KWI – Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (Kulturwissenschaftliches Intitut Essen, KWI)

Project Mediatization of German forensics: Activated viewers and private companies as players in the forensic market

Gunshot skull

„Gunshot skull“, by National Institutes of Health, Health & Human Services [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Jo Reichertz
Staff members: Matthias Meitzler, Caroline Plewnia, Nina Kiedrowicz , Lisa Schmidt-Herzog
Funded by: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Duration: 10/2014 – 09/2016


Modern mass media plays an increasingly important role in human everyday communication. Technological innovations such as television, smartphones or the World Wide Web as well as their applications (e.g. Apps, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube) create new information and communication structures. Hence, social change occurs as people relate their social and communicative actions in an increasingly differentiated way to a growing number of media. This development, which has been termed mediatization in communication studies, can be identified and analysed in different spheres of society. One of which is the area of forensics, i.e. the technical, (natural) scientific and medical methods of crime detection. They have become the focus of (non-)fictional TV formats over the past years, which has changed the forensic field on the one hand and the existing knowledge systems within on the other one.
In the DFG-Schwerpunktprogramm’s proceeding research phase "Mediatisierung der Sicherheitspolitik" two main aspects were observed: media as an independent player in the field of crime detection, and the influence mediatization has on the way the police investigate. This current project takes up these findings and focuses on viewers “activated” by the media as well as on private companies partaking in the forensic market.

Activated viewers and private companies

Firstly, the project investigates in what sense media integrate their viewer by offering activities such as Facebook, Social TV, Youtube or Twitter – and therefore change their communicative acquisition practices. Are there viewers in the field of forensic TV formats who go beyond the bare process of reception and let themselves be activated by the media to produce their own content that disseminates forensic knowledge, or refers to those TV formats at least.
However, it is not only the viewer who can be regarded as a new player in this market but also the private companies which observe, survey and evaluate it with regard to communicative pratices while they are constantly orienting towards one another. As this market is regarded as relevant and companies expect to gain profit there, numerous products and services for the forensic market are developing: Universities offering forensics as a course of study, didactic material, events, toys and forensic merchandise as well as popular literature about forensic medicine; to list only some of the examples of the privatisation of the forensic field.

Methods and the project’s aim

The investigation of those two groups of players through participant observation, videography, group discussions, artefact analysis and interviews in two phases is supposed to clarify (a) which forms of communicative practice of acquisition can be found in the two groups, (b) which forms and characteristics of activity can be observed in the two groups and (c) how significant processes of mediatization are for the organisation of knowledge systems and the circulation of forensic knowledge amongst the players in the forensic market.