When your kid is a better blogger than you…

I don’t know if you noticed but my son posted a “Frog Blog” breaking the months long silence. So I thought I better get on here… unfortunately my post will not be anywhere near as adorable or frog heavy, but indulge me if you will.

Quick And Tedious Update Section

Or QATUS… no, not QATUS, that’s uncalled for

Our roof struts broke

In case you didn’t hear there was a supermoon. We were out at Ludlows reserve and had an impressive view.

My son got too cool for us all

Spiders invaded… nice but unnerving huntsmans

Brent fixed the struts

We got a little better at this caravan Schnitzel

I made a new friend

There were frogs

We painted a Christmas tree on the side of the caravan.

So yeah… that’s about it. Well there is more… but my memory is shocking…

Couple of things

***YES THE BUS IS STILL HAPPENING***

Hopefully we can get out of the caravan and into the bus soon but we are learning heaps from orbiting the area in our little caravan.

***Summer is going to be WRETCHED but we ARE working on it***

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Another fairy story

​Once upon a time in a land where beachside resorts and sunshine abound an angry little woman spent her time dipping creatures of the sea and roots of the earth in boiling hot oil. This little woman had a lot to say about people that were different to her. She did not trust people who lived differently to her, in fact she feared them. So one day she set out for the land of roundabouts to tell everyone what she didn’t like about the people she didn’t understand. She made a lot of people very angry, but that only seemed to make her stronger and more relevant. She convinced the rulers of the land that what she had to say was popular and important. The more people tried to stop her from yelling and hurting people with words and legislation the more people she found who were just as hateful and bigoted as she was. But then, very slowly, people started ignoring her, and she shrank from viewing becoming almost completely irrelevant. But then the people who were in charge in the land of roundabouts stopped looking after the people and started arguing amongst themselves.

And gradually as if by magic, people started listening to the angry little woman again, she began to grown.

What happens next? Well that is up to us….

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Us and Them: The Role of Perceived Demographic of the User in Drug Legislation and Societal Attitudes

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Us and Them: The Role of Perceived Demographic of the User in Drug Legislation and Societal Attitudes

 

  1. How have illicit drugs become symbolic scapegoats in wider social conflicts? Discuss with reference to at least two countries.

 

Illicit drugs and illicit drug use have a particularly potent social and cultural symbolism, the impact and connotations of which varies according to the ideologies and social capital of the communities and individuals who come into direct or indirect contact with illicit drug use. As illicit drugs are often associated by legislators and the media with minority groups and counter culture attitudes and approaches to illicit drug use are often more representative of attitudes to the perceived user demographic than the dangers or societal impact of the drug use itself. This paper will examine the effect of prejudice against the perceived user demographic on both attitudes of the individual and approaches in legislation in Australia and the United States of America.

 

In examining Australian drug legislation and the effect of prejudice on legislation it is useful to examine the approach taken by the Howard government in response to an increase in heroin use and overdose in the late 1990s.

Howard era. In 1997 a recommendation was made following the outcomes of several reports and the third review of National Supply Reduction Strategy for Heroin and other Illicit Drugs that injecting room be rolled out in order to minimize the harm being caused by unsafe injecting practices amongst illicit drug users (Hughes, 2015). The recommendation, however, was quashed by the government in power, creating, for the first time in recent political history, a lack of bipartisan support for proposed drug legislation.

 

Despite recommendations for harm minimization strategies such as a a move towards decriminalizing illicit drug use (Brammer et al, 2002) the neoconservative LNP (Liberal Party) moved away from a community and welfare harm minimization approach towards law enforcement based “Tough on drugs” model (Brammer et al, 2002). This model saw not only a greater percentage of funding going towards law enforcement and seizures but it also deepened and validated the perceived view of the addict as criminal rather than victim. This was considered to be a populist move in drug legislation by the LNP as the party relied on the votes from a particular demographic; white, middle class, in established careers or occupations, with a predisposition towards economic conservatism. This supporter or voter demographic was seen to be at odds with a welfare based approach to illicit drug issues which typically effected younger, unemployed individuals, who, whilst they commonly came from white Anglo-Australian backgrounds, were also commonly of different ethnicities from the LNP supporter demographic (Brammer et al, 2002). For example the rate of illicit drug abuse, particularly heroin, is higher in Aboriginal communities. The Howard government’s push against reconciliation and other Indigenous rights and welfare issues is consistent with the populist attitude to drug legislation, an “us versus them” mentality that sees colonial racism and cultural and class divides being reinforced by law. The dispassionate approach to a serious health issue that does not effect the demographic of the political party in power, and the criminalization of that issue reflects more about the attitudes to race, class, age and poverty than it does about issues pertaining directly to the drug being considered.

