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The phenomenon of illegal markets is pervasive. The circulation of illegal goods and services reaches all social segments, crosses national boundaries, and produces enormous revenues. Scholarship has typically addressed issues of illegal exchanges by focusing on criminal organizations, their members’ activities, internal structures, and businesses while leaving the very notion of illegal markets conceptually underdeveloped. Different from organized crime, the notion of “illegal market” compels us to consider the demand side and to investigate the varied ways it relates to the supply side. Following the path opened up by economic sociology scholarship, this article brings illegal markets to the center of the scene in order to develop them conceptually, observe them in a differentiated way, and investigate their relationships with legal structures. From this perspective, the social organization of markets comes to the fore, highlighting such aspects as the formal and informal institutions sustaining illegal markets; the modes of internal coordination that deal with problems such as value, competition, or trust; moral attitudes toward the production, exchange, or consumption of certain products or services; the cultural elements or cognitive dispositions that promote illegal exchanges; the role of state power in defining what is and is not illegal, and thus how it controls certain exchanges; and the role of the enforcement of the law in the emergence, expansion, or extinction of these markets.
Karen J. Terry
Media attention on child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church led to awareness of a serious social problem and increased the levels of disclosure of abuse. The three “emergencies of clerical sexual abuse in the media” occurred in 1985, 1993, and 2002 (Maniscalco, 2005). The catalyst for the media coverage was high-profile clergy offenders with multiple victims and in 2002 also included the claims of cover-ups by high-ranking cardinals in the United States.
Most victims of clergy sexual abuse disclosed their abuse decades after the abuse occurred, and the increased rates of disclosure coincided with the three periods of increased reporting in the media. Though the constant reporting in the media led to some misconceptions about CSA generally and CSA within the Catholic Church, it also led to policy changes in how the church responded to allegations of abuse and aimed to prevent future acts of abuse.
Alec C. Ewald
Collateral sanctions are legal restrictions on the rights and privileges of people who have experienced contact with the criminal justice system, particularly contact resulting in conviction. Usually placed in civil and regulatory codes, collateral sanctions may limit a person’s ability to vote, live in public housing, own a firearm, qualify for an occupational license, serve in the military, receive public benefits, sit on a jury, or borrow money for college, among other activities. Yet, because they are usually defined as “indirect” consequences of a conviction, they may never surface in the criminal justice process, and they frequently extend far beyond the sentence.
Such restrictions can deeply compromise the civic status and life chances of Americans with conviction records. But they are far from uniform: some serious restrictions are triggered by criminal justice involvement well short of a conviction, while others mark only some classes of offenders or operate only in some states. Layered into the federal system, multiplying the complications of criminal law and regulatory law, and imposed by civil servants with wide leeway in their interpretation of rules, American collateral sanctions are varied and complex. Their reach and severity in the United States appear to be unique in the democratic world and mark an important respect in which the American carceral state extends beyond mass incarceration.
Crime is a distinctly European concept that was institutionalized into the criminal justice system through the penal code, created in the 1700s by founding theorists of criminology’s classical school of thought. In practice, crime is a concept that limits what can be defined as harmful and violent. Written at the height of Europe’s genocidal colonial wars and chattel slavery, the penal code excluded, and continues to exclude mass atrocities and violations committed through these institutions. Since criminal justice institutions were birthed through and spread by Western Europe’s colonial wars around the globe, the study of colonialism, crime, and social control requires a re-evaluation of the pillars of Western European thought and the peculiar colonizing economies and punitive praxis that produced the criminal justice system. Through an anticolonial, genealogical framework scholars and researchers can better locate criminal justice institutions, practices, and concepts within their colonial contexts, allowing for a more thorough understanding of how history, power, politics, and economy shape crime and practice social control in the 21st century.
