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Social control projects must take privacy into account

06.09.2007
Modern projects related to social control can only succeed if they respect modern ideas about privacy, according to Pieter Spierenburg in his inaugural lecture 'Apegatje's pursuers.

Social control between shifting violence thresholds and changing ideas of privacy'. Spierenburg describes the historical background to violence and criminality. There was certainly greater acceptance of violence in the past than there is today, says the new professor. Ideas about privacy differed, too.

On Friday 7 September 2007 Spierenburg will accept the chair of extraordinary professor in historical criminology at the Erasmus School of Law from the EUR Trust Fund Association.

Modern projects related to social control can only succeed if they respect modern ideas about privacy, according to Pieter Spierenburg in his inaugural lecture 'Apegatje's pursuers. Social control between shifting violence thresholds and changing ideas of privacy', in which he looks at the historical background of violence and criminality.

There was certainly greater acceptance of violence in the past than there is today, says the new professor. Ideas about privacy differed, too. On Friday 7 September 2007, Spierenburg accepts the chair of extraordinary professor in historical criminology in Erasmus School of Law from the EUR Trust Fund Association.

For centuries, there was greater acceptance of violence than there is today. As Spierenburg shows, three hundred years ago citizens were much more violent when arresting a shoplifter, for example, and no one questioned this. Apegatje, from the title of the lecture, was a shoplifter at the beginning of the 18th century, who was severely beaten up. Shifting violence thresholds as well as changing ideas about privacy affect the nature of informal social control, according to Spierenburg.

Some four centuries ago, the arsenal of social control was considerably extensive, both at community level and by organisations like guilds and churches. Punishments for offences included sitting the perpetrator backwards on a donkey and driving him through the streets with a great fanfare, or excluding him from the communal dinner, or just calling him to order through the grapevine. The legitimacy of this was rarely called into doubt by anyone concerned: the phenomenon was not considered an invasion of privacy, even if the person punished did not like it.

Such forms of community control continued to exist until the middle of the twentieth century, but then declined all over Europe. In the Netherlands, the Roethof committee called for new cooperation between police and community organisations. For pioneering projects in this field, the Hein Roethof prize is awarded every year.

But can we transplant the informal control of the past to our modern society?

In the past, informal control was based on the acceptance of neighbourhood spying and on maintaining the norms regarding marriage and personal lives. Spierenburg points out that neighbourhood control often continued long after industrialisation. Informal social control suffered, however, as a result of individualisation and modern ideas about privacy: everyone should mind their own business and street life disappeared. Modern projects in the field of social control can therefore only succeed if modern ideas about privacy are respected.

This lecture is part of the joint inaugural lecture 'Control: about the dynamics between criminality and social control', held by three professors of Erasmus School of Law. Besides Spierenburg, René van Swaaningen (International comparative criminology) and Henk van de Bunt (Criminology) will also be accepting their chairs on this day.

Yvette Nelen | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eur.nl/english/pressroom

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