chapter  2
31 Pages

Sex, violence and criminology – from sex to sex killers

Shifting our attention from sex to sex killers via criminological studies of various forms of interpersonal violence, Chapter 2 investigates how criminologists and other crime ‘experts’ respond to the problem of men’s violence against women. As examples of the failure of mainstream criminology and related disciplines to come to grips with the sheer scale of that violence abound, the discussion will be confined to examples from my undergraduate teaching materials. These texts, taken at random from journals and textbooks, are certainly as ‘staggering’ and inane as the ones Foucault ridiculed in ‘Prison Talk’. But while we might laugh with him at their stupefying banality, there is also a much more serious side to my critique which deploys an engaging type of discourse analysis that I call spotting discursive manoeuvres. It is borrowed from Hilary Allen’s brilliant analysis of the ‘discursive manoeuvres’ deployed in British social work and psychological reports on women charged with serious offences in the 1980s. As she shows, these discursive manoeuvres have the effect, albeit unintentionally, of erasing women’s guilt and their responsibility for their violent acts and their potential dangerousness, thereby ‘rendering them harmless’. Interestingly, Allen found that the kinds of discursive constructions made in reports on women offenders – for example, that they were mothers and therefore, presumed to have loving, maternal and ‘harmless’ personalities – were ‘absent or untypical in cases involving males’.1 While not wishing to deny the problems raised for feminism by Allen’s examination of the sanitation of violent women defenders in professional reports, I intend to draw on her insights about the operation of discursive manoeuvres for a very different purpose – that of exploring the stunning erasures that occur inside and outside the criminology discipline when the problem of men’s violence is addressed.