Seven New Conversations in Historical Criminology

Report on discussions at BSC Historical Criminology Network Workshop 2020.

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David Churchill is Associate Professor in Criminal Justice in the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, School of Law, University of Leeds, and Chair of the BSC Historical Criminology Network. His research focuses on policing, security and crime control in modern Britain

 

Conferences are great – a chance to catch up with old friends, pick up fresh ideas and hatch plans for new ventures. So many have been lost to the lockdown this summer, and they are much missed. But there’s also a problem with conferences. After two or three days of mind-opening discussion, everyone goes home. Greeted by a wall of emails and all the distractions of the day-to-day, the spark of creative energy is so easily lost.

So this year, members of the BSC Historical Criminology Network did something different. The plan was to bring together scholars who don’t normally work together to talk about topics of common interest. We hoped to meet in person, but the pandemic intervened. So we met online instead. This brought challenges – frail internet connections and so on – but it also opened up the conversation to a much wider, more international group than would have been possible otherwise.

And so seven groups of brilliant scholars met to discuss new directions and common concerns in historical criminology. It was a wonderful day, illustrated in real time to give a rich visual record of the event. In this post, the convenors of each group offer a summary of what was said. But these conversations are not finished – several groups are looking forward to future meetings and possible collaborations. So if something catches your eye, do get in touch via contact details below.

  1. Mobile MethodsMobile Methods and Doing Historical Criminology (Esmorie Miller, Alexa Neale & Lizzie Seal – e.c.seal@sussex.ac.uk): Our group discussed experiences of, and possibilities for, using mobile methods in historical criminology. We understood mobile methods to include walking as a research method, but also other mobilities, such as road trips and boat trips. We discussed how mobile methods might unlock understandings of space and sensory experience in ways that other methods cannot and how this is particularly relevant for historical criminologists, who usually conduct research from documents. We explored how mobilities can illuminate what we have read in archival documents, offering insights into locations and landscapes, especially in relation to places in which events happened, areas where particular individuals lived, or journeys they undertook. We talked about how being out and about can lead to chance meetings which might produce new ideas, or garner new information. And we considered access to spaces – something which varies by space and by person.

Another key theme from the discussion was the significance of layering. Landscapes, buildings, areas have developed over time and bear multiple histories. They have different meanings to different social groups and are sites of contested memory. We spoke about the salience of memorialisation at the moment in terms of understandings of, and contests about, colonial history and racial justice. Finally, we discussed technologies and the possibilities offered by online tools such as StoryMap JS that enable highlighting location in relation to a series of events. We talked about how, in an era of restricted mobility, historical criminologists might be able to share resources with each other online to enhance understandings of space.

