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Debate surrounding the impact of media representations on violence and crime has raged for decades and shows no sign of abating. Over the years, the targets of concern have shifted from film to comic books to television to video games, but the central questions remain the same. What is the relationship between popular media and audience emotions, attitudes, and behaviors? While media effects research covers a vast range of topics—from the study of its persuasive effects in advertising to its positive impact on emotions and behaviors—of particular interest to criminologists is the relationship between violence in popular media and real-life aggression and violence. Does media violence cause aggression and/or violence?
The study of media effects is informed by a variety of theoretical perspectives and spans many disciplines including communications and media studies, psychology, medicine, sociology, and criminology. Decades of research have amassed on the topic, yet there is no clear agreement about the impact of media or about which methodologies are most appropriate. Instead, there continues to be disagreement about whether media portrayals of violence are a serious problem and, if so, how society should respond.
Conflicting interpretations of research findings inform and shape public debate around media effects. Although there seems to be a consensus among scholars that exposure to media violence impacts aggression, there is less agreement around its potential impact on violence and criminal behavior. While a few criminologists focus on the phenomenon of copycat crimes, most rarely engage with whether media directly causes violence. Instead, they explore broader considerations of the relationship between media, popular culture, and society.
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.
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.
It is often stated that it is not possible to completely understand genocide: its horror and suffering defy complete representation. For those not immediately affected by the horror, representations of genocide through photography and film are often the primary form through which genocide is encountered. It is possible to discern two key questions underpinning scholarship that engages with representations of genocide in photography and film: First, to what extent can photos and film document and thereby provide evidence of genocide? One version of this question is linked to that of examining “truths” about genocide—whether genocide occurred and understanding its intricacies. Another leads to questions about the role of photography as evidence and its limits in providing “truths.” The second central question in the scholarship concerns the role that photos and film hold in bearing witness to genocide. Here, the scholarship tends to be framed not so much a question as an impetus to “never forget” or “never again.”
During the Khmer Rouge genocide, somewhere between 1.5 and 2.25 million people were killed. While most killings do not meet the legal elements of genocide, the event is nevertheless colloquially known as genocide. Among the most known photographs from the period are the photographs taken at the security center S-21. Today, they stand as representative of the victims of the Khmer Rouge and have appeared at genocide museums, research archives, institutions of art, and as illustrations for various legal claims. The debates that have accompanied these appearances are illustrative of the debates on images of genocide more generally, focusing on, for example, limits of representation, the appropriate place for such photographs. and claims of voyeurism. Numerous films have been made about the Khmer Rouge period, some of which have been major commercial successes, others have been independent documentaries. Films such as The Killing Fields and The Missing Picture can be seen as bearing witness to the genocide, whereas documentaries such as S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine pose intricate questions about responsibility. Finally, it is noteworthy to pay attention to the way film appears within criminal proceedings, as this sheds light on the different understandings of evidence when the task is to bear witness and assign responsibility.
How do we account for the place that the Nuremberg trials have come to occupy in American popular memory, culture, and discourse? For some observers, the Nuremberg trials, conducted at the end of World War II, represent an exemplary, and thus to be celebrated, first effort to establish international norms of conduct between nations in the wake of unimaginable atrocity. Rather than exercising arbitrary or indiscriminate retribution, the war’s victors turned to law for redress against Germany and in the process laid the foundation for a normative framework that might subsequently be employed to adjudicate global conflict. Little appreciated in such legal-centric accounts of the impact of the trials or explanations of their lasting importance is the role of visual texts in the proceedings and, more specifically, the prosecution’s use of concentration camp liberation footage to provide evidence of Nazi criminality. In the context of the trials, these texts established a certain regime of truth, fortified a particular moral position, and fixed as self-evident Nazi lawlessness. Significantly, they have since come to securely anchor what people believe animated the trials’ legal arguments and thus what the trials were about. To understand, therefore, the place that the Nuremberg trials have come to occupy in popular memory, culture, and discourse, one must consider how the prosecution incorporated and used visual texts and how these texts then helped shape not only popular renderings of the postwar proceedings but an enduring belief in the magically transformative nature of law to counter (Nazi) evil and reestablish humanity’s common bonds.
Carole Gibbs and Rachel Boratto
Wildlife crime is an area of study typically defined from a legalistic perspective as an act in contravention of laws protecting wildlife. These crimes occur both within and across national borders and may include trafficking in wildlife or wildlife products. Internationally, wildlife crime is regulated by a series of conventions, with CITES being the most important for the regulation of trade. While these conventions are international in scope, they must be administered by signatory nations through domestic laws. Domestic laws are enacted within local contexts and are as varied as the crimes themselves, regulating hunting, transportation, use, and sale of wildlife. Several international organizations (e.g., INTERPOL) facilitate collaboration between countries, but these organizations do not have law enforcement authority, so enforcement occurs primarily at the domestic, state, and regional level, following the domestically enacted law.
