Criminal ignorance

Authored by: Darren Thiel

Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415718967
eBook ISBN: 9781315867762
Adobe ISBN: 9781317964674


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Ignorance and denial of the intentions and outcomes of transgressive activities are central to understanding how individuals and organizations bend, break, create and manipulate moral and legal rules. Indeed, the concept of denial has a distinguished pedigree in criminology. This chapter describes how it has been used to understand crimes ranging from minor youthful delinquencies to major genocides. Drawing on the work of Sykes and Matza (1957) and Matza (1964), I begin by describing how ‘techniques of neutralization’ – the accounts and stories that structure various denials – are said to operate to release people from moral binds and enable transgression. I then turn to the concept of ‘pluralistic ignorance’ – where members of groups inadvertently reinforce one another’s misunderstanding of a situation – showing how it facilitates the commission of crimes, and illustrating its pivotal role in patterning public reaction to crime and injury.

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