Run by School of History, Law and Social Sciences
20.000 Credits or 10.000 ECTS Credits
Organiser: Prof Lucy Huskinson
Overall aims and purpose
This module explores the curious figure of the serial killer. Students will examine real-life case studies and fictional depictions of serial killers, their victims, the criminal investigations surrounding them, and the reporting of their crimes in the media to begin to understand who or what the serial killer is why this figure continues to capture the popular imagination. Various philosophical and criminological ideas will be analysed and applied to specific profiles and cases of serial killers, including existential theories of Sartre and Nietzsche, as well as rational choice theory and anomie. Real life serial killers to be examined include, the Zodiac Killer, BTK, Dennis Nilsen, Harold Shipman, Rosemary West, Ian Brady and Ted Bundy; and fictional serial killers will include, Dexter and Hannibal Lecter. The module introduces students to the lives and backgrounds of those who become serial killers, as well as the broader socio-cultural context in which they kill.
The module begins by investigating the nature of the serial killer and why this figure holds such allure, even admiration for some. Here we question the need for labelling serial killers and for distinguishing them as a specific type. Topics to be considered include: the difference between a serial killer and a psychopath, issues of taboo and moral transgression, notions of control, fear, and the objectification of people.
Various profiles of serial killers will be examined to draw out the mismatch between the public perception of the serial killer on the loose and the perpetrator when caught. Here some common psychopathic traits of the serial killer will be put under the spotlight, including the curious mismatch between outward appearances of banality and inner grandiose thoughts of self importance.
Students will go on to explore some of the philosophical justifications that serial killers have used to support their behaviour, including grandiose claims to moral relativism. These include their appeals to acting in accordance to a higher moral purpose or instructions given to them by a divine being. Most common are claims to the philosophical ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche--often regarded as the favourite philosopher of serial killers. Students will be introduced to the most popular of Nietzsche's ideas that are cited by serial killers and in accounts of them--namely his notions of the 'will to power' and the Ubermensch or 'Superman'. Students will learn how Nietzsche's ideas are widely misinterpreted by serial killers (as well as their criminal prosecutors), and will be encouraged to question what, if anything, the serial killer can teach us about ourselves and our moral codes and instincts.
The module also draws on sociological and criminological theories to understand the broader social, economic and political contexts in which serial killers operate and choose their victims. In so doing, the module examines how processes of globalisation, mass urbanisation and social exclusion provided fertile ground for the 'rise' of the serial killer.
A - - A*. Submitted work is of an outstanding quality and excellent in one or more of the following ways: Has originality of exposition with the student’s own thinking being readily apparent. Provides clear evidence of extensive and relevant independent study. Arguments are laid down with clarity and provide the reader with successive stages of consideration to reach conclusions.
Very Good B- - B+. Submitted work is competent throughout and distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates: Very good structure and logically developed arguments. Draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student. Assertions are backed by evidence and sound reasoning. Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style.
D- - D +. Submitted work is adequate and shows an acceptable level of competence as follows: Generally accurate but with omissions and errors. Assertions are made without clear supporting evidence or reasoning. Has structure but is lacking in clarity and therefore relies on the reader to make links and assumptions. Draws on a relatively narrow range of material.
C- to C+
Good C- - C +. Submitted work is competent throughout and occasionally distinguished by superior style, approach and choice of supporting materials. It demonstrates: Good structure and logically developed arguments. At least in parts draws on material that has been sourced and assessed as a result of independent study, or in a way unique to the student. Assertions are, in the main, backed by evidence and sound reasoning. Accuracy and presentation in an appropriate academic style.
To be able to use technical terminology correctly and to demonstrate awareness of the social and historical context of their meaning.
To be able to construct a convincing argument that is supported by relevant examples acquired from independent research and the consultation of secondary and primary literature.
To be able to critique underlying issues in debates pertaining to the nature of serial killers, their victims, and their portrayal.
To be able to evaluate different interpretations of complex human behaviours and to question their limitations and usefulness.
|Critical glossary of terms||50.00|
|Case study of a serial killer to demonstrate application of theories||50.00|
Teaching and Learning Strategy
To keep up to date with readings for the module, to undertake research into the subject area, to plan for, prepare, and undertake the assessments.
Interactive lectures, includes individual and group activities.
- Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
- Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
- Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
- Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
- Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
- Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
- Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
- Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
- Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
Subject specific skills
- Articulacy in identifying underlying issues in a wide variety of debates.
- Precision of thought and expression in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems.
- Sensitivity in interpretation of religious and philosophical texts drawn from a variety of ages and/or traditions.
- Clarity and rigour in the critical assessment of arguments presented in such texts.
- The ability to use and criticise specialised religious and philosophical terminology.
- The ability to abstract and analyse arguments, and to identify flaws in them, such as false premises and invalid reasoning.
- The ability to construct rationally persuasive arguments for or against specific religious and philosophical claims.
- The ability to move between generalisation and appropriately detailed discussion, inventing or discovering examples to support or challenge a position, and distinguishing relevant and irrelevant considerations.
- The ability to consider unfamiliar ideas and ways of thinking, and to examine critically presuppositions and methods within the disciplines of philosophy and religion.
- The ability to identify and deploy a range of research strategies including qualitative and quantitative methods and the use of published data sources and to select and apply appropriate strategies for specific research problems; and the ability to present the philosophical and methodological background to the research of others and to one's own research.
- representations of victimisation, crime and deviance, and of the main agents and institutions which respond to crime and deviance, as found in the mass media, new media, in official reports and in public opinion
- how to use empirical evidence - both quantitative and qualitative - about the distribution of crime, deviance, offending and victimisation of all kinds to explore
- alternative theoretical approaches within criminology, and contemporary debates about the content and scope of criminology
- trends in crime, harm and victimisation
- different theoretical and empirical approaches to the study, analysis and explanation of crime, deviance, harm and victimisation
- theoretical and empirical relationships between power, crime and social change, and the impact of globalisation
- relationships of crime, deviance and offending, and victimisation to social divisions such as: age, gender, sexuality, social class, race, ethnicity and religious faith
- the development, role, organisation and governance of efforts to reduce and prevent crime, deviance and harm, and to ensure personal and public safety and security in different locations; the role of the state and non-governmental agencies
Resource implications for students
there will be no resource implications for students. All resources relevant to this module will be made readily available accessible via Blackboard.
Talis Reading listhttp://readinglists.bangor.ac.uk/modules/hps-3015.html
- Brophy, M.(2010) 'Sympathy for the Devil: Can a Serial Killer ever be Good? ', in: John M.Doris (ed.) *Serial Killers: Philosophy for Everyone, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford and New York: 78-90.
- Deal, W.E. (2010) 'The Serial Killer was (Cognitively) Framed', in: John M.Doris (ed.) *Serial Killers: Philosophy for Everyone, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford and New York: 155-165.
- Douglas, J. and Olshaker, M. (2017) Mind: Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit, Arrow: Random House, London and New York. 4 Ferguson, Christopher J. , Diana E. White , Stacey Cherry , Marta Lorenz and Zhara Bhimain ( 2003) ‘Defining and Classifying Serial Murder in the Context of Perpetrator Motivation’, Journal of Criminal Justice 31: 287-92.
- Gray, R.M.(2010) 'Psychopathy and Will to Power: Ted Bundy and Dennis Rader 'in: John M.Doris (ed.) *Serial Killers: Philosophy for Everyone, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford and New York: 191-205
- Greene, R. (2012) Dexter and Philosophy, Open Court: Chicago.
- Goffman, Erving ( 1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
- Haggerty KD. Modern serial killers. Crime, Media, Culture. 2009;5(2):168-187.
- Hare, R.D. (1999) Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, Guilford press: New York.
- Holmes, R.M. and Holmes, S.T. (Eds) Contemporary Perspectives on Serial Murder. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
- Schmid, D.(2010) 'A Philosophy of Serial Killing: Sade, Nietzsche, and Brady at the Gates of Janus' in: John M.Doris (ed.) *Serial Killers: Philosophy for Everyone, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford and New York: 18-29.
- Sartre, J.P. (1943) Being and Nothingness: Selected passages
- Nietzsche, F. Selected passages
- Winters, A.M.(2010) 'man is the most dangerous animal of all: a philosophical gaze into the writings of the Zodiac killer)in: John M.Doris (ed.) *Serial Killers: Philosophy for Everyone, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford and New York: 17-28.