At the core of an anticolonial study of crime and social control is an understanding that Europe’s crime-concept depends upon institutionalized constructions of dangerousness for colonized people and nations, and lack thereof, for colonizing people and nations. Dangerousness, as defined by colonial renditions of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, nation, and so forth, anchors the cultural and implemented processes of criminalization; as a result, proper and comprehensive deconstructions of colonizing definitions of dangerousness require an intersectional understanding of power and oppression. Therefore, an effective framework for the study of colonialism, crime, and social control necessitates a re-evaluation and re-articulation of the following questions: what is colonialism?; what is crime?; what is colonial social control?; and what is criminology’s relationship to colonialism?
John L. Worrall and Zachary A. Powell
Charged with enforcing the law and regulating human behavior, the police have considerable leeway in their ability to control the population. On occasion, situations arise in which police officers misuse their authority, resulting in racially discriminatory practices, illegal searches and seizures, abusive use of force, or other forms of misbehavior. In some cases, unconstitutional practices are isolated incidents that are restricted to the actions of a small group of officers; in other cases, misbehavior may be more emblematic of a systemic problem within a criminal justice agency. To the extent that a pattern or practice of unconstitutional behavior exists, the interest of any government, and the people governed, is in limiting official misconduct.
One method of correcting unconstitutional behavior is through a consent decree, a court-ordered agreement following a major U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that is designed to correct long-standing unconstitutional practices within police departments.
Despite the fact that consent decrees have been available to the DOJ for nearly 25 years, their use is somewhat limited (especially lately, in light of the Trump administration’s resistance to their use). A small body of evidence suggests there is promise for consent decrees as a tool for correcting police misbehavior. Existing studies show consent decrees are correlated with boosted citizen perceptions of treated police departments, lower counts of civil rights litigation, and improved methods for recording and disciplining police misbehavior. The influence of a consent decree may gradually build up over time before lapsing post-treatment. In addition, focus group interviews with law enforcement officers suggest that many express apprehension about the goals of reform and the impact on the day-to-day lives of police officers. A number of questions remain unanswered that require further exploration from the field.
Shanna R. Van Slyke and Leslie A. Corbo
Consumer fraud is the intentional deception of one or more individuals with the promise of goods, services, or other financial benefits that either never existed, were never going to be provided, or were grossly misrepresented. In contrast to ancient times when consumer fraud and other white-collar crimes were considered to be at least as serious as violence and other street crimes, today’s consumer fraudster tends to be viewed as less dangerous and deserving of harsh sanctioning. Despite several social movements against consumer fraud and a proliferation of popular and scholarly literature on the topic, contemporary U.S. society has maintained a relatively lenient stance toward white-collar crime—a “soft on crime” position that is inconsistent with conservative “tough on crime” approaches that have dominated U.S. penal policy since the 1960s.
Lisa A. Kort-Butler
Content analysis is considered both a quantitative and a qualitative research method. The overarching goal of much of the research using this method is to demonstrate and understand how crime, deviance, and social control are represented in the media and popular culture. Unlike surveys of public opinions about crime issues, which seek to know what people think or feel about crime, content analysis of media and popular culture aims to reveal a culture’s story about crime. Unlike research that examines how individuals’ patterns of media consumption shape their attitudes about crime and control, content analysis appraises the meaning and messages within the media sources themselves. Media and popular culture sources are viewed as repositories of cultural knowledge, which capture past and present ideas about crime, while creating and reinforcing a culture’s shared understanding about crime.
In content analysis, media and popular culture portrayals of crime issues are the primary sources of data. These portrayals include a range of sources, such as newspapers, movies, television programs, advertisements, comic books, novels, video games, and Internet content. Depending on their research questions, researchers draw samples from their selected sources, usually with additional selection boundaries, such as timeframe, genre, and topic (e.g., movies about gangs released from 1960 to 1990).
There are two primary approaches to conducting content analysis. In quantitative forms of content analysis, researchers code and count the occurrence of elements designated by the researcher prior to the study (e.g., the number of times a violent act occurs). In qualitative forms of content analysis, the researchers focus on the narrative, using an open-ended protocol to record information. The approaches are complementary, as each reveals unique yet overlapping concepts crucial to understanding how the media and popular culture produce and reproduce ideas about crime.
