Cultural Criminology Research Paper

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Cultural criminology is designed to place issues of meaning, symbolism, and interpretation at the forefront of the criminological enterprise. Cultural criminologists argue that both crime and crime control operate as cultural endeavors, with their personal and social consequences constructed out of contested processes of collective representation and interpretation. Given this, criminological inquiry must encompass more than crime and criminal justice as conventionally understood; it must also focus on transgressive subcultural practices, media representations of crime and victimization, public displays of anger and elation, and public performances of justice and injustice. In order to fully theorize such phenomena, cultural criminologists contend, criminology must in turn resurrect older traditions of cultural and interactionist analysis visual theory, cultural geography, and related fields. In this way cultural criminology offers a critique of conventional criminology and its circumscribed range of theories and methods and at the same time attempts to reconstruct criminology as a more expansive, interdisciplinary, and intercultural undertaking. Cultural criminology likewise attempts to reorient criminological analysis to the distinctive social and cultural dynamics of the present late modern period and so to enhance criminology’s ability to penetrate the contested global politics of crime and crime control as they are now developing.

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Fundamentals Of Cultural Criminology

While cultural criminology has emerged as a distinct theoretical and methodological orientation within criminology only during the past two decades, the intellectual roots of cultural criminology can be found amidst earlier perspectives within sociology and criminology. For cultural criminologists, the goal has been to reclaim these perspectives as essential components of criminological inquiry, to reimagine and reinvigorate them in the context of contemporary crime and crime control trajectories, and to enliven them with new perspectives from other disciplines.

Intellectual History

At its core, cultural criminology constitutes a synthesis of two theoretical orientations: the first North American and the second British. The North American orientation dates to the mid-twentieth century and the emergence of symbolic interactionism and labeling theory in the analysis of deviance and crime. For interactionist and labeling theorists, the appropriate subject matter of criminology was not crime as an individual act, but rather the web of social interactions and interpretations by which any act might or might not be constructed as crime. At issue was the meaning of crime and the exercises of power and discrimination by which that meaning was determined and redetermined within an ongoing social process. As regards crime and crime control, the “symbolic” dimensions of symbolic interaction suggested that a transgressive act could be made to symbolize heroism or horror, self-defense, or assault; likewise, the practice of crime control could be presented as a matter of good policing, patriotic participation, or political repression. For these theorists, the reality of crime was inherently a social and cultural reality – and a political reality as well. By understanding the symbolic construction of crime and crime control, criminologists could begin to penetrate the proselytizing claims of moral entrepreneurs, the discriminatory dynamics of the criminal justice system, and they lived experiences of those labeled criminal. These lived experiences could in turn be documented through “naturalistic” case studies and careful ethnographies that revealed patterns of shared meaning and symbolic communication within marginalized subcultures. Here, then, was one foundation of cultural criminology: an attentiveness to symbolism and meaning in the construction of crime and a critical analysis of crime, culture, and power.

Influenced by the work of the North American interactionists, sociologists and criminologists associated with the National Deviancy Conference, the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies and the “new criminology” in Great Britain began in the 1970s to develop what would become cultural criminology’s second intellectual foundation. Sharpening the critical potential of interactionist and labeling approaches, they carefully investigated the cultural avenues through which power was by turns enforced and resisted. Situating crime and crime control in historical and political context, they likewise analyzed the shifting ideological utility of crime, exposing the ways in which crime concerns and anticrime campaigns were made to fit within larger political agendas and historical trajectories. These researchers also engaged in the sort of case study and ethnographic research developed among interactionist criminologists, finding amidst the leisure worlds and illicit subcultures of their subjects moments of stylized defiance and collective resistance to legal authority. Taken as a whole, this work not only continued the interactionists’ reconceptualization of crime as a social and cultural construction; it also began to reconceptualize the very nature of power and social control in contemporary society. Power in many ways now denoted the power to control the meaning of public events and social control the ability to control the terms by which the activities of marginal groups came to be understood and interpreted.

