The BSC public voice – have your say

The BSC AGM official business was followed this year by a discussion led by President Elect Professor Pam Davies on member views on whether the BSC should speak out on issues and events. Here Executive Director Dr Charlotte Harris blogs about the discussion so far and invites further comments.

Whether or when the BSC should publish or send an official comment or statement about events and issues –criminal justice or Higher Education-related – has been the topic of debate at many meetings of the Executive Committee of the BSC.  But what came out clearly from the comments from members around the plenary room at the University of Surrey and those tuning in remotely, moved the question from whether or when to why and to whom? What’s the point of making that comment as my old supervisor used to say to me.  What are we trying to achieve?

The BSC is a registered charity.  Its charitable aim is:  

‘to advance public education about crime, criminal behaviour and the criminal justice system’. 

To keep its charitable status, the BSC must only act within its stated aims and cannot be ‘political’ – its purpose must be for the public benefit.  Any political activity can only be in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purpose. Campaigning and political activity guidance for charities – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). 

The BSC is also a membership body.  Its members come from a wide range of backgrounds and include UK and international academics, practitioners, students and independent researchers. 

Within these confines, what are our member views about the BSC making statements about events and issues?  Would we risk our charitable status? How would we reach a democratic consensus to speak on behalf of our membership?  What sort of issues might we comment on and how would they be chosen and a stance agreed upon? In what sort of arenas could we make our voice heard? 

What did members attending the AGM say?


This year’s AGM was attended by more delegates than ever before – though whether this was the prospect of this discussion, the remote access available or the offer of a free lunch is not yet clear. The discussion was lively, collegiate, often heartfelt, and attracted many voices: 


In addition to the voices above a number of members came forward after the official discussion to press points about choosing our battles and choosing our audience where impact could be greatest – responding to consultations for example where government and other bodies are already in receptive mode.  Others talked about finding friendly media outlets to press our agenda and one rather depressingly emphasized the need to keep things simple and offer solutions  –  ‘politicians and officials don’t want more problems identified but a soundbite solation to announce’.

What do you think? If you missed the AGM or were there but did not have the opportunity to put all your points across, there is still time to have your say. Please contact info@britsoccrim.org to add your comment below. 

About the author

Doctor Charlotte Harris is the BSC Executive Director.

Contact

info@britsoccrim.org

Fake bombs, Albanian hip hop, storytelling, and orange juice: Journeys through ethnography.

Reflections from the 5th Annual Ethnographies of Crime and Control Symposium held at King’s College, University of Cambridge, September 19-20, 2022. Supported by the BSC Innovation Fund.

Organised by Drs Kate Herrity, Bethany Schmidt, and Jason Warr

Bethany Schmidt, Kate Herrity, Jason Warr

[From Kate] Not long having started my PhD I was nervous and unsure as I made my way into the Birmingham lecture theatre for the second Crime and Control Ethnography Symposium in 2016. The first – ‘Doing Ethnography on Crime and Control’ – had taken place in Leicester a year before. I soon followed the event there to do my PhD, which was how I came to be awkwardly banging my knees as I stumbled towards a seat suitably near the back, amidst the rows of bolted-in chairs. New to this as I was, I nevertheless discerned the something different that remains the hallmark of these occasions. Initially, I mistook the warmth and informality for an indication that everyone else was far more familiar with one another than I. It soon became clearer that this was a mark of the event rather than the pre-existing relationships which spawned it. Honest reflection is encouraged, Chatham House Rule is rigorously operated, and supporting research students and early career academics is at its centre. This focus serves to remind all present of the reason we all neglect inboxes and brave early morning starts: to share ideas, to reflect on one another’s work and practice, as well as offering open encouragement to those still finding their feet. While the specific flavour of the event is coloured by the hosting environment as well as the individuals leading, some aspects have remained in place from the beginning: short and informal presentations (slides discouraged), modest-sized numbers to better facilitate intimate discussion, and an emphasis on creativity and criticality.

I have since followed the event to Goldsmiths in London for the third in 2018 and Glasgow the year after for ‘Recrafting Ethnography: Crime, Harm and Control in the 21st Century’. Taking on the mantle for a tentative return in 2022 felt laden with responsibility to those who had contributed to crafting these events with such care to sustain a determined vision. We were honoured nevertheless, and decided it was too great an opportunity to pass up which was how Bethany, Jason and I came to host the fifth annual gathering which we titled, ‘Foregrounding the Senses in Ethnographies of Crime, Harm, and Social Control’ held at King’s College, Cambridge. Funding bids, publication material, programmes, and e-mail lists are passed along to each new organising group as accumulated knowledge of past events gathers and new relationships and associations form. We shall be adding ours to the collection and are excited to see where this goes next as well as to contribute to its evolution.

