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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.


Judah Schept

There can be no doubt that criminology has taken something of a visual turn, as evidenced by increasing numbers of articles, conference panels, edited volumes, monographs, and seminar series that support visual research within criminology and related fields (Brown, 2014; Carrabine, 2012; Brown & Carrabine, 2016; Lippens et al., 2013). This development has come with important calls for both direct, empirical engagement with images, as well as new methodological approaches that mobilize images for a “politically charged analysis” (Hayward, 2010, p. 3). While visual criminology, as it has come to be known, has taken up the importance of the image, the issue of representation, and the photograph, it has been slower to engage on the terrain of visuality, a concept that can sometimes slip into shorthand for the realm of the visual, but which means something more closely resembling an authorized view of society and history (Mirzoeff, 2011a). Visuality is the production, representation, and naturalization of state power that at once fabricates order and, in doing so, organizes the available vocabularies for describing and challenging it. Visuality is a mechanism by which the quotidian violence underwriting authority is made illegible and unseeable. a process that relies on knowledge production for legitimacy and consent. It is here, at the intersections of visuality’s naturalization of the everyday violence of law and its naturalization of an authorized constellation of ideas and terms from which to draw meaning about the world, that the role of criminology must be considered. As a science of crime and punishment, criminology is both subordinate to the terms and ideologies of the state and continually reproduces and reifies those terms by providing the gloss of scientific objectivity. Criminology is largely managerial and reformist, a discipline dependent on the state as much for grant monies and evaluation projects as for the very normative terms of study—crime, law, punishment—that underwrite its very existence and relevance. Yet, the relationship between criminology and visuality is not one of wholehearted subservience and hegemony. Even as the discipline should be understood as an important intellectual prosthetic in the state’s fabrication of social order through technologies of illumination, capture, and mapping, visuality is never complete and criminology is not uniform. Indeed, criminology has an established if uneven lineage of radical interventions into the common sense of state violence. The question remains open as to the role criminology might play in enacting counter-visuality, an intellectual and political project aimed at inscribing in the social body the capacities to render such violence legible.