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