16 June 2008

Sometimes You Just Gotta Yell and Scream

My block seminar today wasn't bad at all. In fact, I think more classes should be like that, especially the ones I don't like. Get it all done in a week.

My presentation, however, was . . . interesting. I think it was good for what we were given. I'll give what I knew about the assignment to you here and you tell me what you would have done:

Students must prepare for one of these topics, develop a series of theses on the basis of the required readings and present these in class; subsequently, you have until the end of August 2008 to develop a short position paper making use of your theses. More details will be given in class.

I picked:

Popular Culture
Films, music, novels - particular from the US - have been dominantly concerned with crime, policing, vigilantism, victimisation. These popular representations have had different effects in different countries: while anglophone countries have predominantly become Cultures of Control (Garland, Simon, Feeley) in which fear of crime dominate public debate, Germany has largely succeeded in eluding this development. This segment is to focus on representations of crime and its effects on institutions.

Required Readings for those choosing this specialisation:

Then I read the readings, and they were all about penology, which I had to look up in the dictionary. I had no idea how to link them to popular culture. So I emailed the professor because I had no idea what to do. She posted some guidelines per my request, and here's what they said:

Notice the constant switching of "paper" and "presentation," which added to my confusion. Luckily, I was stumped all day Saturday, I had a peaceful, worshipful Sunday to chew on it all, Monday morning I fretted, and Monday mid-day I finally threw together a PowerPoint entitled, "Dehumanization of the Criminal in Penology and Popular Culture," using Elizabeth Smart, Family Dog, When a Stranger Calls, Stranger Danger/Safety Kids, CSI, and Silence of the Lambs (which I've never seen, by the way) as examples with scary pictures from the internet (thus the names under the Safety Kids, I found that from some random blog).

Basically, this is what I argued:

• Since post-war normalization of crime, penology has shifted to depersonalization and categorization of the punished (Feeley 467; Garland 447, 455).
• Cautioning the public took responsibility off of the justice system by showing that the criminal was a naturally smart, horrible monster to be avoided (Garland 456).
• The internet has reaffirmed dehumanization of offenders in two ways: first, internet crime shows criminals can cause harm from a non-personal distance; and second, less interpersonal dependencies makes it easier to separate the Other (Pratt 103, 104, 120).
• This dehumanization of the criminal justifies harsh punishment without rehabilitation, giving the sovereign a feeling of power and responsibility for the protection of its citizens, thus leading to higher rates of incarceration (Garland 460, 462).
• Some might say that this dehumanization has not occurred, but it is shown and reinforced through popular culture and the media.

Yep, my presentation didn't seem to fit into class as well as I would have liked, but I think I was able to link it somehow and having a PowerPoint with pictures always makes things look better, or at least more interesting.

However, we had some interesting discussion and it's obvious the teacher is very smart as she threw everything we said back at us so we had to be ready. My head's still swiveling over her use of the word "normative." And she told me to use "moralization" instead of "dehumanization."


  1. Hi Michelle. It's Heather. I saw your blog from Ronda's and I wanted to say hi. This is random, but my great aunt was the one who created the safety kids. Hope you're having a blast in Germany. See ya.

  2. I love the "they say/I say" influence in your writing! Looks good!