Tuesday, 10 December 2013

NEW ARTICLE - ‘Victims’ Versus ‘Offenders’ in British Political Discourse: The Construction of a False Dichotomy

BY Andrew Henley, PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant in Criminology

In this new article I collaborate with Dr Deborah Drake from the Open University (joint-winner of this year’s British Society of Criminology book prize for Prisons, Punishment and the Pursuit of Security).  We use the article to discuss the ways in which British politicians speak of those convicted of criminal offences and those who experience victimization.  We pay particular attention to the way that ‘rights’ are spoken of and conveyed to the public in parliamentary debates and in the media. 

Our analysis suggests that the rights of ‘victims’ are sometimes advocated for at the expense of those constructed as ‘offenders’ – a classic example of a ‘zero-sum game’.    We argue that this approach has the effect of preventing more meaningful consideration of proper support for victims of crime (by not considering their needs beyond the scope of the criminal justice system), worsens opportunities for the successful reintegration of ex-prisoners (by further stigmatizing them as ‘other’) and constructs a false dichotomy between two ‘groups’ of citizens who do not fall into mutually-exclusive categories.  Indeed, there is often overlap between those members of the population who are statistically more likely to be at risk of crime victimisation and those who may be at risk of involvement in criminal activity.

The article is available to read online in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice (log-in required).

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Lifeboat Politics of Immigration

By Dr Ala Sirriyeh, Lecturer in Sociology  

On Tuesday the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced his government's plans to introduce increased restrictions on welfare entitlements for EU migrants living in the UK; ostensibly in preparation for the lifting of work restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK from January 2014. If these plans go ahead, EU migrants will not be able to claim benefits for their first three months in the UK and benefit payments will stop after six months if these migrants are not deemed to have a 'genuine' chance of getting a job. Fines are set to quadruple for employers found to be paying less than the minimum wage, while EU migrants found sleeping rough will face deportation. On Wednesday evening Channel 4 news visited Margate in Kent in search of local residents' reactions to Cameron's new policy. One man they spoke to explained his support for the new restrictions by comparing the UK to a lifeboat. He asserted it was not a case of being racist or xenophobic, but rather a matter of numbers and balancing the books. Too many migrants arriving would lead to the UK (the lifeboat) sinking. In times of austerity tough decisions about our survival need to be made. Such sinking analogies are common in this island nation and, for me, often conjure up an image of a mad dash to each side of the country in a desperate attempt to keep the UK afloat. It has become commonplace for proponents of immigration restrictions to attempt to separate immigration policy from debates on racism, as was seen in the Conservation campaign posters in the 2005 general election. As I observed in my chapter on asylum politics in the book The State of Race, immigration control is presented as a rational, common-sense approach that aims to match numbers to resources and the needs of the nation-state. Immigration control becomes a matter of rational order, efficiency and good management, uncomplicated by the emotions of 'race' and culture.

As Bauman (2004: 66) observed, 'State powers can do next to nothing to placate, let along quash uncertainty. The most they can do is to refocus on objects within reach'. Romanians and Bulgarians are simply the latest group of migrants targeted as scapegoats as the Coalition government continues with the longstanding formula adopted by governments for displacing the blame for economic uncertainties and fears.

In fact, contrary to the perception that migrants are a drain on public services and finance, recent research from Dustmann and Frattini (2013) at the University College London found that between 2001-2011 EEA migrants in the UK have made a net fiscal contribution of about £22.1 billion. Furthermore, as has long been known, key public services rely on migrant labour to keep them operational (see, for example, the health service where approximately 30% of health professionals are foreign born). In 2006, migrants in the USA undertook a series of protests under the banner 'A Day without Immigrants' in which more than a million Latinos came out on to the streets and boycotted workplaces, shops and schools. As Mehdi Hassan suggested in his article in the New Statesmen in July, a similar boycott by migrants and children of migrants in the UK could bring a whole sectors of services and businesses to a standstill. This is not to say there are not real and legitimate concerns about the resourcing of public services. However, I would suggest that the political spotlight needs to be shifted back to the real challenges which are on the supply side and the neoliberal ideologies lurking behind the policies of austerity An alternative and rather more accurate notion of 'lifeboat politics' would be to recognise that rather than sinking the ship, migrants in fact can help to keep 'host' nations afloat.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Workshop at Keele - call for abstracts

Social and Political Critique in the Age of Austerity
A one day workshop at Keele University
10.30am-6pm, Wednesday 12th February, 2014

This one day workshop is devoted to the discussion of critical politics in the contemporary age of austerity.  Following the 2007 global economic crash, which led to a raft of government bank bail outs and nationalisations across America and Europe, a cunning ideological reversal took place – the crash was no longer the result of the hubris of the neoliberal financial sector, which had developed the idea of ‘riskless risk’ where reckless stock market speculation and the creation of value ex nihilo could produce endless profit, but rather the immoral wastefulness of the people and society.  According to this ideological position, which was advanced by governments across Europe, the welfare state, and in many respects society itself, was transformed into an ‘exorbitant privilege’ that was simply unaffordable.  In fact, in order to pay for their wastefulness the people were not only expected to give up their public services, but also required to accept ever lower wages, and a general state of social and economic precariousness. 

This is the current state of play across America and Europe, where the neoliberal state has exploited the crash in order to retrofit society for violent competition with Asian capitalism.  In the face of this race to the bottom, key thinkers such as David Graeber, Antonio Negri, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Costas Douzinas have spoken out against the new form Naomi Klein calls neoliberal disaster capitalism and given voice to the protest, rebellion, and revolt taking place across the world.

