Crime, Criminal Justice and the Image


A Few Words on the ‘Visual Criminology’ Seminar Series (2013-2014)

Welcome to this site, which is designed to accompany the ESRC funded seminar programme ‘Visual criminology: crime, criminal justice, and the image’ – Grant reference: ES/J022381/1

But why a seminar programme on visual criminology? And why now?

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the visual. As images of crime, harm and punishment proliferate across new and old media there is a growing recognition that criminology needs to rethink its relations with the ascendant power of spectacle.

Whereas in the domain of legal studies and socio-legal studies the visual dimension of law and legal practice has been established as a significant topic of study and research, in criminology this is much less the case. Journal series such as ‘Socio-Legal Studies’; ‘Law & Critique’; ‘International Journal for the Semiotics of Law’; ‘Law & Humanities’; ‘Law, Culture and the Humanities’; or the ‘International Journal of Law in Context’ regularly publish work with a distinct emphasis on the role and place of the visual in legal and socio-legal studies. Monographs (e.g. Young, 2004) and edited collections (e.g. Douzinas & Nead, 1999) on thistopic have meanwhile achieved ‘classic’ status whilst new collections continue to appear regularly (e.g. Lippens, 2004; and Sherwin & Wagner’s forthcoming, quite extensive 2 volume overview of the field, 2013).

However, in the criminological domain the picture looks different. There is a well established tradition of research on the topic of ‘media and crime’ (e.g. Jewkes, 2004; Carrabine, 2008; Greer, 2009) but a specific and sustained focus on the visual, or indeed on the role and place of the image in crime, in crime control and in criminal justice, has been lacking. Work on this theme –particularly on photography, film, and to a lesser extent also on art- has appeared sporadically in contributions to edited collections, or to journal series (for the journal articles, see e.g. Lippens, 2003a and 2003b; Valier & Lippens, 2004; Girling, 2004; Morrison, 2004; Yar et al., 2005; Fiddler, 2007 and 2011; Lippens, 2009; Carrabine, 2011; Kearon, 2012; Lippens, 2011; Lippens 2012a and 2012b; Lippens, 2013). The magazine ‘Criminal Justice Matters’ has recently (2009) published a special issue with short papers on Visual Criminology. The only journal series in the criminological domain that includes work on the visual dimension of crime, crime control and criminal justice regularly is ‘Crime, Media, Culture’ which was founded as late as 2005. A small number of monographs (e.g. Sparks, 1992) have meanwhile been published. One had to wait until 2010 though for a collection of essays (Hayward & Presdee, 2010) to appear.

The time has now come not just to make a significant effort to systematize the sporadic work that has already been done, but to build on it. Our intention is to achieve this by means of a seminar series which systematically explores the importance of the visual dimension and the image for the understanding of what could be called the traditional themes of inquiry in criminology:

a) criminalization and accusation (i.e. the event or process whereby particular practices or actors are deemed to be criminal);

b) the relationship between criminalized practices or actors on the one hand and geography on the other (i.e. the movement and distribution of ‘crime’);

c) the explanation of the emergence and development of crime; and d) the organization, workings and evolution of practices and institutions of crime control, including criminal justice.

Each of the works mentioned above focus on particular aspects or elements in these fields or themes of inquiry, and the role of vision, or the image, therein. It is our intention, in this seminar series, to explore all of the themes in five seminars (more on this below). However, what distinguishes this initiative from earlier work is not just its aim for a more comprehensive and systematic treatment of visual criminology, but also its interdisciplinary character. Indeed, participants in the planned seminar series include criminologists as well as representatives from the humanities, academics as well as artists and curators. Do keep an eye on this website. More information will be posted here as we go. Watch this space!

Here’s an overview of the seminar topics:

Seminar 1: Criminalization and Accusation

Two distinct but related themes will be dealt with here. The first goes under the heading The Image, Accused and explores the image as part of an object to be criminalized and persecuted (an obvious illustration here is offered by the Danish Mohamed cartoons in Jyllands- Posten). The second theme, The Image, Accusing, is the reverse side of this coin. Here the image belongs to the criminalizing, accusing subject (e.g. war photography). Both the accused object and the accusing subject are in many ways connected. Very often the accusing image is itself accused e.g. for doing what it does, accusing. The overall question that will focus the debates in this seminar is, How does the image come to accuse, and how does it actually do the accusing?, or, How does the image come to be accused?

Seminar 2:  Crime and Space

There will be two themes in this seminar also. The first, Images of Criminal Space, looks into how the image represents and reflects (on) the geographical distribution of social problems, including crime. To put it more precisely, the emphasis here is on the reflection upon, or of, representations and therefore also of reputations of geographical spaces (e.g. ‘no-go zones’ in ‘dangerous’ neighbourhoods). But images themselves of course also have a reputation, and they too travel through geographical space (e.g. pornography). Their travels form the focus of the second theme, i.e. The Movement of Deviant Images. This seminar then is about the geographical and spatial distribution and movement of image and reputation.

