Resistance to State Crime Research Paper

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Resistance is an undeveloped aspect of state crime scholarship. Criminologists have been successful in naming state crimes and exposing the violence and harms committed by states but less so in documenting, analyzing, and theorizing the ways individuals and movements challenge, oppose, and even prevent and stop state crimes. State crime scholars are increasingly interested in defining resistance and describing the spectrum of activities that might be considered resistance. Criminologists are also interested in exploring the impact of resistance on state crime and reflecting upon what makes resistance effective in both the short and longer term, along with the factors that might encourage or discourage people to engage in resistance. State crime scholars also need to consciously consider the ways their scholarship might contribute to resistance. This research paper sets out criminological contributions to the study of resistance to state crime and maps out some potential future directions for scholarship and research.


The capacity of state officials and their contractors to kill, maim, exploit, repress, and cause widespread human suffering is unsurpassed (Green and Ward 2004). The extent and nature of state violence and harm has been successfully exposed in state crime scholarship. Crimes committed by states far outweigh those by individuals and non-state actors. State crime scholars have analyzed how acts including genocide, torture, corruption, escalating militarization, and environmental destruction have been led by the state. They have also developed understandings of how state crimes are managed at individual, societal, institutional, and structural levels; illustrating, for instance, how individual perpetrators are “made”; how bystanders fail to intervene; how state organizations fail to provide justice to victims; and how state violence is typically directed at the least powerful (see, e.g., Cohen 2001; Huggins 2010; Stanley 2009). State crime scholarship has provided significant new approaches in the way criminologists think about crimes, victims, and perpetrators.

One aspect of state crime literature that remains undeveloped is resistance – criminologists have so far paid little attention to the instances where state crime has been challenged or contested and even halted or prevented. Criminologists have tended to present a depressing catalogue of inhumanity and suffering without a corresponding analysis of the humanity and vitality of those who have resisted state violence. Many key historical moments have involved resistance to state crime: the abolition of slavery, the resistance movements of World War Two, the achievements of the civil rights movement in the United States, the implementation of the International Criminal Court, and the 2011 struggles across the Middle East provide just a few examples. Resistance to state crime is ripe for further criminological study.

This research paper provides an overview of the criminological insights and debates on resistance to state crime thus far. In addition to exploring what resistance might mean in the context of state crime, it responds to a number of key questions: Who engages in resistance? What might be viewed as “successful” resistance? And, what might be the role of criminologists in supporting or engaging in efforts to resist state crime? Finally, the paper highlights some directions that criminologists might take in future resistant responses to and analyses of state crime.


While much of criminology has focused on the support of state policies and practices, even where such policies and practices lead to routine and institutionalized harms, there is a growing literature that focuses on state crime. Criminologists have debated the construction of crime, critiqued the state, and have sought to take control of the definitions attributed to harmful or injurious behaviors. In doing so, scholars have implicitly engaged in or supported resistance to state crime. State crime scholars have been adept in critically analyzing, and refusing to accept, the techniques of denial that frequently accompany acts of state criminality (Cohen 2001). Moreover, in analyzing how the identities of state crime victims are ideologically managed, so that victims are frequently defamed as terrorists or criminals, they have confronted popular conceptions that victims of state crime are deserving of harsh treatment, violation, and even elimination (Stanley 2009; McCulloch and Sentas 2006). State crime scholars have “unpacked” how state crimes come to be made acceptable and justified within complex political processes of neutralization and criminalization. In taking this route, some criminologists have asserted that numerous state actions are unfair, unjust, troubling, damaging, and in many instances crimes of grave magnitude. By their very nature, these analyses are imbued with a sense of resistance.

State crime scholars have attempted to intervene in state crimes by challenging state impunity. For instance, criminologists Hagan et al. (2005) have, through statistical and regression analyses, demonstrated how the Sudanese government directly supported the killings and rapes of Darfurians. In illustrating the racial targeting of African Darfurians by state actors, they bolstered prosecutorial evidence in characterizing these events as state-sponsored genocide. This study, like others of its kind, illustrates that criminological work can play an active role in resisting state crime.

