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The Politics of Pain: A Political Institutionalist Analysis of Crime Victims' Moral Protests

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Like the new social movements, crime victim movements were part of broad cultural struggles to redefine the character of social order in the late twentieth century. Motivated by pain and outrage over criminal victimization, they were engaged in highly charged moral protests over the rights and duties of state government and the relative value of human life. This article argues that the degree to which crime victims were part of a retributive movement—the restriction of criminal offenders' rights and liberties—or part of a restorative movement to repair victims' well-being depended on the political context in which they were operating, specifically the structure of the democratic process. The case studies suggest that a context with a high degree of democratization but intensive social polarization was more likely to deepen crime victims' demands for vengeance as well as provide their legal and political expression, while a context with intensive civic engagement but well-developed social trust and norms of reciprocity was more likely to bring about pragmatic measures, intermixing restorative and restrictive approaches to criminal victimization. This article seeks to extend the literature on political institutionalism by integrating the structural constraints of institutions with the power of human agency.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Florida State University

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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