Do we know enough now?

Academics need to engage with policy makers and the public to implement what we already know about the causes of crime and the implications of law and order policies.

Barry GodfreyBarry Godfrey is Professor of Social Justice and has published over twenty books on the history of crime. He is currently editing a Special Edition of the Howard League Journal on the impact of crime history.

 

 

There have been thousands of studies of criminal behavior and of society’s attempts to control it over the last two centuries. Academics think that even more research will enlarge, challenge, and refine our knowledge, and indeed it will. However, because – or perhaps despite of – the vast number of academics now involved in the criminological enterprise, there is considerable agreement about the causes and consequences of crime and punishment.

Historians of crime would find a similar consensus. The vast majority agree that crime is a social and historical construct; that institutions of control are shaped by their histories; that class, gender, and race all conditioned treatment in, and by, the criminal justice system (and still do); that economic inequalities were broadly linked to crime (and still are); and that society has long relied on ineffective nineteenth century forms of punishment (and still does).

I accept that these conclusions lack nuance. Different viewpoints, theoretical perspectives, and empirical wrangles are important, but I would suggest that any differences are dwarfed by the general agreement. Internal liturgical debates are important to us, but not to the general public and are confusing for policy makers (who often find our debates exclusionary, irrelevant, and frankly, bewildering). I am coming around to their point of view. At the very least, we should concede that our research is sometime incomprehensible to ‘outsiders’ and is not user-friendly to anyone who might transform it into practice or policy. Given that we have a common(ish) platform of academic understanding about crime, I would join others to argue that the greatest challenge for academics is for us to use our research to create a strong, meaningful, and persuasive dialogue which influences policy makers to improve the criminal justice system, and to engender more positive public attitudes towards offenders and ex-offenders.

In 2002 Paul Wiles noted that there was a growing gap between academic and public debate, lamenting that we have ‘lost the knack of engaging’. Sociology seems to do much better – according to Michael Burawoy in his Presidential Address to the American Sociological Association.  Later, in 2010, Uggen and Inderbitzen encouraged criminologists to follow the sociological lead in order to bring together “empirically sound research and comprehensible messages to diverse publics”. This meets the zeitgeist. The ‘impact agenda’ of various research exercises in the UK and elsewhere is of course a half-hearted and largely ‘half-arsed’ attempt to measure our worth in terms and criteria not of our choosing, but it has undoubtedly encouraged a greater level of engagement between academia and policymakers/practitioners. We are also in the business of making sure that our research ‘does something’ to improve policy and practice whether we like it or not. If we fail to engage with the policy realm, then are we at best academic parvenus, at worst a costly (remembering that most of our research is publicly funded) irrelevance?

Having influence over policy and practice is not easy to arrive by, of course. There are unforeseen consequences, and even the predictable outcomes are complex. Policy makers have different agendas, often serve political interests which are antipathetic to our own and require simplicity where we privilege complexity. For every example of the policy realm successfully using our research, there is a disaster story; yet for every disaster story, there is an example of our research being successfully used.

Teaching crime history and criminology may be the biggest impact any of us will have. Our lectures later become the common-sense attitudes towards crime that thousands of students take with them as they graduate from universities every year. However, we also know that sharper and more direct relationships with partners outside of the university can lead to more immediate positive impacts on society. Changing attitudes amongst the student body, hoping that our teaching will cause them to be more pro-social in the future, is a long game. To address the multiple crises society faces today, we need something quicker. We need to press our case. I am not, by any means, suggesting that we stop doing research. That would be perverse given the advantages and opportunities afforded by the second data revolution and the conjunction of readily available digitized crime records, the development of visual methods, and the number and increasing diversity of crime historians nationally and internationally. It would also, I suspect, go against the fundamental essence of being a researcher: research is what we like to do. However, we now have a broad consensus about the causes and consequences of crime, and the shaping of that consensus seems to demand action.  None of us are happy that there are still so many biases in the system, that Victorian penology still predominates, and that class and race still determine outcomes in the criminal justice process. So, is it now time to devote our efforts, not to collecting more and more evidence, but to use what we already know to influence others, and to bring about the change that we, and society, needs?

Contact

Professor Barry Godfrey, University of Liverpool

Email: Barry.Godfrey@Liverpool.ac.uk

Copyright free images courtesy of author

Towards an urbanised criminology for a world of cities

This article presents a dialogue between urban studies and criminology.

author photo

Rowland Atkinson is Research Chair in Inclusive Societies at the University of Sheffield, he is the author (with Sarah Blandy) of Domestic Fortress: Fear and the New Home Front (Manchester University Press).

