Criminal Behavior and Local Resistance: The Sociolegal Significance of the Hawaiian Cockfight
48 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2015 Last revised: 12 Jun 2018
Date Written: 2016
This Article analyzes the sociolegal significance of a highly localized form of illegal behavior: the Hawaiian cockfight. Drawing on ethnographic data gathered at illegal cockfights in Hawaii, and in-depth confidential interviews of cockfighters, I depict this crime as it occurs on the ground, from the perpetrators’ perspective.
Cockfighting has at least two meanings in the lives of men who engage in it. First, it functions as a means of expressing an identity as a "local" of Hawaii, embodying a positive cultural assertion that honors perpetrators’ family histories and establishes perpetrators’ value as intelligent, trustworthy members of the local community. Second, in the throes of legal, economic, and demographic changes to Hawaii, cockfighting has become a "resistance" activity that stands in opposition to these developments, particularly because of the overarching sense of futility locals experience with regard to the legal system. These two purposes, identity and resistance, are opposite sides of the same coin. In asserting local identity, cockfighters are able to communicate who they are; in resisting changes, they are able to communicate who they are not.
This Article also argues for the importance of local context in designing law enforcement measures, and demonstrates the importance of cultural legitimacy to policing, even if cultural relativity plays no role in determining criminality.
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