Thursday, 26 June 2014

A Prize Winner in Criminology - the 2014 Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Essay Competition

Andrew Henley, a Graduate Teaching Assistant and PhD student in Criminology, is the winner of the 2014 Centre for Crime and Justice Studies essay competition.

As their website reports, "Entrants to this year's competition were asked to write an essay of between 1,400 and 1,600 words on what criminal justice institution, or what aspect of policy or practice, they would want to see abolished. Andrew's essay, entitled 'Abolishing the stigma of punishments served', argued for the abolition of the routine requirement to declare criminal convictions.

His essay concluded by arguing in favour of a tighter set of principles regarding disclosure that offered: 'a more proportionate, humane and legitimate system of dealing with previous convictions which would go some way to abolishing the persistent ‘non-superior’ status of former lawbreakers. Significantly, they could also play a significant role in a wider decarceration strategy because, whilst they will not address the underlying issues of social marginality and economic disadvantage which often contribute to individuals being criminalised in the first place, they may at least remove a significant barrier to those aiming to escape the ‘revolving doors’ of the criminal justice system.'

Reacting to the news Andrew said: 'I'm delighted to have won and want to extend my thanks to the judging panel. I think it's great that the competition topic was criminal justice abolition and that the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is encouraging PhD students to think of alternatives to current policies and practices.'"

Congratulations to Andrew! He will now receive a bursary to attend the British Society of Criminology Conference and his essay will be published in the centre's quarterly magazine.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Conference papers at 'The right to the city in an era of austerity', Paris

Dr Ala Sirriyeh and Dr Andrzej Zieleniec, (Sociology) recently gave papers at a conference at the Universit√© Paris Ouest Nanterre/Universit√© Paris-Sorbonne,The right to the city in an era of austerity’.

The abstracts for the papers are below.  A recent blog post about Andy’s work can be found here and the final report that Ala’s co-authored paper was based on is here.  

‘The Great Meeting Place’: Bradford’s City Park, doing regeneration differently?
Dr Nathan Manning (University of York) and Dr Ala Sirriyeh (Keele University)

Recent accounts of urban space frequently note pervasive trends which undermine public spaces: privatisation, commercialisation, securitisation and homogenisation (e.g. Hodkinson 2012, MacLeod 2002, Minton 2009, Mitchell 2003, Sennett 1974). While we accept the broad sweep of these analyses, this paper will present a case study of Bradford’s City Park which, to some extent, seems to run counter to prevailing tendencies.
City Park is a new urban space with a central interactive water feature in the centre of Bradford (West Yorkshire, UK). The park is a focal point of Bradford Council’s regeneration plan. It opened in March 2012 and despite some on-going criticism, the site has drawn thousands of people to the heart of Bradford. 

During the summer of 2013 we undertook a research study in City Park to explore how the park is used, experienced and perceived by different groups. The fieldwork involved a series of observations in City Park, interviews with park users, relevant council staff, security personnel, and businesses operating in the park.

We argue that commonly accepted principles of urban regeneration structure who has the right to the city and what activities are pertained to be acceptable. In particular, post-industrial city regeneration is often centred around appeals to commercial interests and investment and to attracting creative classes into the city (Florida 2000, Power et al. 2010). Bradford’s City Park displays some elements of these models of recovery: as an investment in physical infrastructure and the urban environment and also a site for showcasing key arts and cultural events in the centre of Bradford. However, we found the development also presents a unique regeneration pathway which deviates from renewal projects in other northern UK cities.

 ‘The Right to Write the City: Lefebvre and Graffiti’
Dr Andrzej Zieleniec (a.zieleniec@keele.ac.uk)

There is an increasing academic, artistic and practitioner literature on graffiti. It covers a range of issues (identity, youth, subculture, gender, anti-social behaviour, vandalism, gangs, territoriality, policing and crime, urban art, aesthetics, commodification, etc.).  

