In media representations the term sex crimes most frequently refers to rape and child sexual abuse, although it can include a wider range of acts such as exhibitionism and voyeurism. While the majority of these crimes receive little media attention, certain sensational sex crimes are prominent topics in news and entertainment media. Media attention tends to focus on violent crimes committed by “dangerous” strangers, largely defined as poor men of color, and crimes committed against white and middle-class victims. These representations provide a distorted image of the reality of sex crimes, which most frequently occur in private settings, by someone known to the victim. Media coverage has also been criticized for focusing on the actions and responsibility of victims, suggesting that victim behavior, such as drinking, flirting, or being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” precipitates sexual violence. Again, these representations vary significantly according to race and class, with white and middle-class victims more likely to receive sympathetic coverage, particularly if their assailant is from a lower-class or more marginal racial or ethnic background.
The emergence of the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970s, however, has led to some changes in media representations of sex crimes. Subsequent decades have seen an increase in sympathetic reporting around victims and increased reporting of crimes perpetrated by acquaintances and family members. There has been a growth in feminist voices and views in media reporting, as well as increased focus on the responsibilities and failings of criminal justice systems. Recent years have seen several examples of media coverage or “rediscovery” of previously ignored allegations against celebrities. Sex crimes have become a highly controversial and contested area, and media coverage reflects this, sometimes supporting progressive social and cultural change and sometimes providing a vehicle for “backlash” sentiments. Social media has been a driver of changes in the media landscape around sexual violence in recent years has provided a new forum for survivors to disseminate their stories but has also been marked by online harassment and abuse.
Sexting has recently attracted both media and academic attention. Mostly associated with adolescents, sexting, broadly speaking, refers to the production of and sharing of a naked or semi-naked image or a sexualized message via digital technology. Understanding sexting behaviors, however, is rather more complex and current commonly used definitions do not adequately address the different types of sexting and the different motivations and consequences that sexting behaviors have. Both media and public discourse have centered on the risks of sexting in relation to children and young people, as have policy responses to sexting activity. Concerns over a child being groomed online and being coerced or threatened into sending a naked or semi-naked picture by someone seeking sexual gratification has been the focus of policy debate and many public educational campaigns across the globe. Similarly, other campaigns have depicted the child or young person as a victim who sends a sexualized image to a peer that is then posted on a social media site or shared widely among a peer group causing the sender humiliation and distress. While these are both clear examples of digital abuse that have been the center of public awareness campaigns, it is often argued that current legal frameworks are insufficient to provide an adequate and appropriate response in many sexting cases, as there is considerable diversity in the circumstances and the contexts of sexting behaviors. As such it is argued that the (il)legality of sexting is such that it fails to recognize young people’s agency and that they may be choosing to produce and share images of themselves by choice. While it is legal to have sex with consent in many countries at age 16, it is still illegal to take a photo of either one’s own body or that of another if they are under 18 (even if over 16 and, thus, over the age of consent to have sex in many countries). As a consequence, some young people are being criminalized by the very laws designed to protect them. In reality many young people view sexting (although they do not use such terminology) as a mundane, fairly everyday thing to do, especially when they are in a romantic, intimate relationship and they are sharing the images with each other within the context of a trusting relationship. However, it is usually when that relationship breaks down that the image is more likely to be shared with others or published online with often harmful psychological and emotional consequences for the person depicted in the image. Sadly, some young people have committed suicide as a result of an image being publically shared. While the media, public, and, indeed, academic attention has focused on sexting in relation to children and young people, such behaviors are also experienced by adults who are similarly victims of digital abuse; yet many adult victims fail to receive protection from the criminal justice system when an image or video is published online without their consent. This is more commonly known as revenge pornography.
