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Public sex is a term used to describe various forms of sexual practice that take place in public, including cruising, cottaging (sex in public toilets), and dogging. Public sex has a long history and wide geography, especially for sexual minorities excluded from pursuing their sex lives in private, domestic spaces. Social science research has long studied public sex environments (PSEs) and analyzed the sexual cultures therein, providing a rich set of representations that continue to provide important insights today. Public sex is often legally and morally contentious, subject to regulation, rendered illicit and illegal (especially, but not exclusively, in the context of same-sex activities). Legal and policing practices therefore produce another important mode of representation, while undercover police activities utilizing surveillance techniques have depicted public sex in order to regulate it. Legal and moral regulation is frequently connected to news media coverage, and there is a rich archive of press representations of public sex that plays a significant role in constructing public sex acts as problematic. Fictionalized representations in literature, cinema, and television provide a further resource of representations, while the widespread availability of digital video technologies has also facilitated user-generated content production, notably in online pornography. The production, distribution, and consumption of representations of sex online sometimes breaches the private/public divide, as representations intended solely for private use enter the online public sphere—the cases of celebrity sex tapes, revenge porn, and sexting provide different contexts for turning private sex into public sex. Smartphones have added location awareness and mobility to practices of mediated public sex, changing its cultural practices, uses, and meanings. Film and video recording is also a central feature of surveillance techniques which have long been used to police public sex and which are increasingly omnipresent in public space. Representations as diverse as online porn, art installations, and pop videos have addressed this issue in distinctive ways.
Much of the existing research on video games seems to stall over the issue of whether or not violence in games is as innocent as is alleged. Scientists are still divided as to whether or not there is a causal link between the behavior of young people and violence in video gaming. Much less discussion is devoted to how cultural and political engagement finds new channels in video games to confront dominant opinions and perceptions in society. However, a more recent body of scientific work considers how the image spaces of video games facilitate new forms of resistance and how this opens up possibilities of social change in our daily lives. In this research, the culture of video gaming is used as a tool for a deeper understanding of resistance in our society. In this context, application of theories about “contagion without contact” can add some new thoughts to the way the virtual world of video games offers possibilities for a politics of resistance in real life. From a historical point of view, the work of the 19th-century French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, one of the first theorists on contagion, can be used to understand more deeply this on-going process by which everyday life recreates itself in its own image, and vice versa. Rather than measuring the amount of violence present in video games (“content analysis”) or identifying causal linkages between media representations of violent imagery and behavior, and subsequent human behavior (“media effect research”), it becomes evident that players of games are not passive recipients, but active interpreters of the reality that arises in and is processed by popular culture.
Glenn Muschert and Jaclyn Schildkraut
Stories about crime are staples in modern mainstream media, with the greatest emphasis placed on the most extreme cases. School shootings are particularly exemplary of this, as when word breaks of such an event, various forms of media, including the television, radio, and newspaper formats, as well as social media, become inundated with stories. This around-the-clock attention often lasts for hours and days, and with the most extreme cases, even weeks. As most people never will experience such a school shooting directly, the media then becomes the dominant conduit from which to glean information about the event.
How these cases are presented in the news can impact audiences as much as the number of stories that are aired or printed can. Consequently, researchers have explored the way in which these stories are framed to glean a better understanding of how information about the shootings are presented by the media. Such a line of inquiry is important as violent entertainment media (e.g., movies and video games) in particular have been criticized as possible contributing factors for the events in the first place. Additionally, mass shootings not only are abundant in the news, they also have appeared in popular media including television, film, and even music. Collectively, the media also has the ability to impact the perceptions of school shootings, particularly as the coverage relates to things like fear of crime or even copycat or contagion effects.
