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Visuality and Criminology  

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.



Paul Kaplan and Daniel LaChance

Crimesploitation is a kind of reality television programming that depicts nonactors committing, detecting, prosecuting, and punishing criminal behavior. In programs like Cops, To Catch a Predator, and Intervention, a real-life-documentary frame creates a sense of verisimilitude that intensifies the show’s emotionally stimulating qualities and sets it apart from fictional crime stories. Crimesploitation programs create folk knowledge about the causes and consequences of criminal behavior and the purposes and effects of criminal punishment. That folk knowledge, in turn, reflects and reinforces two ideologies that legitimized the ratcheting up of harsh punishment in the late-twentieth-century United States: law-and-order punitivism and neoliberalism.


Visual Criminology in International and Comparative Context  

Stefan Machura

Visual criminology concerns itself with how crimes and society’s reaction to crime appear visually and how such representations are perceived. In a Durkheimian view, individuals look out for signs that the social order is upheld or undermined by crime. In doing so, visual criminology observes, they react to visual cues such as the appearance of their environment, photos in news media, and the combination of moving pictures and sound on TV and social media. Attempts to reduce harm and to change structures also often express themselves visually. Sight and sound often go together, and sometimes further sensual impressions are impacting on the recipient. In a society ever more saturated by visual and audio-visual media, criminology has to engage with the visual. Therefore, visual criminology will be of use to researchers from all the different strands within criminology, even if up until now most of the contributions come from anglophone countries. As varied as the visual manifestations of crime and the response to crime are the research methods employed by visual criminology. They include making respondents react to the stimulus provided by photos, the interpretation of “found” pictures and even criminologists involving themselves in the production of audio-visual media, like TV shows or films. In this way, visual criminologists have arrived at insights that they would not have gained otherwise. Visual criminology will form an important addition to the work of criminologists, especially those who wish to engage with the new ways in which people communicate about crime, and across the globe.


Visual Criminology  

Michelle Brown

Visual criminology emerges from a call to rethink the manner in which images are reshaping the world and criminology as a project. The mobility, malleability, banality, speed, and scale of images and their distribution demand that we engage both old and new theories and methods. Visual criminologists pursue a refinement of concepts and tools as well as innovative new ones to tackle questions of crime, harm, culture, and control. Concerned with how ways of seeing are foundational to social orders, visual criminology gives close attention to the production of crime’s power and spectacle in the visual field and relies upon emergent conceptual terms and vocabularies to do so. It insists that it is no longer possible to understand crime and control separately from how they are represented. Visual criminology is born as an alternative academic space that is neither supplementary nor secondary to mainstream social science; rather, it calls us to understand the power of crime and punishment beyond the written and numeric registers of reports, studies, and research. The concerns of visual criminology are numerous. Visual criminologists are interested in the role of vision and the visual in the historical foundations of criminology as a discipline. They push crime and media scholars to investigate more deeply the role of the image itself, beyond conventional studies of crime and media. Using a growing and sophisticated set of theories, methods, and concepts, they track how the various optics of criminology and criminal justice (defined by disciplinary, institutional, and epistemological boundaries) are produced, culminating in popular and scientific perspectives that inevitably bring certain principles, claims, and possibilities into the line of vision and omit others. They also give attention to how these optics are contested and transgressed. Focal points of this work span a variety of media and artistic modes that continue to grow at an unprecedented rate: photodocumentary, photoethnography, new and social media, interactive and social documentary, architecture, data visualizations, design, conceptual and performance art, mixed media, theater, embodiment, spatialization, surveillance and aerial/satellite/drone technology, graffiti and urban aesthetics, ruins and dark tourism, models, exhibitions, and imaginative interventions to envision crime and punishment otherwise. Even as this visual focus expands the disciplinary tools and insights of criminology, it also broadens the field’s boundaries, drawing from a rich theoretical terrain of interdisciplinary studies.


