‘Knife Crime’; Policing the Crisis in the 21st Century

Williams, Elain. 2020. ‘Knife Crime’; Policing the Crisis in the 21st Century. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The label ‘knife crime’ emerged as a new category of crime in the early 21st Century and is used widely in contemporary crime discourse. Functioning as both noun and adjective, the phrase refers to singular or collective knife related acts and offences, as well as a perceived knife culture or an expression of criminality. Whilst its meaning is broad its application is narrow, concerned predominantly with the actions of a particular demographic; young, Black, inner-city males. Its matter-of-fact reference infers a common sense meaning but ‘knife crime’ is one of the most used and least understood crime labels in popular parlance. Applying a radical criminological understanding of deviance labelling as a specific response to crime, this project asks: How can the label ‘knife crime’ be understood as a particular societal reaction to crime? And to what extent can the response to ‘knife crime’ be considered a continuation of Policing the Crisis in the 21st Century? This project explores how political contradictions, policing and youth policy reforms, and the morphing shapes of ‘new racism’ were formative in the making of the label. The document and archive analysis of this research is combined with empirical inquiry, including original data from interviews with twenty youth justice practitioners and ten focus groups with young people in London. Along with content and discourse analysis of ‘knife crime tweets’ on Twitter, the methods of this project reveal crucial realities currently obscured by the dominance of the label and its practices.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Knife crime, policing the crisis, policing, criminology, radical criminology, critical criminology, deviance, deviance labelling, crime labelling, racialisation, race, racism, neoliberalism, New Labour, stop and search, gangs, youth, youth crime, youth violence, knives

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 April 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

11 Jun 2021 14:17

Last Modified:

16 Apr 2023 01:26



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