Charles R. Tittle
Control balance theory (CBT) was developed in the mid-1990s, primarily to illustrate a particular method for building integrated theory and to show how general theories are useful in addressing various issues in studies of crime and deviance. A major theme on which the theory has been built is the idea that deficient control, a well-established classic notion, and excessive control all can have deviogenic consequences. In addition, the theory rests on expectations that sufficient explanation will necessarily involve complex arguments. Thus, CBT not only attempts to explain the phenomena within its domain, but it also challenges simplistic theories, contentions that theoretical integration is both impossible and undesirable, and neglect of contingencies in theorizing.
The term “copycat crime” implies that the root of a crime can be found in exposure to a live model or media content concerning a prior crime. The four basic components of a copycat crime are a “generator crime” (a media portrayal of a crime or a real-world crime that is the precursor of a subsequent crime), “criminogenic models” (media content or real-world offenders that portray a subsequently copied crime), “copycat criminal” (an individual who commits a crime after being influenced by criminogenic media content, live models, or a combination of the two), and “copycat crime” (a crime whose occurrence or form is influenced by prior exposure to media content and/or live criminal models). The linked crimes are seen as sharing a unique criminogenic dynamic with the first crime serving as a generator for later copycat crimes with substantial elements of the first crime present in the second. The premise of copycat crime is that exposure to a generator crime is the linking mechanism and that the removal of the exposure would eliminate the occurrence or form of the subsequent copycat crime.
There is no theory of copycat crime, but there are four theoretical perspectives that are pertinent. Under the first perspective, imitation has been examined as a general human behavior within biology and psychology. The second perspective, social contagion, studies imitation in collective groups with a focus on the life cycle of crime waves. The third perspective is the study of the diffusion of social innovations and focuses on the factors that encourage adoption of a new, socially accepted and advocated behavior. In diffusion research, criminal behaviors have not been a major consideration. The final theoretical perspective is social learning theory, which focuses on how humans learn new behaviors in social settings. Despite the attention of these four research streams, research on copycat crime has not been extensive. One reason for the deficiency is the difficulty in identifying copycat crimes. Whereas other crimes are relatively straightforward to quantify and are routinely tallied in official law enforcement statistics, copycat crimes are not counted in any systematic way.
Copycat crime has traditionally been conceived within an emphasis on direct exposure to live person-to-person models. The media as a source of crime models has historically been downplayed. As the media evolved in the 20th century the study of mediated copycat crime models ascended so that the dominant contemporary view of copycat crime is that of media-sourced transmissions. Copycat crimes are today linked to literature, movies, television shows, music, video games, and print and television news, but despite concern and a large number of studies of violent media’s relationship to social aggression, the rigorous study of copycat crime has lagged. At this time, copycat effects are felt to be relatively rare and are most likely to appear in at-risk individuals predisposed to crime and in preexisting criminal populations. The effect of the media is thought to be more qualitative (affecting criminal behavior) than quantitative (affecting the number of criminals). Whether copycat crime effects influence any particular individual depends on the interaction of the content of a particular media product (its characterizations of crime and criminals), the individual’s predispositions toward crime (personal criminal history, family, and environmental factors), and the media’s social context (preexisting cultural norms toward crime, crime opportunities, and nature of the mass media). The most likely individual to be a copycat offender is hypothesized to be a socially isolated but criminally confident offender who is exposed to multiple live criminal models and has immersed themselves in criminogenic media.
State-corporate crime is defined as criminal acts that occur when one or more institutions of political governance pursue a goal in direct cooperation with one or more institutions of economic production and distribution. This concept has been advanced to examine how corporations and governments intersect to produce social harm. The complexity of state-corporate crime arises from the nature of the offenses; unlike traditional “street crime,” state-corporate crime is not characterized by the intent of a single actor to violate the law for personal pleasure or gain. Criminal actions by the state often lack an obvious victim, and diffusion of responsibility arising from corporate structure and involvement of multiple actors makes the task of attributing criminal responsibility difficult. Sufficient understanding of state-corporate crime cannot be gained through studying individual actors; one must also consider broader organizational and societal factors.
