Understanding deviant lifestyles: critically evaluating anti-social behaviour and problem drug use

PATERSON, Craig and MACVEAN, A. (2006). Understanding deviant lifestyles: critically evaluating anti-social behaviour and problem drug use. Police research and management, 6 (3), 33-42.

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In recent years, politicians across the United Kingdom have become increasingly preoccupied with the social management of anti-social individuals and groups. Translating governmental strategies and policies in to action at street level requires an understanding of the mechanics of deviant lifestyles and the ways in which lifestyle choices increase the amount of contact that individuals have with the police and other crime control agencies. The subjective nature of terms such as ‘anti-social behaviour’ (ASB), ‘problem drug use’ and ‘deviant lifestyles’ makes it particularly difficult to generate valid data concerning their prevalence or otherwise and presents challenges for methodological approaches. In part, this is due to the governmental drive to regulate and control groups of generally young people without a clear evidence base for these actions. This political strategy bypasses the complexities inherent in understanding ASB and, more broadly, what are perceived to be deviant lifestyles.

In order to make sense of the extent of ASB it is essential to create a critical understanding of how different groups of people define both anti- and pro-social behaviour. In particular, these include the different perspectives of victims of crime, offenders, people who live in different communities and those who have different life experiences. It would also take account of gender, generational and class differences.

Through police case file analysis and interviews it has been possible to investigate how different categories of people who come into contact with the criminal justice system understand ASB and deviant lifestyles, particularly in relation to offenders and victims. By using methodology in a more creative way it is possible to develop a greater understanding of what ASB means to different groups of people. These methodological approaches highlight the fluid nature of victim and offender groups and the importance of subjectivity in understanding terms such as ‘anti-social behaviour’, ‘problem drug use’ and ‘deviant lifestyles’.

Questions still remain concerning what acts constitute ASB and, because of this, this article asks whether there are any similarities between ASB discourse and previous debates about deviance. These debates are illuminated by two recent research studies concerning the policing of ASB and an evaluation of drug lifestyles, both conducted in the Chiltern Vale police area. These examples provide a critical appreciation of two distinct forms of deviant lifestyle that are often misunderstood in the public arena. A bottom-up focus moves the emphasis of the study away from official statistics and instead provides a more holistic vision of community safety issues that emphasises the lived reality of deviant lifestyles. These findings have direct implications for national initiatives concerning the use of ASB legislation and the development of effective harm reduction strategies for drug users. Finally, key questions are raised concerning the problematic role played by political actors in the development of policy and practice and the potential harmful consequences that this presents for local communities.

Item Type: Article
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Hallam Centre for Community Justice
Page Range: 33-42
Depositing User: Caroline Fixter
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2010 08:27
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 08:02
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/1364

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