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.

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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

Exploring the UK Ministry of Justice, Explaining Penal Policy

This blog post reports on a recent academic paper, which explored the traditions and practices of the UK Ministry of Justice. I sought to understand what it ‘is’ and what it is ‘for’ from the perspective of those who work within it. I then consider the implications of this for understanding developments in substantive policy areas.

HAnnison

Dr Harry Annison is an Associate Professor at Southampton Law School. His research mainly centres on penal policy and issues relating to indeterminate sentences. His book Dangerous Politics, which explored the politics of indeterminate sentencing, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015.

 

As Gemma Birkett has recently noted, we are in the midst of ‘perhaps the most radical reconfiguration of the penal state in the UK’. Recent years have seen proposals for mass court closures and ‘digital justice’; the dramatic reductions in legal aid continuing to bite; the hollowing out of probation, following rushed part-privatization; and sustained concern at prison conditions and high levels of suicide, self-harm and violence.

The responsibility for these policy areas lies in the UK with the Ministry of Justice, now 11 years old.[1] In a recent paper, I considered the history of the department and what it ‘is’: what are the traditions (the collections of beliefs) that underpin the ongoing activities of those within the department’s concrete obelisk home? I suggest that understanding what the department ‘is’ in this way, is an important consideration when trying to understand particular policy developments such as those highlighted above.

Drawing on ‘elite’ research interviews conducted with nearly 100 policy participants (including ministers, senior civil servants, MPs, and many more), I argued that there exist four ‘Ministries’:

  • A liberal department centred upon justice and fairness;
  • One determined to achieve the rehabilitation of offenders;
  • One obsessed with public protection;
  • One steeped in new managerialism

For some the Ministry of Justice is (or was) the ‘balancing department’, ‘the ones who did the checks and balances’ (research quotes from civil servants). For others, public protection is the dominant paradigm: avoiding high profile, serious incidents in the community, and ensuring ‘security of the [prison] estate’ (research quote from special adviser) is the overriding concern.

For others still, rehabilitation was the raison d’etre of the department (those parts tasked with prisons and probation policy, in particular). While often operating more at the level of rhetoric than reality, it was a ‘noble aim’ that sustained the department (civil servant), and indeed recurs in public debate with striking frequency.

Finally, for some managerialism had come to dominate, with aspirations for ‘an end-to-end criminal justice system’ (Lord Falconer, evidence to Constitutional Affairs Committee, 2007) flowing into benchmarking of prison services against the private sector, and talk of ‘capability gaps’, ‘business critical requirements’ and ‘doing better for less’.

These traditions – ideas about what the department is, and what it is for  – collide and combine: they compete. In turn the department has been buffeted by a series of dilemmas: questions that raise profound questions about its nature and role. These include:

  • Is its political head a judicial representative (in his role as Lord Chancellor) or a government minister (as Justice Secretary)? Can he or she be both?
  • Is the Ministry of Justice a centralised department, or an assortment of largely discreet parts?
  • Are the ‘policy’ and ‘operational’ aspects (of prisons, probation, legal aid, and so on) to be fused, or kept separate?
  • Is the goal of the department patient implementation of policy, or political responsiveness to immediate events?

These concerns, and developing such ‘internal’ narratives of a government department, may seem inward-looking, self-regarding, and to pale into insignificance compared to the serious concerns identified at the beginning of this blog post.

But as I have argued in a recent paper for the British Journal of Criminology, the activity in any department is characterized by a complex interplay between perceived conditions ‘out there’ (austerity, election cycles, and so on), ‘internal’ considerations (informed by the traditions and dilemmas identified above) and work on specific policy areas.

Therefore, in short, if one seeks to understand developments in a particular policy area – and as importantly, to consider how to achieve positive change in that field – a crucial part of this enterprise requires understanding this ‘internal’ aspect of policymakers’ concerns.

 

The working paper ‘Decentring the UK Ministry/s of Justice’ is available here

The finalized paper is published as a chapter entitled ‘What is Penal Policy? Traditions and practices in the UK Ministry of Justice’, in Narrative Policy Analysis: Cases in decentred policy, edited by RAW Rhodes and published by Palgrave Macmillan in May 2018.

The paper ‘The Policymakers’ Dilemma: Change, continuity and enduring rationalities of penal policy’ is published in the British Journal of Criminology and available here

[1] Ministry of Justice responsibilities were previously held by the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor’s Department.