What they all have in common is an acknowledgement of graffiti as a quintessential urban phenomenon. However, there is a fairly limited attempt to specifically address graffiti within theories of the urban and more explicitly within conceptualisations of the complexity of produced urban space.
Lefebvre’s analysis of the city as an oeuvre, a living work of art, is linked to his ‘triad of necessary elements for the production of space’ and his ‘cry and demand’ for the ‘Right to the City’ as a means to argue that graffiti, in its various forms, styles, locations, meanings and values demonstrates features that represents Lefebvre’s assertion of the need to appropriate and use space in everyday life. In particular, it is argued that the lived experience of everyday urban space is creatively engaged with through the imaginative and artist interventions of mural, pictorial and textual graffiti to challenge dominant representations and regulation of space.
Graffiti represents a quotidian and non-commercial artistic intervention in the urban landscape. Graffiti involves knowledge and use of the urban environment and practices that challenge and contest the schemes and structures imposed by urban designers, planners and architects. It confronts and resists the restrictive political regulation and imposition of the spatial order. It offers non-commercial alternative aesthetics to the economic and financial interests who decorate the urban landscape with signage and commodity advertising. This perspective then sees graffiti in Lefebvrian terms as everyday acts in which representational space is literally created through imaginative acts that reassert through visual poesies and praxis, the right to colonise, appropriate, use and inhabit public and social space. That is, graffiti is a political as well as artistic and aesthetic exercise. An example of the creation of socially meaningful space through the reassertion and reprioritisation of use values rather than exchange values. ‘The Right to the City’ by ‘Writing the City’ through graffiti provides an urban semiotic that engenders new spatial practices and new ways of reading and understanding the urban, the city and everyday life.


Children, Collecting Experience, and the Natural Environment

By Lydia Martens, Senior Lecturer in Sociology


I have just completed the end of award report for the British Academy small grant Children, Collecting Experience, and the Natural Environment. The grant provided a budget to conduct ethnographic research on a holiday site on the North West coast of Scotland, during the summer months of 2012 and 2013. My research focused on the informal ways children learn to pay attention whilst being in the outdoor environment of this setting with family members and other children, using it as a resource in the creation of their activities. The research consisted of extensive on-site ethnographic work and focused research with seven families.


The research was intended to allow me to move my established interest in families, children and consumer culture towards the problematic of the environment. The connection between children and nature has, in recent years, very much captured the popular imagination in the UK, with regular newspaper coverage and actions initiated by nature charities (e.g. the National Trust’s Natural Childhood inquiry). In this coverage, contemporary childhood is much lamented, with claims that contemporary British children grow up with substantially fewer opportunities to explore outdoor environments compared with previous generations. These are, in turn, linked to other childhood worries, such as the growth in childhood obesity, the lack in children’s physical activity, children’s ignorance of everything ‘natural’, and the growth of a sedentary mediated consumer culture around the child. It is clear that in these ways of thinking about children and nature, consumption and consumer culture are considered a salient part (if not the actual cause) of ‘the problem’. By contrast, my study suggests that the holiday experience consumed by families on this site actively stimulates the creative engagement of children in and with this outdoor environment, and also contributes in positive ways towards the establishment of family memories and attachments to people, animals and place. It thus brings a rather different perspective to bear on these concerns.

Focusing very much on the ways in which children learn in outdoor settings, my research is significant for highlighting how this type of holiday is not only a source for learning about the social qualities of engaging with other people, important though these are. It is also a source for learning in embodied and moral ways about being in, what is in essence, an environmentally complex outdoor setting, that brings together a beach, rockpools, rocks, the sea, and a surrounding crofting community, in addition to all the creatures and vegetation that also use this location as their habitat. This environment is also subject to highly variable weather conditions, and as such, it is not unlike many other British seaside locations that attract visitors. Whilst the weather has interesting implications for activities on site, including my fieldwork, with invitations to participate in outings that ranged from canoeing trips to rockpooling, this was a fun project for me to do.

I am still thinking about the complex moral and ethical issues that arise from being in the outdoors. A substantial proportion of people on site choose to be here on a yearly basis and are very vocal about their emotional attachment to the landscape and its natural qualities. Observing the interactions of the young and old shows how children are immersed in the ‘nature’ ethics and moralities of their elders and peers. Even so, in the pursuit of fun, it was apparent that care for the environment was not always at the forefront of people’s minds. From a nature conservation perspective, the natural environment of this site is regarded as fragile. This gives rise to the tricky question how people can be in this environment in ways that are sustainable in the long run.

Together with four colleagues (Emma Surman from Keele, Elizabeth Curtis from Aberdeen and Monica Truninger from Lisbon, Portugal), I presented on the findings of this project in the context of a special session we organised on the theme of Children, Consumption and Collecting Experience, at the recent Child & Teen Consumption Conference in Edinburgh.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Immigration and Crime. A New Publication by Dr Clare Griffiths

Immigration to the UK from Central and Eastern Europe remains a topic of contention in both political and media discourse. The debate as to whether mass immigration threatens order and security has been particularly prominent in the UK press again recently with the European elections. In a recent article in The Guardian, Nigel Farage has been quoted as saying there is a direct association between Romanian immigrants and criminality. This is not a new topic though and the association of immigration with crime has a long history in not only popular discourse but also in academic literature. Sociologists and Criminologists at the University of Chicago long ago stated for example that immigration fractures effective community controls, resulting in increased crime, conflict and social disorder. Adopting the Chicago School approach, Dr Clare Griffiths carried out a research project to explore how groups in an English town respond to mass immigration from Poland and how this impacts on communities' capabilities to get together and collectively control crime and disorder.