[From all of us] As noted, these Ethnographies of Crime and Control Symposia tend to take on the thematic flavours of those organisers, and their organisations. In previous iterations the supportive sessions have focused on conversations about the complexity of ethics, entering the field, capturing the field (the How To of ethnography as it were), and thinking through how an ethnographic sensibility can deepen our criminological imagination. This year was no different. However, shadowed by the spectre of the SARS-Cov2(v)/COVID-19 pandemic, which led to many suspensions, separations, and innovations two themes came to dominate. These were Proximity and Distance, and Emotional (and Emotive) Labour. Of particular importance was how these issues related to the theme of the conference – the sensory. It became evident that the accounting for the sensory, and the absence of such, in a changed ethnographic field presented all with unique challenges and, subsequently, novel mechanisms of resolution. These considerations, within a supportive and involved environment, gave many of the early career academics a much-expanded understanding of ethnography as a tool of enquiry.

Even with the late announcement of the public holiday (on the 19th) due to the passing of the Queen, we had just over 40 international and interdiscplinary ethnographers attend in person and around 15 people online. Most attendees were PhD students or early career researchers, with a few being more senior academics or professionals in related fields. This blend was our intention. As with previous symposia, our event was organised as a kind of unconference: in place of hierarchical, formal arrangements we prioritised informal, participant-led plenaries and activities designed to facilitate honest, open, and safe discussions about the art and craft of ethnographic fieldwork. It worked! We received  fantastic feedback from attendees which spoke to the supportive and invigorating ‘vibe’ of the event, like the student quoted below:

Thank you for organising such an invigorating, insightful and creative conference. Just being part of such important discussions helps reinstate my faith in criminology as a discipline and makes me reflect on the potential of the sensory to disrupt conventional assumptions of doing and conducting research.’ 


We had two brilliant keynote speakers, Drs Joy White and Johnny Ilan, who opened each day with excellent presentations related to their respective work studying the role of music in the lives of young Black men. Their sensitive provocations contributed to subsequent discussions around ethnographic proximity (how close is too close? or, are we close enough?), researcher identities, disclosure, and ethical witnessing. They also opened the forum up to methodological explorations – from city mapping to digital deep dives, music elicitation to objects behaving badly, from cars and their emotional geographies to the use of memories as data, as well as capturing the sights and sounds of social class and hidden harms, to name just a few. A distinctive feature of this symposium – and part of its DNA – is the feeling of release from ‘conventional’ research(er) constraints. Some of us have come from disciplines, departments, or working worlds that restrict or limit our ethnographic imaginations. We were impressed by the creativity, bravery, and ingenuity of our panellists and their work.


Participants brought photos, sounds, various recordings, objects, and in one session, a phone call from a man on death row in the US who contributed to the live conversation, to their presentations. For many, this syle of engagement was refreshing and a welcome departure from more traditional academic conferences.

In addition to foregrounding the senses, our other local flavour came from two Cambridge-based walking activities that sought to shift ethnographic perspectives by exploring places, spaces, and histories. On day one a historian traced the River Cam’s chronology – from its harnessing to establish the city as a water transport hub to, over the centuries, how it has been coopted and privatised as a spatial boundary by the University to control its use, and create a barrier to exclude the city’s residents. For day two, an archivist from King’s led us on an informative and reflective tour focused on the College’s role and reckoning with its legacies of enslavement.


The three of us have relished in the opportunity to host this invaluable event, but we are now ready to pass the baton to the next organisers. We maintain our belief that this ongoing symposium plays a vital and sustainable role in British criminology, as it continues to support and shape emerging researchers in the UK and beyond.

In addition to the BSC, we are grateful to the other funders who helped financially support this event: the Cambridge University Postdoc Academy and the Mellon Foundation. Many thanks are owed to these funders for enabling the event to happen, and to our participants for making the symposium a success.