 

Contact

Dr Harry Annison, Southampton Law School, Southampton University

Email: h.annison@soton.ac.uk

Twitter: @HarryAnnison

Website: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/law/about/staff/ha1y12.page

 

Copyright free image: from Copyright Free Photos

Safety in Numbers?

Twenty-first century criminology is increasingly predicated on numbers. Whilst quantitative research is perceived to be “hard data”; the scientific, gold standard, it runs the risk of dehumanising vulnerable people with very little benefit.

PBowles

Paula Bowles has taught Criminology at the University of Northampton since 2010. Her research interests focus on historical criminology, zemiology, state and institutional violence.

 

In childhood, I loved numbers, the ability to manipulate, rearrange, reorder, substitute one for another, to create symmetry and yet always end up with an answer. Numbers were as abstract as a jigsaw puzzle, lots of meaningless pieces that, if assembled in the right way, meant that eventually the whole picture would emerge. Along the way the process could go awry, but there was always certainty, always an answer: a solution to the problem. Importantly, that puzzle or equation could be tackled again and again, and provided all the pieces were in order, the solution would be rendered visible once more.

In adult life, my love of numbers has dissipated, primarily because of their application to people. With a global population inexorably heading toward 8 billion, we have to accept that there are an awful lot of us, even so, the relegation of human beings to a mere number is discomfiting. This aversion to numbering people partly stems from academic study of the Nazi Holocaust, which was facilitated by a determination to reduce individual human lives, first to digits, and then to ashes. It also comes from lived experience: in criminology, as in education, there is a plethora of evidence demonstrating that people can, and do change, often in dramatic ways.

Over sixty years ago, Mannheim accused criminologists of creating an ‘almost general impression […] that everything is known in this field,’ suggesting that ‘most of our “knowledge consists of half-baked truths and slogans, of unwarranted generalizations derived from a small body of observations and inadequate samples’ (1955: 133). Furthermore, criminologists such as Stanley Cohen (1988), Nils Christie (1997) and Jock Young (2011) have long recognised the fundamental flaws, inherent in much of what we now consider the bedrock of scientific criminology. They identify how numbers are often used to obfuscate and confuse, pulling readers down a route, whereby those numbers are presented as having their own intrinsic meaning. Such meaning is entirely distinct from the people whose data is being manipulated. Additionally, those numbers are deemed precise scientific and authoritative, having far more sway than any qualitative research predicated on finding meaning in individual lives.

Despite my antipathy to numbers, recently my attention has been drawn to the concept of self-efficacy, in relation to offender desistance, often focused on prisoners. Much of this research appears flawed in the same way as recognised by the eminent criminologists above. Instead of answering what appears be a straightforward question, many of these reports struggle to even define what they are trying to measure, let alone make sense of the measurements. Certainly, Young’s evocative ‘Datasaur,’ with its belly bloated with complex statistical analysis, seems to loom large in such research (2011: 15)

One recent paper which caught my eye, purports to measure self-efficacy within a local prison, HMP Onley, suggesting that a particular programme can improve both mental health and behaviour (Kelley et al., 2017).  This paper, like very many others in Criminology, appears to offer the promise of tackling a deeply engrained historical penal problem.  This article is formatted in the expected manner, contains lots of academic references and appears in a well-respected journal, all of which sounds extremely encouraging. There is no apparent ethical consideration, but the use of academic language, inclusion of 8 hypotheses, as well as the use of a range of different measures (all represented by acronyms) gives a perception of scientific rigour. There are lots of equations, lots of authoritative statements, even some tables.

However, what exactly do we know? I would argue, very little. It is clear that out of 179 prisoners able to take part in the programme, 53 actually completed it, furthermore another 39 made up a control group. From here, the language changes from numbers to percentages to discuss the demographic background of the men involved in the project. In relation to crimes committed and sentences handed down, the paper becomes far vaguer and there is not even the illusion of measurable activity.

Whilst this is but one article, of very many, the repercussions to such research can be profound. The lack of awareness around the pains of incarceration and the reduction of human experiences to quantitative tests as a measure of “self-efficaciousness” is troubling. Furthermore, such a focus implies that individuals have total control over their improvement: if they do not score well on the tests, this can only be due to their inertia, inability or incompetence. By ignoring the carceral experience, any such numbers can only be indicative, as fundamentally, those numbers represent people with their own ideas, fears, worries and behaviours. Discussions around the types of programmes, particularly when based on payment by results, seem to miss this vital point, but of course it means that failure to achieve measurable results can be blamed on individuals and companies. Of course, none of the above denies quantitative data a place within Criminology, but it has to be meaningful, not just a series of bland statements, algebraic equations and tedious charts.