The objective of this workshop is to build upon the works of these key thinkers and explore the possibility for resistance in the age of austerity.  We invite contributions from a range of disciplines focused on diverse social and political contexts and a variety of theoretical perspectives.  Contributors may choose to focus on austerity and resistance across Europe, including the UK, Greece, Spain, and Italy; the Occupy movement; the media construction of austerity, including the idea of the undeserving poor who are seen to be living off public funds; methods for the organisation of resistance; the concept of the multitude and the digital commons; anti-capitalist thought; or transformative social and political theory and practice more generally.  Most importantly, we are keen to emphasise that this list is not exhaustive - the key principle behind the workshop is that debate should open up a space for social and political creativity. In this way we are keen to encourage potential contributors to be creative and explore new possibilities for political change in a historical period where change seems absolutely necessary, but also impossible to envisage.  In this respect, we encourage contributions from a variety of participants – academics, post-graduate students, activists, and others engaged in thinking through the possibilities of change under conditions of crisis and austerity.

The workshop will close with a lecture from Professor Costas Douzinas (Birkbeck), author of Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe.

In order to take part in the event please send a 250 word abstract to Emma Head (e.l.head@keele.ac.uk), by Monday 23rd December.  This event is being organised jointly by Mark Featherstone (Keele Sociology) and Emma Head (Keele Sociology and the BSA Digital Sociology study group).   Registration will open in early January.  Confirmed speakers will be notified by 7th January. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Paul Virilio, Zygmunt Bauman, and Hikikomori

by Mark Featherstone

Over the last couple of weeks I have published two new chapters – the first paper is a new version of my piece on the French social theorist Paul Virilio and the idea of the apocalypse. This paper is part of the second edition of a major collection, Critical Digital Studies, edited by the Canadian media theorists Arthur and Marilouise Kroker. The second paper is a piece on the relationship between Virilio and Zygmunt Bauman. This paper entitled Welcome to the Hotel California appears in Mark Davis’ new collection, Liquid Sociology, on Bauman and metaphor. This research formed the backdrop of my current work on Bernard Stiegler and the techno-dystopia because it explores the relationship between technology, globalisation, and a kind of society that is largely indifferent to human suffering. Beyond my article on Stiegler and Einstein’s Nightmare, which will appear in print in the near future, I am currently working on a new paper on the Japanese conditions of hikikomori and otaku and the media object. This work, which is inspired by my time in Japan and continued interest in Japanese society, will preview on my level three module, Sex, Death, and Desire, focused on psychoanalysis and society in the coming months.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Parking Wars: A victory! But who has won?

By Adam Snow, PhD student in Criminology

Another day another battle in the ‘war’ on, with, or by, motorists and this time common sense is the battleground.  The Commons Transport Select Committee (CTSC) has reported on the enforcement of parking restrictions by local authorities.  The report came about after the committee requested members of the public to suggest topics for the CTSC to look into, and of course parking enforcement (parking tickets) was a suggested topic.
One is tempted to wait for yet another round of indignation and outrage at certain local practices, presented as if they typify a national practice, before commenting further on the inevitable minor effect that this report will probably have.  To be fair there is much to like in this report, including a freeze on penalty notices so that they don’t overtake more serious offences in the amount of punishment imposed.  The report also proposes that statutory guidance should state that a 5 minute grace period on parking tickets should be allowed, again a reasonably fair and undoubtedly popular suggestion.

The report also suggests extending the discount period for payment of the penalty, albeit at less than the full discount, so that people are not discouraged from appealing a notice.  This is also a reasonable suggestion.  At present after a 14 day grace period the penalty notice typically increases by 50%. Under the recommendations this increase will be by 25% after 14 days and further 25% 7 days after a traffic penalty tribunal appeal.  Presumably this means all PCN’s will be subject to a 25% discount until the procedural time limits for appeal to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (TPT) have exhausted, or if an appeal is made, until 7 days after the ruling of the TPT.  Thus it is a small incentive to appeal parking tickets.  The decision will no longer be should I pay £35 or risk £75 by appealing to the TPT, now it will be £35 or risk £56.25, a slightly more palatable sum. (These amounts are indications as local authorities differ in the charges they impose for PCN’s)

