The relationships between crime and the media have long been the subject of intense debate. In particular, a preoccupation with the supposed harmful effects of popular culture on public morality has been a recurring theme in social commentary since at least the sixteenth century and continues in current concerns around 'video nasties', computer games and internet pornography. Yet at the same time the media, and popular culture more generally, are fascinated with crime, whether this be as diverse forms of 'entertainment' in such staples as cop shows, crime novels, 'true crime' stories and films or as 'news' in television documentaries, newspaper articles and broadcast bulletins to the extent that maintaining a distinction between 'fact' and 'fiction' is becoming increasingly difficult, not least since the rapid growth in 'Reality TV' over the last decade has further blurred the boundaries between fact, fiction and entertainment.

Criminologists have understood media representations of crime in three distinctive ways. One assesses whether the media through violent depictions of crime causes criminal conduct in real life. A second examines how the news media create moral panics and thereby provokes public fear of crime. The third and more recent development attends to a broader consideration of how crime and punishment have been consumed, imagined and represented in popular culture. Each of these approaches tackles important issues and will be covered in the half option. However, the tendency in criminology has been to focus on individual media and their specific impacts on particular emotional states (whether this is increased aggression or fear). Criminologists have also often failed to interrogate the way news is consumed in as much detail as the ways it is produced.

Instead, this option offers an account of crime stories in the media that is more interested in their social character: the ways they are produced, circulated and read. In doing so it will also move beyond their symbolic meaning – by emphasising the work such stories perform in the wider social order, how they alter over time, shape political processes and clarify moral boundaries.


The overall aim of this half option is to enable students to critically assess contemporary thinking and research on the relationships between crime, media and culture.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course students should:

(a) Be familiar with and be able to critically assess debates on violence in the media using contemporary examples;
(b) Consider how anxieties over crime are bound up with insecurities generated by changes in economic, moral and social life;
(c) Understand how the attractions of certain crime narratives vary according to stratifying principles (such as age, class, ethnicity and gender) and subjective processes.
(d) Have a thorough grasp of different approaches to analysing texts;
(e) Detailing the diverse forms of criminal narratives found at the cinema, on television, in books and on-line;
(f) Grasp the politics of news production and the obstacles that impede open communicative processes;
(g) Critically assess the continuing relevance of moral panics in multi-mediated worlds and risk societies.