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Popular culture has always displayed a fascination with topics of criminological significance. Crime, deviance, and the agencies of their control have long been a staple concern of multiple entertainment industries, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in television. From classic serialized “whodunits,” to the countless police procedurals, right up to CSI and other investigative shows, the notions of good and bad, law and order, justice and retribution (to name but a few) have never been far away from television screens across the globe. However, in recent years, the quality—along with the availability—of television shows has undergone something of a transformation. From the somewhat kitsch roots of the genre, TV crime dramas such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire are now widely recognized as existing at the very high end of cultural significance. Put simply, these shows and others like them have moved on—they currently demonstrate a standard of production and artistic merit that their forerunners simply could not.
There are good reasons why the television medium transformation occurred how and when it did, yet they are not of great concern here. What does matter is the fact that, as the standard of TV crime dramas has improved, so too has the level of attention they have received from criminologists, sociologists, and other cultural theorists interested in crime and deviance. The evolution of criminology’s relationship with media representations has—just like the representations themselves—moved at an increased pace of late. The case has been made by some scholars that the days in which representations could be understood as existing somehow separately from peoples’ social worlds are now long gone; that the line between representation and reality is now irrecoverably blurred. As such, and crucially here, this has come to mean that representations can—and indeed should—be treated as sites of knowledge and meaning in and of themselves. That is, some crime dramas are now better understood as examples of social science fiction than they are as mere television shows.
The results of these concomitant developments in both the standard of broadcast television and the attention it receives from criminologists have been significant for the broader field of cultural criminology. This is primarily the case because of the ways in which the study of crime dramas can free criminology from some of its intellectual constraints. That is, the study of crime dramas as social science fiction can take intellectual inquiries in directions that—for any one of a multitude of reasons—other forms of criminological investigation do not (or cannot) go. This is not to say that representations constitute a strictly alternative understanding of crime per se (and it is certainly not to say that they constitute a superior one), but rather that they should be understood as offering complementary knowledge of criminological subjects; and moreover, and importantly here, they have the realistic capacity to reshape and redirect on-going criminological debates in new and innovative ways.
Frankie Y. Bailey
The commonly accepted definition of crime fiction is a work in which crime is central to the plot. The roots of crime fiction are traceable to the earliest human narratives, including the Greek and Roman myths and the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. Sensational accounts of real-life crimes and criminals in gallows confessions, broadsides, and pamphlets also contributed to the development of crime fiction. Historically, crime fiction has evolved parallel to political and criminal justice systems.
Many authors have explored the nature of crime and punishment in literary works. For example, Susan Glaspell, playwright, novelist, and actress, was inspired by a real-life murder trial she covered as a journalist. In her 1916 play, “Trifles” and in a 1917 short story, “A Jury of Her Peers,” Glaspell offered a feminist critique of gender relations in a domestic setting.
However, as a genre, crime fiction has “literary formulas” that distinguish these works from other genres such as romance and adventure. Within the genre, subgenres such as traditional/classic, PI, and police procedural novels have plots, characters, and settings that are recognizable to readers. As a genre, crime fiction has both provided source material for theater, radio, films, television and, now, social media, and, been influenced by these media.
One of the enduring questions about crime fiction is why readers enjoy sitting down with a book that is often about murder, sometimes graphically depicted. Critic and writer Edmund Wilson described detective fiction as an addiction to which readers succumb. However, he saw reading mysteries as a minor vice that “ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking.” He heard claims by readers about “well-written mysteries” as “like the reasons that the alcoholic can always produce for a drink”.
When academics attempt to understand and interpret the texts of crime fiction, they draw on a variety of theoretical perspectives (see discussion under Research). In recent decades, mystery reviewers, writers, and readers have used social media, particularly websites and blogs, to share their own perspectives. One question of interest is the influence such non-academic discussion of crime fiction has on the perceptions of readers and on writers engaged in the process of creation.
Currently, both publishers and authors are dealing with the challenges and opportunities of a changing marketplace. Self-publishing (now known as “independent publishing”) has allowed writers to by-pass traditional publishing. At the same time, the lack of diversity in the publishing industry has drawn increasing scrutiny.
