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.