There are also proposals that appear fair, but on second reading one does wonder how such a proposal could work, and why it is necessary.  For instance the committee recommends that there should be a statutory duty to ‘take all reasonable steps to refund money received from invalid PCN’s [parking tickets].’  At first sight it appears quite a laudable duty, authorities should not be obtaining money where they have no right to do so.  However there are problems with this proposal; there will certainly be objections from local authorities on the cost of running such a system.  It remains to be seen just how much investigation will be required to track down illegally charged motorists, for instance what happens if the DVLA record does not match the person who paid the penalty?  Admittedly these are essentially pragmatic reasons that will probably give way to interests of justice when parliament is considering drafting such a statutory duty.  A more fundamental potential problem (depending on the drafting of the statutory instrument) with this proposal is that it undermines the idea of legal certainty.   A prudent motorist might be tempted to the pay the penalty with reservations and then spend the next few months (or possibly years) looking for a legal loophole to get their money back.  How many determinations does a local authority have to make on the legality of a notice? Obviously when implementing the restriction, but are they required to investigate every allegation of illegal signage every time it is raised? At what point do repeated claims become vexatious? 
However, these are all minor qualms that can possibly be overcome in the drafting and consultation process.  Where the report fails in my view is that it is inconsistent in its analysis of ‘the problem’ and more fundamentally misunderstands the problems experienced by those who are caught up in the process, those who have received penalty notices.  This problem of analysis is perhaps summed up by the committee’s attitude to ‘consistency’.  It is tempting at this point to paraphrase Mark Bovens (2006) in that these words can “become hurrah-word[s], like ‘learning’, ‘responsibility’, or ‘solidarity’, to which no one can object. [...] those evocative political words that can be used to patch up a rambling argument.” (2006: 4)  No one can seriously object to consistency and transparency can they? Au contraire!
If we take ‘consistency’ first, then the committee must fail on its own account.   It wants to “ensure that cameras are not used as a matter of routine,” (p.23) to which the obvious response is that actually cameras provide the most consistent enforcement.   They are not subject to normal social biases, are non judgmental, operate continuously and provide consistent enforcement of recognised transgressions.  We may not like speed or bus lane cameras but they are certainly consistent.   
Furthermore the report asks for ‘greater clarity ... on the rules for loading and unloading’ as well as ‘pavement parking’.    Again one can see how consistency here would help to bring ‘clarity’ to motorists; however a healthy dose of scepticism is necessary here.  In my research it seems that, to paraphrase Uncle Ben Parker (Spiderman for those not in the know) “with great clarity / consistency comes great inflexibility’.  Officers that have the remit to enforce clearly defined offences, certainly from my own research into fixed penalty enforcement, will be unbiased and, dare I say inflexible, in the enforcement of such laws.  Quite rightly they would argue that it is not their job to determine the law, once it is passed it is their job to enforce it.  So one needs to be careful when throwing around a word like clarity and consistency because, as I have found in my own research, such clarity and consistency is rarely experienced as fair.
Are we then to ignore consistency? Well certainly not, consistency should be the aim of any rational system of laws.  However, how one defines consistency is the issue.  In spending time interviewing and conducting focus groups of recipients of penalty notices, a majority of which have received a parking ticket at some time, it became clear to me that there is a fundamental difference in the understanding of consistency between those who enforce the law and those who are on the receiving end of it.
Those who enforce the law view, or frame, consistency in terms of the application of law.  Much like the Transport Select Committee they would welcome a consistent approach to law enforcement, since consistency for those officers is a synonym for fairness.  As one police officer said to me ‘if you are 100% sure in every case you can’t be criticised.’  Whereas those on the receiving end of the interaction, the penalty notice recipients, frame consistency solely in terms of punishment, that the punishment is equal for all, that the fines are the same regardless of ability to pay. 
What they don’t accept or rate is consistency in the application of law.  Recipients want, as Helen Wells has said in relation to speed camera enforcement, ‘all kinds of biases and discrimination put back into the system.’ (2012: 178). Consistency for the recipient is about being consistent with the purposes and principals of the law, rather than consistent with the letter of the law.  Consistency here is about meaning and purpose.   I have lost count of the number of times I have been told the story about the car only being about 5cm’s over the double yellow line.  What these stories highlight is that the consistent application of the words of the law doesn’t pay enough attention to the purposes of the law.  So parking 20cm’s over a double yellow line (the length of the exhaust and bumper), on a Sunday, during bank holiday weekend, on a normal residential street, whilst the driver took care of their disabled neighbour (an actual case from the Traffic Penalty Tribunal) should not be about whether the car was on the line, but really about whether the purpose for having that line had been breached.  In relation to this very case one Traffic Penalty Tribunal Adjudicator expressed a wish ‘that common sense would break out.’ Of course ‘common sense’ much like ‘consistency’ is a contested concept.
So consistency is important and how it is applied or operationalised is contested.  If one takes the example of ‘displaying’ in either ‘pay or display’ car parks, or with regards to blue badges for disabled drivers, again one sees this contextual argument over ‘consistency.’  A consistent application of the law focuses on ‘display’ just as much as it does on ‘pay’, which is what local authorities are increasingly doing as the Traffic Penalty Tribunal found in their 2010 annual report.  Councils are increasingly focussing on ‘display’ as much as ‘pay’ in car parks, so it is no longer appropriate to simply buy a ticket, one also needs to display it in accordance with the regulations, and failing to do so is just as culpable in the eyes of some local authorities.  Similarly with blue badge holders I am aware of a number of cases where local authorities have refused to cancel tickets issued because the recipient did not ‘display’ the badge in accordance with regulations.   One certainly has to question the harm here. The person was entitled to park where they were, and furnished the badge to prove this, the only harm really is one of administrative inconvenience to the authority, and certainly in criminological terms this is hardly a convincing rationale for punishment.
So what we see in both these cases are different interpretations of ‘consistency’; enforcement officials are consistently applying the law as written, whereas recipients are actually asking for consistency in applying the principles behind the law or regulation.  Until such time as that context is identified in policy analysis then any requests for consistency merely replicates the system that is currently in operation.
Furthermore the report also highlights ‘transparency’ as an issue and the committee wants to make parking provision and enforcement ‘transparent’.  How that is envisaged by the committee is by requiring
that annual reports be made mandatory so that information on parking is in the public domain for all local authorities. Such reports do not need to be lengthy glossy documents but should provide a clear overview of enforcement activity and parking finances. (CTSC, 2013: 32)
The question to ask here is that posed by Etzioni ‘Is transparency the best disinfectant?’ (2010). Will transparency improve the perceptions of the public that the system is unfair and designed to raise revenue?  I have to say based my own study of a local authority in the Midlands the answer is almost certainly ‘no’.  This authority produces a clear plain English report annually into all aspects of parking enforcement and provision that they carry out.  It lists what income is raised, where it is spent, how that income is made up between legitimate parking (pay and display, resident permits etc.) and illegitimate parking (penalty charge notices), how the appeals system works and how successful appellants are at the informal and formal stages of appeal.  Furthermore the report itself was spontaneously recommended as an excellent example of transparency in an interview I conducted with a senior officer at the Traffic Penalty Appeal Tribunal Service.  The authority clearly operates a clear, concise system of transparent reporting, and yet (you knew it was coming) the perceptions of the local public, as demonstrated in newspaper articles and other comments about parking enforcement in this borough, suggests it has no effect on people’s perceptions of either the fairness of the system nor counters the idea that parking is about revenue generation.  Furthermore in interviews with recipients of parking charge notices from this authority they make similar claims as those in boroughs where there isn’t this transparency.  Again despite transparency,  revenue raising perceptions are still common.
These two issues; ‘consistency’ and ‘transparency’ are fundamentally misunderstood, or not appropriately examined, in the committees report.  It fails to highlight the competing claims on ‘consistency’ and assumes that ‘transparency’ is ‘the best disinfectant’ (Etzioni, 2010). It fails to identify clearly what the problems actually are for those motorists caught in the system.  This is not to suggest that policy should be made solely with regard to what those who transgress believe.  However if, as the reports suggests, we want to challenge the perceptions of parking enforcement as being unfair then we really need to understand where that unfairness comes from, and what it is about the unfairness that needs remedying.  Until we do phrases such as ‘consistency’, ‘transparency’ and ‘fairness’ mean little more than acceptable “buzz” words.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

