Although criminology has grown as a field of study in the last 2 decades, it remains rooted in sociology. The study of the analysis of crime, criminal behaviour, and societal responses to law breaking cannot be understood without understanding who has power and how various mechanism of authority are exercised and contested. As part of our collective societal need to understand, explore, confront, and control criminal behavior, visual approaches have been developed based on two major orientations.
The first is focused on the power of images and is rooted in qualitative assumptions about localized meaning and contextualized understanding. In criminology, this has focused on the examination and interrogation of images of crime, harm, and punishment focused on the power of graphic manifestation. By demystifying and contesting the practices that underpin or that make use 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 in sociology. These approaches seek to provide generalizable conclusions that can be broadly applied. Data visualization offers a way to convey complex information and organizing numbers and analytics in more pleasing and accessible ways. Data visualization may allow a means to provoke new kinds of scholarly interactions and create more and better opportunities for collaboration.
While these broad categories are a useful way to understand the role of the visual in criminology, they are not exhaustive. Visual tools and techniques can be used in a variety of ways to teach concepts in the classroom, collect data for participants, outline a researcher’s analysis strategies, and present findings. The visual map below outlines the ways in which visual tools can be applied to the study of crime and social control, and serves a starting point for a larger and longer term project designed to define key propositions and test their viability. While each of the aspects below can be explored in far more detail, this visual map may serve as a useful overview.
Johannes Wheeldon is a post doc at Washington State University. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Categories: Visual Sociology