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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.
Since the inception of television, portrayal of crime and justice has been a central feature on television. In particular, the police are featured as prominent characters in many fictional crime programs. Some television cops, such as Joe Friday, Columbo, and Kojak transcend the genre and become enshrined within popular culture. Sometimes referred to as a police procedural, the police drama is a staple of both current and past television programming. In fact, almost 300 police dramas have aired on American network, cable, and syndicated television, with several new shows premiering each year. The vast majority of these shows are short-lived and are largely forgotten. However, some police dramas capture large viewing audiences and/or achieve critical acclaim. Sweeping changes within society have resulted in shifting portrayals of the police on television. Early portrayals focused on a law and order approach, in which the police were moral agents who represented a conservative, pro-establishment point of view. These types of shows represent the so-called “authentic” police drama. The authentic police drama features storylines and characters that engage in somewhat realistic investigative practices and depict relatively common criminal events. The classic example of an authentic police drama is Dragnet, while more recent versions would include shows such as the very popular Law and Order franchise. The 1970s represented the golden age of the police drama, with numerous shows that can be described as gimmicky, with police appearing as super-cops who could singlehandedly fight corruption and achieve justice. Moreover, demographic shifts in the field of policing led to more diversity in media depictions of police, with shows that featured female and African-American characters. In the 1980s, the portrayal of police became even more complex with the appearance of Hill Street Blues, a genre altering show that introduced serialized storylines and characters that were depicted with distinctly human characteristics, with real emotions and flaws. Moreover, the standard law and order approach was challenged, as a more liberal explanation of crime emerged with social inequality as a cause of criminal behavior. Contemporary police dramas, especially shows that appear on network television, tend to focus on a law and order approach. The emergence of cable networks has allowed the police drama to push the limits of television by depicting the police in a more realistic fashion.
Alyce McGovern and Nickie D. Phillips
The relationship between the police and the media is complex, multidimensional, and contingent. Since the development of modern-day policing, the police and the media have interacted with one another in some way, shape, or form. The relationship has often been described as symbiotic, and can be characterized as ebbing and flowing in terms of the power dynamics that exist. For the police, the media present a powerful opportunity to communicate with the public about crime threats and events, as well as police successes. For the media, crime events make up a significant portion of media content, and access to police sources assists journalists in constructing such content. But the police–media relationship is not always cosy, and at times, tensions and conflicts arise. The increasing professionalization of police media communications activities has further challenged the nature and scope of the police–media relationship. Not only has the relationship become more formalized, driven by police policies and practices that are concerned with managing the media, but it has also been challenged by the very nature of the media. Changes to the media landscape have presented police organizations with a unique opportunity to become media organizations in their own right. The proliferation of police reality television programming, together with the rise of social media, has served to broaden the ways in which the police engage with the media in the pursuit of trust, confidence, and legitimacy; however, this has also opened the police up to increasing scrutiny as citizen journalism and other forms of counterveillance challenge the preferred police image.
Clayton Peoples and James E. Sutton
The state is responsible for maintaining law and order in society and protecting the people. Sometimes it fails to fulfill these responsibilities; in other cases, it actively harms people. There have been many instances of political corruption and state crime throughout history, with impacts that range from economic damage to physical injury to death—sometimes on a massive scale (e.g., economic recession, pollution/poisoning, genocide). The challenge for criminologists, however, is that defining political corruption and state crime can be thorny, as can identifying their perpetrators—who can often be collectives of individuals such as organizations and governments—and their victims. In turn, pinpointing appropriate avenues of controlling these crimes can be difficult. These challenges are exacerbated by power issues and the associated reality that the state is in a position to write or change laws and, in essence, regulate itself. One possible solution is to define political corruption and state crime—as well as their perpetrators and victims—as broadly as possible to include a variety of scenarios that may or may not exhibit violations of criminal law. Likewise, a resolution to the issue of social control would be to move beyond strictly institutional mechanisms of control. Criminological research should further elucidate these issues; it should also, however, move beyond conceptual dilemmas toward (a) better understanding the processes underlying political corruption/state crime and (b) illustrating the broader ramifications of these crimes.
