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Tracing the Relationship between Inequality, Crime and PunishmentSpace, Time and Politics$
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Nicola Lacey, David Soskice, Leonidas Cheliotis, and Sappho Xenakis

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266922

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266922.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use.date: 22 September 2021

American Exceptionalism or Exceptionalism of the Americas? The Politics of Lethal Violence, Punishment, and Inequality

American Exceptionalism or Exceptionalism of the Americas? The Politics of Lethal Violence, Punishment, and Inequality

Chapter:
(p.133) 6 American Exceptionalism or Exceptionalism of the Americas? The Politics of Lethal Violence, Punishment, and Inequality
Source:
Tracing the Relationship between Inequality, Crime and Punishment
Author(s):

Lisa L. Miller

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197266922.003.0006

‘American exceptionalism in imprisonment’ has become a useful heuristic for analyzing the extremely high rates of imprisonment in the United States that emerged in the late 20th century. This perspective, however, has largely marginalized violent crime as an important and distinguishing feature of the United States in contrast to most of the (largely western) countries to which it is usually compared. But violent crime in the United States – particularly murder – is extraordinarily high, making violence almost as exceptional as imprisonment. In fact, American exceptionalism may be better understood as exceptionalism of the Americas. By linking crime, punishment, and inequality, the relevant comparisons for the United States look less like Europe and more like Latin America. This chapter develops a conceptual framework for understanding state-building in the Americas, which the author refers to as racialized state-building. This framework proposes that the roots of high violence in the Americas (from both fellow citizens and from the state) lie in the fragmented state capacity and accountability that characterize the vast majority of countries in the Americas, including the United States. These state features are a function of extractive, settler, and slave colonialism which created incentives – to varying degrees – for elites to avoid institutional configurations that would result in power-sharing across populations. The resultant states are institutionally disjointed and excessively complex with high levels of mistrust and inequality, conditions which are ripe for violence in many forms.

Keywords:   Violence, State building, Racial inequality, American exceptionalism, Latin America, Colonialism, Punishment

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