Law and Violence in Cinema

The representation of violence has been an important guiding theme within cinema since its beginnings. There are very different functions this process can take in different genres. Nevertheless it has always been important to broach the issue of the law of violence and the violence of the law in cinematic narrations. Fictional films that depict events and states of open or latent violence, often question the legitimacy of social orders, in which violence occurs through their form of narration. These films are about the intimacy between law and violence.
Starting from exemplary films from different genres – mainly western, film noir, war films and police procedurals – the research focused on the question of how the aesthetic treatment in these films dramatizes the entanglement of law and violence. The investigation into these genres was based on the assumption that cinema imagines the connection between law and violence from multiple perspectives: movies tell stories about the evolution of normative orders out of experiences of violence and injustice and about the different forms of violence which emerge from a transient establishment or a permanent enforcement of those orders.
With respect to the medium of film, the project investigated how filmic fictions represent, question, diffract and display normative perspectives on social and political conflicts. In this way the aesthetic reflection within cinema was made productive for a theoretically non-illusionary view on normative orders and their dialectical connection with forms of violence that they often try in vain to restrain. Leading concepts of the Cluster – above all that of a "justification narrative” – were highlighted from the perspective of media theory.
At the basis of the project were philosophical and sociological analyses of the dialectic of law and violence as this is enacted in feature films. An important platform of research was provided by interdisciplinary lectures series and workshops in which speakers from different disciplines contributed to its general themes from their own disciplinary perspectives.
One of the central insights confirmed by our research is that views from within normative orders as they are presented by feature films are shaped by an oscillation between justification and questioning, legitimization and de-legitimization which is only rarely unequivocally dissolved.

The most important events of this project:

Lecture Series: Verbrechen und Strafe im Kino (Crime and Punishment in Cinema, Lecture Series “Cinema” of the Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders"), Goethe University and MMK, Frankfurt am Main, summer semester 2015.

Lecture Series: Gesetz und Gewalt im Kino (Law and Violence in Cinema, Lecture Series “Cinema” of the Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders"), Goethe University and MMK, Frankfurt am Main, winter semester 2013/14 and summer semester 2014.

Workshop: Rechtfertigungsnarrative. Terror und Krieg im Kino (Narratives of Justification: Terror and War in Cinema), Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, April 14.–15., 2014.

Panel: “Dimensions of Violence and Legitimation in Cinema”, on the Conference: Beyond Film (organized by Frederike Popp and Jochen Schuff), Amsterdam, July 10–12, 2013.

Panel: “Kritik auf der Leinwand“, in the context of the Graduate Conference of the Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders” Praktiken der Kritik (Practices of Critique) (organized by Frederike Popp and Jochen Schuff), December 2013.


The most important publications of this project:

Seel, Martin: "Hollywood" ignorieren. Vom Kino, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2017.

Schuff, Jochen and Martin Seel (eds.): Erzählungen und Gegenerzählungen. Terror und Krieg im Kino des 21. Jahrhunderts (Normative Orders Vol. 16), Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2016.

Keppler, Angela/Frederike Popp/Martin Seel (eds.): Gesetz und Gewalt im Kino (Normative Orders Vol. 14), Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2015.


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