Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Criminal Mugshots as Feminist Subversion. The Suffragette Example.

Linda Mulchay, Docile Suffragettes? Resistance to Police Photography and the Possibility of Object-Subject Transformation, 23 Feminist Legal Studies 79 (April 2015).

 This paper provides a revisionist account of the authority and power of the criminal mugshot. Dominant theories in the field have tended to focus on the ways in which mugshots have been used as a way of disciplining criminal bodies and rendering them docile. It is argued here that additional emphasis could usefully be placed on stories of resistance in which the monological production site of the prison or police station transforms into a dialogical site, in which the objects of police photography can acquire agency. These issues are explored with particular reference to a set of photographs of English suffragettes acquired by the police for surveillance purposes. The suffragette’s refusal to comply with requests to have their photographs taken is used as a case study through which to examine the ways in which conventions about the form of the mugshot can be subverted, ideas about the types of people who were the object/subject of mugshots disrupted and the assumption of documentary neutrality undermined.

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