Space, Place and the Policing of Anti-social Behaviour in Rural Scotland

  • Andrew Wooff

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Anti-social behaviour (herein ASB) has become important socially, politically and culturally in the United Kingdom over the past fifteen years. Successive Governments have prioritised tackling ASB, with a plethora of legislation being introduced to tackle low-level nuisance behaviour. The Crime and Disorder Act (1998) shaped much of the policy in relation to ASB, with the flagship policy of anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) being introduced alongside other punitive measures. Alongside the dramatic increase in policy aimed at criminalising nuisance behaviour, a large literature has emerged spanning the social sciences, allied health sciences and criminology fields. Despite a large number of studies examining ASB, none has thus far explored ASB in rural locations. Given that Scotland is a predominantly rural country, it is important that a concept that has driven a large part of the criminal justice agenda is conceptualised in rural locations. Despite the Social Attitudes Survey highlighting the fact that rural areas statistically suffer from less ASB, there is a commonly held (mis)conception that this means that the impact of ASB on rural areas is also less (Ormston & Anderson, 2009). There is also an assumption in the existing literature that because there is statistically less ASB in rural areas, that ASB is less serious than that which exists in urban locations. In addition to a general lack of theorisation of ASB in rural Scotland, the challenges of responding to ASB over a large geographic area adds an interesting and important spatial dimension to the way that ASB is tackled. The core argument in this thesis, therefore, is that the distinctive characteristics of rural environments are central to understanding the nature, meaning and impact of ASB in this environment.This thesis therefore begins to redress the lack of work on ASB in rural locations by conceptualising and analysing the nature and impact of, and responses to, ASB in two case study locations in rural Scotland. Garland’s theorisation of the new culture of crime control which emerged in the late 90s provides a helpful urban focused framework to examine debates around rural ASB (Garland, 1996). Drawing on the existing urban-based ASB literature, the thesis begins by critically examining whether ASB that occurs in rural locations is distinct from that witnessed in urban environments. This thesis argues that, although there are distinct aspects to the ASB present in the rural Scottish case studies, the ASB experienced typically mirrors that experienced in urban locations rather than reflecting a distinct form of rural ASB. Nevertheless, the rural context fundamentally shapes the impact that ASB has on rural communities. The thesis draws on criminological and rural literatures to argue that a more sophisticated approach, where scale, harm and context are central components of the way that the impact of ASB on rural communities is understood, needs to be developed. The limited rural literature examining crime often neglects the everyday, lived reality of the impact of ASB and crime on remote populations, instead tending to focus on the structural challenges associated with tackling ASB. Exploring the impact of ASB at this micro-scale illuminates interesting differences between the urban conceptualisations of ASB and those found in the rural. Progressing up to the meso-scale is important for understanding ways that the police and other actors respond to ASB in rural locations. The challenges associated with the scale of rural locations is apparent through the response of the police and other agencies to ASB. This thesis argues that, in contrast to the way that ASB is conceptualised in rural locations, there is a distinct rural policing response to ASB with a distinct interaction between agencies, the community and the police which is enabled by the scale at which each operates. ASB in rural locations therefore tends to be tackled in a more holistic manner, in which the circumstances of the individuals involved tend to be considered before the appropriate interventions are made. Context and scale therefore play a key role in understanding the response of various actors to ASB. Combining these three conceptual inputs, this study engages with an area of ASB which has hitherto received scant attention. In contrast to much of the existing urban ASB literature, which treats the context as a passive entity, this thesis argues that ‘the rural’ is a key contextual part of understanding the nature and impact of, and responses to, ASB. Far from being a peripheral part of the ASB literature, the rural environment therefore should be considered of key importance for understanding ASB in other contexts.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council, UK
    SupervisorNicholas Fyfe (Supervisor) & Lorraine van Blerk (Supervisor)


    • Anti-social behaviour
    • Policing
    • Rural
    • Geography

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