After the Pandemic: Criminology and Social Harm after Covid-19

We are in the extraordinary position of being able to observe the genesis of change that is affecting all aspects of our social world

ADiaper

Andy Diaper MA (Crime and Justice) works with vulnerable and excluded people within the community. His research interests are what he calls ‘street life’:  Homelessness, drug dependency/dealing, street drinking, sex work and people who for a variety of reasons enact most of their lives on the street.

 

We are living in exceptional times as Covid-19 appears to be running out of control throughout most of the world. The death toll rises daily at a frightening rate, the fear and tragedy touches everyone’s lives. It feels ever more difficult to get clear and trustworthy information as scientists and politicians in England and indeed from around the world give out contradictory statements. Globalisation has never felt more real or terrifying.  How do we keep ourselves and loved ones safe? Will life ever return to ‘normal’ again? Our collective ontological security is fast slipping away.

Is this a good time to contemplate change? Or to begin planning future research whilst we are surrounded by so much death and pain? The short answer is yes but care and empathy are called for. We are in the extraordinary position of being able to observe the genesis of change that is affecting all aspects of our social world. It is far too early to speculate what changes will occur in the long term but that should not stop tentative exploratory work being carried out now. What better time to start collecting data such as ethnographic inquiry, diaries, collating statistical information now be it false or accurate, the truth can be looked for later.

It is a time of thinking out loud, time to look for the questions to ask, not a time to formulate answers. Perhaps the best way of achieving this is in the form of blogging and social media as opposed to the more formal academic paper. This is also an effective way of reaching a wider audience because of this it is also important to write in an accessible way. Greater reflexivity is required to place us within the research, the epidemic will have touched all our lives. It can be argued that for too long criminology has produced important work deserving of better dissemination, but never gaining the wider recognition it deserves. We are on the cusp of the ‘new normal’ it is an opportunity that cannot be missed.

There has been much speculation on the value of social science during Covid-19. It has been argued that the only science of value concerning the pandemic is medical or related fields such as epidemiology.  This may well be true at the most fundamental level in saving lives and understanding the nature of the virus. The function of the virus is to find hosts to make reproduction possible. However, how the virus can move through populations, who is most vulnerable and at risk is very much the domain of social sciences.

So where does criminology come into play?  At the simplest level it can be seen to fulfil two functions. Firstly, the study of the introduction of the new  ‘The Coronavirus Act 2020’  (2020, Act) and the scope of the effects on our civil liberties. The 2020 Act touches on many aspects either by amending existing statutes or creating new ones. These changes affect many facets of our lives removing some fundamental freedoms: one being the power to restrict public gathering or to prohibit them entirely. It can be argued that when emergency powers are introduced  they can often outlive the original phenomena. Leading to the danger of using the legislation in ways that the Act was not originally created for. There is also the examination of the effects of Covid-19 on crime in general for example the rise in domestic abuse and how some volume crimes appear to have decreased. It will be a time to revisit how we theorise crime.

Secondly there is the social harm perspective to the pandemic. It should be remembered that a zemiological perspective can be used to analyse crime as well as social harm. David Downes famously stated that criminology was a rendezvous discipline and as such zemiology should now be embraced in the same way as sociology or social psychology to give two examples. This is not the place to put a full argument forward on whether it should become a discipline or not. At the time of writing this piece the four nations of the UK are beginning to lift the lock down incrementally. Business and schools  are being urged to re-open despite concerns from elements of the public, press, opposition MP’s and scientists.  On the effect this may have in creating a second spike to the virus, we cannot predict the future, but we can prepare the groundwork for future research. At this time, we do not know what effect this lifting the lock down will have on people’s lives. However, it is not difficult to speculate if this lifting is too early and a second spike is created the devastation could be horrific. It is already tentatively coming to light that the pandemic has affected the vulnerable in society the most. The elderly in care homes, those in poor housing and the lowest paid doing the most dangerous jobs with insufficient protective equipment. Social harm has already occurred, but it could become far worse. It is the time to begin to gather the evidence to build future research even if it does feel very ‘raw’ now. It is also a good time to consider Engels concept of ‘social murder.’

As was said at the beginning this piece contains no answers only questions. By beginning the process when many are struggling to simply get by daily is a big ‘ask’. However, by formulating the questions whilst the pandemic is still all around us, we will form better questions, leading to better research and who knows, answers to better understand and control future disasters.

I will finish on a famous saying from a 1980’s American cop show ‘Hill Street Blues’

‘Let’s be careful out there’

Contact

Andy Diaper, Independent Researcher

Email: Andy.diaper@btinternet.com

Twitter: @andy_diaper

 

Images: courtesy of the author

Critical Conversations on Criminology and Gender: Innovations in Research

Reflections on dynamic and innovative contemporary research methods in criminology and gender studies

duggan-marian

 

Dr Marian Duggan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Kent and the new Chair of the British Society of Criminology Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network.

