From Narrative Justice to Narrative Methodology

Exploring the relationship between narrative representation and the reduction of ideologically-motivated crime and harm

RMcGregor

Rafe McGregor is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Edge Hill University.  His research specialisations are narrative criminology, criminological fiction, and neoliberalism.  Narrative Justice was published by Rowman & Littlefield International in 2018.

 

In Narrative Justice (2018), I defined methodology as a theory of research, set of principles, and system of methods regulating a particular inquiry or a discipline more generally.  The theories I developed involved research into the ethical and cognitive values of exemplary narratives (narratives high in narrativity in consequence of their circumstantial, causal, thematic, and closural complexity) and concluded that regardless of their truth or falsity: (1) every story has a moral, but that moral may be virtuous, vicious, or somewhere in-between; and (2) stories can provide genuine knowledge just by being stories.  These conclusions were combined in the theory of narrative ethical knowledge, which establishes the first principle for a methodology: (a) stories convey knowledge of what lived ethical experience is like in virtue of their narrativity.  The second principle is widespread and uncontroversial within criminology: (b) explanations of crime or social harms have the potential to reduce crime or social harm in virtue of developing understanding of the causes of the crime or social harm.  The methods employed for the three practical examples in Narrative Justice involved a comparative analysis of two exemplary narratives.  The first employed two biographies, one of a real person and one of a fictional character, in order to establish the former’s responsibility for collaboration in crimes against humanity.  The second employed two narratives concerned with totalitarian oppression, one fictional and one documentary, in order to understand how an exemplary narrative can succeed in exploring the psychology of a torturer while simultaneously condemning his or her actions.  The third employed a comparison of two ostensibly documentary narratives, an article and an essay, to illustrate the fictional basis of both.  With respect to the distinction between fiction and documentary, these can be set out as: (i) the use of a fictional narrative to illuminate a real person’s character; (ii) the use of a documentary narrative to illuminate a novel’s psychological failure; and (iii) the comparison of two documentary narratives to reveal their fictional basis. (i) and (ii) can be collapsed into: the comparison of a fictional and documentary narrative for the purposes of disclosure.  (iii) is the comparison of two documentary narratives in terms of fiction for the purpose of demystification.  In each case, the relationship between fiction and documentary is exploited in order to explain the causes of ideologically-motivated crime.

The method involves the careful selection, analysis, and comparison of documentary and fictional narratives.  One begins with the subject of inquiry and then selects two complementary exemplary narratives, either one documentary and one fictional (if one’s purpose is disclosure) or two documentary (if one’s purpose is demystification).  In the former case, the fictional narrative is employed to illuminate the documentary (by direct or indirect means) and in the latter, the comparative analysis of two documentaries as exemplary narratives (rather than as documentaries) reveals the extent to which they are fictional.  Two brief examples will demonstrate the method in practice.  If one wanted to explore the extent to which wealthy expatriates are complicit in the crimes against humanity the Emirate of Dubai perpetrates against migrant workers, one might select Jim Krane’s Dubai: The Story of the World’s Fastest City (2009) as one’s documentary narrative and Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog (2014) as one’s fictional narrative.  At the general level, the two can be juxtaposed so as to exploit the extent to which the latter’s basis in the imagination complements the former’s basis in fact, combining the representation of objective facts about the relationship between expats and migrants with the representation of subjective experiences that could not be achieved in non-fiction.  More specifically, there is a contrast in the way in which the two narratives represent the relationship between prosperity and deprivation in Dubai.  Krane is for the most part concerned with growth, development, and success, devoting only one of four parts of the history to the cost in terms of human rights violations and environmental damage, whereas O’Neill’s narrative focuses on the moral corruption of the anonymous narrator, of the extent to which his lucrative employment requires him to not merely consent to crimes against humanity but play an active role in their commission.  If one wanted to explore the fallacies employed to justify the crimes against humanity perpetrated by colonial powers against communist insurgents during the Cold War, one might select George Robert Elford’s Devil’s Guard (1971) and Tim Bax’s Three Sips of Gin (2013).  The two can be apposed so as to reveal the identical contradictions in form and content that undermine both narratives from within.  Elford’s narrator and Bax’s autobiographical narration describe situations in which traditional non-combatants are prepared to die for their freedom and combatants to fund their resistance by any means available, belying the colonisers’ claims that the counterinsurgency was in the interests of the indigenous populations.  The comparative analysis of the two texts exposes a multiplicity of self-contradictions that demystify the justifications endorsed by both authors – which are revealed as at best ignorant and at worst deceitful.