As Christie makes clear, far too many criminologists focus on ‘[l]ong reports of the obvious. Repetitions. Elaborate calculations leading to what we all know’ (Christie, 1997: 13). Instead of rushing to amass quantitative data that looks and is perceived as sophisticated, yet tells us virtually nothing, we need to consider what Criminology is really about. Instead of continuing to churn out criminology that is ‘dull, tedious and intensely empty as to new insights’, Christie insists we look to the roots of our discipline (1997: 13). He insists that criminology is ‘a science based on material from the core areas of drama. Our theories are based on situations of conflict and heroism, danger and catastrophe, abuses and sacrifices’ (Christie, 1997: 13).

As criminologists, we have a duty to be far more critical, taking nothing for granted and avoiding the dissemination of the trivial!

References:

Christie, Nils, (1997), ‘Four Blocks Against Insight: Notes on the Oversocialization of Criminologists,’ Theoretical Criminology, 1, 1: 13-23

Cohen, Stanley, (1988), Against Criminology, (Oxford: Transaction Books)

Kelley, Thomas M., Hollows, Jacqueline, Lambert, Eric G., Savard, Dennis M. and Pransky, Jack, (2017), Teaching Health Versus Treating Illness: The Efficacy of Three Principles Correctional Counseling with People in an English Prison’, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X17735253: 1-26

Mannheim, Hermann, (1955), Group Problems in Crime and Punishment and Other Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited)

Young, Jock, (2011), The Criminological Imagination, (London: Polity Press)

Contact

Paula Bowles, Senior Lecturer in Criminology,  University of Northampton

Email: Paula.Bowles@northampton.ac.uk

Twitter: @paulabowles

https://thoughtsfromthecriminologyteam.wordpress.com/

Copyright free image: from Pixabay

 

Criminological Postcards from London

Aware of how Londoncentric everything in the UK tends to be, we nevertheless wanted to share a few thoughts on points of criminological interest in the capital.

JenniferFleetwoodJohnnyIlanJennifer Fleetwood is a Lecturer in Criminolgy at Goldsmiths, University of London and co-convener of the BSC Southern branch. She has recently taken up bike riding after a 15 year hiatus.

Johnny Ilan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at City University, London and co-convener of the BSC Southern branch. He is a long time fan of music that he’s either too young or too old to be listening to.

In the highly influential text, Gender and Power Connell observes the street as a gendered institution: ‘it has a division of labour, a structure of power and a structure of cathexis’ (1989: 138). Footnotes reveals that analysis is based on observations and impressions of Brixton in 1984. Brixton street corners remain home to groups of men drinking, and women pushing prams. It is both a battleground and a theatre (to paraphrase Connell): staging choreographies of gender as much as race and class (gentrification continues apace).

Hollaback

Street harassment is increasingly recognised as a form of gender-based violence. Hollaback is a global organisation of feminist activists concerned with documenting and challenging sexual harassment in public, originating in NYC (hence, “holler” back). Their London branch website hosts a map; click on a pin and you can read one of hundreds of accounts of street harassment. Accounts reflect a myriad array of harassment, from bizarre attempts at ‘conversation’, covert touching, groping, following, staring, and an incredible array of gendered sexual slurs that don’t bear repeating. Some accounts also describe women ‘hollering’ back – speaking or shouting back at their harassers, sometimes in inventive and hilarious ways. The battle not might be won, but Hollaback says much about the fight.

Drill ‘n Beef

Public commentary on recent spikes in the level of homicides in London has implicated a variety of factors, including a subgenre of rap that previously only the young or music-nerdy would have know about: drill. As various forms of social media are accused of inciting real-world violence, this music, made on an amateur or semi-professional basis by disadvantaged, mostly black, young people in various parts of the capital (and beyond) has been similarly implicated. Watching an amount of drill videos on Youtube (for it is there that they proliferate) will confirm to anyone with a familiarity with street slang that violence and other forms of criminality are running themes in the genre. ‘Beefs’ or confrontations are a further staple of most rap genres.

The age-old question arises:  how seriously should we take the lyricism of young, black, disadvantaged and particularly enthused men, bearing in mind the roles played by racism and class in the criminalization process? Without attempting an answer in relation to London drill, it is interesting to see how the drillers themselves have become aware of this issue. Tottenham rappers Headie One and RV on ‘Know Better’ urge caution on what should be posted to the internet, judiciously deploying ‘shhh’ sounds themselves in place of words they perhaps views as impolitic to share. Needless to say, the comment function on the video has been disabled.