 

 

British Society of Criminology Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network’s 3rd Annual Event.

Inspired by burgeoning developments in creative and innovative methodologies in criminology, 2019’s annual WCCJ ‘critical conversations’ event showcased an array of innovative ways of doing and communicating criminological research via visual methods, arts and multi-media methods, documents and the positioning of the researcher. While we fore-fronted methodological innovations, the conference reflected a rich feminist tradition of attending to critical issues of power and politics in research. As well as offering opportunities to share knowledge and experiences of using innovative methodologies, we intended that the day also offer opportunities for networking. As the incoming Chair of the BSC’s Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network I am delighted to share my reflections on the day’s events with you in this blog.

Approximately 65 attendees congregated at City, University of London, in April 2019. Speakers were invited to step outside of the confines of PowerPoint and were given around 15 minutes to share their research. We were delighted that all accepted the challenge, bringing along films, photos and art-works connected to ongoing projects. Our invited speakers included a mix of committed criminologists and those working in cognate disciplines, as well as a mix of established and early career researchers.

The day was divided into four thematic panels: 1) Film and photo, 2) Arts and multi-media, 3) Words and documents, and 4) Researchers and selves, before finishing up with a critical insight from our Keynote Listener, Dr Emma Wincup (University of Leeds). The day’s events were tweeted out (with presenters’ permission) under the #wccj2019 hashtag to @bsc_wccjn followers. Using these and others’ tweets (particularly those by Stigmatised Sexualities & Sexual Harm Research, @SSSH_research), we bring you this round-up of the day.

In the first panel (film and photo), Dr Wendy Fitzgibbon (University of Leicester) and Dr Camille Stengel (University of Greenwich) shared photos and discussed their use of Photovoice as a research methodology in their respective research projects. The synergies between their studies led them to co-author a journal article which was awarded the WCCJ 2018 Best Paper Prize, so a great start to the day indeed. Photovoice is the method of choice in the project currently being undertaken by Dr Tara Young (Kent) and Dr Susie Hulley (Cambridge) into how joint enterprise is affecting young people. The audience learnt how this creative method was shown to give voice to individuals while increasing their self-worth, proving to be transformative for participants and others who see similar experiences represented in the images. We were also guided on how best to employ the method, with advice including limiting the number of images per participant (to around 10) and having them think carefully when composing the photos. The ethics of such innovations were also covered by speakers, particularly in terms of representation, ownership and respecting anonymity. The final presentation was by Dr Shona Minson (Oxford) who has produced a series of excellent video resources on the impact on children whose mothers are sentenced to prison. Demonstrating how film offers instant communication with target audiences, the presentation was interwoven with snippets from one of the film to indicate how, where, when and why particular strategies had been employed throughout. Ethical considerations were as relevant here too, with issues of power, politics and positionality (of both the researcher and researched) discussed in some depth throughout. Shona highlighted the importance of having ‘buy in’ from participants, particularly those with significant status and authority, to elicit the maximum impact in disseminating the message.

Continuing with the interactive theme, Panel 2 (arts and multi-media) began with Dr Jo Deakin (Manchester) outlining the classroom dynamics of her arts-based research with young people and their thoughts on the Prevent Agenda. This method involved employing poetry writing, drawing, drama and physical games with school-aged young people to gain their trust and foster more open means of communication. Jo showcased several of the drawings produced by participants alongside the narratives they provided before signposting attendees to the online resource: Extremely Safe Radical Preventions. Next up was Dr Magali Peyrefitte (Middlesex) who reflected on her work using objects to open up narratives about migration, belonging and identity. Drawing out the importance of intimacy to her method, Magali described the story circle format she employed and participated in, while also providing pictures of some of the objects which featured in the research. Finally, Dr Fay Dennis (Goldsmiths) provided an interactive presentation whereby she played audio clips of her research participants alongside the pictures they had drawn to explain their experiences of drug taking. This powerful representation of emotion and sensation using image and colour excellently illustrated the additional understanding that can be gleaned beyond text.

After a delicious lunch, Panel 3 (words and documents) began with Dr Alpa Parmer (Oxford) and Dr Coretta Phillips (LSE) outlining their use of oral life history methods to explore race in relation to culture, structure and agency. Important points of note were being aware of what information stays with the researcher once the interview is done, and how sensory experiences can shed greater light on the data being gathered. Next was Dr Tanya Serisier (Birkbeck) who drew on her recently published book about feminism, rape and narrative politics to highlight the prevalence of fairy-tales in published rape memoirs. Finally, Dr Jennifer Fleetwood (Goldsmiths) introduced the audience to innovative research using podcasts, in particular My Favourite Murder, to explore routine, repetition and meaning in women’s first person narratives.