These examples are textual rather than visual, but the theory and principles underlying the method facilitate its application to any type of exemplary narrative as well as across different modes of narrative representation.  In consequence, one might juxtapose Roméo Dallaire’s autobiographical Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003) with Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda (2004) in order to illuminate the question of responsibility during the Rwandan genocide.  With respect to the methodology I am setting out here, the distinction between minimal and exemplary narratives cuts across the distinction between descriptive and depictive modes of representation.  The method involves the selection of two exemplary narratives, one fictional and one documentary (if the aim is disclosure) or both documentary (if the aim is demystification), and facilitates a variety of combinations within these parameters (including the use of more than two exemplary narratives for sustained analyses).  There is coherence among the theories, principles, and methods described above such that the theories determine the principles, which underpin the methods and although I have identified two methods, these are more accurately described as two instantiations of a single method of comparative analysis.  The central thesis of Narrative Justice, which is that exemplary narratives can reduce ideologically-motivated crime, thus establishes a new methodology for criminology and my hope is that it will be adopted, adapted, and developed by others.

 

Contact

Dr Rafe McGregor, Edge Hill University

Email: mcgregor@edgehill.ac.uk

https://sites.google.com/site/rafemc/

 

Images: courtesy of the author

Thinking about Knife Crime Beyond Dangerous Myths and Comfortable Untruths

Knife crime has recently become the staple of public discussion in the media, but remains frequently misunderstood through a series of dangerous myths and comfortable untruths that are unhelpful as they are misleading

Dr Lambros Fatsis, Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Southampton and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is the 2018 BSC Blogger of the Year.

A weekday evening in front of the telly usually evokes images of idling on the sofa, engaged in bouts of momentary eye-rolling, head-shaking, and throat-clearing in response to breaking news. For criminologists and other social scientists, however, the situation is much worse. The tiniest falsehood attacks us like a mutating virus which instantly transforms us from spectators, who tune in to find out what is going on, into detectives who comb out truths that news anchors and their guests ignore, conceal, avoid or deny. Unsurprisingly, recent news stories about knife crime are one such example of media frenzy and a source of criminological nightmares. This is because what often passes as serious discussion on this issue often degenerates into a grotesque pantomime where “the right approach” is sought without due respect for the available evidence or regard to the communities that are worse affected. As a result, much of what non-criminologists are exposed to when knife crime becomes news is blunt sophistry at the expense of sharp-edged facts. Sensible, perceptive, and considered responses are hardly absent of course, but they are drowned out by the white noise of superficial, impulsive, knee-jerk punitive reactions that reinforce, instead of challenging, dangerous myths and comfortable untruths about the issue in question.

In the aftermath of the Jaden Moodie murder, the usual explanations (gang membership and “black-on-black” crime) reappeared for an inevitable encore, accompanied by their equally predictable solutions (more stop and search). The best illustration of such views can be found in the last twenty minutes of the recent Question Time  in the form of Melanie Phillips’ ill-informed spiel on the matter, with Rod Liddle’s Sunday Times op-ed being another contender. If such analyses and their recommendations were correct, it would all be well and good. But since they are not, a fierce rebuttal of these frequently recurring falsehoods is due especially since rogue demagoguery of this kind has achieved the status of common knowledge despite most, if not all, evidence to the contrary. The remainder of this blogpost, therefore, will tackle these issues head-on before concluding with an invitation to think about crime by enlisting our intellectual, moral, and civic conscience as active ingredients of any solution to the social problems that cause crime.