New publication - Park Spaces: Leisure, culture and Modernity A Glasgow Case Study by Andrzej Zieleniec

Dr Andy Zieleniec's new book explores the park spaces of Glasgow.  His work argues that the  importance of a critical understanding of space in contemporary social scientific enquiry is increasingly recognised as fundamental for the analysis of the development, enlargement and experience of modern capitalism. In particular, the concentration of forces and relations of production, circulation and consumption, of people, commodities and services, is progressively appreciated as achieved through the creation and exploitation of urban space. The works of Lefebvre, Harvey, Foucault, de Certeau and Simmel are used to create a syncretic theoretical analyses that provides a conceptual framework for the substantive analysis of a case study of specific forms of modern urban social space. That is, an exploration of the processes by which the origins and development of what came to be integral features of the landscape of the modern city were produced, namely, the creation of the social spaces of public parks. The investigation of Glasgow's parks as social spaces constructed, depicted and used for leisure and recreation contributes to the understanding of the development and experience of urban modernity, as well as to contemporary socio-spatial analysis. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Einstein's Nightmare

I recently presented a paper at Professor John O’Neill’s Festschrift (literally ‘festival of words’) at York University in Toronto.

Professor O’Neill remains a key figure in sociological theory and his work continues to influence my own thinking. Beyond his research influence, his teaching and supervision inspired my own career and taught me everything I know about what it means to be a teacher. For many teachers, the work of teaching remains about their own journey and the position of the student is largely incidental, but Professor O'Neill taught me that a different approach is possible, where the role of the teacher is to create a psychological space fit for real learning, where the student feels safe, secure, and centrally wants to learn, understand, and express themselves. I have since theorised this approach through the work of the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, who wrote about the creative space in early childhood and I remain indebted to Professor O'Neill for creating this space for me and inspiring me to think for myself during my undergraduate days. I am almost certain that I would not be an academic without Professor O'Neill's influence and I remain eternally grateful for his gift of thought.

Inspired by the tradition of Canadian media theory, and particularly thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan and Arthur Kroker, who have made Canada the home of media analysis, my paper, 'Einstein’s Nightmare', addressed Professor O'Neill's own work on the mass media, which is very much part of this rich history of Canadian media theory. Centrally, I explored the idea of social relations, social responsibility, and what I call social debt through reference to the popular internet meme, 'Einstein's Nightmare' which appeared early in 2013.

As the image to the right of your screen shows, the meme itself concerns the impact of social media, and centrally new media gadgets, on social relations. My key point was that new media potentially undermines social relations and social responsibility and introduces a new form of what I call 'sociality at a distance'. Beyond making this argument, the aim of my paper was to contrast this idea of sociability, which is thinned out, weakly defined, and absolutely provisional, with the mode of relationality defined by gifting, generosity, and responsibility, which characterised my experience of Professor O'Neill's teaching and supervision. 

I will present a different version of this paper at the Keele Sociology seminar next week – 30th October – but if you would like to read my discussion of the relationship between the classic media myth, Plato’s Cave, which Professor O'Neill explores in his book of the same name, and Einstein’s Nightmare, you can visit my home page on the academia.edu website. I include my paper on this site in draft form. Full versions of the paper will be available later in the year when I publish the piece in article form.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The ‘War on Drugs’ was not imaginary Peter… and it’s older than you think.

Andrew Henley, PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant in Criminology

Earlier this week I attended Keele Debate and Discussion Society’s ‘Big Debate’ on the issue of cannabis legislation.  The debate was somewhat scuppered by the no-show of those who were supposed to be arguing the case for decriminalisation and, whilst those who stood in did an admirable job at short notice, I can’t help thinking that someone missed a trick by not inviting my colleague Dr Samantha Weston  to take the stage.  In any case, my post concerns not the quality of the debate, but one of the central claims made by Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens who argued strongly in favour of maintaining the current illicit status of cannabis. 

In his book, The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment's Surrender to Drugs, Hitchens argues that ‘the 1968 generation have for the most part become supporters of drug ‘decriminalisation’, a cause whose success will no doubt mean more doped contentment and more willing serfdom’.  He further describes the ‘War on Drugs’ as ‘phantasmal’ and suggests that, due to the influence of those often characterised as the ‘cannabis lobby’, the British government has engaged in a progressive weakening of drug prohibition which can only be rectified by harsher punishment of those who consume and deal in drugs.