Chris Cunneen and Sophie Russell
The pervasiveness and prominence of mass media are key features of contemporary societies. Nowhere is this more relevant than when we look at the ubiquity of social media. In recent years, anticrime Facebook pages have appeared across all states and territories in Australia, and as our social spaces increasingly shift from the physical to the virtual realm, different forms of online cybervigilantism have emerged. This article explores the ways in which community justice and vigilantism in Australia are exercised through social media in the wider context of the racialized criminalization of Indigenous young people. We also discuss how new forms of media are used to produce and reproduce a racialized narrative of crime, which at the same time has the effect of legitimating violence against young Indigenous Australians. The text draws on a number of anticrime Facebook pages and finds that the very presence of these sites legitimates the beliefs of its members, while providing details about potential targets, most of whom are young people. We contend that the views expressed on these sites mirror, in more prosaic language, sentiments that are expressed in sections of the old media and among a number of ultraright politicians and groups. Further, these sites do little to question the broader ideological and political frameworks that present crime and disorder as being divorced from structural and historical conditions. There is, then, an assumed social consensus around what is being presented on these Facebook sites: namely, that overt racism and calls to vigilante violence are socially and politically acceptable. While there appears to be a direct link between the Facebook groups and incidents of violence in some cases, on a broader level, it is the constant reinforcement of an environment of racist violence that is most troubling.
Carlos Monteiro and Natasha Frost
With its long and storied history, solitary confinement has fascinated Americans since the birth of the penitentiary in the late 1700s. Once a practice that loomed large in literary representations of a distant and mysterious institution, solitary confinement has more recently been brought to the forefront of public discourse through its many representations across mediums of popular culture. Today, given popular culture’s global reach, the mystique of solitary confinement has diminished sharply, and conversations about this controversial practice are no longer limited to college classrooms, textbooks, and peer-reviewed journals. What many once referred to as a mysterious hole reserved for the worst of the worst offenders and covered for decades primarily through literary formats, is now commonly discussed in the comment sections of investigative reports and YouTube videos depicting footage from actual solitary confinement cells. The comments accompanying such popular culture representations in many ways reflect current debates about the efficacy of the practice. Today, for example, it is easy to come across representations of solitary confinement that showcase its necessity as an effective prison management tool and it is equally easy to find representations that highlight the anguish and burden of solitary confinement. Today, popular media have become one of the most effective mechanisms for disseminating information regarding important social issues, including solitary confinement.
Carceral geography has emerged as a vibrant and important subdiscipline of human geography, and there is increasing, and productive, dialogue among human geographers concerned with the carceral and disciplinary scholars with longer-standing engagements with incarceration and detention. Although the geographical study of the prison and other confined or closed spaces is relatively new, this dialogue between carceral geography and cognate disciplines of criminology and prison sociology, ensures that carceral geography now speaks directly to issues of contemporary import such as hyperincarceration and the advance of the punitive state.
Carceral geography addresses a diverse audience, with geographical approaches to carceral space being taken up by and developed further within human geography, and in criminology and prison sociology. Carceral geography has emerged in concurrence with the “spatial turn” in criminology, and the spatialization of carceral studies, and the particular ways in which carceral geographers have engaged spaces and practices of incarceration—specifically with concerns for mobility, for multisensory carceral experiences, and for methodology—may offer further, and productive, avenues of collaboration between geographers and criminologists concerned with the carceral.
Sport is a part of our shared global and separate national popular cultures. Understanding of baseball may be low in the United Kingdom and may come from films like Field of Dreams, but the phrase “three strikes and you’re out” has entered English and Welsh Criminal Justice practice. Such mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders are, like “zero tolerance” or “the war on drugs,” often seen as imports from the Unites States. The popularity of baseball in Japan may be known to only a few outside that country. Many will associate Sumo with Japan, fewer will know of corruption and betting scandals (on baseball!) in the sport. The global sports of football and athletics/track and field have seen major corruption scandals. In athletics, that corruption may also involve the covering up the use of performance enhancing drugs. The sport most associated with drugs is cycling. The premier cycling—and popular cultural, event—the Tour de France, has seen occupational drug taking on a considerable scale, with the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong being the only knowledge of the sport that many will have.
