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This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Please check back later for the full article.
Crime abounds in 19th-century British fiction, although the kinds of crimes depicted, as well as the narrative significance, thematic weight, and cultural meanings assigned to them, varied widely over time and across fictional genres. As the 19th century’s dominant literary form, the novel was necessarily an admixture of art and commerce; for the burgeoning class of professional novelists, and particularly those whose livelihood required them to produce popular works in quick succession, criminality was an invaluable element of story that reliably performed several key narrative functions. Criminal characters and actions engaged readers’ imaginations and emotions, crimes undetected or unpunished created suspense, and the restoration of order brought stories to satisfying conclusions. Utility alone, however, cannot fully account for crime’s ubiquity. Fictional representations of criminality reflected, and sometimes inspired, changes to Britain’s social, political, and legal landscape, as authors used crime thematically to examine or exploit popular anxieties regarding the apparent instabilities of a rapidly changing society, to comment on current controversies, or to prescribe or dispute codes of conduct and morality.
Crimes and criminal behavior form an essential component of three key precursors to detective and mystery fiction, both of which emerged as recognizable genres in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: conspiracies and crimes, ranging from forgery and fraud to kidnapping and murder, characterize late 18th- and early 19th-century Gothic fiction; the Newgate novels of the 1830s and 1840s depict urban criminal underworlds of thieves, fences, and prostitutes; and sensation novels of the 1860s and 1870s rework such Gothic crimes as bigamy and blackmail in contemporary British settings. Although popular with readers, Gothic, Newgate, and sensation novels were frequently decried as immoral or corrupting. Yet fictional genres typically deemed less scandalous are also rife with criminal activity. Walter Scott’s immensely popular and influential historical novels, published between 1814 and 1832, feature several memorable villains and spectacular crimes. Similarly, the Industrial or Condition-of-England novels of the 1840s, which sought to anatomize the plight of England’s factory workers for middle-class readers, are frequently plotted around conspiracies involving murder, arson, or riots.
In the mid-Victorian period, Charles Dickens reworked elements of these narrative traditions to create a catalogue of crimes and criminals unrivaled in scope and inventiveness. Contemporaries, including Eliot, Thackeray, and Trollope, exploited the narrative possibilities of criminality in a somewhat more restrained fashion; although violent crime is rarely a central element, their works are nevertheless populated by cheats, swindlers, forgers, and thieves. Conversely, lurid crimes featured prominently in much of the period’s cheap popular fiction. Later in the century, new forms of criminality appeared in the fiction of the British Empire, in New Woman novels, and in the literature of aestheticism and decadence. Across these vastly different works, crime captivated readers while encoding cultural values and beliefs regarding not only law and justice, but also property and authority, social class and social change, individual and collective responsibility, faith, forgiveness, and life and death itself.
Criminal justice is a perennial theme in modern comics published in the United States and United Kingdom, with dominant narratives revolving around the protection of the innocent from crime and harm or the seeking of justice outside the authority of the state. The history of the comics medium and its regulation in the mid-20th century, particularly in the United States, shows how the comics medium itself—not just its popular content—was embroiled in questions of criminality, in relation to its perceived obscenity and fears that it caused juvenile delinquency. Indeed, the medium’s regulation shaped the way it has been able to engage with questions of crime and justice; the limitations on moral complexity under the censorship of the 1954 Comics Code in the United States, for example, arguably led to both a dearth of critical engagement in crime and justice concerns, and an increased evil or psychopathy in criminal characters (because more nuanced motivations could not be depicted under the Code). From the 1980s onwards, the restrictions of the Code abated, and a broad “maturation” of the form can be seen, with a concurrent increase in critical engagement with criminological questions. The main themes of comics research around crime and comics after the 1980s include questions of vigilantism and retribution, seen as the dominant concern in mainstream comics. But other leading questions go beyond these issues and explore comics’ engagement with the politics of crime and justice, highlighting the medium’s capacity to question the nature of justice and the legitimate exercise of state power. Moreover, stepping back and considering the general relationship between comics and criminology, comics can be seen as important cultural forms of expression of moral and social values, as well as potentially alternative orders of knowledge that can challenge mainstream criminology. From free speech, juvenile delinquency, and vigilantism, to politics, culture, and disciplinary knowledge, there are significant interactions between comics and criminology on a variety of levels.