Criminologists have, however, generally failed to consciously consider resistance either as an integral part of state crime scholarship or as a discrete topic to be pursued within state crime studies (see, however, Green and Ward 2000; Pickering 2002). While resistance can be read into state crime scholarship, it is generally embedded in another “story,” such as developing a historical context, illustrating techniques of denial, or simply writing against state crime. A “more consciously ‘applied’ form” of analysis on resistance is needed (Friedrichs 2010, p. 5). This goal underpinned the first symposium on state crime and resistance, convened by Elizabeth Stanley in New Zealand in January 2010. This event propelled new thinking and writing about resistance – including a special edition of Social Justice in 2010 as well as a Routledge book edited by this research paper’s authors (Stanley and McCulloch 2013).

State crime scholars have grappled with defining resistance to state crime. After all, the scope of activities that might be considered as resistance is wide. Resistance is an elastic term that covers various actions. It has multiple dimensions and operates along a continuum. In relation to contesting state crime, Sharon Pickering (2002) and Rob White (2010) argue that resistance could include actions that are passive or active, hidden or overt, peaceful or violent, verbal or physical, ad hoc or strategic, a one-off event or a perpetual happening, concentrated on a limited event or led by a global focus, led by “experts” or by participatory engagement, underpinned by fun or by fear and terror, and small scale or large scale. The motives, contexts, and practices that encompass resistant acts are as varied as the state crimes that they seek to challenge.

Nonetheless, for something to be resistance rather than just a random act, there have to be some defining features. In recent work, Stanley and McCulloch (2011) establish three primary elements of resistance. These elements are intention, communication, and action. First, resistance is about opposition with social, moral, or political intent. The intention is crucial. In this respect, resistance requires some level of consciousness or human agency; it involves a choice. Mohandas Gandhi, seen as the modern father of nonviolent resistance, articulated this view in his idea that resistance was a “conscious option” for resisting injustice (see Urquhart 2011, p. 37). Other scholars, such as Henry Giroux (1983), have argued that opposition is a necessary condition of resistance but that acts of resistance must also be carried out with the aim of emancipation or transformation. The intention to change, or retain a status quo, is a key part of any resistant act.

Second, resistance is a form of communication that constitutes a message or messages. Sometimes, resistant acts can be registered as clear statements directed at dominant powers or the public. A protest march clearly aims to communicate – although, of course, underlying protest messages can sometimes be lost or subverted by state discourses of public order and control. Resistance has the most potential when it reflects the aspiration of a broad range of people. Messages are frequently designed to encourage bystanders to become participants in resistance movements. Sometimes, however, the communicatory nature of resistance may not be understood by or revealed to a wide audience. Quiet, small, or more personal acts of resistance may not be “read” by state agencies or the general public. Nevertheless, they are forms of resistance where there is an element of communication, even when the intended audience is small or intimate. For instance, during the Pinochet-led repression in Chile from 1973 to 1990, female opponents created arpilleras, political quilts that represented the pain, injustice, and harm of living under the regime as well as the aspiration of moving beyond repression. These quilts depicting “disappearances,” torture, and other forms of violence were private, seen only by trusted family and friends. Nevertheless, they presented a clear and formidable intention to expose state crime and to delegitimize what was happening in the name of counter-terrorism. Acts of resistance can be assessed in terms of how they communicate new ideas and how they challenge dominant, state-centered discourses and generate discourse on state crime, and integral to this is how they subvert popular assumptions about perpetrators, victims, or bystanders, and raise awareness.

A third element of resistance is action towards creating, asserting, or arresting change. Resistance is bound up with the ways in which people understand and act on their capacity to make or oppose changes. These actions can be diverse, for example, they may involve the creation or consolidation of different ways of living or they may involve active or passive opposition to change or in pursuit of change. The following section elaborates upon several key issues in this emerging state crime field.

Key Issues

This section explores some of the central themes that have guided criminological writings on state crime and resistance thus far. In particular, it explores three questions: Who is involved in resistance? What might be viewed as effective resistance? And, how might criminologists resist state crime?

Who Is Involved In Resistance?

