‘From villain to hero’: a new approach in pedagogy and rehabilitation?

This blog explores the simplification of crime theory aimed at a non -academic audience through the use of imagery.

Liam Miles

Liam Miles is a Criminology student at Birmingham City University and has a passion for writing from a range of topics including structural inequalities, systematic violence, conflict in the Middle East, and various theoretical paradigms to crime and deviance. He also works in the Student’s Union as  Vice-President for Academic Experience.


From villain to hero delves into the more insightful and inclusive elements of Criminology. The comic recently published by Kevin Hoffin and Adam Lynes answers some questions around rehabilitative practices for offenders who have faced high levels of institutionalism and incapacitation. The narrative explores a typical criminal offence which is realistic in today’s social and economic climate, a jewellery shop heist.  The heist takes place and the comic critically explores the mental and personal conflictions between the offenders, in terms of their rationale and reasonings for the crimes they had committed. These thoughts underpin several theoretical paradigms which are regularly contested within Criminology and they include rational choice, differential association, relative depravation and strain theory. The ontological frameworks have been made accessible for not only a non-academic audience, but possibly individuals who may not have an academic background in reading and writing due factors such as barriers to access education, learning challenges and years of institutionalism. It can be argued that this newly founded mechanism for education provides a fresh approach to learning, teaching and rehabilitation. The theoretical paradigms of criminality have been simplified throughout this comic and gives a space for those learning about these theories to digest them in an interactive and applied manner. I believe that there is immense potential for this comic to play a role in the process of rehabilitation of offenders, particularly of those who have committed violent crime and have inflicted harm onto others. The comic uses graphically designed imagery to display the criminological theory and accurately portray the perspectives and social realities of both the offender and victim. These range from the motives and structural dynamics which arguably led the offenders to commit a jewellery shop heist, following to the victim and their trauma from the experience and exposure to violent crime. These collective narratives can produce didacticism and potentially even rehabilitation of offenders in prison. This approach can help students digest and understand the basic frameworks and theoretical paradigms such as ultra-realism, which itself is a challenging idea to comprehend.

These narratives can be further supported by exploring the teachings embedded within the comic. One scene shows the interviewing of the victim/witness. The witness was told to take her time and to relax whilst she recollected the traumatic events from the robbery. The next scene explored the offenders being interviewed. The rationale and reasoning behind the offender’s motives came to light, and arguably to the reader this revelation subconsciously unmasks the offender and adopts a more humane perspective. This compilation of both offender and victim-based perspectives underpin the critical teachings of ultra-realism. Realism has a subjectivity engrossed heavily in socio-economic climates and the empiricisms contained within builds its ontological frameworks. Exploring crime and justice policy, from a circumstantial lens often produces conflictions amongst ultra–realists as to which is the most appropriate response to tackling crime and punishment. Arguably these concepts are abstract notions and finding one-size which fits all is a regular contest. The conflictions between left and right realism and its approaches to crime and punishment were simplified by the context supplied by the responses to the crime which took place. In one scene, the narrative explored a member of the public who had called for the offenders of the jewellery shop heist to be immediately imprisoned and described offenders as being ‘benefit scroungers’. Upon reflection, this phrase has often been thrown around within the right-wing tabloids, and is an ideological strand embedded within right realism. Examples can include the headline produced by the Daily Express on September 2nd, 2011 titled: 4m Scrounging families in Britain‘, adjacent to an article titled: ‘London’s no longer an English City’ says John Cleese’.

It can be argued that these narratives produce a divide between those who are employed and prosperous, and those who are unemployed and are having to receive support from the state to maintain a basic standard of living, these narratives are fixed and continuously aim to marginalise, stigmatise and segregate those who are impoverished. In relation to the links between impoverishment and criminality, the simplification of the narratives throughout the comics, allows the reader to understand the ways in which these beliefs are perpetuated, particularly through the lens of the media.

On the flip side, the values embedded within left realism were also explored and simplified. The comic displayed another member of the public who was debating with the right realist, and argued that criminality is fuelled by poverty, structural inequalities and the failures within some individuals to economically and socially fit into this neoliberal, consumer capitalist society, whose values endorse competition, narcissism and raised expected aspirations in an unattainable society. A left realist would argue that these issues are out of the control of the offender, and they would be driven to commit crime as an only solution to escape from impoverishment. The principles and implementation of rehabilitation, local state funding, and investment into both the labour market and public sectors would play a vital role in steering individuals away from crime through increased opportunities to live a ‘normal’ life. Of course, the constructs within ultra-realism go a lot further than that which have been drawn upon in this blog however the wider understandings of criminological theory have been contextualised and simplified throughout the comic.

Upon reflection of our own values and approaches, the debate in the comic as to how the offenders should be dealt with, paves room for personal reflection upon our own morals and judgements. It is worth noting these constructs were complimented by the incredible use of imagery and design which draws readers in from the very start. This marks the start of a very inspiring and promising tool within pedagogy, rehabilitation and leisure interests for those who are looking to get inspired, learn new concepts and engage with their discipline in ways which go far and beyond reading papers and journals.

If you would like to receive a copy of the comic, please email Kevin Hoffin at: Kevin.Hoffin@bcu.ac.uk



Liam Miles, Birmingham City University



Images: courtesy of the author