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Article

The literature on contemporary Western punishment presents us with a number of possible approaches to political ideologies and penality. The first approach requires us to ask what different political ideologies have to say about crime and punishment. This entails a close analysis of the ideologies’ main claims on matters of power, authority, and collective co-existence, to see if and how such claims have played out in the penal sphere. Analyses of social democratic penality serve here as useful case studies for such an approach. Such analyses also illustrate the second approach to questions of political ideology and penality. This approach requires us to ask what impact crime has had upon the fate of different ideologies. Have the changing incidence and changing perceptions of crime come to threaten the legitimacy of dominant ideologies? The third approach is that of critique of ideology: penality is studied as ideology, to discern what it conceals about reality and existing power relations. Here the analysis of contemporary UK offences of dangerousness acts as a case study for such an approach. To the extent that offences of dangerousness are rooted in neoliberalism, the discussion also introduces us to debates concerning neoliberalism and penality, in particular the idea that contemporary punishment expresses both the ascendancy of neoliberal doxa, and the decline of existing macro-ideologies such as social democracy. This decline can be seen as a move toward a post-ideological era, in which crime and punishment have come to replace political visions and utopias. However, recent scholarship on political ideologies argues that the latter are ubiquitous and permanent features of political thinking. This implies that the contemporary era cannot be described as post-ideological. Rather, it is an era in which macro-ideologies such as social democracy—which provided a holistic view of social order and comprehensive ideational resources to construct it—have been replaced by thin ideologies—which offer us narrower visions and ambitions. Examples of such thin ideologies include populism and technocracy. It is then possible to study the link between thin-ideologies and penality, a study that is here exemplified by the analysis of populism and penal populism, and technocracy and epistemic crime control. An analysis of thin ideologies and penality can also be undertaken with a normative project in mind, namely that of identifying within these thin ideologies, possible ideational resources that might be used to imagine a better penal future: one that is more moderate, more democratic, and less punitive.

Article

Patricia (Paddy) Rawlinson

Organized crime is one of the most popular topics of media attention within the crime genre, providing a plethora of fictional representations and factual explanations for popular consumption. Its media presence has not only entertained the public but also interacted with and help form policy responses by governments and law enforcement agencies. Beset by ambiguous definitions and typically operating in a clandestine manner, organized crime has become subject to various forms of mythologizing, romanticized and exaggerated, thrilling and terrifying, emerging as a phenomenon riddled with contradictions yet made consistently attractive by the mystique that dominates media narratives. Blurring the line between fact and fiction as these narratives often do, they can serve or undermine attempts to conceptualize and control organized crime, and in some cases, modify the behavior of criminals themselves. The mythologizing of organized crime has been one of the major challenges for criminologists researching the topic. Unlike many other forms of crime, gaining access to subjects involved in this surreptitious world is especially difficult for academics, consequently conferring exaggerated and misleading media and official representations of organized crime greater currency. Further, with the ostensible explosion of global crime networks, shaped by diverse languages, cultures, and ideologies, gaining a more accurate understanding of the nature of and threat posed by organized crime has become even more problematic. In examining the production and content of the dominant myths around organized crime, the article looks at the impact of media and official representations of these mythologies and how they have helped to preserve the political, social, and economic status quo.

Article

Lois Presser

Narrative criminology is a relatively new theoretical perspective that highlights the influence of stories on harmful actions and patterns of action. Narrative criminology researchers study stories themselves, rather than what stories report on, for effects. Narrative criminology takes a constitutive view of stories as opposed to the representational view that is rather more common within criminology. Hence a hallmark of the perspective is its bracketing of the accuracy of the stories under investigation. Stories legitimize conduct, compel action, and induce detachment, however fanciful they may be. Narrative criminologists analyze the role of stories in active harm-doing, passive complicity, desistance from offending, and resistance to harm. The field of narrative criminology has evolved rapidly.

Article

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.

Article

In Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, public order laws criminalize the use of swearing, offensive, or abusive language in a public place. Police officers use these laws as tools to assert “their authority” or command respect in public spaces where that authority is perceived to be challenged via the use of profanities such as “fuck.” Alongside the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary, representations of swearing in the media influence ideas about whether swear words warrant criminal punishment. A particular “common-sense” assumption about language (language ideology) prevalent in media representations of offensive language crimes, echoed by politicians and police representatives, is that disrespecting or challenging police authority via “four-letter words” warrants criminal sanction. However, popular culture can counter dominant ideologies with respect to offensive language, police, and authority. This article examines how the use of swear words in N.W.A’s popular rap song “Fuck tha Police” (1988) and in the HBO television series The Wire (Simon & Burns, 2002–2008) can inform and challenge legal assessments of community standards with regards to offensive language.