Cinema, together with television, has proved to be perhaps the most extensive, popular, and powerful medium in the representation of crime. From a criminological point of view, the crime films are all those movies whose central theme is crime and its consequences. The crime films should be defined on the basis of their relationship with society. On one hand, crime films say something important about the social context that they represent and from which they have been fashioned. On the other hand, they themselves have an effect on the social context, since their representation of crime, law, justice, and punishment itself becomes culture, acquires meaning, and provides an interpretation of reality.
The approach of criminology to crime films has a series of important theoretical and methodological consequences. It leads to a fundamental enrichment of academic knowledge, for example, regarding the themes to be tackled, the disciplines and research methods to be used, and even the forms of teaching. Indeed, the analysis of crime films can help to better investigate many aspects of the perception and understanding of crime, law, and justice in society.
The criminological study of crime requires a multifaceted approach, looking at the changing representation of crime and criminals in relation to the wider political, economic, and cultural transformations, and to the commercial and technological development of the cinematographic industry. The historical and thematic reconstruction of the productive and stylistic cycles of crime films comprehends the gangster, noir, detective, courtroom, and prison film genres. Moreover, this perspective deals with the main reasons for the success of crime films, the elements that influence their production, and finally the thorny topic of the effects of crime films.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Please check back later for the full article.
Crime abounds in 19th-century British fiction, although the kinds of crimes depicted, as well as the narrative significance, thematic weight, and cultural meanings assigned to them, varied widely over time and across fictional genres. As the 19th century’s dominant literary form, the novel was necessarily an admixture of art and commerce; for the burgeoning class of professional novelists, and particularly those whose livelihood required them to produce popular works in quick succession, criminality was an invaluable element of story that reliably performed several key narrative functions. Criminal characters and actions engaged readers’ imaginations and emotions, crimes undetected or unpunished created suspense, and the restoration of order brought stories to satisfying conclusions. Utility alone, however, cannot fully account for crime’s ubiquity. Fictional representations of criminality reflected, and sometimes inspired, changes to Britain’s social, political, and legal landscape, as authors used crime thematically to examine or exploit popular anxieties regarding the apparent instabilities of a rapidly changing society, to comment on current controversies, or to prescribe or dispute codes of conduct and morality.
Crimes and criminal behavior form an essential component of three key precursors to detective and mystery fiction, both of which emerged as recognizable genres in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: conspiracies and crimes, ranging from forgery and fraud to kidnapping and murder, characterize late 18th- and early 19th-century Gothic fiction; the Newgate novels of the 1830s and 1840s depict urban criminal underworlds of thieves, fences, and prostitutes; and sensation novels of the 1860s and 1870s rework such Gothic crimes as bigamy and blackmail in contemporary British settings. Although popular with readers, Gothic, Newgate, and sensation novels were frequently decried as immoral or corrupting. Yet fictional genres typically deemed less scandalous are also rife with criminal activity. Walter Scott’s immensely popular and influential historical novels, published between 1814 and 1832, feature several memorable villains and spectacular crimes. Similarly, the Industrial or Condition-of-England novels of the 1840s, which sought to anatomize the plight of England’s factory workers for middle-class readers, are frequently plotted around conspiracies involving murder, arson, or riots.
In the mid-Victorian period, Charles Dickens reworked elements of these narrative traditions to create a catalogue of crimes and criminals unrivaled in scope and inventiveness. Contemporaries, including Eliot, Thackeray, and Trollope, exploited the narrative possibilities of criminality in a somewhat more restrained fashion; although violent crime is rarely a central element, their works are nevertheless populated by cheats, swindlers, forgers, and thieves. Conversely, lurid crimes featured prominently in much of the period’s cheap popular fiction. Later in the century, new forms of criminality appeared in the fiction of the British Empire, in New Woman novels, and in the literature of aestheticism and decadence. Across these vastly different works, crime captivated readers while encoding cultural values and beliefs regarding not only law and justice, but also property and authority, social class and social change, individual and collective responsibility, faith, forgiveness, and life and death itself.
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.
