Criminology and Policing – meeting in the middle

It was a great experience, and I would recommend that people apply for the bursary next year if they can.

Advertisements

GarethStubbs

Gareth Stubbs is a PhD student at Canterbury Christ Church Police Research Centre and has an MSc in Leadership and Mgmt in Policing from Warwick Business School, and an MRes in PoIicing (also from Canterbury). He has also collected a Law degree and English Language Degree on his travels, and has now been a serving Police Officer for over 16 years at the time of writing. Gareth is passionate about using good research in Policing and believes that better partnerships between police and academia represents a good proportion of the future.

I’m writing this blog after being lucky enough to attend the British Society of Criminology (BSC) annual conference at Birmingham City University. Before the usual eye rolls about conference attendance, I shall hopefully address some of what they actually ‘do’ later, so please save your scepticism until after reading 🙂 I also need to clarify that I received a bursary (the Post-grad Bursary from the BSC itself) to attend the conference and apart from Conference food and drink, I paid for all my own and won’t be claiming any of it back – why is this important? Because for some reason, we shout ‘tax payers money‘ at officers who want to learn and develop. It’s a bit like members of the public shouting at officers who eat during their shift. Clearly it’s very positive that serving officers are trying to keep their blood sugar levels up whilst on duty, just as it’s positive that officers are trying to learn more about their job, so that they can make better decisions when actually doing it.

That aside, I’m hoping that this blog may create some debate – as they often do. Whilst the Academic Illuminati© seek to overthrow the police Resistance, I am reminded that in many, many cases, police officers have had no contact with what academia does, or how it does it, and subsequently what it may mean for practice. Policing is easy to criticise when you have no knowledge of doing it, as many police officers will be aware as they receive public complaints about how they do their jobs. It is therefore incredibly disappointing to see police officers decrying results of surveys/studies by attacking the survey questions or the method of investigation – all of which has been heavily considered by people who often have many years of experience compiling them. It’s totally fine to raise questions, of course, that’s part of what academia is all about. But as with many things, it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

Bearing this in mind, let’s discuss some of what an academic conference ‘does‘ and ‘is‘.

Broadly speaking, groups of people involved in study within a particular area, come together to present ‘papers’ on what they are studying, or questions that they feel are important. This means that you can see presentations on many topics, that are often investigated in many different ways. There tends to be a main lecture theatre for what are called ‘Keynote’ speakers, and several break out rooms that then present in more niche areas. You get the program in advance, and are able to choose which break outs you attend, in addition to the main speakers that form what could be called the backbone of the conference. There are usually several speakers that speak in the area that you are interested in, so you get to tailor who you meet and learn from.

Warning: Long words ahead (sorry, not sorry :-D)

In the BSC, I got sample a really broad selection of what Criminology is/does/represents. It’s quite a strange discipline because it encompasses lots of different methods. What do I mean by this? To give an example, Psychology is dominated by statistical analysis of experimental outcomes. This means that there is a ‘way’ of conducting and learning about psychology that is broadly accepted as the norm. In criminology, this ‘way’ is disparate and some may say, fractured. There are functionalist approaches – these look at broad effects using statistical methods – think census data or similar, but equally there are symbolic interactional approaches (bear with me, please) that look at face-to-face communication and the meaning that we convey in inter-personal encounters. Similarly, there are action research projects ongoing within forces/prisons – these tend to involve practitioners and academics working together to design and conduct research, that would clash spectacularly with the experimental, randomised control trial led research championed by Prof. Larry Sherman at Cambridge. This last strata was largely absent at the BSC, but can be found going great guns at the Society of Evidence Based Policing (SEBP) conferences.

Above all of these, there is a strand of theoretical, philosophical research that looks at what we consider to be knowledge, and tracks/develops trends in thinking over time. This is the big stuff and I get lost in it. It’s nice to do the mental gymnastics around it if you are into that stuff, but from my perspective, the application to practice is remote. I appreciate this may be from a point of ignorance (mine of course), but for the bobby on the beat, or the investigator in the office, it is just too far removed to mean anything.

So what does this tell us about Criminology and how it can help us police? It actually tells us a lot. There are pockets of researchers and methods that we can take advantage of and use for every area of policing, we just have to be able to know how to use them, where to use them, and what they will give us at the end. Criminology presents us with a smorgasbord of options to choose from, we as a profession have to be careful not to limit them or shut them down.

So what does the products look like? What do the outcomes of using academia actually do?

This is a good question, and to properly understand it, we have to understand what science and the application of the scientific method actually is. Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as a single sentence, but I like to try and wrap it up as ‘a particular way of thinking about the world.’ This way encompasses lots of questions, tests, observations, reports and then usually re-testing to check that what you did the first time around actually works. People who don’t see this as valuable will denigrate it in the usual ways, by saying it takes too long, or that it’s biased, or that academia isn’t the ‘real world.’ Quite weird really, as all academia does is examine the ‘real world…’ using more rigorous thinking than would usually be the case?

Back to products. What does a conference actually produce? It’s quite weird for me as an officer to see researchers from different universities watch a ‘paper’ (presentation) and then say, ‘Your research is really interesting and I think we can work together‘ during the questions part, only to see them deep in conversation over coffee in the next ten minutes with contact details exchanged. You don’t see this in cop conferences really, they can get a bit ‘peacock-ey‘ where forces appear to be more in competition with each other than they do collaboration. The College has developed some Peer Review functions and started to gather a uniformed set of ‘evidence’ that seeks to combat the peacock stuff, but it’s refreshing to hear people at the conference speak about forging connections with people both inside and outside their area as a major motivator for attending. I get the impression that these groups of researchers working together to advance their understanding in their area is really rare in policing – I think forces tend to forge ahead with projects in isolation and only come together after everything has been delivered (and it’s always delivered – of course!).