Further subclassification illuminates the different types of state-corporate crime: State-initiated corporate crime (such as the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion) occurs when corporations, employed by the government, engage in organizational deviance at the direction of, or with the tacit approval of, the government. State-facilitated state-corporate crime (such as the 1991 Imperial Food Products fire in Hamlet, North Carolina) occurs when government regulatory institutions fail to restrain deviant activities either because of direct collusion between business and government or because they adhere to shared goals whose attainment would be hampered by aggressive regulation.
The dead body has a history of being a source of fascination for the living, with ancient narratives relating to mysterious corpse powers that have fed into how the dead are portrayed and consumed by society. Corpses are graphically visible within the 21st-century West (namely America and Europe) in not only news coverage of natural disasters, war, and human-inflicted trauma but also, most prominently, popular culture. Popular culture will be interpreted here to refer to the ideas, attitudes, images, and texts within the mainstream of a given culture (specifically Western) from the 20th century onward that reflect products and activities that are aimed at the taste of the general masses of people. It is often considered “low culture” or unsophisticated, as it is synonymous with consumer culture and mass consumption; however, it can offer a space where new meanings can be made and explored by subverting or overturning taken-for-granted ideas. The manifestations of popular culture are varied, but the main focus here will be on film and television, which are largely unavoidable and visually vivid as a form of entertainment. Consuming the corpse within popular culture is dominated by portrayals of corpse parts via organ transplant mythology, the undead (zombies and vampires in fantasy and horror genres), and the authentic dead (fake corpses played by actors or mannequins most often used in crime procedurals and detective fiction are part of the forensic science process). Viewing death within the fictional context of the undead and forensics has made the corpse, particularly the opened and violated corpse, into an acceptable entertainment commodity. Accusations have been made that these dead bodies within forensics-based television shows and films border on pornographic in that they seek to be shocking and deviant while meeting the expectation to be entertained by violated, wounded bodies. However, we are no longer shocked. We are acclimatized, and the undead and the authentic dead within forensic science in popular culture have been central in this process. Death and the dead are safe when consumed through popular culture, which provides us with a softening lens. Popular culture portrayals particularly of forensic science enable distance between the dead and the consuming viewer. It is a point of safety from which to explore death and human mortality.
Sarah Tahamont and Nicole E. Frisch
Correctional classification is at the core of the prison experience. Classification processes determine what, with whom, and how an inmate will spend his or her time while incarcerated. Classification designation influences virtually all dimensions of prison life, including the structure of inmate routines, ability to move about the facility premises, program eligibility, mandatory treatments, and housing location or style. Yet it is very challenging to speak about correctional classification in general terms, because there are 51 different classification schemes in the United States, one for each of the 50 states and the federal prison system. Correctional classification can be centralized or decentralized to varying degrees across institution, facility, and unit levels of prisons. Although often used interchangeably in correctional argot, the two predominant correctional classification types are security (referring to the characteristics of the prison) and custody (referring to the permissions of the inmate). Classification structures and processes shape much of the prison experience and, as such, are central to investigations of the effects of prison on inmate outcomes. Indeed, the extent of the deprivations inmates face during incarceration is largely determined by their institution, facility, unit, and custody levels. Discussing correctional classification across systems is challenging because classification designations take on a heterogeneous, nested structure, meaning that in some systems institution and facility are the same, in other systems facility and custody are the same, and in still other systems institution, facility, and custody are all distinct, with custody nested in facilities nested in institutions. In addition to classification structures, there are classification processes which are the set of procedures that correctional administrators use to determine security and custody levels. Classification criteria, processes, and timelines vary across departments of corrections. The general goals of classification procedures are to minimize the probability of escape and maximize the security of the department facilities, inmates, and staff, while housing the inmate at the least restrictive level possible and providing appropriate services. Correctional administrators must balance security and rehabilitative concerns in custody and security classification practices. In what is often described as a direct trade-off, most agencies prioritize the security and safety of inmates and staff over the treatment needs of inmates.
