This chapter analyzes the representation of homicide in contemporary television drama series. The chapter draws upon critical analysis from the fields of criminal law, criminology, law and literature, and cultural studies to provide various analytical frameworks and perspectives through which to understand and critique specific dramas and the portrayal of homicide drama generally. If criminology is an effort to understand crime and criminals, then crime dramas including homicide television dramas can be considered a form of popular criminology that can and should be analyzed in terms of cultural representations of crime and criminal justice. Theorists have proposed that crime fiction can be categorized as mystery, detective fiction, or crime fiction. This framework provides a means for analyzing homicide drama, including the possibility of resolution and justice, geographic and temporal settings, the portrayal of the murder, and the construction of the three stock characters of crime fiction (the victim, the detective, and the murderer). The chapter concludes with a presentation of theories about the impact of media portrayals of crime upon public beliefs about crime, criminality, and the criminal legal system.
Rachel Austin and Amy Farrell
Although the exploitation of people for profit is not a new phenomenon, in the late 1990s and early 2000s international leaders, advocates, and the public became increasingly concerned about the risks of exploitation inherent in labor migration and commercial sex work. In 2000, the U.S. government passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA), which defined a new crime of human trafficking and directed law enforcement agencies to begin identifying and responding to this form of victimization. Following passage of the TVPA, U.S. media interest in human trafficking as a crime increased steadily, though the framing of the problem, its causes, and its solutions has changed over time. Media coverage of human trafficking spiked around 2005 and has risen steadily since that time. Human trafficking has become a “hot topic”—the subject of investigative journalism and a sexy plot line for films and television shows. Yet, the media often misrepresent human trafficking or focus exclusively on certain aspects of the problem. Research on human trafficking frames in print media revealed that portrayals of human trafficking were for the most part oversimplified and inaccurate in terms of human trafficking being portrayed as innocent white female victims needing to be rescued from nefarious traffickers. Depictions of human trafficking in movies, documentaries, and television episodes in the United States have followed a rescue narrative, where innocent victims are saved from harmful predators. Additionally, traffickers are commonly portrayed in the media as part of larger organized crime rings, despite empirical evidence to the contrary. Incorrect framing of human trafficking in the popular media may lead policymakers and legislators to adopt less helpful antitrafficking responses, particularly responses focused on criminal justice system solutions.
Timothy O. Lenz
The media inform the public about crime while also reflecting and shaping thinking about crime. The news media primarily provide information when they report on crime as part of the coverage of public affairs, but they also shape thinking about crime. The entertainment media, particularly television and film crime stories, primarily entertain audiences, but they also reflect and shape public opinion about the threat of crime, the causes of crime, criminal justice policies, and the criminal justice system. The media effect on the general public’s thinking about crime includes both the news media and the entertainment media because the trends toward infotainment in the news media (e.g., docudramas and true crime reality shows) and realism in the crime genre (stories that are based on or inspired by actual events) have blurred the distinction between fact and fiction.
The study of ideology in the crime genre includes the development of theories; empirical analyses of the media effect; explaining ideology, film, and television crime stories as legal texts explaining criminal procedure; and the exploration of current issues related to thinking about rights, law, violence, and justice.
This article analyzes the tension created between the lack of images and the imagination of alternative justice from the particular perspective of “restorative justice.” The most sustained justice discourse to propose significant differences to the criminal justice system, restorative justice nevertheless has not proposed differences necessarily on the “battleground of images,” but, as argued in the article, mainly on the subterrain of “imagination.” It does not, therefore, offer an image of alternative justice, but rather an alternative of justice that belongs to the realm of imagination, pointing simultaneously at the limits of representation and the necessity of developing new forms of imagination that go beyond images to incorporate alternatives at the levels of metaphors, language, architecture, and practices. Using a few exemplary cases, the text argues overall for the primacy of imagination over images of alternative justice.
Throughout the history of journalism the notion of a mother killing her infant child—committing an act of infanticide—has always been high on the news values scale. In the 19th century, sensational news reports of illicit sexual liaisons, of childbirth and grisly murder, appeared regularly in the press, naming and shaming transgressive unmarried women and framing them as a danger to society. These lurid stories were published in broadsheets and the popular press as well as in respectable newspapers, including the most influential English newspaper of the century, The Times of London. In 19th-century England, The Times played a powerful role in influencing public opinion on the issue of infanticide using lurid reports of infanticide trials and coronial inquests as evidence in stirring editorials as part of their political campaign to reform the 1834 New Poor Law and repeal its pernicious Bastardy Clause, which had led to a large increase in rates of infanticide. News texts, because of their ability to capture one view of a society at a given moment in time, are a valuable historical resource and can also provide insight into journalism practices and the creation of public opinion. Infanticide court and coronial news reports provided details of the desperate murderous actions of young women and also furnished potent evidence of legal and government policy failures. The use of critical discourse analysis (CDA) in studying infanticide reports in The Times provides insight into the ways in which infanticide news stories worked as ideological texts and how journalists created understandings about illegitimacy, the “fallen woman,” infanticide, social injustice, and discriminatory gendered laws through news discourse.