State crime scholars have highlighted the fundamental paradox that while states are major perpetrators of crime and active contributors to mass victimization at a global level, they also hold the position as the main protector of people, animals, and environments (Friedrichs 2010; White 2010). Consequently, while those engaged in activism and resistance rally against state actions, they also direct state authorities to defend and protect rights. This unique paradox can make it extremely difficult for resisters to gain truth, redress, or justice on state crime issues. The reason for this is that states will regularly prefer to preserve and protect state institutions rather than protect the people those institutions are purportedly established to serve. Criminologists such as Jamieson and McEvoy (2005) highlight the way that state perpetrators deny their involvement in state crime and engage in elaborate techniques of “othering” to hide their direct participation.

This paradox also impacts on how bystander states challenge criminal states. For instance, notwithstanding the frequent claims made by powerful states about challenging impunity, protecting human rights, and securing justice, “the international political community remains wedded to the practice of Realpolitik in terms of applying international criminal law” (Rothe 2010, p. 112). Challenges from bystander states – for instance, to extradite or arrest individual perpetrators – are often hindered and prevented by shifting economic, political, strategic, and military interests. Legal responses to state crimes are regularly quietly dismissed in favor of other considerations, such as developing close economic ties with perpetrating states (Stanley 2009). However, these relationships are not static or impregnable, and, at certain junctures, the constellation of interests may be such that resistance becomes possible, and (continuing the example above) some perpetrators of state crime are arrested, tried, and convicted.

In a global age, those who seek to resist state crimes must engage with multiple targets (Friedrichs 2010). The reason for this is that states are not monolithic and, in an era of globalization, state institutions will frequently operate alongside corporations, international financial institutions, the United Nations, militias, and other bodies in the committal of state-corporate crimes, eco-crimes, crimes of globalization, and finance crimes. Moreover, as Stanley Cohen’s (2001) work on denial makes clear, state crimes are sustained by individuals in everyday ways. As consumers, voters, or through other social (in)action, individuals encourage, legitimize, neutralize, or become complicit in state crimes. Consider, for instance, the (media-led) public mandate given to US politicians to engage in torture following the attacks on September 11, 2001; or the usual approach of corporate shareholders not to question how their resources are spent; and popular support for punitive approaches to asylum seekers. It is often difficult to disentangle responsibilities, and criminologists have to be particularly mindful of the ways in which state crimes are operationalized across different networks of power.

Beyond identifying who or what needs to be resisted, criminologists have also begun to pay attention to who engages in resistance and how resistance strategies can cut across diverse groups. The earliest works on state criminality identified that state crime can be censured and sanctioned through a variety of different social audiences: from above, for example, through UN bodies, international courts, or domestic monitoring organizations (such as police complaints authorities); from below, through the withdrawal or erosion of public consent to state authorities (highlighted through protests against state actions); from within, by state workers exerting demands, and making changes, inside their own organizational structures; and, from without, through the work of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who operate to place international pressure on criminal states. In 2009, Green and Ward elaborated upon the mechanisms and processes by which organized civil society groups engage in collaborative actions to challenge and reform criminal states. Working across different power bases at local, national, and international levels, resistant groups frequently take multipronged approaches to resist state crime. These approaches might include a combination of direct action, legal strategies, political lobbying, public relations, and media campaigns all of which are likely to overlap and feed into each other. These different approaches may be calibrated to diverse primary target audiences.

Contemporary practices of resistance transgress conventional political boundaries. The globalization of political spaces has meant that the traditional distinctions between who is a “claims maker” and who is not (at local, national, and global levels) are blurred. In addition, the rise of new technologies – such as camera-mobile phones and the Internet – has meant that state crimes can be documented and circulated across the world with relative ease and at speed. This has, in some circumstances, placed state authorities on the “back foot.” Would the United States have been subject to the same level of accountability if the images of the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and images of hooded detainees at Guantanamo Bay had not been widely circulated? A similar question can be asked about the torture of civilians by Indonesian troops in West Papua. Likewise it has become more difficult for police to deny brutality when such events are captured on video cameras, CCTV, or mobile phones and widely circulated. Changes in technology have made it more difficult for states to claim that acts of violence have not taken place. Nevertheless, states continue to engage in denial by suggesting self-defense in the face of threats posed by criminals and terrorists. Victim-survivors are frequently recast as perpetrators despite visual evidence to the contrary.