Practical stuff? Well, I saw a whole bunch of presentations that would help me if I worked in Neighbourhood Policing (legitimacy research and community engagement), Response Policing (mainly body worn video and technology but also missing from homes), and Policing in general (diversity, Senior Women in Policing and others). I also attended one paper (really trying to use this word as it feels weird to me) where they discussed the legal frameworks around implementing decision making models based on algorithms in policing. These are landing in forces now, and I found the presentation fascinating. It was delivered by a Law Senior Lecturer (Dr. Jamie Grace), and discussed the real risks around bringing these models into the policing environment. I passed that straight back to senior officers in force who are discussing some of these models, and it may mean that we make far better decisions down the line. Ultimately, seeing that one presentation, may save tens of thousands of pounds of tax payer’s cash…

So, more generally, I think I was the only attending officer at the conference, although there were several that were retired or had left the service prior. I was welcomed by everyone (and this was a big conference). I felt a bit swamped by the theory stuff (and I do actually enjoy that stuff), and got lost in the odd question about particular scientific methods. I did take some tangible things away that will help with my job, and managed to spend the vast majority of it learning about research ongoing around the country in criminology that directly affects policing. It was a great experience, and I would recommend that people apply for the bursary next year if they can. To apply, you have to be a member of the BSC, and there’s an annual fee that is manageable if you are studying (yes, I pay for it myself).

Aside from the conference, the title of this blog professes to discuss how criminology and policing interacts. Although I haven’t addressed this directly, I think I have covered some of it, but will put it into more practical terms now: Applying science to policing changes the way that we think. This change is threatening. If I’ve spent my entire career gathering experience, and then someone with none of it comes along and tells me some of my fundamental beliefs are actually incorrect, how am I likely to react? We have seen it happen with ‘fake news,’ politics over the last few years, and more recently seen it analysed after the Brexit and Trump vote. The natural reaction is to double down into our established identity, and denigrate the ‘other’, no matter how much evidence is presented. This is happening now in policing, and it’s happening as the two identities of policing and academia become closer than just touching distance.

These conferences are a place of ‘between.’ What does this mean? It means that practitioners will never be truly comfortable in the academic environment, just as I suspect academics may not be comfortable at wholly practitioner based events. This merging will take many, many years, because you can’t just knock down a pillar of a profession overnight. In this case, the way that police idolise and fetishise experience as the only way of learning anything remains steadfast, and baulks at the encroachment of book learning or research. Mixed areas where experience ‘clashes’ with this different way of learning are places of friction, and anyone navigating this relationship has a challenge on their hands. Remaining ‘police’, whilst developing to think differently means treading a tightrope of identity, and falling off is a real possibility. These events are a way to practise, see both sides, and see those opportunities that allow both to be pulled together for the greater good. If you are one of these practitioners, be prepared to make sacrifices on both sides, as you lose your balance occasionally. At some point in the future, the tightrope will become a beam, and then finally a path, but the journey from here to there won’t be easy.

When we are seeking to place the academic ‘conference’ as thing into the realm of policing, we have to have a serious think about what it can ‘do.’ From this experience, making sure that people have an opportunity to network outside of their immediate police environment is very important – it drags their perceptions wider and can change decision making in their jobs on a daily basis. Gaining contacts in a specific field of research means that you can throw out questions that may be very difficult to answer in the police environment, to people who know the answer very quickly. The ability to do this can not be undervalued – it’s very important for operational policing. And finally, as a practitioner attempting to forge a path between the two – rather than skipping from one to the other – it’s important that academia acknowledges that the police aren’t just listening and conversing with research, they are doing it too. It’s an opportunity for both to learn from each other.

A final note for practitioners. If you are lucky enough to be asked to attend one of these events, or persistent enough to forge your own path into one, have a hard think about how the conference may create real difference in your work and design your program to get the best connections and learning that you can. Learning for learning’s sake is always a good thing, but it’s better when you are able to take real, tangible benefit in your day job from that learning.

Many thanks to the BSC for the opportunity to attend, and to all the awesome people who made me feel comfortable there.

Originally posted on thinkingblueline.com

Contact:

Gareth Stubbs

Email: Gareth.Stubbs@lancashire.pnn.police.uk

 

Image: courtesy of the author

Travelling without a map: conference drifting

Conferences like the BSC are more a circle than a straight line; they move ahead, certainly, but at their best they also circle back such that each generation benefits from the one before it and assists the one after.

Stefania Armasu,  Elaine de Vos,  Rhiannon Lovell, Liam Miles, and Jeff Ferrell

There are many things adrift about being a student at an academic conference. We exist centrally in an environment where PhD funding and jobs in academia are scarce but are marginal to mainstream academic activities. So, faced with the knowledge that the annual BSC conference was to be held at Birmingham City University, our current educational home, it was clear that by volunteering to assist, we would gain an opportunity to be in the company of leading academics in the field. As the saying goes, “fortune favours the bold” and some early doors, casual conversations led to the opportunity to write this blog, not as a disparate group of students who had drifted along to the conference, but as an interconnected (if liminal) group together with Jeff Ferrell, one of the keynote speakers. In keeping with Ferrell’s concept of intensities of ephemeral association (Ferrell, 2018: 18), the brevity of our student guide relationships was countered by the intensity of the immersive experience of spending 12+ hours a day together, connected by our yellow ‘student guide’ t-shirts, knowing that by the end of the week, we would once again drift apart.

