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Random Violence

How We Talk about New Crimes and New Victims

Joel Best (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 237 pages
ISBN: 9780520215726
March 1999
$29.95, £24.00
Random Violence is a deft and thought-provoking exploration of the ways we talk about—and why we worry about—new crimes and new forms of victimization. Focusing on so-called random crimes such as freeway shootings, gang violence, hate crimes, stalking, and wilding, Joel Best shows how new crime problems emerge and how some quickly fade from public attention while others spread and become enduring subjects of concern. Best's original and incisive argument illuminates the fact that while these crimes are in actuality neither new, nor epidemic, nor random, the language used to describe them nonetheless shapes both private fears and public policies.

Best scrutinizes the melodramatic quality of the American public's attitudes toward crime, exposing the cultural context for the popularity of "random violence" as a catch-all phrase to describe contemporary crime, and the fallacious belief that violence is steadily rising. He points out that the age, race, and sex of homicide victims reveal that violence is highly patterned.

Best also details the contemporary ideology of victimization, as well as the social arrangements that create and support a victim industry that can label large numbers of victims. He demonstrates why it has become commonplace to "declare war" on social problems, including drugs, crime, poverty, and cancer, and outlines the complementary influence of media, activists, officials, and experts in institutionalizing crime problems. Intrinsic to all these concerns is the way in which policy choices and outcomes are affected by the language used to describe social problems.
Joel Best is Professor of Sociology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He is the author of Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern about Child-Victims (1990).
"A major contribution to the literature on social problems, crime, and social deviance, and a fine example of what is currently the best-established theoretical approach to this material. It is laudably interdisciplinary, draws admirably from 'high' and 'low' culture, and over all asks some very challenging questions."—Philip Jenkins, Pennsylvania State University

"Random Violence extends the growing scholarly literature on the social construction of social problems by showing us how currently trendy folk knowledge obscures the most perplexing problems in American society and how it serves to foster a climate of social distrust."—Donileen Loeske, University of South Florida

2016 Public Understanding of Sociology Award, American Sociological Association

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