First of all, to suggest that there has been no concerted effort to apply the criminal law in respect of those who use or deal in illegal drugs is simply not correct (unless the 212,708 seizures of Class A, B and C drugs reported by the Home Office for 2011/12 didn’t really happen).  As for the utility of harsh punishments, we can easily see the hugely expensive effect (in both economic and human cost) of such punitiveness in the US which has introduced numerous minimum mandatory sentences for possession of (certain) drugs in the last few decades:

I’ll leave a response to Hitchens’ prognosis for drug policy to those far more qualified to write on the subject than I am.  But I thought it worth making a different point that didn’t feature in this week’s debate – that of where anti-marijuana legislation came from in the first place.  Now one would like to think that once upon a time, a range of medical experts got together and decided to classify drugs according to those which were relatively safe and that could be either regulated or ignored by legislators altogether and those which were so dangerous that they had to be criminalised in the interests of public safety.  Not so. 

If we take the example of marijuana, we find a slightly different and altogether more troubling story that begins as a result of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.   Marijuana (from the Mexican Spanish ‘marihuana’ – for the Cannabis plant) was often smoked by those Mexicans who escaped the political upheaval of the period by crossing the border into the United States to find work.  Fear and prejudice regarding this new immigrant population in the Southern states quickly focussed upon the strange smelling weed which they brought with them.  According to Eric Schlosser's excellent article in The Atlantic:

Police officers in Texas claimed that marijuana incited violent crimes, aroused a "lust for blood," and gave its users "superhuman strength." Rumors spread that Mexicans were distributing this "killer weed" to unsuspecting American schoolchildren.

Before long, and in response to such claims, a number of local laws popped up which sought to criminalise the drug.  Between 1914 and 1937 as many as 27 different states introduced some form of anti-marijuana legislation.  Somewhat incongruously, in 1920 the US Department of Agriculture urged US farmers to grow marijuana as a profitable crop – due mainly to the practical uses of hemp.   However, by the end of this period a vigorous anti-narcotic lobby had assembled and led to the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, headed by Harry J. Anslinger.  The claims made about marijuana at the beginning of this ‘war’ reiterated those which had spread in the Southern states following the influx of Mexican migrants after 1910.  These are evidenced in the claims made in the 1935 poster (below) from the FBN and was also seen in the now comical anti-marijuana propaganda films of the era such as ‘Reefer Madness’ (1936) and ‘Devil’s Harvest’ (1942).

In essence then, the beginnings of the ‘War on Drugs’ were a lot earlier than its official declaration by President Nixon in 1971 and may have actually had far more to do with who was originally taking the drugs in question rather than the dangerousness of the drugs themselves.  If we look at the origins of other anti-drug legislation we see a similar pattern.  The 1875 Opium Den Ordinance in San Francisco is often linked to anti-Chinese sentiment in the city and concerns that white Americans were starting to become addicted.  Elsewhere, the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act in 1897 was originally passed on the basis that it would address opium addiction amongst the indigenous peoples of Australia, though it soon became a vehicle for the rulers of this newly emerging nation to take control of aboriginal affairs more generally.

If we fast-forward to the more recent history of prohibition in the US, we see more evidence which suggests the ‘targeting’ of drug laws at specific populations.  Prior to the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act 2010 penalties for the possession of crack cocaine could be up to 100 times more severe than for its powder equivalent.  Of course, crack cocaine use is associated more commonly with poorer (and frequently black) users on ‘Main Street’ when compared to power cocaine, which remains the drug of choice for the whiter, richer and more powerful on Wall Street.  Even after the passage of the Act an 18:1 disparity in sentencing remains, despite suggestions that the relative harms of the two forms of cocaine have been exaggerated.  So, in conclusion, perhaps before we enter into another debate about whether or not certain drugs should be decriminalised, we might do well to first ask the questions: ‘how did they come to be criminalised in the first place?’; ‘was criminalisation actually a response to the drug use of specific populations?’ and, crucially, ‘why was this the case?’

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Student Journal of Criminology

A discussion piece by Nicola Byrne, one of our third year students in Criminology and Sociology, has been published in the first issue of the online Student Journal of Criminology.  This is a student-run journal which aims to enable students to write for a wider audience than they would usually be able to reach at undergraduate level.  Submissions are reviewed by criminology academics from universities in the UK.  This publication is a great achievement for Nicola and testament to her commitment to her studies.  Her paper, 'Sex work in the 21st century - a case for worker centred policy' can be read by scrolling down this page.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Sociology in practice - the HIV and later life project

By Jessica Thorley  


In this post, one of our recent graduates reflects on her experiences of working on a research project at Keele.  


As my degree course was coming to an end, and after 22 years of simply moving from one educational institution to the next, I had no idea what to do next with my life.  I’d loved studying sociology, and knew that I wanted to follow this passion further, but I had no experience of what sociologists really ‘do’ in the real world: how does the classroom stuff translate to the outside world? How does a real research project actually work and what does it entail?  When I was appointed as a research assistant on the HIV and later life project, led by Dr Dana Rosenfeld, I was able to start to answer some of these questions.  