In the 1990s these two orientations were synthesized for the first time into a distinct “cultural criminology” that explicitly drew on both the North American and British traditions in an attempt to theorize contemporary intersections of crime and culture. To supplement and expand these earlier approaches, cultural criminologists now included a variety of additional disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives: anarchist criminology and other critical criminologies, postmodern theory, cultural geography, and others. Utilizing this synthetic approach, they focused especially on the components of style, language, and symbolic meaning that animate illicit social worlds and on the ways in which legal and political authorities in turn utilize mediated representation to criminalize such worlds (Ferrell and Sanders 1995). Cultural criminologists also sought to revitalize the tradition of ethnographic research into illicit subcultures, both by theorizing the epistemic and emotional dynamics of this approach in distinction to quantitative research methods and by engaging in in-depth ethnographic explorations of graffiti writers, neo-Nazi skinheads, street-level sex workers, and other groups.

Current Theoretical Orientations

Contemporary cultural criminology has spawned a variety of theoretical models that build from earlier work on the situated meanings and symbolic politics of crime and crime control. A number of these models explore both the immediate, sensual experience of crime and the dynamics that link such illicit experience to larger patterns of cultural meaning and historical change. The concept of edgework, for example, is utilized by cultural criminologists to analyze incidents of extreme, risky behavior that are generally seen as deviant or illegal (Lyng 2005); cultural criminologists have employed this model in investigating graffiti writing, street racing, BASE jumping, anorexia, sadomasochistic sexual practices, and other contemporary phenomena. In contrast to conventional understandings of such practices as simply destructive or individually out of control, cultural criminologists argue that these practices often involve a conscious exploration of the “edge” between chaos and order, and danger and self-determination. Essential to this exploration is the way in which such practices blend high levels of risk with the practiced skills necessary to negotiate such risk; for participants, great risk requires great skill, and the greater the skill, the greater the risk that can be taken. This dynamic of risk and skill in turn appeals to more and more people precisely because both risk and skill are increasingly expunged from contemporary life; low-skill, service sector jobs predominate in the emerging consumer economies of late capitalism, and whether at work or play, “risk management” strategies now regulate most every aspect of social life. If in this way the concept of edgework links illicit experiences with larger social and economic changes, it also helps to explain a particular crime control problem. Cultural criminologists have found repeatedly that edgework produces for participants an alluring “adrenalin rush” out of its mixture of extreme risk and practiced skill – but because of this, crime control strategies meant to stop such activities often serve only to heighten the risks and sharpen the skills involved and so to enhance the appeal of edgework activities for those engaged in them.

This edgework model resonates with the broader notion of the seductions of crime (Katz 1988). From the view of cultural criminology, much traditional criminological theory has been constituted back to front; that is, such work has theorized the background factors that lead up to the criminal event but has had little to say about the immediate dynamics of the criminal event itself. Cultural criminologists argue that this immediate “foreground” of crime, animated as it is with interactional exchanges and powerful emotions, is indeed worthy of analytic attention. Within it, participants can come to be “seduced” by the momentary meanings and emotions that emerge; within the criminal event, issues of stigma, honor, and respect can become a powerful, if fleeting, impetus for violent, exploitative, or courageous behavior. As with the model of edgework, the notion of crime’s seductions suggests that crime cannot be reduced to simple, individualistic explanations; instead, moments of criminality often harbor a host of complex, negotiated meanings that both reflect and reconstruct larger cultural forces. Moreover, these meanings may drive the very dynamics by which a criminal event is resolved; more than physical violence or monetary gain, they are often what matter most to those involved.

