Cruel benevolence: vulnerable menaces, menacing vulnerabilities and the white male vigilante trope

Higgins, Kathryn Claire. 2023. Cruel benevolence: vulnerable menaces, menacing vulnerabilities and the white male vigilante trope. In: Karen Boyle and Susan Berridge, eds. The Routledge Companion to Gender, Media and Violence. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 84-94. ISBN 9781032061368 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

News stories about crime are sites of gendered and racialised vulnerability politics, where different and sometimes conflictual accounts of openness to harm encounter one another in representation and struggle for public recognition. This chapter inquires into the kind of political work that the figure of the “white male vigilante” performs within that politics. Looking closely at three examples of the trope from Australian journalism, the analysis shows how the constructed moral ambivalence of the white male vigilante helps animate a politics of “cruel benevolence” in which Black vulnerability to white supremacist violence is mediated as a matter of moral concern only to fortify the moral case for police intervention against Black migrant communities in Australia. While most scholarship on mediated vigilantism places the white male vigilante in an essentially antagonistic relationship to state power, this chapter proposes that the ultimate symbolic function of the trope, in the context of crime news reporting, is to re-enshrine the necessity of prerogative state power (in the form of crime control) and so to culturally reassert the moral legitimacy of the “protective” patriarchal state.

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“This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in ‘The Routledge Companion to Gender, Media and Violence’ on 25 August 2023, available online: It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.”

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Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


25 August 2023Published

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14 Feb 2024 11:44

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14 Feb 2024 15:36


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