The complexity, power, and resilience of states mean that resistance is most effective when it resonates with a community of resisters who have a shared experience and who can support each other and speak with and for each other (Scott 1990). Resisters need to mobilize a movement of concerned others. One element that celebrated resistance leaders such as Mandela, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King share was their ability to mobilize others. This point has not been lost on contemporary human rights groups, trade unions, or religious bodies who seek to develop collective strategies within and across nations in attempts to resist state crime (Stanley and McCulloch 2011). To be effective, resistance requires people to work together to achieve shared goals. In this respect, resistance is a political project in which people morally engage in practical tasks of contestation (Sivanandan 1990).

Of course, mobilizing bystanders is no easy task. Stanley Cohen (2001) has highlighted the way bystanders shut out confronting stories of state crime and distance themselves from any moral imperative to take action. This distancing occurs through various techniques. For example, bystanders can diffuse responsibility (arguing that state crimes are nothing to do with them, and because of this, they should remain uninvolved), they might struggle to identify with state crime victims (particularly if victims have been labeled as criminals or terrorists or denigrated in some other way), and they might feel powerless to help (as they cannot imagine any action that could make a substantial difference). Beyond this, people may consciously or unconsciously feel afraid to identify with or act in solidarity with state crime victims lest they too become victims. Regardless, criminologists are keenly aware that transforming bystanders into participants is crucial to any resistance strategy (Friedrichs 2010). Engaging others, within and without criminal states, is vital to challenging state crimes.

Despite the techniques of denial and the challenges of building movements of resisters, states are often faced with persistent victimsurvivors who simply refuse to go away. Victim-survivors, who often have “nothing left to lose” can become “ferocious fighters and tenacious enemies” (White 2010, p. 55). This issue has been demonstrated in criminological writings on transitional justice (see Stanley 2009). In this domain, victim-survivors have been particularly strong in drawing upon international human rights standards and laws and engaging transnational campaigners and support groups to promote their demands over decades.

With fairly limited resources to push for action, victims continually make insistent claims for truth and justice. Part of this, as detailed above, can be attributed to the persistence of victim-survivors; however, it may also emerge as a consequence of the ways in which harms and injuries from state crime develop over time. Some of the crimes or harms resulting from state action may not be fully realized until many years after the initial event. For instance, the impact of depleted uranium in places like Iraq is only now becoming fully apparent in terms of the long-term health effects upon Iraqi citizens who lived on “target” sites, war veterans as well as their descendants (White 2008).

Such events highlight that resistance to state crime often requires a long-term strategy. Nonetheless, many people have shown great resilience in these endeavors. From examples like the Holocaust or the repression in Chile or the Indigenous land rights movement in Australia, it is clear that victims can achieve some “success” – decades after state crimes have occurred, victims can be acknowledged as victims, compensation can be paid, and prosecutions can occur (Stanley 2009). These struggles often require great levels of persistence, tenacity, and courage, and their “successful” outcomes are hard won.

What Constitutes “Successful” Resistance?

In responding to state crime, resistant acts may succeed on structural, institutional, social, and personal levels. As Stanley and McCulloch (2011) detail, successful resistance may be momentous or small; it may confront an entire regime or be limited to opposing specific state actions. It might take the form of overthrowing a criminal state, holding the state accountable for its actions, challenging the state’s claim to truth, changing the socio-legal landscape to amend unjust laws or provide access to law, “answering back” to colonizing norms and values, reasserting positive values of care or dignity in society, changing the practices and values of state workers, or presenting individuals with an opportunity to take action and move beyond powerlessness.

It is impossible to quantify the multiple acts of resistance that take place all over the world on a daily basis. What is clear, however, is that “successful resistance” or “what works” is varied and depends “very much upon the immediate political struggles and social contexts” (White 2010, p. 50), although there is research to suggest that nonviolent resistance is successful more often than armed campaigns (Stephan and Chenoweth 2008). Resistance requires a recognition of state harms or injuries at a local level. Yet, in contemporary conditions, successful resistance will regularly recognize the global nature of this phenomenon and while dependent upon achieving change at a local level, may often be tied to how individual events might be cast as social problems that have a national or even international resonance. This kind of approach that goes beyond localism and generates allies across the globe can “acknowledge the intrinsic commonalities across borders and a shared moral universe among political activists” (White 2010, p. 52). Resisters do not just deal with “narrow state interests” (White 2010, p. 54) but contest fundamental problems within global structural relations of power.