A similar intertwining of meaning, emotion, and culture emerges with the cultural criminological theory of the carnival and crime; here the frame of reference is also historical and comparative (Presdee 2000). Cultural criminologists note that, historically, carnival has served in many societies as a well-defined time of vulgarity, ridicule, and ritualized excess. Because it was predefined and regulated, though, carnival functioned both to celebrate and encourage misbehavior and to contain it within social and cultural boundaries; in this sense, carnival maintained the sort of delicate balance between dangerous human desires and defined social roles essential to the vitality of the societies in which it flourished. In contemporary Western societies, though, the delicate balance of carnival has largely been upended, in some cases through the criminalization of carnivalesque activities and in other cases through the legal and commercial cooptation of carnival into commodified experience and abstract spectacle. As a result, some aspects of carnival’s historical practice can now be bought and consumed, in the form of explicit pornography or degrading “reality television” programming. Other aspects are today enacted as crime – drug taking, sexual predation, and “joyriding” in stolen automobiles – but now all the more dangerously because freed from their containment within community ritual.

As with the models of edgework and the seductions of crime, the model of carnival in this way embodies another key concept in cultural criminology: the idea of transgression. From the view of cultural criminology, there is often more at stake in crime and crime control than simple law-breaking and the legal response to it. Instead, crime seems often to embody a breaching of social and cultural boundaries, a dynamic of crossing over or breaking through – and if those boundaries to be breached encode dominant economic arrangements or longstanding cultural norms, then there is indeed much more at issue than simple law-breaking. Yet, as the model of carnival shows, transgression also involves a moving dialectic between boundaries made and boundaries breached; in this sense, transgression constitutes an ongoing social and cultural process, a series of negotiated actions and reactions, more than a single act. In addition, as the edgework model suggests, those engaged in transgressive activities sometimes cross the boundaries of safety or respectability with an emerging intentionality; they begin to understand the world and their place in it differently precisely because of the boundaries they breach and so acquire from transgression a critical lens for seeing anew those arrangements that engender it.

Two final theoretical approaches incorporate the historical perspective of the carnival of crime model but with an eye in particular toward the distinctive dynamics of the present, late modern period. The theory of exclusion/inclusion posits that contemporary society suffers from a particularly problematic contradiction (Young 1999). On the one hand, the social order is defined by increasing economic and political inequality and with this the increasing economic and legal exclusion of larger and larger segments of the population from full membership in mainstream society. Ongoing financial and housing crises, high levels of unemployment and homelessness, the prevalence of low-wage and temporary work among those who remain employed, and mass incarceration and systematic legal disenfranchisement in the United States and elsewhere all serve to exclude many among the poor, ethnic minorities and the formerly middle class from full participation in conventional social worlds. At the same time, though, these and other groups are, by design, culturally included. The power of the mass media, and especially mass advertising, is such that these groups are systematically taught to desire the same consumer goods as others. Moreover, like others in late capitalist society, they are encouraged to see these goods as essential markers of lifestyle success and to define their own status and identity by goods and services consumed. The result of this contradiction is a culturally induced epidemic of resentment, insecurity, and humiliated desire and with this a parallel explosion in economic crimes of acquisition and expressive crimes of retaliation and frustration. With this model of exclusion and inclusion, then, cultural criminologists attempt to build from Merton’s foundational formulation of socially induced strain and adaptations to it while at the same time reimagining it within the contours of late capitalist culture and economy.

