[This week’s End of Sentence, my newsletter about nonfiction crime writing.]
One of the reasons I went to Malcolm Gladwell first, is that Gladwell approaches crime differently than all of them in that he frequently approaches it through the lens of theory.
Gladwell goes into this with New Yorker editor David Remnick in an interview available here.
Remnick starts the interview with a comment about this theory focus to Gladwell’s writing.
“Most people when they’re writing New Yorker pieces or magazine pieces, or even non-fiction books,” Remnick says, “character is at the center, narrative is as the center. For you it’s theory…”
Gladwell brings up Thresholds, which we’ve been looking at the last couple weeks, noting that it would have been possible to only write the article about the would-be school shooter’s “extraordinary three-hour confession.”
“But I realized that if you were just going to reproduce his confession,” he says, “first of all, you’re no better than a stenographer. It’s too lazy to do that. And you’re just trafficking in the sensational aspect of the case. You have an obligation to do more with it.”
This is when Gladwell brings up sociologist Mark Granovetter’s 1973 paper theorizing riots.
“He wasn’t thinking about school shootings,” says Gladwell. “[They] didn’t exist in ’73 but this theory was waiting for school shootings.”
Gladwell proceeds to explain Granovetter’s theory, which we have covered in the last two weeks.
He wraps up the explanation by bringing up his mom.
“The simple way I explain this is my mother, the sweetest kindest person on earth,” he says. “There is a condition under which my mother will throw a rock through a window.”
“I’ve met your mother. There’s no condition…”
“There is!” Gladwell says. “If her sister and her, you know, and everyone in her family and all people at her church and everyone was throwing rocks through a window, my mother would reluctantly throw a rock.
“That’s Granovetter’s argument, that we all have a point where we’ll join in.”
Remnick says that this is “the heart” of what Gladwell does: “You take a sociological theory that has to do with riots, and then you start thinking about this horrendous subject.”
Then, Remnick says, Gladwell will “overlay” the social phenomena over the theory, which is what he did in Thresholds with school shootings and Granovetter’s social thresholds theory.
Remnick’s right. That’s what Gladwell does.
We’ll wrap up with Gladwell next week when we look at how he does that with a few of his other New Yorker pieces about crime, including his first New Yorker piece about homicide in New York.
New crime & criminal justice studies from the past week
Since this is a newsletter about nonfiction crime writing, and my own nonfiction writing focuses on covering criminology and criminal justice research, I share studies I’ve been considering for coverage in one of my Medium publications as an ongoing case study and as a resource to find new research, both for you.
I hope you’ll find some research here to write about. I’d love to read it or watch/listen to it, so please let me know by replying to this message.
If you don’t, you might consider looking into my Patreon program. I share a lot more new research with Patrons, and even those who only follow my public posts on Patreon, than I do here. I also share it throughout the week, which might be better for you than once a week like in End of Sentence.
I’m considering research that includes the following new studies from the last week for further coverage.
Research in consideration for True Crime Adjacent
1. Examining Risk for Sexual Assault Among Bisexuals, published in Crime & Delinquency.
2. Risk assessment of child-pornography-exclusive offenders, published in Law and Human Behavior.
3. Examining the link between social artifacts, solvability factors and case outcomes, published in Policing.
4. Developmental Considerations in How Defense Attorneys Employ Child Sexual Abuse and Rape Myths When Questioning Alleged Victims of Child Sexual Abuse, published in Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
5. Explaining the Insufficient Relationship between Affective Empathy and Physical Aggression Based on a Double-edged Sword Model, published in Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
Research in consideration for Nonfiction Crime Writing
1. Perceptions of Sexual Violence Terms Used in Statutes Throughout the United States, published in Violence Against Women.
Members of my Patreon program also got 21 bonus research studies that I’m not currently considering writing about, including the following three.
1. Immigrant-Ethnic Activity Space (IEAS), Ex-Prisoner Concentration, and Recidivism, published in Crime & Delinquency.
2. Legal Financial Obligations of Reentering People After Release From Prison: Exploring Predictors of Criminal Justice Debts, published in Crime & Delinquency.
3. Sacrifice spirit and police work-family conflict among rank-and-file officers in China, published in Policing and Society.