Meenakshi Gigi Durham
News narratives of violence against women in India are part of a larger discourse of Orientalism that began in the nascent years of the British Raj and continues into the present; these narratives also reflect documented patterns of reporting on gender violence that sustain intersectional hierarchies of race and class as well as gender.
In the years leading up to British Crown rule in India, newspapers were embroiled in debates around the rare practice of sati, or the self-immolation of widows. British and Indian newspapers carried articles and commentaries both decrying and defending the practice. Arguments about sati were predicated on contests over national autonomy rather than on the gender violence at the crux of the practice. Sati is conceptually related to “bride burning,” also dubbed “dowry death,” which is reported in the news media as an effect of Indian tradition and gender culture, in contrast to the reportage on domestic violence in “First World” settings, which is depicted in terms of isolated incidents and not interpreted as a consequence of the social milieu. Female infanticide and feticide follow similar patterns of journalistic framing. Human trafficking in India is reported narrowly in terms of sex trafficking and without reference to its connections with other forms of human rights violations.
The 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Delhi incited widespread international and domestic media coverage of violence against women India. Analyses of this coverage revealed repeated tropes of Orientalism in the foreign news. The journalism about this crime characterized India as a place of ungovernable violence against women, overlooking the occurrence of similar crimes in the global North and thus reasserting geopolitical hierarchies of “First” and “Third” worlds. Indian news about this crime reinforced middle-class positions and values, reflecting the changing social dynamics of 21st-century India. Violence against LGBT+ populations, aggravated after the Indian Supreme Court’s re-criminalization of non-heterosexual sex in 2013, is largely unreported in the mainstream news media, although specialized LGBT+ media channels report on it regularly. Neocolonial tropes continue to circulate in news depictions of violence against Indian women, but the rising numbers of women journalists in India seek to expand the scope and depth of reporting on gender issues.
This article analyzes journalistic depictions of violence against girls and women in Mexico in the context of several high-profile cases that have played out in the country over the past two decades. The argument is that the mainstream media uses two primary tactics to blame victims for the violence they have experienced: (a) claim that the victims are responsible for their own crimes by presenting sexist arguments that discredit their value as humans, and (b) claim that the mothers of victims of violence are also responsible for the crimes committed against their daughters by presenting sexist ideas that limit mothers and daughters to the domestic space. These tactics are used in order to continue to limit the participation of women in the public space and public life. Via interviews with mothers, activists, and journalists, this article explores the personal impact of journalistic depictions of violence against women and also looks at how journalists are working to represent women more diversely and in ways that feature their voices rather than silencing them. Part of the problem is that in Mexico, as in many countries, the mainstream media is controlled and reported on mostly by men. Given that Mexico is one of the most violent countries in the world for journalists, women are often discouraged from reporting, threatened with death, or simply made invisible because their stories are not considered important. In order to create real change in the way violence against women is represented, it is necessary to have gender parity in reporting and in ownership of media outlets. For this kind of equality to be possible, the government must offer more protection and support to journalists, and it should make gender studies courses a mandatory element of media training.
The early jury films typically portray the jury as a passive group of men who simply watch the trial with little reaction. They are meant to stand in for the viewer. The viewer, like the jury, is supposed to reach a verdict as to the defendant’s guilt or innocence. There are a few exceptions to this traditional portrayal of the jury. The exceptions involve a holdout juror who is dissatisfied with the verdict and conducts his or her own investigation. The most well known jury film, 12 Angry Men, which aired in 1957, marks a departure from these traditional and exceptional portrayals of a jury. This film is an outlier in the annals of jury films because it shows the jury at work; all the action takes place as the jury deliberates in the jury room. It also depicts an unusual scenario in which a single juror is able to stand up against the other 11 jurors and ultimately persuade them to change their votes. One reason this film has endured is that it depicts an individual’s uphill battle against a group. Another reason is that the plot has been incorporated into episodes of popular television shows so that new generations of viewers learn about it. There have been only a few modern films that focus on the jury. Some of these films return to the theme of the holdout juror who carries out a subsequent investigation to uncover the truth, whereas others show a juror who engages in misconduct or self-help in the face of a defendant who has abused the trial process. Although the focus on the holdout juror in many of these films, both old and new, provides drama, holdout jurors are hard to find in actual jury trials, especially when there are just one or two jurors who are holdouts.
From watching imported American popular culture dramas focusing on criminal justice, French television viewers have become confused as to how their own legal system really works. They have erroneous expectations of behaviours in court, like addressing judges by the wrong title, a title that comes from poor dubbing. Or they will refuse to answer questions, thinking they have Fifth Amendment protections, when they do not. They know very little of the organization of courtroom space. Since it is forbidden by law to take photographs or film trials in France, it is difficult to bring accurate court images to the public. The French produce police dramas, but very few series or made-for-television movies on justice, thus providing no alternatives for these erroneous criteria. They do, however, produce documentaries and docudramas dealing with past investigations or with timely issues such as recidivism or reintegration into society after prison. Documentaries, although pertinent, give viewers only one-shot access to the representations of justice and the legal professions they contain. The do not facilitate the acquisition over time of a legal culture.
In addition to the confusion, the French have a negative image of lawyers as motivated by money and politics rather than justice. Films and French television fictions are responsible for this impression. Television news reports are short and give incomplete accounts of the law or on-going proceedings. Sometimes lawyers are interviewed in these reports, but never prosecutors or judges. Judges and prosecutors are magistrats, not lawyers. They train in different institutions from lawyers and are civil servants, so they are not as likely as lawyers to be making a lot of money, nor are they free to make public statements. The image of these professions is consequently more positive in the French imagination as portrayed in the popular culture.
Stefan Machura and Michael Böhnke
Legal themes, especially those related to crime, abound in German popular culture. This article covers some of the most politically significant and popular examples from the Weimar Republic period to present times, putting them into their social and media sector context.
Due to the country’s experience with totalitarian regimes, one main topic of popular culture is the political abuse of the law. Run-of-the-mill crime stories, of course, are a staple of literature and audiovisual media. Their appeal did not lessen in the age of the Internet. Due to genre and narrative conventions, mainstream media tend to shed a positive light on the institutions and personnel connected with the law.
Much of German fiction is heavily influenced by the example of US films and TV series, so far that they misrepresent the German legal system. Other influences shape content as well. Economic pressures rank high among them, while overt censorship was evident during the Third Reich (1933–1945) and after partition in the German Democratic Republic (GDR; 1949–1990). Highly regarded artistic works often focus on the topic of individual guilt, while lesser productions typically draw on the sensational aspects of crime detection. The ordering hand of the judge, putting things right after a tumultuous court hearing, signifies the German TV judge show (the equivalent of Judge Judy). Measured degrees of social criticism are typical for many of the better TV productions. And, despite television’s influence, novels and plays still claim a stake in popular culture.
Although US media productions dominate the international market for legal fiction, German TV shows, especially police series, became a success story as well. They project the image of the clean, unbiased, correct, and efficient police inspector. Critical films and programs aim mainly at the domestic market due to their specific issues. Nevertheless, the overall effect of German popular fiction dealing with crime and justice tends to be positive, with trust in the law being supported.
In the 1840s, cheap mass-marketed newspapers raised the relationship among the media, crime, and criminal justice to a new level. The intervening history has only strengthened the bonds, and comprehending the nature of the media, crime, and justice relationship has become necessary for understanding contemporary crime and criminal justice policies. The backward law of media crime and criminal justice content, where the rarest real-world events become the most common media content, continues to operate. In the 21st century, the media present backward snapshots of crime and justice in dramatic, reshaped, and marketed narrow slices of the world. Media portraits emphasize rare crimes like homicide, rare courtroom procedures like trials, rare forensic evidence, and rare correctional events like riots and escapes to present a heavily skewed, unrealistic picture. Significantly exacerbating this long-term tendency are new social media.
When the evolution of the media is examined, the trend has been toward the creation of a mediated experience that is indistinguishable from a real-world experience. Each step in the evolution of media brought the mediated experience and the actual personally experienced event closer. The world today is the most media-immersed age in history. The shift to new social media from the legacy media of the 20th century was a crucial turning point. The emergence of social media platforms has sped up what had been a slow evolutionary process. The technological ability of media to gather, recycle, and disseminate information has never been faster, and more crime-related media content is available to more people via more venues and in more formats than ever before.
In this new mediated world, everyone is wedded to media in some fashion. Whether through the Internet, television, movies, music, video games, or multipurpose social media devices, exposure to media content is ubiquitous. Media provide a broadly shared, common knowledge of society that is independent of occupation, education, ethnicity, and social class. The cumulative result of this ongoing media evolution is that society has become a multimedia environment where content, particularly images, is ubiquitous in the media. Mediated events blot out actual ones, so that media renditions often supplant and conflict with what actually happened. This trend is particularly powerful in crime and justice, where news, entertainment, and advertising combine with new media to construct a largely unchallenged mediated crime and criminal justice reality.
The most significant result is that, in this mediated reality, criminal justice policies are generated. What we believe about criminal justice and what we think ought to be done about crime are based on content that has been parsed, filtered, recast, and refined through electronic, digital, visually dominated, multimedia entities. Ironically, while the media are geared toward narrowcasting and the targeting of small, homogenous audiences, media content is constantly reformatted and looped to ultimately reach wide, multiple, and varied audiences.
In the end, the media’s criminal justice role cannot be ignored. Until the linkages between media, crime, and justice are acknowledged and better understood, myopic and punitive criminal justice policies will be the norm.
Meda Chesney-Lind and Nicholas Chagnon
Though it is generally given less attention than sexual assault, domestic violence is quite often depicted in corporate media products, including news broadcasts, television shows, and films. Mediated depictions of domestic violence share many of the same problems as those of sexual assault. In particular, the media tends to imply that women are somehow culpable when they are being beaten, even murdered, by their partners. News on domestic violence is often reported in a routine manner that focuses on minutiae instead of context, informing audiences minimally about the nature, extent, and causes of domestic violence. Though it is encouraging that over the past several decades the media has begun to acknowledge that domestic violence is a serious problem, this recognition is challenged by antifeminist claims-making in the media. Such challenges generally cite contested social science research as proof that feminist research on domestic violence is biased and inaccurate. Furthermore, media representations of domestic violence often supply racializing and class-biased discourses about abusers and their victims that frame domestic violence as largely the product of marginalized classes, rather a problem that affects the various strata of society. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, media coverage of the violence against women abroad, particularly in Islamic nations, has provided more racializing discourse, which juxtaposes “progressive” Western cultures with “backward” Eastern ones. On the domestic front, news focusing on indigenous communities replicates some of the racism inherent in the orientalist gaze applied to domestic violence abroad. Generally, the media do a poor job of cultivating a sophisticated understanding of domestic violence among the public. Thus, many researchers argue such media representations constitute a hegemonic patriarchal ideology, which obfuscates the issue of domestic violence, as well as the underlying social relations that create the phenomenon.
Researchers across varied disciplines have begun to explore social media as a new delta of communication; however, few are taking a hard look at social media as it relates to crime. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook increasingly are being used by law enforcement as tools for engaging in criminal investigation, improving public relations, and increasing public awareness. Similarly, persons engaging in crime increasingly employ such sites in novel and unique ways to network, exchange information, and execute and record criminal activities. A survey of research in fields ranging from computer science to sociology to communications demonstrates that both quantitative and qualitative research on and about social media have the capacity greatly to advance contemporary understanding of social organization and protest, crime and criminal behavior, and law and social control. For example, Facebook and Twitter have become key sources for gaining insights into criminal behaviors, such as gang activity, as well as on-the-ground data regarding significant events, such as the Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, the Black Lives matter movements, and elections of public figures. Other applications, such as Snapchat and Kik, provide the opportunity for immediate transmission of content and a new source of evidence to be used in criminal prosecutions. Studying social media from a criminal justice perspective, however, is a complex endeavor. While the Internet offers seemingly limitless opportunities for social organizing and networked engagement, the forum bears as much capacity for exclusion as it does for liberation. The growth of new social ills or crimes, such as “doxing,” “phishing,” and “revenge pornography,” for example, highlight that the confluence of immediacy of communication, perceived anonymity, and lack of moderation often renders the online environment threatening for perceived outsiders, particularly young women. On the other hand, as incidents, such as online threats against gamer Zoe Quinn and blogger Anita Sarkeesian, have come to light, online content is increasingly monitored, regulated, and controlled by its corporate ownership, who generally reveal little about how information is sorted, prioritized, and disseminated. As a researcher, one must be mindful that data, particularly qualitative data, collected from social media sites may not be random, representative, or generalizable. In addition, attendant to studying the Internet are unique ethical and privacy concerns not present in non-virtual fora. Many describe the Internet as a public sphere, and law enforcement often treats the online environment as a location in which Fourth Amendment privacy protections can be less rigorously observed. For researchers, however, it is essential to carefully consider whether the study of online discourse is archival or is human subjects research, and in the case of the latter, whether and how consent might be obtained. It is also important that researchers are attentive to the particular characteristics of the online site or sites they choose to examine, as the mission, rules, and practices of each site vary dramatically.
Military justice films occupy a unique space in film and legal studies, marrying two popular genres—courtroom dramas and military-themed films. This article examines the military justice film as a distinct genre in popular culture depictions of crime and punishment. First, it provides a brief overview of the history of the military justice film, from Classical Hollywood to the present. It then examines what sets military justice films apart from civilian courtroom dramas—the context, hierarchies, procedural rules, and broader implications of justice in the military context. It discusses why military justice films remain an enduring genre, with their appeal to universal themes and archetypal narratives. It further describes how military justice films have paralleled military history and serve as a critique of military, political, and national security policies. The article concludes by examining contemporary depiction of military justice in film, analyzing how the genre has changed since its inception, and discussing how military justice films may continue to evolve to keep pace with shifting norms of both law and warfare.
Miscarriages of justice, also called wrongful convictions and errors of justice (Forst, 2004), have long been a subject of popular interest. Traditional ballads and stories recounted the plight of the poor man facing execution for poaching to feed his family (“Geordie,” Child Ballad #209), the wife or sister who attempts to gain his release by surrendering her virtue to the cruel judge (“In his golden bed at midnight/There she heard the gallows groaning …”), and the outlaws, rebel leaders, and condemned men who told their stories from the scaffold (“Roddy McCorley”). These traditional stories focus on the contrast between good and evil, the implacability of the judge, and the imminence of death, while the theme of injustice is hinted at but never spoken. It is only in the final third of the 20th century that it becomes possible to speak of wrongful conviction as a topic of academic study and to explore it scientifically, trying to determine how often it occurs, and whether it is the result of human error.
This article first provides a brief history of wrongful convictions, beginning with the Salem witch trials, and then turns to the discovery and crisis of forensic evidence in the 20th century. By the end of the 20th century, forensic evidence techniques, from fingerprint identification to hair analysis, to interrogation techniques, had been called into question by the DNA revolution and the Supreme Court’s holding that expert witnesses in federal courts must be able to show the scientific basis for their testimony. Then we will turn to the psychological research that suggests that our current investigative techniques can provide false or misleading results. Causation can be divided into proximate and ultimate causation, and in the latter category, we will describe a social psychological theory which seeks to understand why, for example, it is so often the poor man (or, in the United States, the man of color) who faces execution for a crime he did not commit. Throughout, we will note the role of popular entertainment and news media in establishing a social understanding of wrongful convictions and assumptions as to its causes. We will close with considering three recent true crime documentaries whose success predicts similar efforts down the road.
The concept of moral panic was first developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s, principally by Stan Cohen, initially for the purpose of analyzing the definition of and social reaction to youth subcultures as a social problem. Cohen provided a “processual” model of how any new social problem would develop: who would promote it and why, whose support they would need for their definition to take hold, and the often-crucial role played by the mass media and institutions of social control. In the early 1990s, Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda produced an “attributional” model that placed more emphasis on strict definition than cultural processes. The two models have subsequently been applied to a range of putative social problems which now can be recognized as falling into five principal clusters: street crime, drug and alcohol consumption, immigration, child abuse (including pedophilia), and media technologies. Most studies have been conducted in Anglophone and European countries, but gradually, the concept is increasing its geographical reach. As a consequence, we now know a good deal about how and why social problems come to be constructed as moral panics in democratic societies.
This approach has nevertheless been criticized for its casual use of language, denial of agency to those promoting and supporting moral panics, and an oversimplified and outdated view of mass media, among other things. As proponents and opponents of moral panic analysis continue to debate the essentials, the theoretical context has shifted dramatically. Moral panic has an uncertain relationship to many recent developments in sociological and criminological thought. It threatens to be overwhelmed or sidelined by new insights from theories of moral regulation or risk, conceptualizations of the culture of fear, or the social psychology of collective emotion. Yet as an interdisciplinary project, it continues, despite its many flaws, to demand sustained attention from analysts of social problem construction.
Moral panics refer to cultural and social situations where heightened and exaggerated attention is given to a moral issue, accompanied by inflated demands to activate and practice steps to control what is portrayed as the challenging and threatening danger to morality. The nature of the threatening challenge materializes characteristically with the emergence of increased anxiety and fear from the moral threat to the well-being and future of a culture, or part of it. Down-to-earth representatives of such threats are epitomized by folk devils. These folk devils can be drug users, those who supposedly practice witchcraft or Satanism, sex traffickers, drivers involved in hit and run car accidents, muggers, AIDS carriers, terrorists, immigrants, asylum seekers, and—obviously—criminals. The concept of moral panics left its convenient zone in sociology and criminology to become extremely popular. It has been applied to such diverse fields as global warming, child sexual abuse, trafficking in women, soccer hooliganism, 9/11, and more. Many panics are short-lived, but such panics can also linger for longer periods. Moral panics are comprised of five basic building blocks: disproportionality in portraying the moral threat and the requested responses, concern about an issue, consensus regarding the threat, and hostility towards the folk devils. Moral panics do not stand alone and need to be understood within larger cultural and social processes composed of negotiations, struggles, and conflicts focused on moral codes. Indeed, while folk devils are typically vilified, stigmatized, and deviantized, complex cultures also enable folk devils to fight back. Moral panics are thus significant and important occurrences in the social construction of moral boundaries. These panics represent reactions, counter-reactions, and moral challenges—presented by folk devils—to cultural cores, which form central symbolic structures of cultures and societies.
The literature on sexualization is replete with controversial debates surrounding the sexualization of the female body in multiple media formats and how various scholars have sought to understand the social significance of this phenomenon. These debates not only focus on the sheer extent of the sexualization of the female body compared to the male body but also on the types of sexualization in terms of the use of the female body for commercial purposes. Debates range from those with a protectionist theme focused on protecting young women and girls from the damaging effects of sexualization, to those that advocate the imposition of a stricter moral standard for female dress and behavior to feminist debates about the agency of women and girls who freely choose to sexualize their bodies.
Music of the 1960s and Social Justice: Masterpieces of American Protest Songs and Why They Matter in the Trump Era
This article offers a sociopolitical framework for appreciating seven masterpieces of American protest music that emerged during the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. Attention is paid to the “worked-at-process” that each artist experienced while creating their landmark songs. They include Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (recorded in 1956 but popularized in the 1960s); Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”; Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”; Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”; James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”; Jimi Hendrix’s “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock; and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” These songs became masterpieces primarily because they arose hand-in-glove with mass demonstrations for peace and social justice, thereby establishing legacies of protest music for future generations, particularly, the generation now facing uncertainty and fear created by the presidency of Donald Trump.
The origins of “narrative criminology”—meaning not so much the utilization of the narratives of (and on) criminals as the awareness of the importance of the narratives themselves and how they can become a focus of criminological research—are framed within the so-called narrative wave in the field of human sciences; but a deeper look into the history of the discipline allows us to discover that the interest in the narrations of crime dates back to the dawn of criminology and has influenced the development of the science ever since the time of Lombroso. Moreover, it has influenced the various traditions that have characterized criminology itself. The emergence of narrative criminology can thus be traced to narrative psychology, from which it has inherited the search for coherence and consistency in offenders’ narratives (with a view to producing an unified self-narrative); to the work of Goffman and to ethnomethodology, with regard to the view of narratives as self-presentations; to structuralism, for what concerns the presence of “pre-written” narratives, which are available in the broader sociocultural context; and finally, to the postmodern visions of social sciences and literature.
In developing its distinctive approach, narrative criminology has focused on narratives as motivators and producers of crime, discovering that crime narratives often do not appear centered around a unitary conception of a self: they are multidimensional, fluctuating, fragmented, and disarticulated. Moreover, narratives depend on the situation of the narrator, or his or her positioning in the social structure and determination by the cultural or social fields. Sometimes the narrator is not in control of these fields and is pushed by forces he or she does know nothing about.
Crime narratives are full of references to other texts, and their interpretation is complex. Sometimes they are elliptical, concise, short, and refer to what everyone knows and must be simply hinted at: they sign the emergence from the not-said, the not-knowable, anticipating or following an act that often does not find words, or taking its place. It follows that, since its inception, narrative criminology has revealed itself to be interested in the analysis of singular cases (“one is enough”).
Narrative criminology, in sum, positions itself in a space previously not occupied and connects with other new exciting developments in the field (cultural criminology, visual criminology, constitutive criminology), contributing to the study of the relation between individual and social narratives on one side, and among not easily defined individual, structural, and cultural dimensions on the other.