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

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

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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)

 

How Lucky Am I: Victim, to Researcher, back to Victim

This article plots a course from being a victim of hate crime to passionately researching hate crimes; in doing so, the author relives shared victim experience.

David Wilkin is a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Leicester; considered as a mature student, although (in his words) any prospect of attaining maturity remains a distant concept. Following a long career in public transport and business he is now impassioned to understand why people can be so fervent in their abuse of others.

How lucky was I? I recall as a child how much I loathed the bus or train trip to school. I wore black-framed, National Health Service (NHS)–issued, heavy spectacles with thick lenses and I had a psychological disorder which resulted in unusual mannerisms. Little wonder then that I was a victim of hate and abuse. If I had been an abuser, I would have sought a similarly ‘soft target’. So, to avoid this daily obstacle-course of abuse, I gave up going to school. I intercepted school reports suggesting that I should ‘pop-in occasionally’ and forged my father’s signature on the related receipt slips. I left school not knowing how to construct a grammatical sentence but I could complete a form. So I joined the railway: a stable work environment from which I eventually did learn that grammar was not simply my mother’s mother!

Cab interior of Flying Scotsman
Author on the footplate of the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive, 2016.

My perspective of what a victim was changed over the succeeding 30 years. From having been a victim, I now witnessed victimisation. As a train driver I was involved in two suicides. At the subsequent inquests, I learned how these victims had been traumatised by the harshness of life until they could no longer cope. I had my apology ready for the parents of one victim, a 15-year old girl. But they apologised to me first and I don’t know which of us cried the most. I recall that moment in detail, notwithstanding that it was 25 years ago.

Working in public transportation, you observe a range of human behaviours at all times of day or night; from altruism to unbelievable cruelty. Some of these acts were latterly to become termed as hate crimes: some perpetrated on minorities; on rival football fans; on disabled people. Of this final category, I once witnessed a man in a wheelchair being pushed on to the electrified track by a group of youths. I turned the power off and, with others, got him to safety. He was scared, shaking, crying and inconsolable: this was to become another haunting memory. Latterly, I managed railway operations and became a consultant to the industry. Understanding the difficulties faced by disabled customers was one facet of my work. I started to comprehend the daily hostility faced by some on our services. After leaving the industry, I gained qualifications in Criminology and wanted to further explore disability hate crime (DHC) through postgraduate research. I found that although public transport is an established environment for triggering hate crimes that this was an under-researched subject.

I am now performing that research. To date, I have spoken with 62 victims and witnesses, via interview and focus group mediation. There have been times when they have shared sketches of human behaviour at its worst. Their honesty in sharing this is humbling. Victims have recounted appalling remarks regarding their impairments, disclosed psychologically hurtful strategies and physical violence. All this targeted against people who already feel physically weakened, frightened and isolated. Already physically drained by having to propel a wheelchair and manoeuvring it onto a bus they then have to negotiate a safe location to park their ‘chairs. As if this were not enough, then they are further burdened with undeserved experiences of being told that you are an encumbrance on the state, that you will delay the bus and even that you stink. These are unwelcome additions to your journey from fellow passengers and additionally sometimes even from staff. During my research I heard from people who regularly suffer abuse that would stun most non-disabled people albeit if it only occurred rarely.

I came to experience people sharing their experiences through innovative techniques which I had not previously considered as customary methods of communication. Participants pointing at imagined abusers to illustrate their experiences, or drawing diagrams of where their abuser stood on the bus, or seeing people use video to explain their abuse because they had no other way of imparting it. Being involved in the dynamic of a focus group where two or three people relate their experiences through the tears of their pain and realising that you too are shedding tears, that you too are becoming a victim again through the sharing of their pain. Even though I did not directly experience their victimisation, it brought back recollections of previous encounters in my life from over fifty years ago, burned into my memory forever; sharing the horror of being victims together, although decades of difference divided our experiences.

On a lighter note, there was the wheelchair-bound victim who proudly wanted to give me a practical demonstration of when he confronted a young male abuser on a bus. This young man had refused to vacate the dedicated wheelchair space and then exhibited threatened violence against my participant. My contributor beckoned me closer to him and said: ‘I held him by the throat and told him what I thought of him’. To add realism to this demonstration he grasped me by the neck and had to be dissuaded from continuing with his resourceful demonstration. He then apologised profusely. Strange, that either emotionally, or physically, I was once again a victim of hate crime: even if only secondarily.