  1. CorruptionPolice Corruption (Paul Bleakley – p.bleakley@mdx.ac.uk): This workshop was a great opportunity for academics working on researching historical incidences of law enforcement misconduct to liaise with police practitioners, and to discuss the ways that insight into the past can assist in shaping contemporary anticorruption policies. What emerged was the general recognition that studies of police corruption face a serious definitional problem, where our understandings of what constitutes corrupt practice differing greatly based on location and (crucially) the sociocultural context of the period in which it was practiced. It was agreed that historical criminology provides anticorruption researchers with a “safe space” to discuss very pertinent issues of deviant organisational cultures and managerial practices, allowing for critical analysis without presenting a professional or legal threat to active duty police. Because of this, studies of the intra-organisational cultural factors that drive police corruption can be examined in a more abstract way through the lens of the past. The group determined that one of the greatest priorities of historical police corruption research should be to draw on the myriad of examples that the past offers us to develop a clearer typology of misconduct – not just what acts are considered “corrupt”, but how a culture of misconduct becomes entrenched in law enforcement agencies.
  2. AHC‘Advancing ‘Historical Criminology’: Celebrating interdisciplinarity and reflecting on history as lingua franca (Sarah Wilson – s.wilson@york.ac.uk): This was truly a global and intellectually diverse group (from History and Criminology to Political Science and Law), including those with practitioner backgrounds in museum work and policing. The session was oriented around the idea of promoting historical criminology through History as ‘lingua franca’. This stresses: (i) the need for Criminology as a whole to ‘become historicised’ (rather than establishing a niche sub-field); that (ii) Criminology is in need of direction in how to move toward historicisation; and that (iii) examining how other humanities and social science disciplines are reflecting on their own relationship with history would be beneficial for Criminology. Linking these points is the idea that History can help break down disciplinary barriers; that through historicisation scholars can come together and ‘find’ shared interests which have been obscured by discipline-specific practices and language. Asked whether Historical Criminology was a movement in need of direction, participants discussed its current intellectual standing and directions. This led to a fantastic conversation on the importance of Historical Criminology moving away from being a minor pursuit (one occurring in ‘pockets’) towards a position of normalisation within the discipline of Criminology. Very interesting reflections were offered on the importance of history in ‘grounding’ social science research, and giving meaning, context and sense and even rigour to social science’s interest in data analysis. Perhaps the most insightful discussions centred on History’s value as the ‘interdisciplinary discipline’, and how it is uniquely placed to speak across so many disciplines, on account of its interest in continuums rather than the ‘binaries’ which often underpin the theories and rationales of social science.
  3. AtoneThe Not Yet Dead God of Atonement (Aaron Pycroft – aaron.pycroft@port.ac.uk): We explored the historical relationship between theology and the practices of justice and the ways in which Judaeo-Christian atonement theory is used in contemporary penal settings to support harsh penal measures. The basic premise of this approach is that every crime (sin) must be punished to satisfy the metaphysical requirements of both a retributive god and the need for social order. The discussion was based around Pycroft (in press) and whether modern anthropological, theological and philosophical resources in “the death of the death of god discourse” should have any traction in criminology. We discussed the limits of practical reason (following Kant) and the implications of the de Sade through to Foucault genealogy in critical criminology and whether these philosophies do no more than lock in cruelty and violence. This led to an examination of personal complicity in structural violence and the role that Judaeo-Christianity plays in revealing that violence to others, without resorting to simplistic deus ex machina arguments. There was an acknowledgement of the challenge of teaching these issues in standard criminological curricula, but that change agency, personalism and religious literacy were promising topics for further exploration. [Pycroft, A (in press) ‘Surveillance, Substance Misuse and the Drug Use Industry’ in The Pre-Crime Society: Crime, Culture and Control in the Ultramodern Age. Arrigo, B. & Sellers, B. (eds.). Bristol: Bristol University Press.]
  4. DTCrime-Related Dark Tourism: An Exploration (Hannah Thurston – H.Thurston@brighton.ac.uk): First, we shared concerns about crime-related tourism. How reality and fiction become blurred, how stories are marginalised or sensationalized. We discussed problematic tropes and the consequences of distortion. We were though, mindful of the neo-liberal context: competing demands force sites to capitalize, to romanticise, to compromise. Next, we also chatted about the positive potential of crime-related tourism. We talked about how sites can disrupt dominant memories, problematising taken-for-granted transmissions of the past. Rather than sensationalise or romanticise, they work toward peace and social justice. We discussed activists (re)claiming sites and (re)interpreting stories, which led us to reflect upon our own place in the story-world. It transpired that many of us felt part of our (crime) stories. Some of us had worked in/consulted for museums. Others collaborated with artists/activists at heritage sites. Others had done TV interviews, and some had even corresponded with ancestors of the deceased. It became clear we had all – in one way or another – interrogated not only our own power as a storyteller, but also our role as a character within the story we were telling. And then we decided that transmission of memory is all about power, and collaborations present powerful opportunities to reach different audiences (big and small).  By understanding the needs of other storytellers – be they activists, curators, or documentary makers – we have the potential to influence and shape these crime-related sites/memories. Clearly these types of collaborations include compromise and it is unlikely we will be given the freedom to tell the story we would want to tell … The question is: should that stop us from trying?
  5. Path DependencePath Dependency, Crime and Social Responses to Crime (Thomas Guiney & Henry Yeomans – H.P.Yeomans@leeds.ac.uk): This session explored the emerging literature on ‘path dependency’ and how these analytical tools might be used to making sense of the historical development of crime and criminal justice. In our introductory talk we offered a general introduction to path dependency. Events in one historical context can constrain actions at later points in time by, for example, creating precedents, vested interests, embedded working practices or entrenched popular opinions. Deviating from the existing path can thus become much more challenging and costly than simply continuing with things as they are. Building on these observations, Dr Ashley Rubin from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa discussed the promise and pitfalls of path dependency and how she has used these techniques in her own research to explain the uneven development of the early American state penitentiaries. In the subsequent discussion a number of themes emerged for further discussion:
  • The need to reconcile path dependency with a more dynamic view of policy change.
  • Further work on where change comes from, if not from exogenous shocks.
  • How change is “layered” over an extended period of time, and how this connects with recent theorising on time and temporality.
  • Whether path dependency needs to be anchored to institutional analysis or whether these techniques be used with biographical or life course studies.
  1. ProtectProtection (Francis Dodsworth – f.dodsworth@kingston.ac.uk): Our discussion explored how historical criminologists might contribute both to existing theories of protection and to the development of original empirical and theoretical enquiry. We discussed the centrality of ‘protection’ to contemporary criminal justice, connections with David Garland’s idea of the ‘culture of control’ and the need for fuller exploration of the genealogy of protection.