The model of media loops and spirals likewise examines the distinctive cultural dynamics of late capitalist/late modern society, with a focus especially on the emerging interplay of media, crime, and criminal justice (Ferrell et al. 2008). According to this model, the links between crime, criminal justice, and the media in contemporary society are neither linear nor straightforward; for criminologists, therefore, it is no longer a matter of simply inquiring into how accurately the media reports on a particular type of crime, for example, or to what degree individuals imitate crimes that they see portrayed in the media. Instead, the saturation of everyday life with media-producing technology, and the nonstop consumption of mediated images and information, is such that distinctions between an event and its mediated representation often collapse. Criminologists seeking to understand crime and media, then, are increasingly confronted by a self-perpetuating interplay of criminal acts, mediated representations, and mediated responses – by situations, that is, where crime and its image circle back on one another – and so must consider the nature of media loops and spirals if they are to understand the contemporary construction of crime and criminal justice. As recent research in cultural criminology has shown, graffiti practitioners blend illegal street graffiti with sophisticated, legal media productions; gang members stage violent assaults so as to record and sell copies of them on the Internet; “reality television” shows set up violent confrontations and at times entrap their participants in assaults and arrest; and police officers utilize Facebook postings to track suspects, alter their street enforcement strategies due to their own police car cameras, and employ televised policing shows as points of reference in their own street policing. Moreover, these looping entanglements of crime, criminal justice, and media regularly reproduce themselves over time and so become ongoing spirals of image and activity. An initial cell phone image of a criminal act, for example, may over time become an Internet posting, a piece of legal evidence, a segment in a video compilation to be viewed or purchased, and an image within a crime segment on a televised news program; similarly, a police car video may later be subpoenaed as part of legal proceedings, utilized for police training, or compiled into a “world’s wildest police chases” video. In such a world, cultural criminologists argue, criminological analysis must appreciate the power of mediated representation and must be sensitive to the ways in which such representation feeds back into the practice of crime and criminal justice.

Methods Of Cultural Criminology

The research methods utilized by cultural criminologists embody the theoretical orientations that define cultural criminology itself. Given their analytic focus on shared meaning and emotion, cultural criminologists require methods that can take them inside the illicit situations where meaning and emotion are negotiated and that can attune them to the subtleties of symbolic interaction among people and groups. To understand the allure of edgework or the seductions of criminal moments, cultural criminologists argue, they must find ways to be present when such seduction is underway and to share as best possible in this seductive emotional process. Likewise, the focus on symbolism and mediated representation means that cultural criminologists must find ways to decode the complex symbolic universes of marginal groups and to penetrate the processes by which mediated representations are made and circulated. In all of this, cultural criminologists argue for a general “methodology of attentiveness” – that is, a methodological orientation that enables close attention to the nuances of human culture and human transgression. Broadly speaking, cultural criminologists in this sense prefer methods that embody something of the phenomenological imperative – the imperative to encounter “the thing itself,” on its own terms and in situ – rather than methods that spawn artificial circumstances, broad generalizations, and abstract conclusions.

Because of this, cultural criminology’s methodological orientation has become also a critique of conventional methods within mainstream criminology; in arguing for and employing their own attentive methods, cultural criminologists have also emerged as perhaps the most vocal critics of contemporary methodological practices in criminology (Ferrell et al. 2008). From the view of cultural criminology, the most widely used methods in criminology – survey research, statistical analysis of survey results, statistical analysis of governmental data, and the massive data sets that result – primarily serve to distance criminology from its subject of study. By their own design and internal logic, such approaches preclude on-the-ground engagement with situations of crime and crime control and with the meanings and emotions that emerge within these situations. Likewise, such methods systematically miss the subtleties of symbolism and style that circulate within illicit worlds, as they reduce these subtleties to a set of simplistic choices among survey answers or governmental record-keeping categories. As such, these methods in turn reduce the human identities and human interactions that construct the reality of crime and justice to statistical abstractions, all while removing researchers and their own identities from creative engagement with the research process. Most damningly, cultural criminologists suspect that such methods are perhaps so widely and popularly employed precisely because they do keep criminological inquiry at a distance, forfeiting critical engagement with the subject matter in the interest of political leverage and agency funding and thereby reproducing stereotypes and assumptions more than investigating them.

