Criminological Postcards from London

Aware of how Londoncentric everything in the UK tends to be, we nevertheless wanted to share a few thoughts on points of criminological interest in the capital.

JenniferFleetwoodJohnnyIlanJennifer Fleetwood is a Lecturer in Criminolgy at Goldsmiths, University of London and co-convener of the BSC Southern branch. She has recently taken up bike riding after a 15 year hiatus.

Johnny Ilan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at City University, London and co-convener of the BSC Southern branch. He is a long time fan of music that he’s either too young or too old to be listening to.

In the highly influential text, Gender and Power Connell observes the street as a gendered institution: ‘it has a division of labour, a structure of power and a structure of cathexis’ (1989: 138). Footnotes reveals that analysis is based on observations and impressions of Brixton in 1984. Brixton street corners remain home to groups of men drinking, and women pushing prams. It is both a battleground and a theatre (to paraphrase Connell): staging choreographies of gender as much as race and class (gentrification continues apace).

Hollaback

Street harassment is increasingly recognised as a form of gender-based violence. Hollaback is a global organisation of feminist activists concerned with documenting and challenging sexual harassment in public, originating in NYC (hence, “holler” back). Their London branch website hosts a map; click on a pin and you can read one of hundreds of accounts of street harassment. Accounts reflect a myriad array of harassment, from bizarre attempts at ‘conversation’, covert touching, groping, following, staring, and an incredible array of gendered sexual slurs that don’t bear repeating. Some accounts also describe women ‘hollering’ back – speaking or shouting back at their harassers, sometimes in inventive and hilarious ways. The battle not might be won, but Hollaback says much about the fight.

Drill ‘n Beef

Public commentary on recent spikes in the level of homicides in London has implicated a variety of factors, including a subgenre of rap that previously only the young or music-nerdy would have know about: drill. As various forms of social media are accused of inciting real-world violence, this music, made on an amateur or semi-professional basis by disadvantaged, mostly black, young people in various parts of the capital (and beyond) has been similarly implicated. Watching an amount of drill videos on Youtube (for it is there that they proliferate) will confirm to anyone with a familiarity with street slang that violence and other forms of criminality are running themes in the genre. ‘Beefs’ or confrontations are a further staple of most rap genres.

The age-old question arises:  how seriously should we take the lyricism of young, black, disadvantaged and particularly enthused men, bearing in mind the roles played by racism and class in the criminalization process? Without attempting an answer in relation to London drill, it is interesting to see how the drillers themselves have become aware of this issue. Tottenham rappers Headie One and RV on ‘Know Better’ urge caution on what should be posted to the internet, judiciously deploying ‘shhh’ sounds themselves in place of words they perhaps view as impolitic to share. Needless to say, the comment function on the video has been disabled.

The Paradise Papers ‘Walking Tour’

In contrast to the concern expressed around the recent developments in London street crime, there seems to be a more relaxed attitude to issues that arguably strike to the very heart of the contemporary British state. Democracy and the rule of law, key pillars of our Constitutional Monarchy seem threatened by a melange of opaque financial flows that are said to simultaneously service the beneficiaries of corrupt regimes and criminal empires alongside the ultra-wealthy and elements of the financial industry. With recent controversies around potential interference with elections, the existence of these secret money channels should be most concerning.

One can, however, walk through the city and see so much that directly pertains to these financial practices. Be sure to take in the buildings housing representatives of the Crown Protectorates and Offshore Territories whose laws allow companies to be registered with no public record of who the beneficial (real) owners are. Observe the signage for those ownership entities, facilitated by UK law, that obscure potentially useful information from wider discovery. If you are walking, however, you are obviously a mere spectator.

#BikesUpKnivesDown

April 7th 2018 saw up to 4,000 young Londoners take to the streets on their bikes in memorial of the 54 young people who have died this year on London’s streets. #BikesUpKnivesDown is part of #bikestorms, a global movement of young people seeking to build social connections through shared love of bikes. A quick search on Youtube and Twitter shows loads of videos by young people (mostly men) pulling their bikes up for impressively long, sometimes high-speed wheelies, and dramatic swerves and stunts. Whilst some taxi drivers protested loudly (also on Twitter), #BikesUpKnivesDown attracted surprisingly little coverage in mainstream media. Their youthful aesthetic has little in common with the organised, slow trudge of political marches to Westminster (familiar to many of us London-based academics in particular during the recent industrial rest).

Cyclists have long organised to take over city streets. The Critical Mass movement originated in San Francisco, but London has its own branch too. Their monthly meetings rarely have predetermined routes, and with no hierarchical leadership anyone can find themselves leading the pack. Critical Mass, like bikestormz, occupies the road, stopping traffic. The Ciclovia movement originates in Colombia in the 1970s. From 7am-2pm on Sundays, the main streets are closed to traffic, open only to cyclists and pedestrians. Pollution contributes to the deaths of many thousands of Londoners every year.