The best thing about my role was the way I was thrown straight into the deep end, whilst still supported every step of the way.  Within previous work experience placements I have undertaken my job role has simply consisted of ‘tea maker’ and ‘washer-upper’, with a little bit of ‘observer of other people doing stuff’- but here I was actively involved in the project.  It was very exciting to see a real research project in practice and feel that I was a part of it.  I had done a little primary research of my own within my undergraduate dissertation, but it was a big leap going from a project based on eight interviews to being involved in a two year project with around 150 participants!  All the team were really supportive and friendly, with Dana mentoring me throughout and always making the time to include me and explain things thoroughly. 

The skills that I developed and the opportunities I received through this internship were invaluable to me as a recent sociology graduate, giving me an insight into the world of social science research.  I was involved in data inputting, using NVivo to code interviews, helping create the end of project event brochure, listening in on media meetings and phone calls, and a little bit of data analysis.  I was able to watch and be a part of sociology in action – not just reading a text book but handling masses of data about people’s real lives and experiences.  One of the main things I learnt was about the importance of ethics and water-tight methodology to ensure participants voices are heard, respected and represented properly.  It showed me how essential methods training is (even if the modules are often a little dry!) and how methods can actually be really interesting when applied to real life projects.  I was also able to make some connections between theories I had learnt about during my degree and the data I was looking at, reassuring me that the stuff I have spent three years of my life on is relevant, and not just confined to classrooms and my dusty folders. 

Being part of this project has taught me so much about social science research and its key role in highlighting issues and raising awareness of invisible populations and problems. I have had a really exciting and fascinating summer, and the experience has boosted my self-confidence and interest in research, and made it seem a lot less daunting as a possible career choice. As a recent graduate, the freedom to do whatever you want can often leave you feeling a bit lost and unsure what direction to go down, but this internship has helped give me focus and inspiration. I now plan to go on to do a masters course next year, with the aim of entering a career in research and/or social policy.

Monday, 30 September 2013

New appointments in Criminology and Sociology

We are pleased to announce the appointment of two new staff members.  Dr Mwenda Kailemia has joined us as a Lecturer in Criminology.  His PhD thesis focused on the ground level policing of the impact of transnational migration after the expansion of the European Union.  Mwenda will be leading our level two module, 'Policing and the Police'.  His wider research interests are in transnational security, policing governance, and anti-terrorism in emerging economies.

Dr Ala Sirriyeh will take up her post as Lecturer in Sociology later this month.  Ala's PhD research has been published as Inhabiting borders: a study of 16-25 year old refugee women's narratives of home.  Ala has research interests in migration, identities, cities, and personal relationships.  She will be contributing to a
range of teaching on the sociology programme, including
our introductory module, 'Social inequalities in the contemporary world'.     

Monday, 23 September 2013

New publication - Living with 'Aliens'

image of Griffiths C.E. (Clare) Clare Griffiths, Lecturer in Criminology, explores public attitudes towards immigration in a new article in Criminal Justice Matters

According to a recent article entitled 'Immigration is British society’s biggest problem' (Boffey, 2013) nearly a third of the British public who took part in a survey perceive immigration to be one of the greatest causes of social division. Segregation and the ‘parallel lives’ that diverse cultures lead have been high on the political agenda ever since the 2001 Northern riots in the towns of Oldham, Bradford and Burnley. Government policies have attempted to promote community cohesion and integration in diverse neighbourhoods. The topic of immigration and its imagined ‘threat’ to ‘British’ values and to ‘British’ communities has arisen again recently with both the Romanian and Bulgarian migration flows, and the killing of British soldier Lee Rigby; both of which have sparked a hostile response in negative media portrayals of immigrants or in protests against immigration involving the far right. This paper, however, attempts to paint a less gloomy and more complex picture of public attitudes towards immigration and its assumed association with crime and insecurity by showing how polite and civil social exchange can exist at the local level of social life.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Policing of Petty Crime in Victorian Cumbria

By Guy Woolnough 

Guy Woolnough recently completed his PhD in Criminology at Keele.  In this post he outlines the key themes of his thesis.  Guy maintains his own blog and recommends that readers wanting to know more about his work start here or here.  The images below are examples of the kind of historical artefacts that have been used in his study.   

Report of a stolen turnip
My study is an innovative analysis of the policing of petty offending and the work the police in Cumbria. I have used the neglected minutiae of police and court records to deconstruct the role of the police, discretionary policing by men on the beat, public expectations of the police, and the growth of police bureaucracy. I have been digging through some of the most trivial of records, many of which have been lost, but there have been a few pockets in which a wealth of random paperwork has survived. For example, Maryport where for a few years Inspector Grisdale failed to throw away his correspondence, amongst which the words and opinions of humble police constables and ordinary Cumbrians have survived, reporting or complaining about stolen peas, a turnip robbery or a missing husband. Another survival has been the daily reports of the Grayrigg constable. He served alone at his isolated Cumbrian police station, where he completed the daily reports that monitored his work, reports which ended almost everyday with the words ‘nothing to report.’

My work problematises conceptions of policing and its history. The detailed study of what police were actually doing calls into question both the idea of a ‘golden age’ of policing and the claim that there has been an explosion of bureaucracy in late twentieth century policing. These are the issues that dominate the contemporary discourses on policing, though this study makes clear that assumptions are made today that are not supported by the history. The themes of this study are as relevant today as they were 150 years ago, for this work is interdisciplinary, situated in the social sciences, particularly criminology and history.
A lost banjo

My work examines the police’s role at a time of social, economic and bureaucratic change. It links the development of police expertise and professionalism with the process of state formation. The historiography and nature of Victorian policing are tested by this study of Cumbria, a remote and unique region which was culturally, economically and agriculturally quite atypical of Victorian England. 