 

While this series of event in recent decades in Australia shows clearly how popular prejudice, in particular racism, can be used effect drug legislation, in the United States of America a series of studies have shown that similar substance abuse problems are being intrinsically linked with certain ethnic groups. This stereotyping or profiling of users of opiates such as heroin allows white, middle class, right wing Americans to distance themselves from the problems of substance abuse, segregating effected communities into a kind of “underclass” (Schneider, 1998). Using the social problems associated with drug use as a thin veil for racial stereotyping, as the rate of incarceration and dependency are higher in Black and Latino communities (Schneider 1998), media portrayal and drug legislation related to illicit substances is able to reflect racism and prejudice at work in American society.

 

The link between the demographic of the user and the approach taken when addressing abuse is key to perpetuating this racial divide via legal and legislative means. There is evidence of differing approaches by law enforcement and the legal system when dealing with White offenders and Black or Latino offenders. There is a higher incidence of arrest, prosecution and jail time when the drug related offender is part of a minority group, where as offender from an Anglo-European background are more likely to be ushered through more clinical avenues of addressing the offence. As Schneider (1998) posits substance abuse is treated as an illness when encountered in the white community, but is treated as crime when perpetrated by certain minority groups.

 

Racism is not the only social conflict to be reflected by public opinion towards illicit substances. Homophobia is also reflected in the community condemnation of those with HIV/AIDS and those using injected illicit substances. The link between these three groups has been overemphasized in the right wing media and political sphere in America, leading to prejudice on a grass roots level. Research into the approaches to treatment and advocacy for patients who had AIDS, identified as homosexual or used injectable illicit drugs such as heroin found that a single factor of these three was enough to make medical students express a reluctance to treat the individual (O’Hare et al, 1996). The fear of HIV/AIDS, heroin use and homophobia have been so intrinsically linked in public opinion due to the high rate of HIV/AIDS in both users of heroin and gay communities, and the vast wealth of misinformation about how the infectious disease is communicated. The cultural and historical mistrust of the homosexual community in American society up until recent decades seems to have been transferred to heroin, meaning that homophobia as well as racism, is at play in emotive reactions to heroin legislation in the U.S.A.

 

Whilst there are many other social conflicts and community fears that are reflected in drug legislation not explored here, the themes of prejudicial practices and attitudes against a minority in the guise of addressing substance abuse and drug related crime a indicative of a widespread trend in Western societies. This is a populist, progressive movement away from using race or sexuality alone to condemn a group of people. The speed with which this change in thinking has occurred has left residual resentment between cultures and communities meaning that rather than wide spread cultural prejudice, more regressive political movements and groups express these historical grievances by picking out and pinpointing behaviours or “deviances” associated with that group, such as substance abuse, to continue marginalizing groups of people, without transgressing recently appropriated societal norms and anti-discriminatory legislation.

 

Illicit drugs have rapidly become the focal point for social conflicts between the “haves” and “have nots”. Drug legislation has become a method by which those in power are able to make decisions, which have real legal consequences for communities that are often under represented and unheard. This makes illicit drugs and our perception of them and the demographic of the user a very telling reflection of the subconscious and residual biases at play within our community.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

  • Bammer, G., Hall, W., Hamilton, M., & Ali, R. (2002). Harm Minimization in a Prohibition Context—australia. The Annals Of The American Academy Of Political And Social Science, 582(2), 80-93. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0002716202058002006

 

  • Heisler, M. (2008). The politics of history in comparative perspective (pp. 149-165). Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage.

 

 

 

  • Loxley, W., Toumbourou, J., & Stockwell, T. (2004). The Prevention of substance use, risk and harm in Australia. [Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.

 

  • O’Hare, T., Williams, C., & Ezoviski, A. (1996). Fear of AIDS and Homophobia: Implications for Direct Practice and Advocacy. Social Work, Vol. 41, No. 1, 51-58.

 

 
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Graffiti, Deviance and Public Art

Graffiti exists in a grey area between art and crime, with some forms considered legal and others considered to be illegal and against the best interests of society. But how do we draw the distinction between public art and destructive deviance? Can illegal graffiti play a legitimate role in a functional society or does the mere practice of unsolicited “street art” constitute a threat to social order? This essay will explore the conflicting sociological notion of graffiti as a form of criminal deviance and its role in art, youth subculture and informal communication. Deviance is defined as “…norm or rule-breaking behaviour that is usually subject to negative social sanctions” (Van Krieken 2013), whilst graffiti is defined as “… a form of expression which appears on public or private spaces…” (Arcioni 2003). This definition of graffiti does not place the activity exclusively within the realm of illegal activity, however it can be easily argued that graffiti is a form of social deviance, albeit one that has a limited negative impact on social order.

