“MEET THE DEVIL… HE’LL CHILL YOU TO THE BONE” FEAR, MARGINALIZATION, AND THE COLOUR OF CRIME: A THIRTY-YEAR ANALYSIS OF FOUR CANADIAN NEWSPAPERS
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It has been well established that fear of crime is, at least in part, influenced by the media. Past research has shown that escalation of fear in many Western societies has resulted from increased media coverage of crime. Despite the diversity of media outlets, a common discourse emergescriminal behaviour is a product of bad people, from poor neighbourhoods, preying on innocent and undeserving victims. Critical approaches to the study of media show crime reporting as a political act, involving deepening stereotypes and Othering of marginalized people based on their age, race, and gender. Missing from the literature is a detailed portrait of the nature of media representations of crime and how it may shift over time. The goal of my research is to fill this gap by analyzing how differences between offenders and victims’ race, age, and gender as described in newspaper crime reports significantly impact the probability that these articles would contain language promoting a discourse of fear and marginalization. A combination of critical theoriesincluding critical criminology, feminism, postcolonial theory, and critical discourse analysisare used to develop themes related to media representations of gender, race, and language. Because race, gender, and age in the context of crime cannot be extracted from class, discussions of class also appear throughout the thesis. Four newspapersthe Vancouver Sun, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Winnipeg Free Press, and the Toronto Starwere examined over a span of thirty years through a mixed methods approach combining content and critical discourse analyses. A total of 480 newspapers and 1, 190 crime articles constituted the empirical sample for this research. Two themesfear and marginalizationas well as twelve subthemes emerge from the empirical and theoretical literature. The research results show that differences in language can be observed in Canadian crime reports based on mentions of race, age, and gender of both the offenders and victims. Throughout all thirty years, articles indicated that crimes against white victims used fearful language, while visible minority victims were blamed for their victimization. White offenders were disproportionately criminalized and dehumanized with depictions that frequently undermined their claim to normal membership of their racial group through extraordinary character defect. Visible minority offenders were linked to poverty. Portrayals of female offenders accurately depicted them as generally low risk; both female offenders and female victims were treated in a largely equal manner. Women offenders were dichotomized into sexualized bad girls or malicious black widows. Female victims were either depicted as bad victims (i.e. racialized victims) who were blamed for their circumstances, or good victims who garnered sympathy through negative portrayals of their offenders. Young offenders and victims were often linked to gang activity, and language regarding them contained a mix of both fear and marginalization. The dissertation concludes by providing support to the critical paradigms with which it engages, demonstrating the need to include an analysis of critical criminology, race, gender, and a deconstruction of language. The study directs our attention to the necessity for further research on the benefits of educational programs for both those disseminating the discourse of crime and those consuming it.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorBrooks, Carolyn; Dell, Colleen
CommitteeCheng, Hongming; Quinlin, Elizabeth; Kovach, Margaret; Sinclair, Roberta
Copyright DateMarch 2014
fear of crime