This study is a cultural history, for it considers the ways in which the police defined and tackled problems such as vagrants, fairs, blood sports, traditional recreations, drunkenness, pick pocketing, violence, gambling. Police acted in ways which defined and targeted outsiders or deviants, and how they identified and dealt with problems on the streets is central to this study. Discretionary policing, which is shown to be culturally determined and rooted in the working class cultures of Cumbria, is the constant theme. Anthony Giddens structuration theory provides a model for understanding of how policemen, exercising culturally informed discretion, were the crucial agents in the policing of Victorian Cumbria.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Keele rated second in the country for student satisfaction

Keele University has been rated second in the country for student satisfaction.  This is excellent news, and comes after some impressive results for sociology and criminology at Keele in the national league tables

The University, with an exceptionally high overall satisfaction score of 93%, exceeds the national satisfaction rate of 85% in the latest National Student Survey.  Keele’s overall satisfaction score is its highest ever and places the University among the country's top universities for student satisfaction, topping Oxford, Cambridge and the Open University, with only Bath, of the mainstream universities, ahead by one percentage point.

 Keele students found their courses were intellectually stimulating with the staff good at explaining things and enthusiastic about what they are teaching. Furthermore, the University has improved its performance on all areas surveyed, except for Teaching, which was unchanged. There were particularly significant rises in the performance of Learning Resources and the Students' Union over the last 12 months.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Foskett, said: "These are very impressive results! I am delighted that Keele has been so highly rated by our students in the National Student Survey. This year’s exceptional results underline our commitment to excellence in teaching and learning and improving the all-round student experience.  "Students look for a more holistic experience combining quality research/teaching with a community environment and strong employability record. They are also looking for better value from their university and Keele is adapting its offering to suit these demands. This is why Keele has launched the Distinctive Keele Curriculum, which is designed to better prepare students for life after university."
In each of the eight categories covered by the survey this year, satisfaction has either improved or stayed the same as in 2012. In particular, students’ satisfaction has increased in the areas of Assessment and feedback and Learning resources, with an improvement of 2 per cent in both categories.

Around 304,000 final-year students responded to the survey this year, from 154 HEIs and FECs from across the UK. This represents a response rate of 68.6 per cent, the highest rate in the nine years that the NSS has been running.  Questions in the survey included the teaching on courses, assessment and feedback, academic support, organisation and management and personal development.  The results of the survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI, provide valuable information for prospective students, and help universities and colleges to further improve the education they provide. 

Universities Minister, David Willetts said: ‘It is very encouraging to see student satisfaction is continuing to rise. University is a hugely enjoyable and life-enhancing experience for most students, as this survey shows.

‘The National Student Survey plays an important role in providing students with information to help them make choices about higher education. It can also help universities to understand how they can offer students the best experience.’

Experiencing and Managing HIV in Later Life: A Two-Year Study

By Dana Rosenfeld, Senior Lecturer in Sociology                                    

A multi-method, multi-disciplinary study, entitled 'HIV and Later Life’, or HALL, led by Dr Dana Rosenfeld, Senior Lecturer in Sociology has been exploring the lives of people living with HIV (PLWH) aged 50+ in the UK.

Estimates are that by 2015, half of PLWH in the West will be aged 50+. This rapidly ageing population is much more diverse than was the population of earlier years, with an increasingly high proportion of Black African and heterosexual persons. This population is further divided into those living with HIV for many years and those acquiring and/or diagnosed with HIV in later life. However, little is known about these persons' quality of life, mental health and social support needs and how their different histories and circumstances shape how they experience and manage HIV in later years.

This is a two year project funded by the Medical Research Council's Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Cross-Council Programme and the Economic and Social Research Council. The research term includes members from social science, medicine, psychology, epidemiology, and the HIV community and has been searching for connections between these older persons' personal, social and medical histories and their social support, mental health, and quality of life.

To date, the team has interviewed stakeholders (including clinicians, policy makers and HIV activists), conducted focus groups with older PLWH, and has interviewed and collected mental health survey data from 90 older PLWH. They have been recruited through hospital based HIV clinics and through HIV community organisations in the London area. Findings will inform suggested interventions designed to improve the social support, mental health, and quality of life of older people living with HIV. The project will end with a workshop targeted at older PLWH and members of the HIV community to be held in London in September 2013.

More information about the project, including biographies of the team members, a description of the methods, and preliminary findings, is available on the HALL Research Site.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Austerity UK

By Mark Featherstone

Two news stories caught my attention over the last couple of days – first, a report from the House of Commons Library, which showed that wages in the UK have fallen sharply since 2010, and second, an article focused on the Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, and his view that Labour needs to ‘put its cards on the table’ in order to offer voters a viable alternative to the Conservatives in the next general election.

Reading the first piece we learn that UK wages have experienced the fourth largest fall in the EU (5.5%) and that only Greek, Portuguese, and Dutch workers have seen a greater decrease in their real wages since 2010. Given that German and French workers wages rose (2.7% and 0.4%) over the same period, and that the overall average decline in wages across the EU was 0.7%, it seems clear that in the UK, the workforce has been asked to carry the can for the crash in 2008. In light of this, it seemed strange to read an article concerned with the problem of Labour politics. In the BBC report, we learn that Burnham thinks that Labour needs to capture the electorate’s imagination now, and offer an alternative to the Coalition. I agree - what is strange, however, is that this has not happened already. Why is this the case? Why is it that austerity, and the commitment to reduced public spending, has such a strong hold over the political, and perhaps more importantly, popular imagination in the UK?