Gina Fedock and Stephanie S. Covington
As the number of women under correctional supervision continues to increase in the United States, attention to gender within correctional programming is crucial as women offenders present with different concerns than their male counterparts. Gender differences exist in a range of criminal justice factors, including pathways to involvement in the criminal justice system, frequencies in types of offenses, treatment needs, and facilitating factors for treatment engagement and positive outcomes. Thus, this chapter highlights the importance of gender in terms of correctional program design and delivery. Gender-responsive programming for women involved in the criminal justice system is guided mainly by the feminist pathways theory of women’s criminality, as well as additional theories. This framework considers the interconnected roles of trauma and victimization histories, substance abuse, economic and social marginalization, and the gendered effects of criminal justice policies and practices. For gender-responsive programming, elements that should be considered in women’s treatment and services in correctional settings include: program environment or culture or both, staff competence, theoretical foundations, treatment modalities, reentry issues, and collaboration. In addition, principles of trauma-informed care are crucial elements needed in systems and services for women involved in the criminal justice system. These two frameworks of gender-responsive programming and trauma-informed care offer specific principles that can be applied across correctional settings for women to shape policies, programming design, program delivery, and daily practices. Likewise, these frameworks encourage community-based responses to women’s involvement in criminal behaviors. Gender is a crucial element for correctional programming in multiple ways.
Covert Ethnography in Criminal Justice and Criminology: The Controversial Tradition of Doing Undercover Fieldwork
The role and value of covert ethnography in the fields of criminal justice and criminology, a controversial and somewhat marginalized tradition due to its association with deception. It is a transgressive approach with ethical baggage that runs counter to the received wisdom on informed consent. Despite this, it is a creative and innovative approach which can yield rich types of insider data and lived experience leading to nuanced analyses and understanding of crime and deviance in society. There is a classic fear and fascination with covert research. It is a methodological pariah, which has been routinely demonized, particularly in the current climate of ethical regimentation. It is typically associated with harm and risk to both the researched and the researched. The covert researcher has been seen as a belligerent figure in the criminological landscape, which marginalizes its worth.
My exploration and unpacking of this controversial tradition shall be undertaken in several ways: Firstly, by outlining the controversy surrounding deception, which covert ethnography is squarely associated with. This association is partly related to how the understanding of covert observation is deeply embedded in popular culture. Secondly, by exploring the rich diversity of covert ethnography in criminology and criminal justice, both classic and contemporary. Part of the logic here is to rehabilitate and celebrate the sociological aspects of criminology and criminal justice, partly by examining some heartland topics in the field as well as studying deviance across different settings and subcultures. Thirdly, by drawing on some of my own field experiences from a covert study of bouncers in the night-time economy of Manchester, which I compare to others in the field. Fourthly, by offering some brief reflections on the future directions of covert ethnography via a discussion of the revival in covert research. Lastly, by providing some concluding sentiments on covert ethnography.
This article brings together scholarship on crime and celebrity in media culture to offer an overview on the works that engage with their intersection points. Focusing on Anglo-American media culture in particular, it offers a useful overview of the field of celebrity studies and to the notable scholars that are sharpening their focus to include media discourses of notoriety and infamy. The text also includes approaches from film and television studies, cultural studies, and cultural criminology. After establishing an introduction to the place of notoriety within the context of celebrity studies, there follows a detailed, though not exhaustive, taxonomy of different types of notoriety (Infamous Crime, Celebrity Criminal, Criminal Celebrity, Celebrity Victim, Victimized Celebrity, Victims of Celebrity, and Celebrity Expert). This taxonomy draws on the work of media scholars studying fame and provides a vocabulary for theorizing and contextualizing the place of crime and transgression within contemporary media culture.
