Theatrics of transnational criminal justice: Ethnographies of penality in a global age

Date01 August 2021
Publication Date01 August 2021
AuthorKjersti Lohne,David Sausdal
DOI10.1177/13624806211029562
SubjectEditorial
https://doi.org/10.1177/13624806211029562
Theoretical Criminology
2021, Vol. 25(3) 361 –378
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
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DOI: 10.1177/13624806211029562
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Theatrics of transnational
criminal justice: Ethnographies
of penality in a global age:
Introduction to the Special
Issue
David Sausdal
Lund University, Sweden
Kjersti Lohne
University of Oslo, Norway
Abstract
This special issue sets out to explore the Theatrics of Transnational Criminal Justice.
‘Why’, we ask, ‘do transnational criminal justice actors perform themselves as they
do?’ ‘Why are their representations frequently, if not different from, then often
quite dramatized versions of the average reality of their practices?’ ‘What does such
dramatization tell us about not only the symbolism but also the structure and state
of transnational criminal justice?’ And, more generally, ‘what do such performances
of transnational criminal justice reveal about the nature of penal power in a global
day and age?’ In probing such questions, the special issue draws together a number
of accomplished ethnographers who have been exploring the performative nature of
transnational criminal justice issues around the world, considering both international
bodies such as Frontex, Europol, UNODC, the ICC as well as the many national actors
involved in the prevention, policing and prosecution of border-crossing issues.
Keywords
Ethnography, globalization, performance, power, transnational crime, transnational
criminal justice, international criminal law, transnational criminology, transnational
policing
Corresponding author:
David Sausdal, Department of Sociology, Lund University, Sandgatan 11, Hus G, 221 00 Lund, Sweden.
Email: david.sausdal@soc.lu.se
1029562TCR0010.1177/13624806211029562Theoretical CriminologySausdal and Lohne
research-article2021
Editorial
362 Theoretical Criminology 25(3)
Introduction
Example 1: Fully armed police rope down from a helicopter, hovering over open water.
Example 2: An aggressively barking German Shepherd is being held back by a darkly dressed
constable.
Example 3: New York socialites attend an art exhibition on people charged for crimes against
humanity.
This special issue of Theoretical Criminology contributes to the burgeoning field of study
known as ‘transnational criminal justice’, by focusing on the performative nature of this
work. Like the subfield, contributors are based in various disciplines including anthropol-
ogy, criminology, international relations, legal studies, political science and sociology.
In the three quotes above we see some of the ways in which transnational criminal
justice actors present, or rather, perform themselves and their vocation—in mainstream
and social media, at events, in oral or written communication, in trials, in action or in
other circumstances when making efforts to represent their line work. The first is from a
Frontex recruitment campaign in which the European border control agency uses sugges-
tive videoclips on social media to draw in recruits (see also Franko, 2021; Sausdal,
2021). The second is from a Europol photography contest, where countless
Hollywoodesque posters urge Europol personnel to submit their most sensational per-
sonal snapshots meant to represent the work of Europol (Sausdal, 2021). And the third is
an example of a chic art exhibition on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York,
displaying painted portraits of alleged war criminals on trial in international criminal
courts (Koulen, 2020). Besides being neatly curated and, indeed, evocative portrayals of
transnational criminal justice, the examples share another conspicuous quality: they by
and large (re)present a vocational story somewhat removed from the banal, bureaucratic
reality of much if not most transnational criminal justice (see Boer and Stolk, 2019;
Lohne, 2019; Olwig et al., 2019).
It is with these dramatized displays in mind that this special issue sets out to explore
the Theatrics of Transnational Criminal Justice. ‘Why’, we ask, ‘do transnational crimi-
nal justice actors perform themselves as they do?’ ‘Why are their representations fre-
quently, if not different from, then often quite dramatized versions of the average reality
of their practices?’ ‘What does such dramatization tell us about not only the symbolism
but also the structure and state of transnational criminal justice?’ And, more generally,
‘what do such performances of transnational criminal justice reveal about the nature of
penal power in a global day and age?’ In probing such questions, the special issue draws
together a number of accomplished ethnographers who have been exploring the performa-
tive nature of transnational criminal justice issues around the world, considering both
international bodies such as Frontex, Europol, the United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime (UNODC), the International Criminal Court (ICC) as well as the many national
actors involved in the prevention, policing and prosecution of border-crossing issues.
Performance: An empirical and theoretical interest
The special issue’s interest in the performative aspects of transnational criminal justice
is not just empirical but theoretical too. Probing into the displays of transnational

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