Security and surveillance have featured heavily in film over the years. Their depiction has provided a platform for debate about appropriate levels of surveillance and has provided tangible illustrations of surveillance theory. Films have addressed the development of surveillance technology and the practice of monitoring citizens in the name of national security, portraying surveillance as both a necessary tool and at times a threat to liberty. The use of surveillance technology has been a controversial practice, often debated as an issue of civil liberty and potentially an invasion of privacy. How much surveillance is too much or too little is often debated in relation to serious threats to society, such as terrorist attacks and organized crime. In addressing these issues, films often illustrate surveillance theory in practice, providing useful insight into the benefits and drawbacks of particular theoretical perspectives on the use of surveillance. Concepts like social control, discipline/punishment of people who break the law, and convincing people to follow the rules are often inherent in the storylines of films on surveillance.
A key idea in the study of surveillance is the concept of a panopticon. Originally, a panopticon was an architectural design for a prison that placed a guard in a well at the center of a prison, with inmates arranged around them. The guard could observe the prisoners at all times and the prisoners lived with a sense that they were constantly under surveillance. The design aimed to improve the security and efficiency of the prison. In the 1970s, Foucault applied the concept of a panopticon to society as a whole, arguing that the state acts as the prison guard and the public are the prisoners who are controlled by the belief that they are under constant surveillance. This idea has been influential in the study of surveillance, and the image of a central protagonist who monitors others with and without their awareness appears in several films from the 1970s onward. The film adaptation of 1984 often serves as an example of the threat of surveillance by the state. Equally, films like The Conversation and Enemy of the State have commented on the threat of covert acts of surveillance by small elites.
Gottfredson and Hirschi advanced self-control theory in 1990 as part of their general theory of crime. Self-control is defined as the ability to forego acts that provide immediate or near-term pleasures, but that also have negative consequences for the actor, and as the ability to act in favor of longer-term interests. An individual’s level of self-control is influenced by family or other caregiver behavior early in life. Once established, differences in self-control affect the likelihood of delinquency in childhood and adolescence and crime in later life. Persons with relatively high levels of self-control do better in school, have stronger job prospects, establish more stable interpersonal relationships, and attain higher income and better health outcomes. Self-control theory was initially constructed to reconcile the age, generality, and stability findings of criminological research with the standard assumptions of control theory. As such, it acknowledges the general decline in crime with age, versatility in types of problem behaviors engaged in by delinquents and offenders, and the generally stable individual differences in the tendency to engage in delinquency and crime over one’s life-course. Self-control theory applies to a wide variety of illegal behaviors (most crimes) and to many noncrime problem behaviors, including school problems, accidents, and substance abuse.
A considerable amount of research has been undertaken on self-control theory and on Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime. As a result, self-control theory is likely the most heavily researched perspective in criminology during the past 30 years. Most reviews find substantial empirical support for the principal positions of the theory, including the relationship between levels of self-control and delinquency, crime, and other problem behaviors. These relationships appear to be strong throughout life, among most groups of people, types of crime, in the United States and other countries, and over time. The posited important role of the family in the genesis of self-control is consistent with substantial bodies of research, although some researchers argue in favor of important genetic components for self-control. The theory’s expectations about the age distribution of crime, versatility of offending, and stability of individual differences over long periods of time also receive substantial support. Researchers have long studied variations in age effects, particularly seeking continuously high levels of offending for the most serious offenders, but reviewers have found that the evidence for meaningful variability is not convincing.
For public policy, self-control theory argues that the most promising approach for crime reduction focuses primarily on prevention, especially in early childhood, and secondarily on situational prevention for specific types of crimes. Gottfredson and Hirschi argue that self-control theory is inconsistent with reliance on the criminal justice system to affect crime levels. On the one hand, general reviews of the empirical literature on deterrence and incapacitation support the expectations of self-control theory by finding little support for severity of sanctions, sanctions long removed from the act, and selective incapacitation for “serious offenders.” On the other hand, experimental studies from education, psychology, and criminology generally support the idea that early-childhood family and educational environments can be altered to enhance self-control and lower expected delinquency, crime, and other problem behaviors later in life.