With the taxonomy of notoriety in place, the remainder of the article considers two significant cultural practices of criminalized celebrity: the first is the forensic framing of criminality, transgression, and violence made possible by the figure of the Celebrity Expert. Such experts provide a containment system for the atavism of the criminal act by offering rational explanations and analytical tools. In the hands of the Celebrity Expert, the sensationalism of the true crime story is tempered by discourses of scientific rationalism. This process is often problematic because forensic accounts of crime must balance the tension between telling sensational stories of (often sexualized) violence and offering reassurance that justice can be realized through systems of scientific procedure. The second practice is generally considered more contentious: the industries of crime tourism and collection, dubbed murderabilia. Fans of true crime are invited to take part in “Ripper walks” through Whitechapel or Black Dahlia–themed bus tours through Los Angeles. The murderabilia trade proves that crime is indeed a lucrative business, and that celebrity fandom is not a practice limited to the admiration of film stars or musicians. The article concludes with a consideration of the serial killer, a highly mediated figure around which all of the debates and discourses of crime and celebrity circulates.
Stephen Tomsen and Dick Hobbs
A focus on masculinity and crime has been an ongoing feature of popular culture, ranging from early pulp fiction, cartoons, popular music, commercial film and television, and contemporary forms of gaming and online media. In sociology and cultural studies, the search for unequivocal examples of ideological repression has been thrown into doubt by accounts that seek out nuanced readings of cultural depictions and that have reworked evidence from audience research to question ideology as an uncontested absorption of ruling ideas. The creative relationship between producer and audience, with shifting meanings for consumers of culture, means a hesitation about whether cultural items can be read as holding a single inner meaning. A consideration of these cultural forms shows that simpler depictions of crime and criminal justice as a terrain of symbolic struggle between rival masculinities contrast morally repellent offenders from law enforcement heroes who enact justice and guard society. Yet cultural accounts of crime often offer more ambiguous scenarios that are difficult for viewers to judge, and opportunities for viewers to identify with acts of violence and lawbreaking that play on the wider tensions between official state-based and outlaw “protest” masculinities in the criminal justice system.
The presence of crime in the visual media is a phenomenon shared throughout the world. In Brazil there is also a great level of consumption of it. The Brazilian production of media about crimes is deeply rooted in the social context that has emerged from intense social, political, and economic transformations that have taken place in the country since the second half of the 20th century. The depiction of crime in Brazilian visual media is based on three different genres: (1) television series, (2) films, and (3) police journalism. They deal with critical issues about the rule of law in Brazilian society such as violence, inequality, police corruption, failures of the criminal justice system, and the demands for public policies to improve it. Despite this common ground, the genres reveal different political and ideological views about the rule of law in Brazil. Productions centered on the plane of fiction (television and film) are more critical about the criminal justice system in Brazil, especially in relation to the performance of its police forces. Brazilian police journalism is the opposite. The style reinforces a view of the problem of crime founded from the viewpoint of problematic people rather than problematic structures. Finally, the media coverage of crime is an important field to help understand the different views in the public agenda about the criminal justice system’s reform in Brazil.
Contemporary societies are culturally diverse. This diversity can be the result of different historical and social processes and might affect the uniformity and efficiency of criminal justice systems. Colonization of indigenous populations that started in the 15th century later European colonization of Africa and migration flows following the Second World War have contributed to this diversity in different ways. The growing importance acquired by culture in the criminal law domain went hand in hand with the attention received by it both in the human rights field (especially linked to minority rights) and in the field of sociological and criminological theories.
Nowadays, crimes such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and other behaviors grounded in “culture or tradition” form the object of several international human rights instruments and media reports. The way in which criminal justice systems deal with such cases, and more in general with cultural factors, varies greatly. Different instruments have been proposed to allow the consideration of cultural elements within criminal proceedings among which (in common law countries) is the formalization of an autonomous “cultural defense.” However, international human rights instruments, especially those protecting the rights of vulnerable subjects such as women and children, have repeatedly discouraged states to take into account “culture, religion, and tradition” as grounds for justification (see, e.g., the Istanbul Convention).
Criminal proceedings are not the only setting to deal with culture and crime. More recently, the development of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and restorative justice both within formal and informal (community) settings have given an additional option to take culture into account in the resolution of disputes (in terms of procedures used and normativities in play). Concerns exist with regard to the substantive and procedural rights of participants to these programs. However, these alternatives could represent a way to allow a certain degree of legal pluralism and facilitate access to justice for minority groups.