About the authors

Dr Bethany Schmidt is Lecturer in Penology in the Prisons Research Centre, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge
@BethanyESchmidt
bs455@cam.ac.uk

Dr Kate Herrity is the Mellon-Kings Junior Research Fellow in Punishment at the University of Cambridge
@KateHerrity

Dr Jason Warr is Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Applied Social Sciences, De Montfort University.
@WarrCriminology
Jason.warr@dmu.ac.uk

This article gives the views of the authors, not the position of the British Society of Criminology or the institution they work for.

The Theft of Criminology.

Peter Squires

For at least the last three research excellence exercises – that is going back to well before 2008, the BSC has continued to press the case for a separate panel to assess Criminological research.  We have so far been unsuccessful and in many respects the problem worsened considerably when HESA, through the TEF, also excluded a separate audit of Criminological teaching.  More recently, the Academy of Social Sciences, in updating its membership directory, had fallen lamely into line with the above to prevent Fellows describing their discipline as ‘Criminology’ in its drop-down menu of social science disciplines.  This is a clear change in the AcSS’s policy which had hitherto recognised ‘Criminologists’.  Furthermore, a brief foray into the AcSS website reveals that when attempting to describe ‘What is Social Science’ the Academy omits Criminology altogether. Take a look:  What is Social Science? – Academy of Social Sciences (acss.org.uk)

Rendering Criminology invisible in this fashion rather undermines the answer the BSC received from the AcSS Head of Administration when we queried the lack of a Criminology option for colleagues to choose when self-describing their ‘discipline’.  The Head of Administration implausibly suggested that Fellows could use the ‘free text’ box to describe their ‘specialism’ as ‘Criminology’, although a glance at the aforementioned AcSS webpage would reveal that the Academy had already more fundamentally obliterated Criminology entirely.  Perhaps the AcSS’s much vaunted ‘campaign for social science’ is really only a campaign for some of them.  What’s more, the wishful doublethink of the AcSS extends to the point of justifying the absence of Criminology from its listing of discipline definitions and benchmarks by reference to ‘continuity’ and ‘consistency’, even as it has only lately made the change, and its discipline divisions are still not consistent with those employed by the REF.

After complaints from individual Fellows and, following an Executive Committee discussion, an official approach by the BSC to the AcSS, the Academy backtracked, indicating that they would be ‘pleased to add criminology to the drop-down menu’ where individual fellows described their primary academic discipline.  This was ‘on the basis that it is treated as a separate discipline by the QAA. We will respect the choices made by Fellows’ they noted.  So far so good, Fellows identifying primarily as ‘Criminologists’ can now go back to the AcSS information directory and change their primary discipline Fellows – Academy of Social Sciences (acss.org.uk),  although there was still no suggestion that the Academy would be adding Criminology to its website listing of ‘Social Sciences’.  But this is a start, and the distinct QAA listing of Criminology and the Criminology benchmarks are a strong basis for discipline recognition.

So why might this matter?  In the first place, having the AcSS line up to reinforce the REF and HESA decision to render Criminology effectively invisible means that we have no reliable means of evaluating specifically criminological teaching and research, it is everywhere subsumed within other categories, either sociology or also law (also, according to the AcSS website What is Social Science? – Academy of Social Sciences (acss.org.uk), not a social science) and a waning ‘social policy’.  So, in effect, perhaps the largest and, of late, fastest growing, teaching and research workforce in UK HE – with the possible exception of psychology and its variants – is not separately recognised in assessments of either its teaching and research quality.  Criminology brings universities substantial income from single- and joint-honours students, and from research grants.  In addition, the number of REF submissions from Criminology, currently sent to many REF sub panels, far exceed those from other more visible disciplines.  To defend the continued invisibility of Criminology in the face of such evidence, as the REF and TEF and lately the AcSS have attempted, is quite absurd.

The AcSS describes itself as the ‘national academy of academics, practitioners and learned societies in social science. The sector’s leading independent voice in the UK, champion[ing] the vital role social sciences play in education, government and business’.  Including and referencing Criminology, especially its contribution to justice and rights, safety and security, broadens the foundations of their own campaign, leading from the front rather than staying confined to the anachronistic silos of the REF.  Championing each and every discipline is ammunition for their case.

And so, why might this be happening and what can be done about it?  There seems little doubt that Criminology has grown fast, and courses are in high demand.  And yet, as we discovered in our review of teaching, learning and research, in contemporary criminology, presented as a paper at the Lincoln BSC Conference in 2019 (Harris et al. 2019), Criminology has expanded fastest in the Post-92 universities, where terms and conditions for staff: teaching loads, research time and staff-student ratios, amongst other indicators, continue to represent some of the worst in the sector as cash-strapped vice-chancellors are keen for the subject to continue to play its role as a subservient cash-cow.  All this is easier to secure when a truly national picture of the size and scale of Criminology and its import and impact remains obscured by artificial discipline divisions sustained by vested academic interests. 

