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Why We Harm

Lois Presser

Publication Year: 2013

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.

In Why 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Critical Issues in Crime and Society


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p. 1-1

Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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Preface and Acknowledgements

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pp. ix-x

It’s comforting to think that we are nothing like perpetrators of violence and other havoc. The distance allows us to identify with goodness and good people. I take the position that the difference is quantitative and not qualitative—that I have more in common...

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1. Making Misery

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pp. 1-18

Thomas, on April 7, 2001, after Cincinnati, Ohio, police officerwas to hurt the city economically and thereby force city leadersthereof. I take the view that experience is always already struc-cause-and-effect relationships imputed to events, self, and Otherfrom suffering or loss, which are its effects. The diversity of such...

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2. We Are Written: A Narrative Framework of Harm

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pp. 19-30

...key role of narrative in forging identity. Whereas these are fun-between parties, the greater the likelihood of harm. Conversely,Emmanuel Levinas, ?the face is what forbids us to kill? (1985, 86).Joan Spade found that the college fraternity parties that posed thetheir responsibility to such persons, and the level of guilt they...

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3. Genocide, Harm of Harms

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pp. 31-49

It strikes us as the worst possible harm because its eliminationistspecifically stories in all harm, that role is especially vivid in theunprotected, accessible, and desirable to the motivated offenderof factors that affect victimization risk.2 On the matter of howdenial of victim, two of the five ?techniques of neutralization?...

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4. Institutionalized Harm through Meat Eating

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pp. 50-68

...granted the killing of nonhuman animals for food. The killing ofmeat. I am referring here to the multibillion-dollar factory farmharm they do to animals is largely invisible, in part by dissemi-meat eating, a case of highly institutionalized harm. The chapteris built on qualitative interviews with sixty meat eaters as well as...

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5. Intimate Partner Violence: A Familiar Stranger

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pp. 69-87

...cern. It is a horrifically common sort of conventional violence.IPV prevalence rate of 7.9 percent in the prior year and 44 per-including physical or sexual assault, ranged from 15 to a shock-In this chapter I first revisit the question of the relationshipthe case that certain discursively constructed cultural expecta-...

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6. Penal Harm: Stigma, Threat, and Retribution

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pp. 88-108

Our nation?s incarceration rate is the highest in the world (ICPSalthough that statistic obscures even more striking race specifics:1 in 9 black men ages twenty to thirty-four and 1 in 36 Hispanicincreases in the 1980s and 1990s ( Justice Policy Institute 2000),in the supermax facilities that now operate in forty-four states...

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7. Synthesis

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pp. 109-121

...hope to have revealed the far greater audacity of the rhetoric ofWe are not sufficiently alarmed by these discourses, least of allof stories, that reduce the target of harm and conjure ourselvespetitive organization of social control units; and the associatedhad spent most of his life in France, inspired to commit terrorist...

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8. Unmaking Misery

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pp. 122-130

...telling per se is most assuredly not the solution to the problemstories to make meaning. This book itself tells a story in whichTrue stories integrate all one?s own feelings and ideas, all theallegiances and anchors of selfhood. They nod toward past, pres-ent, and future. The characters in true stories are ever on their...


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pp. 131-133


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pp. 135-150


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pp. 151-163

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About the Author, Other Works in the Series

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pp. 165-168

Cincinnati (PhD 2002). Her research pertains to intersections oftices. Guided by questions of creativity and constraint in socialincluding Justice Quarterly, Signs, and Social Problems. She is alsothe author of Been a Heavy Life: Stories of Violent Men (UniversityLuis A. Fernandez, Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813562605
E-ISBN-10: 0813562600
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813562599

Page Count: 180
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Critical Issues in Crime and Society