Radical media, politics and culture.

Trevor Bark, "Crime and Custom" Part 3

hydrarchist writes

"This is part III, go back to Part 1".

SHOPLIFTING - Very Generalisable…

Time and again research has shown that shoplifters and shoppers are one and the same. See the incredible 200% rise in offences known to the Police in America from 1973 (349,283) to 1989 (1,059,765) And remember that this is the tip of the iceberg - most shoplifting offences are not detected by the private security, and then again not all cases they detect are passed onto the police. Whilst nobody knows how many people security let go either side of the Atlantic there are similarities in the process, stereotypes and prejudices. Whilst it is acknowledged that because of the private nature of the ownership of stores the

"Police involvement in the detection and apprehension of
shoplifters, however, is minimal." [34]

We should not discount the amount of shoplifters who are let go annually. Some idea of the scale of this issue can be gained from Segrave

"Police in [the whole of] New York City arrested 3,177 shoplifters
in 1963; in 1962 they arrested 3,061… [security] personnel picked up 6,200 pilferers in its two Bronx stores in 1963, against 4,900 in 1962." [35]

Today one American website claims

"There are approximately 23 million shoplifters (or 1 in 11 people)
in our nation today. More than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years." [36]

However, we should also be aware of contradictory evidence. In shoplifting research this manifests itself in the long term self report studies that

"challenge the view that shoplifting has been increasing dramatically. In fact, the Monitoring the Future data show that there has been virtually no change in shoplifting activity between 1977 and 1988… The pattern for 1977 (30.2% reported shoplifting during the last year) is nearly identical to that reported for 1988 (30.4%). At no time between 1977 and 1988 was there more than a four-point fluctuation in the percentage reporting recent shoplifting activity." [37]

This data suggests that with the increase in security and security technology more shoplifters have been apprehended and reporting practices may have changed also. As there are degrees of discretion in the work of store detectives.[38] We can also project on the basis of the above data. Assuming a rate of criminality of shoplifting of 30.2% in the American population as a whole, and a population of 250 million. Something like 75 and a half million Americans have committed the crime of shoplifting at least once. This is a 'hereditary criminal tradition' that rivals Australia.

In Britain self report data from interviews with youth point towards not only the 'mass shoplifter' that I identify later in this article, but also the mass criminal. Two extensive surveys, firstly commissioned by the Jewish Association for Business Ethics that spoke to 34,000 pupils from all backgrounds aged 13 to 15 and the second commissioned by the Government's Youth Justice Board spoke to 5,263 children aged 11 to 16. Of the 34,000 children

"45% of them believe law-breaking is acceptable. Under-age drinking, criminal damage and fraudulent use of public transport were among offences regarded as minor… One in 10 boys said there was nothing wrong with shoplifting" [39]

Furthermore the second survey revels similar evidence

"Theft was also on the increase, with 35% admitting to shoplifting, compared with 31% the year before. The number of children stealing from school rose from 15% to 23%. The survey reported that 49% of children had dodged fares, compared with 44% last year." [40]

Other evidence that shows criminals are ordinary people is the amount of studies that show peak shoplifting hours are the ones that coincide with peak shopping hours (Christmas,weekends,late afternoons and sales) Also women have always been well and over represented in shoplifting since the development of the modern department store.

"Shoplifting has always been considered to be the female
offence par excellence." (emphasis in original) [41]

In 1966 the American trade journal, "Progressive Grocer" did a survey involving 2000 fairly large shops. The average total of detected shoplifting cases was 8.7 in a week, with an estimated further 171 undetected per week, this would make the local Tescos the crime capital of Enfield [North London, close to Middlesex University] with, I estimate conservatively, greater than 200 undetected shoplifting cases per week. It is important to stress

"the fact that most ordinary people have shoplifted at least once by the time they reach adulthood, a statement that could hardly be made about any other indictable offence." [42]

I aim to analyse shoplifting in the current epoch and dispel many illusions by talking about

"the ordinariness of shoplifting - [that] has not been explored as it should… shoplifting - this banal phenomenon - is found in a large proportion of the population and the offenders are mostly quite ordinary people". [43]

The Chief Executive of Somerfield who should know more than most about both the extent and types of shoplifting and shoplifters says

