Wednesday, 24 September 2014

New paper by Guy Woolnough: Blood Sports in Victorian Cumbria

By Dr Guy Woolnough

In researching the primary sources for my doctorate at Keele, I found many fascinating details which were peripheral to my main narrative, but were too good to forget. Completion of my thesis has given me the time to revisit some of these stories. The Journal of Victorian Culture has published the resulting article.  I was intrigued by the policing of two bare-knuckle fights in rural Westmorland (Cumbria). Jem Mace, a celebrated ‘world champion’ of prize-fighting, brought on two occasions a train with two pugilists and a full complement of supporters from Manchester to a match held ‘in the middle of nowhere’, hoping no doubt that the event would escape the notice of the Cumbrian police. Not at all: the events were policed with extreme diligence and rigour.

I decided to look at other sporting events in Victorian Cumbria. Cock-fights had many of the same elements as a prize-fight: crowds of men, drinking, betting, one-on-one bloody combat. Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling was very popular, attracting even larger crowds. The only significant differences were that wrestlers were not bloodied and wore more clothes. Wrestling offered large prizes and matches were reputedly often fixed to suit the bookies.

The Cock-fight’, c.1844-55. At Compton Verney House
Although prize-fighting was not in itself illegal, matches were raided by the police and participants were arrested for breach of the peace. But wrestling matches, with (in Cumbria) larger crowds and more betting were not policed at all and were regarded as a highly respectable recreation. Cock-fighting was more complicated. The ‘sport’ was illegal in itself by 1849, but the many well-supported events and their ‘results’ were routinely reported in the local paper, the Westmorland Gazette until the late 1880s. 

The rival Kendal Mercury did not report cock-fights, except for those which ended with men appearing before the magistrates. Some Cumbrians deplored cock-fighting as thoroughly disreputable and morally wrong, others saw it as another country sport, on a par with hunting and as a respectable recreation. The police did intervene when they could, but organised cockers developed stratagems to evade the police, and some court cases ended in acquittal by magistrates who seem to have been far from impartial. Cockers appearing in court often enjoyed the service of professional counsel and the police in court were invariably challenged by an aggressive defence and a jeering public gallery. Hear-say evidence asserted that some policemen were supporters of cock-fighting.

In my article I theorise that the striking differences in the way the criminal justice system handled each of these sports is explained by the local plebeian cultures of Victorian Cumbria. The police, who were of the working classes, were the crucial agents in the policing of these events. Whereas policemen were implacably opposed to outsiders bringing boxing matches into Cumbria, they shared the general enthusiasm for Cumbrian wrestling, and were divided on cock-fighting. Cock-fighting continued in Cumbria well into the twentieth century, but the determination to police it diminished. Cultural change in these sports was negotiated at the local, plebeian level.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

New paper by Clare Griffiths on immigration, communities and social order

Dr Clare Griffiths, Lecturer in Criminology, has a new publication in the British Journal of Criminology that is now available.

In this article, Clare draws on some recent research that explores the idea of 'passive tolerance' to support the findings from her PhD on Polish immigration and its consequences for social order.

A recent article in The Guardian reports on a study that shows living in diverse areas makes individuals more, not less, tolerant. The authors of the study suggest that simply observing diverse individuals interacting positively with each other has the potential to ‘rub off’ on others. They term this ‘passive tolerance’ and liken it to passive smoking, whereby individuals in diverse communities cannot avoid being influenced by positive social interaction just like those who are surrounded by smokers cannot avoid passively taking in smoke. Such findings are in line with Allport’s (1958) famous contact theory that proposes prejudice and intolerance are reduced the more individuals come into contact with members of different ethnic and cultural groups.  Clare's article, entitled 'Civilised Communities: Reconsidering the Gloomy Tale of Immigration and Social Order in a Changing Town' supports these claims to show how diverse social groups can manage transience and change after immigration through small, mundane, everyday norms of politeness and civility.  The article aims to recast the traditional gloomy tale told regarding immigration in a more positive light. It shows how tolerance, civility and conviviality can exist in contemporary changing communities between diverse groups rather than conflict and animosity. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Transforming Rehabilitation: and the parade passes on …

by Dr Mary Corcoran, Senior Lecturer in Criminology

“New forces appear on the scene, but they have been marshalled by old assumptions” (Marquand, 1997: 148).