However the depth of my particular distress, it was nothing compared to that suffered by the participants to my study. Once I have completed the collation and analysis of data I will compare these experiences with the equality objectives and duty of care to safeguard all passengers which is incumbent upon regulatory authorities and public transport providers in the UK. My aspiration is to discover if any shortfalls of meeting statutory obligations are evident and, if so, does this increase the risk to potential victims of disability hate crime? If safeguards are not being applied to protect all passengers who use public transport, especially disabled people, then this will be communicated to the UK Department for Transport and key agencies within the public transport infrastructure. This is to provide a research-based incentive in the hope that vulnerable customers will be looked after and also encouraged to use public transport; sometimes the only method of independence to which they have access.

I began this blog by asking how lucky was I to have been a victim of abuse. I finish by discovering that no experience, no matter how distressing, is unique in this world. Someone, somewhere, will have endured it as well. In this criminological exploration of human experience, being able to share experiential knowledge of victimisation has been helpful to both the participants and to the researcher.

 

Contact

David Wilkin Postgraduate Researcher,

Centre for Hate Studies: Department of Criminology, University of Leicester.

Email: drw24@leicester.ac.uk

Twitter: @DavidRWilkin

Website:

https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/criminology/people/phd/david-wilkin

 

Copyright free images: from author

Conference Update

A message from the Birmingham City Conference Committee.

This year’s British Society of Criminology annual conference, which is to be hosted in Birmingham City University’s brand new city centre campus, is truly living up to its theme: Transforming Criminology.

With regard to the Post Graduate Conference, which is being organised by Dr Aidan O’Sullivan, brand new and innovative masterclasses will be held including:

  • Meet the Editors and Getting Published;
  • Geese Theatre and rehabilitation through the Arts;
  • Dealing with the media (including guest talks from under cover journalist Donal MacIntyre and Times crime correspondent John Simpson);
  • Preparing for the VIVA; and
  • Applying for academic positions.

We are also transforming how postgraduates engage with the conference, with delegates now presenting their ongoing or planned research to other postgraduate representatives. This is based on feedback from previous conferences in which postgraduate delegates wished to engage and contribute more to the conference programme. We also have two exciting key notes for the postgraduate conference, with the internationally renowned Emeritus Professor David Wilson and Dr Thomas Raymen (early-career researcher and the co-founder of the deviant leisure research network). The postgraduate social event will also take place in the Eagle and Ball, a Victorian pub that offers a unique new home to the Students Union and was built between 1840 and 1850.

This theme of transformation also permeates into the main conference, with keynote addresses from Professor Yvonne Jewkes, Dr Ben Crewe, Professor Jeff Farrell and Professor Michael Levi. In keeping with the conference theme of transforming criminology, Edmond Clark will be attending BSC 2018 as a keynote speaker. During Clarke’s residency at HMP Grendon (Ikon’s artist-in-residence 2014-2018) he immersed himself within the routines of the prison and engaged in-depth with inmates, prison officers and therapeutic staff alike. Enthused by the unique insight into the essence of Grendon and bound by the constraints of detailing the identity of inmates and security infrastructure, Clark’s work responds by exploring the notions of visibility, trauma and self-image.

We are also excited to bring our brand new Grendon Panel to your attention. This panel will include the Governor of HMP Grendon Dr Jamie Bennett and Chartered Forensic Psychologist and Head of Clinical Services at HMP Grendon Richard Shuker. This panel will also include two former residents of HMP Grendon including: Noel “Razor” Smith, who after being released in 2010 went to work for Inside Times and has published seven books, and Doug Sharpe, who after being released in 2017 now gives lectures to the next generation of students working towards careers within the Criminal Justice System.

In continuing the theme of rehabilitation, Geese Theatre – a company of theatre practitioners who work closely with the probation service, prisons, young offender institutions, and youth offending teams – will also be hosting an Arts and Rehabilitation panel (more speakers to be confirmed).

