Political or moral law

A crime in a broad understanding is an act that violates a political or moral law of any one person or social grouping. In the narrow sense, a crime is a violation of criminal law; in many nations, there are criminal standards of bad behaviour. However, not all violations of the law are considered crimes, for example most traffic violations or breaches of contract. A crime can be the action of violating or breaking a law. According to Western jurisprudence, there must be a simultaneous concurrence of both actus reus ("guilty action") and mens rea ("guilty mind") for a crime to have been committed; except in crimes of strict liability.

In order for prosecution, some laws require proof of causation, relating the defendant's actions to the criminal event in question. In addition, some laws require that attendant circumstances have occurred, in order for a crime to have occurred. Also, in order for a crime to be prosecuted, corpus delicti (or "proof of a crime") must be established. The concept of "crime or criminology" denotes both definite perspectives and broader orientations that have emerged in criminology, sociology, and criminal justice over the past few years.

Most specifically, cultural criminology represents a perspective developed by Ferrell & Sanders (1995), and likewise employed by Redhead (1995) and others (Kane 1998a), that interweaves particular intellectual threads to explore the convergence of cultural and criminal processes in contemporary social life. Crime as Culture To speak of crime as culture is to acknowledge at a minimum that much of what we label criminal behavior is at the same time subcultural behavior, collectively organized around networks of symbol, ritual, and shared meaning. Put simply, it is to adopt the subculture as a basic unit of criminological analysis.

While this general insight is hardly a new one, cultural criminology develops it in a number of directions. Bringing a postmodern sensibility to their understanding of deviant and criminal subcultures, cultural criminologists argue that such subcultures incorporate--indeed, are defined by--elaborate conventions of argot, appearance, aesthetics, and stylized presentation of self and thus operate as repositories of collective meaning and representation for their members. Within these subcultures as in other arenas of crime, form shapes content, image frames identity.

Taken into a mediated world of increasingly dislocated communication and dispersed meaning, this insight further implies that deviant and cri minal subcultures may now be exploding into universes of symbolic communication that in many ways transcend time and space. For computer hackers, graffiti writers, drug runners, and others, a mix of widespread spatial dislocation and precise normative organization implies subcultures defined less by face-to-face interaction than by shared, if second-hand, symbolic codes (Gelder & Thornton 1997:473-550).

Understandably, then, much research in this area of cultural criminology has focused on the dispersed dynamics of subcultural style. Following from Hebdige's (1979) classic exploration of "subculture: the meaning of style," cultural criminologists have investigated style as defining both the internal characteristics of deviant and criminal subcultures and external constructions of them.

Miller (1995), for example, has documented the many ways in which gang symbolism and style exist as the medium of meaning for both street gang members and the probation officers who attempt to control them. Reading gang styles as emblematic of gang immersion and gang defiance, enforcing court orders prohibiting gang clothing, confiscating gang paraphernalia, and displaying their confiscated collections on their own office walls, the probation officers in Miller's study construct the meanings of gang style as surely as do the gang members themselves.

Likewise, Ferrell (1996) has shown how contemporary hip hop graffiti exists e ssentially as a "crime of style" for graffiti writers, who operate and evaluate one another within complex stylistic and symbolic conventions, but also for media institutions and legal and political authorities who perceive graffiti as violating the "aesthetics of authority" essential to their ongoing control of urban environments.

More broadly, Ferrell (in Ferrell & Sanders 1995:169-89) has explored style as the tissue connecting cultural and criminal practices and has examined the ways in which subcultural style shapes not only aesthetic communities, but official and unofficial reactions to subcultural identity.

Finally, Lyng & Bracey (1995) have documented the multiply ironic process by which the style of the outlaw biker subculture came first to signify class-based cultural resistance, next to elicit the sorts of media reactions and legal controls that in fact amplified and confirmed its meaning, and finally to be appropriated and commodified in such a way as to void its political potential.

Significantly , these and other studies (Cosgrove 1984) echo and confirm the integrative methodological framework outlined above by demonstrating that the importance of style resides not within the dynamics of criminal subcultures, nor in media and political constructions of its meaning, but in the contested interplay of the two. If subcultures of crime and deviance are defined by their aesthetic and symbolic organization, cultural criminology has also begun to show that they are defined by intensities of collective experience and emotion as well.

Building on Katz's (1988) wide-ranging exploration of the sensually seductive "foreground" of criminality, cultural criminologists like Lyng (1990, 1998) and Ferrell (1996) have utilized verstehen-oriented methodologies to document the experiences of "edgework" and "the adrenalin rush"--immediate, incandescent integrations of risk, danger, and skill--that shape participation and membership in deviant and criminal subcultures.

Discovered across a range of illicit subcultures (Presdee 1994, O'Malley & Mugford 1994, Tunnell 1992: 45, Wright & Decker 1994:117), these intense and often ritualized moments of pleasure and excitement define the experience of subcultural membership and, by members' own accounts, seduce them into continued subcultural participation. Significantly for a sociology of t hese subcultural practices, research (Lyng & Snow 1986) shows that experiences of edgework and adrenalin exist as collectively constructed endeavors, encased in shared vocabularies of motive and meaning (Mills 1940, Cressey 1954).

Thus, while these experiences certainly suggest a sociology of the body and the emotions, and further verstehen-oriented explorations of deviant and criminal subcultures as "affectually determined" (Weber 1978:9) domains, they also reveal the ways in which collective intensities of experience, like collective conventions of style, construct shared subcultural meaning.