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.


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.



BSC Office:


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

The invisible labour and visible satisfaction of editing a journal

Editing a journal, even with a large team, undoubtedly is a lot of work, but is more than compensated for by being able to see what researchers are studying across the discipline

Sarah Armstrong, Michele Burman, Laura Piacentini

(Co-editors-in-Chief, Criminology and Criminal Justice)

CCJ image

Criminology and Criminal Justice, the official journal of the BSC, will be 20 years old in 2019. Over these two decades the journal has published, and continues to publish, empirical, methodological and theoretical work from around the world and in areas as diverse as the discipline of criminology itself. We have led a Scotland-based Editorial Team for two years (our first issue in which we edited content was in 2016) and have been invited to contribute to the BSC blog to reflect on the journal and our vision for it.

In applying for the Editorship of CCJ, we set out three aims:

  • To achieve wide international recognition and influence;
  • To publish and promote the highest quality work, particularly building on the journal’s existing reputation for strength in (a) offering a critical analysis of the crucial issues of our times, (b) areas of applied and policy related research, and (c) methodological diversity and rigour; and,
  • To embody a supportive and welcoming ethos that recognizes the values of collegiality, equality and diversity in the development and dissemination of world changing ideas.

We treat these aims as equally important and mutually constitutive. Of course all journals will be seeking to publish the best quality work and most also will be aiming for international impact. However, it was our belief after being involved in journals for many years as authors, reviewers and on editorial boards that inclusivity, collegiality and work-life balance are crucial to realising the first two aims. This has meant we share equally the role of Editor-in-Chief, and operate on a rotating on call basis, where one of the three of us takes the lead each month working with the Editorial Officer Dr Caitlin Gormley and the Associate Editors to manage that month’s workload of new paper submissions, revised submissions, queries from authors and reviewers and other business.

We strive towards collegiality and inclusivity not only in our interactions within the Board, which is composed of a range of scholars at different stage of career and institutions, but also by encouraging as much as possible, and very occasionally exercising discretion to moderate, positive and constructive feedback to authors. But it has been our pleasure to notice that in general the gratuitously harsh and biting review has become increasingly rare. On the other hand, being in a position to see all the papers that go through a journal brings home an understanding of how much free labour goes into academic publishing. The work of reviewers, and often editors as well, is invisible in university workload models but amounts to thousands of hours per year. And given how much we rely on colleagues’ good will, it continually amazes us how considerate and thorough reviewers are. And this applies to the most senior, well-established academics as to career scholars. We are looking at ways to acknowledge the work of reviewers, and are considering publishing an end of year thanks and list of reviewer names as some other journals do. We welcome feedback on this and other means of recognising this effort.

Metrics aren’t everything, but nevertheless can tell us how the journal is faring over time, and we are seeing great success in this. The journal’s impact factor is on the rise, increasing substantially, to 1.088 in 2016 (from 0.75 in 2015). This is attributable as much to the work of the prior, Leeds-based Editorial Team (led by Adam Crawford) as to our tenure, but of course, is ultimately a function of the quality and interest of work submitted to us. Manuscript submissions are up, increasing 35% between 2015 and 2016, with further rises in 2017 submissions (through October). Our acceptance rate for 2017 (thru October) is 25%. Downloads of CCJ articles have been growing in each year from 2015 to 2017. The most downloaded article in 2017 was by Kath Murray (issue 5), entitled ‘“Why have we funded this research?”: On politics, research and newsmaking criminology’ (over 3,600 times!) and the second most downloaded was by Esther FJC van Ginneken and David Hayes writing on ‘“Just” punishment? Offenders’ views on the meaning and severity of punishment’. These are only two examples of a range of stellar work published over the year.

In terms of international range and quality of work, we have put in place a new International Advisory Board consisting of scholars whose work as both authors and colleagues we admire. We look to the international board to act not only as reviewers, but as ambassadors for the journal, putting us in touch with potential authors and reviewers in their regions and fields. We have excellent representation from the UK, Europe, Asia, North America and Australia and New Zealand, and are seeking to deepen and develop our links to colleagues in African and Latin American countries. On this front, we have some exciting work from these regions that has already come out or will soon be published from a study of police officers in Ghana to a forthcoming study of restorative justice in Chile.

The first Special Issue under our Editorship is hot off the press (February 2018) and is on the theme of Coercive Control. It is guest edited by Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Sandra Walklate and Jude McCulloch and features papers from Canada, New Zealand, England, Scotland and Australia. This is an especially timely topic as countries in many parts of the world currently are considering whether to enact laws incorporating this concept. The articles share experiences from diverse jurisdictions and do not shy from critically considering the implications and need for new legislation. Keep an eye out for a blog on the issue on the journal’s webpage.

Editing a journal, even with a large team, undoubtedly is a lot of work, but is more than compensated for by being able to see what researchers are studying across the discipline, and to work with authors developing a paper for publication. We hope BSC members will consider publishing with CCJ as British Criminology has a longstanding and deserved reputation around the world for producing critical, reflexive and rigorous work.

Dr Sarah Armstrong, University of Glasgow, UK
Professor Michele Burman, University of Glasgow, UK
Professor Laura Piacentini, University of Strathclyde, UK

Photo copyright free – Stack of CCJs – Taken by Sarah Armstrong