Crime at the Car Wash? Serious Organised Crime and a View from Inside the NCA

A report on a lively discussion about the nature of modern slavery

LWestmarland

Louise Westmarland, Professor of Criminology and Steve Conway, Lecturer, PuLSE at the Open University, organised a conference in November 2018 bringing together police practitioners and academics working in the field of organised crime. This was held with thanks to funding from HERC and the BSC.

HERC  BSClogo

What is the National Crime Agency (NCA) and how does it deal with organised crime?

On 2 November 2018, the BSC’s Policing Network, in collaboration with the Open University’s Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC) held a conference on Serious Organised Crime and a View from Inside the NCA at the Open University in Milton Keynes. Details of the event and the speakers are available on the HERC website.

The event gathered a mix of academics and practitioners to consider recent developments in organised crime, its impact and responses.  In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition from both researchers and CJS professionals that a range of organised crimes and social harms can occur in the most mundane of contexts.  Attendees heard about illegal deer hunting in sparsely populated rural areas; exploitation of young people by drug dealers in residential housing estates; and the use of modern slave labour at the local car wash.  The very banality of these settings can further hide and obscure these issues.

Mr Rob Jones, Director at the National Crime Agency (NCA), provided the keynote speech Serious Organised Crime: A view from inside the NCA in which he set out the challenges facing his organisation in relation to cybercrime and county lines. His paper explained the national and international challenges of organised crime. These themes were expanded on by DCI Darran Hill of Thames Valley Police in his paper on The Stronghold Campaign: Fighting Organised Crime in Partnership. Providing a local context, DCI Hill explained the importance of partnership working in combating organised crime, illustrated by the case studies of county lines drug trafficking and successful efforts to close illegal carwashes in Thames Valley.

These papers gave way to a lively discussion about the nature of modern slavery and contributors from the audience included senior officers from the local area. Is it unethical to use a hand car wash as it is possible that the workers are being exploited? If you have used a hand car wash were the workers wearing wellingtons and proper waterproof gloves? After Rob and Darran had given us the police ‘inside view’ on these issues, we enjoyed papers by Dr Anna Sergi from Essex University called From mafia to Organised Crime: A comparative analysis of policing models and then a paper by recent Open University PhD graduate, Dr Sarah Hutton Disrupting Organised Crime?

One of the surprising aspects of the morning conference was the frankness and candour of the talks. Rob Jones’ paper on the NCA was definitely an insider’s view, and the talk about Thames Valley’s efforts related to turning young people away from drug crime certainly raised eyebrows. One of the most unexpected contributions was that Darran contradicted a conventional police view – that all drug crime can be solved and that the war on drugs is being ‘won’.

It was good to obtain the current police and NCA view on organised crime and the response to it from Rob Jones and DCI Darran Hill. It became apparent that their organisations are looking to academia to answer a number of questions in respect of debriefing, evaluating operations and securing expertise to deal with organised crime i.e.

  • What difference police organised crime operations have made (what is the legacy)?
  • How organised is modern slavery and human trafficking?
  • What are the offender pathways into organised crime?
  • How to retain the expertise needed to deal with cybercrime?
  • How to re-balance proactive/reactive policing (especially in respect of policing organised crime) after the balance has been tipped firmly towards reactive policing by government cuts?

From Milton Keynes to mafia?

After a coffee break, Anna Sergi treated us all to an entertaining high-speed ride around the organisation of mafia-type organisations; followed by Sarah Hutton’s ‘insider out’ view (as a cop turned academic), detailing her work with organised criminals, whom, she argued, are actually pretty disorganised. Dr Adam Edwards offered some sage observations, including organised crime policy trends and their analytical focus. As he pointed out in his paper:

The way organised crime is addressed in the UK has undergone a major overhaul in the last few years with the creation of the National Crime Agency. The first strategic assessment provides a good snapshot of the current state of organised crime. However, it points to a lack of knowledge about organised crime and its drivers–some of which could be addressed through research and deeper analysis. If the NCA is going to have a better record than its predecessors, it must work on getting the basics right. Knowing your enemy would be a good start.  (RUSI 2014, cited in Edwards, 2016: 987, emphasis added)

These papers all ended up asking a fairly basic question for a conference on organised crime, namely:

So, what exactly is organised crime?

