James Ellroy's Critical Criminology: Crimes of the Powerful in the Underworld USA Trilogy

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Abstract

This article argues for the criminological value of James Ellroy’s fiction, using his
Underworld USA Trilogy (the “Trilogy”) as a case study. I present the Trilogy as a critical criminological enterprise, understood in the sense of providing a convincing explanation of the cause(s) of social harm—specifically, those committed by various agencies of the American government from the late-1950s to the early-1970s. Ellroy’s Trilogy provides this explanation in two distinct ways, using literary devices first to establish a counterfactual vision of America during the 1960s and then to represent the lived experience of perpetrators of state-sponsored social harm. In conveying such criminological knowledge, the Trilogy constitutes an instance of critical criminology and demonstrates the exercise of the criminological imagination.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349
Number of pages365
JournalCritical Criminology
Volume29
Issue number2
Early online date2 Aug 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2019

Keywords

  • crimes of the powerful
  • crimes of the state
  • fiction
  • literary criticism crime
  • crime narrative
  • narrative
  • narrative criminology
  • racism
  • state crime
  • social harm

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