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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.

Article

Jeremy Lipschultz

The discussion of crime news on television must begin with a basic cultural understanding that journalism is facing a time of dramatic change. Mitchell Stephens argued in his 2014 book Beyond News: The Future of Journalism that the news process remains challenging to define: “Journalism is the activity of collecting, presenting, interpreting, or commenting upon the news for some portion of the public” (p. xiii). In the case of crime news, a variety of historical developments changed the nature of newsgathering and presentation. Sociological and cultural theories help us understand the process, the content, and the effects. An examination of the various approaches to the study of crime news will extend cultural understanding to entertainment media and long-term societal implications of new technologies, such as social media.

Article

The American trial and American cinema share certain epistemological tendencies. Both stake claims to an authoritative form of knowledge based on the indubitable quality of observable phenomena. And both are preoccupied with sustaining the authority that underlies the knowledge produced by visual perception. The American trial and cinematic form also increasingly share cultural space. Although the trial film (otherwise known as the courtroom drama) is as old as the medium of film, the continuing popularity of the legal drama centered on a courtroom verdict suggests more than a trend. The inherent affinities between law and film not only produce enduring and memorable stories about law and justice but help constitute a popular legal consciousness that sustains the authority of the rule of law in the United States. This article describes these affinities in more detail, tracing the common themes in trial films, the special case of trial film based on true stories, and the future of the genre in American popular culture. It concludes by reviewing the disciplinary approach to the study of law and visual popular culture.

Article

The term genre refers to a set of thematically or stylistically similar popular cultural texts. Courtroom narratives form both movie and television genres, and criminal trials form subgenres. Each entry in the criminal subgenres contains a criminal trial and pits a prosecutor against a defense lawyer. This article discusses the genre conventions for these characters. Where the defense lawyer is a protagonist, the client is a co-protagonist. The client is either innocent or is being unjustly prosecuted. The defense lawyer, often presented in heroic terms, struggles to get the client acquitted (or the punishment reduced). The defense lawyer must overcome obstacles that the antagonist prosecutor places in the lawyer’s path. Defense lawyers are loners who are lacking in personal life or emotions. Perry Mason is the iconic genre defense lawyer. Where the prosecutor is the protagonist, the crime victim (or survivors of a deceased victim) are the co-protagonists. Prosecutors are relentless, honorable, and often politically ambitious. They must struggle to overcome obstacles erected by defense lawyers. Like defense lawyers, prosecutors lack a personal life or emotions. Jack McCoy on Law & Order is the iconic genre prosecutor. These generic conventions have become stale. Consequently, creators of pop culture products in the criminal courtroom subgenre employ genre-busting narratives that have refreshed the genre. Defense lawyers often work for clients they suspect are guilty and try to get them off through the use of technical defenses. Guilty clients deceive gullible lawyers into putting on cases with perjured testimony. If the client confesses guilt, the lawyer betrays the client to protect the public. Defense lawyers have personal lives, feelings, and emotions, and some are anti-heroes. Genre-busting prosecutors often have unpleasant personalities, and they don’t hesitate to bend ethical rules. As in the case of defense lawyers, prosecutors have inner lives and personal relationships. These genre-busters have destabilized the generic conventions and may well have established new conventions.

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.