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Perspectives Beyond Criminology and Bureaucracy

  • 04 Pages
  • Published On: 06-12-2023
What is meant by social harm?

The idea of social harm is yet to be defined precisely but it can be understood if we walk through lenses of harm in general. The idea of ‘harm’ is not restrictive and traverses far from the theories advocated by criminologists. Analyzing the concept of harm reflects a wider picture and establishes a more coherent theory in evaluating the effect of the decisions undertaken by administrative and bureaucratic bodies on public at large. The concerns that evolve around the ineffective organization and facilities and the lack of basic necessities that may pose a hurdle in the welfare of the people could be considered a sense of harm. The lack of food, clothing, shelter, housing and other basic resources could collectively harm the well being of social units at large and not merely identifies individual bodies or families having no access to these fundamental requirements of a proper life. The effect of social harm can be identified to cast upon a whole society segregating on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, geographical influences, races and ethnic groups etc. This approach may vary from typical physical harm inflicted on a community or the social structure or financial harm that deprives any group of social units to benefit economically and the most important could be the psychological harm that affects a particular group/community of the society. A society is entitled to provide a sense of development, growth either culturally, economically, intellectually and is meant to allow promotion of a safe and secure atmosphere for the welfare of the groups at large but the contrary of the same can be considered as inflicting social harm.

Explain how the concept of social harm is different from crime

Ans. Crime has been in existence from a legal point of view as opposed to the construction of social harm. The concept of crime has been around from a long time and there is an internalized understanding of any anti-social or deviant behavior falls under the periphery of crime. Due to the lack of the intrinsic attribute, there are a large variety of action that can be called as crime and is individual centric. Any criminal activity committed by an individual is an action against the world at large and is dealt by taking punitive actions. The concept of social harm is slightly different than the concept of crime as most social harms that are inflicted on communities or societies are not often acknowledged or gives birth to any accountability. Crime as a notion can have different facets and attributes in different geographical, cultural and social establishment and embodies certain restrictions in ascertaining the different aspects of crime. Even though crime is also a social construct yet it fails to acknowledge human sufferings, gross human rights violations accurately. If we analyze these sufferings of people in general through the lenses of social harm, we may be able to draw an accurate and more comprehensive picture of the lives of people suffering from harms that may be in the form of acute poverty, lack of livelihood options or the rate of pollution and damage caused holistically. Social harm has been advocated to be understood through the process of “operationalization” a according to Hillyard and Tomb which is rather different from the executive and legislative processes that ideally govern them.

Example of Social Harm:

Social Harm is often drafted in a way that normalizes the violence, harms or the deaths that occur over a period of time irrespective of the nature of such harms. The representation of such acts are evidently mundane and deliberately underplayed in a way that allows the diversion and thus the lack of accountability. The intention of the states in prioritizing the harms are extremely disoriented if we look at the numbers that actually require the harms to be made accountable for. Even if the social harms that are structurally wide affect millions of people be it with the availability of sanitized water or acute poverty has led to more deaths that on the account of terrorism. Death from terrorism accounts to 2722 people if reflected against the death from diarrhoea accounts to about 5,406,000 people. The difference is massive which tells us that what needs to be prioritized by the Government and what actually is. This also questions the need to understand the true spirit of human security and as much as deaths from combat or terrorism poses extravagant risks on the lives of people, the suffering from poverty, unclean water and sanitization issues pose greater and a constant risk that needs to be addressed and prioritized by the state. Unfortunately, the notion of human security that may bring attention and light on the actions of the people would be satisfied on evident actions against the possibility of deterring a national threat, undermining an already existing social harm that cumulatively accounts for greater deaths than one terrorist attack would entail.

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Benefits of Social harm in light of the example chosen

Two ideal advantages of identifying social harm has been forwarded by Hillyard and Tomb that can be reflected against the example chosen above. The victims of any suffering or violence will be identified and would take active role in unleashing the concept of social harm that would also help in recognizing the anti-social behavioral pattern or deviant attitudes rather than just relying on the legal constructs of crime by the Legislature. Secondly, crime fails to embody many such activities that are committed systematically but fails to attain one whole comprehensive picture that attract the attention of many, thus evading the eye of law. The deaths caused by the lack of sanitized water and people are living in utter neglect as providing such water provisions would be expensive and pose functional difficulties to the government. Thus, this has become an accepted norm and continues to be so even though there is a systematic suffering to this action. If we do look at it through the lenses of social harm, it gives a comprehensive picture of the action that results in mass harm and does not depend on the conventional idea of crime. The quality of live ascertained and provided to people are a subject of social harm and serves greater purpose and analyses the impact on the society in general. It addresses the causes of the issue rather than dealing with the symptoms only, taking a “Problem Oriented Policing” approach as forwarded by Goldstein.


Kitchen, Nicola (2016) A Critical Analysis of Adopting A Social Harm Perspective to Account for Violence Against Women and Girls. Diffusion- The UCLan Journal of Undergraduate Research, 8 (2). pp. 1-12. ISSN 1759-6777

Hillyard, Paddy & Tombs, Steve. (2007). From ‘crime’ to social harm?. Crime, Law and Social Change. 48. 9-25. 10.1007/s10611-007-9079-z.

Roberts D, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, 2009 “ Social Harm and Crime at a global level” < > accessed on 26th February, 2021

Goldstein, Herman, Improving Policing: A Problem-Oriented Approach. 25 Crime and Delinquency 236 (1979), Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1336, Available at SSRN:

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