All these sports have waged their “war on drugs” or corruption, and these have entered popular culture through books and films. Yet many still believe sport to have noble roots and beneficial outcomes. Projects set up to prevent crime or encourage desistance from it are popular around the world; examples being soccer or rugby for prisoners, car racing for “joyriders,” or challenging adventure trips. Even tennis, golf, and video games have their supporters. Many successful boxers speak of troubled pasts from which their sport (and popularity) has saved them. However, many have found that fame (or loss of fame) and physical prowess have led them into trouble. There are also political and moral objections to sport. Specifically, there are feminist objections to the violence of some sportsmen towards women, as shown by stars of the NBA and NFL, NCAA athletes, and even local college teams. The occasional violence of sportswomen is treated, like women’s crime, as doubly deviant and especially newsworthy.
Street culture, the states of being, beliefs, and patterns of behavior associated with the most excluded urban populations, can be observed across the world in numerous varieties. Scholars of “slum” life have noted concerns that bear curious similarities over time and space, speaking to issues of exclusion, crime, and criminalization, and to expressive practices that have come to inspire a range of cultural products that are now heavily marketized. Street cultures are at the apex of different debates and studies. Are street cultures, which emphasize entrepreneurial “hustles” and fierce competition, fundamentally different from mainstream cultures of neoliberal capitalism and consumerism? Studying varieties of street culture and the extent to which individuals adhere to them in different ways highlights the complexities of the relationship between the impoverished self and contemporary social structures: new iterations of racism, patriarchy, and inequality. Examining street expressive practices, such as graffiti art, streetwear, and a variety of musical genres, is far from decorative where it reveals new ways in which the disadvantaged are criminalized while the culture industries are reinvigorated. Included populations are both fearful of and fascinated by the urban poor in a manner that simultaneously supports harsh criminal justice measures and cultural exploitation.
The survey, a research methodology in which variables are measured through the answers to questions on a data collection tool called a “survey questionnaire,” has been used to investigate several potential relationships between mass media and crime. In almost all studies, the relationship hypothesized is media influence, in which the media images change the consumer’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Most commonly the hypothesized change is behavioral: individuals who consume violent, sexual, or otherwise suspect media images purportedly have a heightened risk of engaging in criminal acts. Other hypothesized effects of media consumption that are studied frequently include racist or otherwise biased attitudes, which could impact decision making during the criminal justice process; inaccurate beliefs about crime, with an impact on fear of crime and resultant changes in public policy; and the CSI Effect, an exaggerated belief in the efficiency of forensic science in identifying criminal offenders, which could sway jury decisions.
Survey-based research studies have rarely found that mass media consumption has a significant impact on criminal behavior or biased attitude, and its impact on beliefs about crime are contingent on many more significant factors. While these poor results may suggest that there is indeed minimal impact, the problem may lie within the methodology itself, in the ability of survey-based questions and answers to adequately measure the independent variable (media consumption) and the various dependent variables. Additionally, the problem may lie within the essential premise of media influence, with its passive, naive viewer and a radical disjunction between media and real life.
Legal discourse is language that people use in a globalizing and multicultural society to negotiate acceptable behaviors and values. We see this played out in popular cultural forums such as judicial television dramas. In the American context, television judge shows are virtually synonymous with reality courtroom television. There have been a few judge shows, but these have been completely overshadowed by the success of reality courtroom television. The first reality courtroom show was The People’s Court, and its history and early success are discussed in the opening section of this article. The next section looks at the television judge show landscape after the first incarnation of The People’s Court up to the present day in the United States. The third section is dedicated to a discussion of television judge shows outside the United States, chiefly in Europe. The focus is on German and Dutch versions and on the ways in which they differ from the original U.S. versions. This section also briefly looks at the effects of modern digital technology on the judicial genre and asks whether enhanced viewer engagement and crowdsourced justice in the near future will force judges to bow to the popular will, on and off the small screen.