"Shoplifting is a multi-million pound industry. Those who do it look - on the whole - just like you and me. They aren't all drug crazed youths (though there are plenty of those). For retailers, the problem has become an enormous burdon… shoplifting is a problem [for the retailers] that just won't go away." [44]

Other things that lead to the underexposure of shoplifting both criminologically and socially are the fact that companies historically have not liked to alienate the public or their own employees with excessive security. Also Klemke (1992) has noted [45], the tendency for criminologists to look at general trends in society as a whole instead of looking at particular crimes. Thus,

"Delinquency researchers, in particular, have established that most delinquents are involved in a wide variety of delinquent acts and rarely specialise in one type of delinquency. This tends to discourage researchers from focusing on a single type of deviance. As a result, unique insights that apply to particular types of deviance are
overlooked." [46]

Consequently, the changes in the global economy although they have impinged on Criminological theory generally have not impinged upon shoplifting analysis as far as I'm aware. This is a pity for as well as the reasons noted here, there have been important historical observations about shoplifting in the work of Henry Mayhew [47] , and also the infamous Jonathan Wild went to the gallows for his role in shoplifting. Not forgetting the many high profile celebrity shoplifters there are like Richard Madeley .[48]

There are several possible avenues to pursue when looking at how globalisation of capitalism has impinged on shoplifting, the European Economic Community (EEC) and in particular Britain. This also involves changes in the personnel of the shoplifter, the use of the shoplifted goods, the types and site of the goods production, and the retail of the shoplifted goods.

Do shoplifters follow the pronouncements of Naomi Klein in her bestseller "No Logo", and refuse to shoplift the big name brands like Nike and Reebok? Or do shoplifters pursue their trade without regard to the productive process and the inherent barbarity of the "Export Processing Zones"? (Klein, 2000)

Perhaps there are other fruitful avenues to pursue from economic life in the EEC. Whether it's the free movement of goods and people that began in 1992 when the barriers came down, or has the ease of transport and the channel tunnel affected shoplifters notions of suitable places to visit. It is well known that professionals of all illegal trades often like to operate outside their known areas, and this is bound to have had an impact in France.

Since the Calais region has become a famous destination for booze cruises the level of growth of stores and warehouses has been astonishing. Since I have been visiting Calais there has been a noticeable increase in store security. [49] Whether it is the checking of boxes in the Auchen, formerly known as the 'Mammoth' supermarket (a favourite destination of organised bus excursions from London), or the checking and sealing of bags before you enter the Carrefour at the Cite Europe shopping mall, specifically built near the Calais Eurotunnel site. This of course is where the large barbed wire fences now surround the railway to prevent the refugees boarding as the trains slow down.


E.P. Thompson described the popular protest of the bread riot, and it's self disciplined peoples' order. The similarities between this and contemporary events are all to clear. Whilst most of the participants are orderly,[50] there was on occasion activity that went beyond the respectable dignity that was used as long as it was effective. There are a variety of other actions for the common good outside of the 'set piece confrontations' of the bread riot. Describing the 'Wiltshire Outrages' of 1802 Randall shows that people responded to the technological innovation brought on by the industrial revolution and economic liberalism (Rule, P. 365) in a sophisticated manner. They targeted the Gig Mills that reduced the amount of labour the shearmen and boys had to do quite dramatically, to one quarter of the previous amount that obviously would have resulted in widespread unemployment.

"the general purpose of the shearman's actions embraced a pre-emptive move against frames as well as a protest against the use of gig mills. As was to be the case in the Luddite districts, protest took 'legitimate' trade union forms and involved petitioning of parliament as well as intimidation and attacks on machinery and other forms of property. The use of threatening letters was an integral part of the deterrent intent of the shearm[51]en."