In fact, Dr Sarah Hutton and Dr Anna Sergi highlighted the difficulties and differences that still exist in establishing a definition of organised crime. This is the starting point for any research into the subject. A good solution was put forward by Dr Adam Edwards, Orlando Goodall and Mark Berry in their explanation of the way that organised specific crimes are being analysed using crime script analysis. Orlando and Mark followed a thought provoking talk by Adam Edwards, who gave us the benefit of his experience and unparalleled knowledge of the field. He talked about Sayer’s (2000) realist social relations approach, from threat indication…and its related problems such as privileging enforcement over prevention, to (realist) causal explanation.

Then the afternoon kicked off into a lively no holds barred discussion, with nearly everyone in the audience taking part. This numbered around 30 by now, having reduced from 50 in the morning (well, it was a Friday). All of the papers throughout the day, whilst from contrasting standpoints, had highlighted an interesting range of largely unexplored areas of organised crime. Until recently who would have thought that the local car wash was a site of organised crime? Or a nail bar?  By providing a detailed analysis of the organisation of different crime types, as diverse as the illegal taking of deer, the speakers stimulated so many questions that the session overran, we went straight to tea break and home.

Louise Westmarland and Steve Conway with thanks to Dick Severns and all the conference speakers, convenors and helpers.

Also published on the HERC blog

Contact

Email: louise.westmarland@open.ac.uk

 

Copyright free images courtsey of the authors

 

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

 

Writing the Perfect Blog for Criminology

Thinking of writing a blog? Show us what you’ve got!

 

The perfect blog post probably does not exist.

But it does help to give it an eye-catching title: admit it, the title of this piqued your interest didn’t it?!

We at the BSC have just been judging the 2018 blogger of the year prize for this site and we were struck by how good the stable of blogs from our first year was – spanning a wide range of what criminology and the BSC is all about.  The experience of reading the blogs was so enriching that we now  feel able to offer some pointers that you might find useful if you are thinking of submitting a blog to us and have maybe never thought to do it before.

First of all, we give the floor to our 2018 Blogger of the Year, Lambros Fatsis (Policing Black Culture: One beat at a time).

Blogging is often thought of as something that doesn’t quite feature as a priority, either because it is regarded as too time-consuming or simply pointless. After all, or so the thinking goes, our posts won’t really be read, they won’t make a difference to our career progression, and have little impact on the issues we specialise in. These objections are of course understandable, especially when they are weighed against the demands that our day jobs make on our time, intellectual resources, or our ability to make public interventions. Yet, blogging can paradoxically be thought of as an antidote to such pressures in at least four ways.

Firstly, blogging allows us to test, experiment with and share ideas before we feel ready to submit them to the peer review process.

Secondly, blogging gives us the opportunity to outflank platitudes, point at facts, draw attention to nuance, and salvage truths from irresponsible, misguided, ill-judged, and doctrinaire messages that litter our (social) mediascape.

Thirdly, writing blogs allows us the possibility of reaching audiences within as well as beyond academia to fellow-citizens, journalists, campaigners, activists, and monitoring groups who may be interested in our work but cannot afford the luxury of paying for the paywalled research we produce.

And fourthly, blogging encourages more thoughtful contributions compared to tweets, not only because of the 280 character limit, but also because the writing process imposes a better structure on our thoughts by urging us to make an argument as well as tell a story in a well-crafted manner unlike individual tweets or longer twitter threads.

Given that crime is almost always present on the media and political agendas, it seems all the more important to blog for the British Society of Criminology. Especially when we see our specialist knowledge denied, ignored, or misrepresented by much of what passes as public debate on matters we know a thing or two about but rarely see discussed with the seriousness they deserve.

Wise words indeed, and our aim is to make the process of submitting (and having published) as easy for you as possible.   As academics we spend our lives writing, so the last thing you want is to have to re-write. Write it once, have it published, and wait for the praise to roll in (we cannot guarantee the last step).

Here are ten things you can do to turn your content into a (slightly?) more perfect blog post, with examples from some of our 2018 blogs:

  1. Choose a relevant and interesting title

You want the right readers to find your article easily with a simple search, so don’t give it a wacky or funny title unless some of your core terms are included.