The themes of terrorism and counter-terrorism have infused the America media’s cultural production for several decades. These popular culture products were designed first for consumption by domestic audiences but also for export to audiences throughout the world, quickly assuming a role in US cultural imperialism. Much of this production took the form of news reports about political turmoil, sectarian violence and liberation, independence or nationalist movements—almost always occurring “somewhere else” in the world. Still others appeared as fictional narratives embedded within diverse entertainment genres such as political thrillers, war, sci-fi, romance and suspense, sometimes in a lifeworld that paralleled that of the domestic audience. But more often than not this production took the form of lifeworlds mimicking foreign lands, mythical pasts, or dystopian futures. Popular culture’s tales of terrorism and counter-terrorism maintained this relatively stable pattern for much of the last quarter of the 20th century. Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September 2001 considerably impacted that narrative pattern, and while not fundamentally changing the script, this attack resulted in significant rewrites. To begin, the portrayal of terrorism and the War on Terror, both real and fictionalized, became the central theme in a great deal of popular culture, including television programs, feature films, PC/video games, YouTube videos, advertisements, popular music, and of course, the news. These mediated texts—in essence, stories that the US cultural industries tell about terrorism and the state’s attempts to fight it—reconstituted the social reality of terrorism and counter-terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of al-Qaeda’s attacks, the American cultural industries increasingly served as a conduit for US hegemony, both at home and abroad. While there is a long history of arm’s-length cooperation between the state and the entertainment industry in the production of popular culture products that can be traced back to the early 1930s, the immediate post-9/11 period heralded an era of not only more terrorism and counter-terrorism narratives but also narratives whose content changed incrementally (but ultimately markedly) largely as a result of the state’s direct involvement in crafting them.
Chief among the changes was the streamlining of a narrative that emphasized the growing ubiquity of terrorist threats to the American people on US soil. Indeed, in the lifeworlds created by post-9/11 popular culture, terrorism and counter-terrorism are no longer things that happen primarily or exclusively elsewhere. America’s business interests abroad, its embassies and military installations, are no longer the only likely targets of terrorist activity. These traditional targets have been augmented by many others, including iconic buildings in major cities, national monuments, and critical infrastructure—as well as by more mundane parts of the US landscape, such as schools, sports stadiums, amusement parks, and shopping malls. Like that espoused by the state, the culture industries’ narrative is clear; no one is safe from terrorism.
Predictably, the narrative shift that amplified the danger, barbarism, and proliferation of the terrorist threat was complimented by one which aggrandized the counter-terrorist efforts of the United States. In popular culture’s various lifeworlds counter-terrorism strategies, no matter how extreme, are understood as reasonable and legitimate. The narratives, comprised almost wholly of fetishized presentations of military, national security, and law enforcement agents with state- of-the-art weaponry dispatching terrorists with deadly force, provide virtually no political or socio-historical context and offer no alternative to resolving conflicts other than the unfettered use of state violence.
As such, popular culture’s presentation of terrorism and counter-terrorism serves to provide the resolution that the real-world War on Terror promised but did not deliver, while at the same time contributing to a narrative that demands its continuation.
Prosecutors and members of law enforcement have complained that television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation have cultivated in jurors’ unreasonable expectations about forensic evidence, specifically that jurors require definitive forensic proof of guilt, or else they will wrongly acquit. This is popularly known as “CSI Effect.” Despite the popularity of this belief, there is little empirical evidence substantiating it. In fact, the majority of studies exploring CSI Effects have found evidence supporting a variety of impacts that advantage, rather than disadvantage, the prosecution. For instance, these programs frame forensics as objective and virtually infallible, bolster forensic technicians and the value of evidence associated with them, and promote schema that endorse prosecution narratives. Indeed, it appears that among CSI’s most salient impacts on the legal system comes not from these television programs distorting juror decision-making, but because lawyers and judges mistakenly believe such an effect exists, and, therefore, alter their behavior in response. It thus appears that the realities of the CSI Effect are quite different than the persistent mythology of it.