Two events coincided at the end of May, 2014, which illuminate contrary directions in thinking about the future of our social economy.  The first was the conference on Inclusive Capitalism, convened in London to ponder how markets could be rebalanced to be more inclusive and redistributive.  The second was the confirmation by the Ministry of Justice that the public Probation Service would be dissolved on June 1st.  It is succeeded by Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which, according to the current shortlist of bidders, comprise consortia of security corporations in partnership with large charities and social enterprises.  These CRCs will take over three quarters of work with offenders in the community deemed to be of ‘low risk’, leaving a much reduced, new National Probation Service to maintain responsibility for ‘high-risk’ offenders.   Without stretching coincidence to a point of conspiracy, their concurrence makes a striking contrast between those who wish to shepherd the global economy, post crisis, towards stability and fairness, and those for whom the remedy to the inequities brought about by decades of free-market social and economic policies is even more market liberalism. 

The marketscape  

The controversy surrounding marketisation can be traced back to wider debates about the present and future scale of absorption of our social institutions, ranging from publicly-owned services to civil society, by private, profit-oriented interests. Since the 1990s, relationships between governments, capital and civil society have been structurally transforming, bringing far-reaching changes.  This shift is exemplified by the rise of a mixed market in the criminal justice sector, where commercial, and latterly charitable, providers are contracted to augment state services (as in the case of privately managed prisons and detention centres), service existing institutions (court translation, prisoner transport or tagging, community-based supervision, for example), or replace them (as with the probation service).

Today, discussion about the market revolution in criminal justice has been rendered more contentious by successive phases of privatisation, outsourcing and deregulation in the UK over three decades.  Proponents justify these as the painfully necessary application of commercial shock to reform moribund state services.   Privatisation, of course, is one aspect of a broader cultural and political alignment of institutional and social behaviour with the laws of the market.  More pragmatically, the lure of market solutions has gained currency among centre-right and centre-left governments (with some marginal differences) in the UK and elsewhere in pursuit of the elusive alchemy of greater efficiency, cheaper costs and better services. 

Undoubtedly, too, greater competitive openness and cultural transformation have been championed by proponents of public sector reform, including the objective of disciplining  ‘vested interests’, which might have included  for-profit providers but was explicitly aimed at professional associations and trade unions.   Julian Le Grand (2007), who advised New Labour on public sector modernisation, proposed that direct accountability to consumers would curb the professional privileges that inhere with provider-led public service hierarchies. Greater direct public accountability creates equality and mutuality of interests among all stakeholders, he argued.   Marketisation is thus quintessentially democratic in handing consumer choice and responsibility from the state back to citizens and providers. 

By contrast, critics have equated the elevation of market forces with an attack on collective welfare, the transfer of public resources to private pockets, and the erosion of a public sector ethos or altruistic values. It is argued that free market concepts and techniques do not transfer unequivocally to the voluntary or public sectors, especially to criminal justice, which is discharged with the grave responsibilities of punishment by rule of law.    Market distribution systems have historically failed to meet significant areas of human need where there is no obvious opportunity to acquire profits or capital. As such, public services evolved because of market failure.

Each position is prone to oversimplify the picture.  This has not been helped by the rancorous political rhetoric and the sometimes risible claims that this is all in the cause of rescuing the welfare state which have emanated from Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Ministers. Elsewhere, I have identified ideological and technocratic prerequisites for converting non-market sectors into profitable markets which have been deployed by successive governments in recent decades (Corcoran, 2014).  These include:

Conflating stubbornly high rates of imprisonment and reoffending with the inadequacies of criminal justice agencies, and by extension, with the failures of public service models.
Encouraging the involvement of for-profit and voluntary sector providers as essential actors in crime prevention and security.
Converting goods or services produced by the state into commodities which can be contracted out to other parties.
Developing competitive service markets which will foster bidding wars among potential providers, irrespective of sector.
Rationalising services to encourage co-production between adjacent private and public competitors.  This includes ‘inter-agency’ partnerships where private and public services ‘share’ the same clients or jointly occupy the same premises, for example. 
Applying managerial techniques for measuring and evaluating performance by public agencies, allied to a punitive culture of league tables, naming and shaming ‘failing’ ones and exploiting the data to further privatise them. 
Responding to lobbying from for-profit and voluntary sector interests to deregulate service markets.
Moderating the rules or specifying different targets, outputs and governance for new entrants to the market. 
Finally, the state underwrites the risks associated with the transfer of public resources to private interests.

In the context of recession, struggling public services, continuing prison overcrowding and proclamations about relaxing the stranglehold of state bureaucracy on enterprise, the idea of  further privatising prisons and probation is politically attractive.  The fundamental question for government is how to promote security and consensus for authoritarian criminal justice measures in conditions of economic shock, financial crisis, social strife, poverty and crime. The message is also more persuasive when it is delivered as the only feasible option.  The construction and articulation of crime and punishment in cash terms has produced an historical opportunity to shrink the state by passing off this political choice as a necessity.  Crime and punishment have been reframed as fiscal burdens, which sustains the political momentum for the state to seek market solutions and approaches. Despite its rhetoric of radical change, this government wants it both ways: to reconcile the upward trajectory of prison expansion that began in the decades before the economic crisis, while masking the social fallout of its economic policies by demonstrating firm management of the casualties of those same policies. 

Since 2007, the fiscal crisis and austerity have provided opportunities for transferring state penal assets and powers to private interests on an unprecedented scale.  A series of scandals relating to fraud and mismanagement by private companies have revealed regulatory gaps and wilful oversight on the part of legislators. It has taken successive governments decades to drive through the endorsement of private profit as a key component of criminal justice against considerable opposition, not only from the labour movement or sections of the political left, but academics, public administrators, lawyers and professionals. The case for privatising the probation service has been widely discredited and it is apparent that the motives for pursuing it lie elsewhere.  The fate of the probation system in England and Wales is determined by the political will to outpace the electoral clock by putting much of it into private domains before the next election.  To quote from the classic tale of vainglorious rulers:

‘The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all. (Hans Christian Anderson, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’). 

Part of this article was published in Criminal Justice Matters, September 2014.  To access the full journal, click here.


Corcoran, M. (2014) ‘The trajectory of penal markets in an age of austerity: The case of England and Wales’, Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, vol 19, 53-74). 

Le Grand, J. (2007) The Other Invisible Hand: Delivering Services through Choice and Competition. Oxford: Princeton U. Press: 

Marquand, D. (1997) The New Reckoning: Capitalism, States and Citizens. Cambridge: Polity. 

Salaman, L. (1987) Of market failure, voluntary failure, and third-party government: toward a theory of government-nonprofit relations in the modern welfare state. Journal of Voluntary Action research, 16, 29-49.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Keele Sociology Students Most Satisfied in the Country

The recent National Student Survey confirmed that Keele Sociology students have an excellent experience of the programme and are the most satisfied Sociology students in the country. The University itself ranked number 1 in the county for student satisfaction. In this respect the Sociology result is a reflection of the excellent work taking place across Keele. 

We are particularly proud that Keele Sociology has been ranked first for student satisfaction, putting our rating here higher than 92 other institutions. In Sociology we have focused on learning and teaching and the student experience. We designed our programme to provide students with active, problem-solving skills, grounded in the exercise of the sociological imagination. We also appreciate that the university experience marks a transitional period in students’ lives and realise that effective learning relies on positive communication and encouragement. For this reason we try to make students feel part of a learning community and encourage them to express themselves in a positive environment. We understand that this is very important in a transitional period and are very happy that our students show such high levels of satisfaction with their experience of our programme. That our students are the most satisfied in the country tells us that we are very successful in our approach to teaching and learning.