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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, CRIMINOLOGY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 21 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

Criminology began as a speculative historical discourse about lawbreaking. Guided by the classical utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria, criminology in the late 18th century viewed crime as the result of a hedonistic calculus employed by rational individuals to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. But by the middle of the 19th century, criminology had transformed into a positivist science of the determined causes of crime. New visual technologies of surveillance, classification, and measurement contributed significantly to this reconstitution of criminological knowledge. A genealogy of this transformation in criminological inquiry is found in Michel Foucault’s landmark study, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, in which the French social philosopher pictures optical transformations in the nature of criminological inquiry as an early instance of modern, disciplinary modalities of power and knowledge. Beginning with an analysis of Bentham’s 1791 architectural drawings for a panoptic prison, Foucault links the visual turn in criminological thought to compulsive modern efforts to observe, map, categorize, code, and analytically penetrate the bodies, minds, and behavioral patterns of captured offenders. But visual objectification of this sort results in other things as well—a tragic displacement of the once subversive wisdom of medieval festival and the inscription of a sado-dispassionate “gaze” at the heart of the criminological enterprise itself. Together, these processes institute a seemingly fixed distinction between the subject and the object of the criminologist’s gaze. This distinction is amplified and transgressed in the early 21st century by a host of new, fascinating, and fearful visual cybernetic technologies of power. Following Foucault’s provocative genealogy of the optical foundations of early criminological science, recent digital technological advances in visual surveillance and the high-speed global transmission of visual images of crime today challenge criminology to be reflexive about the situated character of its own power-charged claims to knowledge.

Keywords: Foucault, panopticism, positivism, power/knowledge, power-reflexive criminology

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