One of the key driving forces of graffiti is cited as being a sense of alienation and dissociation from the environment and community. As Bandaranaike 2003 found in the demographic study of areas that experience high levels of graffiti, the incidents of tagging and graffiti were more prevalent in areas with high youth populations nearby and low home ownership rates. There is also a strong emphasis on communication and sending a message through graffiti as part of a subculture; “…Kids (and others) employ particular forms of graffiti as a means of resisting particular constellations of legal, political, and religious authority.” (Ferrell 1995). Whilst the hip-hop subculture is not the only one that is associated with graffiti, it is the subculture with the most obvious a frequent links to the use of graffiti as a form of communication. The appeal of graffiti for many young people and those in other age demographics who may feel ignored or marginalized, Graffiti is an easily accessible subversive communication method that bypasses social controls. Due to the huge variety of materials that can be used in graffiti and the potentially prominent and visible locations that the graffiti can be created in, the appeal of graffiti as a means for sending a message of anger or disconnect to the rest of society is consistent and easy to fathom. If the graffiti ‘artist’ does not feel a sense of connection or ownership to their local urban environment and those who may own the property or control it’s use then graffiti is a powerful tool in expressing this disillusionment and disconnect. This is perhaps why those who feel that they have no control over the social environment and community that they exist within, such as the youth of an area, may be irresistibly drawn to graffiti as a mode of expression.

With the current data available in Australia with a focus on Townsville the more likely perpetrators of graffiti are cited to be males aged 12-18 years from one parent families who live in rented dwellings (Bandaranaike 2003). This demographic trend is largely agreed upon by national and international studies. Comparing the prevalence of graffiti in an area with other demographic factors can tell us a lot about what kind of urban landscape graffiti can occur in. Common factors for graffiti prone areas include a higher dropout rate of youth from schools, high rate of youth unemployment, and the availability of parental guidance and supervision (Bandaranaike 2003). These factors are also common to areas where parents may have to work longer to make ends meet and were poverty, or lower socio-economic standards prevail. This goes some way to explaining why graffiti seems to be more common in poor urban areas. The limited mobility of the youth population also correlates to the proximity of graffiti to youth areas like skate parks, public transportation locales such as train stations and bus stops and locations near schools and other areas of high youth traffic.

Though one of the main criticisms of graffiti is that it is antisocial behaviour this is not widely agreed upon. In fact Ferrell 1995 asserts the exact opposite; “The writing of graffiti is an inherently collective activity. Although writers tag and piece against the controls of the city, they also tag and piece for one another, and in so doing build alternative structures of meaning and status. Tagging goes on as a collective conversation among writers, a process of symbolic interaction by which writers challenge, cajole, and surprise one another.” This social interaction usually exists outside the greater societal norms of the local community with taboos and segregation often being broken within these subculture groups; “Significantly, the alternative communities that writers create often violate the city’s everyday ethnic segregation by incorporating kids of various ethnic backgrounds” (Ferrell 1995). Could it be that the groups that practice graffiti have a much more cohesive and inclusive group social structure? This seems to be entirely possible in some cases, whilst not universal or true of all groups, it is certainly not accurate to dismiss these groups as wholly antisocial.

When defining graffiti as a criminal act or public artwork it is often questioned as to whether the graffiti is seen to be of value. Social evaluation of public artwork takes into account factors that include determining if; “the artwork relates to the community, its demographic, cultural aspirations and identity, the artwork relates to the history and heritage of the local area, the artwork helps build community capacity or what has been termed social capital, the work is valued by the local community and visiting communities.”. Some of the illegal graffiti we can find in most urban environments meets much of this criteria, however local governments still spend millions of dollars in graffiti clean ups rather than retaining graffiti that conforms to the public arts evaluation framework outlined in Frost 2003; “The framework evaluates public art from the four key areas of 1. Social, 2. Environmental, 3. Economic, 4. Aesthetic values”. At the risk of constricting the graffiti artist right to freedom of speech, the legal system actively prosecutes offenders and protects property owners. Damage to property is a legitimate concern but legal action is often pursued against these often nonviolent offenders can result in creating a further disconnect between them and the wider community; “The prevalence of graffiti hotspots in our urban landscape clearly denotes there is a ‘message’ to the rest of society, irrespective of its mode of articulation. Youth need to express themselves as much as any other member in our society. Stifling their activity without providing an alternative will lead to dissention and more aggressive behaviour” (Bandaranaike, 2003)