This article explores what happens to criminal evidence after the conclusion of legal proceedings, described here as the afterlife of evidence. The text investigates the ways that this material proliferates in the shadow of the law, in both cultural and commercial contexts. During the criminal trial, the rules of evidence and criminal procedure operate to tightly regulate the collection, admissibility, and interpretation of evidence. After the criminal trial, these rules no longer control evidence, and this material is sometimes subject to the substantial cultural curiosity associated with true crime and its artifacts. This article sets out some of the new questions that are posed by this material when it is transferred beyond the law’s control.
In examining Aboriginal riots, the conditions of political antagonism and the distinct ways these relations of antagonism are played out take precedence. Ethnographic approaches that analyze the substance of situated cultural meanings are central to understanding these relations. Drawing upon Allen Feldman’s ethnographic account of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland for some of its interpretive framework, this article surveys the methodological value and importance the Manchester School of Anthropology placed on “atypical events,” moments when irresolvable tensions boil to the surface. For anthropologists, what is important in understanding riots is the manner in which participants themselves extract meanings in violence. What do they say about the violence? How is it culturally situated in particular social and political contexts? Different antagonists create their own moral economy that then legitimates their repertoires of violence.
Taunya Lovell Banks
Crime films defy precise definition. This category includes traditional courtroom films like Witness for the Prosecution (1957), detective films like Gone Girl (2014), prison films like The Shawshank Redemption (1994), comedies like My Cousin Vinny (1992) or Find Me Guilty (2006), gangster films like The Godfather series (1972, 1974, 1990), and even musicals like Chicago (2002). Thus crime films provide an almost limitless variety of plots, characters, and settings. Adopting a very broad definition of what constitutes a “crime film”, the representation of race in crime films throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries is examined.
During much of the early and mid-20th century, crime on American Main Street silver screens was largely a white phenomenon. The absence of people considered nonwhite from early crime films is unsurprising because “whiteness is positioned as the default category, the center or the assumed norm on which everything else in American society is based. Under this conception, white is often defined more through what it is not than what it is.” Racial outsiders like African and Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and other persons considered nonwhite were not featured on America’s movie screens. If they appeared at all in early crime films it was as marginal stereotypical characters.
Stereotyping, when used in film, is designed “to quickly convey information about characters and to instill in audiences expectations about characters’ actions.” During the early days of American films nonwhites were encoded with negative, often criminal, stereotypes. In silent films like Birth of a Nation (1915), for example, African American men were depicted as rapists and violent brutes. Mexicans in The Greaser’s Gauntlet (1908) and Guns and Greasers (1918) were depicted as criminals. Silent films like The Massacre (1912) and The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913) portrayed Native Americans as lawless savages, an image reinforced throughout the 20th century by western films. In The Cheat (1915) Japanese male immigrants were depicted as wily sexual predictors. The stereotypes attributed to ethnic Chinese were slightly different and more exaggerated. Films like The Heathen Chinese and the Sunday School Teacher (1904) and The Yellow Peril (1908) demonized Chinese immigrants as villainous predictors. In episode 13 of the film serial The Exploits of Elaine (1914) the protagonist, Pearl, “[t]rapped in a lair of Chinese devil worshipers . . . is spared rape, a fate worse than death, in favor of ritual sacrifice to an Oriental demon who demands a bride ‘blond, beautiful and not of our race’.” Although nonwhites’ conduct was criminalized in these films, the films themselves were not crime films.
Lizzie Seal and Maggie O'Neill
Transgressive imaginations refers to the breaking of rules and taboos including, but not limited to, acts of crime and violence as they are represented in fictive texts and ethnographic research. The focus here will be on the fictive, rather than ethnographic, element. Transgression can be understood not only as exceeding boundaries or limits but as resistance, protest, and escape. Particularly apposite is the portrayal of “heroes” and “villains” in different cultural forms, and how these contribute to popular understandings.
