Directions: You are going to take the role of an auto-ethnographer. Ethnography “involves hands-on, on-the-scene learning”. It involves conducting fieldwork, which “is the process of immersing oneself in as many aspects of the daily cultural lives of people as possible in order to study their behaviors and interactions”. More specifically, an auto-ethnography “is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”.
In our society, we are bombarded with imagery of “crime” every day, whether we are aware of it or not. Most students taking this class have also taken my CRJ 114: Survey of Criminal Justice class. In that class, I always ask students their perceptions of crime rates, the number of homicides every year, and the number of children kidnapped by strangers. Generally, those answers far exceed reality and while it is not that I expect students to know the answers it is reflective of society’s warped reality about crime. For example, last fall 2021, out of 52 respondents in my CRJ 114 class 8% (n=4) respondents correctly chose that crime rates have sharply decreased since the 1990s. Other examples of society’s warped reality of crime from survey responses in that class include:
A majority of respondents from that same survey guessed that over 1,000 children are abducted by strangers every year. Guesses ranged from exactly 1,000 to 3,000,000.
25 respondents in this same survey guessed that over 35,000 people die from homicide every year. Guesses were as high as 10,000,000. In 2020, the Uniform Crime Report recorded 21,570 homicides (and 16,425 in 2019…2020 had a particularly stark increase, but numbers have generally remained around the 2019 numbers for the years prior to 2019).
The question you seek to answer throughout your auto-ethnographic journaling is the following: What is it about our culture that so severely warps our reality of crime?
As part of this assignment, you will be paying close attention to how you encounter “crime” in your daily life throughout the semester (do not include in-class experiences in your observation). This includes the most obvious ways we encounter “crime” (such as news, social media, crime TV shows and True Crime podcasts, political speeches, among others). These encounters could be through visuals. They could be daily interactions with people at school, your job, or interactions with your friends and families. Ways in which we may encounter imagery of “crime” without realizing it may include neighborhood watch signs, security cameras, among others.
Here is what you will be doing:
Identifying the obvious and subtle ways in which you encounter imagery of “crime” or have interactions that revolve around crime (whether it is avoiding being victimized by a crime or in how crime is discussed in an interaction between you and friends or an interaction between strangers you overhear). Describe why it is obvious or why it is subtle. Look for the most subtle interactions and imagery of crime.
Reflect on your own encounters with this imagery (particularly your encounters prior to taking courses on crime and criminal justice). How do you think this imagery impacted you and your perceptions of crime?
Ask others how this imagery impacts their perceptions of crime, whether they noticed these subtle symbols of crime, and how they feel it impacts their perceptions.
Based on these observations you should consider the following questions:
Who are the “criminals” represented in this imagery?
How reflective is this imagery of the actual reality of “crime”?
What “crimes” should we fear the most and which “crimes” are ignored?
How does this imagery warp realities of crime?
How do these observations relate to what you have learned from the readings or podcasts?
Moreover, throughout this course we will critically interrogate what we mean by “crime” (if you took CRJ 114 with me we did this some in that course but will do more of it here). Later in the semester you may incorporate how your views of “crime” have evolved and how that is different (or similar) than what our culture encourages us to think about crime.
What will I need to turn in?
You will turn in four journals throughout the semester. Each journal is worth 25 points each for a total of 100 points.
Journal Structure: Each journal entry should be at minimum 500 words. Do not include the questions I pose above in your word count. Each journal should note how your observations overlap with two readings from class (two different chapters from the same book are considered **two** readings). Please cite the reading in ASA or APA format in your journal and provide a short reference page. Do not put the titles of the reading in your journal. Other than this, the format is mostly up to you. The questions are merely guides and you can be creative in discussing how you encounter “crime” in your daily life. It is up to you to be able to make the clear connection to content from the course.
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