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The meaning of crime
The meaning of crime

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2 Tales of fear and fascination

2.1 Social attitudes towards crime

Crime, then, is a social construction. We had to break down the definition of crime and the process of recognising crimes to explore that. This is an analytical approach to the issue, which simply means unpacking an idea or a process into its separate components so that we can examine them more closely. But most of the time we don't think about crime analytically. We think about it as a narrative, as a story.

At a personal level we may tell the story, over a drink, of our car being broken into for a third time this year. Others confide in each other with stories of personal injury. We use stories to make sense of our misfortunes, to seek remedies to our hurts, to establish a chain of events and actions that we can understand. What we do as individuals and small groups, we also do as a society. What kinds of stories about crime are we telling ourselves in the UK?

Broadly speaking, there are two types of story in circulation. One set of stories is prominent in public discussions and the media. It describes the UK as a society engulfed in a tidal wave of crime in which a secure past has become an insecure and uncertain present, crime is something to be feared and diminished: a society frightened by crime. The other set of stories we tell and consume, more privately perhaps, is of crime as macabre but glamorous, fearful but fascinating. It seems that we cannot get enough of this kind of crime and these stories: a society fascinated by crime.