Chris Cunneen and Sophie Russell
The pervasiveness and prominence of mass media are key features of contemporary societies. Nowhere is this more relevant than when we look at the ubiquity of social media. In recent years, anticrime Facebook pages have appeared across all states and territories in Australia, and as our social spaces increasingly shift from the physical to the virtual realm, different forms of online cybervigilantism have emerged. This article explores the ways in which community justice and vigilantism in Australia are exercised through social media in the wider context of the racialized criminalization of Indigenous young people. We also discuss how new forms of media are used to produce and reproduce a racialized narrative of crime, which at the same time has the effect of legitimating violence against young Indigenous Australians. The text draws on a number of anticrime Facebook pages and finds that the very presence of these sites legitimates the beliefs of its members, while providing details about potential targets, most of whom are young people. We contend that the views expressed on these sites mirror, in more prosaic language, sentiments that are expressed in sections of the old media and among a number of ultraright politicians and groups. Further, these sites do little to question the broader ideological and political frameworks that present crime and disorder as being divorced from structural and historical conditions. There is, then, an assumed social consensus around what is being presented on these Facebook sites: namely, that overt racism and calls to vigilante violence are socially and politically acceptable. While there appears to be a direct link between the Facebook groups and incidents of violence in some cases, on a broader level, it is the constant reinforcement of an environment of racist violence that is most troubling.
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.
Miscarriages of justice, also called wrongful convictions and errors of justice (Forst, 2004), have long been a subject of popular interest. Traditional ballads and stories recounted the plight of the poor man facing execution for poaching to feed his family (“Geordie,” Child Ballad #209), the wife or sister who attempts to gain his release by surrendering her virtue to the cruel judge (“In his golden bed at midnight/There she heard the gallows groaning …”), and the outlaws, rebel leaders, and condemned men who told their stories from the scaffold (“Roddy McCorley”). These traditional stories focus on the contrast between good and evil, the implacability of the judge, and the imminence of death, while the theme of injustice is hinted at but never spoken. It is only in the final third of the 20th century that it becomes possible to speak of wrongful conviction as a topic of academic study and to explore it scientifically, trying to determine how often it occurs, and whether it is the result of human error.
This article first provides a brief history of wrongful convictions, beginning with the Salem witch trials, and then turns to the discovery and crisis of forensic evidence in the 20th century. By the end of the 20th century, forensic evidence techniques, from fingerprint identification to hair analysis, to interrogation techniques, had been called into question by the DNA revolution and the Supreme Court’s holding that expert witnesses in federal courts must be able to show the scientific basis for their testimony. Then we will turn to the psychological research that suggests that our current investigative techniques can provide false or misleading results. Causation can be divided into proximate and ultimate causation, and in the latter category, we will describe a social psychological theory which seeks to understand why, for example, it is so often the poor man (or, in the United States, the man of color) who faces execution for a crime he did not commit. Throughout, we will note the role of popular entertainment and news media in establishing a social understanding of wrongful convictions and assumptions as to its causes. We will close with considering three recent true crime documentaries whose success predicts similar efforts down the road.
Throughout the history of journalism the notion of a mother killing her infant child—committing an act of infanticide—has always been high on the news values scale. In the 19th century, sensational news reports of illicit sexual liaisons, of childbirth and grisly murder, appeared regularly in the press, naming and shaming transgressive unmarried women and framing them as a danger to society. These lurid stories were published in broadsheets and the popular press as well as in respectable newspapers, including the most influential English newspaper of the century, The Times of London. In 19th-century England, The Times played a powerful role in influencing public opinion on the issue of infanticide using lurid reports of infanticide trials and coronial inquests as evidence in stirring editorials as part of their political campaign to reform the 1834 New Poor Law and repeal its pernicious Bastardy Clause, which had led to a large increase in rates of infanticide. News texts, because of their ability to capture one view of a society at a given moment in time, are a valuable historical resource and can also provide insight into journalism practices and the creation of public opinion. Infanticide court and coronial news reports provided details of the desperate murderous actions of young women and also furnished potent evidence of legal and government policy failures. The use of critical discourse analysis (CDA) in studying infanticide reports in The Times provides insight into the ways in which infanticide news stories worked as ideological texts and how journalists created understandings about illegitimacy, the “fallen woman,” infanticide, social injustice, and discriminatory gendered laws through news discourse.
This article analyzes the tension created between the lack of images and the imagination of alternative justice from the particular perspective of “restorative justice.” The most sustained justice discourse to propose significant differences to the criminal justice system, restorative justice nevertheless has not proposed differences necessarily on the “battleground of images,” but, as argued in the article, mainly on the subterrain of “imagination.” It does not, therefore, offer an image of alternative justice, but rather an alternative of justice that belongs to the realm of imagination, pointing simultaneously at the limits of representation and the necessity of developing new forms of imagination that go beyond images to incorporate alternatives at the levels of metaphors, language, architecture, and practices. Using a few exemplary cases, the text argues overall for the primacy of imagination over images of alternative justice.