The opportunity to conduct a mini ethnography of the inner sanctum of the BSC conference felt therefore like a major coup. With our own primary fields of interest including ethnography, cultural criminology and deviant leisure, to attend the keynotes of both Thomas Raymen and Jeff Ferrell was like turning up to the local pub for an open mike night and discovering Dave Grohl and David Bowie taking turns. It was fantastic to see that the conference theme of ‘Transforming Criminology’ not only encompassed a wave of ultra-realist speakers but also a predominance of female criminologists. Women won every prize awarded during the conference, so can we fully subscribe to the assertion that the world of criminology is still ‘too male’ or is the BSC an island of equality in what Frances Heidensohn (the BSC Outstanding Achievement Award winner) has described as ‘Lonely uncharted seas’? The conference did however seem ‘quite pale’. Was this due to lack of opportunity or a sense of exclusion? All we can offer as students, new to the discipline, is that we felt welcomed and embraced by all those who took the time to talk to the ‘yellow shirts’ and the experience was truly transformative.

Despite our previous engagement with academia (one of the authors of this blog had worked with David Wilson on the documentary ‘Voice of a serial killer’), it was at times overwhelming. We all experienced the feeling of imposter syndrome but it did not take too long for this feeling to wane. From the very beginning, delegates were friendly, open, and always up for a discussion regarding our interests, plans for the future, and experience of the conference, offering their own insights and advice. The conference allowed us to attend panels on subjects we already had interest in, and subjects we had not even considered. We realised while attending these panels that we were not imposters, and that is why we were not treated as such. The panels, the keynotes, and the conversations allowed us to see that criminology is a broad, far reaching discipline that is constantly transforming and evolving, and so therefore, should its criminologists. The warmth of the welcome received from other volunteers, delegates and lecturing staff at BCU, made us soon feel included and inspired to further develop skills and progress in criminology and academia.

This eagerness of the delegates to engage intellectually with the student volunteers can be traced to the delegates’ gratitude for the hard work and kind assistance of the volunteers, and to the pleasure delegates take in being able to have open-ended, informal discussions with aspiring criminologists outside the confines of the classroom. But it can be traced to something else as well: the fact that the delegates were once students themselves, equally overwhelmed by the conference experience and afflicted with the same sort of imposter syndrome. As difficult as it may be to imagine, even the most senior scholar was at some time in the past a young student of criminology, reliant on the guidance of older scholars, and inspired by their work and their careers. In that sense, disciplines like criminology and conferences like the BSC are more a circle than a straight line; they move ahead, certainly, but at their best they also circle back such that each generation benefits from the one before it and assists the one after.

The conference itself was well organised and it ran in a way which provided opportunities to meet with delegates, talk about their research and consider future applications of critical theory. After hearing talks given by Simon Winlow and Danielle Balach Warman based on their ethnographies and research, we were inspired even further. It seems that a new generation of academics, from 19 upwards, have all been truly inspired to take the baton of criminology and academia, and to meet the aims of this 2018 British Society of Criminology conference, to ‘transform criminology’.

We still cannot believe how much knowledge we have gained in such a short time and we now know such knowledge to be a fundamental part of a national conference such as the BSC. But most importantly, the conference ignited our passion and, if there was ever any doubt about whether this was the career we wanted to pursue, we are now more certain than ever that we want to be part of this. We want to conduct research, we want to teach, and we want to make a change through our work in the same way that most of the academics that took part in the event do.

To truly transform criminology, it is clear that there is a need to break free from the tethers created in part by the commodification of academia which has led to the constant regurgitation of theory, and to create new theoretical frameworks that are less bound to, and constrained by, the previous legal definitions of crime. By enabling the student helpers or ‘yellow shirts’ to jump on the metaphorical freight train with the ascendant greats and established legends of the discipline as equals, new possibilities never previously imagined, not bound by time or place have become apparent to all of us. By travelling for a while, without a map and not really knowing where we were going to end up, we all emerge from the conference as more enthused, more invigorated criminologists. In this sense, we’ve concluded that a conference like the BSC demands of its participants – and especially its student participants – a fine balance between respect and reinvention. Certainly mutual respect among all participants is essential, as is appreciation for the contributions made by established scholars. But equally important is reinvention; that is, a willingness on the part of students and young scholars to explore perspectives outside their immediate field of study, a dedication to critical engagement with existing ideas, and a passion for the development of new criminological models. The ongoing vitality of the discipline depends on it.

Reference

Ferrell, J. (2018). Drift. Oakland, Calif.: University of California Press.

Authors

Stefania Armasu is 21 and has just received a first class honours in her undergraduate degree at BCU and is hoping to continue with a Masters in September.

Elaine de Vos is 46 and nearing the completion of a Masters in Criminology at BCU.

Rhiannon Lovell is 22 and nearing the completion of a Masters in Criminology at BCU.

Liam Miles is 19 and has just completed his first year as an undergraduate in Criminology at BCU.

Jeff Ferrell is 64 and is a professor of sociology at TCU and a visiting professor of criminology at the University of Kent.

 

Image: courtesy of the authors – pictured Stefania Armasu, Liam Miles, Jeff Ferrell, Elaine de Vos.

 

Policing Black Culture One Beat at a Time

As debates on youth violence in London soar, emotions run high over a problem that is often blamed on Black music subcultures rather than on social and racial injustice, often perpetrated by the police. This article argues that Black British music genres are unfairly targeted as the prime suspects of youth violence, and discusses the role of the police in contributing to the violence it seeks to eradicate.

Dr. Lambros Fatsis is Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Southampton and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He previously taught at the University of Sussex and has received several awards and nominations for teaching excellence and academic support.