The Paradise Papers ‘Walking Tour’

In contrast to the concern expressed around the recent developments in London street crime, there seems to be a more relaxed attitude to issues that arguably strike to the very heart of the contemporary British state. Democracy and the rule of law, key pillars of our Constitutional Monarchy seem threatened by a melange of opaque financial flows that are said to simultaneously service the beneficiaries of corrupt regimes and criminal empires alongside the ultra-wealthy and elements of the financial industry. With recent controversies around potential interference with elections, the existence of these secret money channels should be most concerning.

One can, however, walk through the city and see so much that directly pertains to these financial practices. Be sure to take in the buildings housing representatives of the Crown Protectorates and Offshore Territories whose laws allow companies to be registered with no public record of who the beneficial (real) owners are. Observe the signage for those ownership entities, facilitated by UK law, that obscure potentially useful information from wider discovery. If you are walking, however, you are obviously a mere spectator.

#BikesUpKnivesDown

April 7th 2018 saw up to 4,000 young Londoners take to the streets on their bikes in memorial of the 54 young people who have died this year on London’s streets. #BikesUpKnivesDown is part of #bikestorms, a global movement of young people seeking to build social connections through shared love of bikes. A quick search on Youtube and Twitter shows loads of videos by young people (mostly men) pulling their bikes up for impressively long, sometimes high-speed wheelies, and dramatic swerves and stunts. Whilst some taxi drivers protested loudly (also on Twitter), #BikesUpKnivesDown attracted surprisingly little coverage in mainstream media. Their youthful aesthetic has little in common with the organised, slow trudge of political marches to Westminster (familiar to many of us London-based academics in particular during the recent industrial rest).

Cyclists have long organised to take over city streets. The Critical Mass movement originated in San Francisco, but London has its own branch too. Their monthly meetings rarely have predetermined routes, and with no hierarchical leadership anyone can find themselves leading the pack. Critical Mass, like bikestormz, occupies the road, stopping traffic. The Ciclovia movement originates in Colombia in the 1970s. From 7am-2pm on Sundays, the main streets are closed to traffic, open only to cyclists and pedestrians. Pollution contribute to the deaths of many thousands of Londoners every year.

Perhaps it’s time London followed the example.

 

Contact

Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, Goldsmiths, University of London

Email: j.fleetwood@gold.ac.uk

Twitter: @jenfleetwood

Website: https://www.gold.ac.uk/sociology/staff/fleetwood-jennifer/

Dr Jonathan Ilan, City, University of London

Email: jonathan.ilan@city.ac.uk

Website: https://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/jonathan-ilan

 

Copyright free image: from KylaBorg (I love London) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia and is licensed for re-use

 

 

Crime as a Cascade Phenomenon

Cascades of Violence deploys data from across South Asia to conclude that war tends to cascade across space and time.

Professor John Braithwaite is a Distinguished Professor and Founder of RegNet (the Regulatory Institutions Network) at the Australian National University. He was awarded the BSC Outstanding Achievement Award in 2017 and is an Honorary member of the Society.

Braithwaite and D’Costa’s (2018) Cascades of Violence can be downloaded for free here

This post sketches why it could be analytically fertile to view crime as a cascade phenomenon. Once we see crime through the cascade lens, we can imagine how to more effectively cascade crime prevention. Like crime, crime prevention often cascades. Braithwaite and D’Costa show how peacemaking cascades nonviolence. Happily, there is strong evidence to support the conclusion that nonviolence is also a cascade phenomenon. Hence, seeing crime through the cascade lens opens up fertile ways of imagining a macrocriminology of crime control. Self-efficacy and collective efficacy are hypothesized as catalysts of crime prevention cascades in the macrocriminology that interests me.

Cascade phenomena are defined as those that spread to multiply instances of themselves, or to create contagions of related phenomena. Cascade explanations are staples across the physical and biological sciences: the cascading of particles in particle physics, cascading of particular particles called bacteria and viruses with infectious diseases, environmental cascades to climate change, cascading of liquids (lava, water) in the geological formation of planets. In the social sciences, cascade explanations have also been common in the writing of Rosenau, Schelling, Sunstein , Kuran, Sikkink and Gladwell, among others. With crime, we have long known that people are more likely to cheat on their taxes if they perceive a lot of cheating among others and that contagion effects are particularly likely with high profile crimes such as hijackings, assassinations, kidnappings, suicide bombing and spates of serial killing.