Bill McClanahan, Avi Brisman, and Nigel South
Since first proposed by Brisman and South, green cultural criminology has sought to interrogate human-environment interactions in order to locate meaning. Within the broad framework of green cultural criminology, work has emerged that follows visual criminology in looking to the visual cultural register for insights into the intersections of crime, harm, justice, culture and the natural environment. This article turns the green cultural criminological gaze towards motion pictures, by considering how cinema can serve as a central and essential site of the cultural production and communication of knowledge and meaning(s) that inform human interactions with the natural environment. Indeed, environmental crimes, harms, and disasters are constructed and imagined and represented in cinema, and the films discussed in this article illustrate the ways in which the environment-culture connection in the contemporary cinematic mediascape has influenced public discourses concerning environmental change and harm. This article begins by examining the capacity of documentary film to raise public awareness and generate shifts in public consciousness about environmental harms. From here, it explores cinematic science fiction representations of apocalyptic climate disaster, noting the power of the medium in communicating contemporary anxieties surrounding climate change. Finally, filmic communications of a central category of interest for green cultural criminology—resistance to environmental harm—are described, in addition to the various ways that resistance by environmentalists has recently been represented in popular cinema. The films discussed throughout—including An Inconvenient Truth, Cowspiracy, The East, If A Tree Falls, Night Moves, and Snowpiercer—are not an exhaustive sampling of contemporary representations of environmental issues in cinema. Rather, they represent the most salient—and are among the most popular—moments of contemporary cinematic engagement with the nexus of environmental harm and culture. This article concludes by contending that a green cultural criminology should continue to look to the visual register because sites of cultural production often overlooked by criminology (e.g., cinema, literature) can reveal significant and essential information about the moments in which environmental harm, justice, and culture intersect and collide.
Criminology began as a speculative historical discourse about lawbreaking. Guided by the classical utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria, criminology in the late 18th century viewed crime as the result of a hedonistic calculus employed by rational individuals to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. But by the middle of the 19th century, criminology had transformed into a positivist science of the determined causes of crime. New visual technologies of surveillance, classification, and measurement contributed significantly to this reconstitution of criminological knowledge. A genealogy of this transformation in criminological inquiry is found in Michel Foucault’s landmark study, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, in which the French social philosopher pictures optical transformations in the nature of criminological inquiry as an early instance of modern, disciplinary modalities of power and knowledge. Beginning with an analysis of Bentham’s 1791 architectural drawings for a panoptic prison, Foucault links the visual turn in criminological thought to compulsive modern efforts to observe, map, categorize, code, and analytically penetrate the bodies, minds, and behavioral patterns of captured offenders. But visual objectification of this sort results in other things as well—a tragic displacement of the once subversive wisdom of medieval festival and the inscription of a sado-dispassionate “gaze” at the heart of the criminological enterprise itself. Together, these processes institute a seemingly fixed distinction between the subject and the object of the criminologist’s gaze. This distinction is amplified and transgressed in the early 21st century by a host of new, fascinating, and fearful visual cybernetic technologies of power. Following Foucault’s provocative genealogy of the optical foundations of early criminological science, recent digital technological advances in visual surveillance and the high-speed global transmission of visual images of crime today challenge criminology to be reflexive about the situated character of its own power-charged claims to knowledge.
In this study of how the street robber has been positioned in popular culture, two starkly opposite views are presented on how this figure has been represented: namely, as folk devil and as folk hero. This relatively low-level criminal is involved in criminal activity that delivers low rewards and that is largely inflicted on other poor people. As a result, this robber is on the one hand represented as evil incarnate, a folk devil imagined as posing an existential threat to society and its values. On the other hand, the robber can be positioned as an audacious folk hero, a champion of the downtrodden. This positioning is explored by tracing the changing characterization of the robber over time: notably, the heroic representation of the outlaw in medieval culture, the myths that surrounded the highwaymen of the 18th century, and a more demonic representation by the 19th century, a representation that continues to the present day. While it is no longer possible to conceive of robbers today as folk heroes, many attributes of the heroic robber are still celebrated in popular culture in detective fiction and in RAP music.
Film noir is a term coined by French critics in 1946 to describe what they considered an emerging and exciting trend in Hollywood films—one that signaled a new maturity in American cinema. The term translates into English as “black film,” and the darkness to which it refers applies both to the grim themes and events in many of these movies, as well as to their dark look. Many of them deal with doomed characters entangled in immoral and/or criminal activities that go horribly wrong. Such characters lose their psychological mooring and become increasingly desperate, and the depiction of that desperation can at times destabilize the traditional securities and aesthetic distance of the viewer from the events of the film. The cinematography of many of these movies often features images crisscrossed with ominous shadows and filled with dark, mysterious spaces.
This article explores the origins of the genre in the 1940s, major influences upon it, its development and many transformations, its intersections with other genres, its place in Hollywood history as well as postwar American culture, its frequent bouts with industry censorship, reasons for the difficulties that critics encounter with defining it, its ongoing popularity, and its extensive influence upon multiple media.
Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, and Michelle Brown
Cultural criminology is concerned with the convergence of cultural, criminal, and crime control processes; as such, it situates criminality and its control in the context of cultural dynamics and the contested production of meaning. It seeks to understand the everyday realities of a profoundly unequal and unjust world, and to highlight the ways in which power is exercised and resisted amidst the interplay of rule-making, rule-breaking, and representation. The subject matter of cultural criminology, then, crosses a range of contemporary issues: the mediated construction and commodification of crime, violence, and punishment; the symbolic practices of those engaged in illicit subcultural or postsubcultural activities; the existential anxieties and situated emotions that animate crime, transgression, and victimization; the social controls and cultural meanings that circulate within and between spatial arrangements; the interplay of state control and cultural resistance; the criminogenic cultures spawned by market economies; and a host of other instances in which situated and symbolic meaning is at stake. To accomplish such analysis, cultural criminology embraces interdisciplinary perspectives and alternative methods that regularly move it beyond the boundaries of conventional criminology, drawing from anthropology, media studies, youth studies, cultural studies, cultural geography, sociology, philosophy and other disciplines, and utilizing new forms of ethnography, textual analysis, and visual production. In all of this, cultural criminology seeks to challenge the accepted parameters of criminological analysis and to reorient criminology to contemporary social, cultural, and economic conditions.