by Michael Boudreau. Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia Press. 2012. 352pp. Cloth $85.00. ISBN 9780774822046. $34.95 Paperback ISBN 9780774822053.
Reviewed by William Lyons, Professor of Political Science, University of Akron.
Michael Boudreau provides a detailed historical analysis of Halifax during the period between the two world wars to examine the ways that Halifax elite responded to crime as a condensation symbol for the anxieties and fears associated with modernity more generally. “In response to largely media-manufactured ‘crime waves,’” Boudreau argues that public and private sector elites in the city “demanded a more punitive and aggressive course of action to defeat the ‘criminal class,’ and they usually found a convenient scapegoat in the figure of the ‘deviant alien’” (p.6).
It is not surprising that Boudreau finds a mutually constitutive relationship between law and community in Halifax (see Greenhouse, Yngvesson, and Engel, 1994). As Stuart Scheingold has observed in the American context, “Street crime … is a powerful condensation symbol, which can under some circumstances be readily and safely politicized … to ward off threats to the political order” (Scheingold, 1991:173). Boudreau further integrates into his analysis of law and community a robust discursive examination of the competing narratives animating traditional and progressive elites as they struggle to navigate a city disrupted by deindustrialization and the unsettling demographic changes associated with it.
Anxieties about the atrophy of traditional values intersect, in a struggle between two discourses about crime and governance (Simon, 2009), with initiatives to professionalize law enforcement as well as ongoing efforts to protect the ‘city trenches’ (Katznelson, 1981) that mark the boundaries between the powerful and the power-poor, to enforce and reinforce existing race, class, and gender subordination.
“Halifax’s citizens found themselves in a rapidly changing city that was becoming more and more modern. They emphasized building a city of order to limit the impact of modernity. To this end, from 1918 to 1935, a campaign arose in Halifax to modernize the city’s criminal justice system ... to meet the challenges posed by crime. These challenges were firmly associated with modernity…. In this specific context, the perception surfaced that the substance of daily life had altered completely. People no longer automatically knew their neighbors or spoke their language; they could not assume a consensus on religion or morality; they lived to a large extent among strangers and worked in impersonal institutions; they shopped in new massive stores and were [*296] influenced by the new arts of the radio broadcaster and the advertiser; and they felt themselves to be part of a society in which the safety of neither person nor property could be assured” (p.5).
This social history of the relationship between crime control and governance in Halifax focuses on several important questions. In what ways do urban elites use a discourse about law and order to reinforce existing (and threatened) power relations during a period of turmoil triggered by larger, external, macro-economic forces associated with free markets and modernity? In doing this, how do elites advance law and order, respond to citizen fears, and preserve traditional community values without undermining the promise of modernity?
It turns out that there is more talk about professionalizing criminal justice than there is actual adjustments to law enforcement, since Halifax elites deploy both traditional and progressive discourses about crime and punishment to extend their capacity to utilize the criminal law, law enforcement agency, and incarceration to protect entrenched white power by punishing others (Alexander, 2012). In Halifax, like we have seen in other urban contexts, a rhetoric of policing reform and revitalizing community was mobilized to reinforce aggressive police agency and expand traditional approaches to punishment with less accountability (Lyons, 1999).
The book begins with an introductory chapter that outlines the larger argument. In the first substantive chapter, Boudreau describes the socio-economic situation in Halifax during this period. Then he focuses on describing the workings of the Halifax criminal justice system. Chapters 3 describes the struggles among Halifax elite over professionalizing their approaches to crime control and governance. Chapter 4 describes those who came to be targeted as the criminal class in this place at this time. And Chapters 5 and 6 each focus on one subcategory of the criminal class as constructed in response to elite fears: women and minorities.
This manuscript gathers data from a variety of sources, including most prominently the two leading newspapers in Halifax from that period, the Halifax Herald and the Morning Chronicle, with occasional reference to other papers, like the Labour Gazzette. In addition to these primary sources, Boudreau relies heavily on secondary literature that analyzes crime and punishment in Canada (and beyond) more generally, including work that focuses on Halifax in particular, government reports, census data, and documents produced by criminal justice agencies.