Non-criminologists have been more fascinated by cascade possibilities than criminologists. Mathematician Quetelet in 1835 was puzzled by the high statistical variance in crime across space and time. Economists often puzzle further that this variance is so huge compared to variables that are seen as candidates for explaining variation. This leads to the hypothesis that cascading on itself might provide a better explanation than exogenous changes in rational incentives driven by costs and benefits of crime. They point out that interactions among people could cascade to explain the variance. If one crack cocaine dealer interacts with five others to persuade them that becoming a dealer is smart, and each of them so persuades five others, and so on, then this dynamic can multiply huge space-time variance between a point in space-time where that process takes off and others where there has been no cascade.

Information cascades where people make decisions on the basis of their observations of other peoples’ actions seem particularly attractive for explaining why criminal behaviors like looting or rioting are normally near zero, but can multiply quickly once someone starts a stampede. Herding into illegal tax shelters is likewise an information cascade phenomenon according to my 2005 book, Markets in Vice, Markets in Virtue. Braithwaite and D’Costa note that more common kinds of crime also behave like wars in this regard, as they sought integrated explanation of crime-war clusters. They point out that the best explanation of whether your house will be burgled in the next six months in many countries can be whether it was burgled in the last six months; and likewise, the best explanation of whether your country will suffer a war this year may be whether it suffered another in the past three years. Whether the house next door was burgled or the country next door convulsed by war are also good predictors.

When Lawrence Sherman and other criminologists found that crime was concentrated at three per cent of the addresses of large cities and that policing strategies concentrated at those hot spots could substantially reduce crime at them, the natural reaction of criminologists was cynical. Our cynicism was directed at the hypothesis that criminals will respond by shifting their crime from old hot spots to nearby locales, or to create new hot spots.  Subsequent research did not bear out this displacement hypothesis.  Indeed, it showed not only that hot spot policing reduced crime at the hot spot, but it also had positive spillovers in reducing crime to lesser degrees in areas surrounding hot spots. Why did not criminologists then proceed with a sense of excitement at the surprise of having their expectations reversed? Why not explore and develop a converse theory that there may be cascade effects of crime prevention success?  Criminologists tend not to respond to overturned cynicism with excitement at the opportunity to build theory on new inductive insights, preferring to move on to cynicism about something else.

Reframing crime as a cascade phenomenon implies a shift from focus on individual offenders to building a new macrocriminology. Such a reframed macrocriminology is my current work-in-progress. Braithwaite and D’Costa’s study of cascades of violence across South Asia was a considerable empirical undertaking that could, perhaps, be submitted as a proof of concept, though no more than that. The conclusions of that book about war are undoubtedly more important than those about crime, particularly in showing what can be done with the insight that the best way of protecting ourselves from future wars is to stop getting into current ones. Yet a neglected reason for the importance of that policy work is that war and crime cascade into each other so profoundly.

My suspicion is that the cascade lens could illuminate a good framework for the kind of macrocriminological reframing that can make a fist of big patterns in the evolution of crime such as why western societies have dramatically less violent crime than they had centuries ago; why so many Latin American societies have so much more criminal violence than other regions; why East Asian societies have experienced dramatic reductions in violence for half a century or more; why in the same period the United States has had a higher crime rate than other Western societies. Mainstream criminology devotes remarkably little attention to such macro patterns compared to the attention mainstream economics devotes to why certain spaces and times have superior growth, or mainstream political science to why some spaces and times are less democratic, more authoritarian.

How could a framework like control theory be seen by many criminologists as one of the most empirically supported of all theories without confronting it with macro questions such as whether it really makes sense to say that the United States has so much more crime than Canada, Europe, Australia or Japan because Americans are less able to control their impulses? My proposal is that conceiving crime as a cascade phenomenon is one possibility for a better path to reconfiguration of criminological theory.

Contact

Professor John Braithwaite, School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University.

Email: John.Braithwaite@anu.edu.au

Website: http://johnbraithwaite.com/

Copyright free image: from author.

Working Together: ‘Invisible’ crimes, victimisations and social harms

The BSC Victims Network hosted their first research planning and writing day. Reflections include participants feedback.

Dr Hannah Bows is currently a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Teesside University. Her research coalesces around age/ageing, victimisation and gender with particular interests in violent crime against older women. Her recent work includes a national study of rape against older people, a national study profiling homicide of older people and a study exploring ‘risk’ in relation to older sex offenders and policing. She is the editor of a forthcoming two-volume edited collection on Violence Against Older Women (Palgrave MacMillan, 2019) and monograph based on her national study of rape against older people (Routledge, 2018). Outside of the university, she is the deputy director of the BSC Victims Network, Chair of Age UK Teesside and sits as a Magistrate on the Durham and Darlington bench. From August 2018 she will be taking up the role of Assistant Professor in Criminal Law at Durham University.