Political violence includes an array of conducts and events that defy unilateral examination. It may be authorized or unauthorized violence, and while the latter is almost always associated with crime, the former is normally deemed an expression of the legitimate monopoly in the use of force characterizing modern societies. There are institutional and anti-institutional forms of political violence, namely violence of the authority and violent expressions of defiance against authority. Both have been the object of analysis by sociologists and criminologists, with some contending that theories of “common” violence should be applied to the analysis of political violence. It is assumed, for example, that both types of violence possess a goal-directed character: achieving results, extracting something of value from others, or exercising justice by punishing wrongdoers. Other analysts, however, link political violence with social conflict derived from collective grievance around inequality and injustice, thus locating this type of violence within the tradition of social movement analysis and the dynamics of collective action. Conflict theory provides a prime framework for this type of analysis, which focuses on contentious issues, organizational matters, and the shaping of identities that lead aggrieved groups to turn to violence. Sociological and criminological theories also offer a rich analytical patrimony that helps focusing on political crime committed by states and their representatives occupying powerful social positions. Many contributions, in this respect, cover atrocities perpetrated by institutional actors and the different forms of conscious, unconscious, personal, cultural, or official denial accompanying such atrocities. The term political crime, therefore, ends up relating to state crime, political and administrative corruption, and a variety of crimes of the elite normally included under the umbrella definition “the crimes of the powerful.” Conversely, when the focus moves onto political violence perpetrated by anti-institutional or non-state actors, the term “terrorism” is usually referred to, a term that is not likely to meet universal acceptance or unquestioned adoption due to the difficulties social scientists find in defining it. In sum, political violence and crime present scholars and practitioners with the same ambiguity that connotes definitions of social behavior and the processes of its criminalization. Such ambiguity becomes clear if, as proposed in the following pages, political violence and crime are examined through multidisciplinary lenses, particularly those offered by social theory, philosophy, and political science, along with criminology.
As we begin to think about the United States as a carceral state, this means that the scale of incarceration practices have grown so great within it that they have a determining effect on the shape of the the society as a whole. In addition to the budgets, routines, and technologies used is the culture of that carceral state, where relationships form between elements of its culture and its politics. In terms of its visual culture, that relationship forms a visuality, a culture and politics of vision that both reflects the state’s carceral qualities and, in turn, helps to structure and organize the society in a carceral manner. Images, architecture, light, presentation and camouflage, surveillance, and the play of sight between groups of people and the world are all materials through which the ideas of a society are worked out, its politics played out, its technology implemented, its rationality or common sense and identities forming. They also shape the politics of freedom and control, where what might be a free, privileged expression to one person could be a dangerous exposure to another, where invisibility or inscrutability may be a resource. In this article, these questions are asked in relation to the history of prison architecture, from premodern times to the present, while considering the multiple discourses that overlap throughout that history: war, enslavement, civil punishment, and freedom struggle, but also a discourse of agency, where subordinated peoples can or cannot resist, or remain hostile to or in difference from the control placed upon them.
Popular criminology is a theoretical and conceptual approach within the field of criminology that is used to interrogate popular understandings of crime and criminal justice. In the last decade, popular criminology has most often been associated with analyses of fictional crime film, while in previous decades, popular criminology referred most often to “true crime” literature or, more generally, to popular ideas about crime and justice. While the term has appeared sporadically in the criminological literature for several decades, popular criminology is most closely associated with the work of American criminologist Nicole Rafter. Popular criminology refers in a broad sense to the ideas that ordinary people have about the causes, consequences, and remedies for crime, and the relationship of these ideas to academic discourses about crime. Criminologists who utilize this approach examine popular culture as a source of commonsense ideas and perceptions about crime and criminal justice. Films, television, the Internet, and literature about crime and criminal justice are common sources of popular criminology interrogated by criminologists working in this field. Popular criminology is an analytic tool that can be used to explore the emotional, psychological, and philosophical features of crime and criminal justice that find expression in popular culture. The popular cultural depiction of crime is taken seriously by criminologists working in this tradition and such depictions are placed alongside mainstream criminological theory in an effort to broaden the understanding of the impact of crime and criminal justice on the lives of everyday people. Popular criminology has become solidified as an approach within the broader cultural criminology movement which seeks to examine the interconnections between crime, culture and media.
