The Globalisation of Crime: Understanding Transitional Relationships in Context

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Secondly, even admitting that the global economy no longer needs geo-political areas in which to reproduce itself, the truth is that the external debt continues to be accounted for in terms of individual countries and it is through this and through the financialisation of the economic system that the poor countries of the world have become transformed, from the eighties onwards, into net contributors to the wealth of the rich countries. In third place, contrary to what may be understood from the framework drawn up by Castells, the convergence of countries in the global economy is as significant as their divergence and this is particularly obvious in the core countries Drache, Since salary and social security policies continue to be defined on a national level, liberalisation measures taken since the eighties have not significantly reduced the differences in labour costs in the different countries.

It is true that the liberalization of markets has destructured the processes of inclusion and exclusion in different countries and regions. However, the most important thing is to analyse the ratio between inclusion and exclusion in each country. It is this ratio which determines whether the country belongs to the North or the South and to the core, periphery or semi-periphery of the world system. The countries in which integration into the world economy is processed primarily as exclusion are the countries of the South and the periphery of the world system.

These transformations deserve detailed attention, but there can be no doubt that only the ideological swings which have occurred in the scientific community in the North as well as in the South can explain how the iniquities and imbalances in the world system, despite having increased, have lost their analytical centrality. Globalisation is seen from the point of view of the core countries, taking into account their experiences. This is particularly the case of the authors who focus on economic globalisation.


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Both the determinist fallacy and the fallacy of the disappearance of the South have come to lose credibility as globalisation transforms itself into a social and political area of conflict. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that in recent years various discourses on globalisation have emerged.


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Robertson , for example, distinguishes between four main globalisation discourses. Regional discourse , such as, for example, the Asian discourse, the Western European discourse or the Latin American discourse have a civilisational tone, in which globalisation confronts regional particularities.

Within the same region, there may be different sub-discourses. Yet, as Robertson remarks, the anti-globalisation of the French can easily be converted into a French globalisation project. The disciplinary discourse relates to the way in which globalisation is seen by the different social sciences. The most salient feature of this discourse is the emphasis given to economic globalisation. Ideological discourse can intersect with either of these and relates to a political evaluation of the processes of globalisation.

The anti-globalisation discourse opposes pro-globalisation discourse and within both it is possible to distinguish left and right wing positions. Finally there is feminist discourse which, having started off as an anti-globalisation discourse — favouring the local and attributing male concerns to the global — is nowadays also a discourse of globalisation and is distinguished by the emphasis it places on the community aspects of globalisation.

The plurality of discourses on globalisation show that it is imperative to produce a critical theoretical reflection on globalisation and to do so in such a way as to capture the complexity of the phenomena it involves and the disparate interests it confronts. The theoretical proposal which I present here arises from three apparent contradictions which, in my understanding, confer on the historical period in which we are living its specifically transitional nature.

The Globalisation of Crime: Understanding Transitional Relationships in Context

The first contradiction is between globalisation and localisation. The present time reveals itself to us as dominated by a dialectic, at the heart of which the processes of globalisation occur parallel to the processes of localisation. In fact, as interdependence and global interactions intensify, social relations in general seem to be increasingly more dispossessed, opening up the way towards new rights of choice , which cross borders that until recently were policed by tradition, nationalism, language or ideology and frequently by a combination of all these factors.

Yet, on the other hand, in apparent contradiction to this trend, new regional, national and local identities are emerging, constructed around the new preeminence of the rights to roots. Such local factors, though they refer to real or imaginary territories as much as to ways of life and social relationships, are based on face-to-face relationships, on closeness and on interaction.

Territorial localisms are, for example, those favoured by people who, after centuries of genocide and cultural oppression, have finally reclaimed the right to self-determination within their ancestral territories, with some measure of success. Translocalised localisms, in turn, are promoted by translocalised social groups, such as the Arab immigrants in Paris or London, the Turkish immigrants in Germany or the Latin American immigrants in the USA.


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For these groups territory is the idea of territory, as a way of life, in terms of closeness, immediacy, belonging, sharing and reciprocity. Moreover, this repossession, which usually occurs on an inter-state level, can also occur on a supra-state level.

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The second contradiction is between the nation state and the transnational non-state. The preceding analysis on the different dimensions of the dominant globalisation showed that one of the most controversial points in debates on globalisation is the question of the role of the state in the era of globalisation.

If, for some, the state is obsolete and on its way to extinction or, at the least, very much weakened in its capacity to organise and regulate social life, for others the state continues to be the central political entity, not only because the erosion of sovereignty is very selective but, more importantly, because the institutionalisation of globalisation itself — from the multilateral financial agencies to the deregulation of the economy — is created by the national states.

Each of these positions captures part of the ongoing process.

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None of them, however, does justice to the transformations as a whole because these are, in fact, contradictory and include processes of state affirmation — to the extent to which it may be stated that states have never been so important as they are today — as well as processes of privatization, in which highly important interactions, networks and transnational flows take place without any significant interference from the state, in contrast with what had happened in the previous era. The third contradiction, which is of a political and ideological nature, exists between those who see in globalisation the finally indisputable and unconquerable energy of capitalism and those who see in it an new opportunity to broaden the scale and the nature of transnational solidarity and anti-capitalist struggle.