Professor Pamela Davies lectures in Criminology in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Pam’s main research interests are victimological and connect to criminal and non-criminal types of victimisation and social harm. She has a particular focus on gender, crime and victimization and has engaged in research and evaluations of gender based violence.  Pam has published widely on the subject of victims, victimization and social harm and on how gender connects to matters of community safety. She has authored Gender, Crime and Victimisation (Sage) and has co-edited a number of texts including Victims, Crime and Society (2007, 2017), Invisible Crimes and Social Harms (2014) and Doing Criminological Research (2000, 2011, 2018).

 

As we write this, the BBC is airing The Stephen Lawrence Story. This brutal murder and three part documentary of it is a chilling reminder of the vocabularies of victimization. The death of Stephen provoked a fight for justice by his parents, which has changed the landscape of policing and race relations. This and other well publicized forms of criminal victimization including sexual exploitation and systematic abuse of vulnerable young people in our neighborhoods and the continued efforts to tackle violence against women and girls are sad indictments of life in 21st century Britain.

The BSC Victims Network is a collection of people within the criminology community who have interests around victims of crime and social harm, survivors and resilience. We are committed to raising awareness of ‘invisible’ crimes, victimisations and social harms and to securing justice for those experiencing or affected by crime, atrocities, disasters and injustices through our scholarly activities. The Network facilitates the cross-national exchange of work and ideas relating to these concerns under the shorthand label ‘victims’.  The network brings individuals together to facilitate and promote theory development and research. It provides an arena for information exchange, critical analysis and debate across the research, policy and practice communities – nationally and internationally – encourages networking between academics, researchers, practitioners and students, and looks for opportunities to secure research or consultancy income.

On 26 March 2018, the British Society of Criminology Victims Network (BSCVN) hosted the first research planning and writing day for 17 members at Sheffield Hallam University. Participants immersed themselves in thinking about, discussing and writing about some of the most seriously debilitating experiences imaginable including the direct and indirect impact of criminal and non- criminal forms of victimization, harm and suffering. The day was divided into two parts: established academics met to discuss research ideas or plans, develop networks and collaborations and discussed funding opportunities and early career academics and postgraduate students took part in a writing day, with each ECR/PG assigned to one of the established academics for mentoring and supporting.

The day kicked off over coffee (of course) at 9.30am, where all delegates introduced themselves and their research and outlined their plans and goals for the day: most members had a specific book, chapter or journal article that they wanted to work on and most set an ambitious target of 500 words by the end of the day. Following this, the writers convened and spent the morning writing with mentoring support built in. After a delicious lunch, featuring cake and coffee, members reconvened to discuss how the morning had gone and revise/confirm their goals/targets for the afternoon session. Professor Davies provided an overview of her and Professor Matthew Hall’s current book series on ‘Victims and Victimology’ and explained the publishing process for those interested in submitting proposals.

A general discussion of publishing, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and approaches to writing followed before members returned to writing and/or research planning. At the end of the day, members reconvened to reflect on how the day had gone, what they had achieved and what their goals were going forward.

I just wanted to thank you (and Hannah – who I’ll also email) so much for organising such a brilliant day. I really appreciated the opportunity to meet new colleagues and the time away from my institution to think. It was a very valuable day and I am still working my way through the list of ideas and “to dos” and feeling quite inspired!

The day provided a much-needed opportunity for members to have dedicated time to write/plan research and discuss ideas, challenges and opportunities with colleagues. The day was supportive and feedback during and after the event attested to the importance of having the time and space to write, and to the benefit of having the opportunity to talk with colleagues, discuss tips and the ups and downs of writing, and bounce around ideas.

Thanks again for a great day

 – what a good day it was! Thanks so much (and to Hannah) for organising – it was a productive and thoroughly enjoyable day! I hope you both got home ok? 

Thank you very much for the BSC Victims Day. It was a very productive day and great to meet some new faces….

 I just want to thank you for a very useful and constructive day. I really enjoyed the balance of writing and networking/collaborating – the day was well structured.

Following this success, we hope to organise similar events in the future. Watch this space!

