Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Culture

Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Culture

Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Culture

Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Culture


Today, questions about how and why societies punish are deeply emotive and hotly contested. In Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Culture , Claire Valier argues that criminal justice is a key site for the negotiation of new collective identities and modes of belonging. Exploring both popular cultural forms and changes in crime policies and criminal law, Valier elaborates new forms of critical engagement with the politics of crime and punishment. In doing so, the book discusses: ¿ Teletechnologies, punishment and new collectivities ¿ The cultural politics of victims rights ¿ Discourses on foreigners, crime and diaspora ¿ Terror, the death penalty and the spectacle of violence. Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Culture makes a timely and important contribution to debate on the possibilities of justice in the media age.


He stands, staring down the curve of closed doors, while a fear he knows to be irrational begins to nibble at his belly. A few months ago a fourteen-year-old girl was thrown from a train by some yob who hadn't got anywhere when he tried to chat her up. Miranda's thirteen. This is all rubbish, he knows that. But then, like everybody else, he lives in the shadow of monstrosities. Peter Sutcliffe's bearded face, the number plate of a house in Cromwell Street, three figures smudged on a video surveillance screen, an older boy taking a toddler by the hand while his companion strides ahead, eager for the atrocity to come.

(Barker 1998:3)

The crime control and penal practices of today unfold in the shadow of monstrosities. On the television, computer or cinema screen, staring out from the cover of the newspaper, and from shelf upon shelf of true crime books and magazines, there they are, the face of the Yorkshire Ripper, the 'House of Horrors' where at least nine young women were killed, the CCTV footage of James Bulger's abduction from a busy shopping mall. These shadowy and macabre images menace a man late to collect his daughter from a railway station. Fearful for her safety, he imagines the horrors of injury and murder evoked by certain remembered images. Images connected with notorious crimes, it seems, become inseparable from the attributed meanings of crime and punishment, and central to their symbolic power. Pictures like these include the faces of murdered children like Megan Kanka, Polly Klaas and Sarah Payne, smiling out from family album snapshots. They live on in memorial legislation, with over fifty US laws in recent years named for children who were victims of violence. Other images bring into the home within minutes, or in real time, the scenes of grave bodily trauma, mental anguish and devastation from the distant site of a terrorist attack. These big news crimes become image events.

Above and beyond their documentary worth as evidence, the CCTV footage and amateur video that, we are told, increasingly reconstitutes public space as a technologized scanscape, strikes us with a deep resonance. One might mention here the tape of the Rodney King beating, the live footage of OJ fleeing in his Bronco, pursued by both police and television helicopters, or the videoed

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