension between a changing real world and ossified ideologies. Capitalism can be best explained as a process of managed deaptation, which constantly puts us at risk of the continuation and unpredictable mutation of a broad spectrum of harms. The criminalization of harms is maintained in a state of imbalance by the catastrophizing negative ideology of capitalist realism, which compels us to legitimize the existing spectrum of harms by constantly warning us of the far greater harms we would risk should we instigate a process of transformation. Given star billing in an endless cautionary tale, potential transformative harms are condemned as absolute, intolerable and inevitable while the system’s everyday morbid harms are excused as relative, tolerable and contingent. This dominant ideology operates at the core of the criminalization process, legitimizing negative rights and compelling us to regard specific types of crime as the ‘price of freedom’ while downplaying the harms they cause.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationZemiology: reconnecting crime and social harm
    Number of pages0
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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