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Negotiating Balance: Criminal Justice and Social Complexity in Fragile States

Fri, Nov 18, 2:00 to 3:20pm, Hilton, Cambridge, 2nd Level


Social science has long proffered that formal sanctions serve purposes beyond the mere circumscription of criminal behavior (Durkheim [1900]1983). Rusche and Kirchheimer, [1939]1968) assert that dominant groups within a society will invoke formal controls when they perceive threats to their economic and power interests. Their ability to do so often resides in a delicate system balance. As Marshall and Cole assert, “[T]he optimal functioning of a state system is dependent upon each “unit” within the system carrying out the tasks expected of competent governance, [coordinating] with and working with other parts of the system and perhaps most critically, “[working] to foster legitimacy and compliance through their just and fair actions (2009, 24).” For most nations of the world this manifests as a more or less stabilized and negotiated tension. For fragile and failed states, the tension often takes a fundamentally different form in terms of criminal justice processes. This framing suggests a relationship between social complexity and the power of social elites to manage resource distribution in society. In this study, it is argued that states whose social complexity has outpaced infrastructural development will exhibit signs of greater fragility, differential criminal justice system practices being chief among them.