Friday, 22 October 2010

New faces in Criminology at Keele

Criminology at Keele is welcoming five new faces in teaching and research at the start of the new academic year. We are delighted to be joined by three new PhD students, a research assistant and a new member of teaching staff to add to both our research and teaching capability.

Stephanie Alger, a former Masters student at Keele, joins us as a PhD student. Steph holds a linked ESRC studentship called Inverting Assumptions about Domestic Abuse.

Emma Murray also joins us to begin her PhD. Emma comes to us from Liverpool John Moores University where she graduated with a First Class degree in 2009 and has since gone on to study for her Masters in Criminal Justice, also at John Moores. Emma will be researching the topic of Returning Soldiers and their Involvement in Crime. The title of Emma’s Ph.D is ‘Out of the Killing Zone and into the Fire? An analysis of the journey from ‘soldier’ to ‘citizen’ as armed service personnel resettle into British society post combat’ and is based on extensive pilot work in the form of an ethnographic case study of a group of Royal Marine Commandos, focusing on their self-reported racism and violence post deployment. The overarching aim of the project is to provide an empirically rich study that explores the effects of combat on returning soldier’s involvement in crime and attitudes to diversity, and to situate this within approaches sensitive to the experiences they have had and the challenges of resettlement they face.

Ian Mahoney, a recent graduate of the MRes in Social Science Research Methods in Social Relations at Keele, and also a Keele BA graduate, rejoins us to begin his PhD. Ian won one of the ESRC Criminology Quota Awards to carry out research into the link between crime and unemployment with the current working title of:
'Unemployment and Criminality in Stoke on Trent: The impact of unemployment upon criminality in an area of high skill and employment deprivation.'

Mary Louise Corr also joins us as a Research Associate on the ESRC Boys to Men project looking at what can be done to reduce young people's involvement in domestic abuse. The main aim of the research is to produce an answer to the question as to why some young men grow up to be perpetrators of domestic abuse - and to learn more about how we can prevent them from becoming reliant on a range of violent, controlling and threatening behaviours. The research involves administration of an attitudinal scale, self-report questionnaire, focus groups, and in-depth biographical interviews with young people. Mary Louise joins us from The Children's Research Centre Trinity College Dublin project.

Finally, we are also welcoming back Clare Jones, a recent PhD student in Criminology at Keele, who rejoins us in the capacity of Teaching Fellow. Clare will be contributing to the undergraduate Criminology programme at all three levels, as well as on the new Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice and the MA Ethics of Policing and Criminal Justice. Clare's PhD explored the recent wave of migration of Polish nationals to a small working class town in Cheshire, and questioned whether immigration is inevitably disruptive for neighbourhoods increasing crime, conflict, and insecurity amongst “established” and “newcomer”
groups. Clare said “I am delighted to be joining the criminology team again at Keele, where I first became passionate about criminology when completing my undergraduate degree here in 2005. After continuing to study criminology at Keele for the following 5 years, I am now looking forward to contributing to the programme.”

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Chilean miners: 'science' is vital in this human story

It has been a momentous week. The world is watching 33 men saved by a clunky steel rocket and a host of saints in hard-hats and hazard jackets. It is an almost unbelievable story, except that we are watching it in every tiny detail on TV. Today, it was also the day in which the Science Is Vital campaign closed their petition to defend funding for science research in British universities, and the day after Lord Browne proposed the biggest change to student funding in two generations. And the week before the biggest cuts to university funding since the last slash and burn policy of the mid 1980s.

The irony of this rescue won't be lost on the science geeks: the people who are pulling the miners out of the ground are utterly dependent on university science: their training, their gadgets, their pulleys and winches and cages and breathing apparatuses and bio-belts ALL built from the brains of the geeks. Sure, the block and tackle (or whatever) is made and greased by worker-bees, but the buck stops with those doing the thinking, and the design. The geeks - in effect - got them out.

Some tweeters have objected that the geeks got them in there in the first place. Maybe. There is a mining and geology specialism in universities of course. But profiteering mine owners have been around far longer than the appliance of science started to make things go further, deeper and both safer and more dangerous simultaneously. Given the choice of a bloke with a gold pen and a dodgy record of exploitation, and a spotty, pale youth with an obsession for torque, I know who I'd rather have writing the manual. OK, and perhaps a raft of experienced burly miners to help him 'apply' his writing...

You can't escape the value of science in this human drama however - whatever recriminations rightly emerge about the safety failures in this mine, we all need to be grateful in part to the science. I hope the Science Is Vital campaign will exploit this link as much as they need to.