Cultural portrayals of those who transgress societal norms are frequently stigmatizing, and label them as mad, bad, and abject. However, the analysis of transgression also entails radical democratic possibilities, whether this is through research that challenges restrictive stereotypes and normative assumptions, or the means through which those labeled “outsiders” defy their marginalization. Cultural representations of transgression are not necessarily supportive of culturally dominant or conservative positions and can instead offer new ways of imagining social identities and social change. The ways in which transgression is imagined can both construct and challenge moral boundaries.
True crime reporting was extremely popular in early modern England (ca. 1550–1800). Depending on when this literature was written, and the audience it was intended to attract, the sub-genres of true crime writing took the form of small pamphlets, broadsides, rhyming ballads designed to be sung to a familiar tune, ministers’ accounts of criminals and repentance, collections of trials, newspapers, and biographies of professional criminals. In addition to being inherently shocking and entertaining, this literature served as cautionary, religious, and morality tales that reflected on serious crime as one of the signs that English society had become ignorant, irreligious, and immoral. These tales of true crime could be used to remind a wide readership of the wages of sin, and of the role of the community, church, and state in bringing about justice for criminals and their victims. In a society that placed significant restraints on sexual, personal, and religious freedoms, and exhorted obedience, deference, hard work, sexual restraint, and abstinence from all forms of vice, true crime literature could help to restore order and balance to society. To accomplish these various goals, the authors of true crime literature were not very faithful reporters, often embellishing criminal deeds, publishing small portions of much lengthier cases, or fabricating facts as needed to fill in unknown details or to improve readers’ fear of and education about the criminal element that surrounded them. As this literature developed in the 18th century, its authors became famous for reporting about infamous criminals in semi-biographical novels, thus merging true crime literature with fiction and giving rise to another genre of crime literature by about 1800.
Vengeance or revenge has been characterized in popular culture in a range of different ways. Within theories of criminology and social psychology, its relationship to retribution has been examined along with notions of deterrence and rehabilitation. Vengeance has been prevalent within a range of various belief systems as well as in myths, legends, and sacred texts. While vengeance seems to be a feature in all cultures, its acceptance as an appropriate response has been less than clear. It has been weighed alongside a preference for forgiveness, and tensions between these two options against harm have come to the fore in more recent times.
A distinction can usefully be made between vengeance undertaken by the state and the community on the one hand, which might be termed the revenge of the legal process and that exacted by the individual or family. The vengeance theme has been a major feature of Western culture in its expression in Greek literature and theater, through classical authors like Shakespeare and Racine to the present day. There is a link to popular literature as well as the more elusive world of popular theater and its occasional forays into the revenge theme.
The major expression of revenge within mass cultural forms, however, has been in film. Initially production codes prevented revenge being shown as having a successful outcome. Since the 1970s, however, a major modern version of portraying revenge that recurs within modern cinema throughout the world has been the vigilante film. This model of vengeance operates on the notion of an individual responding to the failings of the official system of securing proportionate or effective retribution. There are particular recurring features in these films including a disruptive random unlawful event, the law taking its course, a system malfunction, a trigger to revenge, and a coda stressing the efficacy of vengeance. Along with this is a significant subgroup within the cinema of personal revenge, the rape-revenge film. There has been extensive scholarship on this type of film and its rather different elements. A distinction can be made on the basis of the nature and perceived audience between this trope and the wider world of vengeance movies.
There has been relatively limited coverage of the revenge theme in television. The changes in the forms of media provide fresh opportunities for coverage of the vengeance theme in the 21st century. The contrast between the community approach of law and that of the individual seeker after revenge are formally different, but in the end they both involve elements of vengeance.