See for example: For LGBT People, Criminal Justice Equality Remains Elusive, by Dr Matthew Ball, Crime and Justice Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology

  1. Keep it short

A blog has a conversational format and is shorter than journal articles, with minimal references (but links to fuller articles is useful). Our guidelines are 700 – 1500 words (although some topics could take up to 2,500). The key thing is that articles are optimised for mobile viewing and communicate in a clear manner. Paragraphs should be much shorter online than on paper. Two to six sentences per paragraph is a good guideline for blog posts.

See for example: Conference Update, A message from the Birmingham City Conference Committee.

  1. Include a List

Look what we are doing here – letting you skim through until you find something interesting. It also encourages readers to continue until the end – everyone wants to know what’s at number 10.

A website or blog is missing the usual cues that let us know how long an article is. Pick up a book or a journal article, and you’ll instantly be able to gauge how long it will take to read. Online the only way to find that out is to scroll down to the end of the blog post and that’s what most people do. While they’re at it, they’ll also try to scan-read the post. Because reading is harder online, it’s best to break text into manageable chunks.

See for example: What future(s) for juvenile justice in Europe? Professor Barry Goldson, Charles Booth Chair of Social Science at the University of Liverpool.

  1. Provide links

Keep your bibliographies for your academic articles. In a blog post you can prove the breadth of your knowledge by linking to other online sites. Good links to longer-form content should do the heavy lifting in your article.

See for example:  The punitive shift towards the criminalisation of homelessness, Sharon Hartles, MA student with the Open University.

  1. Use Images

Use of images will draw readers in and emphasise your message. The easiest way to get hold of copyright free images is to take the photos yourself! This also makes them more interesting to your readers rather than using an image they may have seen elsewhere already.

See for example: Recent Travels in a Trump Gun culture, BSC President Peter Squires

  1. Use Keywords

Provide us with 5 well-chosen keywords. This is what people will be searching for on Google, so make sure your posting is what they find.

See for example: How Lucky Am I: Victim, to Researcher, back to Victim, David Wilkin is a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Leicester

  1. Keep Length in Mind

Yes, we have already said keep it short but honestly, it is important. In general, keeping a post to around 1,000 words is perfect – even with a really heavy topic. Make your key points and finish. You can always write another blog article to make further points – in fact, we encourage you to do so.

See for example: Working Together: ‘Invisible’ crimes, victimisations and social harms, Hannah Bows and Pamela Davies

  1. Be of contemporary interest

We can often turnaround a blog posting from submission to publication in less than a week. Our record so far is two days. The proof of the pudding of whether it is of contemporary interest is proven by how many times it is read. We can help with this too by publicising the post through our other channels.

See for example: Criminology and the USS Strike – the View from Sussex

  1. Write about what you know

Write from a position of knowledge. If you really know your stuff it will shine through.

See for example: Exploring the UK Ministry of Justice, Explaining Penal Policy Harry Annison from Southampton Law School.

  1. Be Yourself

We can give you these pointers and hopefully they are useful, but you’ve got to write your own truth. THAT is what people want to read, they want to know what YOU find fascinating or worthy of THEM giving you their valuable time. The perfect blog post will make your audience stop and think.  It will make them share your post with others and they might even tweet about it or cite it in their next book!

See for example: ‘BSC Blogger of the Year’ Lambros Fatsis for his blog ‘Policing Black Culture: One Beat at a Time

The BSC Blog 2019 will be as good as you make it. Make the BSC Blog worthy of your reading time by submitting your own posting. Come on, show us what you’ve got.

Charlotte Harris and Helen Jones, BSC Office

How to submit

 

Original copyright free image under a CC licence: pixabay.com

Race Matters: A New Dialogue Between Criminology and Sociology

The symposium created much-needed energy and new connections between scholars working around race and crime.

Authors: Rod Earle, Alpa Parmar, and Coretta Phillips

“I wish my department meeting looked more like this”

This rueful but heartfelt observation by Dr Patrick Williams captures many of our intentions in organising Race Matters: A New Dialogue Between Criminology and Sociology at the LSE at the end of August 2018. We wanted to create a gathering of black and minority ethnic scholars active in criminology and the sociology of race to focus on how race and ethnicity generate not only differential experiences of criminal justice but also of criminology. To achieve this we, as organisers, opted for an invitation-only format that would allow us to focus attention on key issues and speakers, create a small participative environment and manage the prevailing white majority structures and tendencies of British criminology – by reversing them: minority ethnic presence was deliberately majoritised, prompting Patrick’s remark as he prepared to present his paper to a gathering of approximately 30 invited scholars.

