The missing and the murdered: crime narratives in the mediated public sphere

Margaret Sweeney

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    Since the 1990s, studies within the inter-disciplinary fields of crime, the media and children have been wide-ranging. In spite of this however, to date, research into the media’s reporting on the missing and murdered child has been a neglected area of study. This thesis redresses this gap by providing the first significant study into the missing and murdered child and the way in which the media interrogates this phenomenon within the mediated public sphere. Reflecting on historical and contemporary debates and ideas about the public sphere, the thesis draws on current literature and considers the way in which mediated narratives about the missing and the murdered child, reinforce particular ideological and cultural assumptions about the politics of childhood, motherhood, community and privacy. The thesis considers the way in which the media’s coverage of the missing and the murdered child has contributed to the ‘emotionalization’ of the public sphere. The study examines established viewpoints about the nature of an emotionalized public sphere and the extent to which it undermines Western values associated with liberal democracy. A qualitative textual analysis of two case studies was conducted into the media’s coverage of two high-profile incidents of child murder and abduction- the Soham murder investigation in 2002 and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, 2007. Samples for analysis were drawn from both print and broadcast media including five UK national tabloid newspapers- Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Sun, Daily Star, Daily Express together with an episode of the BBC’S Crimewatch. Findings from this study reveal that a public sphere shaped by emotion provides a vehicle whereby subaltern counter-publics, the voice of ordinary citizens takes precedence. Moreover, I argue that the distinctiveness of this research is that it highlights the way in which a mediated public sphere informed by emotion appears to promote active citizenship and engagement with matters of public concern, of which the missing and the murdered child are but two examples. Finally, I suggest that it is through participation, and perhaps social and political engagement in response to such incidents, that contributes to the reformulation of a mediated public sphere and thereby sustains the very doctrines that underpin the role of the state and civil society.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Glasgow
    • Lury, Prof. Karen, Supervisor, External person
    Award date26 Jun 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2016


    • Crime
    • Media
    • missing children
    • murdered children
    • emotionalization of public sphere
    • crime narratives
    • motherhood
    • community
    • privacy
    • citizenship
    • public performativity
    • liberal democracy


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