Lecture of Prof. Dr Nicola Lacey “Gender and Crime: Women and Responsibility”

When you think of famous crimes, who committed them? And when you think of someone murdered, who exactly comes to mind? Today, the paradigmatic criminal is male, while the stereotypical victim is female, as well as young, which may signal innocence, while a perpetrator is considered guilty, personally responsible for a crime. These are images that have come a long way, painted in literature and theatre plays and movies, constantly perpetuated in crime series on TV and the internet, present in the world of games. On the one hand, this history has often discounted women’s agency and minimised the terrain over which it may be exercised, as well as distorting our view of how, when and why women broke the law. On the other hand, the heavily gendered notion of crime informs a world of criminal law and punishment, up to the organization of prisons, that deserves a gender competent analysis, and critique to inspire reform. However, gendered notions of the criminal subject do dominate. They are retold in case reports by the media, and, last but not least, such gendered notions of crime inform criminal law case examples, textbooks and exams. The presentation of Prof. Dr. Lacey addressed the gendered notions in criminal law, over the course of modern legal history up to the present day. How have cultural representations of women as offenders and victims changed over time, and what does this tell us about criminal law as a form of state power? Are guilt and responsibility neutral concepts? Or is the subject of criminal law gendered? Why and where is gender relevant in our understandings of criminal law?

Prof. Dr. Nicola Lacey is Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy at the London School of Economics. She was Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, and Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory at the University of Oxford from 2010 until September 2013. She has held a number of visiting appointments, most recently at Harvard Law School and at New York University Law School. She is an Honorary Fellow of New College Oxford and of University College Oxford. Prof. Dr. Lacey is a Fellow of the British Academy, served as a member of the British Academy’s Policy Group on Prisons, which reported in 2014, and was from 2014-2019 the Academy’s nominee on the Board of the British Museum. In 2017 she was awarded a CBE for services to Law, Justice and Gender Politics and in 2018 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Edinburgh. Prof. Dr. Lacey has been working in recent years with philosopher Hanna Pickard (Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and Princeton University) on the application of philosophical ideas of responsibility to criminal justice practices; and with political scientist David Soskice on the comparative political economy of crime, punishment and inequality. Prof. Dr. Lacey’s books include: In Search of Criminal Responsibility: Ideas, Interests and Institutions (2016); Women, Crime and Character: From Moll Flanders to Tess of the d’Urbervilles (2008); The Prisoners’ Dilemma: Political Economy and Punishment in Contemporary Democracies (2008); A Life of HLA Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream (2004), which is a winner of the RSA’s Swiney Prize 2004 and shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography and for the British Academy Book Prize; Unspeakable Subjects: Feminist Essays in Legal and Social Theory (1998).