Crime news is an abundant staple in modern media coverage. Nowhere is this more evident than in the newspaper medium, which often faces fewer constraints with respect to space and time compared to other formats (e.g., television), thereby enabling more stories to be generated. As most people will rely on the news format for their information about crime, it is imperative that such stories be presented factually and within the scope of their magnitude. Yet as research has indicated, this often is not the journalistic practice as it relates to crime news. Instead, there is often a disproportionate amount of crime presented in the news, with specific attention dedicated to the most serious of crimes, such as homicide, even though these occur least often. Still, the focus of such reporting is often centered upon the most extreme and sensational cases, further distorting the reality of crime. A number of factors influence these selection decisions, including (but certainly not limited to) victim characteristics and agenda-setting practices by news organizations. The way in which these stories are constructed and framed also contributes to the creation of social problems as they are perceived by members of society. Consequently, there are broader impacts of the coverage of crime news in newspapers, particularly as it relates to audience effects.
The discussion of crime news on television must begin with a basic cultural understanding that journalism is facing a time of dramatic change. Mitchell Stephens argued in his 2014 book Beyond News: The Future of Journalism that the news process remains challenging to define: “Journalism is the activity of collecting, presenting, interpreting, or commenting upon the news for some portion of the public” (p. xiii). In the case of crime news, a variety of historical developments changed the nature of newsgathering and presentation. Sociological and cultural theories help us understand the process, the content, and the effects. An examination of the various approaches to the study of crime news will extend cultural understanding to entertainment media and long-term societal implications of new technologies, such as social media.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is an approach to crime reduction that seeks to reduce perceived opportunities for crime through the design and management of the built or, less often, the natural environment. It is based on a set of principles, which can be applied as a guide to the design and construction of buildings, as well as the organization of spaces around them. Because CPTED provides a guide rather than a rigid specification, with a range of possible realizations, design compliance with its principles is often recognized through an award scheme, such as Secured by Design (SBD) in the United Kingdom and the Police Label Secured Housing in the Netherlands. Research has consistently demonstrated that CPTED is an effective crime reduction approach—reducing crime, alleviating the fear of crime, and enhancing feelings of safety. Its increasing recognition within planning policy reflects a growing acknowledgment of efficacy.
Ella Cockbain and Gloria Laycock
Crime science (or more accurately crime and security science) has three core tenets:
• the application of scientific methods
• the study of crime and security problems
• the aim of reducing harm.
Beyond the unifying principles of scientific research (including a clear problem definition, transparency, rigor, and reliability), tools and techniques vary between studies. Rather than following a prescriptive approach, researchers are guided in their selection of data and methods by their research question and context. In this respect, crime scientists take an inclusive view of “evidence.”
“Crime and security” is a broad construct, covering problems associated with diverse illicit goods and acts, offenders, victims/targets, places, technologies, and formal and informal agents of crime control.
Its pragmatic approach distinguishes crime science from “pure research” (i.e., the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake). Contributions to harm reduction might be immediate (e.g., evaluating a novel intervention) or longer term (e.g., building theoretical or empirical knowledge about a particular issue).
Crime science is broad: researchers may contribute to it without self-identifying as crime scientists. Indeed, its early proponents hesitated to draw its parameters, suggesting they should be defined operationally. Under a shared focus on crime, crime science research transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. The prevalence of multi- and interdisciplinary work reflects the inherent complexity of crime and its control. The social, physical, biological, and computer sciences—and their associated technologies—all have contributions to make.
Although the term crime science was first formalized in 2001, its roots go back much further. Within criminology, it particularly overlaps with environmental and experimental criminology. As well as sharing methods with these two areas, crime science’s theoretical underpinning derives from opportunity theories of crime (e.g., routine activity theory, the rational choice perspective, crime pattern theory). Crime is conceptualized accordingly as primarily non-random and as influenced by both individual criminal propensity and environmental factors that facilitate, promote, or provoke, criminal events.
Crime science techniques have been applied to a variety of issues: primarily volume crimes (e.g., burglary), but also more serious and complex crimes (e.g., terrorism and human trafficking). There is now substantial evidence of the effectiveness of targeted interventions in tackling crimes by manipulating their opportunity structures. Claims that such approaches are unethical and merely cause displacement have been discredited. Crime science now faces other, more challenging criticisms. For example, its theoretical underpinnings are arguably too narrow and the boundaries of the field lack clear distinction. Other challenges include expanding interventions into the online world and resolving tensions around evaluation evidence.