The main conference dinner will be at Edgbaston stadium. Opened in 1882, it serves as the home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club and the Birmingham Bears T20 side. They also regularly hold international matches, and are a frequent stop on the Ashes tour when it is held in the UK.

We are also delighted to announce that we are receiving abstracts from all over the world including North America, Australia, Nigeria, Taiwan and New Zealand. This year’s conference is fast becoming a truly international and transformative event and we look to forward to seeing you all in July! Below we have added a link to the conference website and a breakdown of some of the key dates.

All the best from the Birmingham City Conference Committee.

 

Contact

Website

Email: Admin2018BSC@bcu.ac.uk

Twitter: @BCU_BSC2018

Facebook: BSC Conf

Call for Abstracts closes: May 28, 2018

Conference Registration closes: June 25, 2018

 

Copyright free image: from the authors

The Pleasures (and Pains) of Hosting a BSC Annual Conference

Organising the British Society of Criminology annual conference is a huge job, but the task is more rewarding than you think

Conference2017_longVHeap

Dr Vicky Heap is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Fellow of the Sheffield Institute for Policy Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. Vicky conducts research and lectures in the areas of anti-social behaviour, crime prevention and research methods, and is Editor of Safer Communities journal.

We hosted the British Society of Criminology annual conference at Sheffield Hallam University in 2017. This blog reflects on my experience of leading the organising committee for the BSC’s annual showpiece, giving an insight into the ups and downs of the process – and debunking a few myths along the way.

It’s certainly not a myth that organising the BSC conference takes a LOT of work. However, there were some real high-points. The thing that stood out to me the most was the willingness of the criminological community to engage with the conference, at all levels of proceedings. We secured some amazing plenary speakers who, aside from doing the business when it came to their talks, were also particularly efficient at providing all the required admin information. This may seem like a minor point, but the small things make a big difference to an organisational process that has numerous component parts. Similarly, when putting together the Masterclasses, invited speakers were keen to be involved and were truly innovative in their approaches to the sessions. The same can be said for the presenters invited to participate in the Postgraduate Conference. In total, 11 external and 8 Sheffield Hallam speakers delivered the workshops and they were ably supported by the BSC Postgraduate Committee, who chaired all the sessions. The level of assistance and encouragement provided by the BSC was second to none, with plenty of questions answered by previous hosts, especially by the folks from Plymouth. Coupled with the incredible support from our events team and student helpers, we had a huge team invested in putting together the best possible conference. This administrative support and commitment was matched by the enthusiasm of both presenters and delegates. We welcomed 332 criminologists from 13 countries to Sheffield across the four days, and it was great to see so many people. It felt like a friendly conference too, evidenced by the 50+ criminologists from around the world partying together until 4am on the night of the conference dinner!

SHU_party

I can’t deny it, there was the odd personal perk associated with being part of the organising committee. I am probably one of the few academics that does not drink coffee, so when it came to planning the ACJS sponsored refreshments I asked the events team to see if we could provide something a little bit different. I love fizzy drinks, doughnuts, cookies, and generally anything that’s bad for you! Fortunately for me, our chef agreed to create a bespoke set of refreshments for that slot, which were served from market stalls alongside the postgraduate poster event. The ice-cold drinks went down well on what was a stiflingly hot day and my dream of a non-coffee-centred refreshment break came true!

SHU_conference

On a more serious note, putting together the main conference programme was one of the most difficult tasks. First, we had to peer review the abstract submissions and we had a team of five people working on this between January and April and I can dispel this rumour once and for all: not all abstracts are accepted! Once we had our final set of panels and papers, we had to populate five parallel sessions across the three days of the main conference. Unlike other conferences which stipulate you must attend the whole event, the BSC conference affords a greater degree of flexibility by offering a range of delegate packages. This is where it gets tricky for the organisers, as we had to match up the programme to the registrations. Most delegates came to the whole conference, but there were high numbers of single day attendees too. On top of this, we received over fifty individual requests for specific time slots or times that had to be avoided because of things like transport constraints. We also had to think about spacing out the panel themes to avoid duplication, put single papers into appropriate panels (trickier than you’d think), and make sure there were a similar number of panels in each parallel session. It took me and Jaime Waters, who is the most logical-thinking and organised person I know, three long days, copious post-it notes and a massive table to finally piece the jigsaw together.