Perhaps it’s time London followed the example.

 

Contact

Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, Goldsmiths, University of London

Email: j.fleetwood@gold.ac.uk

Twitter: @jenfleetwood

Website: https://www.gold.ac.uk/sociology/staff/fleetwood-jennifer/

Dr Jonathan Ilan, City, University of London

Email: jonathan.ilan@city.ac.uk

Website: https://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/jonathan-ilan

 

Copyright free image: from KylaBorg (I love London) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia and is licensed for re-use

 

 

Criminology and the USS Strike – the View from Sussex

In this blog post, criminologists from University of Sussex, who are participating in the ongoing USS strike, reflect on their reasons for striking and the dispute’s wider relevance for Criminology.

 

The University and College Union’s strike action is about pensions. Employers in the USS scheme want to end guaranteed pension benefits and to replace them with a defined contribution scheme which would be vulnerable to the vagaries of the market. This transfers what for employers is a shared low risk across institutions, to high risk for individual employees. Pertinent to criminologists are the discourses of risk and ‘affordability’ that have surrounded the justifications offered by Universities UK, the employers’ association, not to mention the highly questionable risk calculations conducted by USS. They reveal the deep politicisation of conceptions of risk and how these shape material circumstances.

The changes to the USS pension scheme represent a huge diminution in employment standards for all of those in the scheme. A decline in the value of pensions does, however, hit some harder than others. Women are more likely to work part time and to take periods of parental leave. Across the higher education sector, they also earn less than men. This means that, disproportionately, their pensions are already lower in value. Increased use of casual and insecure labour across the sector also means a generation of academics whose pension contributions are delayed and/or interrupted, assuming that they do eventually find a permanent post. As criminologists we are concerned about gender and generational justice and this is also why the strike is important to us.

It is not simply the effects of substantive pension cuts on academics and other colleagues in higher education that we need to consider. There must also be some thought to how these cuts affect and shape our students – the criminologists of tomorrow. We take for granted, as academics in the UK, that if in a permanent position we can rely upon one job to sustain our lives and plan for our retirement. However, in numerous countries across the West and Global South, many university staff moonlight in second positions. Drastic reductions to our working conditions, of the kind presaged by the pensions raid, are likely to spell later retirement, and possibly taking second jobs to maintain living standards. Indeed, increased casualisation already entails teaching at more than one institution, or holding more than one job, for many. The associated stress on mental and physical health induced by degraded employment conditions will have a detrimental effect on teaching and learning in the classroom.

Particularly alarming during the current strike (although not entirely unsurprising) has been the alacrity with which some universities have threatened punitive sanctions against their employees taking lawful industrial action. This is clearly of concern for criminologists given our analyses of the ways in which punishment and control operate, especially under neoliberalism. Threats of 100% pay deductions for refusal to reschedule classes missed during the strike (for which payment has already been withheld) are clear attempts at strike breaking, as are the ‘milder’ threats of 20-25% pay docking. Institutions are beginning to retreat from this position, demonstrating the importance and continued relevance of collective action. Of significance is the willingness of senior management to treat their colleagues, who make the university what it is, in this punitive way. It is important for us as criminologists to challenge the punitive workplace, both for our future colleagues and to take a principled stand against this behaviour. We fully acknowledge that the lowest paid and most insecurely employed experience the brunt of such punitive workplace practices, which is why we must seek to resist them.

It should not be forgotten that as academics we are also workers. The long apprenticeship through postgraduate study, the dedication to critical thought, and the passion for education, are overriding values that sometimes blind us to the tide of managerialism that constantly washes through our working lives. We often bristle at the prospect of additional administrative duties, perhaps because we have separated our academic labour from the world of work and absorbed it, unhealthily, into our selves. This is why strike action is never something academics take lightly; it disrupts not just our place of work but our sense of self. We are taking strike action now because the somewhat inevitable blurring of a work-life balance within the academy is being, at best, misunderstood; at worst, abused. Precarious working and retirement conditions renders research as output, learning as content, critical thinking as an unmarketable indulgence. Enthusiasm is not just infectious; it is a pedagogical imperative. How enthusiastic, and therefore effective, can one be as a criminologist lamenting the neoliberal penal state while simultaneously acquiescing to just such a turn in higher education?

The teaching of criminology is a lens through which we see academia reflected back at us. We find ourselves encouraging students to think critically about the difficulties facing the criminal justice system. Significant funding cuts and pressure to meet targets have been accompanied by a consumerist mandate which might lead to inequalities of justice.  Customers of the justice system are encouraged to complain about the service that they receive and while the powerful often elude justice, it is propped up by the more disadvantaged within society. These issues are mirrored in our academic lives – we are what we teach.