In an atmosphere of widespread alarm about the rise of youth violence in London, UK drill music has been identified as the prime suspect by the media and the police with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick and the Met’s gang-crime chief, Commander Jim Stokley ordering a clampdown on this new Black British music genre. Despite entirely legitimate concerns with public safety, however, is it at all reasonable to suggest that UK drill causes the violence it is accused of inspiring, or are drill artists cursed by forms of violence that are only scantily acknowledged, if at all, when the issue is discussed? Unsurprisingly, this question divides opinion and stirs up strong feelings on both sides of this never-ending chicken-and-egg conundrum, which also urges for an understanding of the problem as a political rather than a (purely) criminological one. Policing our way out of it, therefore, seems utterly misplaced when policing is part of the problem rather than its solution. Such a controversial claim invites skepticism, as it should, yet a cursory glance at the Met’s response to UK drill music reveals a host of hostile, unfair, illegitimate, and discriminatory tactics that have informed the policing of Black Britons and Black British music and culture in the post-war years.  For what it’s worth my own research illustrates this fairly clearly, but this blog posting will hopefully inspire more nuanced and considered responses than the ones to which we are currently exposed.

Denounced as ‘demonic’ and ‘nihilistic’, UK drill music came into the orbit of the London Metropolitan police after a series of violent incidents were linked to the content of drill music videos that circulated online: provoking rival drill collectives by describing the harm that awaits them, and keeping a tally of stabbings in YouTube “scoreboards”. In response to such fatalities, the Met took action by removing 30 YouTube videos and used a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) against the drill collective 1011,  building on the government’s Serious Violence Strategy whose aim is to target those who ‘glamorise gang or drug-selling life, taunt rivals and normalise weapons carrying’. In addition to such action against “gang-related” videos, the Terrorism Act 2000 has been revisited to bring convictions against individuals that are identified in those videos, without any proof that the targeted music videos were linked to specific acts of violence. The pursuit of drill artists as terror suspects has the potential to prevent targeted individuals from ‘associating with certain people, entering designated areas, wearing hoods, or using social media and unregistered mobile phones’. Given the seriousness of the offences with which drill artists are being charged, such responses might seem justifiable, albeit controversial, but only if they are divorced from the context in which (youth) violence emerges in the first place. Put simply, the reactive responses adopted by the government and the Met could be described as attempts to end an infection by simply arresting the virus, rather than treating the environment in which the disease is being hatched in the first place.

This might sound like a hopelessly radical assertion were it not defended by mainstream official bodies such as The Youth Violence Commission whose Interim Report confidently states that ‘debates around the potential impact of drill music on youth violence are, in the main, a populist distraction from understanding and tackling the real root causes’. Despite or rather because of the gravity of the problem, however, context and perspective are not a luxury but a necessity. Drill music is not made in a vacuum but in specific places (deprived social housing estates in London) informed by conditions of life where violence is a fact of life rather than a lifestyle. Blaming UK drill music for broadcasting violence, therefore, is to blame rappers for living a life where inequality, poverty, and social exclusion are not abstractions but a daily experience. Add to this the persistence of police racism as a crucial factor in the hostility, marginalisation and criminalisation that young Black Britons grow up with, and the policing of drill music can be seen as legitimating the very practices it hopes to eliminate. Increased support for stop and search operations, and other anti-gang initiatives such as Operation Trident and the Metropolitan Police Gang Matrix may seem rhetorically effective as “crime-fighting tools” to law enforcement agencies and political parties alike, but they are only marginally successful overall, while also leading to discriminatory outcomes that were described as ‘shocking’ by the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, E. Tendayi Achiume.

This of course is nothing new in the history of policing against Black Britons, as my work demonstrates, punctuated as it has been by a host of discriminatory practices that include: the ‘sus laws’ of the 1970s, the saturation policing tactics of Operation Swamp ‘81, or the Special Patrol Groups (SPGs) in the 1970s and the 1980s; only to be succeeded by Operation Trident in the 1990s, and Operation Shield, the Metropolitan Police Gang Matrix, and Operation Domain in the early to mid-noughties. What unites such policing initiatives is the suspicion of Black British forms of culture, mostly music, as seen in the police overstaffing of Black cultural events (e.g. Notting Hill Carnival) and the harassment of Black people in meeting places such as youth clubs, music venues and other semi-public venues; gradually paving the way for the only recent withdrawal of the Promotion Event Risk Assessment Form 696 which targeted grime music as a criminal subculture, in ways that are hardly dissimilar to the banning of drill music as grime MC Lethal Bizzle rightly tweeted.

Pronouncing such practices dead, when they recur so frequently, is to piously deny facts in favour of an uninformed, uncritical and misplaced view of the police as allies rather than as perpetrators of the burning injustices that “drillers” so fiercely express in their lyrics. This is not to deny or condone the violence that UK drill music broadcasts and even celebrates, but to accept it as a reality that is forged in the crucible of social and racial injustice for which we are all responsible if we do not hold Criminal Justice System professionals to account for the harm they inflict in our name. Discussing UK drill as criminogenic while excusing the harm that discriminatory policing inflicts on our fellow citizens amounts to little more than a cop out. As does the tendency to treat the issue as a public health emergency alone, rather than a racial and social justice priority. The challenge for (critical) criminologists, therefore, is clear leaving us no choice but to tackle violent crime boldly, making it difficult for our colleagues, our elected representatives or our law enforcement officials to dodge a bullet as far as London’s knife crime is concerned.

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of the institution he works for.

 

Contact

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Twitter: @lfatsis

 

Copyright free image courtsey of Pexels

 

Being a BSC Network Chair

We also have some brilliant ideas that were formulated at this year’s network meeting, thinking about how to involve early careers students, more established academics, and the prison population themselves in the work of the network

JenniferSloan

Dr Jennifer Sloan Rainbow, Outgoing Chair of the Prison Research Network

 

Since my appointment as chair of the Prison Research Network, I have been privileged to have a different view of the BSC than I did before. When one becomes a chair, a number of additional responsibilities come into action. For one, you are responsible for the general running of the network – how active that network is often depends on the energy of the chair/co-chairs, as well as the involvement of other members, momentum within the network, and plans put forward at various network meetings. There may be a website to maintain/oversee, a mailing list to administer, events to organise, and prizes to manage. You are also responsible for the budget provided by the BSC to fund various activities and events.

