Burning Issues: Fire, Carnival and Crime

Mike Presdee, University of Kent

At the present time 'arson' is one of the fastest growing crime areas. Each week 2 people die in arson attacks whilst 17 schools suffer an arson attack of some sort. Over the last ten years arson attacks on buildings have risen 36% and vehicle arson has nearly trebled. Close to 200 cars are burnt everyday yet detection rates are only 8% compared with 24% for all other offences. The social cost of tranmatised lives is always difficult to measure but the monetary loss is 2.1 billion pounds a year. Yet fire figures generally are falling, so as we become a more safe society so the legal and illegal continuing carnival of fire continues to rise.

This paper looks at the cultural celebration and meaning of fire in contemporary society in trying to understand the meaning and motivations for the festival of fire in everyday life. It brings to bear a cultural criminological approach to understanding 'fire setting' as a crime and endeavors to illuminate the connection between the 'regulated' society and the spontaneous dramas of the debris of carnival that is acted out not just at festivals of fire but everyday.

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Updated 05/20/2006