There appears to be many similarities between the examples of direct action in the face of liberalism and neo-liberalism. The same issues also come to the fore. Of crucial importance is the role of violence and the distinction between the respectable/unrespectable, non-deserving and deserving poor, deserving protester and non-deserving. The NGOs, U2s' Bono and Sir Bob Geldorf all try to portray the

Social Movement (GSM) as being composed of the vast majority of reasonable people for whom violence is alien, and de facto accept the respectability/unrespectability divide that this assumes. Of course for the movement itself, both of Luddism and the rest of the working class movement in history and today where Michael Hardt [52] says the leadership of the NGOs and some political groups maybe loudest in pleading their benign and just protest; but the people on the streets don't accept these distinctions. It is also seen as a method of divide and rule by activists, who say that in practice these binary polarities don't exist. Pointing out that supposed pacifists in Genoa attacked the black bloc with sticks, whilst in Seattle the peace police assaulted the Black Bloc as they guarded Nike Town for capitalists and the police.

As part of a political strategy that wanted to show the ultimately reasonable nature of the cause of working people, the Hammonds had an imperative to

"push violence to the periphery of trade union history. They were unable to place a movement like Luddism, in which violence was central, into their conception of the long-term evolution of the labour movement. It had to be explained away by insisting that the persons who broke the machines were apart from the "consitutionalists" who concentrated on seeking a parliamentary redress. At the same time, anxious to deny any revolutionary input into the British Labour movement, they were at pains to stamp on any suggestion that Luddism could have been to a significant degree a manifestation of an underground revolutionary movement." [53]

E.P. Thompson also ridiculed the lengths to which the Hammonds discounted the place of a popular direct action tradition, violence and a revolutionary tradition in the Labour movement (Thompson, 1968 , P627-637) Other authors like Henry Pelling were also at pains to play down suggestions that people 'believe in the armalite and the ballot box'. The Vicar of Seaford may have been partially right when he suggests

"Agricultural Trade Unions meet at a public house in this place... The ostensible motive for the union is the mutual relief when the members (or Brothers as they term them) are out of work - but their real intention as I know but cannot legally prove it, is intimidation, and they have agreed as soon as they are strong enough to strike simultaneously throughout the country; if possible in harvest - threats are also uttered among them of setting fire to the corn..." [54]

The actions described point to a living movement that doesn't discount 'any means necessary' for it's cause, including the assination of a Mill owner who wanted to ride up to his 'saddle girths' in Luddite blood by Luddites. Todays' movement does not hold a pure legalistic viewpoint of legitimacy, with all the Mayday protests in Britain that eminate from anarchist sources being technically (by law) illegal. There are many pacifist activities that have broken the law in their persuit of justice, so it is not the law that is the font of respectability. It's the definitions that the corporate media and the police attaches to actions that form the contested arena of un/respectability.

Rule comments "Randall is right to stress that they were part of the tactics of a well organised, strongly unionised group of skilled workers engaged in a conscious pre-emptive action. Effectively they succeeded in postponing the widespread introduction of the machinery for around twenty years". There have been actions against neo-liberalism and capitalist globalisation around the world (Walton and Seddon, Klein) for over a decade, and there were actions against the decimation of industry in Europe and America for some decades before that. With the demonstrations against the world capitalist control and command institutions over the past few years we can see a similar political outlook being forged and the various actions in different political situations are seen to be part of common strategy.

Anarchic Protest and the British Marxist Historians

"on swill and grains you wish the poor to be fed
And underneath the Guillotine we could wish to see your heads
For i think it is a great shame to serve the poor so -
And i think a few of you heads will make a pretty show"

Anonymous threat made to local food magnates, Malden, 1800. In "Albion's Fatal Tree", P. 338.

In discussing the BMH attitude towards protest and social movements we would do well to consider E.P Thompsons treatment of "Popular Action". For my purposes I am going to talk about actions that have given the current wave of protest its' dynamism. Examples of this new wave of anarchic protesters are the Black Bloc and the Wombles. There are certain late entrants to the anti capitalist movement who say that the Black Bloc isn't involved in struggles to build socialism, "as a substitute for mass mobilization"[55] . In fact this is a new interpretation of the old and reactionary critique aimed at anarchists, 'that anarchists are adventurists', "the anarchist Black Bloc, whose pursuit of violent confrontation with the state… [is] the idea of exemplary action on behalf of the masses" [56] . This is also hypocrisy on behalf of Callinicos who is in an hierarchical organization, the Socialist Workers Party, whose party functions on an elitist leadership imperative. It serves functions for Callinicos as well as being a blatent slander as to the political beliefs and motives of anarchists engaged in the Black Bloc. Function one is to gloss over the reality which is difficult for hierarchical organizations to understand, namely that there exists a number of working class people who think that the way forward entails violent confrontation with the state, and they note

