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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.
Stories dealing with the detection of a crime, the hunt of the culprit, and his or her conviction were extremely popular in Nazi Germany. They were the product of an entertainment industry that remained in private hands far into the Second World War. Published as books, dime novels, films, radio plays, and dramas, crime stories were successfully commercialized and marketed through multiple media.
Products of a popular culture must by definition be liked and consumed by the audience. Although this might sound like a tautology, it describes a premise that even the Nazi regime could not totally suspend. The products of popular culture were primarily a means to address the entertainment needs of the audience rather than being an instrument of indoctrination purposefully designed by the Nazi elite. These products could be regarded as the result of a negotiation process for a Nazi mainstream that tried to mediate the intentions of the producers, the interests of the regime, and the expectations of the recipients.
What were the representations of law and order that the popular culture in NS Germany under these premises could offer? Telling about crime and justice in a popular and fictitious way demands a certain grade of reality. Such works result from genre conventions consumers of popular stories expect to be respected. The settings and ingredients in these novels and movies must be from this world. That does not mean realism in a literal sense but a rather realistic setting to make the fiction believable. What the story offers has to match the readers’ expectation at least in part. In a totalitarian society that wants to control potentially every aspect of life, the amount of realism required becomes problematic. As long as there is a gap between ideological theory and reality, any author who wants to incorporate aspects of the reader’s daily life to make the stories work cannot be sure if she or he has incorporated the necessary aspects.
Stories that tell about crimes committed in a NS German society do not fit in this conception because they could create doubt about public security. Telling stories about police forces and a legal system that always acts in total accordance with the rule of law could point out the grotesque discrepancy of these descriptions with the reality of the rogue state of Nazi Germany.
Neighborhoods are central to popular and news media portrayals of crime and theories of social control. By setting agendas and framing crime problems, news media in particular are an important part of the policy process. Media representations influence public perceptions and attitudes about crime as well as public responses to crime, which are known to vary across neighborhoods. Media representations of crime are thus likely to have important implications for the distribution of social control across neighborhoods.
Media and crime literature has focused primarily on the social construction of crime by examining victim, offender, and situational characteristics of crime. Concerns about over- or underrepresentation of racial groups or genders have driven attention to these characteristics. Research finds consistently, for example, that “normal crimes” and “deserving victims” are differentially present in media accounts of crimes. In addition to the normative consequences, there are methodological reasons for taking more seriously the study of neighborhoods for the broader media and crime literature.
Few studies have contributed to the understanding of neighborhood context in the study of media and crime. The findings of the research are mixed and are limited in a variety of ways, although there is evidence that disadvantaged communities and communities of color are underrepresented in news media accounts of crime. These findings confirm expectations from theories typically applied to individual characteristics. Research on the intersection of media, crime, and neighborhoods is of importance to the study of crime and social control, but can be expanded upon in a number of ways. Focusing research on qualitative differences across neighborhoods, expanding the scope of variables connected to common theoretical perspectives used in the literature, accounting for neighborhood dynamics, and drawing upon a wider array of variables connected to concepts of community power, interest group politics, and control of institutions are all recommendations for advancing this line of inquiry.
Neighborhood Watch or Home Watch is internationally regarded as the largest voluntary crime prevention activity in the world. It is typically citizen instigated and police facilitated, with local groups having substantial autonomy in the organization and leadership, some with access to support and materials from overarching national organizations, contingent upon adherence to basic common standards. The local group presents itself as a partnership of people coming together to try to make their community safer, and it is primarily seen as a scheme coordinated between local citizens and their police. The relative autonomy of local groups is reflected in a variety of working collaborations with local or municipal authorities, voluntary agencies, and private business. Neighborhood Watch aims to empower people to protect themselves and their properties and to reduce the fear of crime by means of improved home security, greater vigilance, increased guardianship, and reporting of incidents to the police, and by fostering a community spirit. A further aim of the organization is to improve police and community liaison by developing effective two-way communication processes by which Neighborhood Watch leaders can disseminate up-to-date information among the members. Examples of Neighborhood Watches are now to be found in many parts of the world, and while initially schemes were launched exclusively by the police, as time and the organization have progressed, active citizens are now often initiating the establishment and organization of their own schemes. The closer linkage between police and the Neighborhood Watch organizations is reflected in the fact that the United Kingdom’s Neighborhood Watch national headquarters is located within an operational police station.