The former position is, moreover, defended as much by those who lead globalisation and benefit from it as by those for whom globalisation is the most recent and most virulent form of external aggression against their way of life and well-being. These three contradictions crystallise the most important vectors of the process of globalisation now taking place. In the light of them, it is easy to see that disjunctions, parallel occurrences and confrontations are so significant that what we term globalisation is, in fact, a set of different processes of globalisation and, in the last instance, of different and sometimes contradictory globalisations.

What we habitually call globalisation is, in fact, different sets of social relationships, and different sets of social relationships give rise to different phenomena of globalisation. In these terms there is not, strictly speaking, one sole entity called globalisation, instead there are globalisations; to be precise, this term should only ever be used in the plural. Any wider concept should be process-based and not substantive. In addition, although they are sets of social relationships, globalisations involve conflicts and, therefore, winners and losers.

Frequently, discourse on globalisation is the history of the winners, recounted by themselves. In fact, the victory is apparently so absolute that the defeated vanish totally from the scene. It is therefore wrong to think that the newer and more intense forms of transnational interactions produced by the processes of globalisation have eliminated the hierarchies of the world system. Doubtless they have transformed them profoundly, but this does not mean that they have eliminated them.

On the contrary, empirical evidence suggests the opposite, pointing to an intensification of hierarchies and inequalities. The contradictions and disjunctions identified above suggest that we are in a transitional period, in terms of the three main dimensions: transitional in terms of the hierarchies and inequalities in the world system, transitional in terms of institutional form and complementarity amongst institutions; transitional in terms of the scale and configuration of social and political conflicts. The theory under construction must therefore take the plurality and contradictions in the processes of globalisation into account instead of trying to subsume them into reductionist abstractions.

The theory which I am about to put forward is based on the concept of a world system in transition. It is in transition because it contains within itself the old world system, undergoing a process of profound transformation, and a set of emerging realities which may or may not lead to a new world system, or to another new entity, systematic or not.

It is a question of circumstances which, when captured synchronically, reveal a complete openness to possible alternative developments. Such openness is symptomatic of a great instability which configures a bifurcation, in the Prigoginian sense. It is a situation of great instability and volatile compromises, in which small alterations can bring about huge transformations. It is therefore a situation characterised by turbulence and by the explosion of scales.

The world system in transition is formed from three sets of collective practices: the set of interstate practices, the set of global capitalist practices and the set of transnational social and cultural practices.

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The interstate practices correspond to the role of the states in the modern world system as protagonists of the international division of labour, at the heart of which is established the hierarchy of the core, periphery and semi-periphery. The global capitalist practices are the practices of the economic agents whose spatial-temporal unit for real or potential action is the planet itself. The transnational social and cultural practices are the cross-border flows of people and cultures, and of information and communication.

Each of these sets of practices is made up of: a group of institutions which ensure its reproduction, their compatibility and the stability of the inequalities which they produce; a form of power which supplies the logic of the interactions and legitimises the inequalities and the hierarchies; a form of law which supplies the language of intra-institutional and inter-institutional relations and the criteria for distinguishing between permitted and prohibited practices; a structural conflict which condenses the root tensions and contradictions of the practices in question; and criteria of hierarchy which define the way in which inequalities of power and the conflicts which they translate into are crystallized.

Finally, although all the practices of the world system in transition are involved in all the modes of production of globalisation , they are not all involved in all of them with the same intensity.

The Globalisation of Crime: Understanding Transitional Relationships in Context

Figure no 1 illustrates the internal composition of each of the components of the different sets of practices. I will only comment on those which require an explanation.

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Prior to this, however, it is necessary to identify what distinguishes the world system in transition WSIT from the modern world system MWS. In the first place, whilst the MWS is based on two pillars, the world economy and the interstate system, the WSIT is based on three pillars, none of which have the consistency of a system. It is more a question of sets of practices whose internal coherence is intrinsically problematic. The greatest complexity and also incoherence of the world system in transition lies in the fact that in it the processes of globalisation extend far beyond states and the economy, and involve social and cultural practices, which in the MWS are confined only to states and national societies or their sub-units.

Moreover, many of the new transnational cultural practices are originally transnational or, in other words, constitute themselves free of reference to any concrete nation or state or, when they do have recourse to them, do so only to acquire raw material or local infrastructures for the production of transnationality. In addition, whilst in the MWS the two pillars have clear and distinct outlines, in the WSIT there is a constant and intense interpenetration between the different sets of practices, to such an extent that there are grey areas or hybrids amongst them, in which the sets assume a particularly composite character.

For example, the World Trade Organisation is a hybrid institution made up of interstate practices and global capitalist practices, in the same way that flows of migration are a hybrid institution in which, to varying extents according to different situations, the three sets of practices are present. Thirdly, even though many of the core institutions of the MWS remain in the WSIT, they nowadays carry out different functions, without their centrality necessarily being affected.

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Thus the state, which in the MWS ensured the integration of the national economy, society and culture, nowadays actively contributes towards the disintegration of the economy, society and culture on a national level in the name of their integration within the global economy, society and culture. The processes of globalisation result from the interactions between the three sets of practices.

The tensions and contradictions inside each of the sets and in the relationships between them arise from forms of power and inequalities in the distribution of power. The form of power is the unequal exchange in all cases, but it assumes specific forms in each of the sets which are derived from the resources, the artifacts and the imaginary which are the object of this unequal exchange.