We might find familiarity too in Durkheimian notions of strain. In the pursuit of an academic career we must be writers; teachers; administrators; presenters; networkers; counsellors and thinkers. Competing for scarce funding resources we are placed under increasing strain but continue in our endeavours because we are passionate about what we do but have, until now, hoped for some future adequate remuneration in the form of pensions. The resultant strain means that many of us no longer wish to continue to be conformists or ritualists, but are rebelling against the prevailing discourse and seeking to challenge our roles within the University.

Universities rely upon our good will, our sincere belief in Criminology as a discipline and the benefits of its promulgation through tertiary education. So, when we are confronted with such bad faith negotiations as those levied by UUK, universities run the risk of undermining that good will, of draining its enthusiasm and sincerity. This is the end game of neoliberalism, and if management are so short-sighted as to deny the existential threat posed to critical thinking in the social sciences more broadly, but perhaps most pointedly Criminology, it is our duty to provide them with some perspective. Picket placards have been proclaiming to students for the past fortnight “Our Working Conditions are Your Learning Conditions”. The groundswell of support from students up and down the country, on picket lines and online, demonstrates they are all too aware of this. We strike to reassert our power as workers, our lives as labours of love, and because our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

Suraj Lakhani

Hannah Mason-Bish

Paul McGuinness

Tanya Palmer

Lizzie Seal

Dean Wilson

The BSC in the North West of England

Account of recent activity by the North West Branch of the British Society of Criminology

Higher education institutions across the North West of England have been teaching and researching criminology for a number of decades, and a quick scan of university websites reveals that criminology programmes are offered in some form at Lancaster, Liverpool (Liverpool University, John Moores or Hope University), Manchester (Manchester University or Met), Salford, Edge Hill University, UCLAN, Chester, Cumbria, Bolton and Blackburn. It is debatable whether there is a distinct North West ‘brand’ of criminology, but there is certainly ample evidence of sustained critical scholarship and for theoretically innovative and policy engaged research. The North West Branch of the British Society of Criminology has sought to provide a platform for this research, and for many years it has co-ordinated an annual competition where academics from North West universities have been given the opportunity to submit proposals for part-funding of research events. The resultant events have clearly reflected the diversity of North West criminology.

The very first event in this series – a symposium entitled ‘Whose side are we on? The state of contemporary British criminology’ was hosted by the University of Liverpool in January 2007. The symposium was addressed by Professor Maureen Cain, Professor Tim Hope, the late Professor Barbara Hudson and Professor Joe Sim and it signalled the start of a range of BSC activity in the region that remains to this day. In 2014, for example, the University of Liverpool hosted the annual British Society of Criminology conference and, in April of the same year, Edge Hill University hosted a regional research seminar on the theme “Adolescent-to-Parent Violence: Current Issues and Future Priorities”. This was followed in April 2015 by an event held at Salford University: “Public Criminology and the 2015 General Election”. In May 2015 we shifted venue to Liverpool Hope University for “Critical Reflections on the Relationship between Punishment and Desistance” and, in 2016, two further seminars were held, the first in May at Manchester Metropolitan University on “Extremism and Counter-Extremism: Changing Images, Emerging Realities”. The second was in June 2016 when the University of Liverpool hosted a seminar on “Criminology, Criminal Justice and the Ex-Military Community: The Way Ahead”. In 2017 we were able to contribute towards the funding of three seminars. The first was in April at Liverpool Hope University, on “Low level Sanctions: The Business of Courts and Criminology?”. This was followed a month later by a seminar on “Ethics in Criminological Research” at Lancaster University, plus a seminar on “Violence, Culture and Victimhood” at the University of Liverpool. We hope to continue to contribute to further seminars this coming year and beyond and already have some exciting plans for 2018.

Contact

For future information about events see the Regional Group section of the BSC website

Professor Andrew Millie is Professor of Criminology at Edge Hill University. His research draws on aspects of philosophy, theology and human geography to inform criminological debates and his latest book Philosophical Criminology was published in September 2016. Andrew is also well known for his research on policing and anti-social behaviour.

andrew.millie@edgehill.ac.uk 

@AndrewMillie

Professor Barry Goldson has been a Professor at the University of Liverpool since 2006 and, from 2009, he has held the Charles Booth Chair of Social Science. His principal research interests are situated at the inter-disciplinary interface(s) of criminal justice, criminology, law, social/public policy, social and economic history, sociology and socio-legal studies. He is perhaps best known for his work on youth justice.

b.goldson@liverpool.ac.uk