true TRUE CRIME crime: an interdisciplinary, performative presentation examining the ethics of true crime

Dr Carolyn McKay1, Mr Brian Joyce2, Professor Murray Lee1, Associate Professor Alyce McGovern3,  Mark Halsey4, Dr Xanthe Mallett2

1University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia,

2University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia,

3UNSW, Sydney, Australia

4Flinders University

true TRUE CRIME crime is a performative presentation exploring what happens when criminal cases, academic theory and tabloid intersect and become personal. Through this interdisciplinary engagement, the performance critiques the attraction, fetishism and ethics of true crime. It also reimagines the academic presentation and the nexus of our respective research practices including criminology, criminal law, palimpsests of site and narrative, with our individual creative practices of performance, visual art, music and craftivism.

The performance commences with a seemingly ordinary academic presentation of McKay’s criminological research of the motel room as a significant criminogenic site, analyzing the site through legal narrative, hauntology and dark tourism (Hutchings 1999; Derrida 2006; Linnemann 2015; Fiddler 2018; Kindynis 2019). In parallel, Joyce’s embodied performance and Lee’s evocative soundscape conjure the spatial attributes of unremarkable and banal motel rooms. There is an abrupt interruption and role reversal when the academic presentation converges with Joyce’s lived experience of violence – a truth of true crime. As academic engagement collides with autobiography and performing the self (Heddon 2007; Nicholson 2003), the performance calls into question the ethics and outcomes of artistic interaction with crime scenes, and the larger issue of creative response to narratives of violence and trauma (Scott Bray 2014; Biber 2018). McGovern, Halsey and Mallett will respond to the ethical issues raised through the lens of cultural criminology and facilitate discussion.


Dr Carolyn McKay is a Lecturer at the University of Sydney Law School where she teaches Criminal Law and Civil & Criminal Procedure. In 2020 she will present a new digital criminology elective that connects with her primary research focus on technologies in justice. Stemming from her empirical prison research, in 2018 she published her first research monograph ‘The Pixelated Prisoner’ (Routledge). In addition, Carolyn has found an intersection between visual criminological research and her visual arts practice that is made manifest in her significant non traditional research outputs including curatorial and exhibition roles.

Brian Joyce is a Lecturer/Tutor at the University of Newcastle, in Creative and Performing Arts, specializing in contemporary performance, site specific performance, and acting. With Dr. Gillian Arrighi, he initiated interdisciplinary research into Simulation Role-Play with the disciplines of Pharmacy, Medicine and Occupational Therapy exploring actor training and role play design. He is an award-winning Artistic Director, writer, actor, and community cultural development worker with particular interests in Applied Theatre, Site and Indigenous performance. He is currently Writer/Co-Producer for Ngarrama Productions, an Aboriginal performance group based in Newcastle.

Murray Lee is Professor of Criminology, University of Sydney Law School. His research focuses on representations and perceptions of crime and how these lead to criminalisation. He is the co-editor / author of The Routledge International Handbook on Fear of Crime, Inventing Fear of Crime: Criminology and the Politics of Anxiety, co-author of Policing and Media: Public Relations, Simulations and Communications, co-editor of Fear of Crime: Critical Voices in an Age of Anxiety, and editor of the scholarly journal Current Issues in Criminal Justice.

Alyce McGovern is an Associate Professor in Criminology at UNSW Sydney. She researches in the area of crime, media and culture, including police-media relations, police use of social media, young people and sexting, and knitting graffiti. She is the author of ‘Craftivism and Yarn Bombing: A Criminological Exploration, and co-author of ‘Policing and Media: Public Relations, Simulations and Communications’ and ‘Sexting and Young People’.

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