Crime science can clearly help explain and address crime problems. Its focus on outcomes rather than outputs speaks to the growing demand that research be impactful. Evidence generated through robust studies has value for policy and designing primary, secondary and tertiary interventions. In times of austerity and increased focus on multi-agency collaboration, there is a clear audience for crime-related research that can inform targeted responses and speaks to a broader agendum than law enforcement alone.
Paul Kaplan and Daniel LaChance
Crimesploitation is a kind of reality television programming that depicts nonactors committing, detecting, prosecuting, and punishing criminal behavior. In programs like Cops, To Catch a Predator, and Intervention, a real-life-documentary frame creates a sense of verisimilitude that intensifies the show’s emotionally stimulating qualities and sets it apart from fictional crime stories. Crimesploitation programs create folk knowledge about the causes and consequences of criminal behavior and the purposes and effects of criminal punishment. That folk knowledge, in turn, reflects and reinforces two ideologies that legitimized the ratcheting up of harsh punishment in the late-twentieth-century United States: law-and-order punitivism and neoliberalism.
In the early 1940s, films started to appear where homosexual characters were represented as inherently criminal. These early representations were often subtle or implicit because various production codes operating in the United States and United Kingdom forbade explicit depictions or naming of homosexuality. During the 1940s, homosexuality was associated with disease and sexual deviance. This ensured that these early depictions were unflattering. Gradually, as time progressed and homosexuality became a less taboo topic, representations of homosexual criminality became less coded and more explicit. Filmmakers became bolder in their treatment of the theme of homosexuality and crime. The most fascinating discovery is that, when it comes to popular culture and the cinema, murder is the crime that is typically associated with homosexuality. However, murder has been a mainstay of crime film plots and so it is not surprising that homicide features in films linked to crime and homosexuality. By the year 2000, it is apparent that the cinematic treatment of homosexuality and crime had evolved to become quite sophisticated. Whereas earlier films reviled their homosexual characters such that they attracted little empathy from the audience, these later films have sought to engender a greater tolerance and sympathy for the homosexual killers they depict. Finally, it is important to note that films that depict homosexuals as killers are not an expression of homophobic sentient per se. Crime films have long situated killing as an essential aspect of their plots, and so films that feature homosexuals as murderers are simply a subset of this most popular cinematic genre.
The concept of the criminal underworld has played a powerful role in media representations of serious criminality from the early 20th century. Even before this period, the idea of a subterranean “otherworld” that mirrored and mimicked the more respectable “upperworld” can be identified in published texts across Western Europe and North America, and in the colonial cities of empire. Colorful terms such as the “netherworld,” “deeps,” “stews,” “sinks,” “rookeries,” “dens,” and “dives” described the slums that developed in many 19th-century cities. But by the 19th-century, slum life was increasingly correlated with criminality by the press, social investigators, fiction writers, and penal practitioners in the urban landscape.
Earlier texts that described criminal types and ascribed to them a specific set of practices and values (languages, rituals, secret codes, the places in which they “congregated”) can be found in the 16th and 17th centuries. In England, dramatists such as Thomas Harman, Robert Greene, and Thomas Dekker described such villainy in a new genre that would become known as “rogue literature.” Other European countries also had traditions of rogue literature that became popular in the early modern period. From the 18th century, the emergence of penal reform and new systems of law enforcement in the Western world saw concerns about crime reflected in the expansion of print culture. A demand for crime themed texts, including broadsheets, criminal biographies, and crime novels, further popularized the notion of a distinct criminal underworld. However, it would be in the 20th century that the underworld moved more directly onto political agendas. From the 1920s, events in North American cities would explicitly shape the public awareness of the underworld and organized crime. Within a relatively short time of gang warfare breaking out in cities such as New York and Chicago, the “gangster” and the underworld that he (apparently) inhabited became the subject of a global popular crime culture. Film, cheap fiction, and villain/police memoirs from the early 1930s popularized the “gangster.” Paul Muni memorably evoked the life of Al Capone in his character, Antonio “Tony” Camonte in Scarface (1932). Since then, gangsters have rarely gone out of fashion. In the 21st century, the relationship between the underworld and upperworld continues to be portrayed in popular culture. Television dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders successfully build on an unacknowledged consensus about the existence of the underworld. Indeed, the press, police, and politicians continue to refer to the criminal underworld in a way that gives it solid form. There are few attempts to critically engage in discussions about the underworld or to provide a more meaningful definition.
