Framing Law and Crime: An Interdisciplinary Anthology from Rowman & Littlefield/Fairleigh Dickinson University Press

Framing Law Cover-only image (1)

In April, 2016, the Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Rowman & Littlefield will release Framing Law and Crime: An Interdisciplinary Anthology, edited by Caroline Joan “Kay” Picart, Michael Hviid Jacobsen and Cecil Greek; Picart, Jacobsen and Greek also authored and co-authored individual chapters in the book. The edited collection was published as one of the first books to be released as part of the Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Series on Law, Culture and the Humanities, which Picart edits; the Series benefits from the kind assistance of an international board of leading scholars in the field. Picart initiated the concept and led the endeavor; Jacobsen and Greek furthered the collaboration, with all three drawing in notable scholars, without whose cooperative spirit the book’s potential would not have been fulfilled. The book’s summary describes the edited collection as containing “contributions by many of the most prominent scholars in law, sociology, criminology, and film” and “offer[ing] a critical survey of a variety of genres and media, integrating descriptions of technique with critical analysis, and incorporating historical and socio-political critique.” (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Rowman and Littlefield Press Release, 2016). The edited collection’s list of contributors includes a host of well known U.S. and international scholars who have spent years writing on the themes of film, law and crime, such as, to name only a few (and in no particular order), Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Steve Greenfield, Peter Robson, Mathieu Deflem, Jon Frauley, Orit Kamir, Stefan Machura, Susan Boyd, Naomi Mezey, Mark C. Niles, John Denvir, Anders Petersen, Majid Yar and FilmInt’s very own Matthew Sorrento. The editors checked in with FilmInt to discuss the new collection.

When and how did this project begin?

CJKPicart: Prior to becoming a practicing attorney (2013), I was a tenured associate professor and had both taught courses on, and published several scholarly books and peer reviewed articles on film, crime, and law; I was also extremely fortunate to have collaborated with both Michael and Cecil, though separately, prior to this project. I contributed a chapter to Michael’s edited collection, The Poetics of Crime: Understanding and Researching Crime and Deviance Through Creative Sources (Ashgate (Routledge), 2014); and I and Cecil had co-edited (and co-authored chapters in) Monsters In and Among Us: Toward a Gothic Criminology (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Rowman and Littlefield, 2007). I had enjoyed working with both of them, and knew that together, there was much we could accomplish as a team. So I was delighted when they both accepted, as did a host of other prominent scholars. Harry Keyishian, the Director of Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, kindly proactively invited me to write another book for the press, and later on, after the edited collection, Framing Law and Crime (and a separate monograph, Law In and As Culture, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) had been contracted, reviewed, and submitted, to head the FDUP Series on Law, Culture and the Humanities.

Briefly, conceptually, as the introduction to the edited collection explains in greater depth, the central concept that instigated the project, in addition to the central themes of crime and law, as depicted through the moving image, whether in film or television, was Thomas Kuhn’s notion of “incommensurability,” as established in Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962; second edition 1970). Explained simply, Kuhn concept of “incommensurability” hypothesized that given the paradigm-specific nature of knowledge, members of different disciplines, even when they used the same terms, would “inevitably talk through each other” rather than to each other. What would therefore result, assuming Kuhn were correct, if one were to place scholars of law, sociology, criminology and film criticism all together in one room, to share insights regarding moving image depictions of law and crime, would be that a confusing Babel of discourses, with no one truly communicating with another.

Framing Law and Crime is a genuine attempt at testing that hypothesis; the result is a complex tapestry of discourses, reflecting deeply on what “law” and “crime” are, as depicted both in fictional and documentary modes using the moving image; while these discourses spontaneously intersect at numerous points, they also maintain their own discernible disciplinary boundaries with scholarly rigor.

When and why did you become interested in researching on and/or teaching about the moving image, crime and law?

Figure7.4MHJacobsen: When I started the criminology program in Aalborg (Denmark) a few years ago – the first university master’s program in criminology in Denmark – I researched the existing criminological literature and discovered quite quickly that more creative and more visually oriented methods were found lacking, which inspired me to do this volume as well as a few other recent titled devoted to quirky or alternative methodologies (e.g. Imaginative Methodologies in the Social Sciences, co-edited with Michael Drake and Anders Petersen, Routledge, 2014, and Liquid Criminology, edited with Sandra Walklate, Ashgate (Routledge), 2016).

CGreek: I have been a lifelong movie fan, particularly of films that deal with crime and law enforcement. I spent many hours at movies with sociologist Stanford Lyman, and we would talk about them for hours. Over the years it became clear that theories about crime and law were embedded in films that went beyond traditional views held in psychology and sociology. While at Florida State University I was introduced to Kay Picart, and we worked on co-teaching a course on crime and film. This initial teaching collaboration later developed into a research and writing relationship that resulted in the Gothic criminology theory.

