Problematizing Solutions: A Case Study of Claims about Campus Safety in an Era of ‘School Violence’

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Gregory, Julie Rayanne
This dissertation traces networks of power and of resistance. Specifically, it explores how diffuse claims about school violence as a growing social problem are picked up and used by administrators and students at one Canadian university in ways that coalesce around understandings of a safe campus environment as necessarily technologically-mediated. The primary data used to facilitate this exploratory comparative analysis are publically available documents produced following public knowledge of an act of sexualized violence that occurred at that university in the summer of 2007. Together, I read these sets of documented claims as a security project that simultaneously represents changes made to campus environments in the name of safety as (1) preventative means to ensure student, faculty and staff safety, (2) reactions to socially meditated individual and institutional fears, and (3) constitutive of intertwining processes associated with corporatization and militarization. Two main claims that emerge from this comparative analysis are (1) that techno-securitized campuses are both responses to, and constitutive of, acts of violence, socially mediated fears and uneven distributions of power and (2) that university administrators and students co-narrate campus safety through an ongoing process of discursive negotiation and re-negotiation. Indeed, following the analyses presented in this dissertation, just as students are subject to administrative security-related consumption choices, so too are administrators subject to student-led claims about how best to achieve a safe campus environment. I suggest that these claims-making convergences and divergences oblige analyses that neither deny that techno-security measures are promoted in good faith by people hoping to make people safer nor ignore the importance of contextualizing these efforts in relation to processes which help constitute campuses as unsafe spaces, administrators and students as moral regulatory objects and subjects, and some solutions as more or less reasonable. When situated in relation to the sociological scholarship about moral panics, social problems, and moral regulation this case study draws to the fore the volatile, co-constructed and constitutive aspects of claims-making, with a notable focus on some of the economic forces that inform these discourses.
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