BSC Annual Conference 2021 (online) at The Open University: some reflections

The event helped to foster a stronger sense of identity and community within our team at a time when home-working has left many of us feeling detached and isolated.

Between July 7th and July 9th, the Open University’s Department of Social Policy and Criminology (SPC) hosted the BSC’s annual conference online. The event went better than any of us could have imagined, and the feedback we received during and afterwards has been positive, and generous. It goes without saying that there were one or two tech glitches, but overall, we ‘got off’ lightly.  Expectations were modest in the sense that we would not / could not replicate the usual BSC conference process and experience. The initial thinking around this was that it would operate as a ‘place-holder’ type event. To that end we believe the conference over-delivered in some ways. There are too many people to mention for their help by name, but Louise Westmarland must be singled out for instigating the whole thing and making it happen, alongside the BSC team who offered close support and guidance along the way.

Using MS Teams for such a complicated event gave us some concern. We toyed with the idea of using other platforms, but we figured that simplicity would be best. We had the main conference room, which hosted 5 plenary sessions focused on important and pressing criminological themes and issues – broadly reflecting the interests within SPC. We had 14 presentation rooms running in parallel for the 3 days (for the delivery of several hundred papers). There were separate rooms for publishers with their own presentations and consultations, activities run by the various BSC networks, and fantastic evening entertainment orchestrated by Dave Turner – live jazz, live rock, a magician, a quiz, ‘crim dine with me’, and a virtual bar. In all, we had approximately 450 registrants, logging-in from as far away as Australia, Hong Kong, and the USA. Despite only starting to plan the conference in the early Spring, it all seemed to come together well.

Having a team dedicated to managing the various meeting rooms proved invaluable. We sought the help of various colleagues (too many to mention) from the support arms of the faculty, and our associate lecturer colleagues. It’s not something we initially envisaged, but rather, it was a last-minute scramble to resolve a problem we identified with the tech, following a sobering test run. We are very grateful to those colleagues who gave up their time to support the event. The involvement of so many people in making this event happen has helped to foster a stronger sense of identity and community within SPC at a time when home-working has left many of us feeling detached and isolated from one another.

The plenaries got off to a great start, with the Wednesday morning session delivered by Jonny Ilan, exploring the criminalisation of drill music. This was followed on Wednesday afternoon by a ‘harm and crime interface’ session, with papers from Tanya Wyatt and Lois Presser, with Nigel South as discussant. Thursday morning saw Molly Dragiewicz, Kate Fitz-Gibbon, and James Messerschmidt exploring gendered harms. Later in that day there was a plenary to reflect on criminal justice considering Black Lives Matter, with Prabha Unnithan, and Katheryn Russell Brown, with Azrini Wahidin as discussant. Finally, Friday morning offered a focus on decolonisation, with Leon Moosavi, and Kerry Carrington. The parallel sessions provided an impressive breadth of topics and coverage of criminological enquiry, with many closely tracking the focus of the plenary sessions.

Mike Hough was a well-deserved winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award; David Maguire won the criminology book prize (sponsored by Routledge) for his fantastic book Male, Failed, Jailed: Masculinities and ‘Revolving-Door’ Imprisonment in the UK; Alison Hutchinson won the research poster prize (Sponsored by Sage) with an excellent poster on the harms of the fishing industry; and Swansea University won the National Award for Excellence in Teaching Criminology and Criminal Justice 2021.

Being online proved to be advantageous on several levels. It enabled the use of chat boxes for comments and questions throughout, which meant otherwise reticent attendees (within a face-to-face meeting) could take advantage of an arguably less daunting option. People could easily hop in and out of sessions, or to sit in a meeting whilst looking after children, and still ‘be there’ in some sense, rather than being excluded had they physically needed to attend. Our plenary sessions included global experts, pioneering in their focus, who otherwise might not have been able to participate face-to-face. Also, there were the financial savings for institutions and individual attendees, and indeed, the environmental benefit of hundreds of attendees not having to travel. The BSC have indicated that future conferences will entail some online element. Surrey 2022, for example, is set to be a hybrid delivery model, and we wish them every success with this.

There was a wider sense of inclusion both in terms of the aspiration and delivery of the conference. Although we held the usual postgraduate morning on day one, we were also careful to integrate postgraduate papers throughout all the parallel sessions. The online nature of the conference in some ways acted as a ‘leveller’, whereby usual power dynamics between some of the more-established names in criminology and relatively inexperienced presenters were less pronounced than usual (in part because of digital competency!).