Brooke McQuerrey Tuttle, Daniel M. Blumberg, and Konstantinos Papazoglou
Police officers face unique challenges in the line of duty that threaten their health and well-being. Officers experience organizational, operational, community-related, and personal stressors ranging from shift work and critical incident response to public pressures related to police-community relations and social media. Exposure to police stress and trauma presents external challenges to wellness which makes officers vulnerable to experiencing compassion fatigue, moral injury, and burnout. Compassion fatigue, resulting from caring for those who suffer, is associated with feelings of anger, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, and powerlessness. Other symptoms may include emotional instability, diminished self-esteem, self-harm, inability to concentrate, hypervigilance, disorientation, rigidity, apathy, perfectionism, and preoccupation to trauma. Furthermore, moral injury occurs when officers witness or take part in acts that violate their deeply held moral beliefs, which in turn carries implications for psychological and spiritual well-being. The interconnectedness of challenges to officer wellness are detrimental to physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, behavioral, and social health. Negative health outcomes include risk for sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease, destructive coping, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide.
Implications from prior research with police, other frontline professionals, veterans, and military personnel have led to a number of interventions and techniques that can potentially promote wellness and effective stress management for police officers. Training related to stress management and wellness promotion have been found to significantly improve officers’ performance in the line of duty and overall health. This includes viewing wellness as a perishable skill, requiring ongoing practice, updated training, and numerous outside resources (e.g., psychological services, posttrauma intervention, peer support, and chaplaincy). Stress management techniques, gratitude and appreciation letters, mindfulness, and other community-oriented programs are some examples of effective strategies to promote the health of the law enforcement community. Furthermore, compassion satisfaction, emotional intelligence, and emotional regulation play a significant role in helping officers maintain stability in their personal and professional lives while capably serving their communities.
David O. Friedrichs
Critical criminology has achieved a substantial presence within the field of criminology over the past several decades. Critical criminology has produced a framework for the understanding of crime and criminal justice that challenges core premises of mainstream criminology. Critical criminology emerged—principally from about 1980 on—in relation to radical (and “new”) criminology in the 1970s, and various influential societal developments and forces associated with the Sixties. The roots of critical criminology can be located in Marxist theory, in the work of Willem Bonger, and in that of other scholars who were not self-identified radicals—including Edwin H. Sutherland. Interactionist (labeling) theory and conflict theory provided an important point of departure for the development of radical—and subsequently critical—criminology. More specifically, the Berkeley School of Criminology in the United States and the National Deviancy Conferences in the United Kingdom were influential sources for the emergence of critical criminology. The core thesis of critical criminology can be most concisely summarized as a critique of domination, inequality, and injustice. Starting with the definition of “crime” itself, critical criminologists expose the biases and political agenda of mainstream criminology and advance an alternative approach to understanding crime and criminal justice. That said, some different choices are made by self-identified critical criminologists in terms of underlying assumptions, methodological preferences, and different forms of activist engagement. A call for news-making criminology, or a form of public criminology, is one theme for activism: direct political mobilization is another. The term “critical criminology” today is best understood as an umbrella term encompassing a wide range of different perspectives with quite different core concerns. Some of these strains were more dominant at an earlier time; some have emerged or become more prominent recently. The following are among the most enduring and consequential strains of critical criminology: neo-Marxist, critical race, left realist, feminist, crimes of the powerful, green, cultural, peacemaking, abolitionist, postmodern, postcolonial, border, and queer criminology. Some critical criminologists have called for replacing the core focus on crime with a focus on harm, broadly defined, and replacing criminology with zemiology, or the study of harm. Critical criminologists have concerned themselves with crimes of the powerful; gendered, sexualized harm and intimate partner violence; raced harm and racial oppression; hate crime; the war on drugs; the war on immigrants; police violence and the militarization of the police; mass incarceration and privatized criminal justice; carceral regimes; mass imprisonment; the death penalty, and alternative forms of justice including a form of restorative justice—among many other substantive concerns. The call for a Southern criminology that incorporates the outlook and concerns of the Global South is one significant development within critical criminology. Critical criminology has the potential to be of special relevance within the context of a historical period characterized by intense conflicts in relation to the political economy and civil society.