"Without violent confrontation with the forces of the state the working class will never break through the deadly, stultifying condition which enmeshes it today. The class becomes decadent without class violence. Without a willingness to confront and attack physically the state, authority and institutions will continue to flourish." [57]

Many British Black Bloc participants were schooled in the Class War, and in the aims and principles of Class War it says

"Real change can only come about by working class people organizing themselves to deal with the problems that they experience and to provide for ourselves. Direct Action is necessary against the individuals and institutions who stand in the way of this. There is no alternative. Violence is a necessary part of the class war - not as elitist terrorists but as an integrated part of the class". [58] [

So the anonymity that Black hoods and white overalls gives provides the best medium for the permanently felt need by the same and different people to demonstrate proactively rather than passively. The action thus being peoples preferred method of participating and demonstrating fully integrated into the class, by the many and varied campaigning and routine trade union work that Black Bloc people do in their daily lives outside the 'glory events'. You could apply this further and show that there are many other anarchist inspired actions happening, for example the well publicized pieing of prominent people like Bill Gates or Wombles actions in London at Nike Town, at the Italian Embassy or the Labour Party conference, and on Mayday that this applies to as well.

Thompsons first characteristic of popular action is that of the anonymous tradition discussed in "Customs in Common"and "Albions Fatal Tree", Chapter 6.

"the anonymous threat... is often found in a society of total clientage and dependency, on the other side of simulated deference. It is exactly in a rural society, where any open, identified resistance to ruling power may result in immediate retaliation - loss of home, employment, tenancy, if not victimization at law - that one tends to find the acts of darkness: the anonymous letter, arson of the stack or outhouse, houghing of cattle, the shot or brick through the window, the gate off its hinges, the orchard felled, the fishpond sluices opened at night. The same man touches his forelock to the squire by day - and who goes down to history as an example of deference - may kill his sheep, snare his peasants or poisen his dogs at night." [59]

The Black Bloc is composed of anonymous people whose very presence is threatening to the authorities, as shown by the recent legislation against face masks in Britain and the response to these sections of the crowd on actions in Europe and Seattle. Given that the media has carried out several high profile exposes of individuals, protesting openly carries risks. These people have been found by journalists themselves, and some by the (secret) police who have circulated dossiers of protesters to the media. There have been threats as well in the aftermath of the J18 that people could be sued in the courts for business to recover its' losses. Added to the ritualistic publishing of peoples photographs in national newspapers and on TV via the news and programmes like Crimewatch. Then it is clear than anyone who challenges the legitimacy of capitalist property rights and the rule of law can expect victimisation. Hence the growth of anonymous protest in an age of widespread deference by those who feel they must tow the line to save their job in risk society with a huge fear of unemployment. This is coupled with an intolerance of protest and protesters by the media and the police. So not unlike the Waltham Blacks who provoked the Black Acts by Blackening their faces when in action, we have the criminalisation of mask wearing in todays society.

The second component of popular action is what Thompson calls the "countertheatre of the poor… the plebs asserted their presence by a theatre of threat and sedition" [60] involving subtle demonstrations, satirical even, of which the meaning was difficult to assertain by the uneducated onlooker, who could not miss the occasions when displays were meant to be menacing. All these features can be found in the recent demonstrations, whether it's the pink block which sometimes acts as a cover for militant activity or the use of the huge skirt which covered drilling equipment on the M40 during the Reclaim the Streets action in 1997. The Reclaim the Streets tactics have rapidly been globalised and have being responsible for J18 have been part of Peoples Global Action from its beginnings. Thompsons' third component is the crowds "capacity for swift direct action… its own art of the possible. Its successes must be immediate, or not at all." [61] This can be seen on the RTS influenced J18 'stop the city' action where the crowd seized the opportunities it had, amongst them was the raid on the Liffe building (Futures stock market).