Phillip L. Simpson
Serial killing is an age-old problem, though it was not popularly known by that name until the 1980s. It took the rise of mass media and the mechanisms of mass production to create the conditions for the rise of serial murder in the modern world. The mass media representation of a series of murders arguably dates back to the notoriety accorded to the so-called Jack the Ripper killings of prostitutes in London in the autumn of 1888. The Ripper murders stand at a particular nexus in the representation of true crime, where fact and legend immediately fused in popular media to create a terrifying new modern, urban mythology of a preternaturally cunning human super-predator: one who strikes from the shadows to commit ghastly murder with impunity and then retreats back into that darkness until the next atrocity. Since the days of Jack the Ripper, a ghoulish pantheon of other serial killers has captivated the public imagination through representation in media: the Zodiac Killer, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy Jr., Henry Lee Lucas, Richard Ramirez, and Jeffrey Dahmer, just to name a few. However, the term “serial killer” did not enter the American popular vocabulary until the 1980s, so in another sense, the true representation of what we now know as serial killing could not begin until it had this latest, proper name. In tandem, as cultural consciousness of serial murder expanded, fictional serial killers proliferated the media landscape: Patrick Bateman, Norman Bates, Francis Dolarhyde, Lou Ford, Jame Gumb, Mickey and Mallory Knox, Leatherface, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Dexter Morgan, Tom Ripley, and a host of others. Serial killers as they exist in the popular imagination are media constructs rooted in sociological/criminological/psychological realities. These constructs originate from collective fears or anxieties specific to a particular time and place, which also means as times and the cultural zeitgeist change, the serial killer as a character epitomizing human evil is endlessly reinvented for new audiences in popular media.
In media representations the term sex crimes most frequently refers to rape and child sexual abuse, although it can include a wider range of acts such as exhibitionism and voyeurism. While the majority of these crimes receive little media attention, certain sensational sex crimes are prominent topics in news and entertainment media. Media attention tends to focus on violent crimes committed by “dangerous” strangers, largely defined as poor men of color, and crimes committed against white and middle-class victims. These representations provide a distorted image of the reality of sex crimes, which most frequently occur in private settings, by someone known to the victim. Media coverage has also been criticized for focusing on the actions and responsibility of victims, suggesting that victim behavior, such as drinking, flirting, or being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” precipitates sexual violence. Again, these representations vary significantly according to race and class, with white and middle-class victims more likely to receive sympathetic coverage, particularly if their assailant is from a lower-class or more marginal racial or ethnic background.
The emergence of the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970s, however, has led to some changes in media representations of sex crimes. Subsequent decades have seen an increase in sympathetic reporting around victims and increased reporting of crimes perpetrated by acquaintances and family members. There has been a growth in feminist voices and views in media reporting, as well as increased focus on the responsibilities and failings of criminal justice systems. Recent years have seen several examples of media coverage or “rediscovery” of previously ignored allegations against celebrities. Sex crimes have become a highly controversial and contested area, and media coverage reflects this, sometimes supporting progressive social and cultural change and sometimes providing a vehicle for “backlash” sentiments. Social media has been a driver of changes in the media landscape around sexual violence in recent years has provided a new forum for survivors to disseminate their stories but has also been marked by online harassment and abuse.
