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How did I Combine Criminology & Film Study?

Quite a few people asked me now: how do criminology and movie combine and how did I do it? This post is for all of you who've been wondering.

Quite a few people asked me now: how do criminology and movie combine and how did I do it? This post is for all of you who’ve been wondering. I studied science fiction films in particular, and below I’ll also explain how I got to studying that genre.

Crime Images in Media

The media and society are inseparable: whether or not a movie, a television show, or news reports represent reality is irrelevant. Instead, what is relevant is the ‘experienced’ reality, how the audience experiences reality through language, communication and imagery. Film is dynamic: it is often based on real world, current happenings. It feeds into it, and delivers ideas back to the audience. Moreover, aside from simply telling entertaining stories about crime, they have the ability to shape and actually produce reality. Social meanings and social differences are tightly bound together through representations offered in media.


The contemporary Western society is suffused with images of crime . Representations of crime through movies shape one’s ideas about public policy and helps formulate it. People’s ideas about crime are closely related to the images popular culture presents. Film makes people aware of the emotions of the victim and the perpetrator, and gives an insight of how values and emotional contexts shape criminal behavior. Filmmakers have the liberty, more so than journalists or spokespeople of human rights organizations, to question the conduct of an authority.

Criminology & Movies

Criminologists have used the visual representations of crime as a vehicle “to illuminate the power of images in shaping popular understandings and social constructions of crime, deviance and punishment”, and to learn to understand how it can be used as a tool for power and/or resistance, but also to use it as a tool to understand the issues surrounding crime and justice. In the past few decades, criminologists have studied films and their representations of crime. Included in these studies were mostly films of the action, crime, western, film noir and thriller genres.

Criminology & Science Fiction

A genre that has been focused on to a lesser extent is science fiction, with the notable exceptions of movies such as Blade Runner (1982), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Minority Report (2002) and a select few others. Although science fiction would not, at first glance, seem the most logical choice for criminological analysis, the opposite is true. Science fiction offers endless opportunities to philosophize about reality, but this is also what makes it a controversial genre. As Philip K. Dick, author of many famous science fiction stories, said in the documentary On the Edge of Blade Runner (2000): “science fiction is essentially the field of ideas”.


In the science fiction genre, filmmakers have greater liberty to critically discuss current developments in society through depicting the possible future effects of certain developments (e.g. the increasing dependency on technology as the war between man and sentient machine as portrayed in the The Matrix trilogy (1999; 2003; 2003) or the global xenophobia and treatment of immigrants as the segregation of newly arrived aliens in District 9 (2009)). As George Lucas said in the documentary Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX-1138 (2004) about his 1971 film THX 1138: “THX wasn’t about the future, it was about how we were living in the 70s”.

Many science fiction films are themed with crime and the formal control thereof through law enforcement and punishment by the public authority in charge.


The above led me to pose the question: How are late modern developments in law enforcement and punishment discussed by dystopian science fiction films? This I answered in my thesis, through the use of semiotic film analysis. It was so much fun to conduct this research – being able to combine the two things I love most: criminology and movies. Luckily, the thesis was received rather well and it was appreciated particularly for its uniqueness :p.

[alert type=red ]If you have any questions whatsoever, I’d be happy to answer them! Share them in the comments or shoot me an email at [email protected] :)[/alert]


Campbell, E. (2010). The Future(s) of Risk: Barthes and Baudrillard go to Hollywood. Crime Media Culture, 6(1), 7-26.
Davis, M. (1998). City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. London: Pimlico.
Hayward, K. J. (2010). Opening the Lens: Cultural Criminology and the Image. In K. J. Hayward & M. Presdee (Eds.). Framing Crime: Cultural Criminology and the Image (pp. 1-16). London: Routledge.
Rafter, N. & Brown, M. (2011). Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime Theory and Popular Culture. New York: New York University Press.
Strange, C. (2010). Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange as Art against Torture. Crime Media Culture, 6(3), 267-284.
Valverde, M. (2006). Law and Order: Images, Meanings, Myths. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

Manon is the founder and Editor in Chief of Film Inquiry.

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