Dr Alison Wakefield is based at the University of Portsmouth where she runs the Professional Doctorate programme in Security Risk Management. She is also Chair of the Security Institute, the UK’s main professional association for security practitioners, and an Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute.
Security is a significant theme of the research and innovation programmes of governments, inter-governmental organisations, think tanks and research foundations. It is likely that it will only become more significant. The latest edition of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) strategic intelligence report Global Strategic Trends opens with the statement that ‘the world is becoming ever more complex and volatile’, whereby ‘the only certainty about the future is its inherent uncertainty’. Among the numerous and interconnected challenges discussed in the report, it predicts an increasing threat from crime and extremism, and increasingly fragmented societies along with decreasing social cohesion. Criminology has much to contribute to our understanding of those multiple challenges and how we should deal with them, on topics ranging from social crime prevention to the relationship between crime, criminal justice and future technologies.
Most, if not all, criminological research can arguably be placed under a ‘security’ heading, especially if one takes an expansive view of the concept as depicted in the word cloud below. Yet ‘security’ has no obvious disciplinary home, as a cross-cutting research theme that spans many, if not most, academic disciplines. It is a foundational concept of international relations, which evolved as a field of study after the First World War as scholars sought to explain the causes of war and conditions for peace, and in which ‘security studies’ is a substantial sub-field. The relationship of security with criminology is not made obvious in a discipline that has traditionally made crime, as opposed to security, its conceptual focus, although conceptions of crime as harm perhaps bring criminology closer to security studies, and specifically to its schools of thought that favour a ‘human security’ perspective over a state-centric view of security. Today, priority areas for security research and policy development cut across the sciences, social sciences, humanities and business studies. These include the need to understand human behaviour better, the intersection of security with development as well as other areas of public policy, scientific and technological security solutions, the interactions of humans with such solutions, and the development of the risk management-based approaches that underpin these. Many of such areas require interdisciplinary teams and perspectives that are equipped to address the multiple facets of complex security problems.
The MoD report demonstrates that most of the risks and uncertainties facing the world in the twenty-first century can be conceptualised as security challenges. As a concept, ‘security’ is better suited than ‘crime’ both to considering the range of threats and response strategies at the global level, and to micro-managing risk in the most specific and localised of contexts. It embraces a much broader range of threats, associated with a wide variety of social, political, economic, technological, demographic and environmental conditions. It also presents enormous challenges, conceptually, analytically and practically. As a result, its study needs to draw on the expertise of multiple disciplines, at the multiple layers of strategy, policy and practice from the global to the local. Most academic disciplines and learned societies would benefit from making their contribution to the analysis of security challenges more explicit and better understood by their members, with security certain to be a central theme of research and innovation funding for the foreseeable future.
Security research and innovation
Research funding programmes with a focus on security include the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research (PaCCS) programme, established by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) (formerly Research Councils UK) programme in 2008 as the Global Uncertainties Programme; the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Secure Societies Challenge; and the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST). CREST was launched in 2015 following a competitive process managed by the Economic and Social Research Council. A consortium of psychologists from the universities of Lancaster, Bath and Portsmouth was selected to develop and deliver a national hub for understanding, countering and mitigating security threats. CREST-funded projects cut across a variety of disciplines, but its home discipline reflects the significance now being afforded by the UK government to behavioural science as a dimension of the national security solutions of the present and future.
Other bodies that have formed within the UK to facilitate innovation and collaboration in the development and delivery of security solutions include the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC), which is a partnership of UK central government and the security industry located in the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) within the Home Office, the Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers Community (RISC) and the Academic RISC. RISC was established in 2007 as a security industry alliance serving as the principal channel of communication with the OSCT and other government departments and agencies on security-related requirements and policy issues. It was founded by the trade associations ADS, the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) and techUK, and it informed the development of JSaRC. RISC’s corporate members are a range of representative bodies within the security sector, with around 6000 companies being represented through the participating organisations.
RISC’s activities have also included representing industry perspectives in submissions to the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), Security Export Strategy and National Security Capability Review (NSCR). The chair of RISC and the Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime co-chair the Security and Resilience Growth Partnership (SRGP), a forum that informs government-industrial co-operation on security issues. In 2014 Academic RISC was founded, inspired by the RISC approach, as a network of universities to promote academic engagement in solving challenges in national security and resilience. Academic RISC is chaired by Professor Chris Hankin, Director of the Institute for Security Science and Technology, Imperial College, and now comprises 120 member universities which receive updates on opportunities circulated by the UK government.
