Law, Norm and Criminalization

Discursive and Legal Attributions of Non-normative Behaviour

The Project “Law, Norm and Criminalization” analyses the connections between the creation of norms, the legal punishment of non-normative behavior and the exclusion of forms of deviance from the norm through discursive means. The project also includes an examination of the schematic dichotomization of inclusion and exclusion as well as an analysis of how exclusionary practices function in the creation of collective identities. Likewise, the construction of alternative anti-identities as a subjective reaction to exclusionary practices will be studied. These processes will be considered theoretically with regard to legal norms, legal ethics, and action theory; practically they will be analyzed in connection with hate crimes and human rights; finally, these processes will be illustrated discursively in an analysis of literary and cinematic texts about criminals and incarcerated individuals.
Project category: Research project
Organisational status: Departmental project
Project time frame: Beginning of project: 2004
End of project: 2009
Status of Project: completed

Head(s) of project

Contributors / Researchers

The Project “Law, Norm and Criminalization” analyses the connections between the creation of norms, the legal punishment of non-normative behavior and the exclusion of forms of deviance from the norm through discursive means. The project also includes an examination of the schematic dichotomization of inclusion and exclusion as well as an analysis of how exclusionary practices function in the creation of collective identities. Likewise, the construction of alternative anti-identities as a subjective reaction to exclusionary practices will be studied. These processes will be considered theoretically with regard to legal norms, legal ethics, and action theory; practically they will be analyzed in connection with hate crimes and human rights; finally, these processes will be illustrated discursively in an analysis of literary and cinematic texts about criminals and incarcerated individuals.

The leading hypothesis of the project is the assumption that the criminalization of individuals and groups is actually encouraged by legal processes in democratic states when violations of norms are regarded as dangerous. And historic practices of exclusion are rapidly furthered by the discourses of exclusion that are practiced in the media and in literature. Project participants are centrally interested in the interaction of culturally malleable moral norms and state-sanctioned legal norms: this interaction is the basis for the qualification of norm offences.

In its trans-disciplinary scope this project consists of three independent but, in terms of their content, nonetheless interrelated subprojects that work together closely. The project involves a cooperation between the English Department and the Husserl Archive of the University of Freiburg, and the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law.

The subproject in philosophy addresses legal and moral norms and particularly human rights. These rights and norms are relevant to the behavior of groups within a society and the sanctioned violence of the state. Society's debate about 'guilty' behavior in non-state, inter-human interactions will be addressed through a philosophical discussion of the concept of forgiveness.

The subproject in literary studies analyses literary projections of the prison in comparison to historical documents and contexts; in particular, strategies for categorizing criminals and how the prison functions as a symbolic site will be considered.

The subproject in criminology will conduct an empirical study on the behavior of radical right-wing youths before, during, and after their confrontation with criminal law (arrest, trial, and incarceration). The basis for this study will be a comparison of the right-wing youths with several control groups of other potentially violent gangs (hooligans, skinheads, etc).

The central question of the project concerns first the process of criminalization. The project asks how and under what legal and societal conditions and with what means groups of persons are excluded by society as 'criminal.' To answer this question the philosophical discipline, on the one hand, will play a vital role in analyzing legal, moral, and societal norms; by this means the dichotomous relationship between the concepts of normativity and normalism will be highlighted. On the other hand the criminological project outlines forms of exclusion, which are practiced through criminal law in the penal system. Hence this subproject addresses the question of normalism via a scale of groups of offenders.

The project secondly addresses jail as society's site for exclusion. Crucial here is an awareness of the dynamics of exclusion that lead to processes of identification and self-exclusion in many of the groups analyzed in this project. For instance, incarcerated individuals identify themselves in contradistinction to the society that excludes them via group dynamics and by constituting an identity that is strengthened by certain behaviors, symbols and rituals, all of which will be addressed in the criminology project. Moreover, the attribution of criminality on the basis of a number of characteristics that allow individuals to be labeled 'criminal' is central to the process of criminalization. In the literary studies project the use of animal metaphors in many descriptions of 'criminals' will be given particular attention within the context of nineteenth-century biologically deterministic models of behavior. The tendency to explain criminality as a form of atavistic animalism can also be seen in descriptions of jails both in literary and film texts. The final essential point of this study concerns the relationship between violence and ethics. The groups that will be studied in the subproject in criminology practice violence against individual victims who are viewed of representatives of an alien group.

The aim of this project is to document the mutual intertwining of conceptions of norms, law, ethics and discursive practices. Their reciprocal nature will be analyzed on the basis of exemplary cases that originate in law, history, and literature including film. In addition to legal, literary, and medial discourses, visual images will be considered in this project. Furthermore, this project aims to address the public directly and to make the results of this project known in an effective manner by holding regular public events, lecture series and by working with institutions outside of the university.

Finally, the project's methodology increases its relevance. Conceived of as a surmounting of the separation between the humanities and the social sciences, philosophy, philology, and social sciences work together in "Law, Norm, Criminalization" as was common in the nineteenth-century sciences of man.

Criminology Project

The criminology project is about "Hate Crimes — The Impact of Imprisonment on Violent Juvenile Offenders".

Contact person for this project is

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Hans-Jörg Albrecht
Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law
Günterstalstr. 73
79100 Freiburg

Tel.: +49 (0)761 7081-204
Fax: +49 (0)761 7081-316
Office Prof. Albrecht: sek-albrecht@mpicc.de

For further information on the criminology project and the project descriptions please click here:


Criminology Project

Literary Studies Project

The literary studies project is about "Processes of Criminalization and Experiences of Prison: Spaces, Bodies, Identities, Topoi, Metaphors".

Contact person for this project is

Prof. Dr. Monika Fludernik
English Department (Englisches Seminar)
D-79085 Freiburg

Tel.: +49 (0)761 203-3310/3313
Fax: +49 (0)761 203-3359/3340
Office Prof. Fludernik: sekretariat.fludernik@anglistik.uni-freiburg.de

For further information on the literary studies project and the project descriptions please click below:


Literary Studies Project

Philosophy Project

The philosophy project is about "Legal and Moral Norms as Structures of Meaning in Changing Societies".

Contact person for this project is

Prof. Dr. Hans-Helmuth Gander
Husserl Archive
Werthmannplatz
D-79085 Freiburg im Breisgau

Tel.: +49 (0)761 203-2427
Fax: +49 (0)761 203-2388
Office Prof. Gander: husserlarchiv@philosophie.uni-freiburg.de

For further information on the philosophy project and the project descriptions please click below:


Philosophy Project

Publications (selection)

  • Last update: 16 July 2015
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