Next week, when the Comprehensive Spending Review slashes funding, the biggest cut will come - in teaching and research - in the Arts and Social Sciences. The teaching budget is likely to be all but wiped out, and it is hard to see how Research Council funds will be held at anything like current levels. Who cares?, most of the press and public will say. It will seem to make little difference to anyone's lives. The 'Science vote' will care very little too, barring a few with a broad education, because of their own sense of the necessity of their own disciplines, compared to ours.

But what will happen to these miners now? And how will the rest of us make sense of the 'miracle' (or 'tragedy')? The science bit is easily seen: the gadgets, manuals, experts are evident to the world at large. Nobody will, however, make too much of the lengthy training of the eloquent psychiatrist Dr James Thompson, commenting for the BBC, which although medical in part, could not possibly have succeeded had he not developed some grasp of the human condition from other sources. How could Freud, Jung, Klein, Winnicott, Piaget and countless other contributors to the understanding of the human personality have known what they know without cultural ideas? How could we all 'get' the drama of rescue, without a narrative of, erm, drama? More prosaically, who will be behind the film makers, writers, journalists who need to be there (perhaps not in quite such volume...) to help the rest of us make sense ? Perhaps the political plan in shutting down the debate is to get everyone to just shut up, and stop trying to make sense of difficult events. The chattering classes have been desperately annoying for the right wing, doing what they do to ask questions and all...

Look, I'm not suggesting people won't make sense without the hidden hand of Peter Mandelson telling us what to think. The point is more general: humans need to make sense and make meaning, and will continue to do it. Ordinary bods do it better, mostly, than lily-livered, soft-handed academics. But the writing, thinking, the ideas generated in arts, humanities and social science departments DO make a difference, albeit in subtle and small ways. A sociologist might help a family therapist trying to put back together those miners' broken relationships once the reality of wife vs mistress hits home. And an artist might help those traumatised children sleep at night. And a philosopher might contribute to a think tank who pushes the Chilean prime minister to rewrite his mining policy, so that the value of human life is reassessed. Someone really will, perhaps, be saved by a historian in a cord jacket, reflecting on this day. Even those betes noires of the Establishment, Meeja Studies graduates, might have their part to play. Not as the journalists (we all know they have Oxbridge degrees in English, which somehow escape the oppobrium...) who bring it all to our living rooms; but as the parents, teachers, managers, friends who say, in their pub or office conversations: 'hey, never mind the distracting rescue narrative, we're ignoring the back story about exploitation here...'.

Do we need to do this in universities? Should the public pay for it? Of course it should. Otherwise we leave all our big questions to blokes with gold teeth who give answers influenced by their paymasters. Good luck to the Science lobby - they need it. They have the luxury of knowing they can do what the public can't. We need more luck and more support, because the public thinks they don't need us. They do.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Power of the Past: Classical Sociology and the Urban Present


Andy Zieleniec

We live in times that have been variously described as post-industrial, post-modern, post-ideological. Whilst there may be some veracity in these analyses as they are applied to western developed nations where the fruits, however bitter, of a neo-liberal politics and economics are vicariously distributed in unequal portions, it is less certain how well these epithets fit for nations and regions in the developing world. What can be said with certainty is that for the southern hemisphere it is certainly not a post-urbanising world.

In the Northern hemisphere the twin processes of modernity, urbanisation and industrialisation, have been experienced for some 150 years and may have reached their zenith. Evidence for de-industrialisation (the decline of traditional manufacturing industries, mineral extraction, etc.) and the development of a reliance on service sector employment and income generation is also marked by socio-spatial inequalities as some towns/cities or regions do better than others in the changed economic climate. Similarly cities in the northern hemisphere are experiencing a demographic change in which growth rates have declined or, as in many cases, are showing signs of a movement of people away from urban living as a return to the suburb or country marks a lifestyle choice in which commuting longer distances is an accepted part of everyday existence.

However, globalisation as expressed in the flows of power, finance and status (see Sassen, 1991, Castells 1996, etc.) has also been experienced as flows of people. Migration is an international phenomenon that has seen vast movements of people not only from country to country, region to region but also as a movement from the country to the town and city. Thus whilst Britain became the first predominantly urban nation in 1850 the rest of the world has inexorably been moving in the direction of urban growth.

The fastest rates of urban growth are now no longer in the developed world but in those parts of the world that has, so to speak, previously lagged behind. As UN figures indicate the population of the world that is living in towns and cities is still increasing and as the figures demonstrate (, in 2010, half the world’s population will be urban. What we can also determine is that the world is not only becoming increasingly and more dominantly urban but that the fastest growth rates are in developing countries.

The scale of urbanisation and the growth rate and size of 21st century mega-cities is much greater than that experienced in 19th century Europe and America. We also now see mega-cities of a demographic and geographical scale never before experienced in the history of human populations.