SHU_abstracts

The issue of presentation slot requests relates to a major feature of the planning process that potential conference organisers should be prepared for; your email inbox will explode! This is from a combination of internal emails from your organising committee, events team, website administrator et al., as well as emails from external delegates. In the six to eight weeks leading up to the conference I was probably dealing with an average of 50-60 conference emails per day. The final aspect to be aware of as a would-be conference organiser is to expect the unexpected. As with any large-scale event, there is the potential for things to go wrong. There were a few hair-raising moments along the way, which I can look back on now with a wry smile. One scary instance came the day before the printing deadline for the conference handbook when we realised that for some unknown reason, the punctuation in the abstract submissions had not pulled-through from the online submission point into the conference handbook itself. This resulted in eight members of the events team hastily going through each abstract and inserting every comma, apostrophe and full-stop at break-neck speed. Another example of people going above and beyond to ensure the conference was delivered as planned.

Overall, leading the conference organising committee was an interesting and valuable experience on numerous levels. At least if my academic career doesn’t go according to plan I’ve now got the offer to go and work for our events team. So, if I mysteriously disappear after the next REF, you’ll know where to find me! There were a few stressful moments, but seeing the event run as we had envisaged was really rewarding as well as a massive relief. To witness the global criminological community come together to share their expertise and passion for our discipline made it all worth it. If you are thinking of putting a bid together to host a future conference – go for it! There will always be people willing to help you out and you can certainly count on my support.

Contact

Dr Vicky Heap, Sheffield Hallam University

Email: v.heap@shu.ac.uk  

Twitter: @DrVickyHeap

Copyright free images: from author

 

Criminology and the USS Strike – the View from Sussex

In this blog post, criminologists from University of Sussex, who are participating in the ongoing USS strike, reflect on their reasons for striking and the dispute’s wider relevance for Criminology.

 

The University and College Union’s strike action is about pensions. Employers in the USS scheme want to end guaranteed pension benefits and to replace them with a defined contribution scheme which would be vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. This transfers what for employers is a shared low risk across institutions, to high risk for individual employees. Pertinent to criminologists are the discourses of risk and ‘affordability’ that have surrounded the justifications offered by Universities UK, the employers’ association, not to mention the highly questionable risk calculations conducted by USS. They reveal the deep politicisation of conceptions of risk and how these shape material circumstances.

The changes to the USS pension scheme represent a huge diminution in employment standards for all of those in the scheme. A decline in the value of pensions does, however, hit some harder than others. Women are more likely to work part time and to take periods of parental leave. Across the higher education sector, they also earn less than men. This means that, disproportionately, their pensions are already lower in value. Increased use of casual and insecure labour across the sector also means a generation of academics whose pension contributions are delayed and/or interrupted, assuming that they do eventually find a permanent post. As criminologists we are concerned about gender and generational justice and this is also why the strike is important to us.

It is not simply the effects of substantive pension cuts on academics and other colleagues in higher education that we need to consider. There must also be some thought to how these cuts affect and shape our students – the criminologists of tomorrow. We take for granted, as academics in the UK, that if in a permanent position we can rely upon one job to sustain our lives and plan for our retirement. However, in numerous countries across the West and Global South, many university staff moonlight in second positions. Drastic reductions to our working conditions, of the kind presaged by the pensions raid, are likely to spell later retirement, and possibly taking second jobs to maintain living standards. Indeed, increased casualisation already entails teaching at more than one institution, or holding more than one job, for many. The associated stress on mental and physical health induced by degraded employment conditions will have a detrimental effect on teaching and learning in the classroom.

