Throughout the nineteenth century and twentieth century, various attempts were made to define and control problematic behaviour in public by legal and legislative means through the use of a somewhat nebulous concept of ‘indecency’. Remarkably however, public indecency remains a much under-researched aspect of English legal, social and criminal justice history.
Covering a period of just over a century, from 1857 (the date of the passing of the first Obscene Publications Act) to 1960 (the date of the famous trial of Penguin Books over their publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover following the introduction of a new Obscene Publications Act in the previous year), Public Indecency in England investigates the social and cultural obsession with various forms of indecency and how public perceptions of different types of indecent behaviour led to legal definitions of such behaviour in both common law and statute.
This truly interdisciplinary book utilises socio-legal, historical and criminological research to discuss the practical response of both the police and the judiciary to those caught engaging in public indecency, as well as to highlight the increasing problems faced by moralists during a period of unprecedented technological developments in the fields of visual and aural mass entertainment. It is written in a lively and approachable style and, as such, is of interest to academics and students engaged in the study of deviance, law, criminology, sociology, criminal justice, socio-legal studies, and history. It will also be of interest to the general reader.
‘A welcome historical study of behaviour that often divides everyday opinion - public drinking, obscenity, vice and immorality - some of which is prosecuted in court, some ends up in the newspapers, and much of which is discussed in the pub. Not least, the book reminds students, legal researchers, historians, and sociologists that a great deal of human behaviour is often regarded as "offensive".’ - Barry Godfrey, Professor of Social Justice, University of Liverpool, UK
‘How often is one’s conduct in private unacceptable behaviour outside the home? If instinctively the conduct evokes a ready answer, it is far from obvious in infinite situations. Occupancy of the audience, visually or imagined, is everything. Once it was the obscenity of the language – written or uttered vocally in a crowded scene is one way. Social attitudes are another. The authors of these essays on public indecency choose the period of 1857 to 1960 to pose the societal problems, which reminds one that only after the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 was a divorce granted judicially for the first time, and then only in cases where one spouse was litigiously at fault by way of adultery, desertion or cruelty. The myriad problems of conflicting moral values are fascinatingly expounded by the essays’ authors in a sample of sociological material that is, literally, all too rare a publication.’ - Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, QC
Introduction: Defining Public Indecency 1. The Historical Background: Indecency And The Rise Of Moral Activism 2. The Intensification Of The Indecency Agenda 1857-1885 3. ‘Demoralization’ And Moral Activism: Fighting The ‘Serious And Growing Evil’ 1885-1908 4. A Real Or Imagined Enigma? ‘Stemming The Tide Of Corruption’: Indecency 1908-1960 5. Indecorous And Inexpedient: Visual And Aural Indecency In The Dramatic Arts 1857-1960 6. Indecency In Practice: The Policing And Judicial Response 7. Intoxicated Indecency: How The Drink Problem Was Resolved 8. Conclusion.
This series is a collaboration between Routledge and the SOLON consortium (promoting studies in law, crime and history), to present cutting edge interdisciplinary research in crime and criminal justice history, through monographs and thematic collected editions which reflect on key issues and dilemmas in criminology and socio-legal studies by locating them within a historical dimension. The series emphasizes inspiring historical and historiographical methodological approaches to contextualise and understand current priorities and problems and aims to highlight the best, most innovative interdisciplinary work from both new and established scholars in the field, through focusing on the enduring historical resonances to current core criminological and socio-legal issues.