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Keywords:

  • marginal crime;
  • blackmail;
  • crime representation;
  • crime narratives;
  • deviance;
  • social change;
  • disciplinary boundaries

Abstract

Newspaper representation of blackmail cases from over half a century (1960–2009) is used to illustrate ‘marginal’ crime reporting in an era of social change: we asked how such crimes fare in attracting public attention and what meanings they represent during a period of politicised, public and criminological narratives of crime and disorder. ‘Marginal’ crimes sit at the edges of crime narratives and at the boundaries of criminology, yet the example of blackmail indicates wider social concerns. A macro analysis of 252 cases showed a steady public profile with six major categories of blackmail reported. At a micro level, only 33 cases achieved sustained reporting, deriving meaning from current social anxiety; acted normatively – defining current group values; or were one of a palette of charges brought against individuals.