Gangs

Every time knife crime is debated, gangs quickly appear as the usual suspects that ought to be responsible for the violence that haunts city streets and citizens’ minds. In fact, this idea is so widespread, even among senior law enforcement officials, that the commentariat could be excused for falling prey to it. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, for example, recently declared a ‘relentless war on gangs’ as a fitting response to the “knife-crime epidemic”. Given the seriousness of the matter, the head of the Met could be excused for her rough and tough approach were it informed by evidence and not so gravely misguided.

However, recent data on gangs from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies show no concrete evidence of the link between knife crime and gang membership, as does the evidence from Stopwatch and Amnesty International on the Metropolitan Police Gangs Matrix database. To make matters worse, a recent investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office found the Matrix in breach of data protection laws ‘with the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix’. This echoes criticisms voiced against the Matrix by criminologists like Becky Clarke who describe it as ‘racist’ as did the UN’s Special Rapporteur on racism who feared its disproportionate use as ‘the basis for surveillance operations against young men and boys who are predominantly black and are listed as potential future violent offenders, sometimes without any basis’.  A previous posting on this blog in 2018 by Keir Irwin-Rogers was also critical of the significant limitations in the empirical evidence base on gangs. Such evidence-less approaches to knife crime as the modus operandi of young Black gangsters simply expose the allure that “gang talk” has on the minds of police chiefs, while also demonstrating how easily young Black people “become” gang members when they are perceived, labelled and processed as such by criminal justice system institutions. This might explain why 78% of the people on the Met’s Gangs Matrix database are Black when the Met’s own data shows that only 27% of people accountable for serious youth violence are Black as criminologist Patrick Williams, dutifully reminds us on page 5 of the aforementioned Stopwatch report.

“Black on Black” Crime

Following gang membership, “Black on Black” crime often comes second in the causal pecking order of knife crime, the assumption here being that since most young Black men are the perpetrators and the victims of such crime there must be something criminogenic about “blackness” either as a biological or a cultural trait. Melanin levels excluded, there can be no other explanation for this like involvement in criminal activity because of levels of poverty and disadvantage. Yet according to a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report, Black and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately locked into a position of disadvantage; a fact which might serve as a more reliable predictor of violent crime than skin colour or cultural pathology.

Against airy-fairy fantasies such as structural disadvantage, however, unqualified self-appointed pundits would have us believe that “blackness” is among the causes of knife crime much like “the evil eye” causes natural disasters or fiscal crises. There must, therefore, be something intrinsically “criminal” about Black people and their deficient ‘fatherless’ family arrangements which causes young people to stab each other. It couldn’t possibly be inequality or social exclusion that lead people to commit desperate and often unjust acts within a violent living environment marred by inequality and social exclusion. The only apparent solution must be to reduce or eliminate “blackness”, not remove the structural barriers that block Black Britons’ welfare.

Stop and Search

Having established that knife crime is what gangs of marauding Black youths do with as well as to each other, dispatching police officers to prowl the streets in search of suspects must be the most appropriate response. Otherwise known as stop and search, this police power enjoys the unequivocal support of police chiefs, the Home Office, and mainstream political parties. So much so that the Home Secretary leapt to his feet to ‘reduce bureaucracy and increase efficiency’ in the deployment of “suspicionless” stop and search which was (thankfully) overturned by government ministers shortly after. Despite such skepticism about the use of “suspicionless” stop and search, authorised by section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, there was a 400% rise in the use of those powers in 2018. Reservations notwithstanding, the widespread use of stop and search to combat knife crime or gang violence remains unchallenged, despite all evidence to the contrary.