Building on a previous publication, 'Living with Aliens' in Criminal Justice Matters, Dr Griffiths has recently published an article entitled 'Group Conflict and ‘Confined’ and ‘Collaborative’ Collective Efficacy: The Importance of a Normative Core between Immigrants and Natives in an English Town' in the Polish Sociological Review. Contrary to previous research, she shows how neighbourhoods experiencing immigration can in fact live in a conflict-free and civilised environment. Rather than placing so much emphasis on the need for new migrants to integrate and adapt to the host community, the article shows the importance of encouraging local residents to reach out and engage with newcomers. It is not necessary for groups to display dense or strong social networks with each other. What is more important is encouraging positive perceptions of local institutions who are responsible for social control (such as the local police) and encouraging the recognition of a normative consensus between diverse groups. It is these factors that can encourage collaboration in crime control activities and reduce experiences of inter-group conflict in communities experiencing immigration. 

Please get in touch with Clare if you would like to know more about this publication.   

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

‘Like’ your Existence or What is a Selfie?

by Mark Featherstone, Senior Lecturer in Sociology 


What is a selfie? Why do people take pictures of themselves and then post them on Facebook or Instagram? When I was a kid my parents took photos of me and my brother and hoarded them in biscuit tins stored in the backs of cupboards, but today we tend take as many pictures of ourselves as we do of each other. Why is this the case? If we take pictures of other people in particular situations in order to remember, why do we take pictures of ourselves? Is this in order to remember ourselves? Perhaps if we did not take pictures of ourselves in particular situations – at the beach, at a party, and so on – we might forget we were ever there. Perhaps if we did not take pictures of ourselves in banal, everyday, situations we might forget ourselves completely? We might forget we ever existed.

By nature the selfie tends to screen out the situation we find ourselves in – the distance between the hand and face means that it is only possible to capture so much background in the shot. As a result, the face, or if the photographer uses a mirror, the body, tends to dominate the shot. Thus, I’m not sure anybody takes a selfie to remember their friend’s party. Perhaps some people do, but I think the clue to the meaning of the selfie resides in the word itself – selfie. This is about the self. For this reason, I think that the majority of selfies are taken simply in order to assert the photographer / subject’s presence in the world. What does the selfie say to other people? It says ‘look at me, I am here’. This is why the celebrity, most especially the precarious celebrity, the celebrity who fears they may be forgotten tomorrow, really needs the selfie. The selfie tells everybody that they’re still around, they still exist. Of course, nobody cares about seeing a minor celebrity’s face over and over again, so what we find is that the celebrity selfie will tend to involve more and more exposure and in the end what the French writer Paul Virilio calls, over-exposure. Over-exposure is an effect of a kind of celebrity arms race – show more and more in order to try to attract more and more hits.

But what is over-exposure? Over-exposure occurs when the private sphere over-flows into public space and everything is on show. Another famous French post-modernist thinker, Jean Baudrillard, talks about this idea in terms of obscenity, which refers to a situation where what should remain off scene suddenly intrudes and flashes into view. In terms of the internet, this is exactly why hard-core pornography is obscene in Baudrillard’s use of the term – everything which would usually take place in private is here placed in full public view. We see everything.

Neither Virilio or Baudrillard place value judgements upon their ideas of over-exposure or obscenity – it’s not that they think saying too much or showing too much is morally bad, but rather that they understand that civilization has evolved through ideas of public and private discourse which are now in the process of being undermined by digital communication and social media. This is clearly problematic. What we know about Facebook, for example, is that we can very easily say too much. In a sense social media compels us to speak, to affirm our existence and our situation, to everybody and anybody who will listen. But this is problematic when what we say is not framed in the correct register – for example, when I become abusive or violent online. Or it may simply be the case that I am over-exposed in some other way that impacts upon my life in ways that I could not have foreseen or imagined. Consider a drunken night – I am photographed drunk with friends who post my image on Facebook. What impact does this have upon my future employment prospects and so on? The issue here, of course, is not that my behaviour is somehow morally offensive in itself, but rather that it becomes problematic and even deviant when it is captured, recorded, and transposed from private space into the public arena.

In response to this situation, Google recently announced ‘a right to forget’, where I can ask them to remove information relating to my name from its internet searches. In a sense this seems like a basic legal innovation relating to the right to privacy and so on, but in my view there is more at stake here connected to the reason we are ever over-exposed in the first place. There are, of course, many instances where people have had their name and image violently abused on the internet, and these people should no doubt have a ‘right to forget’, but what interests me here is the more general idea of the concept of a right to forget in the context of a technological society where it seems to me that we are desperate to remember, to the extent where we need to take photos of ourselves and post them on our Facebook pages in order to remember that we even exist.