In addition to network-specific events and activities, network chairs have the opportunity to become members of the BSC Executive Committee. This is quite an eye-opening experience! You attend meetings (around every quarter), sometimes in London, sometimes elsewhere, and are directly involved, as trustees of the BSC, in making decisions that can affect the society as a whole, and also, potentially, the entire discipline of criminology in the UK! It is quite exciting!

It really has been a privilege to be on the BSC Executive Committee – I have been able to work with some phenomenal academics, all of whom make you feel extremely welcome and involved. I remember walking into my first meeting and thinking a combination of ‘Cripes, this is such a big thing!’ and ‘Oh Wow, I cited you in my doctoral thesis!’ (even seven years post-PhD submission, the awe still kicks in every now and then!!).

The Prison Research Network is still relatively new to the scene, and we haven’t been anywhere near as active as I initially planned last year. That said, we have used our funds for good (we didn’t host any events but were able to fund a doctoral student to attend the BSC, something that is becoming even more important in the neoliberal university environment, and a responsibility that networks need to take seriously). We also have some brilliant ideas that were formulated at this year’s network meeting, thinking about how to involve early careers students, more established academics, and the prison population themselves in the work of the network.

Unfortunately, I will not be the one to carry out this work as I need to step down due to personal commitments. As such, we are making an open call for someone to take on the role, be that alone, or as a co-chair with another. If we get more than one applicant, there will be an election, so watch this space! Please could you send all expressions of interest in the role, including a brief paragraph on why you wish to take on the position, to bscprisonsnetwork@gmail.com by September 1, 2018.

It has been a privilege to act as Chair, albeit for a very short period, and I would like to thank everyone who has given their support, ideas and advice over the last year! Now time to pass the baton!

 

Contact

Dr Jennifer Sloan Rainbow, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University.

Email: j.sloan@shu.ac.uk

Twitter: @jsloan12345

 

Copyright free image: from Google images

Thoughts from the British Society of Criminology conference at Birmingham City University

as criminologists and educators, we need to review the quality of methods of teaching to keep students engaged, but crucially, not to lose sight of the importance of the content

Susie AthertonThis article was originally posted on the ‘Thoughts from the Criminology Team‘ blog at University of Northampton and is kindly reproduced with the permission of the author.

I attended the BSC conference last week, presenting a paper from my PhD research, doing the usual rounds of seeing familiar faces, meeting some new faces and hoping nobody uttered the words ‘well its more of an observation than a question’. There was one session which particularly inspired me and so is the focus of this blog. The key theme was that as criminologists and educators, we need to review the quality of methods of teaching to keep students engaged, but crucially, not to lose sight of the importance of the content. We must continue to introduce students to more challenging ideas and shift their thinking from accepted wisdom of how to ‘do justice’ and ‘why people commit crime’.

The session attended was on ‘Public Criminology’, which included papers on the experiences of LGBTQ communities in Turkey, with regards to police response to victimisation, another on the use of social media and other forms of broadcast used by academics on criminology programmes, the impact of the 2011 riots on social capital in the UK and the need to re-introduce political issues in teaching criminology. As with many sessions at large conferences, you never quite know what will emerge from the range of papers, and you hope there are some common themes for the panel and delegate to engage with in discussions. This certainly happened here, in what seems to be a diverse range of topics, we generated interesting discussions about how we understand crime and justice, how the public understand this, what responsibilities we have in teaching the next generation and how important it is to retain our critical focus. The paper that really resonated with me was delivered by Marc Jacobs from the University of Portsmouth on ‘The Myopia of Public Criminology and the need for a (re) Politicised Criminology Education’.  Marc was an engaging speaker and made a clear point about the need to continue our focus on the work of activist criminologists, who emerged during the 1970s, asking important questions about class, race and gender issues. He cited scholars such as Jock Young, Stuart Hall, Frances Heidensohn as pioneers in shining a light on the need to understand crime and justice from these diverse perspectives.

This is certainly what I remember from studying criminology as a post-graduate, and they have informed my teaching, especially criminological theories – I have always had a closer personal affinity with sociological perspectives, compared to biological and psychological explanations of crime. It also reminded me of a running theme of complaint from some students – political issues are not as interesting as say, examining the motivations of serial killers, neither are those lectures which link class, race and gender to crime, and which highlight how discrimination in society is reflected in who commits crime, why they do it, and why we respond the way we do. There is no doubt presenting students with the broader social, political and cultural contexts means they need to see the problem of crime as a reflection of these contexts, that is does not happen as a rare event which we can always predict and solve. It happens every day, is not always reported, let alone detected and solved, meaning that many people can experience crime, but may not experience justice.

As tempting as it might be to focus teaching and engage students through examining the motivation for serious crimes to reinforce students’ expectations of criminology being about offender profiling and CSI techniques which solve cases and allow us all to sleep safely, I’m afraid this means neglecting something which will affect their lives when they do look up from the fascinating case files. I am not advocating the exclusion of any knowledge, far from it, but we need to ensure that we continue to inform students about the foundations of our discipline, and that it is the every day events and the lack of access to justice which they also need to know about. They reflect the broader inequalities which feed into the incidences of crime, the discriminatory policies and practice in the CJS, and the acceptance of this by the public. Rawls (1971) presented justice as a ‘stabilising force’, a premise picked up by New Labour in their active citizenship and neighbourhood renewal agenda. There was an attempt to shift justice away from punitive and retributive responses, to make use of approaches which were more effective, more humane and less discriminatory. The probation services and courts were an important focus, using restorative and problem-solving approaches to genuinely implement Tony Blair’s manifesto promise to be tough on the causes of crime. However, he also continued the rhetoric of being tough on crime, and so there was sense of using community sentencing and community justice in a tokenistic way, and not tackling the broader inequalities and problems sufficiently to allow the CJS to have a more transformative and socially meaningful effect on crime (Donoghue, 2014; Ward, 2014). Since then, the punitive responses to crime have returned, accepted by the public, press and politicians, as anything else is simply too difficult a problem to solve, and requires meaningful and sustained investment. This has been a feature of community justice, half hearted attempts to innovate and adopt different approaches, all too easily overtaken by the need for a day in court and a custodial sentence. It shows what happens when the public accept this as justice and the function of the CJS, even though they are not effective, put the public at risk, and mean entrenched biases continue to occur.