David C. Brotherton
The majority of studies on youth gangs are in the tradition of positivistic social science. When natural science is taken as the paradigm, a premium is placed on the value neutrality of the observer, the scientific rigor of the methodology, the unpolluted character of the data, and the generalizability of the findings—all with the aim of proving or disproving ideologically free testable hypotheses. In contrast, critical gang studies adopt a different lens that is best suited to the study of subaltern groups whose lifestyles, “habitats,” and characteristics are stigmatized and pathologized by the larger society. Critical gang studies are based on the premise that all social and cultural phenomena emerge from tensions between the agents and interests of those who seek to control everyday life and those who have little option but to resist this relationship of domination. In this way, critical gang studies adopt interpretive, reflexive, holistic, and probing approaches to research, rejecting the penchant for survey-based truth claims and studies whose findings uncritically reflect the race, class, and gendered positions of the investigators.
Thus, practitioners of critical gang studies contend that the key to understanding the gang is found in its dialectical relationship between inclusion and exclusion viewed historically and holistically. Therefore, critical gang students create a counter body of knowledge and an alternative methodology to illuminate (over)shadowed spaces of criminalized social action where hope mixes with survival, creativity with accommodation and, resistance with social reproduction. The data on critical gang studies draw from the entire world of gang members, revealing their agency as well as their structured environments, their organizational systems, rites, rituals, performances, ideologies and cultural products. The critical approach places emphasis on the meaning systems of gangs, their changes across time, and the possibilities that lie within their specific subcultural formations. Welcome to critical gang studies!
Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, and Michelle Brown
Cultural criminology is concerned with the convergence of cultural, criminal, and crime control processes; as such, it situates criminality and its control in the context of cultural dynamics and the contested production of meaning. It seeks to understand the everyday realities of a profoundly unequal and unjust world, and to highlight the ways in which power is exercised and resisted amidst the interplay of rule-making, rule-breaking, and representation. The subject matter of cultural criminology, then, crosses a range of contemporary issues: the mediated construction and commodification of crime, violence, and punishment; the symbolic practices of those engaged in illicit subcultural or postsubcultural activities; the existential anxieties and situated emotions that animate crime, transgression, and victimization; the social controls and cultural meanings that circulate within and between spatial arrangements; the interplay of state control and cultural resistance; the criminogenic cultures spawned by market economies; and a host of other instances in which situated and symbolic meaning is at stake. To accomplish such analysis, cultural criminology embraces interdisciplinary perspectives and alternative methods that regularly move it beyond the boundaries of conventional criminology, drawing from anthropology, media studies, youth studies, cultural studies, cultural geography, sociology, philosophy and other disciplines, and utilizing new forms of ethnography, textual analysis, and visual production. In all of this, cultural criminology seeks to challenge the accepted parameters of criminological analysis and to reorient criminology to contemporary social, cultural, and economic conditions.
Per Jorgen Ystehede and May-Len Skilbrei
Paradoxically, in the 19th century, an era very concerned with public virtue, prostitutes were increasing being represented in Western European cultural expressions. Prostitution was a prevalent social phenomenon due to the rapid urbanization of Western Europe. People were on the move as both urban and rural areas underwent considerable material and normative change; the majority of Western European cities grew rapidly and were marked by harsh working and living conditions, as well as unemployment and poverty. A seeming rise in prostitution was one of the results of these developments, but its centrality in culture cannot be explained by this fact alone. Prostitution also came to epitomize broader social ills associated with industrialization and urbanization: “the prostitute” became the discursive embodiment of the discontent of modernity.
The surge in cultural representation of prostitutes may also be seen as an expression of changing norms and a driver for change in the public perception of prostitution. In particular, artists came to employ the prostitute as a motif, revealing contemporary hypocrisy about gender and class.