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman tells us that we live in a liquid modern world. Everything flows, and moves very quickly, and there is no permanence about the world. Life is precarious. Paul Virilio explains that speed is the measure of all things today. We live in what he calls a dromocracy. In other words, speed is what separates the winners from the losers. Life is a race. For Virilio’s French colleague Baudrillard, our world is characterised by a blizzard of signs. Everything flows through the media. What mattered today, 12 hours ago, 6 hours ago, 3 hours ago, 20 minutes ago, is now meaningless. Old news is no news. I am sure everybody can recognise elements of this world, the post-modern world, Bauman, Virilio, and Baudrillard theorise, but what has this got to with the selfie? My view is that in the face of this lightning fast, liquid society characterised by a blizzard of signs and information, everything begins to collapse and merge into an undifferentiated flow of opinions, perspectives, and general noise. How can we make ourselves heard under these conditions? How can we convince ourselves that we matter? How can we convince ourselves that we exist? The answer is that we must take to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in order to reconstruct our world on a virtual platform which paradoxically confirms our concrete existence. Ironically, I know I exist because I can see my photograph on the Keele website. This digital image confirms my here-ness.

The problem with this is, of course, that this photo no longer really looks like me. This is a common, rather banal, complaint that we all have about our lives in photos, but the deeper meaning of this protest holds. In psychoanalysis my image is not me – it is an alienated version of me, my ego, which I use to imagine myself. This is necessary in order to give myself some sense of self, and identity over time, but it is also important that I do not begin to confuse myself with a two dimensional image, and collapse my life into some kind of virtual persona. However, it may be the case that this is exactly where we are today. We are lost in our lightning fast, liquid society, and buried in signs, symbols, ideas, and information that we cannot process, simply because of the speed which characterises their production, consumption, and redundancy. In the face of this situation, the cost of my survival is the banal practice of making myself heard and seen – I assert myself on the internet in the most basic way I can. I post a picture of my face with some snappy caption which confirms that I am an interesting person who deserves to exist or, if even this is beyond me, I simply affirm my existence without any symbolic support. Here, I simply exist because I exist – ‘here I am, and that is all’.

In his recent article in the London Review of Books, ‘On Selfies’, the writer Julian Stallabrass explains that the problem with the selfie and Instagram is that the image itself is obsolete, redundant, and subject to a kind of logic of disappearance from almost the moment it appears online. In this respect, my image disappears into obscurity the moment I upload it, and I find myself back to square one. As a result I must endeavour to transform myself into a kind of living image where I upload myself, my every thought, and every image, onto some social media platform or other in order to keep myself viable. Of course, this work, and this is work, does not come without its own costs. As we know success and over-exposure opens me up to constant surveillance by friends who sit in judgement about the value of my life, opinions, haircuts and so on. At this point, I exist, but unfortunately, I am now an object of public scrutiny. Here I exist in a kind of critical space – my existence condemns me to the possibility of violent critique.

Although the above describes the general condition of online identity, for the psychoanalyst the constant obsession with self-identity represents a particular condition - pathological narcissism or what is sometimes called narcissistic personality disorder. Named after the Greek mythological figure, Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, pathological narcissism is a reflection of ego weakness, which leads the narcissist to seek to repair their self through constant construction and reconstruction of an ideal self. Moreover, this ‘exhibitionist self’ is also prone to seek to devalue others in order to boost their own self-esteem and position in relation to everybody else. As a result, the narcissist is not only self-obsessed, but also prone to violent outbursts against others.

However, what is interesting about the current discussion is that what I have sought to suggest is that the selfie is not the result of individual pathology, where particular narcissists seek to post images of themselves all over the internet, but rather that this is somehow a general cultural condition today, caused by the nature of our high tech global society that makes us feel very small, insignificant, and almost non-existent. The result of this situation is that in a sense we all become narcissists who have to reaffirm our identity constantly. This is what I think the selfie discloses about our contemporary world. But what can we do about this condition? Against this situation, which has become as normal, bland, and banal as the selfie itself, the truly radical act would be to become less ‘other centred’. The problem with the selfie is that although we take snaps of ourselves, the purpose of these photos is to assert our existence to the world of others. Everything relies on being seen by others. The generalised other, the other out there, the other I have never met, holds the key to my existence.

Against this situation, I think a better move would be to look inwards, and affirm yourself to and for yourself. Thus, I think that what would be truly radical today would be to avoid the selfie, avoid Facebook, and avoid Twitter, and focus on true reflexivity, where you can think, and be by yourself, and no longer have to rely on the cybernetic other to ‘like’ your existence.