When "Antisocial Behavio(u)r" Becomes a Crime - OZY | A Modern Media Company

When "Antisocial Behavio(u)r" Becomes a Crime

When "Antisocial Behavio(u)r" Becomes a Crime

By Sanjena Sathian



Because for the Brits, a generational gap could mean more than old folks not understanding what “LOL” means.

By Sanjena Sathian

You wondered about it, and it’s true: The old folks really are just being crotchety.

Science even says so.

There’s a disconnect between what young and old people see as “antisocial behavior,” a term which in some parts of the world might merely refer to whether or not you seem friendly — but which in the U.K. has a true criminal import. People found to be behaving “antisocially” in the U.K. can be charged with a crime and given a fine or community service sentence. Antisocial crimes can be as large as vandalism and as small as playing loud music at night. Somewhere in between falls loitering, which the old folks are more likely than the teenagers to want criminalized.




There’s a pretty big discrepancy between the percentage of adults versus teenagers who think “hanging around” counts as antisocial behavior, according to a new study out of Cambridge. Synonyms for hanging around? They’re as much fun as you’d think: “hooliganism,” “loutish behavior,” “noise” and even “inappropriate use of fireworks.” On the other hand, major crimes like homicide and violent crime were easy to agree on. The study found 93 percent of adults and teenagers alike agreed those should be classified as “antisocial behavior” (and therefore, we can assume, are fair to criminalize). 

The study cuts to the heart of an issue that’s been plaguing public policy in the U.K. — from issues of housing and urban planning to, well, what to do with those goddamn youths. And it’s an issue that’s been plenty talked about in all the corners you’d expect — especially because this type of crime is reportedly on the rise in England and Wales. The question: What is public space, and who should determine how to regulate it?


Call us Foucauldian or just plain cynical. Either way, the study’s a reminder of the issue of sticky language in national policy. Its authors note that ”there has been an assumption among politicians and practitioners that what constitutes ASB is ‘common sense’” — but, of course, when has society ever been good at arriving at consensus, especially when it comes to language? Which means it’s all up to our friends in the legal profession and the dicey work of interpretive precedent. 

Or, for the scientists to point out, in clean, rational fashion, what we in the language profession have always known: that, uh, words is hard things to pin down.

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