Honni van Rijswijk
Scenes of torture are central to the Western imaginary of law, animating questions of power, authority and legitimacy. This examination of key cultural representations of torture provides some historical background on torture in the Western imaginary and focuses on its contemporary significance. A flexible set of analytical and aesthetic approaches to practices of representation are used to assess the changing significance of torture. In particular, three figures are central to the representation of torture—the torturer, the tortured, and the torture chamber. The significance of these elements differs depending on the form and perspective of representation. These elements of representations of torture changed following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and have complicated the social and legal work done by previous cultural texts and government policies around the effectiveness of torture and the risks of states of exception. Not only do popular films and television series support and justify the use of torture as a legitimate information-gathering tool, but representations of torture have become sites of pleasure and enjoyment. The emergence of new figures and genres in representations of torture suggests that the use of torture in violent or conflict scenes has been of increasing interest to the public and possibly have become increasingly accepted since the rhetoric of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).
Neal King, Rayanne Streeter, and Talitha Rose
Crime film and television has proliferated such influential variations as the Depression-era gangster film; the post–World War studies in corruption known as film noir; the pro-police procedural of that time; and then the violent rogue-cop stories that eventually became cop action in the 1980s, with such hits as television’s Miami Vice and cinema’s Die Hard. Mobster movies enjoyed a resurgence with the works and knockoffs of Scorcese (Goodfellas) and Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), resulting in such TV series as The Sopranos, and with a return to “blaxploitation” with the ’hood movies of the early 1990s. Recent developments include the neo-noir erotic thriller; the rise of the corrupt cop anti-hero, paralleled by the forensic procedural, often focused on baroque serial killers; and the near disappearance of black crime movies from cinema screens. Such developments may owe to shifts in relations between real policing, real crime, and citizens, but they may owe more directly to shifts in the movie/television industries that produce them. Such industry shifts include freewheeling depictions of social problems in early cinema; carefully controlled moralism over the 1930s established by such industrial regulators as the Production Code in Hollywood and the British Board of Film Censors; further repression of subversion as anti-Communism swept through Hollywood in the 1950s; then a return of repressed violence and cynicism in the 1970s as Hollywood regulation of depictions of crime broke down; and a huge spike in box office and ratings success in the 1980s, which resulted in the inclusion of more heroes who are not both white and male. The rise of the prime-time serial on television, enhanced by the introduction of time-shifting technologies of consumption, has allowed for more extended storytelling, usually marketed in terms of “realism,” enabling a sense of unresolved social problems and institutional inertia, for which shows like The Wire have been celebrated.
The content of such storytelling, in Western film and television, tends to include white male heroes meeting goals (whether success as criminals or defeat of them as cops) through force of will and resort to violence. Such stories focus on individual attributes more than on social structure, following a longstanding pattern of Hollywood narrative. And they present crime as ubiquitous and both it and the policing of it as violent. The late 1980s increase in the depiction of women of all races and men of color as heroes did little to alter those patterns. And gender patterns persist, including the absence of solidarity among women and the absence of women from stories of political corruption or large-scale combat.
Crime in literature takes advantage of two basic assumptions: (1) that the storyline generally begins with a crime (very often murder) that underlies the subsequent narrative, often serving as the driving force of the story; and (2) that the crime itself and its narrative implications will be rooted in the actual workings of a culture’s justice system at any given moment in time. Consequently, crime literature in particular provides readers with a snapshot of prevailing attitudes about the nature of justice in a society and the basic fears about crime that threaten its collective conscience.
To understand crime fiction from a cultural studies perspective, it is necessary to develop a broader understanding of the larger culture from which an author and his/her fictional creations emerge. Although writers create fiction for various reasons, publishers put their efforts into projects they hope will be somewhat financially profitable. Thus, published works exist in a culturally-specific space that never veers too far from the values, beliefs, and expectations of its mainstream society. To understand the fictional world conjured by an author a cultural studies approach takes into consideration larger socio-historical phenomena: What kinds of mythologies underlie a culture’s traditions? What historical events have helped shape the culture’s identity? What sort of political and legal systems organize the culture? What specific kinds of crime tend to be highlighted in a culture’s crime literature (guns, drugs, race, violence against women, class warfare, government corruption and repression, etc.)? What role do legitimate legal structures tend to play in a culture’s crime literature? What role does climate play in a culture’s identity? In short, a cultural studies approach begins by trying to determine the assumptions authors make about readers’ cultural knowledge, values, beliefs, and myths about crime and justice in order to develop a context for understanding what is taken for granted in the narrative.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, enormous changes governed U.S. punishment of criminal offenses, leading to harsher laws and longer prison terms than convicts in earlier decades served for the same offenses. The stark policy shift resulted in soaring prison populations that are disproportionate compared with most Western nations. The United States, with 5% of the world population, has more than 20% of the world’s prisoners. Its prison population rose 700% from 1970 to 2005. Today, one in 34 adults is under correctional control. The rates are disproportionate for minorities, especially less-educated black men (Lee, 2015; Pew, 2007, 2014; U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2012).
