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  • Anti-Social Behaviour in Britain: Victorian and Contemporary Perspectives ed. by Sarah Pickard
  • William Meier (bio)
Anti-Social Behaviour in Britain: Victorian and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Sarah Pickard; pp. xx + 375. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, £79.00, £75.00 paper, $125.00, $120.00 paper.

Victorian scholars, beware: exotic lexical territory lies ahead in Anti-Social Behaviour in Britain: Victorian and Contemporary Perspectives, which is littered with contemporary criminal justice acronyms including ABC, ASBO, CBO, CPI, CRASBO, FBO, FIP, ISO, and PND, to name just a few. This reviewer was tempted to exclaim OMG! Thankfully, one can emerge from the thicket of presentist jargon to behold a thematic landscape abounding with figures more familiar to nineteenth-century specialists: vagrants, drunks, druggies, prostitutes, street sellers, juvenile delinquents, and the so-called criminal classes. All such Victorian misdemeanants would today be subject to the most significant of the book’s many initialisms: ASBO, or the Anti-Social Behaviour Order. Tony Blair’s Labour government introduced these court orders in 1998 as non-custodial penalties to restrict the movement or behavior of offenders whose conduct was deemed to have caused harassment, distress, or nuisance. The orders exist to this day—in spirit, not in letter, as they are now CBOs (Criminal Behaviour Order)—and they permeate popular culture, whether as the title character of Martin Amis’s novel Lionel Asbo: State of England (2012), or the inveterate ne’er-do-well Vicky Pollard, whose character proclaims in the comedy series Little Britain (2003–07): “yeah, I am, like, ASBO-tastic.”

The collection aims “to establish whether there are parallels regarding anti-social behaviour and governmental responses” between Victorian and contemporary Britain; it merits attention as the first attempt to place today’s moral panics about public disorder in a variety of disciplinary contexts, ranging from history and criminology to communication and social policy studies (xvii). (Readers should note there are no literary approaches in this volume.) Collectively, the contributions highlight how authorities applied the label “anti-social behaviour” unevenly across different times, places, and social classes. The thrust of Sarah Pickard’s compilation is that the vague label “anti-social behaviour” and its subjective qualifiers (harassment, distress, and nuisance) have led to the creeping criminalization and stigmatization of customs, cultures, and lifestyles among vulnerable populations, while also masking the malfeasance of elites and corporations.

Victorian Studies readers should order a la carte from Pickard’s menu. Most appetizing are chapters that place nineteenth-century blasphemy, truancy, homelessness, and the social construction of gypsies and travelers in a long-term, comparative frame. Perhaps the chef d’oeuvre is Sinéad Gormally’s chapter on paramilitary punishment attacks in Northern Ireland against such anti-social transgressions as joyriding, drug dealing, burglary, and mugging: it stands out by problematizing the whole idea of illegality and explores complex attitudes of popular support for the use of violence against crime in a context where policing is not always seen as legitimate. There are other palatable contributions on the contemporary crime scene, including studies of the 2011 London riots, so-called troubled families, recreational drug use, and football hooligans. Other offerings are more bland and, given the limited space for each chapter, often superficial in discussing urban rowdyism, anarchism, juvenile crime, and “loutish” activity at racecourses, music halls, and pubs. More generally, this volume does not break new ground regarding historical knowledge or literary and media representations of crime in Victorian Britain. [End Page 149] Indeed, most chapters cite some combination of texts that remain authoritative in the field of crime and policing in modern Britain, including Stanley Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of Mods and Rockers (1972), Geoffrey Pearson’s Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears (1983), V.A.C. Gatrell’s oft-cited essay on the policeman-state, “Crime, Authority and the Policeman-state” (1990), and David Garland’s The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society (2001).

As an edited collection, Pickard’s volume is a difficult read. Abundance of the aforementioned acronyms makes for a bumpy ride; so, too, do repetitions of the same overview of recent anti-social behavior legislation and...


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