Cultural criminology combines theories of culture, subculture, and crime. This field of crime study draws on a mixture of classical and contemporary theoretical and methodological perspectives. In doing so, cultural criminology provides a holistic approach to the study of crime, not only to gain insight into the social construction of crime but also to analyze the intersections of subculture, popular culture, politics, and institutions where meanings about crime and criminals are shaped and produced.
One area of cultural criminology thus focuses on the construction of criminal subcultures, categories of criminal conduct, and crime control strategies through media portrayals and how each influences the others. Analysts view the media as playing an important role in shaping, but not creating, shared understandings of crime and criminals. An ongoing process of image and information dissemination creates meaning about crime and criminals, continually reinventing and reinforcing stories about illicit subcultures, crime, and criminals, thereby establishing identity within these situated media portrayals.
It is not that crime has become fashionable as a result of the media attention given to certain subcultures and crimes. Rather, the media play a role in shaping what crimes and deviant behaviors become popularized and associated with particular populations. Of interest is the extent to which the popular culture adopts those representations. It is popular culture—shaped but not created by the media—that influences the construction of criminal identities and vice versa. This interplay constructs meaning about crime and deviance. Cultural criminologists thus analyze this interplay to understand how the situated meanings of subcultural groups evolve and also how this process informs debate about deviant and criminal categories and control strategies.
The influential power of the media and popular culture is not limited to their ability to shape and influence styles of crime. Cultural criminologists also view the media as politically oriented, promoting elite perspectives through stereotypes about marginalized groups. Cultural criminologists point to the selection of certain subcultural styles to be criminalized, even though the behavioral characteristics of these groups often do not differ significantly from other subcultural movements and actions. Enterprises acting as moral entrepreneurs mediate social control and thus favor the control of certain groups over others.
The media subsequently produce shared understandings about the intersections of criminals and institutions of control. Crime control strategies are the product of a media-saturated culture influenced by selected portrayals of deviance, crime, and criminals. As a result, cultural criminologists focus on how the media and popular culture shape a culture of crime and how this, in turn, influences the culture of policing and policing strategies.
- Ferrell, Jeff. 1999. “Cultural Criminology.” Annual Review of Sociology 25:395-418.
- Ferrell, Jeff and Clinton R. Sanders, eds. 1995. Cultural Criminology. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
- Presdee, Mike. 2000. Cultural Criminology and the Carnival of Crime. New York: Routledge.
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