Building from the pioneering field research of the earlier North American and British theorists whose work set the course for cultural criminology, cultural criminologists turn to ethnography – long-term, in-depth field research with subjects of study – in place of more conventional methods of survey research and statistical analysis. Through deep immersion in the lives and interactions of criminals, crime victims, and crime control officials, cultural criminologists seek to become part of the process by which such people and groups construct the various meanings of crime. Likewise, cultural criminologists seek through ethnographic research to attune themselves to the shared languages, symbolic codes, and public performances that emerge within and between groups as they work to make sense of crime and crime control. This sort of ethnographic research embodies another, more controversial dimension as well. As already glimpsed in the models of edgework and the seductions of crime, cultural criminologists argue that the emotional dynamics of crime are often essential to the meaning and experience of it – and because of this, they argue, ethnographic researchers should also seek a degree of emotional intimacy with subjects and situations of study. This notion of subjective or appreciative understanding is embodied in Max Weber’s classic sociological concept of verstehen and specifically in what cultural criminologists call criminological verstehen (Ferrell and Hamm 1998). With this concept in mind, cultural criminologists have in recent ethnographies analyzed, for example, their own emotional participation in the “adrenalin rush” of graffiti writing, the macho pleasures of high-powered weapons use among off-duty police officers, the stark alienation of right-wing terrorist groups, and the dismissive stigmatization of phone sex workers and street prostitutes. Significantly, the controversial nature of this research stems not only from its deep immersion in the lives and emotions of illicit groups but from its reversal of the “objective” and “value-free” underpinnings of more conventional forms of social scientific research. Here it is not the “objectivity” of surveys and statistical analysis that produces research insights, but the opposite: the emotional subjectivity achieved through ethnographic research.

Cultural criminologists have in addition sought to reimagine and reinvent ethnographic research in light of current theoretical models and in the context of contemporary social and cultural developments. If the situated seductions of crime can emerge within a criminal event and evaporate with its termination, for example, then perhaps ethnography must be organized not only around long-term researcher participation but researcher attentiveness to immediate situational dynamics. Cultural criminologists refer to this approach as instant ethnography – ethnographic research that delves deeply into moments and situations, deconstructing them in search of their larger implications and understanding them as instances in which crime and its meaning are performed. Likewise, given the fluid, dislocated nature of many social interactions and identities in the late modern world, cultural criminologists argue that ethnography’s traditional focus on single, unitary social groups must now be supplemented by forms of liquid ethnography. This sort of ethnography pays special attention to issues of migration and movement, to the ways in which seemingly solid social identities are made and remade, and to the interplay of mediated images in the ongoing construction of individual and group perceptions. Finally, as suggested by the notion of verstehen and by cultural criminologists’ analyses of their own emotional involvement with crime issues, autoethnography has also emerged as a viable research method within cultural criminology. With autoethnography, the ethnographer’s own self and identity become a focus of study – but not as form of isolated self-examination. Instead, autoethnography demands that researchers account for the ways in which their participation in illicit groups or dangerous situations has altered their own sense of self or status or otherwise forced them to confront previously unexamined privileges and assumptions. In this way, autoethnography is designed to create a fuller ethnographic account of crime and crime control, one in which the ethnographer’s own experiences become yet another window into larger social and cultural patterns.

Paralleling the distinction between survey research/statistical analysis and ethnographic inquiry is the distinction between conventional approaches to research on media and crime and those approaches taken by cultural criminologists. Traditionally, criminologists have utilized content analysis – the measuring of static, discrete content categories within media texts – in studying, for example, the amount of media coverage given to a particular type of crime or trends in the amount of violence in popular films. In the context of contemporary media saturation and in light of the model of media loops and spirals already seen, though, cultural criminologists find that this approach is often unable to capture the ongoing, fluid interplay of contemporary crime and media. Calculations of media content and its amount miss the broader cultural and aesthetic frames of reference within which such content takes on meaning. In addition, utilizing content analysis in an attempt to measure the degree of divergence between the “real” nature of crime and its “biased” media representation ignores the spiraling process by which the “real” and the representational increasingly come to constitute one another.