Effective or successful resistance, however, is difficult to measure. What may initially be regarded as positive advances or real “victories” can turn out to be Pyrrhic, temporary, or have unintended or unforseen consequences. Resistance strategies raise “moral conundrums” (Friedrichs 2010) and may, despite altruistic intentions, adversely impact on people who have few choices and little power. State crime may also prove resilient, continuing, or reemerging in altered forms as the social, political, legal, and cultural landscapes shift (Stanley and McCulloch 2011). Indeed, some state crimes that may be viewed as having ended may continue in different forms. Slavery, for example, is regularly regarded as a historical phenomenon, but it continues unabated in contemporary forms of forced labor, debt bondage, child labor, or trafficking (Bales 2004). Contemporary slavery continues to affect millions of people; however, it often goes “unseen,” as it functions as part of an advanced global capitalist system in which labor is outsourced and traded across corporate and contractor networks. In the same vein, slavery and its attendant colonial systems have also changed to fit the demands of contemporary conditions, such that the differential policing and mass incarceration of minority populations within liberal democracies such as Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and the UK have been made acceptable (Stanley and McCulloch 2011). In these instances, it is impossible to argue that substantive equality has been achieved. Instead the progressive eradication of the slave trade through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and an end to formal racial discrimination, has been replaced by new forms of economic, political, and social control.

It is also apparent that what might appear to be a progressive response to resistance strategies can turn out to be merely symbolic. For instance, resisters will often draw upon the rule of law and the judiciary to bring state officials to account. Yet, using state institutions like the judiciary to oppose state crime simultaneously confirms, or shores up, the institutional basis of the state. It can reinforce the parameters of “the law” as well as enhance the legitimacy of the state; such that they present the state as a “protective body” in periods when many state actions suggest otherwise. Sometimes seemingly accommodating state responses to resistance movements or actions can be counter-productive or they can reiterate dominant norms. For example, Bibbings (2009) highlights how new, apparently liberal laws with regard to homosexuality ultimately reinforced hegemonic heterosexual norms (by continuing to advance homosexual activities as being “different” or “deviant” and by increasing the monitoring and control of sexual practices). Nonetheless, the advances in law provided an opportunity for the state to purport “to have moved beyond heteronormativity and homophobia” (Bibbings 2009, p. 42). In addition, legal advances – set against a discourse of progress and equality – made further resistance difficult to pursue as those who continued to complain were labeled as “radicals” or “extremists.”

The symbolism of responses to resistant acts is, therefore, an important consideration. Progressive state responses, which might at first glance be regarded as a successful outcome to resistant acts, can just present an opportunity for the state to strengthen legitimacy and highlight that they are governing by consent. It can serve to mystify the state – in that the state (and state actors) can appear as being able to be effectively challenged or changed or “talked back to” (Coleman et al. 2009, p. 15). Where states move to accommodate, incorporate, and adjust to resistance, the solidarity of resistance movements frequently comes under challenge as those within reach different conclusions about the meaning of state actions and the need for continued resistance.

It may, however, be too narrow a frame to consider effective or successful resistance only as collective actions or those that impact discernibly on the state. Successful forms of resistance can also grow unremarked or unnoticed from a whole range of small, quiet “unsuccessful” actions carried out by unknown individuals or small numbers of people (Stanley and McCulloch 2011). This idea of the many small actions over time leading to a more just outcome in the face of state crime is captured in the title of the anthem of the Australian indigenous land rights movement: “from little things big things grow.” There are circumstances in which resistance may not be seen, acknowledged, or recognized by a broader audience. It may operate instead as “offstage dissent” (Scott 1990). It may be too dangerous and repressive for individuals and groups to make open claims of victimization and demands for justice. Yet, in such circumstances, individuals and groups often continue to engage in actions that create a “hidden transcript” against the dominant force (Scott 1990). Such “transcripts” may be made up of simple acts – lighting a candle to remember someone killed by state forces or marking a stone where an atrocity occurred. While these acts may not have a broad audience and may even be done in secret, they demonstrate agency within contexts of limited power and may, in ways that are (deliberately) difficult for those not directly involved to comprehend, keep the will towards resistance alive. These struggles against power may, as Milan Kundera (1978, p. 3) maintained, be “the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

There are small, as well as significant, victories to be had in resisting state crime. As a final note here, it must also be acknowledged that even if a resistance initiative is seen to have failed overall, that “does not mean that they failed to influence, mitigate or even constrain state policies and actions related to state crime” (Friedrichs 2010, p. 9). While resultant changes may often not meet the expectations of those who resist, they may still have challenged state policies and actions. In addition, the lessons learned through “unsuccessful” campaigns may form the foundation for future “success.”