Jason Gravel and George E. Tita
Though often not mentioned by name, the importance of social networks in explaining criminal behavior, delinquency, and patterns has long been recognized in the study of crime. Theories that explain criminal behavior at the individual level being learned through the impacts of peer influences presume that the transmission of ideas and influences flow among social ties (networks) that link individuals. Cultural theories of crime work in the same way. At the community level, delinquency and criminal behavior are born among members of a community or group that adhere to a particular cultural set of norms or beliefs. The concentration of crime in particular geographic areas results when there are insufficient ties among local residents to affect informal social control in the area. Impacted neighborhoods are often described as socially isolated, lacking social ties to institutions of power that provide the investment and services needed in a healthy community. The history of the formation and activities of street gangs is a clear example of how understanding the ties among individuals, and between groups of these individuals, matter in our understanding these phenomena. Comprehending social ties among gangs and gang members and employment of social network analysis (SNA) have become mainstays of local law enforcement efforts to address the issue of gang violence.
Much of the early criminological work that implicated social networks but did not explicitly acknowledge a network by name, or did not employ SNA on formal network data, did so because collecting such data is difficult at best and sometimes impossible. Though criminology has been a “late adopter” of SNA, the field is making great strides in this area. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) research program has provided a rich set of network data to explore issues of peer influence. Researchers are using carefully collected social network data at the individual and organizational level to better understand the ability of communities to self-regulate delinquency and crime in an area. Arrest data and field identification stops are being used to generate large networks in an effort to understand how one’s position in a larger social structure might be related to an actor’s involvement in future offending or victimization.
As the field of criminology continues to adopt a network perspective in the study of crime, it is important to understand the development of social networks within the field. Critically examining the strengths and weaknesses of network data, especially in terms of the process by which data are generated, can lead to better applications of network analysis in the future.
Joachim Savelsberg and Wahutu Siguru
Today, genocides and other episodes of mass violence are, under specific circumstances, subject to extensive media reporting. A case in point is the mass violence in Darfur, unfolding during the first decades of the 21st century and categorized as genocide by many, including the International Criminal Court. Media reporting about Darfur shows noteworthy patterns. They are revealed by a study supported by the National Science Foundation, involving content analysis of 3,387 reports and opinion pieces published in prominent newspapers of eight countries in the Global North, accompanied by expert interviews, and a doctoral dissertation on the journalistic field in Africa and its reporting on Darfur. First, today’s media reporting replaces denial with acknowledgment. Second, it frames the violence most often as criminal, and frequently as genocidal, even though humanitarian emergency and armed conflict frames also fare prominently. Third, throughout the history of reporting, Africa correspondents, central actors in the journalistic field, adapt to opportunities and external pressures from surrounding social fields. Economic forces (media markets) and politics affect the frequency of reporting. The criminal justice-oriented human rights field, the humanitarian field, and the diplomatic field influence the frames through which the violence is interpreted. Fourth, the criminal justice-oriented human rights field is especially effective in coloring reports, despite substantial barriers between criminal courts and the journalistic field. Fifth, reporting in all countries is affected by interventions by international institutions, including the UN Security Council, the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC’s decision to charge Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, for example, intensified reporting in all countries. Sixth, the receptivity to the criminal justice frame varies by country. Seventh, in addition to cross-country similarities and differences within the Global North, a comparison of journalistic fields in the Global North with those in Africa shows distinct patterns, but also astonishing similarities between Global North and African reporting on Darfur.