Crime news is an abundant staple in modern media coverage. Nowhere is this more evident than in the newspaper medium, which often faces fewer constraints with respect to space and time compared to other formats (e.g., television), thereby enabling more stories to be generated. As most people will rely on the news format for their information about crime, it is imperative that such stories be presented factually and within the scope of their magnitude. Yet as research has indicated, this often is not the journalistic practice as it relates to crime news. Instead, there is often a disproportionate amount of crime presented in the news, with specific attention dedicated to the most serious of crimes, such as homicide, even though these occur least often. Still, the focus of such reporting is often centered upon the most extreme and sensational cases, further distorting the reality of crime. A number of factors influence these selection decisions, including (but certainly not limited to) victim characteristics and agenda-setting practices by news organizations. The way in which these stories are constructed and framed also contributes to the creation of social problems as they are perceived by members of society. Consequently, there are broader impacts of the coverage of crime news in newspapers, particularly as it relates to audience effects.
The discussion of crime news on television must begin with a basic cultural understanding that journalism is facing a time of dramatic change. Mitchell Stephens argued in his 2014 book Beyond News: The Future of Journalism that the news process remains challenging to define: “Journalism is the activity of collecting, presenting, interpreting, or commenting upon the news for some portion of the public” (p. xiii). In the case of crime news, a variety of historical developments changed the nature of newsgathering and presentation. Sociological and cultural theories help us understand the process, the content, and the effects. An examination of the various approaches to the study of crime news will extend cultural understanding to entertainment media and long-term societal implications of new technologies, such as social media.
Paul Cozens and Terence Love
This chapter provides an overview of the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). The paper focuses on the “dark side” of CPTED, a relatively underreported element to this theory, which relate to the negative outcomes that can result if CPTED is not implemented thoughtfully and equitably as a process. This chapter highlights why it is important to understand the “dark side” and provides examples of “dark-side” CPTED outcomes, such as the excessive use of target hardening, governance issues, and the use of CPTED as “crime prevention through exclusionary design.” The chapter highlights CPTED as a process, which can be enhanced to consider “dark-side” issues, using program logic models.
Ella Cockbain and Gloria Laycock
Crime science (or more accurately crime and security science) has three core tenets:
• the application of scientific methods
• the study of crime and security problems
• the aim of reducing harm.
Beyond the unifying principles of scientific research (including a clear problem definition, transparency, rigor, and reliability), tools and techniques vary between studies. Rather than following a prescriptive approach, researchers are guided in their selection of data and methods by their research question and context. In this respect, crime scientists take an inclusive view of “evidence.”
“Crime and security” is a broad construct, covering problems associated with diverse illicit goods and acts, offenders, victims/targets, places, technologies, and formal and informal agents of crime control.
Its pragmatic approach distinguishes crime science from “pure research” (i.e., the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake). Contributions to harm reduction might be immediate (e.g., evaluating a novel intervention) or longer term (e.g., building theoretical or empirical knowledge about a particular issue).
Crime science is broad: researchers may contribute to it without self-identifying as crime scientists. Indeed, its early proponents hesitated to draw its parameters, suggesting they should be defined operationally. Under a shared focus on crime, crime science research transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. The prevalence of multi- and interdisciplinary work reflects the inherent complexity of crime and its control. The social, physical, biological, and computer sciences—and their associated technologies—all have contributions to make.
Although the term crime science was first formalized in 2001, its roots go back much further. Within criminology, it particularly overlaps with environmental and experimental criminology. As well as sharing methods with these two areas, crime science’s theoretical underpinning derives from opportunity theories of crime (e.g., routine activity theory, the rational choice perspective, crime pattern theory). Crime is conceptualized accordingly as primarily non-random and as influenced by both individual criminal propensity and environmental factors that facilitate, promote, or provoke, criminal events.
Crime science techniques have been applied to a variety of issues: primarily volume crimes (e.g., burglary), but also more serious and complex crimes (e.g., terrorism and human trafficking). There is now substantial evidence of the effectiveness of targeted interventions in tackling crimes by manipulating their opportunity structures. Claims that such approaches are unethical and merely cause displacement have been discredited. Crime science now faces other, more challenging criticisms. For example, its theoretical underpinnings are arguably too narrow and the boundaries of the field lack clear distinction. Other challenges include expanding interventions into the online world and resolving tensions around evaluation evidence.
Crime science can clearly help explain and address crime problems. Its focus on outcomes rather than outputs speaks to the growing demand that research be impactful. Evidence generated through robust studies has value for policy and designing primary, secondary and tertiary interventions. In times of austerity and increased focus on multi-agency collaboration, there is a clear audience for crime-related research that can inform targeted responses and speaks to a broader agendum than law enforcement alone.
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.