Seminar 3: Crime and Explanation

Again there will be two themes in this seminar. With the first, Images Explaining Crime, an attempt will be made to contribute to the answer to the criminological question par excellence, i.e. How can images shed light on, or indeed ‘explain’ crime? Are there images whose purpose is to explain crime? What can we learn from images that ‘frame’ crime? What does a picture of Jamie Bulger holding hands with his killers tell us? The second theme, The Criminal Image Explained, is once again the reverse side of a coin. The question here, many will agree, is a traditional one in criminology: How to explain the emergence and circulation of ‘criminal’ images? How, for example, can we explain the emergence of ‘shocking’ art, for example, and how to explain its reception and circulation?

Seminar 4: The Uses of the Image in Crime Control and Criminal Justice

Images are often used in crime control and throughout the criminal justice process. From crime prevention to criminal investigation and policing, from criminal trials to punishment and imprisonment, images have their practical uses. The aim of this seminar is to explore and analyse the promise and the pitfalls of such uses.

Seminar 5: Images of Crime Control and Criminal Justice

Practices of crime control and criminal justice are very often the object of visual representation, and have been throughout history. The critical and contextual analysis of images of crime control and criminal justice is the main focus of this seminar.

Well, that’s it for now. Remember: do keep an eye on this website. Do make ample use of its possibilities. If you wish: do contact us, post information, check for announcements, read the texts or PowerPoints that we’re bound to post on this website in due course, or indeed watch the video-tapes of some of the presentations as they materialize, … In short: do contact us whenever you think fit!

Ronnie Lippens, Keele University,

with thanks to:

Eamonn Carrabine, University of Essex

Chris Greer, City University London

Yvonne Jewkes, University of Leicester

Tony Kearon, Keele University


Carrabine, E. (2008) Crime, Culture and the Media. Cambridge: Polity

Carrabine, E. (2011) ‘Images of Torture: Culture, Politics and Power’, in Crime, Media, Culture, 7, 1: 5-30.

Douzinas, C. and L. Nead, eds (1999) Law and the Image. The Authority of Art and the Aesthetics of Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fiddler, M, (2007).“Projecting the Prison: the depiction of the uncanny in The Shawshank Redemption”, Crime Media Culture, 3, 2: 192-206

Fiddler, M. (2011) A ‘system of light before being a figure of stone’: The phantasmagoric prison, Crime, Media, Culture, 7:83-97

Girling, E. (2004) ‘Looking Death in the Face’: The Benetton Death Penalty Campaign’ Punishment and Society, vol. 6(3): 271-288

Greer, C., ed. (2009) Crime and Media: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Hayward, K. and M. Presdee (2010) Framing Crime: Cultural Criminology and the Image. London: Routledge.

Jewkes, Y. (2004) Media and Crime. London: Sage.

Kearon A. T. (2012) ‘Alternative Representation of the Prison and Imprisonment: Comparing Dominant Narratives in the News Media and in Popular Fictional Texts’, Prison Service Journal 199: 4-10

Lippens, R., (2003a) ‘The Imaginary of Zapatista Revolutionary Punishment and Justice. Speculations on ‘the First Postmodern Revolution’’, Punishment and Society, 2, 179-195

Lippens, R. (2003b) ‘The Imaginary of Ethical Business Practice. Contributions to an Unobtrusive Criminology of Organization’, Crime, Law and Social Change, 4: 323-347

Lippens, R., ed. (2004) Imaginary Boundaries of Justice. Oxford: Hart

Lippens, R (2009) ‘Gerard David’s Cambyses and Early Modern Governance. Notes on the Geology of Skin and the Butchery of Law’, Law and Humanities, 3, 1:1-24

Lippens, R. (2011) ‘Jackson Pollock’s Flight from Law and Code: Theses on Responsive Choice and the Dawn of Control Society’, International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 24 (1): 117-138

Lippens, R. (2012a) ‘Control over Emergence: Images of Radical Sovereignty in Pollock, Rothko and Rebeyrolle’, Human Studies: International Journal for Philosophy and Social Sciences, 35, 3: 351-364

Lippens, R. (2012b) ‘Sovereignty and Control Society. Images of Late Modern Sovereignty in Rebeyrolle’s “Le CyclopeCrime, Media & Culture, 8, 1: 23-37

Lippens, R. (2013) ‘A Note on Electric Dogs’, International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 2013, 1: 1-4

Morrison, W. (2004) ‘Reflections with Memories: Everyday Photography Capturing Genocide’ Theoretical Criminology 8, 3: 341-358

Sherwin, R. & A. Wagner, eds (2013) Law, Culture and Visual Studies (2 vols). Dordrecht: Springer Publications.

Sparks, R. (1992) Television and the Drama of Crime. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Valier, C. and R. Lippens (2004) `Moving Images, Ethics and Justice’, 
Punishment and Society
 6(3): 319—33

Yar, M. et al. (2005) ‘Con Me if You Can: Exploring Crime in the American Cinematic Imagination’ Theoretical Criminology 9, 1: 97-117

Young, A. (2004) Judging the Image: Art, Value, Law. London: Routledge.

3 thoughts on “About

  1. […] of those images, the interrogation of visual representations of social control is one part of this broader program.Another is based on the rise of big data and the infatuation with quantitative approaches […]

  2. […] a group of scholars initiated a seminar series on visual criminology in […]

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