This week’s readings I actually found to be very cohesive with last week’s: following embodiment, we have sense of how place and what one hears also forms and is formed by culture and the individual experience. I already discussed aurality in my last post, but I thought I could address Thompson’s In Two Directions: Geography As Art, Art As Geography here. I found the connection to place very compelling, as it brought to mind a class I took last quarter called Crime and Delinquency.
In this course, we talked about the “broken windows” phenomenon, which is summarized (along with analysis) in the paragraph I wrote for my final for the class, below (bold added):
Broken windows policing is a model of policing that centers on the importance of disorder in propagating more serious crime, which Wilson and Kelling first proposed in 1985. The idea is that disorder leads to more withdrawal from residents, which decreases informal social control, then allowing more serious crime to move into the area. Wilson and Kelling noted the experiments by Philip Zimbardo, which showed that if a car was left on the street with a broken window, within a few hours (apparently regardless of the neighborhood), the rest of the windows will be broken, the tires slashed, and the car stripped and ransacked. Harcourt (2002) noted that, at that time, broken windows was at once endorsed by conservatives and liberals (alternative to massive incarceration). Despite the apparently overwhelming data in favor of the effectiveness of broken windows policing, Harcourt noted all of the inconsistencies in the data of those studies: Kelling failed to establish any causal link between misdemeanor arrests and violent crimes (simply correlational: opening the data up for any number of covariates), as well as Skogan (1990) failing to find any significant correlations between residents perceptions of disorder and anything but robbery victimization. A comprehensive study done by Sampson and Raudenbush (1999) failed to find a connection between disorder and crime in 4 out of 5 tests (including homicide, the best measure of violence). Altogether, Harcourt concluded that the idea that public disorder sends a crime-encouraging message is probably wrong, considering places like Amsterdam and San Francisco that have lots of visible street activity linked to drug use and prostitution but have low crime rates. Even if that premise were true, it might then be a better idea to invest into community-improving programs like homeless shelters. Harcourt’s final conclusion is that broken windows policing is in fact flawed at the theoretical level: it assumes ingrained propensities to commit crime (ie the habitual offender and the disorderly who must be “arrested, controlled, and relocated”). However, people are much less inflexible than this assumption would lead you to believe.
Despite the conclusion of my paragraph, I do still believe that if your geography doesn’t necessarily contribute to how much crime occurs, it still greatly affects the mood (as we can see from the drastic popularity of these programs: people FELT safer with beat cops, despite the fact that they didn’t have an impact on crime levels). A pleasant stroll through the neighborhood becomes hard when one feels unsafe, disgusted, or harassed on the streets. That leads to a disconnect between people in the neighborhood – it leads to a loss of community.
Another issue that we covered in that class was place and perception of victimization. In Convictability and discordant locales: Reproducing race, class, and gender ideologies in prosecutorial decisionmaking, Frohman chronicled the impact of place on how jurors, prosecutors, and judges perceive rape cases that occur in the “wrong side of town.”
Frohman makes the argument that the construction of “discordant locales” is a discourse practice used by prosecutors to justify case rejection. She stresses that prosecutors 1) “anticipate defense arguments to assess whether they can construct a credible account of the incident for the jury” and 2) “invoke anticipated jurors’ interpretations of case ‘facts’ as the standard for convictability” (536): altogether they try to ensure, before investing in the case, that the jurors will decide to convict the offending party. It follows that if the prosecutor anticipates discordant locales between the jurors, victims, and defendants, they expect that jurors will misconstrue the case facts and lower the probability of a guilty verdict at trial, thus they reject the case. This is anticipated because they ascribe stereotypical characteristics of a neighborhood to victims, defendants, and jurors – creating groups with different cultures and spaces, who see the world differently. Frohman brings up the example of the DDA (deputy district attorney) categorizing the neighborhood in terms of prostitution, and that the majority of women who make accusations in Center Heights (where Frohman did her field study) weren’t credible (as Frohman puts it, their remarks “assume that the women on the street at night typically are prostitutes or are playing games with police power for their own gains” ). This applies generally to all women who grew up in the area: even if they aren’t prostitutes, they still have no credibility if they’re from the neighborhood. The jurors are almost always white and wealthy, and not from the poorer areas that the defendants and victims are from. Overall, Frohman makes the argues that “place” is an incredibly salient cue that prosecutors often assume will set the tone for whether or not a jury will decide to vote a defendant as guilty or not (on the premise that if the victim was in a certain place at a certain time, the jury would think that she was up to no good in the first place and the case will not lead to a conviction).
This resonated with the example Thompson gave of and Israeli averaging an hour through a checkpoint and a Palestinian averaging 4.5 hours. Whether it is rape victims or Palestinians, there will always be discrimination based on locale. Of course, it is often hard to distinguish between race and locale. Neighborhoods often become synonymous with race, but I think that the fact that certain neighborhoods always become home to the looked down up minority – whether it be Italian, Irish, Black, or Latino – is very telling. The lines between these two facets of life start to blur.
In terms of culture and how locale forms a person (and in turn each individual’s impact on their environment), I think that environment is really the most important to an individual’s development of identity. If you love the place where you grew up, if you hated it, both of these experiences will leave a lasting impact on how you interact with your surroundings thereafter and will contribute to your sense of identity, whether you like it or not. This Daily Kos post is a good take on identity formation in America.
Geographic culture develops when a place begins to represent the people who live there for example, I love my crazy liberal hometown of Berkeley, and I think the person I am is both a reflection of the ideals of my parents and neighbors and my reflection back on them and the community. The wider SF Bay Area also has an incredibly distinctive culture that represents the diversity of the people who live there (ie the rap legacy of Oakland, tech in Silicon Valley [and SF], the gay community and the Castro… the list goes on).
As Thompson concluded, “Ultimately, all phenomenon resolve themselves in time and space.” Whatever our opinions on race and crime in relation to locale, we must accept that those opinions are often bounded by locale, no matter the cause.
See below for scarily accurate representation of the SF Bay Area (update: sent this to my whole family and they loved it).