The first substantive chapterprovides a selective statistical portrait of Halifax during this period, starting with an explosion in the harbor, shipyard strikes, and capital flight marking a steady transition of Halifax from an industrial shipyard to largely service sector economy overly dependent on tourism.
Halifax during this period, was “not, comparatively and statistically speaking, a crime-ridden city” (p.33), and the city arguably had a worse crime problem in the middle nineteenth century (p.39). Halifax was, in fact, “a city with a fairly [*297] average rate of criminal convictions. Yet many middle-class Halifax residents, perhaps seeing in crime a mirror of the modernity they both admired and feared, persisted in making of each new murder and armed robbery a ‘crime wave’ of unprecedented proportions” (p.35).
This is a central theme running throughout this manuscript: middle-class fears about modernity are condensed into a focus on punitive approaches to crime targeting the already power-poor. However, nowhere in the manuscript does Boudreau provide data to support the claim that average middle-class citizens held these views or attitudes about crime, modernity, the relationship between crime and modernity, or data on the ‘unprecedented-ness’ of perceived crime waves. The data presented here shows that some Halifax elite expressed these concerns.
In Chapter Two Boudreau frames a description of an evolving Halifax criminal justice system around a “struggle between ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’ tendencies” (p.37) among the city elite. Boudreau argues that cutting across these competing narratives was a focus on ‘effectiveness’ (pp.38, 40). My reading of the evidence provided, however, is that the changes described here were more about preserving the powerful status of Halifax elites and the power-poor status of women, minorities, and foreigners in the city and much less about a consensus on effectiveness. The chapter concludes with detailed descriptions of the operation of police courts, the juvenile court, prisons and reformatories, concluding that despite talk about professionalizing reforms, fiscal constraints prevented significant change in these areas.
Chapter three describes the struggles among Halifax elite over how to best professionalize their approach to crime and argues that through this struggle the city came to share a common perception about the nature of crime and criminality in Halifax. Boudreau argues that ‘a consensus did emerge’ around a volitional understanding of the causes of crime (p.75). “Notions of class, gender, and ethnicity also shaped the way in which the police, courts, and concerned citizens understood the problem of crime and criminals. As such, certain images emerged about the poor, women, and ‘foreigners’ that influenced how they were treated by the criminal justice system” (p.79). Boudreau argues that residents saw crime through a racial lens, demanding swift action that the system was only able to deliver because of how much residents respected law enforcement officials, Canadian criminal law, and British justice.
As noted above, chapters 4 through 6 address the construction of the criminal class. In my view, this is an interesting and detailed account of elite struggles in Halifax that demonstrates important ways that stories about crime control overlap with stories about governance and power. Since we know that moral panics often emerge more for political than criminological reasons (Hall, 1978), this text can help us better understand the complex processes through which punitive attitudes and a racially disparate approach to crime control as governance might be seen as paradoxical responses to disruptions associated with modernity.[*298]
Alexander, Michelle. 2012. NEW JIM CROW: MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLOR BLINDNESS. The New Press.
Greenhouse, Carol, Barbara Yngvesson, and David Engel. 1991. LAW AND COMMUNITY IN THREE AMERICAN TOWNS, Cornell University Press.
Hall, Stuart. 1978. POLICING THE CRISIS: MUGGING, THE STATE AND LAW AND ORDER. Palgrave MacMillan.
Katznelson, Ira. 1981. CITY TRENCHES: URBAN POLITICS AND THE PATTERNING OF CLASS IN THE US. University of Chicago Press.
Lyons, William. 1999. THE POLITICS OF COMMUNITY POLICING: REARRANGING THE POWER TO PUNISH. University of Michigan Press.
Scheingold, Stuart. 1991. THE POLITICS OF STREET CRIME: CRIMINAL PROCESS AND CULTURAL OBSESSION. Temple University Press: Philadelphia.
Simon, Jonathan. 2007. GOVERNING THROUGH CRIME: HOW THE WAR ON CRIME TRANSFORMED AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND CREATED A CULTURE OF FEAR. Oxford University Press.
Copyright 2014 by the Author, William Lyons.