Timothy Rowlands, Sheruni Ratnabalasuriar, and Kyle Noel
A product of the military-industrial complex, from the origins of the medium, video games have been associated with violence. As they have become increasingly popular, finding their ways into many households in the United States and around the world, video games have come under increasing scrutiny for the graphic depictions of violence and sexuality some present. An overview of the history of video games suggests this is not a recent problem. As early as 1976, there has been public outcry for regulation of the industry to prevent antisocial content from findings its way into the hands of children. While some politicians, newsmakers, and activist attorneys have stirred up moral panics in response, courts in the United States have generally remained dispassionate. Unmoved by the inconsistent research exploring the connection between video games, aggression, violence, and crime, these courts have insisted on a hands-off approach in order to avoid infringing upon freedom of speech. Nevertheless, likely unrelated to this question of transference, video games have created new venues for the commission of real criminal acts such as fraud and harassment. This points to the ways video games and the virtual worlds they sometimes present have become very real and meaningful parts of everyday life for many people.
Debate surrounding the impact of media representations on violence and crime has raged for decades and shows no sign of abating. Over the years, the targets of concern have shifted from film to comic books to television to video games, but the central questions remain the same. What is the relationship between popular media and audience emotions, attitudes, and behaviors? While media effects research covers a vast range of topics—from the study of its persuasive effects in advertising to its positive impact on emotions and behaviors—of particular interest to criminologists is the relationship between violence in popular media and real-life aggression and violence. Does media violence cause aggression and/or violence?
The study of media effects is informed by a variety of theoretical perspectives and spans many disciplines including communications and media studies, psychology, medicine, sociology, and criminology. Decades of research have amassed on the topic, yet there is no clear agreement about the impact of media or about which methodologies are most appropriate. Instead, there continues to be disagreement about whether media portrayals of violence are a serious problem and, if so, how society should respond.
Conflicting interpretations of research findings inform and shape public debate around media effects. Although there seems to be a consensus among scholars that exposure to media violence impacts aggression, there is less agreement around its potential impact on violence and criminal behavior. While a few criminologists focus on the phenomenon of copycat crimes, most rarely engage with whether media directly causes violence. Instead, they explore broader considerations of the relationship between media, popular culture, and society.
Visual criminology emerges from a call to rethink the manner in which images are reshaping the world and criminology as a project. The mobility, malleability, banality, speed, and scale of images and their distribution demand that we engage both old and new theories and methods. Visual criminologists pursue a refinement of concepts and tools as well as innovative new ones to tackle questions of crime, harm, culture, and control. Concerned with how ways of seeing are foundational to social orders, visual criminology gives close attention to the production of crime’s power and spectacle in the visual field and relies upon emergent conceptual terms and vocabularies to do so. It insists that it is no longer possible to understand crime and control separately from how they are represented. Visual criminology is born as an alternative academic space that is neither supplementary nor secondary to mainstream social science; rather, it calls us to understand the power of crime and punishment beyond the written and numeric registers of reports, studies, and research.
The concerns of visual criminology are numerous. Visual criminologists are interested in the role of vision and the visual in the historical foundations of criminology as a discipline. They push crime and media scholars to investigate more deeply the role of the image itself, beyond conventional studies of crime and media. Using a growing and sophisticated set of theories, methods, and concepts, they track how the various optics of criminology and criminal justice (defined by disciplinary, institutional, and epistemological boundaries) are produced, culminating in popular and scientific perspectives that inevitably bring certain principles, claims, and possibilities into the line of vision and omit others. They also give attention to how these optics are contested and transgressed. Focal points of this work span a variety of media and artistic modes that continue to grow at an unprecedented rate: photodocumentary, photoethnography, new and social media, interactive and social documentary, architecture, data visualizations, design, conceptual and performance art, mixed media, theater, embodiment, spatialization, surveillance and aerial/satellite/drone technology, graffiti and urban aesthetics, ruins and dark tourism, models, exhibitions, and imaginative interventions to envision crime and punishment otherwise. Even as this visual focus expands the disciplinary tools and insights of criminology, it also broadens the field’s boundaries, drawing from a rich theoretical terrain of interdisciplinary studies.