Two papers opened the symposium. The first, by Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown, advanced and updated her call, in 1992, for the development of a Black Criminology. This criminology needed resources currently absent, neglected or suppressed in mainstream, white, criminology. These would draw from the humanities as much as the social sciences, refusing a binary fostered by the dominant scientific trends in US criminology. Katheryn insisted that Black arts and artists had shown themselves to be more adequate than criminology to the task of representing black lives and the injuries of American criminal justice. Black criminology was needed to widen the visions of justice that criminologist might pursue, and would be a criminology that valued the extent and range of minority ethnic perspectives.

Katheryn’s 1992 paper prompted Coretta Phillips and Ben Bowling’s 2003 call, some 10 years later in the British Journal of Criminology, for minority ethnic perspectives to be afforded greater recognition and support. Another fifteen years later, and with precious little evidence of change, her paper, with the other symposium organisers, Rod Earle and Alpa Parmar, called out to white criminology: ‘where has all the racism gone?’ The paper, like the organisational effort of the symposium itself, was prompted by a growing suspicion that British criminology lacks the theoretical, conceptual and motivational resources to explain the differentials referred to above, in criminal justice and in criminology that sees black people swept into police cells and prisons, kept out of universities and black academics off the curriculum. Strangely though, it seems that racism has disappeared from criminology’s agenda. The paper develops an analysis of the ‘disciplinary unconscious’ of criminology that allows (or worse, encourages) the erasure of race and racism from its business as an academic discipline. We pointed to the recurring absence of papers on race and racism in criminology conferences, journals and edited book collections, even as racial disproportionality in criminal justice escalates and intensifies. We identified tendencies in British criminology to highlight and theorise US experiences of race and racism at the expense of working with a narrative of British colonialism and the differentials generated by domestic criminal justice systems that have long outstripped those of the USA. As minority ethnic scholars addressing a roomful of other minority ethnic scholars Alpa and Coretta could also share and reflect on the continuing impacts of ‘everday racism’, the small injuries that perforate their academic lives and snag their careers with condescension, indifference and insults, in the knowledge their experiences were like, rather than unlike, most of those in the room.

The second and third keynote presentations were from Professor Shaun Gabbidon and Professor Karim Murji. Shaun began in the particularities of ‘shopping while black in the USA’ in a paper that explored shoplifting as a neglected object of criminological study, before telescoping out toward a sustained critique of surveillance techniques and technologies that smuggle racism through the back door of supposedly ‘race-neutral algorithms’. This is a term used and developed in Pamela Ugwudike’s paper about the ‘under-the-radar’ aspect of familiar racialized dynamics that are cloaked through the operation of new technologies. It was a theme featured in several papers, particularly those of Patrick Williams and Tara Young.

RaceMatters2

Karim Murji’s paper focussed on the unique styles and insights of Stuart Hall. An established and legendary figure to many criminologists, Karim insisted that the measure of his reputation among criminologists rested on too narrow a reading of his extraordinarily diffuse scholarship. Karim traced and retrieved the sometimes hidden Hall and urged a wider and more critically engaged reading of his works, methods and style.

As one of the leading figures in the contemporary sociology of race the symposium was grateful to welcome Professor David Theo Goldberg for a keynote presentation, ‘On Racial Judgment’. Goldberg has been central to the resurgence of theorising around race, particularly criticising the habits of ‘post-racial’ perspectives that assert the declining significance of race and racism to social divisions. Rather than recognising a historical system of exploitation, these perspective focus on habits of prejudice and individual moral deficiencies marginal to social structures. The persistence of racial judgment, according to Goldberg, and its expansion from the formalities of criminal justice should be a warning to criminologists, and sociologists, that race retains its deadly vitality and is neglected at our peril.

Dr Suki Ali, acting as a particularly creative discussant to the unfortunately absent Professor Mary Bosworth convened a lively discussion around Mary’s paper (delivered by misbehaving technology) on ‘Race and Border Criminology’. The proceedings were also enlivened by Dr Martin Glyn’s delivery of his own ‘data verbalisation’ thesis. Mixing music, poetry and performance Martin urged participants to make their work more accessible to the black and minority ethnic communities that helped them produce it.