Whilst the permission of the property owner is also a major factor in the legality of street art it is important to note that the actual damage to property is not cited as the only concern for the wider community. Perceived damage to the community is the belief in the wider community “that the mere existence of the graffiti increases the level of crime in the area and makes the area less safe.” (Arcioni 2003). These perceptions have real and lasting consequences with actual losses being incurred by the inhabitants of the local area   including a “…fall in the desirability of the area as a place within which to live or conduct business and therefore a fall in property prices, despite a lack of empirical evidence to support those views.” (Arcioni 2003). If graffiti is a permanent and somewhat essential part of the urban landscape as stipulated in Bandaranaike, 2003 then it is in the best interests of the community and the greater social order to find an acceptable arena or medium for this communication to take place. This should not just require compromise on the part of the graffiti artists themselves but it should also be an opportunity for the greater community to be informed and educated on the origins of street art and how it relates to contemporary society.

Whilst there is a heavy emphasis on the reduction and regulation of graffiti across the urban landscape many sources do not link graffiti to an increased level of criminal activity in an area: “Graffiti does not necessarily, nor logically, nor automatically, equate with criminality” (White 2001). In fact there is a push to outline and define the very clear differences between graffiti and violent crime. From a Marxist perspective the limitation of graffiti or uncommissioned street art could be seen as the bourgeoisie attempting exercise social control and censorship to protect their own interests and property against the ideas of the proletariat or working classes. While it has been asserted that graffiti can be undertaken by people from any socio economic group the high rate of incidents within young people who often have very little power, money or control over their situation would suggest that graffiti as a crime is one committed by the poor against the rich. From this perspective graffiti can be seen as essential part of class struggle, with elaborate political and socially significant murals and graffiti forms having a high prevalence in areas of extreme poverty, subjugation or political strife. The high rate of graffiti in places of violence and civil unrest seems to be a subculture response to what they see around them, a form of social commentary, trying to analyse and communicate a message with the only medium and methods available to them. This follows that rather than treating graffiti as the cause or root of the problems of an area that needs to be eliminated or covered up, perhaps we should be viewing graffiti as a symptom of a greater problem that exists or is brewing in the area. For instance if, in an area of housing crisis and high levels of homelessness, the government housing offices, or nearby more privileged areas may be targets for graffiti as a way for the perpetrators to express frustration and powerlessness to do anything to effectively improve their situation, or create change through official means.

Graffiti by nature will never truly conform to the societal norms but the negative social connotations can be managed. Whilst there is so many issues of social order, social control and deviance to at play when it comes to graffiti, and the topic is deserving of a more thorough investigation the research I have cited shows that the value of Graffiti as part of the diagnosis of social problems should not be undervalued. Graffiti, while it is definitely a form of deviance is an important means of communication for many who do not agree with the current social order and who wish to send a message to the greater community via a method that bypasses the normal social controls and censorship. This subversive communication practice and form of non-administered public art may not be legal in many cases and is condemned by greater society as it challenges the current social order by defying the regulation of the urban landscape, a factor that in my opinion does not lessen, but in fact increases its value to the community, providing the voiceless with a voice.

 

References:

  • Arcioni, Elisa, GRAFFITI, REGULATION, FREEDOM, Graffiti and Disorder Conference, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Local Government Association, Brisbane, 18-19 August 2003
  • Bandaranaike, Suniti, GRAFFITI HOTSPOTS : PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT OR HUMAN DIMENSION?, Graffiti and Disorder Conference, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Local Government Association, Brisbane, 18-19 August 2003
  • Ferrell, Jeff. “Urban Graffiti Crime, Control, and Resistance.” Youth & Society 27, no. 1 (1995): 73-92.
  • Frost, Ashley, GRAFFITI AND PUBLIC ART, Graffiti and Disorder Conference, Australian Institute of Criminology, Australian Local Government Association, Brisbane, 18-19 August 2003
  • Marshall, Sophie, Beyond the Paint: Graffiti’s Value in Contemporary Society, Santa Sabina College (2010)
  • Payne, Malcolm, 1991, Radical and Marxist Approaches in Modern Social Work Theory: A Critical Introduction, pp. 201-223, London: MacMillan
  • Van Krieken, Robert et al, Sociology, 5th edition, Pearson Australia (2013)
  • White, R. (2001) Graffiti, Crime Prevention and Cultural Space. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 12(3): 253-268

 

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