The study of serial killing has been dominated by an individualized focus on the aetiology and biography of particular offenders. As such, it has tended to downplay the broader social, historical and cultural context of such acts. This article addresses this lacuna by arguing that serial killers are distinctively modern. It highlights six modern phenomena related to serial killing: (a) the mass media and the attendant rise of a celebrity culture; (b) a society of strangers; (c) a type of mean/ends rationality that is largely divorced from value considerations; (d) cultural frameworks of denigration which tend to implicitly single out some groups for greater predation; (e) particular opportunity structures for victimization; and finally (f) the notion that society can be engineered. Combined, these factors help to pattern serial killing in modernity's own self-image, with modernity setting the parameters of what it means to be a serial killer, and establishing the preconditions for serial murder to emerge in its distinctive contemporary guise. © The Author(s), 2009.
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