The contribution of criminology
Criminology has a huge contribution to make to such initiatives. For example, as our government has recently acknowledged, the UK’s future resilience to cyber security threats relies on a significant expansion of the cyber security profession and its broadening out to encompass a much wider range of capabilities, beyond the current, limited routes into the profession primarily through the STEM disciplines. Cyber security is, above all, about the strategic management of risk, and needs to take much greater account of the human factors that are a central feature of both the threats and the solutions, the partnership working and intelligence expertise on which those solutions rely, and its significant legal, regulatory and ethical dimensions. These human considerations are at the heart of criminological thinking. Michael McGuire’s[i][ii] work to bring technology to the forefront of criminology has been a valuable step forward, mapping out key areas of our discipline’s contribution to understanding, utilising and managing technological advancement. The concepts of crime science and applied criminology have become increasingly influential within criminology with their emphasis on practical applications to crime problems. Many police studies scholars, myself included, have long advocated expansive conceptions of policing that recognise the multiple actors undertaking policing functions, and the centrality of partnerships and networks to protective security, intelligence-sharing and other security/policing functions. Ten years ago, Lucia Zedner explored the relationship between security and criminology in her influential textbook[iii] and, if the value and potential contribution of criminology is to be fully recognised by government and industry as the competition for security research funding becomes fiercer, it is time to look at this again. Security should not be seen as a sub-set of criminology. Rather, criminology is arguably a sub-set of security in the context of the research programmes and cross-sector collaboration initiatives to which I have referred, or at least needs to be communicated as being one of its essential components in responses to research and funding calls and within inter-disciplinary networking.
Recently, the critical criminologist Alex Vitale controversially claimed that criminology ‘has become a technocratic pursuit of small questions divorced from ethics’, but security is far more than a technocratic concept. Its breadth is illustrated by this far from exhaustive word cloud of security terms.
Indeed, in the aforementioned MoD report it is argued that ‘the defence and security community should consider placing human security (“the people”) at the centre of their world view’. This influential report and its American equivalent view the world through a security lens, but encompass the ‘megatrends’ confronting the world in the coming decades, across the areas of global governance, economic development, technological advancement, demographics, migration, health, resources, environment, conflict, disorder and insecurity. Critical perspectives are as important as any to our understanding of challenges across these broad areas and how we can confront them. Developing sub-fields of our discipline such as green criminology and post-conflict/Southern criminology address vital aspects of sustainable development and bring ethical considerations to the fore.
A proposal for a specialist network
Through this blog I want to solicit interest in forming a BSC specialist network on security, with a view to raising the collective profile of criminology within government and industry, and collaborating with others to examine and map out criminology’s contribution to our understanding of security challenges and the search for solutions. This extends across security concepts and definitions; the global ‘megatrends’ and national and local political and economic trends shaping our world today; security risks and threats that extend beyond traditional crimes to include human rights abuses, environmental threats to life, corporate crime and corruption, for example; the multiple actors and agencies from the global level downwards that influence the construction of security challenges and the responses to them; and the laws, strategies, policies and practices that make up those responses. Since these areas are so broad that they potentially encompass all topics of criminological interest, what I am specifically looking for is members who would see particular value in collaborating through the lens of security, stepping outside the constraints of a crime/criminal justice perspective on the world while bringing the same expertise and interests to the table. This also requires a shift in language and terminology, with a focus on security problems, security solutions, and security agencies and departments, alongside our common concerns of crime and criminal justice.
The overarching aim of the network would be to support the engagement of criminologists – individually and as a collective – with stakeholders globally, regionally, nationally and locally. While making shared research interests its priority, the network would help inform criminology teaching and student employability in related areas, enhancing links to possible guest speakers and employers: a further means of reinforcing the contribution and stature of criminology across a variety of dimensions. I am in a position to support the development of members’ connections with the corporate and commercial sectors in particular, through my current voluntary role as Chairman of the Security Institute, the UK’s main professional association for security practitioners with just under 3,000 members at the time of writing.
As a first step, I would like to organise a meeting at this year’s BSC conference at the University of Lincoln from 2nd to 5th July, and a panel session at which to introduce the proposal for a specialist network in security, as well as to showcase some of the important research being undertaken in this area. I would like to hear from BSC members who would be interested in participating in the network, forming a committee, meeting up at the conference and/or contributing to the conference panel, and would be grateful if expressions of interest could be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org before Tuesday 7 May. I strongly hope the idea of such a network will be of interest to BSC members both old and new, and also welcome general comments and feedback.
[i] M.R. McGuire, Technology, Crime and Justice: The Question Concerning Technomia (Routledge 2012).
[ii] M.R. McGuire, T.J. Holt (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Technology, Crime and Justice (Routledge 2016).
[iii] L. Zedner, Security (Routledge 2009).
Dr Alison Wakefield, University of Portsmouth
Images: courtesy of the author