For the other ‘villain’ of the piece, we need look no further than the elite Russell Group Law schools especially, who are keen to retain their slice of Criminology – as criminal justice studies – for the valuable research income it represents, and the research impact it delivers.  Any threat to the integrity of a law school REF submission must be vigorously defended, they have rightly recognised that having a strong panel stands for a strong discipline notwithstanding an acknowledged tendency to dispense a disproportionate share of 4* scores.  Defending this status quo entails maintaining a particularly invidious advantage, obscuring the impact and significance of Criminology and perpetuating the inequalities that our research has shown are all too apparent across the subject.

We were given a clear lesson regarding how far this academic gerrymandering could go a few years back when, having lobbied for a separate REF panel for Criminology, BSC representatives attended a REF planning meeting to discuss the issue.  The meeting organisers had gone to the trouble of a most obvious and egregious ‘packing’ of the meeting.  Two criminologists were present, one sociologist, one social policy specialist and no less than four heads of law learned societies and law schools, there to maintain the status quo.  However compelling the arguments made, the lawyers voted en bloc to keep things as they were so that, when the ‘sense of the meeting’ was taken, with sociology and social policy seemingly rather ambivalent, the legal block vote carried the day.

So what is to be done?  Besides maintaining our public position of demanding a separate Criminology REF sub panel, appropriate recognition of Criminology teaching and Learning issues in the TEF and recognition by the AcSS of the distinct disciplinary status of Criminology, this message represents a call to colleagues.  We need to be wary of all attempts to submerge, disperse or render invisible our discipline when asked to describe ourselves in drop-down menus or other institutional databases.  When encountering such devices, insist on appropriate discipline recognition, complain to the organisation in question and report to the BSC any attempts to merge, obscure or render invisible our shared criminological professionalism and the discipline we are all helping to grow and develop.

Finally, do not be dissuaded by erudite and epistemological claims seeking to pitch Criminology as a ‘field of study’, or a ‘rendezvous discipline’ as some members of a previous generation might have seen it: this is not at all what this is about.  Rather, the growth, expansion and diversification of Criminology, and the range of issues now best viewed through a criminological lens, has posed a challenge to some of the older disciplines.  For example, take Criminology’s challenge to the anachronism of context-free ‘black letter’ law-in-the-books.  In response, some of the older, well-placed and well-resourced disciplines have been able to fight back clinging to their rich turf with the assistance of the existing funding and governance arrangements for social science research and teaching.  It is worth acknowledging that these institutions are themselves strongly driven by neo-liberal imperatives to ‘concentrate’ research funding and make invidious distinctions between HE courses according to their supposed ‘marketability’, economic value, student employability and graduate ‘high-earner’ scores, none of which offer many favours to Criminology.

So now, even the AcSS, which many might have hoped would have been very supportive, defending Criminology as one of our most significant and impactful contemporary social sciences, almost turned on us joining the REF and HESA, in obscuring the criminological imagination.  Facing opposition, they have backed away, content to let scholars self-define their own fields, but they were circling the wagons, relegating Criminology to the nether regions, hidden beyond and beneath the academy’s jurisdictive dominion.  Surely I can’t be the only criminologist thinking that this is a criminological issue in and of itself.

Reference

Harris et al., (2019) How Criminology is taught and researched today.  Papers from the British Criminology Conference © 2019.  British Society of Criminology http://www.britsoccrim.org ISSN 1759-0043; Vol. 19.  How-Criminology-is-Taught-and-Researched-Today-PBCC19.pdf (britsoccrim.org)

If you would like to comment on Peter’s blog please email your comments to info@britsoccrim.org and they will be added below the blog article.

About the author

Professor Peter Squires is Professor of Criminology and Public Policy at the University of Brighton.  His recent work has ranged across gun control and firearm-related crime, community safety policy, policing, youth crime, gangs and anti-social behaviour management. He is especially interested in criminalisation, power and injustice.

Contact

Professor Peter Squires, University of Brighton
@PSqCriminology
criminology@petersquires.net

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of the British Society of Criminology or the institution they work for.

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