To supplement conventional content analysis, cultural criminologists utilize two types of alternative methods. Ethnographic content analysis conceptualizes mediated representation as an unfolding process of decision making, action, and reaction among a variety of groups and so undertakes the study of media and crime from the view of researcher immersion in this ongoing process. The approach likewise advocates an ongoing interplay between researchers and the media texts they study; the method is meant to provoke deep involvement with media texts, such that researchers over time develop thoroughgoing accounts of texts and their emergent meanings. In this way ethnographic content analysis allows researchers to understand media texts not as isolated embodiments of content but as emergent cultural process incorporating a variety of political and cultural dynamics. While this method enables researchers to identify and analyze textual patterns, as with content analysis, it also accounts for the liquid, looping process that emerges between crime, media, and justice. A second alternative approach links crime and media analysis even more closely to the overall practice of ethnography. Here, in the spirit of liquid ethnography, researchers engage in fieldwork with criminals, criminal justice workers, and crime victims as these groups engage with the mass media, investigating the ways in which such groups attempt to manage images and accounts of their lives and experiences or, increasingly, undertake to produce their own mediated accounts of crime and justice. Similarly, cultural criminologists at times conduct ethnographic research inside media organizations, so as to be present as decisions are made and accounts developed regarding the representation of crime and justice issues.

Substantive Themes And Research Trajectories

As cultural criminology has matured over the past two decades, its theories and methods have been applied to a wider and wider range of phenomena. Certainly research is still being conducted on subcultural interactions and aesthetics, popular culture representations of crime and violence, and the seductive dynamics of edgework and other forms of situated transgression. In addition, though, cultural criminologists are both refining their focus on particular forms of crime and crime control and widening their analysis of contemporary social and cultural changes as regards crime and social control.

One emerging focus within cultural criminology is the relationship between crime, crime control, and everyday life (Ferrell et al. 2008). Cultural criminologists note that the nature of law and the criminalization process is such that the magnitude and meaning of a criminal activity remains under construction – and that because of this, seemingly inconsequential or invisible crimes often merit as much investigation as those defined at any one time as consequential. In addition, cultural criminologists point out that contemporary legal and social control is increasingly encoded in the small situations of everyday life. Pervasive surveillance/CCTV cameras in urban areas, CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) programs in parks and train stations, corporate risk-prevention strategies, computerized data and web monitoring, cell phone tracking devices – these and other phenomena build often unnoticed ideologies of legal and cultural control into the practices of daily life. Likewise, popular contemporary policing approaches like the “broken windows” model focus police attention on everyday situations and low-order criminality, though generally with little reflection on the assumptions underlying such approaches. In light of all this, cultural criminologists argue that if we are to understand the meanings of crime and the ideologies of crime control, we must investigate their presence in everyday life; that is, we must investigate the dynamics of routine traffic stops, the layout of city centers, the daily policing of the homeless, and the prevalence of everyday crimes like shoplifting or loitering. Such research provides added benefits as well; it serves as a corrective to the media focus on sensational and unusual crime, and it encourages scholars and students alike to engage in accessible criminological inquiry.

This mention of city centers and urban CCTV cameras highlights a second substantive focus within cultural criminology: the city and its spatial arrangements (Hayward 2004). Cultural criminologists note that, with the dramatic and increasing urbanization of the world over the past few decades, many conventional criminological analyses of crime and crime control may now need to be reconceptualized as analyses of distinctly urban patterns of crime and control. Drawing especially on work in cultural geography, cultural criminologists have, for example, investigated the ways in which new urban economies organized around high-end consumption reorganize the city’s spatial arrangements while also fostering new models for policing these consumerist spaces. Cultural criminologists have also explored these spaces as sites of legal and cultural conflicts that pit recent arrivals against long-time residents, corporate developers against public space activists, and automotive traffic patterns against advocates of alternative transportation – with these conflicts in turn entangled with ongoing mediated representations, arrests, and court proceedings. Recent ethnographic work in cultural criminology has likewise explored the cultural practices of illicit urban subcultures like those of skateboarders, graffiti writers, and homeless trash scroungers, with special attention to the process by which such practices remake urban space, imbuing it with illicit meaning and remapping it along the lines of subcultural status and values.