Annette Hill and Susan Turnbull
Nordic noir is an emerging crime genre that draws on crime fiction, feature film, and television drama. The term Nordic noir is associated with a region (Scandinavia), with a mood (gloomy and bleak), with a look (dark and grim), and with strong characters and a compelling narrative. Such is the popularity of Nordic noir as a brand for crime that it can also, and somewhat confusingly, be associated with disparate, bleak dramas set in particular locations outside the Scandinavian region (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland), such as Wales, Italy, France, Mexico, and the United States. As such, Nordic noir is a global brand that attracts transnational audiences, and at the same time, it is a genre that offers a specific style of storytelling that has the look and feel of a regional, moody, and compelling crime narrative.
The approach to Nordic noir taken in this article analyzes the genre as multidimensional, involving production and institutional contexts, creative practices, and the practices of audiences and fans. The research uses empirical and theoretical analysis drawing on genre analysis, as well as production and audience studies, including qualitative interviews and participant observations with executive and creative producers, viewers, and fans. Nordic noir is not a fixed genre; rather, it is in a constant process of iteration as it mutates, hybridizes and migrates from one location to another, where it may be received and understood in different ways. The concept of “genre work” is useful in helping to capture and critically analyze Nordic noir from multiple perspectives, taking into account the complex ways in which this genre is a cocreation between industries and audiences. This is particularly evident in the case of the Danish-Swedish coproduction Broen/Bron/The Bridge (2011), which provides an illuminating case study of these processes at work. It is this constantly ongoing notion of genre work that illuminates the fluidity of Nordic noir, where its meaning and symbolic power is cocreated by institutions, producers, and audiences.
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.
The development of the Internet and related communication technologies has had a transformative effect upon social, political, economic, and cultural life. It has also facilitated the emergence of a wide range of crimes that take shape in the spaces of virtual communication. These offenses include technology-oriented crimes such as hacking and the distribution of malicious software; property-oriented crimes such as media piracy, theft, and fraud; and interpersonal offenses such as stalking, harassment, and sexual abuse. In many instances, these crimes serve to entrench and exacerbate existing patterns of victimization, vulnerability, and inequality, along lines of difference related to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, and income. The anonymized and globally distributed nature of the Internet creates huge challenges for crime prevention, detection, and prosecution of online offenses.
Organized sexual abuse refers to the coordinated sexual abuse of multiple children by multiple perpetrators. It has proved to be a particularly controversial form of sexual abuse. Initial reports of organized abuse in the 1980s were met with shock and disbelief, followed by a significant backlash as journalists and academics claimed that organized abuse allegations were the product of “moral panic” and “false memories.” In the mass media, investigations into organized abuse were presented throughout the 1990s as evidence that public anxiety about child sexual abuse had generated a “witch-hunt” in which even the most outrageous allegation of abuse was considered credible. While this argument was advanced by journalists and academics, it developed first in the mass media, where the culture of news production promoted a particularly skeptical view of sexual abuse allegations. Claims of a sexual abuse witch-hunt were embedded within a broader backlash against feminism and child protection that called into question the prevalence and severity of sexual violence. Journalists and editors took a particularly activist role in the social construction of organized abuse as synonymous with false and exaggerated allegations.
A number of recent developments have fragmented an apparent journalistic consensus over the incredibility of organized abuse claims. The mass media has played a key role in publicizing the problem of clergy abuse, focusing in particular on institutionalized cultures of silence and disbelief. Sexual abuse by celebrities and authority figures has also received global media coverage and emphasized the failure of authorities to act on reports or suspicion of sexual abuse. Such media stories directly contest prior claims by journalists that society and major institutions are overly reactive to sexual abuse disclosures. Instead, the contemporary mass media includes expanded opportunities for recognition and reporting on the diversity of sexual abuse including organized abuse. The emergence of social media has also generated new possibilities for reporting, information dissemination, and debate on organized abuse. Accordingly, public discussion of organized abuse has taken on polyvocal and increasingly agonistic qualities, as older tropes about “false memories” and “moral panics” are contradicted by factual reporting on organized abuse investigations and convictions. The capacity of victims, survivors, and others impacted by organized abuse to speak for themselves on social media, rather than through the mediation of a journalist, is a key development that introduces a new dynamic of accountability and transparency that had previously been absent in media coverage of this challenging issue.