How Might Criminologists Resist State Crime?

From the above discussions, it is clear that state crime scholars have begun to make some progress on the elements and meanings of resistance. Criminologists have also begun to identify, and analyze, the different routes that criminologists might take in progressing a resistant approach. For while a stance on resistance might at first appear to be romantic or na¨ıve, the costs of not challenging state crimes appear to be too high a price to pay (Friedrichs 2010).

To this end, criminologists have ascertained several approaches that might be taken by future scholars. First, state crime academics might participate in a traditional public criminology in which they engage in public education through the remit of their publications and public speaking and work with resistance movements, including with state officials. This approach dovetails with “news-making criminology” in which scholars expose state crime issues. This form of public criminology is seen as having limited interactions, as being relatively passive and mainstream (Kramer 2010).

Second, criminologists might engage in an organic public criminology in which they work directly with activist groups or individuals in a process of mutual education. The impetus, here, is to craft political actions and policy choices through more direct activist action. This form of criminology is more visible, thick, and active and may directly challenge public understandings of “crime” and harm (Kramer 2010). This form of criminology also connects with the “idealist critical criminology” proposed by Coleman et al. (2009) who argue that criminologists can be pragmatic and actively influence policy. It is possible to challenge the state (and be outside the ideological terrain of state) and still engage with policy. For example, criminologists can engage with organizations such as Inquest (which campaigns against deaths in custody in the UK), as well as other counterhegemonic groups, that stand “in opposition to the state’s criminal justice agenda but still remain engaged with government in consultations, lobbying and policy work” (Coleman et al. 2009, p. 16).

Within these broad approaches to the state crime issue, criminologists have a number of further concerns and issues to attend to. For instance, there are questions of whether state crime research can ever really be funded or directed by government agencies. After all, such research can be expected to support the imperatives of the state and to consolidate the continued regulation of the powerless (Walters 2009). Alongside this, there remain questions about how criminological literature may be developed to refocus attention to state crime activities. Part of this may involve a substantive reframing of criminological language to include debates on nationalism, sovereignty, universal jurisdiction, legitimacy, human rights, cosmopolitanism, global justice movements, global governance, or sustainability (Friedrichs 2010). For many criminologists, this requires new exploration of crucial ideas and concepts that currently stand outside mainstream attention.

All of these identified routes and concerns revolve around an idea of strengthening the criminological role as “claims makers.” It also signifies an academic move from being invisible, passive, or inactive towards being visible and active (Kramer 2010). As academics, paid by the state, criminologists remain capable (with their scholarly privilege) to engage in resistance. Yet, such resistant approaches are not without risks or difficulties. Academics who take such stands may face isolation, attack, or dismissal; they may find that they are negatively portrayed within academic or media circles; and they may struggle to find funding or to access data (Kramer 2010; Walters 2009). In addition, within an environment in which academics face multiple constraints (such that, in many countries, academics are faced with a particularly narrow band of what constitutes “valued knowledge” – in the form of funded research, knowledge disseminated in particular journals, or by particular publishers – and employment or career progression is dependent upon being an academic producing “valued knowledge”), it may be that such academic resistance is becoming increasingly difficult to uphold or engage with (Tombs and Whyte 2003). Even so, it remains the case that western academics usually hold a comfortable position from which to resist from. This places an onus on scholars to engage; as Cohen (2001, p. 40) points out, “Intellectuals who keep silent about what they know, who ignore the crimes that matter by moral standards, are even more morally culpable when society is free and open.” The choice not to speak against state crime in circumstances of freedom and safety is to use a term borrowed from the resistance movements of World War Two, to collaborate with those crimes.

