Criminal Retaliation: A Qualitative Study of Social Control Beyond the Law
Bruce A. Jacobs, Criminology, University of Missouri, St. Louis
Research Grant, 2003
Despite its preeminent role in regulating disputes between and among street criminals, retaliation has received scant attention from criminological researchers. Existing studies explore retaliation only tangentially, with little or no consideration of its situational and contextual dynamics. Even when retaliation is examined in its own right, the circumstances in which payback is enacted typically receive less attention than the factors that mediate the availability of law. As a result, the structure, process, and forms of retaliation in the real world setting of urban American street crime remain poorly understood. This study explores the face of modern day retaliation from the perspective of currently active criminals who have experienced it first-hand, as offenders, victims, or both. The study explores the retaliatory ethic among street criminals and the vocabularies of motive that offenders adopt to justify its role as the preferred mode of extralegal social control. It also examines the structure, process, and contingent forms of retaliation, offering a typology to organize the data. Part of this examination is the ways in which gender shapes the context and dynamics of retaliatory events for both male and female street criminals. The study also investigates the phenomenon of imperfect retaliation—acts of reprisal committed against parties not responsible for the instigating affront. The reasons for imperfect retaliation and their implications for crime displacement beyond the law are specifically explored.
Qualitative analysis revealed the importance of two axial factors around which retaliatory strikes could best be understood: whether such strikes occur immediately after the affront, and whether the strikes involve face-to-face contact with the person responsible for the affront.
Qualitative analysis revealed the importance of two axial factors around which retaliatory strikes could best be understood: whether such strikes occur immediately after the affront, and whether the strikes involve face-to-face contact with the person responsible for the affront. Immediate reprisal that involves face-to-face contact was called reflexive retaliation. Immediate reprisal that involves no face-to-face contact was called reflexively displaced retaliation. When retaliation is delayed, an added contingency appears—whether or not the delay is desired by the retaliating party. This permits four additional possibilities. Face-to-face retaliation where the delay is desired was called calculated retaliation. Face-to-face retaliation where the delay is not desired was called deferred retaliation. Retaliation without face-to-face contact where the delay is desired was called sneaky retaliation. Retaliation without face-to-face contact with the violator where the delay was undesired by the retaliating party is called imperfect retaliation.