There are many things to be said for the emerging 'summit hopping' tradition that dates back in Britain to the G8 in Birmingham in May 1998. When talking to participants from Seattle in '99, Prague '00, Genoa '01 and the Peoples Global Action forum in Milan in 2001 the media seems overly concerned with the class composition of the protesters rather than the protesters themselves. Perhaps this dates back to the riots in 1981 where the Daily Mail 'found' 2 people who toured the country instigating and paying for the spread of rioting around the country? The media have to explain away protest in a reactionary manner, unless they approve of it like the applause for the Countryside Alliance. There has been right wing criticism of left wing and anarchist activity since the 1980's when police waved £10 notes at striking miners. It took other forms like the well known refrain "Get a job", or abuse from newspapers like the Daily Star calling travellers "Scum", telling them to get a job and a bath, and other assorted nonsense.

For people in the Globalised Social Movement (GSM) these accusations are totally untrue as many of them have jobs, even though many are also students often they have to supplement their loans with employment as well. For a militant section of the GSM however they make the most of the money they do have by substituting free goods and services and put the money saved towards political work. Like the well known use and abuse of public transport and facilities (service stations) by football hooligans but different in significant ways ie rather than the proceeds and enjoyment camaraderie creates being aimed at supporting their team or purely for individualistic purposes the activity is seen as having communistic and anarchistic purposes supporting the collectivity via shared goods and recollections. This can be described as substituting a loss of money that creates capitalist profit for free goods for use value. Often this means toiletries, transport, clothes and food are "liberated" [to use a term from my informants] and then turned into goods and services useful for 'communism' &/or 'anarchism'.

Taking this further my research revealed a conscious design by participants. They knew they were globalised shoplifters on tour, from Milan to Prague and beyond. Perhaps this is an embodiment of the globalised multitude Negri and Hardt (2001) mention, an oppositional globalisation against the globalised corporate world described by Naomi Klein (2000) The new shopping malls described by Klein selling the brands made by deregulated productions chains can be found in many cities, and if you can shoplift in the belly of the beast (London, J18, '99, Frankfurt International Airport, and more) you can shoplift anywhere for the skills are transferable. The technology used to protect goods in the shops of the global city is some of the leading examples of its type, however once it is removed from the item (whether it damages it or not) there is nothing to prevent the shoplifters imitating the routine shopping behaviour of placing goods in a bag and leaving the store.

Other techniques that can be described as 'hand' and 'disguise' skills are also transferable to global cities around the world. 'Hand' skills can refer to the placing of goods up sleeves, in pockets, in hats, in such a way that the process uses shop fixtures or the shoplifters body itself, or an accomplice to prevent it being witnessed by cameras, store personnel or other shoppers who maybe plain clothes store detectives. Of course this process doesn't apply to hidden cameras but a large part of the cameras and store detective function is to deter people from shoplifting by disciplining their hopes and dreams, rather than to catch the skilled shoplifters who are not deterred by security staff or technology. This is not to say that the GSM is composed totally of skilled shoplifters, of course the real range is from the non-shoplifters to the professional shoplifter as I've tried to indicate. It is impossible to come to definitive positions about the quantity of the relative category's personnel as for a myriad of reasons it is impossible to tell the strength of the GSM anyway. All I can do is describe the way the GSM manifests itself from participation and observation.

'Disguise' skills refers to the ways shoplifters massage the way the viewer interprets what the shoplifter is doing, and so masks the criminality (according to a legalistic perspective) of what they are doing. This can range from simply not overtly challenging capitalist money-exchange relations by buying something at the same time as shoplifting, so there is a legitimate reason to be at the scene of the 'crime'. To assuming the role of the shopper by creating doubt in the mind of anybody watching eg by being pleasant to shopworkers. For if shoplifters merely picked up goods and blatantly walked out of the store each time the prisons would be more full than they are today as this would be obvious for the store detectives, although sometimes confident people smartly dressed can carry out this blatant type of shoplifting successfully.

Good 2 B Bad

"I shoplifted the "Fortune" world top 500 companies. I did this by stealing a copy of Fortune that had the special supplement in it about the world top 500 companies, so I've not actually taken anything from all the top 500 companies, yet…. [laughing] They'll never stop us all." [62]

Shoplifters come in many varieties and a totally comprehensive typology of shoplifters would either be too simplistic so that you could confidently fit every possible person into the categories. For example, the professionals who would swop the price labels on expensive bottles of wine to a cheaper price before the introduction of 'swipe technology' made this impossible in some stores, although some stores still in the pre-information technology age still use sticky labels although they are increasingly hard to find. Or a sophisticated typology may fall foul of the law of the 'black swan' [something beyond the bounds of reasoning and that is totally unexpected] - because you can't possibly know about ALL shoplifters as they do not own up publicly and you cannot hope to meet all varieties of shoplifters using other methods anyway.