The final keynote, from Professor Chris Cunneen picked up and reinforced two recurring and contrasting themes in the symposium. The first of these is the increasing influence of digital technologies in covertly reproducing the dynamics of race and the functionality of racism. Drawing from research with Australia’s indigenous peoples, and particularly young men, Chris reported how policing and criminal justice agencies increasingly resorted to actuarial risk assessment technologies that reproduce discredited white racist schematics. Indigenous communities resist their pathologisation and a key feature of their resistance is their reliance on their arts and crafts to sustain themselves as communities, narrate their experience and express their resilience.

Closing the symposium with brief summary remarks Steve Garner and Omar Khan placed their emphasis on, respectively, the salience of whiteness, positionality and affect, and the way the weakness of criminological analysis of race and racism had serious policy implications.

RaceMatters3

The symposium created much-needed energy and new connections between scholars working around race and crime. As organisers, we feel it lived up to its ambition to start a new dialogue between criminologists and sociologists of race, and bridged a gap that has widened alarmingly in recent years. Emerging from the symposium are plans to launch a BSC Race Matters network and promote a Black Criminology Month to run alongside Black History Month every October. Papers from the symposium will, we hope, be included in a Special Issue of a leading criminology journal before too long. In the meantime, if you are interested in supporting the formation of a Race Matters network and enlarging the conversation around race and racism in criminology please contact us.

 

Contact

Rod Earle, The Open University (r.earle@open.ac.uk )

Alpa Parmar, Oxford University (alpa.parmar@crim.ox.ac.uk )

Coretta Phillips, London School of Economics. (coretta.phillips@lse.ac.uk )

Images: courtesy of the author

Being a BSC Network Chair

We also have some brilliant ideas that were formulated at this year’s network meeting, thinking about how to involve early careers students, more established academics, and the prison population themselves in the work of the network

JenniferSloan

Dr Jennifer Sloan Rainbow, Outgoing Chair of the Prison Research Network

 

Since my appointment as chair of the Prison Research Network, I have been privileged to have a different view of the BSC than I did before. When one becomes a chair, a number of additional responsibilities come into action. For one, you are responsible for the general running of the network – how active that network is often depends on the energy of the chair/co-chairs, as well as the involvement of other members, momentum within the network, and plans put forward at various network meetings. There may be a website to maintain/oversee, a mailing list to administer, events to organise, and prizes to manage. You are also responsible for the budget provided by the BSC to fund various activities and events.

In addition to network-specific events and activities, network chairs have the opportunity to become members of the BSC Executive Committee. This is quite an eye-opening experience! You attend meetings (around every quarter), sometimes in London, sometimes elsewhere, and are directly involved, as trustees of the BSC, in making decisions that can affect the society as a whole, and also, potentially, the entire discipline of criminology in the UK! It is quite exciting!

It really has been a privilege to be on the BSC Executive Committee – I have been able to work with some phenomenal academics, all of whom make you feel extremely welcome and involved. I remember walking into my first meeting and thinking a combination of ‘Cripes, this is such a big thing!’ and ‘Oh Wow, I cited you in my doctoral thesis!’ (even seven years post-PhD submission, the awe still kicks in every now and then!!).

The Prison Research Network is still relatively new to the scene, and we haven’t been anywhere near as active as I initially planned last year. That said, we have used our funds for good (we didn’t host any events but were able to fund a doctoral student to attend the BSC, something that is becoming even more important in the neoliberal university environment, and a responsibility that networks need to take seriously). We also have some brilliant ideas that were formulated at this year’s network meeting, thinking about how to involve early careers students, more established academics, and the prison population themselves in the work of the network.

Unfortunately, I will not be the one to carry out this work as I need to step down due to personal commitments. As such, we are making an open call for someone to take on the role, be that alone, or as a co-chair with another. If we get more than one applicant, there will be an election, so watch this space! Please could you send all expressions of interest in the role, including a brief paragraph on why you wish to take on the position, to bscprisonsnetwork@gmail.com by September 1, 2018.

It has been a privilege to act as Chair, albeit for a very short period, and I would like to thank everyone who has given their support, ideas and advice over the last year! Now time to pass the baton!

 

Contact

Dr Jennifer Sloan Rainbow, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University.

Email: j.sloan@shu.ac.uk

Twitter: @jsloan12345

 

Copyright free image: from Google images

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.

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