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Conceptions of Space and Crime in the Punitive Neoliberal City

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The entrenchment of neoliberalism in the United States has coincided with an unprecedented expansion of punishment practices that intensify social divisions rooted in class and race. We explore the political culture of this hyperpunitiveness through a discussion of two popularized explanations for urban crime: broken windows and situational crime prevention. These popular criminological theories help legitimate the deepening of social and spatial divisions. They also rest their precepts upon the foundation of a particular geographic imagination. We use this paper to reveal and critique the core assumptions about space upon which each of these theories critically relies. We suggest that each theory understands society–space interactions too simplistically to provide comprehensive insight into the dynamics of landscape construction and interpretation. We argue further that the logics and practices of broken windows and situational crime prevention possess significant elective affinities with social dynamics characteristic of neoliberalism. For these reasons, these popularized criminologies both reflect and reinforce the processes through which neoliberalism exacerbates social differences.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA;, Email: 2: Program in Criminal Justice Studies, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, USA;, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2006


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