Particularly alarming during the current strike (although not entirely unsurprising) has been the alacrity with which some universities have threatened punitive sanctions against their employees taking lawful industrial action. This is clearly of concern for criminologists given our analyses of the ways in which punishment and control operate, especially under neoliberalism. Threats of 100% pay deductions for refusal to reschedule classes missed during the strike (for which payment has already been withheld) are clear attempts at strike breaking, as are the ‘milder’ threats of 20-25% pay docking. Institutions are beginning to retreat from this position, demonstrating the importance and continued relevance of collective action. Of significance is the willingness of senior management to treat their colleagues, who make the university what it is, in this punitive way. It is important for us as criminologists to challenge the punitive workplace, both for our future colleagues and to take a principled stand against this behaviour. We fully acknowledge that the lowest paid and most insecurely employed experience the brunt of such punitive workplace practices, which is why we must seek to resist them.

It should not be forgotten that as academics we are also workers. The long apprenticeship through postgraduate study, the dedication to critical thought, and the passion for education, are overriding values that sometimes blind us to the tide of managerialism that constantly washes through our working lives. We often bristle at the prospect of additional administrative duties, perhaps because we have separated our academic labour from the world of work and absorbed it, unhealthily, into our selves. This is why strike action is never something academics take lightly; it disrupts not just our place of work but our sense of self. We are taking strike action now because the somewhat inevitable blurring of a work-life balance within the academy is being, at best, misunderstood; at worst, abused. Precarious working and retirement conditions renders research as output, learning as content, critical thinking as an unmarketable indulgence. Enthusiasm is not just infectious; it is a pedagogical imperative. How enthusiastic, and therefore effective, can one be as a criminologist lamenting the neoliberal penal state while simultaneously acquiescing to just such a turn in higher education?

The teaching of criminology is a lens through which we see academia reflected back at us. We find ourselves encouraging students to think critically about the difficulties facing the criminal justice system. Significant funding cuts and pressure to meet targets have been accompanied by a consumerist mandate which might lead to inequalities of justice.  Customers of the justice system are encouraged to complain about the service that they receive and while the powerful often elude justice, it is propped up by the more disadvantaged within society. These issues are mirrored in our academic lives – we are what we teach.

We might find familiarity too in Durkheimian notions of strain. In the pursuit of an academic career we must be writers; teachers; administrators; presenters; networkers; counsellors and thinkers. Competing for scarce funding resources we are placed under increasing strain but continue in our endeavours because we are passionate about what we do but have, until now, hoped for some future adequate remuneration in the form of pensions. The resultant strain means that many of us no longer wish to continue to be conformists or ritualists, but are rebelling against the prevailing discourse and seeking to challenge our roles within the University.

Universities rely upon our good will, our sincere belief in Criminology as a discipline and the benefits of its promulgation through tertiary education. So, when we are confronted with such bad faith negotiations as those levied by UUK, universities run the risk of undermining that good will, of draining its enthusiasm and sincerity. This is the end game of neoliberalism, and if management are so short-sighted as to deny the existential threat posed to critical thinking in the social sciences more broadly, but perhaps most pointedly Criminology, it is our duty to provide them with some perspective. Picket placards have been proclaiming to students for the past fortnight “Our Working Conditions are Your Learning Conditions”. The groundswell of support from students up and down the country, on picket lines and online, demonstrates they are all too aware of this. We strike to reassert our power as workers, our lives as labours of love, and because our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

Suraj Lakhani

Hannah Mason-Bish

Paul McGuinness

Tanya Palmer

Lizzie Seal

Dean Wilson

‘Not in my backyard’: Brexit and the myths of transnational organised crime

Brexit will make for a weaker and more isolated Britain. That translates in more opportunities for profits and investments for transnational criminal networks – and will be a nightmare for national law enforcement agencies.

Brexit_Sergi

A Sergi

Anna Sergi is Lecturer in Criminology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Essex, UK. She is an International Visiting Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia and Chair of the Early Career Researchers Network of the British Society of Criminology.

 

Brexit is fast approaching and the language of security – with words like risk, threat and harm floating around in political discourses on justice and border control – helps confusing an already confused scenario of what exactly is Great Britain without the EU going to look like. Particularly, the language of security is made to echo immediacy and a sense of urgency in solving a problem that is going to affect all of us and with potentially alarming consequences. In the midst of political confusion in what Brexit will mean for the UK’s shores– especially in terms of agreements for cooperation and border control – the old adagio that sees migration as quintessential contribution to insecurity can easily resurface. In other words, the idea that – by closing our borders – we will keep out potential terrorists and transnational drug traffickers, is tempting and apparently intuitive. And yet it is a superficial and incorrect concept, as it is based on mistaken premises.

