The Punitive Gaze

Philip Carney, Middlesex University

How might a still photograph become a punitive instrument? How should a critical criminology respond to this force? In a sense these questions are a particular case of a more general problem of the relation of the image to power. In order to develop a critique of media images of crime we need to understand a number of different modes of power, including the power of photography. Photographic theory has begun to understand this power but tends to see it as mediated by knowledge, ideology or simulacra. However we need to go beyond such ideas in order to appreciate how the still photograph is both a scene and means of punishment. I will use concepts derived from the post-structuralist theory of the image in order to construct a dynamic theory of the photograph that allows for the force effects of circulation on the body of the viewer as well as that of the viewed. These dynamics act through presentation rather than representation, indication rather than symbolisation and sensation rather than cognition. Through a case example I will show how the circulating phtograph is part of a force field in which photogenic punishment acts in a regime of the punitive gaze.

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Updated 05/20/2006