"The problem may stem from the paradox involved in the very 'ordinariness' of shoplifting. It is such a common offence and it is committed by so many people that no specific characteristic or pattern arises to make a typology of an all-encompassing classification of the offenders." [63]

I have mentioned elsewhere that shoplifters go for the small valuable items, firstly in order to make concealment easier and then also to maximise the money they can make or save on a product. Another dimension to this is that shoplifters have mentioned to me that they take what they regret paying for. So this means any goods they believe should be everybody's by right are legitimate targets. So whilst they wouldn't shoplift bleach they would shoplift nappies as they are expensive for the poor.

Given the difficulties and the widespread acknowledgement that nobody actually knows the extent nor seriousness of the losses to shoplifting, and neither is there any serious research about the widespread nature of the crime and shoplifters themselves. Then we are faced with the idea of the mass shoplifter whose disguise is that of everyday language and clothes, who escapes sociological classification due to their very abundance.

Counterfeit the Shoplifted

Hopefully I've provided some insight into patterns of behaviour and strategies, the social context, and sometimes the person's thinking and explanations for shoplifting behaviour. This is also justified by my estimation that there is not one estate or housing scheme in Britain that does not have its shoplifters.

At the same time I am aware that some of my material is from America, although this can be justified by the fact that it is the worlds most advanced consumer society and has a globalised economy. In part this was also forced upon me by the dearth of British shoplifting material. One example of this is the report by Lord Grabiner [64] that can talk about the informal economy without mentioning shoplifting at all. Apparently shoplifting doesn't exist (!) in the Governments view of the informal economy that is solely concerned with saving money via benefit fraud reduction.

In the real world the bazaar economy straddles the legitimate and illegitimate. For the socially included, excluded and those in between, the informal economic continuum includes shoplifting.

"Stolen goods are a major component of the ghetto economy. Subjects who engaged in shoplifting or other forms of theft seldom sold the goods they stole to professional fences. Most often, they sold the goods to other neighborhood residents directly." [65]

"Shoplifting is often a major component of the larger street culture of drugs, prostitution, and crime" [66]

For those criminalized by the law the chances of criminal success are heightened if they follow street fashion demand and shoplift an original Nike Football shirt or popular computer games like Lara Croft, and then counterfeit it. This is the next and ultimate development of the politics of "No Logo" - No trademark No Brand No Price! The liberalism in Naomi Kleins book then has been subjected to critical analysis, and the process of aufheben has taken place. This points towards communism as both the means and ends of superseding the branded society, as it is manifested in shoplifting networks of brand appropriation, and the more egalitarian social relationships found within. The relationships of price avoidance and the spreading of goods and services at rock bottom rates or in exchange for other goods, work or services will never be slogans for official communist parties.

However, the poor and other illicit entrepreneurs are promoting more communistic social relationships outside and against the imposition of capitalist and companies' laws or control. So the helplessness described in the philanthropic tradition and paraphrased as the 'sociology of misery' has been avoided and the analysis points towards self and community help as a means of individual and class valourization in a conception of the active amoral poor and not the

"virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but
one cannot possibly admire them." [67] (Emphasis added).

For how do you destroy the branded society most effectively? By destroying the value of the brand that lies in its exclusivity, materials and image. The process of shoplifting does this by making the goods widely available and creating a different image. By taking Gucci from Sloane street and Calvin Klein from New Bond Street both in the posh West End of London, and putting them on the streets of Toxteth, Handsworth, Hackney, Meadowell, Blackbird Leys, St. Pauls, Moss Side and Hendon (in Sunderland and London) there are different meanings in mass formation.

As Negri and Hardt in their counterblast to the existing liberalism within the anti globalisation movement mention the

"perpetual movement of the Wobblies [International Workers of the World, IWW] was indeed an immanent pilgrimage, creating a new society in the sh