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Profiting from a tainted trade: private investigators’ views on the popular culture glamorisation of their trade

Michael King (School of Justice, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 17 February 2021

Issue publication date: 22 July 2021




The public fascination for private investigators has led to an abundance of imagery in popular culture media. This study aims to examine the views of practising private investigators regarding their professional images of dirty work.


To fill the gap in the literature, this study used data collected from semi-structured interviews with 33 industry practitioners from 3 Australian states. The paper investigates private investigator’s perceptions about themselves/job roles and the public perceptions of private investigators in Australia. Interviews were recorded and transcripts created. A thematic analysis of the interview transcripts was undertaken.


Private investigators were drawn from a range of professions, including public policing and government regulation. The findings indicate that the reality differs from the images typically portrayed in popular culture. Interviewees discussed the contrasts between media images and reality, providing a more complex portrayal of private investigation and what private investigators find satisfying and challenging about their work.

Practical implications

This study is helpful for improving the understanding of private policing, the media views of policing, those who conduct work within an environment considered to be tainted and their views of self.


Using a qualitative research design, this paper offers insights into the challenges facing private investigators and how they reconcile being in a tainted occupation with providing a necessary service to the community.



King, M. (2021), "Profiting from a tainted trade: private investigators’ views on the popular culture glamorisation of their trade", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 112-125.



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