Shifts in physical treatment of prisoners accompanied the population boom. Jails and prisons adopted control technologies that would likely have been considered inappropriate and inhumane decades earlier. These included the stun belt and the restraint chair, devices that can cause considerable pain. These also included extensive use of solitary confinement in Supermax prisons, an echo of a method used in 18th- and 19th -century American penitentiaries and discarded because of the dangers it posed to inmate mental health. And, following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, treatment in U.S. prisons seemed to echo overseas in abuse of foreign prisoners in American hands. The Bush administration attempted to declare physical coercion as legal during interrogations, in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions (Shane, Johnston, & Risen, 2007).
What caused such a shift? Much of the change appears to be cultural in nature, connected strongly to forces such as politics, religion, pervasive beliefs about evil and children, popular culture, and economic realities. This also means that American punishment is historically more influenced by such cultural forces than by more seemingly related phenomena such as research on effective punishments, prisoner experience, or crime statistics.
That American cultural trends strongly influence American punishment also means that American daily lives respond to shifts in punitiveness. Such evidence of American punishment trends appear in popular television shows and treatment of children.
Dark tourism has passed into the language and study of tourism since it was first designated as such in 1996 (see Lennon & Foley, 1996; Seaton, 1996). It is now established as a term to designate those sites and locations of genocide, holocaust, assassination, crime, or incarceration that have served to attract visitors. The phenomenon exists across a range of global destinations and demonstrates commonality and unifying elements across a range of societies and political regimes. The interpretation of these sites can of course be the product of ideology and dominant belief systems, and they act as the meeting place for history and visitation where questions of authenticity and fact are sometimes juxtaposed with the operation of tourism facilities. What is celebrated, interpreted, and developed is often selective, and dilemmas of commemoration of the unacceptable and acceptable are reflected clearly in the condition, nature, and content of these sites. This selective interpretation is demonstrated in destinations from Cambodia to Lithuania, from Auschwitz to Dallas, and from Moscow to London. In these locations, such tourist attractions become key physical sites of commemoration, history, and record. They provide the visitor with a narrative that may well be positioned, augmented, and structured to engage, entertain, or discourage further inquiry.
Dark tourism attractions demonstrate demand but also constitute commemoration, historical reference, narrative legacies, and populist heritage attractions. These tourism sites in some cases become one of the few remaining commemorative elements of victims and their testimonies. In such cases the content and its narrative interpretation take on critically important values in understanding a shared past.
Justin Piché and Kevin Walby
Dark tourism researchers who examine sites of death, suffering, and despair have generated a significant amount of research over the past two decades. Different ways of conducting dark tourism research are emerging. These include studies oriented toward making sense of the supply and demand for such excursions, and research that explores how cultural meanings are negotiated at these destinations. There are also critiques of the wide-ranging application of the dark tourism concept, which has led some scholars to argue that it is analytically imprecise. New directions for future dark tourism research have also been proposed, including a call to shift away from discipline-centered analyses. Engaging with these developments, we suggest that the future direction of dark tourism research should involve grounding such studies in the concerns and insights offered in specific social science disciplines, including criminology and criminal justice studies among others, to add focus and precision to cross-disciplinary debates. To do so we draw from the emergence and development of penal tourism research, which examines how cultural representations of penality shape and are shaped by the practice of punishment in given societies. Since penal tourism research tends to focus on prison museums, we propose future directions for the study of this phenomenon rooted in criminological concerns for understanding how penal meaning making, including definitions of acts that are criminalized and what constitutes (in)justice, takes place in other sites of punishment memorialization including police and courthouse museums. Other future research directions include studying sites that memorialize corporate and state harms.