Presenters in panel 4 (researchers and selves) adopted a different approach, reflecting on their positionality in relation to their research and chosen methods. Dr Hannah Mason-Bish (Sussex) drew her recently published paper in which she outlined methodological issues relating to elitism, power and identity in what she termed the ‘elite delusion’. Returning to the earlier discussion of researching with people in positions of authority, Hannah reflected on the insider/outsider dichotomy and how this shapes the research according to how one’s status is interpreted by participants. Discussions of status and transitions in and out of identities and spaces were also key theme in Dr Ross McGarry’s (Liverpool) work on militarised identities and the meaning given to key sites that formed part of the celebrations of Armed Forces Day. The use of public space was also relevant to Dr Alex Fanghanel’s (Greenwich) presentation, which drew on her recently published book into the use of the sexualised female activist body in women’s and animal rights protests. Alex’s reflection on her own ethnographic participation in the research invoked questions about gender, rape culture and positionality. Finally, Rachel Stuart (Kent) ended on a similarly feminist note by discussing her research into webcammers and the access issues that come with researching stigmatised communities.

Dr Emma Wincup accepted our request to close the conference as our Keynote Listener. Emma is a long-standing network member and an expert in qualitative methods and feminist methods. She artfully drew together some of the latent themes and questions of the day, challenging us to think critically about the use of innovative methodologies for doing and communicating research. She reminded us that feminist research approaches, research on women and methodological innovation haven’t always been valued in criminology. Emma especially thanked our presenters for their candid accounts of their work, and sharing what happens when things don’t quite go to plan, as well as the personal commitments, and emotional impacts of doing criminological research. She made two observations about the potential of innovative methods in particular: firstly, their usefulness in ‘making the familiar strange’, both to respondents and ourselves, and secondly, their capacity to open up the seemingly banal or mundane for analysis. Emma concluded by reflecting on some pragmatic considerations in innovative methodologies – these are time consuming modes of data collection and communicating research, demanding new skills, training and collaboration. Furthermore, ethical issues become magnified and more complex. But, as the day’s presentations demonstrate, the kinds of data that can be generated have the capacity to communicate critical issues in novel and important ways.

This event was made possible thanks to the British Society of Criminology’s annual funding of the women’s network and a significant sponsorship from City, University of London’s Centre for Crime and Justice Research. Planning is already under-way for next year’s events. If you would like to join the Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network, please email our Membership Secretary Dr Emma Milne on e.milne@mdx.ac.uk and provide your details (including up to five research interests) to be added to the WCCJ network database (overseen by Dr Gemma Birkett). Alternatively, to stay in touch and hear news from WCCJ and our members, join the Jisc-mail list. Finally, do take the time to visit our website.

Contact

Dr Marian Duggan,  University of Kent

Email: m.c.duggan@kent.ac.uk

Twitter: @marian_duggan

Images: courtesy of the author

The ESRC and the Futures of Criminological Research: A BSC/CCJ Symposium

This event was organised by the BSC, in conjunction with the editorial team from our journal Criminology & Criminal Justice

 

Dr Charlotte Harris and Dr Helen Jones, British Society of Criminology

The futures (nature, funding and publishing) of criminological research was the topic of a day event at the beautiful Adam Lecture Theatre, Old College at the Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh at the beginning of April 2019. The event was organised by ourselves at the BSC, in conjunction with the editorial team from our journal Criminology & Criminal Justice.

What came most clearly from the day and the range of discussions and discussion topics (charismatically chaired by 2015 BSC Policing Network article prize winner Dr Genevieve Lennon, Strathclyde University) will come as no surprise to many of our members – the wide sphere and reach of the criminology discipline and its practitioners’ interests, insights and concerns. For contemporaneous observations please see the Twitter comments

Professor Richard Sparks began the event with a presenation based on his Crime and Justice ‘think piece’ commissioned by the ESRC to ‘inform decision-making around potential future investment in strategic research initiatives and related research activities’ (see the original guidance notes here).  This was one of 13 such ‘think pieces’ covering various aspects of the research remit of the funding body from Ageing to Sustainable and equitable (big) data infrastructure.

Screenshot_2019-04-30_Diana_Miranda_on_Twitter

You may remember that Richard spent some time garnering views from the criminological community last year helped in part by the BSC and his eventual report covered many bases, though finally settling on three ‘propositions’ (and if you have better eyesight than mine you might make out from the slide above Richard’s head), Violence (a new look taking in the multi-faceted nature of modern, individual and group, physical and technological violence); Punishment Conviction and Beyond; and Global Challenges and Global Harms.