If you want to join us, do subscribe to our jisc list here – www.jiscmail.ac.uk/BSCVICTIMSNETWORK

Contact

Hannah Bows – Teesside University

Email: hannah.bows@durham.ac.uk

Twitter: @Hannah_Bows

Pamela Davies – Northumbria University

Email: pamela.davies@northumbria.ac.uk

 

Copyright free image: from BSC website

Music, criminology and justice

The way that music is used, suppressed or censored is an important area for criminologists to consider as this can uncover violations of the human rights of individuals and groups and reveal grave social injustices.

 

 

E Peters

Dr Eleanor Peters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Department of Law & Criminology, Edge Hill University. Eleanor worked for many years as a youth justice researcher in the voluntary sector and is the author or co-author of several publications in this area. She is currently researching the connection between music and crime.

My interest in music as a subject for criminological study goes back a long way. I was born and brought up in the Black Country, and some of you will realise the significance of this in musical terms as the home, alongside its neighbour Birmingham, of heavy metal. References to metal in the media and in academic texts portrayed it as a misogynistic, devil worshiping cult followed by greasy working-class white young men; a picture I found unrecognizable from my involvement in a local metal scene. In the pivotal Subculture: The meaning of style, Dick Hebdige (1979) says heavy metal fans ‘can be distinguished by their long hair, denim and ‘idiot’ dancing (the name says it all).’ Chambers (1985; 123) describes the heavy metal audience as being ‘composed of a popular alliance of scruffy students and working-class followers.’

Later I read about the use of heavy metal music as a method of torture and wondered why my beloved music was used in such a way. This was the response of Christopher Cerf, composer of the Sesame Street theme, when he discovered that US intelligence services had tortured detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib using his music. His journey is documented in the film Songs of War, where he meets soldiers and ex-prisoners who discuss their experiences of music as torture. This includes an interview with members of the band Drowning Pool who say they were aware of soldiers using their music in Iraq, and that they were regarded as the unofficial soundtrack of the military. The band members do not answer directly Cerf’s questions to them about their songs being used as an interrogation tool, but joke about how their music could be torture for people. Of course, this is ‘funny’ because everyone ‘knows’ metal is torture (‘they don’t even sing, they just shout’, ‘what a racket!’). Although various types of music have been used to torture, as part of enhanced interrogation techniques (more commonly known as ‘torture lite’), the use of heavy metal and rap by US forces was partly the result of the personal tastes of soldiers but also because of it being culturally alien to detainees. This use evidently breaches the UN declaration of human rights article 5, ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ (Universal declaration human rights) and the Geneva Convention.

It does not have to be heavy metal or children’s TV theme tunes; any music or noise over a certain volume can cause harm to humans. Hearing can become damaged when the frequency of a sound exceeds 20,000 hertz. As Attali (1984; 27) argues ‘in biological reality, noise is a source of pain. Beyond a certain limit, it becomes an immaterial weapon of death.’ However, there are reasons why certain genres of music are more likely to be used in conflict situations and this is because ‘metal and rap are part of a larger system of cultural beliefs that project certain power relations or ideologies’ (Pieslak 2007; 124). Heavy metal is loud, fierce and to many, discordant with violent lyrics.

While the use of music as torture in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay is an obvious human rights violation, there are other forms of injustices that a criminological study of music can uncover. Even when specific laws are not being violated, the erosion of the protection of people’s rights in terms of freedom and autonomy, which is one of the most common social injustices, can be instigated by the state. The United Nations has had a Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights since 2009, which highlights the importance of human rights in artistic expression and freedom, and the knowledge that music can reflect more important messages about problematic social arrangements and practices, rather than just being entertainment.

Where music has perceived negative consequences, then censorship can be a perceived answer; in these cases, laws regulate and discipline popular culture. There are power issues at play in whose, when, and what music and sound is labelled as deviant and this can lead to an erosion of liberty. Heavy Metal has often been at the centre of debates about censorship and is banned or suppressed in a number of countries around the world, for example, Russia, China and Malaysia (LeVine 2010). It is not just those less democratic countries where metal (and other ‘deviant’ music) is outlawed; for example, the alleged links between listening to heavy metal and suicide or committing violent acts has a long history. Following suicides and suicide attempts of American fans, Ozzy Osborne was sued in a US court over his song Suicide Solution, despite it being about alcoholism, and Judas Priest were accused of suicide-inducing hidden messages on their album Defenders of the Faith (Wright 2000). The Columbine school shooters were alleged to be Marilyn Manson fans (Muzzatti 2004) and this led to a decline in airplay, and bans on performing in many locations for the artist. Indeed, Manson has recently said that Columbine ‘destroyed his career’ (Petridis 2017).

