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