Future Directions

Given the relative dearth of literature on this topic, there are many directions that criminologists might take in the future. Here, five potential aspects of state crime scholarship are explored in relation to resistance. First, as Stanley and McCulloch (2011) note, state crime scholars must be mindful to analyze both the egregious and the mundane. That is, while it is useful and necessary to analyze genocides, such as the Holocaust, it is also important to consider state crime and resistance outside of the most notorious acts of state violence. To understand state crime, as well as resistance, criminologists need to include the study of the everyday harms and violence that are embedded in the fabric of society. Focusing on state crimes and resistance exclusively in the context of the foremost exemplars of state crime, risks overlooking the pervasive state perpetrated violence and harms that occur as normalized, hidden, or denied aspects of society, including in democratic states.

Second, criminologists might also develop analyses of resistance in terms of affirming values, or becoming something, rather than acting against. That is, resistant acts may be about sustaining a way of life or invoking a competing claim of universalism (such as affirming and reproducing cultural identities). This idea is illustrated in Harry Blagg’s (2008) recent work on aboriginality and justice. He highlights how difficult it is to imagine “forms of resistance that do not seek to take over the state, or reproduce it, but actively seek to create distance from state structures and recreate traditional forms of order” (Blagg 2008, p. 37). While the state may be viewed, in an Althusserian sense, as the “site and stake” of struggles, some groups want to move beyond the state. In this regard, it is crucial to understand that as a result of history there are divergent meanings attached to state institutions. In addition, some groups hold “radically incommensurate interpretations” (Blagg 2008, p. 47) of past experiences. From this perspective, to celebrate and live by another universality may be a valued form of resistance. Such ways of being move beyond the usual dichotomies of cultural/social/political norms about life, so that ways of being or ways of resisting are called into question rather than being reemphasized and bolstered.

Third, and a related point, is that criminologists may become more mindful of how resistance strategies and practices are differentially experienced across groups. State crime literature has not yet thoroughly engaged with how state crimes are structurally experienced, and the literature on state crime and how it relates to structural relations of gender, “race,” age or class remain relatively undeveloped. Future scholars could therefore be more attentive to how state crimes, and attempts to bring states into line, “will be perceived and experienced differently” (White 2010, p. 57).

Fourth, criminologists could continue to develop analyses on why people and groups become attracted to certain resistance strategies and, simultaneously, how they are also dissuaded from participating. A key question to the latter point might be the following: Why do people not resist more to state crimes? Criminologists (such as Cohen 2001; Stanley 2009; White 2010) have already demonstrated that citizens are dissuaded from resisting as a consequence of many issues, such as compassion fatigue, an acceptance of certain forms of state violence, a culture of individualism such that they are less likely to aid “others,” concerns about their own criminalization or denigration, or a sense that any strategies are doomed to failure. The dangers that resisters and their “communities” might face are worthy of further examination, particularly in terms of how states engage in “counter-resistance” techniques.

Finally, and fifth, there is significant scope to question how resistance strategies impact upon state power. That is, do resistance strategies just embed state power by emboldening states to pursue more authoritarian measures or by providing states with an opportunity to enhance their own institutions, discourses, and status? For instance, as detailed above, while there have been a range of progressive reforms around a whole host of issues, including gender and “race” relations, they have never been secure or adequate (such that essential power relations have remained unchanged). Within such circumstances, it is unclear whether resistance to state crime can be successfully undertaken by strategies that use state institutions and norms – the use of law to ban slavery and the institution of legal regimes of equal opportunity have not dismantled the economic system in which slavery and racialized punishment continue to operate, yet it has emboldened legal and state systems, at international and national levels, to present the appearance that something has been, and is being, done.

Resistance to state crime is emerging as an important aspect of state crime scholarship. Naming, describing, analyzing, and theorizing state crime has contributed to criminology by moving it beyond state-centered notions of harm and security. Harms and violence committed by individuals pale into insignificance compared to those committed by states. Incorporating the study of resistance into state crime studies and into the work of state crime scholars marks an important advance in the field. The challenge of the future is to build on the emerging insights on state crime and resistance so, as state crime scholars, we can confidently claim to have moved beyond being bystanders to participants in the struggle against state crime.


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