Professor Sandra Walklate, President Elect of the BSC, and Professor Pamela Davies, Vice President of the BSC responded to the talk offering more perspectives on criminology, the community, research, focus and methodology.

Sandra spoke about the impact of the REF/TEF administrative context to criminological research, a misplaced focus on the concerns of the global north, and the positives and negatives of slow and fast – reactive? – criminology.  She spoke additionally from the perspective as Editor-in-Chief of the British Journal of Criminology (BJC) which the BSC historically supports by giving all full members access. She also spoke with interesting insight into the work of the winners of the Radzinowicz prize, awarded by the editors of the BJC for ‘contribution to knowledge of criminal justice issues and the development of criminology’: none of which was ESRC-funded, or seemingly funded outwith university employment at all.  Sandra also spoke about ‘Plan S’, the proposal by the European-wide Coalition S of funding bodies including UKRI,  for all publicly-funded research to be published only in ‘compliant’ open access journals – those where all articles published are without embargo fully available to read without payment – into which number neither Criminology & Criminal Justice nor BJC currently fall.

Pam followed up with comments about further aspects of criminology and the criminological community. She spoke about the inhabitants of that community in terms of the contract recently won by Northumbria University, to offer degree programmes to police recruits and the nature and procedures of recruiting new criminology lecturers. She also discussed some emerging insights from the BSC National Criminology Survey undertaken last year, and to be the subject of a paper at this year’s BSC annual conference at Lincoln, about how widely public funds are spread within that research community, specifically the proportions between post- and pre-92 institutions.

The last of the formal presentations came from Criminology & Criminal Justice editors-in-chief: Dr Sarah Armstrong, Professor Michele Burman and Professor Laura Piacentini.  The team, who have made inroads on further internationalising the journal (not least by making the submission process supportive), spoke about the need to be transparent about academic workload pressures. They also highlighted the relative dearth of submissions about technology that go beyond the local and evaluative, and similarly the need to be more theoretically challenging within governance research than small scale policy implementation, with a concomitant restraint about the merits of international policy transfer.

Dr Jacqui Karn, Head of Policy and Practice Impact at the ESRC, responded by saying the ESRC had to put limited resources where they will ‘make most difference’, adding that it is the responsibility of academics to make this case.  While Jacqui said she was not in a position to guarantee funding, she did point out that the ESRC had commissioned the think piece knowing that there were gaps in the field while acknowledging that criminology ‘was a strong community who put in strong bids’.  One promising area for funding she did highlight was working in partnership using administrative datasets. Dr Linda Cusworth from Lancaster University presented details about a ‘good news story’ from the family justice field where this approach has recently resulted in a research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

A panel then led discussion within the room. The panel members included Professor Allan Brimicombe, BSC Crime and Justice Statistics Network (Chair); Dr Teresa Degenhardt, Queen’s University Belfast; Anita Dockley, Research Director of The Howard League for Penal Reform (and user member of REF 2021 sub panel for social work and social policy and 2014 REF law sub panel); and Rachel Tuffin, Director of Knowledge and Innovation, College of Policing). Unfortunately, Professor Fiona Brookman, University of South Wales was unable to attend.  While, understandably, a large proportion of attendees were from Scotland, mainly from universities but also from HMICS, Police Scotland and the Scottish government, other participants ranged from professors, early career researchers and postgraduates, from as far afield as the University of Bangor, Derby University and the University of Oxford, as well as some independent researchers and writers.

Topics covered included:

  • the desirability of restoring the ESRC small grant scheme which was accessible to early career researchers who do not have the wherewithal to put together a 6-figure bid, and which encouraged exploratory work;
  • The need to support early career researchers in general in healthy work environments;
  • Dissemination is not Impact. Impact is Change;
  • Northern Ireland is not just about conflict;
  • The possibility of involving practitioners in research without them having to do a PhD to encourage dissemination;
  • The need to include writing time in funding;
  • The problems of job security in three-year funding patterns where researchers are out of a job each time the money runs out;
  • The problems in funding bodies not wanting to do anything risky while claiming to value innovation;
  • The intricacies of secondary data use – who has collected the data, how is it used, the dangers of algorithms; and
  • The managerialism of workplace targets being international, with larger student numbers, publication targets and journal specification widespread.

Richard’s think piece has not yet been published by the ESRC.

 

Contact

BSC Office: info@britsoccrim.org

 

Images: courtesy of LWYang from USA – University of Edinburgh, CC BY 2.0, and Diana Miranda via Twitter @DanaOHara