Political censorship can be understood predominantly in terms of censorship, occurring through laws, interpretations of those laws by judiciary and police, and government actions. Moral censorship of musicians is exercised through ‘social pressure by religious and other social movements, and economic pressure through the refusal of economic entities such as record companies, radio stations, music video channels or music programmes to air their music’ (LeVine 2017; 55). Moral censorship can be exercised though religious or campaign groups such as Mediawatch UK, which was formerly called the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVALA), whose first president was the campaigner Mary Whitehouse, or the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in the US, formed by women with strong connections to Washington politics who called on governments to ban, or corporations to suppress, certain forms of expression.

If censorship is conceived as the control of information and ideas, this can be explored through the example of grime music. In common with its close musical relation, rap, grime has been deemed to be many things; violent and misogynistic (Springhall 1998) and responsible for deaths and riots (Bramwell 2015). The perceived problems associated with grime and similar musical forms (such as Afrobeats, bashment, all of which are commonly described under the umbrella term ‘urban’) have led a suppression of live events featuring these genres. It is difficult for artists to find venues to play in, partly because of the Metropolitan Police form 696. Originally introduced in 2005 as a risk assessment for live music to prevent violence, the original form 696 was amended in 2009, when two questions which asked for the ethnic make-up of attendees and the genre of music being performed were removed following accusations of racial profiling, and the unfair targeting of specific musical genres on a racial basis. Despite the form now being rescinded, black promoters still feel discriminated against when trying to book clubs for gigs (Bernard 2018).

Avowedly political musicians in despotic countries where artistic voices are being silenced by political, religious, cultural, moral activities endure similar problems in terms of economic suppression of their music. As LeVine (2017) discusses, some musicians are moving to Europe, sponsored by the anti-music censorship group Freemuse, to be able to work and play their music. One musician, Ramy Essam, ‘the bard of Tahrir’ is currently exiled in Sweden. Moroccan rapper L7a9edis (or El-Haqed, translated as ‘the enraged’) is currently applying for political asylum in Belgium. These artists faced arbitrary arrest, beatings and torture but also the inability to make a living because of bans on airplay and performances in their home countries and travel restrictions preventing them from touring abroad.

The continued social injustices that can occur through the use, abuse, and suppression of music have great importance to criminologists who are interested in how state and corporate power can be use against the most powerless in society. The erosion of freedom of expression for many musicians, the use of music as a means for the powerful to torture the powerless are areas that the discipline of criminology has much to contribute.

 

Attali, J. (1984) Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Manchester, University of Manchester Press

Bernard, J. (2018) Form 696 is gone – so why is clubland still hostile to black Londoners? Guardian, 31 Jan

Bramwell, R. (2015) UK Hip-Hop, Grime and the City: The Aesthetics and Ethics of London’s Rap Scenes. London, Routledge

Chambers, I. (1985) Urban rhythms: Pop music and popular culture. Macmillan, Basingstoke

Hebdige, D. (1979) Subculture: The meaning of style. Abingdon, Routledge

LeVine, M. (2010) Headbanging against repressive regimes: Censorship of heavy metal in the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and China. Freemuse, Report no. 9. Copenhagen, Freemuse.

LeVine, M. (2017) Enraged and defiant: Revolutionary artists against the state in Morocco and Egypt. In Kirkegaard, A et al (eds) Researching Music Censorship. Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Press

Muzzatti, S. L. (2004) Criminalizing Marginality and resistance: Marilyn Manson, Columbine and cultural criminology. In Ferrell, J et al (Eds) Cultural Criminology Unleashed. London, Glasshouse Press.

Pieslak, J. R. (2007) Sound targets: Music and the war in Iraq. Journal of Musicological Research, Volume 26, Issue 2-3

Petridis, A. (2017) ‘Columbine destroyed my entire career’: Marilyn Manson on the perils of being the lord of darkness, Guardian 21 Sep

Songs of War [2012] A&O Buero filmproduktion for Al Jazeera

Springhall, J. (1998) Youth, Pop Culture and Moral Panics: Penny-Gaffs to Gangsta Rap, 1830-1996. London, Palgrave Macmillan

Contact

Dr Eleanor Peters, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Department of Law & Criminology, Edge Hill University.

Email:  peterse@edgehill.ac.uk

Twitter:  @DrEleanor1

 

Copyright free images: from author and pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons Free for commercial use, No attribution required)