The prospect of growth for the worlds’ largest cities (See: United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision) demonstrates that in the 21st century there will be a radical change in the living conditions and experience of hundreds of millions of people as the shift from rural based populations to urban cities necessitates changes in ways of life and of cultures.

However, despite the differences of scale it can be argued that much of the social theory that developed as a means to explain the shift from feudalism to capitalism and from agrarian to urban societies in the 19th and early 20th centuries still has some pertinence when seeking to understand and analyse contemporary processes and experiences. I will provide a few examples below that emphasises both the development of sociology as an academic discipline and much of its foundational social theory as inspired and influenced by the transition to urban, industrial and capitalist societies and that these very insights still have relevance for understanding the modern world.

The founders fathers [sic] of sociology all considered in various ways how modern industrial and urban society had an impact on social relations. Karl Marx amongst other things, along side his collaborator Fredrick Engels, demonstrated how social (class) inequalities became much more clearly elaborated in industrial urban societies and this would, for them lead to the development of a revolutionary working class conscious of itself and its potential. Emile Durkheim also considered that the breakdown in traditional social norms was in part due to the increased moral and social densities that people in urban societies were increasingly subjected to. Max Weber, in his analysis of the historical development of ‘ideal types’ of city was also concerned about their bureaucratic organisation and administration as a means to mitigate revolutionary change.

In all of these one can see how such issues and concerns still have relevance in contemporary urban settings. The problem of continuing socio-spatial inequalities can be shown in the huge disparities between the wealthy and the rest in many cities that is expressed by amongst other things the rise of the favellas or shanty town existing alongside ‘gated communities’ or securitised residential enclaves for the rich. Weber’s assessment of the increasing role of administrative elites in attempting to organise and plan functions and services in urban centres, not least policing and law and order functions, is a concern in most urban areas. Similarly, Durkheim’s identification of changes in social norms and traditions as the result of increasing population densities and opportunities for new types and kinds of interactions is still a feature of societies today undergoing rapid urban growth.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th there was also a concern with how the changes wrought by technological and social developments was impacting not only on the structure of society but also on the experience of individuals and groups as they go about their lives in an increasingly urban world. Ferdinand Tonnies (1897) in his work on the differences between types of social organisation in predominantly rural settlements (Community) versus those found in the city (Association) points to changes in social structure and experience that is being felt in societies today as they move from agrarian dominated activities and arrangements versus those found in the city. One can look to the experience of China is recent years as rapid urban growth and industrialisation is changing the social fabric of Chinese society. Georg Simmel in his famous essay ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ (original 1903) as well as in his other works on the city stressed the social and psychological consequences of an increasingly faster, more intense experience of life in modern cities. Simmel’s analysis of late 19th century European cities still has resonance and relevance for understanding and studying the consequences for individuals and groups who have migrated to the city and are faced with a multitude of new stimuli, experiences and opportunities (not all of them positive).

I could expand on these examples as well as to bring in other theories of urban change, structure and culture to develop my claim that there is a need for an understanding of past theoretical perspectives in order to understand the new world order of urbanisation in this era of globalisation. We need to know how the urban was understood and analysed in the past in order to be able to recognise and identify similarities as well as differences with the experience of urbanisation in an era of globalisation.

To paraphrase Karl Marx: “if we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it” and we would do well to take heed of this warning lest we may end up re-inventing the wheel in 21st century urban studies. The past still has a power to illuminate the present.

Select Bibliography

Castells, M. (1996) The Rise of the Network Society Oxford: Blackwell Ch 6-7

Chadwick, E. (1842/1965) Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press

Durkheim, E. (1933) The Division of Labour in Society, New York, Free Press

Engels, F. (1848) “The Housing Question” reprint in Marx/Engels: Collected Works, Lawrence and Wishart

Engels, F. (1958) The Condition of the Working class in England. Oxford, Blackwell.

Mearns, A., (1883/1970) The Bitter Cry of Outcast London: An Inquiry into the Condition of the London Poor, London

Park, Robert E., Ernest Burgess, Roderic McKenzie (1925). The City, University of Chicago Press.

Sassen, S. (1991) The Global City Chichester N.J: Princeton U.P.

Simmel, G. (1903) “The Metropolis and Mental Life”, in Kasinitz, P. (ed.) (1995) Metropolis: Centre and Symbol of Our Times Basingstoke, Palgrave and Malcolm Miles and Tim Hall (eds.), (2004) The City Cultures Reader (2nd edition) London, Routledge

Simmel, G. (1997) ‘Sociology of Space’ and ‘Bridge and Door’ in D. Frisby & M. Featherstone (eds.) Simmel on Culture. London: Sage. pp.137-174.