This all emphasises the need to remember the foundations of our discipline as a critical examination of criminal justice and of society. In my own department, we have the debates about where we place theory as part of these foundations. These discussions occur in the context of how to engage students and maintain our focus on this, and it remains an important part of higher education to review practice, content and adapt to broader changes. Moving to a new campus means we have to re-think these issues in the context of the delivery of teaching, and I am all for innovations in teaching to engage students, making use of new technologies, but I firmly believe we need to retain our focus on the content which will challenge students. This is the point of higher education, to advance knowledge, to raise students’ expectations of their own potential and ask them to rethink what they know. The focus on ‘public criminology’ has justified using different forms of broadcast, from TV, tabloid press and social networking to disseminate knowledge and, hopefully, better inform the public, as a counter measure to biased reporting.  I don’t think it is desirable to TV producers to replace ‘I am a Killer’ on the Crime and Investigation network with ‘Adventures of a Problem-Solving Court’ or ‘Restorative Justice: The Facts’. Writing for the tabloid press seems to me an act of futility, as they have editorial control, they can easily misrepresent findings, and are not really interested in anything which shifts the notion of justice as needing to have a deterrent effect and to be a retributive act. Perhaps social networking can overcome this bias, but in an age of claims of fake news and echo chambers, this surely also has a limited affect. So, our focus must remain on our students, to those who will work within the CJS, social policy departments as practitioners, researchers and future academics. They need to continue to raise the debates about crime and justice which affect the marginalised, which highlight prejudice, discrimination and which ensure we continue to ask questions about these thorny, difficult and controversial issues. That, I think, is the responsibility we need to grasp, and it should form a core function of learning about criminology and criminal justice at University.

 

DONOGHUE, J. (2014) Transforming Criminal Justice? Problem-solving and court specialisation. London: Routledge.

RAWLS, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

WARD, J. (2014) Are problem-solving courts the way forward for justice? London: Howard League for Penal Reform.

 

Contact

Susie Atherton, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Northampton

Email: susieath@live.co.uk

Twitter: @SusieAtherton

 

Image: courtesy of the author

The importance of knowing what family means to young offenders

How can we begin to understand how family life influences youth offending behaviour if we do not have a clear understanding of what ‘family’ means to young people themselves?

Nicola Coleman

Nicola Coleman is a full-time PhD student in Criminology at Middlesex University, London. Her research focus is on understanding the relationship between family life and youth offending behaviour.

 

 

Recent years have witnessed an increasing focus on young people and their problematic behaviour, which has been brought to the public’s attention by the government and kept in the limelight by the media. Understandably, this has been met with a vast amount of research, which has mostly been aimed at identifying key ‘risk factors’ in young people’s lives that could potentially be used to predict how at-risk they are of reoffending (Farrington, 2015). Largely based on this risk factor research, youth justice responses are becoming increasingly managerialist, creating a culture consumed by the need for ratings and scores to predict future behaviour and decide on the most appropriate ways to manage such behaviour (O’ Mahony, 2009).

From this vast pool of risk factor research, the relationship between the family environment and youth offending behaviour has been well established. However, with much of the previous research in this area employing quantitative methods, it has been suggested that a move forward would be to incorporate qualitative measures in order to achieve more depth and understanding (Case, 2007). Furthermore, with the changing nature of family life over the past 30 years, and the move away from a traditional ‘nuclear’ family structure, findings from earlier studies investigating the relationship between family life and youth offending may be less relevant to contemporary social relations (Blau & Van der Klaauw, 2013). Such a context indicates the need for research to reinvestigate definitions and understandings of ‘family life’ and its influence on behavioural outcomes, including youth offending.

The married, co-resident heterosexual couple with children no longer occupies the centre-ground of Western societies and cannot be taken for granted as the basic unit in society (Roseneil & Budgeon, 2004: 140).

The statement above provides the central argument for my current research: that society and academics are changing the way in which ‘family’ is both practiced and conceptualised, rendering previous research into the relationship between ‘family’ and youth offending behaviour outdated. This creates a significant gap in the current literature, whereby further research is needed to explore, in detail, the ways in which people understand ‘family life’ and how this impacts on behavioural outcomes, such as youth offending behaviour. Previously, research has taken the image and concept of the traditional ‘nuclear family’ as the central point of comparison for all other families; in this sense, if you ‘measure’ too far away from this centre point, then you are deemed as being more ‘at risk’ with regard to developing delinquent behaviour.

My current research project will take a case study approach and apply a mixed methods research design in order to develop understanding of the relationship between youth offending behaviour and family life. The first stage of my data collection utilises questionnaires to gather views and opinions about family life from both the young people and staff at a Youth Offending Unit (YOU) in London. Importantly, it aims to work towards identifying a common definition of what ‘family’ means. The results from this initial stage will help to inform the questions used in follow-up interviews and focus groups with the staff and young people at the YOU. In working closely with, and being fully supported by a Youth Offending Team (YOT) in London, the practical implications of my research can be demonstrated not only at a local level but also potentially at a national level. The managers at the YOU where my case study is based intend to use the findings to develop the programmes and activities they run with young people and their families: most importantly, however, the level of understanding the staff have about how young people perceive family life will be increased. In adopting a case study approach, the results will be limited to the YOT where the research was conducted. However, the tools developed to collect the data are not location specific, and therefore there is potential for the research to be replicated in other YOTs across the country, providing each unit with its own tailor-made recommendations and insights into the young people it deals with.

