Monday, 5 July 2010

12: Clarke and Innes: Retroactive Social Control

I am currently working a paper with Greg Elmer that uses my previous work on the police National DNA Database (NDNAD) to develop a more theoretical discussion of surveillance and ‘the database state’. Martin Innes and Alan Clarke ‘Policing the past: cold case studies, forensic evidence and retroactive social control’ (British Journal of Sociology 60:3 2009) has provided new insight.

As Greg and I are also trying to do, Innes and Clarke link the growth of databases such as the NDNAD to the issue of pre-emption.
“Predictive, pre-emptive and precautionary logics have wrought fundamental transformations in how social control is both imagined and practised. Instruments of prediction have become increasingly commonplace as part of attempts to anticipate amongst which individuals and population groups criminal and disorderly conduct is likely to arise.” (p543)
They highlight a shift in posture of the criminal justice system and other institutions of control towards the prediction of future behaviour driven by a ‘logic of precaution’.
“ Profound and significant shifts in the conduct of social control have been premised upon future-orientated frameworks, where harms and risks are not just reacted to but anticipated, and counter-measures enacted prior to their actual occurrence.” (p544)
The really original contribution of the paper, however, is to show that alongside projection into the future “the delivery of social control increasingly pivots around redefining the past and placing events that have already happened under new descriptions.”

Innes and Clarke’s analysis is built on interview and observational research with police investigators involved in ‘cold case reviews’ of previously unsolved homicides. The periodic review of unsolved serious cases has become a feature of policing on both sides of the Atlantic. In the USA reviews of cold cases are driven by a belief that the passing of time will open up new investigative possibilities (changing circumstances may make informants willing or able to talk to the police). In contrast, UK cold case review is driven by faith in advances in expertise and technologies related to crime scene investigation. Innes and Clarke argue that this reflects a more general preoccupation with the potential of DNA analysis, ‘scientific policing’, and socio-technical applications to social control in the UK so that:
“ Collecting, processing and interpreting physical evidence now routinely constitutes a significant proportion of the work performed during a major crime investigation.” (549-550)
Innes and Clarke’s research on cold case reviews shows how reviews are not just a reinvestigation of a past situation but rather a rewriting (or ‘fixing’) of the past and a redefinition of the situation. In the UK case physical evidence, in particular the re-examination of crime scenes and new analysis of contact trace materials, are central to the complex and fluid work of deconstruction of original police narrative and construction of a new social reality

Out of this empirical work Innes and Clarke develop the concept of ‘retroactive social control’: placing past events under new descriptions, rewriting official definitions of a situation. Thus social control horizons are both future-orientated and past-orientated. In the closing pages of their paper Innes and Clarke extend their analysis to official rewritings of collective memory about crimes using examples such as the Macpherson Inquiry, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Northern Ireland Police Service.

But my solipsistic interest remains with their discussion of crime and science. New technologies and new kinds of technical experts (forensic, psychological and geographical) are central to cold case review. Cold case review has helped to bolster the crime solving credentials of the police at a time when they have come under increasing scrutiny and critique.
“It is not simply a case of there being a social control problem for which a technological innovation provides a solution. Under certain circumstances social control practice changes when an extant technology finds a new problem to which it can be applied. In effect, sometimes innovative social control logics are generative of new technologies, but at other times it is a new technology that enables social actors to think about new possibilities for the conduct of control.” (p551)
Clarke and Innes suggest that this is about nothing less than a new politics of memory.

“The proliferation of databases encoding and storing materials of different kinds (of which the NDNDAD is one) has massively multiplied our capacity to collectively recall and thus ‘remember’ both major and mundane events and interactions. It is set against this backdrop, that retroactive social control has emerged as a key process in the architecture of governance and social order.”(p561)

No comments:

Post a Comment