According to the latest evidence, this ostensibly indispensable police power is as ineffective and ill-judged as it is discriminatory and criminogenic even, due to its damaging effect on the public’s trust of the police (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Indeed as LSE academic Michael Shiner and his colleagues (p.2) note, the ‘defensive rhetoric’ around stop and search as ‘a ‘vital tool’ in the fight against knife crime does not ‘stand-up to empirical scrutiny’. Contrary to ‘police narratives about stop and search’ which ‘revolve around knives, gangs, organised crime groups, drug supply, county lines and modern slavery’, the authors’ ‘analysis tells a different story – one of deprived, minority communities being over-policed and selectively criminalised’. Equally, despite Melanie Phillips’ belief that the police refrain from using stop and search for fear of being accused of racism, Shiner and his co-authors (p.8) found ‘no credible evidence’ to support such a claim. Yet stop and search always wins over facts, acquiring talismanic powers and totemic status by those who defend it, including police leaders whose professional practice should be informed by the available evidence not reflex responses.

Moving forward

Faced with a culture of denial about illegitimate police practices and the institutional racism that guides them, any step forward becomes an uphill struggle especially when evidence of it is regarded as treason. In Melanie Phillips’ mind for instance, it is not the conclusion that institutional racism exists that shocks, but the very suggestion that institutional racism exists. Whatever her confusing argument was Sub-chapter 6.45 and Chapter 46 of the Macpherson report, which she mentions, prove her wrong either way. The challenge is to recognise that (knife) crime is often the visible manifestation of deep-seated patterns of inequality and social exclusion. Policing our way out of social problems, therefore, seems misplaced when the emphasis should be on improving ‘dangerous places’, not hunt for ‘dangerous people’ as Eric Klinenberg argues in Chapter Two of his new book. Taking a stand against the conditions that produce knife crime, therefore, ought to be our civic and moral priority instead of pursuing scapegoats by rethinking knife crime and (re)acting towards it through a combination of a public health and social justice approach to public safety, defended by the Youth Violence Commission and London’s nascent Violence Reduction Unit in London.

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

Contact

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Twitter: @lfatsis

 

Copyright free image courtsey of Shutterstock

 

The spurious link between immigration and increased crime

In the era of Brexit attempts have repeatedly been made to associate recent immigrants with criminality; and despite all evidence to the contrary this slur continues.

(Photo above: Anthony Stansfeld, Thames valley Police and Crime Commissioner, reproduced with permission of the Oxford Mail).

Danny Dorling works at the University of Oxford. He was previously a professor at the University of Sheffield, and before then at Leeds. His earlier academic posts were in Newcastle, Bristol, and New Zealand. His most recent book, with Sally Tomlinson, is ‘Rule Britannia: Brexit and the end of Empire’.

Sally Tomlinson was born in Stockport. Her first primary school job was teaching children from the Caribbean and Asian subcontinent in Wolverhampton in the year Enoch Powell was making his anti-immigrant speeches. She has worked in universities in Warwick, Lancaster, Goldsmiths London and Oxford’.

On Saturday 22nd December 2018, three days before Christmas, the Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire – Thames Valley – Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Anthony Stansfeld, was reported to still be standing by his very recent allegation that that ‘foreign nationals’ were one of the reasons for increasing demand being placed upon Oxfordshire’s police officers in recent years . He had been quoted as claiming that “A significant amount of the more serious crime is now being committed by foreign national offenders.”

Local members of parliament reacted angrily. The Oxford West and Abingdon MP explained that “I am concerned that the PCC singling out foreign nationals as the perpetrators reeks of dog whistle politics and risks an increase in hate crimes to people from other nations who’ve made their home in our communities” The Oxford East MP used statistics to explain that the number of people from abroad committing crimes was actually declining, yet still Anthony Stansfeld (pictured above) would accept no criticism, simply claiming that “I tell the truth on these things.

So where does this particular version of the ‘truth’ come from? And how does it manage to resist so much good sense, statistical evidence, or warnings of the potential consequences of repeating such accusations which are often echoes of a much older prejudice?