CJKPicart: Just a brief addendum: as the book introduction explains, Cecil and I have slightly different ways of deploying the term, “Gothic Criminology,” which is hardly surprising, in some ways, as Cecil is a sociologist, whereas my background is strictly speaking more in pre-medical studies, philosophy, film, and now law. Nevertheless, how we work across those differences, to collaborate, with respect, is precisely the kind of dynamic that animates the collection. In terms of my own interest in the moving image’s depictions of crime and law, my own scholarly journey weaves across examinations of what the “monstrous” is, in relation to fictional and documentary modes, whether they be Frankensteinian creatures/characters or serial killers, for example, and most recently, evolving reflections on depictions of Holocaust-related films (a venture I began with David Frank in Frames of Evil: the Holocaust as Horror in American Film (Southern Illinois University Press, 2006), but now in this book, has widened to include a comparative examination of U.S. and Russian Holocaust-related trials in documentary and docu-dramatic film, as well as of lone wolf terrorists, in other works. That I practice in appellate criminal law also helps, in terms of grounding the way in which I currently analyze what “crime” or the “law” is, as depicted using fictional or documentary modes of the moving image.

To which audiences do you think this book will appeal and why?

MHJacobsen: The book holds many promises because it is a cross-disciplinary enterprise which means that many different practitioners, students and researchers coming from a variety of disciplines relating to criminology and criminal justice may find useful or interesting dimensions in the book for their own work and ideas.

CGreek: The book should be of interest to scholars in a number of fields, including film and media studies, sociology and criminology, and legal studies. I think the book will find an audience beyond traditional academic disciplines as well, as film and television are such important basic components of our societies and worldviews.

CJKPicart: In addition to what my co-editors have stated, the book covers not only U.S. film and television, which are a powerful global force, but also possesses a strong international dimension, including reflections by scholars hailing from Denmark, Canada, Scotland, England, Israel, and Germany, who bring their own films and cultural lenses with them. Thus, it reaches out to both U.S. and international audiences.

How did you find the process of working on the book?

Figure7.2 (1)MHJacobsen: One of the most easy working processes ever – and I have edited close to 50 books by now. The main reason is that the three editors were very much in line regarding what we wanted. Another reason is that the authors were all very engaged and provided close to publishable pieces thereby making often tedious editorial work easy.

CGreek: As I did considerable editing of the book, I read each essay in-depth several times. The more I worked on the essays, the easier it was to see how they fit together, and that overall this would be an excellent interdisciplinary volume.

CJKPicart: Overall, working on this edited collection was both a joy and an immense learning process, as I always strive to learn from others. The process took approximately two years in the making, and was not without some hurdles, as it is always challenging to try to coordinate schedules, agree on deadlines, work through the editing process with both the individual authors and the press, find appropriate images that meet copyright and print requirements, and meet press format requirements and production deadlines – especially with an edited collection with such a range of prominent authors across several continents. Nevertheless, given how long edited collections typically take, as I have worked on several as well, this has been one of the most streamlined processes, largely because of the cooperative spirit of the group as a whole, the dedication of my co-editors, and the supportiveness and efficiency of Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Rowman and Littlefield, especially the Director of FDUP, Harry Keyishian, and Associate Editor of Rowman and Littlefield, Brooke Bures Bascietto, and of course, the staff of both presses. Finally, both a comprehensive index and camera-ready images are crucial to an edited collection of this nature; we would not be able to produce these without a generous grant from the University of South Florida Department of Sociology and University of South Florida Publications Council to fund the production of the index; Lynn Weber, for her indexing expertise; John Edgar Browning and Margaret Petty with their help in finding a majority of the images used in the public domain; and Susan Gilbert for her digital artistry in converting public domain material into print-quality images.

What are your aspirations for the book?

MHJacobsen: I do hope that this book will show that topics such as crime, justice and the law may be advanced and studies in various ways some of which might seem surprisingly alternative but which still holds great promise for understanding worlds of crime and justice more imaginatively and perhaps also more fully.

CGreek: My hope is that the book will find an audience beyond the traditional academic disciplines for which it is targeted. Almost all of the disciplines in the social sciences are now interested in aspects of film and media. In addition, the legal community is very interested in the ways that lawyers and legal responses to crime and social problems are depicted.

CJKPicart: I have three aspirations: first, that the book can illustrate what genuine and rigorous interdisciplinary communication may achieve, and second, that the book can spur a deeper and rigorous examination of both what “law” and “crime” are; how they operate, in fictional and documentary modes; and how the moving image facilitates, transforms, reifies, in very complex ways, what these concepts mean. Third, as Steve Greenfield points out in the book, the way in which the moving image is deployed, in law schools, is principally to teach what “Professional Responsibility” is, which is a code-based approach; without denigrating that pedagogical goal, as it is a necessary pragmatic aim, I hope the book opens up discussions on how more interdisciplinary pursuits can help ground future lawyers to understand ethical dilemmas and the challenge to service, which undergird the practice of law. To sum up, borrowing a metaphor from Nietzsche, I hope the book spurs further discussions on what it means to “dance across different worlds” and how these proverbial worlds of the moving image organize what is “law” and what is “crime,” without simplistically collapsing either these worlds or organizing concepts.

Caroline Joan “Kay” S. Picart is a scholar and attorney at law practicing in federal and state appellate criminal law, and publishes peer reviewed journal articles and books principally on law, criminology, sociology, and film.

Michael Hviid Jacobsen is professor of sociology in the Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University.

Cecil Greek is associate professor of sociology at the University of South Florida.