The Ontology of Crime: On the Construction of the Real, the Image, and the Hyper-Real in Criminological Theory

Bruce Arrigo, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Implicitly or otherwise, criminologists are interested in the nature of reality presupposed by a particular theory of crime. As such, it is theory that commits us to believe in a certain kind of reality. These are matters pertaining to social ontology; that is, notions addressing the nature of crime and what we come to say about its very existence in society. This paper explores the ontological basis of crime, mindful of the culture to which such theoretical explanations are connected. Accordingly, this paper explores the problematic nature of defining reality (and therefore crime), especially given the increasingly specialized and media-manufactured climate in which such theories are delineated. At issue is the tension between reality and representation, fact and counterfactual in an intense and incessant culture of consuming images. This paper argues that the reality of crime has been displaced by the appearance of the same and that this displacement is itself undone (i.e., devoid of ontological foundation), given the these images are themselves not based on reality but, instead, are nothing more than simulations of a "hyper-real" existence. The paper concludes by exploring the implications of this analysis for purposes of theorizing criminology and for explaining its social ontology.

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Updated 05/20/2006