The Overnight Researcher: Sleeping in Crime Scene Motels

Dr Carolyn Mckay1

1University Of Sydney Law School

In this paper I will provide an overview of my Crime Scene Motel Project that examines a particular social site, the motel room, and its place in the catalogue of crime scenes. Motel rooms present a unique conflation of intimacy, privacy and anonymity with a world of transience, motor vehicles, strangers, sex and the uncanny. The project’s research methods entwine recognised sociological and criminological methods, such as autoethnography, with emergent understandings of ghost criminology and non-traditional visual arts practice-based research methods. The Crime Scene Motel Project gives an example of actively doing and creating a tangible form of criminology through embodied, sensorial, aesthetic and imaginative immersion in a site of crime and through the materiality of a visual arts studio practice.

Building on conceptions of ‘sleepwork’ (Ellis 2017; Gilliat-Ray 2016; Valtonen and Veijola, 2011; Williams 2008), I will focus on the Crime Scene Motel Project’s autoethnographic method of sleeping in a specific urban environment as a means to experience a visceral and immersed reading of a crime site (Kindynis and Garrett 2015). What happens when we de-centre the wakeful intellect and, instead, treat sleep as a meaningful research encounter? Such a method foregrounds the body of the researcher, their phenomenological or sensorial experience, reflexivity and the knowledge that can accumulate through sleeping on a mattress that has been used by countless motel guests. In this way, a ‘sleeping on the job’ research method (Gilliat-Ray 2016: 4) can contribute to spatial understandings of these sites as spaces that lend themselves to crime events and as spaces that remain charged with the traces of transgression.


Dr Carolyn McKay is a Senior Research Fellow, University of Sydney Law School and co-Director, Sydney Institute of Criminology. Carolyn is recognised for her research into technologies in justice and is author of The Pixelated Prisoner: Prison video links, court ‘appearance’ and the justice matrix (2018) Routledge. She has recently commenced an ARC DECRA for ‘The Digital Criminal Justice Project: Vulnerability and the Digital Subject’.  She teaches a postgraduate elective ‘Digital Criminology: Technology & Crime’. In addition, she combines her visual arts practice and curatorial experience with her criminological research in the Crime Scene Motel Project.


Dec 09 2021