Getting Away with Murder: The Cultural Construction of Serial Killing
Seminar - UHON 301

Instructor(s): Renée Faubion

Course Description

Contemporary American culture is obsessed with the phenomenon of serial killing; that obsession has expanded beyond news reporting to other genres, including film, television series, podcasts—even fine art. As an educated audience, we understand that works of art and film present interpretations ofreality, rather than objective depictions of events. What we might miss, however, is the fact that assessments of serial killing in disciplines such as psychology and sociology might themselves also be interpretations shaped to some extent by the cultures that create them. In this class, we will consider the stories (both fictional and academic) that have been developed to explain the phenomenon of serial killing. For example, why is sexual deviance often assumed to be a motive even when no overtly sexual aggression is demonstrated in the course of a particular crime series—and why are such killings at  
times romanticized? How do assumptions about class and race influence attitudes toward serial killers and their victims? What happens to a culture’s explanations of serial killing when the perpetrator is a woman? The Ripper crimes, perhaps the most famous serial killings in western culture, will be a focus of extended study this semester as we try to understand how a range of cultural forces, including sensationalism, anti-Semitism, Victorian sexuality, and social reform movements, came together to shape responses to this legendary crime series. Our texts will come from a range of disciplines, including art, literature, the history of criminal psychology, and cultural studies. For more information, please contact Dr. Renée Faubion at 


Philip Jenkins, Using Murder (Consider renting the electronic version of this text for the semester, as that would be much cheaper than buying the book); Patrick Suskind, Perfume; Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs 
We will also read a selection of scholarly secondary sources addressing various ways in which serial killing has been contextualized; these will be accessed using the library databases 



Two 1500-word essays; a research project; good attendance and thoughtful, consistent participation in seminar discussion.

About the Instructor(s): Renée Faubion

Renée Faubion earned an M.A. in Slavic literature from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. in American and British literature from UNM.  She has received four awards for excellence in teaching.  Her primary interest is in gender studies, including how gender performance and expectations shape responses to cultural phenomena such as serial murder and gothic literature.