Cultural Criminology  

Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, and Michelle Brown

Cultural criminology is concerned with the convergence of cultural, criminal, and crime control processes; as such, it situates criminality and its control in the context of cultural dynamics and the contested production of meaning. It seeks to understand the everyday realities of a profoundly unequal and unjust world, and to highlight the ways in which power is exercised and resisted amidst the interplay of rule-making, rule-breaking, and representation. The subject matter of cultural criminology, then, crosses a range of contemporary issues: the mediated construction and commodification of crime, violence, and punishment; the symbolic practices of those engaged in illicit subcultural or postsubcultural activities; the existential anxieties and situated emotions that animate crime, transgression, and victimization; the social controls and cultural meanings that circulate within and between spatial arrangements; the interplay of state control and cultural resistance; the criminogenic cultures spawned by market economies; and a host of other instances in which situated and symbolic meaning is at stake. To accomplish such analysis, cultural criminology embraces interdisciplinary perspectives and alternative methods that regularly move it beyond the boundaries of conventional criminology, drawing from anthropology, media studies, youth studies, cultural studies, cultural geography, sociology, philosophy and other disciplines, and utilizing new forms of ethnography, textual analysis, and visual production. In all of this, cultural criminology seeks to challenge the accepted parameters of criminological analysis and to reorient criminology to contemporary social, cultural, and economic conditions.


Big Data and Visuality  

Janet Chan

Internet and telecommunications, ubiquitous sensing devices, and advances in data storage and analytic capacities have heralded the age of Big Data, where the volume, velocity, and variety of data not only promise new opportunities for the harvesting of information, but also threaten to overload existing resources for making sense of this information. The use of Big Data technology for criminal justice and crime control is a relatively new development. Big Data technology has overlapped with criminology in two main areas: (a) Big Data is used as a type of data in criminological research, and (b) Big Data analytics is employed as a predictive tool to guide criminal justice decisions and strategies. Much of the debate about Big Data in criminology is concerned with legitimacy, including privacy, accountability, transparency, and fairness. Big Data is often made accessible through data visualization. Big Data visualization is a performance that simultaneously masks the power of commercial and governmental surveillance and renders information political. The production of visuality operates in an economy of attention. In crime control enterprises, future uncertainties can be masked by affective triggers that create an atmosphere of risk and suspicion. There have also been efforts to mobilize data to expose harms and injustices and garner support for resistance. While Big Data and visuality can perform affective modulation in the race for attention, the impact of data visualization is not always predictable. By removing the visibility of real people or events and by aestheticizing representations of tragedies, data visualization may achieve further distancing and deadening of conscience in situations where graphic photographic images might at least garner initial emotional impact.


Images of Alternative Justice: The Alternative of Restorative Justice  

Brunilda Pali

Restorative justice is the most sustained justice discourse to propose significant differences to the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, restorative justice has not proposed differences necessarily on the “battleground of images,” but 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.


Homicide in Television Drama Series  

Penny Crofts

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.


Crime, Justice, and Anglo-American Comics  

Thomas Giddens

Criminal justice is a perennial theme in modern comics published in the United States and United Kingdom, with dominant narratives revolving around the protection of the innocent from crime and harm or the seeking of justice outside the authority of the state. The history of the comics medium and its regulation in the mid-20th century, particularly in the United States, shows how the comics medium itself—not just its popular content—was embroiled in questions of criminality, in relation to its perceived obscenity and fears that it caused juvenile delinquency. Indeed, the medium’s regulation shaped the way it has been able to engage with questions of crime and justice; the limitations on moral complexity under the censorship of the 1954 Comics Code in the United States, for example, arguably led to both a dearth of critical engagement in crime and justice concerns, and an increased evil or psychopathy in criminal characters (because more nuanced motivations could not be depicted under the Code). From the 1980s onwards, the restrictions of the Code abated, and a broad “maturation” of the form can be seen, with a concurrent increase in critical engagement with criminological questions. The main themes of comics research around crime and comics after the 1980s include questions of vigilantism and retribution, seen as the dominant concern in mainstream comics. But other leading questions go beyond these issues and explore comics’ engagement with the politics of crime and justice, highlighting the medium’s capacity to question the nature of justice and the legitimate exercise of state power. Moreover, stepping back and considering the general relationship between comics and criminology, comics can be seen as important cultural forms of expression of moral and social values, as well as potentially alternative orders of knowledge that can challenge mainstream criminology. From free speech, juvenile delinquency, and vigilantism, to politics, culture, and disciplinary knowledge, there are significant interactions between comics and criminology on a variety of levels.