Two additional trajectories of research attempt to engage cultural criminology directly with the distinctive political and economic arrangements, and political and economic crises, that define the contemporary late modern/late capitalist period. The first of these is a developing cultural criminology of the state and of global political conflict. Recent work in cultural criminology has explored, for example, the increasingly mediated nature of military recruitment, military training, and military warfare itself; it has also shown that the boundary separating such mediated militarism from the worlds of popular culture and entertainment is becoming blurred at best. Similarly, cultural criminologists have documented the activities of militant or terrorist groups in self-producing sophisticated media and have shown how these and other images of war and violence loop and spiral through the global mediasphere. Linking these sorts of insights to the more traditional concerns of criminology, other recent research has explored the culture of punishment in the United States and other countries – a culture which flows in and out of the prison and into popular media, public perceptions of crime and justice, and even the tourism and entertainment industries (Brown 2009). Similarly, research into gangs and gang culture has documented the role of law enforcement agencies in defining perceptions of gang threat and in moving gang members and their culture back and forth across national boundaries; it has in turn documented gang members’ attempts at self-empowerment and resistance to these state practices.

A second trajectory has cast cultural criminology into the broader cultural currents of late modernity. Building in part from the theory of exclusion/inclusion, cultural criminologists have found a complex of values, practices, and identities that coalesce around drift, dislocation, and the particular forms of transgression that accompany them. In this shifting world, status and identity are increasingly cut loose from traditional anchors of steady career or home-based stability; indeed, the notion of “home” itself loses its conventional comfort as more and more people migrate from city to city or country to country in search of something other than part-time work and political insecurity. Especially in light of the ongoing global economic crisis, aspirations of upward achievement are often replaced by a desperate sense of surviving with what is at hand or with what might come to be at hand – yet advertisers continue to aggressively market identities that, while made desirable, are neither affordable nor achievable. In such a world, cultural criminologists argue, insecurity and uncertainty become a way of life, and in response, some people seek to find identities in acts of individual risk-taking and transgression; others engage in expressive crimes fueled by resentment, fear, and failure. In such a world crime control also changes, becoming increasingly a matter of risk management and the containment of transitory populations. Here is an emerging global milieu permeated not only by inequality and injustice, exclusion and inclusion, but by a seemingly intractable culture of ambiguity and uncertainty; to make sense of it, cultural criminologists argue, criminology may itself have to become comfortable with ambiguous findings, liquid analysis, and alternative forms of inquiry (Young 2007; Ferrell et al. 2008).

In this context cultural criminology has continued to build from its original cross-cultural roots in North American and British criminology, with significant bodies of theoretical and substantive work now coming out of the Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, and other countries. In keeping with the early intellectual interplay between North American and British scholars, this contemporary work is not only geographically dispersed in its origins and substantive concerns but intentionally conversational, with cultural criminologists from around the world sharing ideas and working toward new intellectual syntheses (Carvalho et al. 2011) that can account for emerging social circumstances. Likewise, cultural criminologists continue to challenge orthodox approaches within criminology and to develop new means of engaging in criminological analysis. Drawing on film and visual theory and revisiting long-standing traditions of documentary photography, much contemporary work in cultural criminology is oriented toward both analyzing existing images of crime and producing an alternative body of informed visual representation as regards crime and justice (Hayward and Presdee 2010). Other cultural criminologists continue to experiment with the narrative forms of criminology, producing in place of conventional criminological discourse a range of manifestos, vignettes, poems, and short stories in both print and digital media. In all of this, the intent is to bring cultural criminology solidly into the present and the future and to position it for ongoing, critical engagement with the cultural dynamics of crime and crime control.


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