From Offender Rehabilitation to the Aesthetic of the Victim

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This article analyzes the role played by crime victims in social control in the postindustrial United States in the last three decades of the 20th century. Through a synthesis between Zygmunt Bauman’s work on late modernity and Pierre Dardot’s and Christian Laval’s conceptualization of neoliberalism, the article reviews the increasing centrality of the crime victim in penal discourse, particularly in light of the ‘aesthetic turn’ proposed by Bauman and others as representing a deep transition in the way social problems and political actions are understood. More precisely, a society governed by aesthetics is concerned with superficial manifestations of social harms. As such, under this aesthetic turn, public attitudes and criminal justice policies in the United States since the 1970s have related to ideal victims who are devoid of social context. Victims play a symbolic role in amplifying punitive emotions but are denied meaningful services. The article concludes with a call to rethink the ethos of the victim with an eye toward reducing the structural pathologies, such as inequality, poverty, or racial discrimination, that inflict so much harm on so many.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-113
Number of pages17
JournalSocial and Legal Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.


  • Compensation schemes
  • Zygmunt Bauman
  • consumer society
  • crime victims
  • neoliberalism
  • victims’ rights movement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • Law


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