If we consult recent sociology on austerity, such as Stuckler and Basu’s ‘The Body Economic’, the problem of austerity becomes very clear. In periods of recession it makes little sense to cut public spending because this simply reduces consumer confidence and destroys any potential for growth. The result of this is that the economy gets caught in a kind of downward spiral. According to more humanistic measures, we might argue that under conditions of mass unemployment it is not a good idea to dismantle the social safety net, which can help to stabilise society, because this will simply exacerbate the problems caused by economic stress – i.e., depression, alcoholism, and ultimately suicide. This, of course, supposes that a government cares about the health of the people. However, Stuckler and Basu take the view that the health of the people matters and paint a bleak picture of Europe in the age of austerity. They show that in countries where the social safety net has been attacked as bloated and wasteful the health and welfare of people has suffered. This much would seem clear – surely in a society where the economy contracts and people suffer from unemployment and other stresses, society should ‘bail them out’ and support them? This is, after all, what happened to the banks.

As I have explained on many occasion on this blog, austerity makes no sense, and has been proven to fail in the case of the Great Depression of the 1930s, unless its aim is to restructure the industrial or post-industrial base of a society, and make it more competitive by slashing public spending, driving wages down, introducing more flexible contracts, and generally providing a retrofit to the economy. This is largely what I think we see taking place today – the aim of austerity is not simply to reduce the national debt, but also to reduce the cost of labour, and the responsibility of the state, in order to make the national economy more competitive in a global market, where competition may come from China and India. In these new industrial powers labour is cheap and the state has little responsibility for supporting the body of the people. Of course, this means that they are perhaps the most competitive economic powers in the world, save for the US, where the worker is similarly expected to weather whatever economic storm hits. However, even in the US, Obama understood that the way out of recession was taxation and social spending, rather than wage reduction and social austerity. The result of this decision is that America has emerged from recession much quicker than the UK.

We will, of course, eventually escape recession and austerity in the UK, but the problem will be that this will happen on very different terms than we entered this dark period. Under the new austerity landscape growth will take place on the basis of low-wage labour, contracts that offer little protection for workers, and a minimal social safety net. In sociological terms, the kind of society that we may find ourselves living in will be very friendly towards business, but less favourable for the lives of people. And here is the main point of my blog today – much of what I have written is well known, and we have read work by Naomi Klein and Zygmunt Bauman, which explains the problems of disaster capitalism and austerity. However, what I think the current period of history demands that we do, and this is especially important for students and young people, is to start to think about the kind of society they want to live in.

What is it that matters in life? Is it most important to have a society organised around profit, where competition is everything, and life is precarious? Or should society forsake profit, and make economic value subordinate to other life goods – such as health and welfare? What is it that makes a good society? This is what I think Labour really need to do. They need to open up a debate about what matters to people. Are commodities the be-all and end-all? Are people prepared to accept precariousness to make more money? Are they happy to accept vast inequalities in society? Is it acceptable to have children going hungry because their parents do not have enough money to feed them? It strikes me that the very fact that politics is not the normal debate about these kinds of fundamental questions, and that a senior politician has to talk about the need for an alternative to austerity, is enormously problematic. I think this illustrates our deep lack of social and political imagination and shows how far our political elites have fallen and / or leapt into bed with business where the only good that matters is the bottom line.

We must escape from the grip of this law of the bottom line - currently we are still caught under the spell of what we might call the fetishism of economic growth, growth at all costs, growth even if it kills people. I think that we need to escape from the fantasy of this idea. As Marx taught us over a century ago, the economy is not more important than people. The market is not a living thing and it is the height of stupidity and brutality to sacrifice people to a machine that produces nothing that can rival the value of human life.   

Thursday, 1 August 2013


PhD studentship opportunity in Criminology

We are pleased to announce that Keele University, along with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Staffordshire are funding a PhD studentship to run from three years from October 2013.

The successful candidate will research the effectiveness of an educational alternative to a fixed penalty for the offence of driving whilst using a mobile phone. In December 2003 a law came into force to prohibit drivers using a hand held mobile phone while driving. The principal hazard of phone use while driving is that it distracts the driver, taking their attention away from the task of driving. Research has found that drivers' reaction times were 50% slower when using a mobile phone.  The reactions of a mobile phone user are worse than those of a drunk driver.

Most drivers caught using a mobile phone whilst driving are dealt with by way of a £60 fine and receive three penalty points on their licence. However, drivers caught in Staffordshire may be offered the chance to attend ‘Crash Course' as an alternative to paying the fine and receiving penalty points. Preliminary analysis of reconviction data for this offence suggest that diversion may be a more effective way of changing driver behaviour. Thus, whilst early indications of the effectiveness of the course are good, a thorough, longitudinal evaluation is needed in order to explore the effectiveness of the scheme in a robust fashion, as well as the processes by which any change is achieved. The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner Staffordshire and Keele University are jointly funding this studentship to carry out this research.

Duration and eligibility:
This studentship, which it is hoped will begin towards the end of September 2013, is for three years in duration.  Applicants should hold an honours degree in a relevant subject and have experience of carrying out and analysing quantitative research.  A postgraduate degree and/or knowledge and awareness of road traffic enforcement or educational interventions would be desirable.

The successful application will work under the guidance of Dr Helen Wells (Lecturer in Criminology), Dr Clare Griffiths (Lecturer in Criminology), and Dr Alex Lamont (Senior Lecturer in Psychology), as well as benefitting from input from Staffordshire Police.

The studentship funding for 3 years and includes a fee waiver (at UK/EU fee levels - £3,905 for 2013/14) and stipend of £13,726 per annum.  Full details and the online application form are available here. The closing date for applications is Monday 5th August 2013 and interviews will take place on 19th or 20th August 2013.