We were particularly interested in the power dynamics of protection, of who is being protected from whom – the police from the public, the public from the police, or people from themselves – so pertinent in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests and a media culture invested in sensational representation of threat. We discussed histories of protest, riot and moral panic, but also child removal and reformatories, disease regulations and prevention (extending into ‘public health’ models of violence reduction) and the configuration of ‘vulnerability’. Important issues raised included the policing of domestic abuse and the over-policing and under-protecting of minority and marginalised communities. We noted the longstanding discussion in the United States about ‘protection’ from below and its relation to accountability, and the need for historical perspectives on equivalent UK discourses. We also discussed a critical approach to the realities of vulnerability, recognising differential levels of autonomy and the importance of perceptions of vulnerability to violent response. Moving forward, there was interest in exploring the role that criminological study plays in terms of gender, class and minority recruitment into the criminal justice system and associated roles, and in how historical enquiry might help us think through what we want ‘protection’ to look like.

As mentioned earlier, these conversations are not finished.  Future meetings and future collaborations are full of possibilities. If you want to be a part of this, do get in touch via contact details above.

 

Images courtesy of Laura Evans of Nifty Fox Creative

The Uses of Historical Criminology

Here the authors explore how historical research can enrich criminology and criminal justice.

DChurchillDavid Churchill is Associate Professor in Criminal Justice in the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, School of Law, University of Leeds. His research focuses on policing, security and crime control in modern Britain.

 

HYeomansHenry Yeomans is Associate Professor in Criminology at the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, School of Law, University of Leeds. His research focuses on the regulation of alcohol and drinking in historical perspective.

PLawrence

 

Paul Lawrence is Asa Briggs Professor of History, and Head of History, at The Open University. His research focuses on the history of crime, policing and justice from c.1750.

 

Over the past several years, the term ‘historical criminology’ has slowly and quietly entered the criminological lexicon. Its arrival, without fanfare, signals at least interest in engaging with historical themes and problems in criminological research. But it might also gesture towards a fuller integration of historical approaches and ways of thinking into criminology. If so, it would seem to evoke promising new directions for criminological scholarship: broadening its chronological frame of reference; historicizing its core topical concerns; infusing previously marginal disciplinary perspectives. Yet the potential of historical criminology remains underdeveloped. Explicit discussion of the issues it might raise has been confined hitherto largely to reflective essays derived from specific research projects (Bosworth, 2001; Cox, 2011), or to broader surveys of the relationship between crime history and criminology as fields of enquiry (Godfrey et al., 2008; Lawrence, 2012). At present, there is a lack of broader theoretical and conceptual work on what it might mean to do criminology in an historical way (though see Garland, 2014; Churchill et al., 2018; Churchill, 2018).