Scholars have taken a variety of approaches to define and understand various types of wildlife crime and criminals. Some have used a stage-based approach to develop typologies of wildlife crime based on the location of the crime or the criminal within the supply chain, while other criminal typologies are based on underlying motivations. In addition to typological approaches, more general theoretical frameworks (e.g., opportunity theory) have been used to explain these motivations and drivers of crime. More broadly, wildlife crime can be situated and understood within overarching theoretical perspectives, including Green Criminology and Conservation Criminology. Green criminologists define wildlife crime in terms of harm to animals, regardless of whether the act was against the law, and examine how power and inequality produce these harms. Conservation Criminologists, on the other hand, advocate taking an interdisciplinary approach to systematically define and understand environmental risks, including those related to wildlife.
The diversity of perspectives and approaches has produced a wildlife crime literature that is extremely varied, ranging from research on hunting and poaching to trafficking and enforcement. The continued pursuit of novel theoretical perspectives and methodological practices is necessitated by persistent criminal threats to wildlife, particularly to endangered species. Scholar must therefore continue to develop, test, and refine theory and methodological approaches in order to empirically guide wildlife conservation strategy.
It is without doubt that the 21st century is marked by ever-present 24-hour media. Mobile phones, iPads, and Wi-Fi networks mean that many people in many different parts of the world are “connected” to each other and to global events as they happen in ways not really imagined less than a century ago. Of course the nature of this connectivity is variable. It dominates more in some parts of the world than others, in urban areas more than rural, among wealthier communities more than poorer ones, and perhaps among younger people more than older people. Such variations notwithstanding, it is the case that the minute-by-minute live reporting of events, as they happen, exposes the nature of those events to people not necessarily close to them or impacted by them, albeit vicariously. Such exposure means that people are potentially witnesses to events and images they would not otherwise have experience of. It is within this context this article considers the concepts of victim, witness, and the linkages between them.
The concept of the witness has a varied history, from its presence in the law, to its connections with religious affiliation, to its legacy in experiences of atrocity. These different historical legacies are suggestive of different claims to victimhood. Simultaneously, these different claims to the status of victim (who constitutes a victim and under what conditions) have become conflated. In mapping the trajectories of each of these concepts, it is possible to discern considerable fuzziness in the relationship between victim and witness, suggestive of a continuum from the victim as witness to the witness as victim. Moreover, when these two concepts are put in such a relationship with each other, it is possible to observe how transgressive capacity takes its toll on people, how to make sense of the issues that concern them, and how best to respond to those concerns. This article considers the questions posed by the relationship between being a victim and being a witness, paying particular attention to who is and who is not considered to have a legitimate claim to victim status, and the role of ever-present media coverage in contributing to such claims and/or even creating them.
Steven Tombs and David Whyte
From the best estimates we have, workers die as a result of health and safety crimes at perhaps 70 times the rate of people who are murdered and perhaps 15 times the rate of people killed in car accidents. Yet health and safety crimes are not the typical subject matter for criminology simply because they are not interpersonal crimes. Yes, individuals are involved, but health and safety crime always requires us to look beyond individual actors playing out a criminal event in a self-contained crime “scene.” This chapter provides a detailed overview of how safety crimes might be regarded as crimes of violence, and explores in detail the way scholars have characterized the regulation of those crimes. It closes by providing a theoretical and empirical description of the “political economy” approach to understanding safety crimes with reference to the case of a young English worker, Simon Jones, who was killed at the hands of his employer.
The concept of a “wound culture” was introduced, in the later 1990s, to provide an alternative description of contemporary society, and, more exactly, to set out an alternative account of the modern and contemporary forms of crime and violence, and the forms of media and institutions, proper to this type of world. In short, the concept redescribed new species and scenes of death and life in a public culture in which addictive and spectacular bodily violence has become public spectacle. Moreover, the paradoxes of self-amplified violence make visible wound culture’s autotropic, or self-turned, character. They raise the question of how we live in, and with, autotropic violence, and how such a world renders its own reality comprehensible to itself. Self-torn forms of life and death become perspicuous, and appear on countless stages throughout our self-reporting world. These are some of the forms though which wounds communicate, and some of the modes in which wound culture itself becomes a medium.