The changing cultural role, visibility, and meaning of pornography, particularly its increased accessibility and the sociocultural reverberations that this is seen to cause, have been lively topics of public debate in most Western countries throughout the new millennium. Concerns are routinely yet passionately voiced, especially over the ubiquity of sexual representations flirting with the codes of pornography in different fields of popular media, as well as children’s exposure to hardcore materials that are seen to grow increasingly extreme and violent. At the same time, the production, distribution, and consumption have undergone notable transformations with the ubiquity of digital cameras and online platforms. Not only is pornography accessible on an unprecedented scale, but also it is available in more diverse shapes and forms than ever. All this has given rise to diverse journalistic and academic diagnoses on the pornification and sexualization of culture, which, despite their notable differences, aim to conceptualize transformations in the visibility of sexually explicit media content and its broader sociocultural resonances.
The variables impacting how one experiences imprisonment are far ranging. George Jackson (1994), a pivotal character in American penal history, wrote that, “[b]lackmen born in the [United States] and fortunate enough to live past the age of eighteen are conditioned to accept the inevitability of prison” (p. 4). Ruth Wyner (2002), incarcerated 40 years after Jackson under vastly different circumstances, describes a very different sort of bleakness associated with her incarceration:
One evening, just before I settled down to try to sleep, I allowed myself to remember my daughter in a way that I usually suppressed: remembering and feeling all the love that I had for her, every bit. A huge chasm grew inside me, dark and raw, and my throat constricted as I felt enveloped by the sadness. This was what was inside of me when I allowed myself to touch it.
Such personal experiences of incarceration offer a window into how prisons function, or often more correctly, fail to function, from the point of view of the prisoner. These perspectives are vitally important to a fulsome understanding of incarceration because prisoners and their experiences paint a picture of confinement that is patently different from those described by penal officials and governments.
There are numerous issues that shape the experiences of confinement, both historically and in the present day, a list longer than can be adequately addressed in this entry. Still, there are key concerns that recur in the literature and in ongoing debates about incarceration. Included here are human rights abuses, overcrowding, the overuse of solitary confinement, the situation of women prisoners, the incarceration of indigenous peoples, and health, especially mental health concerns.
Dawn K. Cecil
Popular culture has the ability to entertain and, on some level, educate. People’s perceptions and understanding of an issue can be influenced by the images and messages contained within common representations. According to social constructionism, the further a subject is removed from our day-to-day lives, the more important second-hand knowledge becomes in shaping perceptions. Prisons are a prime example. These institutions are not a part of most people’s lives; therefore, they must rely on information gathered from other sources to come to an understanding of these complex social institutions. Many turn to popular prison imagery to be entertained and in doing so they may be taking away lessons about imprisonment. By relying on the mediated experiences provided by representations of prison in popular culture, they are likely to have an incomplete and, perhaps, inaccurate perception of institutional life.
Early images of prison were limited, however, today there is an abundance. The first popular prison imagery came in the form of Hollywood films, which gave audience members a glimpse of the prison routine, while following the journey of a new inmate. While these movies are the most iconic images of prison, in today’s media landscape representations of prison life can be found in a variety of places. Most often they are depicted in entertainment and infotainment-type programming on television, but can also be seen in documentary films and represented in various other aspects of popular culture, including music and cartoons. There is a growing body of literature that discusses these depictions. This research examines the accuracy of the portrayals and identifies underlying messages about crime and punishment, which provides vital information on how people come to understand prison in a media culture. Stereotypes and caricatures abound; however, one can also find important messages about prisoners, prison life, and ultimately the role of prison in society. Overwhelmingly people are subjected to images of violent men and women locked up, where their violent behavior continues, which ultimately sends a message that prison is a social necessity. Examining these popular representations of prison allows us to begin to understand the potential impact this imagery has on people’s perceptions of these institutions in modern society.