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Vigilantism and ‘informal’ justice exist in the penumbra beyond the boundaries of formal, legal and state-led responses to crime and social disorder. As such they are particularly problematic, for a number of reasons. Empirical research is meagre and the issue raises critical questions about morality, power, authority and legitimacy. Even the language used to define this area of activity is contested, and efforts at taxonomic clarity are often hampered by pejorative assumptions about the moral utility of extra-legal social action. Moreover, the issue of vigilantism can elicit strong emotional responses, not least because of sensationalist coverage in the media and the serious human costs which are often incurred. The use of violence or the threat of coercion beyond the law is inevitably troubling, and raises anxieties about ‘mob rule’. However, even the most cursory foray into popular culture will reveal the ‘vigilante’ as a prominent, often positive, motif in the popular imagination — the success of fictional representations, from Batman to The A-Team or The Magnificent Seven, reflects this interesting paradox.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShades of Deviance
Subtitle of host publicationA primer on crime, deviance and social harm
EditorsRowland Atkinson
Number of pages4
ISBN (Electronic)9781315848556
ISBN (Print)978-1-315-84855-6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014


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