Overall, we are delighted to have been able to host such a prestigious event, to showcase The OU and SPC, and to positively engage with some of the most pressing issues and debates in criminology (and beyond). It was a step into the unknown for us, but a thoroughly enjoyable and welcome one! We couldn’t have pulled it off without the help of colleagues across the University and the BSC — a huge ‘thank you’ once again to everyone who supported the event, and thank you to all those presented and attended. We look forward to Surrey 2022!

Tony Murphy and Keir Irwin-Rogers

(on behalf of the conference organising team)

Contact

Tony Murphy, The Open University

Email: Tony.murphy@open.ac.uk

Dr Keir Irwin-Rogers, The Open University

Email: Keir.irwin-rogers@open.ac.uk

Twitter: @KeirIrwinRogers

Images: courtesy of the authors

‘Crime and Harm: Challenges of Social and Global Justice?

The conference has, at its centre, themes that are amongst the most pressing for criminologists (and society): the harm/crime interface; gendered harms; reflecting on justice in light of Black Lives Matter; and decolonisation.

Looking ahead to the annual BSC conference at the Open University

As we hurtle towards the start of this year’s conference, we thought it would be a good idea to spend a little time introducing it and signalling what is to come.

We are confident that this will be an exciting, innovative, and timely exposition and exploration of many important and pressing issues. Naturally, our planning and thinking around the conference has been heavily influenced by events over the past eighteen months – in terms of its online delivery, and the areas of focus. The conference has, at its centre, themes that are amongst the most pressing for criminologists (and society): the harm/crime interface; gendered harms; reflecting on justice in light of Black Lives Matter; and decolonisation. These themes are also closely linked to much of the curriculum and research at The Open University, which has always been critical and pioneering, as well as the enduring social justice and equality mission at the heart of the institution.

Our initial expectations for the conference have already been surpassed through the fantastic response we have received from our plenary speakers, our presenters, and those just wanting to attend. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm we have received for the conference. We are delighted to have a diverse set of plenary speakers, all of whom are internationally renowned in their respective fields of teaching and research. These speakers will be presenting from locations across the globe – from the UK, Australia, and the USA, to Hong Kong, Canada, and various countries in Europe.

It goes without saying that hosting the conference this year has come with a number of challenges, and the wider circumstances have required us to adapt in terms of moving to online delivery and dealing with the difficulties this has thrown up. This seems apt given the nature of The Open University and our focus on online delivery of programmes – albeit, within a blended model of teaching. Yet, it has still been a challenge in terms of how best to organise and run such a large and complicated conference online.

We hope the product of our efforts will prove to be a rich and stimulating three days. While much of the conference programme illustrates a tight connection with the conference themes, the diversity of topics and disciplinary backgrounds within these parameters remains remarkable. So too is the mix between some well-established names in the field, up and coming early career researchers, and those just beginning to dip their toes in conference waters.

We have five plenary sessions (one on each conference theme, plus a postgraduate one), seven sessions for papers (encompassing up to fourteen rooms per session), a postgraduate workshop, various publisher stands and activities, and many activities within the dedicated networks session.  There will be a special edited edition of the CCJ in the run up to the conference and a special journal edition from the BSC published from papers presented at the event.

While the fully online nature of this year’s event may preclude the traditional face-to-face opportunities to meet, catch-up and network over food and drinks, we very much hope there will be plenty of spaces to establish new connections and relationships throughout the duration of the conference. Beyond the serious academic stuff, we have a range of fun social activities built into our programme, ranging from ‘Crim Dine With Me’, to live music, and a magic routine! Clearly, we cannot quite hope to match the fun and frolics that have characterised previous BSC conferences, but we have at least invested energy into making the social side of the conference just as memorable as the academic discussions.

We plan to post a more substantial follow-up piece following the event, to reflect upon the key messages and next steps, so please do look out for that.

For now, thank you in advance to everyone for taking part in this year’s conference — we very much look forward to welcoming you!

Tony Murphy and Keir Irwin-Rogers

(on behalf of the OU organising team)

For information about the conference please see the BSC website

Attending my first ever Academic Conference

An account of my experience, as a first year PhD student, at the British Society of Criminology Conference 2019.

CHerriott2019

 

Charlotte Herriott is a first year PhD researcher at Anglia Ruskin University, researching the impact of sexual history evidence upon mock jury deliberations in rape trials in England and Wales.

 

From the first few weeks of enrolling on my PhD, there seemed to be some sort of buzz about academic conference season. My supervisor, the doctoral school and peers alike all spoke of attending academic conferences throughout their academic careers: to present work, hear about other research being undertaken in the field, and to network with other academics.