Students of criminology could request interviews with the Thames Valley PCC to ask him where his views come from, but he may not know. Few of us make good judges of our own motivations, beliefs, and what lead to our particular prejudices developing in the first place. Fear and mistrust of others is common worldwide, especially of people who are seen as different. However, the reactions of the two members of parliament for the city of Oxford in this case helps to illustrate that there is also now a strong movement to counter such stereotyping, and that fight-back also has a long history.

There is no correlation between immigration rates and crime. Meticulous research recently revealed that Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment of people to be found anywhere in Europe. Wales is hardly a favoured destination for immigrants, unless you count English people moving there in retirement. Wales suffers from one of the lowest immigration rates in all of Europe. In 2014 less than 5% of its population were born abroad (see the map below). This is a rate of in-migration that is amongst the lowest of any country or region in Europe. Outside of London and Northern Ireland the rate of migration from abroad into much of the UK very low. It is a low rate of immigration into  a large home born population that is most comparable to that found in many Eastern European countries. Eastern Europe also tends to receive few people born abroad, and is very like the North of England and Wales in that respect. The highest rate of immigration from abroad in Europe is found in Switzerland, a country not known for its high crime rates. Next most attractive is the Mediterranean coast of Spain, where a high proportion of the large number of immigrants were born in Britain (we often call them ‘expats’). After those two areas it is central west London that attracts the most people born elsewhere.

Immigrants: The proportion of people living in each region of Europe born in another country (2014)

dorlingtomlinson1

Key– in the darkest shaded areas over a fifth of people were born abroad, in the lightest areas less than one in twenty was. Areas in the map are drawn in proportion to their total populations.

Source, Figure 9.4 of Dorling, D. and Gietel-Basten, S. (2017) Why Demography Matters, Cambridge: Polity (reproduced with the kind permission of Benjamin Hennig)

We have recently written a book in which we try to explain that, people are apt to blame others when the relative position of their place in the world is falling, as it is currently in the Britain. There is a very real sense that things fall apart when empires crumble, and Britain remains, at the heart of what is a still contracting relic of a former world empire. The fear of outsiders in Britain has been stoked up in recent decades by newspapers whose owners want people to blame others, rather than the single political party they almost all support. Above all else they do not want the blame placed on the economic inequality by income that has been allowed to grow to become the worse, to have become the highest, in all of Europe. Some even try to blame immigrants for that inequality too, claiming that their presence lowers wages, as if people choose to be badly paid! But the highest median wages in Europe are found in cities on the mainland with high proportions of immigrants (the dark areas in the map above).

We all too easily fail to see what is happening when the rich take more and more leaving less for the rest, especially for the poorest. We are encouraged to imagine ogres that are not there. These ogres include ever rising numbers of apparently ‘criminal immigrants’, the fictional supposedly quick-breeding migrants who are taking ‘our’ homes, ‘our’ partners’ jobs, and claiming the best places in what should be ‘our’ children’s schools, and at the very same time apparently committing so much crime. However, the most common serious crime in the UK is speeding in a car. It is also by far the most deadly. The vast majority of car drivers who speed are not immigrants, although the Duke of Edinburgh, was recently involved in a collision and then found to be not wearing a seat belt, and he was born abroad. But the reason he choses not to wear a seat belt, or to drive as he does, is unlikely to be related to some early experience he had as a child living in Greece, France and Germany.

dorlingtomlinson2

Source, Figure 4.2 of Dorling, D. and Tomlinson, S. (2019) Ruel Britannia: From Brexit to the End of Empire, London: Biteback, Reproduced from the archive of the Daily Express (out of copyright).

Fear of immigrants tends to rise at times when economic fortunes are falling and people are questioning the political strength of their country; scapegoats are searched for. In 1899 the Second Boer war began in South Africa, a war in which the British suffered very bad losses . In 1901 there were racist campaigns against foreign immigrants in the Daily Express.  In 1903 George Edalji, a Midlands solicitor with a mixed race background, was found guilty and sentenced to seven years hard labour for crimes he did not commit. His sentence was reduced and he was later found to have not been guilty of the most serious crimes of which he had been accused. However, he was never found completely innocent despite his sister, Maud, campaigning to clear his name for nearly 60 years, right through to her death in 1961. His wrongful conviction did help bring about the establishment of the  Court of Criminal Appeal for England and Wales which first sat on May 15th 1908, 111 years ago this year. We can adapt, so when will we learn to stop saying ‘foreign national offenders’?