The assumptions on the links between terrorism – international terrorism – and migration from Islamic countries has been proven wrong by recent events: terror attacks in Paris and London in the past years have confirmed that perpetrators, even when they are of Islamic faiths, are usually born and bred in the country and radicalised at a later stage. Thus, even in the public domain, the fear and the following stigmatisation of Muslim migrants – current and future – seem today easier to dispute. This, however, is also the result of the visibility of terrorism, when events like the London Bridge attack of 3rd of June 2017 – which counted 8 deaths in total – dominated the news for weeks, offering the public all the details about the offenders’ past and actions. Such visibility, instead, doesn’t complement the news on much more frequent criminal activities, of serious, often transnational, and organised crime, such as drug or human trafficking, counterfeiting and/or smuggling. Organised criminal groups, however, not only benefit from this lack of visibility – as they arguably appreciate being under the radar – and will be benefitting from Brexit the most.

Indeed, myths can be debunked when it comes to organised crime and the impending exit of the UK from the European Union. The first myth relates to cross-border crime, and, as seen before, relies on the argument that with stricter border control and isolation we can disrupt trafficking and smuggling activities. This could be partially true if we were in a situation where trafficking and smuggling only happened because of the porosity of borders. This however is not true, as organised crime activities are heavily dependent, amongst other things, on market rules of offer and demand. Therefore the border – and the overcoming of border controls – is factored in the business risk. This is why isolation and increased border controls only make the business risk grow – by making it more difficult to cross the border unchecked – and the cost of an increased business risk are not born by the traffickers/smugglers, but by the clients or the victims. In other words, in a cocaine trafficking scenario, cocaine will end up costing more on the streets, because traffickers have to match the increased risk of shipping it into an isolated country, where, however, demand is not likely to decline. Learning from the experience in other countries – namely Australia for example – an option to avoid the inflation of drug costs on the street will be shipping lower quality drugs as well or developing drugs locally produced. In all accounts, however, the increased business risk paired with the usual demands leads to the possibility to increase profits: if cocaine is going to be more expensive in the UK, but demand is not falling, then the UK will become an attractive place to do business. In this sense, Brexit will not only not decrease the availability of (transnationally-shipped) drug, but will also increase profits for organised crime groups. Great Britain needs to be able to work with partners towards international cooperation in policing – which Brexit also threatens – in order to understand how criminal networks work across global routes and how best to intervene to disrupt them.

There is another myth as well which relies on the nature of contemporary organised crime, as a threat to national security in the form of transnational networks and not so much as a local issue. While it is obvious that some (organised) crimes are transnational, the nature of organised crime in Great Britain is certainly not just transnational, as, arguably, it has always been very local instead.  Organised crime networks in different parts of the UK can be both “heavy” organisations, structured and “organised”, but also “lighter” organisations, based on opportunistic network ties, occasional cooperation and easier involvement for willing participants. If we consider organised crime as a socio-behavioural model of doing crime, rooted in networks and (sub)cultural values, it follows that together with fighting networks that operate cross border, policies must consider how organised crime activities and actors are extremely linked to local environments, changes and structures and social, economic and cultural levels. This line of thought re-establishes organised crime as a very British problem, that isolation and border control are not likely to affect in the way certain political factions would like, i.e. by reducing it.

With concerns linked to the City of London becoming the ‘laundry of choice’ of different criminal groups, both local and foreign, political parties have repeatedly called for a review of regulations. With the advent of Brexit, and with the possible changes in transparency regulations now set out by the EU, this concern becomes even more real. When it comes to understanding and policing organised crime, together with many other threats the UK considers national security concerns, we must therefore conclude that Brexit would only make for a weaker and more isolated Britain. That translates in more opportunities for profit and investments for transnational criminal networks – and will be a nightmare for national law enforcement agencies.

Contact

Anna Sergi, Lecturer in Criminology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Criminology, University of Essex –  asergi@essex.ac.uk@annasergi
https://www.essex.ac.uk/people/sergi58502/anna-sergi

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