Popular culture has always displayed a fascination with topics of criminological significance. Crime, deviance, and the agencies of their control have long been a staple concern of multiple entertainment industries, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in television. From classic serialized “whodunits,” to the countless police procedurals, right up to CSI and other investigative shows, the notions of good and bad, law and order, justice and retribution (to name but a few) have never been far away from television screens across the globe. However, in recent years, the quality—along with the availability—of television shows has undergone something of a transformation. From the somewhat kitsch roots of the genre, TV crime dramas such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire are now widely recognized as existing at the very high end of cultural significance. Put simply, these shows and others like them have moved on—they currently demonstrate a standard of production and artistic merit that their forerunners simply could not.
There are good reasons why the television medium transformation occurred how and when it did, yet they are not of great concern here. What does matter is the fact that, as the standard of TV crime dramas has improved, so too has the level of attention they have received from criminologists, sociologists, and other cultural theorists interested in crime and deviance. The evolution of criminology’s relationship with media representations has—just like the representations themselves—moved at an increased pace of late. The case has been made by some scholars that the days in which representations could be understood as existing somehow separately from peoples’ social worlds are now long gone; that the line between representation and reality is now irrecoverably blurred. As such, and crucially here, this has come to mean that representations can—and indeed should—be treated as sites of knowledge and meaning in and of themselves. That is, some crime dramas are now better understood as examples of social science fiction than they are as mere television shows.
The results of these concomitant developments in both the standard of broadcast television and the attention it receives from criminologists have been significant for the broader field of cultural criminology. This is primarily the case because of the ways in which the study of crime dramas can free criminology from some of its intellectual constraints. That is, the study of crime dramas as social science fiction can take intellectual inquiries in directions that—for any one of a multitude of reasons—other forms of criminological investigation do not (or cannot) go. This is not to say that representations constitute a strictly alternative understanding of crime per se (and it is certainly not to say that they constitute a superior one), but rather that they should be understood as offering complementary knowledge of criminological subjects; and moreover, and importantly here, they have the realistic capacity to reshape and redirect on-going criminological debates in new and innovative ways.
Frankie Y. Bailey
The commonly accepted definition of crime fiction is a work in which crime is central to the plot. The roots of crime fiction are traceable to the earliest human narratives, including the Greek and Roman myths and the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. Sensational accounts of real-life crimes and criminals in gallows confessions, broadsides, and pamphlets also contributed to the development of crime fiction. Historically, crime fiction has evolved parallel to political and criminal justice systems.
Many authors have explored the nature of crime and punishment in literary works. For example, Susan Glaspell, playwright, novelist, and actress, was inspired by a real-life murder trial she covered as a journalist. In her 1916 play, “Trifles” and in a 1917 short story, “A Jury of Her Peers,” Glaspell offered a feminist critique of gender relations in a domestic setting.
However, as a genre, crime fiction has “literary formulas” that distinguish these works from other genres such as romance and adventure. Within the genre, subgenres such as traditional/classic, PI, and police procedural novels have plots, characters, and settings that are recognizable to readers. As a genre, crime fiction has both provided source material for theater, radio, films, television and, now, social media, and, been influenced by these media.
One of the enduring questions about crime fiction is why readers enjoy sitting down with a book that is often about murder, sometimes graphically depicted. Critic and writer Edmund Wilson described detective fiction as an addiction to which readers succumb. However, he saw reading mysteries as a minor vice that “ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking.” He heard claims by readers about “well-written mysteries” as “like the reasons that the alcoholic can always produce for a drink”.
When academics attempt to understand and interpret the texts of crime fiction, they draw on a variety of theoretical perspectives (see discussion under Research). In recent decades, mystery reviewers, writers, and readers have used social media, particularly websites and blogs, to share their own perspectives. One question of interest is the influence such non-academic discussion of crime fiction has on the perceptions of readers and on writers engaged in the process of creation.
Currently, both publishers and authors are dealing with the challenges and opportunities of a changing marketplace. Self-publishing (now known as “independent publishing”) has allowed writers to by-pass traditional publishing. At the same time, the lack of diversity in the publishing industry has drawn increasing scrutiny.