 

Blau, D.M. & Van der Klaauw, W. (2013) What determines family structure? Economic Inquiry, 51(1), 579-604.
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/ doi/abs/10.1111/ j.1465-7295.2010.00334.x

Case, S. (2007) Questioning the ‘evidence’ of risk that underpins evidence-led youth justice interventions. Youth Justice, 7(2), 91-105. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1473225407078771

Farrington, D.P. (2015) Prospective longitudinal research on the development of offending. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 48(3), 314-335. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0004865815590461

O’ Mahony, P. (2009) The risk factors prevention paradigm and the causes of youth crime: A deceptively useful analysis? Youth Justice, 9(2), 99-114. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1473225409105490

Roseneil, S. & Budgeon, S. (2004) Cultures of intimacy and care beyond ‘the family’: Personal life and social change in the early 21st century. Current Sociology, 52(2), 135-159.
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001 1392104041798

 

Contact

Nicola Coleman, PhD Student in Criminology, Middlesex University, London.

Email: n.coleman@mdx.ac.uk

Twitter: @nic_coleman_

 

Copyright free image: from Pexels.com

 

Next-Gen Deviance: from School Shootings to Simplicity?!

Creating a space for a much-needed discussion for dispelling the myths in both the media and academia’s analysis of school shootings and their intrinsic link to video games.

CKelly

Craig Kelly is a visiting lecturer at Birmingham City University, his research interests include deviant leisure, cryptomarkets and narcotics. He is currently working on a book detailing 50 dark and deviant leisure tourist destinations with Dr. Adam Lynes.

 

ALynes

 

Dr. Adam Lynes is a senior lecturer at Birmingham City University, his research interests include violent crimes and serial murder. He is co-editor of the upcoming book: “50 Facts about Crime that everybody should know in Britain”.

 

KHoffin

 

Kevin Hoffin is a lecturer at Birmingham City University, his research interests include criminology in comics, black metal, transgression and personal sovereignty. Kevin is currently working on the “From Villain to Hero” comic book project alongside Dr Adam Lynes.

 

Following the mass outrage centred around the recent abhorrent school shooting in Santa Fe High School, Texas, the following blog aims to create a much-needed discussion around dispelling the myths in both the media and academia’s analysis of school shootings and their intrinsic link to video games. It is the authors’ opinion that the ‘moral panic’, largely stemming from the Columbine school shooting (alongside more contemporary examples) and the associated press, led to a largely redundant academic myopia in terms of the discussion of crime and deviance in relation to video games. The perspective presented is therefore, solely put forth as a response to what the authors believe to be academic short-sightedness within the discussion of deviancy and videogames. The short-sightedness referenced can be observed from either end of a continuum: both from those who profess video games cultivate violence, as well as those who damningly indict such claims.

It is put forth that the context of academic discussion of video games and deviance has, over the past few decades, been misguided and rhetorical. It has failed at offering any conclusive evidence within a largely unnecessary and laborious discussion fueled by sensationalised media discussions from the ivory tower comfort-zone afforded to the majority of social scientists (largely within the field of psychology). These social scientists appear to be uncomfortable moving away from both the historical ‘moral panics’ around emerging forms of media whilst being terrified of engaging in wider theoretical thinking. It is these academics, following on from the tragic precedent set by Bandura, that have become side-tracked. This, unfortunately, has resulted in speculative ‘pot-shots’ in the form of journal articles on a largely irrelevant discussion. The discussion, of course, being the notion that video games are intrinsically linked to violence.

Whilst the authors would rather abstain from giving such misguided discussions a platform to continue, it is from a critical stance that we write this blog, highlighting the lack of overall critique. However, we are acutely aware that by publishing this we run the risk of being bogged down in the very issue we are hoping to discourage.

Emerging forms of media and their relationship with violent behaviour has, since the Victorian era (Schecter, 2005) held prominence within the academic and media discourse. This discussion was furthered in the 1950’s by the work of Werthem (1999) whom professed that an increase in delinquency could be attributed to adolescents’ exposure to violent comics. The comic market was, of course, rapidly gaining momentum as their popularity skyrocketed in this time (Sabin, 2000).

Perhaps building upon the perspective of new media and the supposedly intrinsic link to violence, in 1961 Albert Bandura (Bandura et al., 1961 and 1963), a Stanford Psychologist, began experimental studies aimed at the notion of limiting the access children have to violent media. This prominent study, known as the Bobo Doll experiment, aimed to bolster Banduras’ perspective that human behaviour was not inherited through genetic factors but learnt through social interaction.  The essence of Banduras’ argument was that watching violent acts provides the individual with a ‘social script’ to guide behaviour. One would hope that within the chronological context Bandura’s argument is likely perceived by most as a response the positivist movements and the notion of the atavistic criminal. However, despite the study now being widely discredited (Gerrard, 2003), primarily due to the questionable research methods employed (Hart and Kritsonis, 2006), a pool of academics who have an interest in the link between violence and video games have in fact been influenced by the social script of Bandura’s legacy, the irony of which seems to have been lost. Whilst the form of media under discussion has progressed from television and comics to videogames, the same tired debate has continued (Sherry, 2001; Colwell and Makiko, 2003; Unsworth et al., 2007; Katner and Olsen, 2008; Hassan et al., 2013).  The reason for academia (and the media alike) continuing the traditional discussion of violence and forms of media is two-fold.

Since the early 1990s the sale of videogames has risen dramatically (Markey et al., 2015) and thus, as Jones (2008:0) states;

“games are arguably the most influential form of popular expression and entertainment in today’s broader culture.”

