Feeling Safe, Defining Crime and Urban Youth in Berlin’s Inner City: An Exploration of the Construction of ‘Unsafety’ and ‘Youth’ as Symbolic Violence

  • Talja BloklandEmail author
  • Vojin Šerbedžija


Urban security policies tend to focus on prevention or crime’s relation to safety. Crime prevention literature often suggests the importance of urban design for social control. Generally the belief is strong that control and interventions, of public or state, will reduce crime and enhance security. Yet correlations between crime rates and experienced safety are weak at best. Others emphasize the importance of governance of crime and behaviour defined as undesirable, or argue that the welfare state becomes a penal state, containing the marginalized through policing. Less common are studies of the positionality of those often hold publically responsible for crime: male urban youth in inner cities. While some of their criminalized behaviour acquires high visibility, their positions and perspectives remain invisible. How crime prevention, definitions of crime and safety and urban insecurity are experienced in the daily practices of urban youth in two estates in Berlin, Germany is the empirical focus for our attempt to theorize ‘unsafety’ discourse as symbolic violence.



We thank Julia Thöns from Bezirksamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and all advisors for cooperation, Landeskommission Berlin gegen Gewalt for funding, Lara Danyel and Julia Nott for research assistance, and all experts in the field for their generous participation, especially Die Jungs. All names are pseudonyms. All research participants at the youth clubs and in interviews gave consent to participate; casual conversations in the streets, incidentally included youth who did not know, due to the nature of fieldwork in such a setting.


  1. Appelrouth, S., & Desfor Edles, L. (2016). Sociological Theory in the Contemporary Era. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Bauman, Z. (2000). Modernity and the Holocaust. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Becker, H. (1967). Whose Side Are We On? Social Problems, 14(3), 239–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Binken, S., & Blokland, T. (2012). Why Repressive Policies Towards Urban Youths Do Not Make Streets Safe. Sociological Review, 60(2), 292–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blokland, T. (2003). Urban Bonds. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  6. Blokland, T. (2008a). Facing Violence: Everyday Risks in an American Housing Project. Sociology, 42(4), 601–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blokland, T. (2008b). You Got to Remember You Live in Public Housing. Housing, Theory and Society, 25(1), 31–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blokland, T. (2012). Blaming Neither the Undeserving Poor Nor the Revanchist Middle Classes. Urban Geography, 33(4), 488–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Blokland, T. (2017). Community as Urban Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  10. Blokland, T., & Serbedzija, V. (2018). Gewohnt Ist Nicht Normal. Berlin: Logos.Google Scholar
  11. Body-Gendrot, S. (2000). The Social Control of Cities? London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  12. Bourdieu, P. (2001). Masculine Domination. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (1992). An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  14. Boutelier, H. (2002). De Veiligheidsutopie. Den Haag: Boom.Google Scholar
  15. Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Dee, M. (2000). The Use of CCTV to Police Young People in Public Spaces. Paper at 27th International Conference on Making Cities Livable, De Montfort University.Google Scholar
  17. Elias, N. (2012). The Social Constraint Towards Self-Constraint. In C. Calhoun et al. (Eds.), Contemporary Sociological Theory (pp. 499–509). London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Elsinga, M., & Wassenberg, F. (1992). Prevention of Criminality in the Living Environment. Justitele Verkenningen, 18(2), 73–87.Google Scholar
  19. Garland, D. (1997). ‘Governmentality’ and the Problem of Crime: Foucault, Criminology, Sociology. Theoretical Criminology, 1(2), 173–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Garland, D. (2001). The Culture of Control. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gelder, K. (Ed.). (2005). The Subcultures Reader. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Goffman, A. (2014). On the Run. Chicago: Chicago University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hall, S., & Jefferson, T. (Eds.). (1998). Resistance Through Rituals. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Hall, S., et al. (1978). Policing the Crisis. London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hochschild, A. (1983). The Managed Heart. Berkeley: California University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Hochschild, A. (2003). The Commercialization of Intimate Life. Berkeley: California University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Hodkinson, P., & Deicke, W. (Eds.). (2007). Youth Cultures. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Koskela, H. (2000). The Gaze Without Eyes: Video-Surveillance and the Changing Nature of Urban Space. Progress in Human Geography, 24(2), 243–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lanz, S. (2007). Berlin aufgemischt: abendländisch – multikulturell – kosmopolitisch? Bielefeld: Transcript.Google Scholar
  30. Lanz, S. (2009). Powered by Quartiersmanagement. In P. Drilling & O. Schnur (Eds.), Governance der Quartiersentwicklung (pp. 219–225). Wiesbaden: VS.Google Scholar
  31. Lewek, M. (2016). Spaces of Fear and Their Exclusionary Consequences. In T. Blokland, et al. (Eds.), Creating the Unequal City (pp. 31–52). Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  32. Lewis, D., & Maxfield, M. (1980). Fear in the Neighborhoods. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 17(2), 160–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Marcuse, H. (1941). Some Implications of Modern Technology. Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, 9, 414–439.Google Scholar
  34. Merry, S. (1981). Defensible Space Undefended. Urban Affairs Quarterly, 16(4), 397–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Merry, S. (2001). Spatial Governmentality and the New Urban Social Order. American Anthropologist, 103(1), 16–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Minnery, J., & Lim, B. (2005). Measuring Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 22, 330–341.Google Scholar
  37. Newman, O. (1973). Defensible Space. New York: First Collier.Google Scholar
  38. QM. (2017). Integriertes Handlungs-und Entwicklungskonzept 2017–2019 mit Jahresbilanz seit 2015. Träger: Kunstwelt e.V. Berlin.Google Scholar
  39. Raco, M. (2003). Remaking Place and Securitising Space. Urban Studies, 40(9), 1869–1887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sampson, R., & Raudenbush, S. (2004). Seeing Disorder. Social Psychology Quarterly, 67(4), 319–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sampson, R., et al. (1997). Neighborhoods and Violent Crime. Science, 277(15), 918–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Simone, A. (2019). Improvised Lives. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  43. Smith, D. (1987). The Everyday World as Problematic. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Somers, B. (2018). Zusammen Leben. Munich: Beck.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Soss, J., et al. (2011). Disciplining the Poor. Chicago: Chicago University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. St. Jean, P. (2007). Pockets of Crime. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Wacquant, L. (1987). Symbolic Violence and the Making of the French Agriculturalist. Journal of Sociology, 23(1), 65–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wacquant, L. (2009). Punishing the Poor. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Willis, P. (1977). Learning to Labor. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Wilson, J., & Kelling, G. (1982). Broken Windows. Atlantic Monthly, 249(3), 29–38.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Humboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations