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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.

Article

Historical study of crime, media, and popular culture has been underway since “the cultural turn” in the social sciences and humanities in the 1980s. Since then, a diverse literature has emerged presenting different theories, dealing with various time periods and topics, and challenging contemporary assumptions. Much of this work has focused on the press, because newspaper archives offer a familiar source for researchers accustomed to working with documents in libraries and because “moral panic” has provided a theory that can be easy moved from one time and place to another. However, crime, media, and popular culture presents a vast history and much of this has yet to be examined by criminologists. It includes broadcast radio, television, and feature films, as well as folklore, ballad and song, and theatrical performance, not to mention novels and stories. There has been enough historical research by specialists in literature, journalism history, film history, and other fields to demonstrate the value of historical research for criminology. But making to most of this history will require methodological innovation and theoretical development. To understand the history of crime, media, and popular culture, criminologists will need to move away from document-based historical research and toward digital forms of archived media. They will also need to develop theoretical perspectives beyond 1970s sociology.