Reclaiming the Expressive Subject of Crime

Christopher R. Williams, State University of West Georgia

Situated within the theoretical and philosophical frameworks of Romanticism and expressionism in the arts, this paper argues for conceptual renewal in the study of crime, specifically entailing a reclamation of the expressive subject. In particular, it is argued that many forms of crime and deviance can and should be understood as fundamentally artistic, embodying creative, expressive, emotive, symbolic, and communicative elements characteristic of art. The emergence of expressionism in the arts is described as issuing from the more general Romantic ethos, characterized by its critique of transformations brought by modernity and its affirmation of the creative, expressive dimension of being human. It is argued that many forms of crime and deviance, at least analogously, embody characteristics of this Romantic ethos. The paper concludes by discussing the need for renewed attention to human subjectivity in the study of crime, drawing in part from existentialism as a contemporary sociological counterpart to the Romantic ethos.

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Updated 05/20/2006