Tönnies, F. (orig. 1887) Community and Society, any edition,

Weber, M. (1966) The City New York Free Press

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Sociology of Immobility I


Mark Featherstone

It is entirely fashionable today to talk about the sociology of mobility, but I wonder whether this discourse is already more or less out of date. The theory of mobility turns off the idea that processes of globalisation have resulted in unprecedented levels of interconnectedness across the world, resulting in the emergence of what is normally called the network society. This process of global interconnectivity relies on information communication technologies to achieve the integration of financial markets and complex transport infrastructures to allow flows of people to move through global space. Ironically, this process of integration and networking, which we might imagine would lead to new levels of sociability, has also resulted in the emergence of a new brand of what we might call asocial hyper-individualism, whereby those linked into the global network are simultaneously sunk in networks of co-operation, but also provided with enormous levels of freedom.

Although it may seen strange to talk about asociality or a lack of social interaction in the context of networks of co-operation, it is important to remember that one can exist very well in society and be quite unsociable in terms of how one thinks about other people. The key here is, therefore, that processual co-operation does not necessarily entail deep social interaction. Instead I think that what continues to happen in the contemporary global society is that the high levels of co-operation demanded by the network in order to enable mobility are endlessly undercut by the kind of hyper-individualism produced by the desire to move, what we might call the will to mobility, and that it is this that means that the potential sociability written into the form of the global network continually collapses into a kind of manic individualism, whereby everybody is set on making it big and escaping from the constraints of the very social form that creates the possibility of making it in the first place.

But before we move on, let’s slow down and take stock. What we must recognise from the above is that the sociology of mobility is not simply about flows of money and people around the world or the technologies that make movement possible. Instead, I think that we have to understand that to a large extent mobility is in the head and a psychological condition. This may, in large part, be a psychological condition created by the explosion of ICTs in the final decade of the 20th century. What do ICTs do, if not allow us to let our imaginations run wild and explore the world of the mind in the fantasy space of the net?

In many respects, then, it is possible to say that the entire world is available on the World Wide Web. Moreover, the strange philosophical consequences of this statement, which revolve around the emergence of a form of spatial short circuit that shrinks the global to the level of the local and makes the macrosphere totally available to the cybernaut locked into the delimited space of microspherical PC terminal, are that it is absolutely not metaphorical to say that the internet makes the world available to everybody without the need for movement. On the contrary, what the internet, the hard infrastructural technologies that make the WWW possible, achieves is the telescoping of the entire world, or the entire networked world, into every individual node or terminal connected to the global network. According to this logic, there is no need to travel anywhere or be mobile in a physical sense, since I can go anywhere and be everywhere, without leaving my PC terminal that plugs me into the global network. This is precisely what the French writer Paul Virilio talks about in his works on globalisation, speed, and ICTs. Virilio talks about ‘the terminal man’ or the last man who gives up his body to his PC in order to inhabit the new global network. Recalling science fiction films such as the Matrix he tells us that an ethics of 21st century should be about saving people from becoming sedentary no-bodies who never leave their house, but rather travel through the interface between their mind and the globalised network.

Is this science fiction? Although the above arguments sound like the plot from a Phillip K Dick novel, consider the Japanese phenomena of the shut-in and the net addict. In both cases the globalised network starts to take over from reality rendering the body, what Virilio calls the last vehicle, an archaic irrelevancy. For the shut-in, a figure closely related to the NEET who withdraws from the public world of education and employment, the entire social world becomes a frightening place to the extent that even the family becomes an alien institution. Thus the shut-in’s world contracts to the space of the bedroom, which often becomes a kind of cockpit for connecting to the wider world through ICTs.

Herein we enter the strange world of net addict who spends his entire life in cyberspace, often neglecting to attend to the basic physical requirements of human life, eating, drinking, shitting, pissing, sleeping, and gradually losing the ability to differentiate between the fantasy space of the net and the hard materiality of the real world. Surely the classic example of this phenomenon is the recent case of the Korean couple who allowed their 3 month old baby to starve to death while they surfed the net, raising a cyber-child in the process. It would, of course, be hyperbolic to suggest that this is a generalised condition today, but the seeds of the problem of voluntary immobility and the consequent wasting of the obsolete body are clearly present in our contemporary globalised society.

After all, who has not spent their entire day sat in front of a computer screen, surfing the net, sending e-mail to people sat at PCs in far off places, and moving about in the globalised network that collapses mobility into immobility in the light speed it takes to connect to the world wide web? My wager would be that the majority of the people reading this short piece have spent days like these. It is for this reason that I would suggest that we counter the sociology of mobility, which seems to me to be largely celebratory in its view of the value of movement and dynamism, with a new dire sociology of immobility, which recognises that the flip side of the explosion of kinetic energy that has resulted in processes of globalisation is a implosive force that exerts an enormous gravitational pull on every one of us, commanding us to stay put, don’t move, because the only way to really move is to live in the wires of the net.