Monsters, Madmen… and Myths: A Critical Review of the Serial Killing Literature
journal contributionposted on 09.11.2016, 12:48 by Sarah Hodgkinson, Herschel Prins, Joshua Stuart-Bennett
Despite the longstanding public and media fascination with the modern ‘serial killer’, the academic literature is relatively limited. The international field is dominated by individualistic biographical accounts, which offer a highly reductionist and distorted stereotype of the perpetrator, with little opportunity to learn from past cases, or place them within wider socio-cultural contexts. Furthermore, there are a profusion of overlapping and confusing terms, confounded by the FBI’s social construction of the ‘serial killer problem’, and perpetuating widespread misleading assumptions. After many years teaching in this area, we are often struck by how these media-driven misconceptions of the serial killer dominate students’ knowledge and interest in the topic. This is despite a growing critique of the area in recent years, particularly from within our field of criminology. We seek to debate these issues by exploring some useful cases of serial killing, foregrounding some UK case examples, which are often underexplored. We argue for the need to facilitate scholarly, systematic research to counter the voyeuristic, essentialist narratives within popular media. We also advocate the alternative socio-cultural approach to the study of serial killing, which has emerged in recent years, although been relatively unacknowledged in the international literature to date.