To me – being shy, kind of awkward and having the most atrocious memory when it comes to anything academic that I have read – academic conferences sounded scary, intimidating and dare I say, a bit boring. I was definitely anxious about the prospect of having to engage in deep, academic discussion and seeming like I didn’t belong in the academic world, and I really didn’t want to stand up in front of a room full of people and get grilled on my research decisions. So academic conferences were something I tried to put to the back of my mind as these were ‘ages away,’ right?

Wrong! I know everyone says it, but three years really isn’t that long to get a PhD done! All of a sudden I appear to be approaching the end of my first year as a PhD student – whilst still sometimes feeling just as lost and confused as I did back in September – and safe to say, it’s flown by.

Anyway, conference season well and truly approached me.

My supervisor recommended that I submit an abstract for the British Society of Criminology conference. So, trying to impress, but secretly hoping that I got rejected, I sent off my abstract and shortly received that bitter sweet email to tell me that my abstract had been accepted.

The next hurdle was funding. Unfortunately my department had no funding available for me to attend the BSC conference and being a student I didn’t exactly have the spare cash lying around to pay for this myself. Thankfully the BSC run a postgraduate bursary programme for students like myself who are struggling to gather the conference fee and I was lucky enough to receive this award meaning that I was funded to attend the whole conference.

Soon enough, the time came around for me to travel to Lincoln, full of trepidation, to attend my first ever academic conference. Turns out – I had nothing to worry about!

First of all, I was expecting masses of people and huge lecture theatres with presenters presenting to hundreds of people at a time. Yes the plenary sessions (keynotes) may have had around a hundred people – but the panel presentations were given in normal classrooms to up to about 25-30 people: much less intimidating!

Not only this, but the gruelling interrogation that I was expecting presenters to get from their clued-up academic audience, was also far from reality. In practice, the atmosphere throughout the conference was thoroughly supportive, friendly and constructive. Questions tended to be helpful and triggered useful and engaging discussion, not only for presenters but definitely for myself and others in the audience of these talks. The discussions had during and after presentations therefore gave me useful insights into different perspectives and enabled me to really reflect on my own research decisions.

Having never previously studied criminology myself (I did law at undergrad and sociology at masters) I was also slightly apprehensive that I would not understand a lot of the presentations or that these would not be applicable to me (researching sexual violence). Again, this was a complete misapprehension as there were so many different panel talks on at once and always something applicable to my field. These talks were consistently engrossing and worthwhile, making me consider and question my research decisions and ultimately helping me to produce a clearer plan of how I undertake my own research and what to examine in my literature review.

I presented my research poster at the postgraduate conference, which turned out to be extremely valuable and beneficial. Lots of people gathered round the various posters and were really engaged and positive about the research being presented. As I’m sure is the case for many PhD students and academics; once you start talking about your research, you can go on for hours! So it was really nice to be in this informal- but expert – environment and discuss my research decisions, background to my research and my own findings with others in the field. And much to my own shock, I managed to win the poster prize of a £75 SAGE voucher, which was an absolute bonus and a real boost for me to realise that others in the field commended my work.  I was previously told that a poster presentation is great Viva practice, as you have to explain your research and defend your decisions and conclusions – so it was great to have this kind of experience and receive constructive feedback on my work. Whilst it had been something I was anxious about, I actually really enjoyed it.

Finally – the social side and the dreaded ‘networking.’ This was probably the part of academic conferences that I was most nervous about, but in reality turned out to be the best part of my conference experience. I had been nervous that everyone would be involved in deep, intellectual discussion and that I wouldn’t know what to say or who to talk to. In practice, all those who I met at the conference were completely down to earth and easy to get along with. I met a great bunch of PhD students and made some amazing friends who I will definitely keep in touch with. We are constantly told about mental health during the PhD and the isolating experience of conducting PhD research, so to meet other people going through the process and having the same difficulties, worries and fears was absolutely invaluable. At times, we did chat about our research, feminist theory, and methodological choices etc. but this was always useful and interesting to gain other people’s insights: not scary, intimidating or over my head at all. Also at times, we just chatted about anything and everything and had a great laugh.

So what do I take away from my first academic conference?

  1. Some amazing friends and a brilliant ‘network’
  2. Conferences are definitely nothing to fear (and are actually so much fun)
  3. I have learnt not to be scared to present research at a conference – this experience is invaluable
  4. To attend the BSC Conference 2020!

 

Contact

Charlotte Herriott, Anglia Ruskin University

Website: https://sites.google.com/view/charlotteherriottresearcher

Twitter: @CHerriott6

Images: courtesy of the author