The crimes people are least likely to be found out for are the common crimes of the rich: driving dangerously, evading taxes, and fraud. The crimes which are most often publicised are the crimes most strongly associated with the poor. Recent immigrants from poor backgrounds are often labelled as racially or ethnically different, living in urban squalor that is apparently of their making (despite the fact that they have only just arrived and have had no time to make it). In contrast, recent immigrants who are wealthy are rarely labelled as living in unusually higher concentrations, but most do. The segregation of the rich away from other people’s neighbourhoods is the most concentrated spatial segregation of all. The rich tend not to mix.

In 2007 it was shown through analysis of the national census that the greatest concentration of overseas born children living in the UK were to be found around affluent Hyde Park in London. They had been born in the USA, their parents most likely worked in finance. In the next year came the great financial crash, for which no banker in the UK was jailed, British, American or of any other nationality.

A century earlier, in 1905, as we recount in our recently book (‘Rule Britannia’) the MP Major Evans-Gordon was instrumental in bringing in the Aliens Act which ‘…gave the Home Secretary overall responsibility for immigration and nationality matters. Ostensibly designed to prevent paupers and criminals from entering the country, one of its main objectives was to stop Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe. Campaigning in favour of the law, Evans-Gordon said, ‘Not a day passes but English families are ruthlessly turned out to make room for foreign invaders,’ and ‘The rates are burdened with the education of thousands of foreign children.’ Problems with health, housing and education were all claimed, as now, to be caused by immigration. A little later, the league was absorbed by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.’

  [Note: This quote is an extract from Rule Britannia: From Brexit to the End of Empire, London: Biteback, published January 15th 2019, By Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson; and this article is mainly based on material brought together in that book]

dorlingtomlinson3

Source, Cover of Dorling, D. and Tomlinson, S. (2019) Rule Britannia: From Brexit to the End of Empire, London: Biteback [an image from the Empire marketing board]

It is good to see MPs today behaving so differently. Less than three years ago one of their number, Jo Cox, was murdered by a man shouting ‘Britain First’ as he killed her, and who gave his name in court on being charged with her murder as ‘Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain’. Since the referendum, racist hate crime has increased by 16 per cent across Britain, and peaked at a 58 per cent rise in the week following the vote.

Hate crime is done to immigrants, not by them. Three weeks after the Referendum a 16 year old Polish girl was found hanged at her school. She had been bullied and told that she ‘did not belong here’. In September 2016 a Polish man was killed in Essex, the Polish Ambassador visiting the scene and expressing shock at the rise of racist and xenophobic behaviour. Long before the Windrush scandal there had been a hostile environment to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers of all kinds, and a rise of far-right fascist groups in the UK. But many politicians are fighting back against the racism, more than they have ever done so before. Police forces around the country are now better informed and despite cuts, are better equipped to deal with the expectations put upon them. They do not need the spread of untruths by an ignorant Police and Crime Commissioner, or the creation of hostile environments by politicians who appear to harbour a deep dislike of people they see as not like them. It is time we called out the lie of ‘immigrant criminals’ once and for all, for what it is: racism.

Contacts

Danny Dorling, University of Oxford

Email: Danny.dorling@ouce.ox.ac.uk

www.danny.dorling.org

Twitter: @dannydorling

 

Sally Tomlinson, University of Oxford

Email: s@stomlinson.net

http://www.stomlinson.net/

 

Images: courtesy of the authors and permission given to use photograph of Anthony Stansfeld by the Oxford Mail (email Harrison Jones on 15th January 2019)