It is from this perspective that the authors view the central importance of the discussion we hope to ignite. In a rapidly changing technological world, in which the social sciences are often struggling to discern the paradox of the real and the virtual (Wall, 2001 & 2007), the discourse has become stagnated upon the social script precedent set by Bandura.

As detailed, it is our view that the continuation of such discussion is two-fold: the second reason being the now highly discredited (Ferguson, 2013) link between mass-shootings and video games (Anderson, 2004; Carnagey and Anderson, 2004) in the USA.

Following the tragic Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings (Wilson et al., 2016) the media and even the FBI soon latched on to the notion that the perpetrators use of violent video games were intrinsically linked to their abhorrent acts, much in the way that the recent tragic events in Santa Fe High School have been mirrored. This notion went as far as the parents of some of the victims of the Columbine tragedy attempting to sue gaming companies citing the shooters were desensitised to violence due to the use of their products.

Such notions were duly preyed upon by the media in an effort to create what Cohen (2002) would refer to as a moral panic. It must be noted however that the authors perceive this to be a by-product of capitalist culture and an effort to generate profit. Due to this stance they do not subscribe to the notion of moral panics as a theoretical basis (for a detailed discussion on the dismissal of moral panics please read Horsley, 2017). This, combined by the neoliberal intensification of administrative criminology and the wider social sciences, duly gave rise to the ensuing tidal wave of studies (Sherry, 2001) hypothesising the link (or lack thereof) between videogames and violence. It is within this administrative paradox that the link between the media and academia converge to create the redundant epoch we wish to forgo. The countless number of repetitive studies largely utilise similar methodological tendencies as Bandura’s discredited contribution. As Paik and Comstock (1994) highlight (in regard to television violence and antisocial behaviour), the less precise measures utilised tend to overestimate the effects the studies proscribe. This combined with the publication bias detailed by Ferguson (2007), who also proscribes to the view that researchers in the area of video game studies are overly concerned with proving or disproving a link than testing theory in a methodologically precise manner, is the reason for this publication.

Whilst the view of Ferguson (2007) momentarily inspires an optimistic glimmer that respected academic within the field may have already transitioned past the scholarly epoch described is however short lived. Evidenced by the academic discussion between Ferguson and Konjin (2015) in which they engage in a ‘peaceful debate’ around video games and the issue of violence. Whilst it was hoped Ferguson would progress past the tautological discussion he instead, eight years later, engages in a debate on the subject. It is this discussion and lack of prudence to look past the discussion of days gone by that epitomises the redundancy of the field.

However, some academics have in the past decade managed to marginally transition past the fixed academic gaze and offer small developments within the scope of the field of study. Notable was the discussion by Luck (2009) around the moral distinction between virtual murder and virtual paedophilia followed by the rebuttal of such distinction by Bartel (2012). In the midst of the discussion, Schulzke (2010) offered perhaps the most promising development in the field for numerous decades which was unfortunately overwhelmingly disregarded. Schulzke offered a scholarly article upon defending the morality of violent video games. Whilst, unfortunately still transfixed upon the notion of violence, the paper offered Kantian, Aristotelian and utilitarian moral theories. Within this context, Schulzke offered a rare and important advance within the academic discussion of deviancy in videogames.

The latest contribution found whilst writing this, again, displayed promise of the disintegration of the epoch. McCaffree and Proctor (2017) offered a welcome, if not short, development of the discussion. Their paper hypothesises that both violence and property crime is negated by the use of video games. Their response to psychologies insistence on identifying and debating causal links between video games is indeed necessary, as well as their inclusion of sociological perspectives in the form of routine activity theory (Cohen and Felson, 1979) being eagerly received. Unfortunately, the paper stays within the nexus of administrative academia whilst failing to observe the key factor in regard to the discussion of video games and deviancy, which this blog aims to present. Whilst there may or may not be a link between violence and video games: video games are intrinsically linked to other forms of deviance and crime easily observable once the academic myopia within the current epoch is dispelled.

Since the early developments of the video game industry, beginning with the Atari, games have consistently presented deviant and taboo topics to consumers. Whilst some of these games have been attributed to acts of rebellion and political statements, many have purely been cheap and abhorrent objects of consumerism presenting deviant acts to boost sales through shock value. Examples of such titles is the game ‘Rapelay’. In recent years, mainly through the progression of technology and the way in which gamers can utilise the products on offer, other forms of deviance have also emerged. It is proposed such advances of technology in an industry intrinsically linked to deviant matter has facilitated and cultivated forms of white collar crime, underage gambling and even the re-orientation of the state’s monopoly on violence in the form of the phenomenon of swatting.

In short, the historical legacy of deviant studies and the media has resulted in scholars either unable or unwilling to look past the superfluous perspectives of days gone by. This has occasioned academics to misconstrue the truly deviant aspects of the gaming industry, thus missing a large swath of deviant leisure. Video games may or may not incite a small minority of consumers to commit horrific acts, they do however instigate a wider variety of harms. Why are criminologists not analysing this?

Further Reading

Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S. A. (1961) ‘Transmission of Aggression through the imitation of models’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 63 (3): 575-582.

Ferguson, C. (2007) ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: a Meta-Analytic Review of Positive and Negative Effects of Violent Video Games’, Psychiatric Quarterly, Vol. 78 (4): 309-316.

Horsley, M. (2017) ‘Forget “Moral Panics”’, Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology, Vol. 9 (2): 84-98.

 

Contact

Craig Kelly 

Email: Craig.Kelly@BCU.ac.uk

Twitter: @CraigKelly1990

Dr. Adam Lynes

Email: Adam.Lynes@BCU.ac.uk

Twitter: @Lynesey89

Kevin Hoffin

Email: Kevin.Hoffin@BCU.ac.uk

Twitter: @KHriminology

 

Copyright free image: from www.dreamstime.com/free-photos