Sexting has recently attracted both media and academic attention. Mostly associated with adolescents, sexting, broadly speaking, refers to the production of and sharing of a naked or semi-naked image or a sexualized message via digital technology. Understanding sexting behaviors, however, is rather more complex and current commonly used definitions do not adequately address the different types of sexting and the different motivations and consequences that sexting behaviors have. Both media and public discourse have centered on the risks of sexting in relation to children and young people, as have policy responses to sexting activity. Concerns over a child being groomed online and being coerced or threatened into sending a naked or semi-naked picture by someone seeking sexual gratification has been the focus of policy debate and many public educational campaigns across the globe. Similarly, other campaigns have depicted the child or young person as a victim who sends a sexualized image to a peer that is then posted on a social media site or shared widely among a peer group causing the sender humiliation and distress. While these are both clear examples of digital abuse that have been the center of public awareness campaigns, it is often argued that current legal frameworks are insufficient to provide an adequate and appropriate response in many sexting cases, as there is considerable diversity in the circumstances and the contexts of sexting behaviors. As such it is argued that the (il)legality of sexting is such that it fails to recognize young people’s agency and that they may be choosing to produce and share images of themselves by choice. While it is legal to have sex with consent in many countries at age 16, it is still illegal to take a photo of either one’s own body or that of another if they are under 18 (even if over 16 and, thus, over the age of consent to have sex in many countries). As a consequence, some young people are being criminalized by the very laws designed to protect them. In reality many young people view sexting (although they do not use such terminology) as a mundane, fairly everyday thing to do, especially when they are in a romantic, intimate relationship and they are sharing the images with each other within the context of a trusting relationship. However, it is usually when that relationship breaks down that the image is more likely to be shared with others or published online with often harmful psychological and emotional consequences for the person depicted in the image. Sadly, some young people have committed suicide as a result of an image being publically shared. While the media, public, and, indeed, academic attention has focused on sexting in relation to children and young people, such behaviors are also experienced by adults who are similarly victims of digital abuse; yet many adult victims fail to receive protection from the criminal justice system when an image or video is published online without their consent. This is more commonly known as revenge pornography.
Joshua D. Freilich and Graeme R. Newman
Situational crime prevention (SCP) is a criminological perspective that calls for expanding the crime-reduction role well beyond the justice system. SCP sees criminal law in a more restrictive sense, as only part of the anticrime effort in governance. It calls for minutely analyzing specific crime types (or problems) to uncover the situational factors that facilitate their commission. Intervention techniques are then devised to manipulate the related situational factors. In theory, this approach reduces crime by making it impossible for it to be committed no matter what the offender’s motivation or intent, deterring the offender from committing the offense, or by reducing cues that increase a person’s motivation to commit a crime during specific types of events. SCP has given rise to a retinue of methods that have been found to reduce crime at local and sometimes national or international levels. SCP’s focus is thus different than that of other criminological theories because it seeks to reduce crime opportunities rather than punish or rehabilitate offenders.
SCP emerged more than 40 years ago, and its major concepts include rational choice, specificity, opportunity structure, and its 25 prevention techniques. Contrary to the common critique that SCP is atheoretical, it is actually based upon a well-developed interdisciplinary model drawing from criminology, economics, psychology, and sociology. Importantly, a growing number of empirical studies and scientific evaluations have demonstrated SCP’s effectiveness in reducing crime. Finally, the SCP approach inevitably leads to a shifting of responsibility for crime control away from police and on to those entities, public and private, most competent to reduce it.
Contemporary sociologists typically trace social disorganization models to Emile Durkheim’s classic work. There is continuity between Durkheim’s concern for organic solidarity in societies that are changing rapidly and the social disorganization approach of Shaw and McKay (1969). However, Shaw and McKay view social disorganization as a situationally rooted variable and not as an inevitable property of all urban neighborhoods. They argued that socioeconomic status (SES), racial and ethnic heterogeneity, and residential stability account for variations in social disorganization and hence informal social control, which in turn account for the distribution of community crime. Empirical testing of Shaw and McKay’s research in other cities during the mid-20th century, with few exceptions, focused on the relationship between SES and delinquency or crime as a crucial test of the theory. As a whole, that research supports social disorganization theory. A handful of studies in the 1940s through early 1960s documented a relationship between social disorganization and crime. After a period of stagnation, social disorganization increased through the 1980s and since then has accelerated rapidly. Much of that research includes direct measurement of social disorganization, informal control, and collective efficacy. Clearly, many scholars perceive that social disorganization plays a central role in the distribution of neighborhood crime.