Accepted Paper:

Guilty houses: a cross-national comparative research of the infamous homes of the West's (United Kingdom), Dutroux (Belgium) and Fritzl (Austria).  

Authors:

Maloe Sniekers (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Stijn Reijnders (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on the guilty houses of the infamous criminals Fred and Rosemary West (United Kingdom), Marc Dutroux (Belgium) and Josef Fritzl (Austria). The aim of this cross-national comparative research is to explore which role the houses of the West’s, Dutroux and Fritzl fulfill in the collective memory of these traumatic, highly-mediated affairs, searching for general tendencies in the process of dealing with these physical-material locations associated with death and suffering by local authorities, neighboring residents, local entrepreneurs in the tourist industries and visitors. Expanding on the work of the Dutch artist and writer Armando, who introduced the concept ‘guilty landscape’, the term ‘guilty houses’ is introduced to refer to the evil homes of these criminals. In total, 32 in-depth interviews have been carried out with spokesmen of the local governments, neighboring residents, local entrepreneurs in the tourist industry and tourists that visited the houses. Additionally, a content analysis is conducted of relevant newspaper articles and articles on the internet and on-site observations of the houses are executed. Results show that the houses of the West’s, Dutroux and Fritzl fulfill a problematic role within the collective memory of these affairs. For the majority, the houses serve as a symbolic reflection of the cruel events that happened within them. Therefore, a strong need to forget can be identified, often accompanied by the decision to demolish the houses by the municipalities. The extensive media attention to the gruesome cases appeared to play a remarkable role in why tourists visited the houses. Overall, it can be concluded that not only the West’s, Dutroux and Fritzl carry their share of guilt, feelings of guilt and shame seem to spill over to its spatial surroundings with the guilty houses playing the leading role.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the guilty houses of the infamous criminals Fred and Rosemary West, Marc Dutroux and Josef Fritzl. The aim of this cross-national comparative research is to explore which role the houses of the West's, Dutroux and Fritzl fulfill in the collective memory of these traumatic, highly-mediated affairs, searching for general tendencies in the process of dealing with these physical-material locations associated with death and suffering. Expanding on the work of Armando, the term 'guilty houses' is introduced to refer to the evil homes of these criminals. In total, 32 in-depth interviews have been carried out with spokesmen of the local governments, neighboring residents, local entrepreneurs in the tourist industry and tourists that visited the houses. Additionally, a content analysis is conducted of relevant newspaper articles and articles on the internet and on-site observations of the houses are executed. Results show that the houses fulfil a problematic role within the collective memory of these affairs. For the majority, the houses serve as a symbolic reflection of the cruel events that happened within them. Therefore, a strong need to forget can be identified, often accompanied by the decision to demolish the houses by the municipalities. The extensive media attention to the gruesome cases appeared to play a remarkable role in why tourists visited the houses. Overall, it can be concluded that not only the West's, Dutroux and Fritzl carry their share of guilt, feelings of guilt and shame seem to spill over to its spatial surroundings with the guilty houses playing the leading role.

Panel W037
Serial disquiet: criminal entertainment in times of global and private uncertainties