“… a feral #ethnography …”

Taken from a brilliant David Redmon (2016) piece: “Documentary criminology: Girl Model as a case study”. Crime Media Culture, pp.3-20 (DOI: http://doi.org/10.1177/1741659016653994):

“I am interested in the process by which ethnography can be coaxed away from the controlled contours of academic domestication […].  Feral research relies on messiness and experimentation in order to open up a space to do the unexpected.  Feral methods […] must become self-willed in order to avoid reproducing dominant ways of doing research.  […]”


“A feral method, then, is breaking away from domesticity and cultivation, a deliberate departure from the planned.  Documentary criminology ‘goes feral’ in its integration of audiovisual recording technology into ethnographic methodology to evoke pre-reflective aspects of criminological phenomena.  Documentary criminology’s vibrancy springs from its engagement with audiovisual technologies and new media software to generate aesthetic knowledge as experiential encounter; it invites the viewer to understand and engage with knowledge physically, beyond the force of written words.”

Whilst the term “documentary criminology” may lead us to conclude we are talking about well-made TV-style fifty-minute films about issues which preoccupy mainstream TV’s educated classes, in truth it might be better to term it “sensory criminology”, for as Redmon happily asserts again and again in this revelatory and liberating piece of recent academia, researching and presenting research via impressionistic, and via sensory generating and sustaining, tools is perhaps the final step a wider academia needs to take to fully embrace a rapidly changing, non-linear 21st century experience of living which most citizens are now striving to negotiate and understand.

Whilst the characteristic gradualism, and the building on carefully laid foundations, of traditional academic research captures so much beautiful truth, it also misses out on other significant truths – as Redmon’s article makes clear through its use, paradoxically, of the very same academic strategies (an example of how to deconstruct existing practice using the very same practice as a means to deconstruct, perhaps!): in reference to many other fascinating authorities, it becomes clear that the sensory understandings and urgencies of harm, violence and the criminal act escape academia, notoriously (and in my view, here quite unnecessarily) in its generalised refusal – its overbearing disavowal – to employ the literary immediacies of the first person narrator.

Redmon, meanwhile, is suggesting we go much much further than simply asserting our individual, in those primitive and exclusively linguistic terms already eschewed by the majority of academic practice.  He suggests we collect and present non-linear experience as a proper, unique and (perhaps exclusively) accurate way of depicting, reproducing and communicating the results of complex, interleaved research into complex, interleaved civic relationships, for the better comprehension by a society of now born-watchers (I would use the term “surveillers”) – watchers who long ago escaped the singular authorial narrative: that narrative which, in its very form, contributed to the hegemony of one world view, one best way, and one way forward.

Hannah Arendt’s rightful attachment to the plurality of our lived experience simply supports the need for academia to use not only its favourite arms of reference – the words which have aggrandised its truthful march across much of civilisation – but also, surely, for it to create quite different foundations: if only it were possible for newly coherent, cogent, magnificent schools of academic engagement to be established on the platforms of what people sense and experience in fleeting and gasped ways, what a wonderful door this would open in the second decade of the 21st century …

The carefully considered, argued, constructed and cogitated will always have their place in the practice of rigorous human thought.  But the fleetingly sensed, given its place in most people’s everyday lives and criminological perceptions, needs to find a niche of embraced and generously accepted space too.

The justification for such a sea-change in how we perceive academia’s responsibilities to its discourses and tools?  A technology society of non-linear and multi-channel communication not only is sensed in utterly different ways from the singular authority of traditional academia, it also exchanges information within itself in completely different modes.  And the nature of that sensory life, and the nature of that communicative shift, modifies – quite drastically – the affect that drives human reality.

The issue is no longer that we are all potential authors, and publishers to boot, and that we need to find some sensible and just way to decide which voice should – from the point of view of pure utility and societal efficiency – be more visible than another.

The real issue is that some voices, by their rejection of multi- and non-lineal experience, are rejecting the reality of criminological practice and lived experience by refusing to adapt their theory in both content and form.

The real crime lies not in wanting to get your voice heard above the crowd.

The real crime lies in believing that in order to speak more clearly, you need to use words to the exclusion of every other mode of communication, perception and conclusion.

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