 

Gareth_Millington

 

Gareth Millington is Senior Lecturer at the University of York, he is the author of ‘Race’, Culture and the Right to the City (Palgrave).

 

 

The fact of the majority of humanity moving into a globalised urban condition has sparked much discussion among urbanists – where and how will people live in dignity? How will they be governed? How will such living be sustainable in economic and environmental terms? We might equally ask – how will this condition generate new rounds of victimisation and why? How will questions of crime, safety and control be resolved in new and existing urban arenas?

We came to these issues as urban sociologists with a strong interest in the question of crime and harm, but also with the realisation that we could fruitfully engage a more formal dialogue between urban studies and criminology. Criminology of course is in many ways an ‘urban’ discipline – who did not know their Chicago school and its concentric rings, who had not been exposed to the maps of Mayhew? Moving beyond this we tried to think about why would we not also want to engage more deeply with the often unacknowledged links between the city, political economy and the development of a critical approach to urban life today. We were particularly keen to explore how urban conditions, characterised by intensifying inequalities in wealth, around housing and access to core services were immensely relevant to criminological thinking. What kind of shared canon, ideas and cities themselves might be foregrounded in a more explicit dialogue of relevance to scholars of the city, as well as those interested in crime and harm?

Urban Criminology starts with an observation, that there is much going on in urban studies that is neither recognised nor considered in criminology, but also that reverse is true. This problematic led us to consider a range of domains in which the conceptual armoury and studies of both disciplines might be engaged in a rewarding exchange of ideas. We organised these areas in terms of questions about more traditional forms of crime and harm, such as those clustered in deprived neighbourhoods or in forms of explicit interpersonal violence, on the one hand, while also thinking about new, emerging or less recognised forms of harm that have become of more widespread concern in recent years. Here we might consider the move from white collar to grander crimes within finance, the use of new technologies and aggressive methods for control in cities, the operation of housing systems that produce new social geographies and stresses or the adoption of new tactics for terrorism in urban arenas around the world.

While these various issues seem immediately relevant to thinking within and across urban and criminological studies arguably none are emphatically new. Our contribution lay in trying to offer a fresh synthesis that highlighted the need for a clearer dialogue between urbanists and criminologists. At the back of these concerns was a challenge to the reader – that to understand many forms of crime today we need to understand how the city itself ‘works’ and indeed, does not work. Such operations include of course a wide range of social, political and economic structures that themselves vary according to national and urban contexts but which are also influenced by global economic forces that generate new and mutating forms of harm.

To offer some sense of how these new combinations of factors and outcomes are coming into view we examine such issues as the relationship between neoliberal governance regimes and the deregulation of safety implicated in the Grenfell tower disaster and creation of more precariously employed city labour forces more generally. Global capital is now also more entwined with the unhousing and trauma associated with demolition, housing displacement and continued mobility of many around the world as capital looks for new spaces to gentrify and appropriate. New forms of boundary making, around gated communities and affluent enclaves with private modes of policing, also appear as a kind of security ‘foam’, complex physical and urban governance structures that raise new questions about how inequality, crime and (in)security are distributed and related through the contemporary city.

We might ask, what is ‘urban’ about crime? We suggest in the book that what binds much of the varied concerns of criminology and urban studies today is the need for a deepened critical perspective. Such a perspective should recognise the primacy of the urban condition and its manifold form. It should also avoid naivety in understanding that, at root, power and inequality produce more aggressive responses to the question of crime (while sidelining others forms of harm), but also that these same conditions are themselves generative of harm in cities around the world today. In addition, the relationship between national and global political management of economies can be linked to new forms of risk, value extraction (from labour and nature) and the expansion of financial services. All of this generates significant questions for how we should understand to the question of how urban systems are producing new and different forms of crime and harm. Fraud, manipulation and laundering among global and urban elites seem particularly important areas for further investigation.

Where to from here? We hope that Urban Criminology offers the means of galvanising critical criminology in attempts at seeing the city as a site in which harm may be produced and indeed mitigated. Urban life is replete with examples of violence, harm and aggressive political actions towards vulnerable populations. But it is also a site of hope, social action and movements that are increasingly conscious of and antagonistic toward question of inequality, power and unfair modes of social control. Cities may be key sites of harm as we move forward, but they may also offer the crucibles within which fairer and more just social conditions may be formed. We hope that the book may offer some contribution to such discussions, between urbanists and criminologists in the future.

Urban Criminology is published by Routledge

 

Contact

Rowland Atkinson, University of Sheffield

Email: rowland.atkinson@sheffield.ac.uk

Twitter: @qurbanist

 

Gareth Millington, University of York

Email: g.millington@york.ac.uk

Twitter: @GRMillington

 

Images: courtesy of the authors

 

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