In a recent thematic issue of Criminology & Criminal Justice, we have attempted to reach beyond existing work and develop original theoretical insights on the uses of historical research in criminology. This issue arises from an international conference hosted by the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, University of Leeds, in 2015, which brought together criminologists, historians and socio-legal scholars to address connections between past, present and future across criminal justice topics. This event highlighted the wealth of inventive historical work taking place across disciplines, but also the challenges of establishing fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue around historical criminology without a secure theoretical underpinning. Our three papers result from sustained, critical engagement with these issues at the conference and in subsequent discussions over the intervening years. With reference to the conference itself, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who participated in the event, including Adam Crawford, Francis Dodsworth, Markus Dubber, Louise Jackson, Paul Knepper, Stuart Lister, Clifford Stott, Chris Williams and Sarah Wilson.

Our papers focus on three distinct (yet overlapping) values of historical research in criminology: to explain, characterise or contextualise contemporary formations of crime and justice. But in doing that, we develop several common lines of argument, which cut across the separate papers. First, we suggest that historical research must contribute to understanding crime and criminal justice in contemporary society. Criminology as a field is preoccupied with the present and with new developments, and we take this as our starting point, recognising that most criminologists will find history of interest insofar as it helps make sense of present concerns. Second, we contest the notion that the past should serve simply as a foil against which to establish what is new in the present. Given the ‘epochalist’ framing of much prominent work in contemporary social science (Savage, 2009), we are especially concerned to argue that historical approaches might break down (rather than to reinforce) the sense of separation between past and present. Third, we stress the advantages of going beyond the approach of much existing historical research, which uses focused study of a delimited period to provide a fresh perspective on contemporary problems. While recognising the value of such studies, we stress the virtues of long-term, diachronic research which links past and present in a continuous chain. Such a long-term perspective, we argue, is vital in using historical research to explain (Lawrence, Yeomans) or to characterize (Churchill) contemporary crime and justice. Finally, our papers (especially those by Churchill and Lawrence) emphasize the need for collaboration across disciplines to fully realise the potential contribution of historical criminology. In-depth interdisciplinary engagement, through teams spanning history and the social sciences, is perhaps the most viable means of using long-term historical research to make meaningful and lasting interventions in contemporary criminological debates.

The history of crime and criminal justice is a thriving area, and such work seems increasingly to find an audience within criminology. Furthermore, new networks and fora – notably the British Society of Criminology Historical Criminology Network, founded last year – seek to bring together established and emerging scholars interested in historical criminology. Such initiatives, in turn, are posing broader questions about the nature, purposes and future directions of historical research in criminology. We hope this thematic issue of Criminology & Criminal Justice will provide some foundations for more sustained engagement with historical approaches, perspectives and data in criminology, and thus help pave the way toward a more fully historical criminology.

 

References

Bosworth M (2001) The past as a foreign country? Some methodological implications of doing historical criminology. The British Journal of Criminology 41(3): 431-442.

Churchill D (2018) What is ‘historical criminology’? Thinking historically about crime and justice. British Society of Criminology Newsletter 82: 8-11.

Churchill D, Crawford A and Barker A (2018) Thinking forward through the past: prospecting for urban order in (Victorian) public parks. Theoretical Criminology 22(4): 523-544.

Cox P (2011) History and global criminology: (re)inventing delinquency in Vietnam. The British Journal of Criminology 52(1): 17-31.

Garland D (2014) What is a ‘history of the present’? On Foucault’s genealogies and their critical preconditions. Punishment & Society 16(4): 365-384.

Godfrey BS, Williams CA and Lawrence P (2008) History & Crime. London: SAGE.

Lawrence P (2012) History, criminology and the ‘use’ of the past. Theoretical Criminology 16(3): 313-328.

Savage M (2009) Against epochalism: an analysis of conceptions of change in British sociology. Cultural Sociology 3(2): 217-238.

 

Contact

David Churchill, University of Leeds

d.churchill@leeds.ac.uk

@dchurchill01

Paul Lawrence, The Open University

paul.lawrence@open.ac.uk

Henry Yeomans, University of Leeds

h.p.yeomans@leeds.ac.uk

@yeomans_henry

 

Copyright free images courtesy of authorsand Dreamstime