Thoughts from the criminology team

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Colston, the toppling of a pejorative narrative

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-the-uk/how-statues-in-britain-began-to-fall

The acquittal of the four defendants for their role in the toppling of Edward Colston in Bristol has created an interesting debate and in some, more right-wing quarters, fury.  In an interview following the verdict Boris Johnson stated we cannot seek to “retrospectively change our history

But what history is he talking about, the one where this country was heavily involved in slavery or some other history around Empire and ‘jolly hockey sticks and all that sort of thing’?  

History tells us that this country’s empire, like all empires significantly benefited from its conquests to the detriment of those conquered.  Although if you watch the Monty Python film The Life of Brian, the right of the political spectrum might find some comfort in the sketch that starts with ‘What have the Romans ever done for us’?  This country’s history is complex more so because it is a shared history with its own inhabits and those of other countries across most of the world.  A history of slaves and slave traders.  A history of rich and powerful and poor and powerless. A history of remapping of countries, redefining of borders, of the creation of unrest, uncertainty and chaos.  A history of theft, asset stripping, taking advantage and disempowerment. As well as a history of standing up to would be oppressors.  It is a complex history but not one that is somehow rewritten or removed by the toppling of a statue of a slave trader.

The tearing down of the statue is history. It is a fact that this country’s so called great and good of the time were tarnished by a despicable trade in human misery.  The legacy of that lives on to this day. Great and good then, not so now, in fact they never were, were they? It may be questionable whether the circumstances of the removal of the statue were right, hence the charges of criminal damage. It might be questionable whether the verdict given by the jury was right, but surely this isn’t about changing history, it is about making it.

There are suggestions that the verdict may be referred to a higher authority, perhaps the Supreme Court.  It appears right that there was a case to answer, and it seems right that the jury were allowed to deliver the verdict they did. There is nothing perverse in this, nothing to challenge, due process has taken place and the people have spoken. The removal of the statue was not criminal damage and therefore was lawful.

If a statue is an affront to the people of a locality, then they should be able to have it removed. If is such an affront to common decency, then the only people guilty of an offence are those that failed to remove it in the first place.  Of course, it is more complex than that and perhaps the bigger question is why this didn’t happen sooner?

It would seem fitting to replace the statue with something else. Something perhaps that shows that slowly people of this country are waking up to the country’s past, well at least some of them. A statue that commemorates a new beginning, that acknowledges the country’s true past and points the way to a far more humane future for all.  No Mr Johnson, we shouldn’t try to rewrite or obliterate history, we just need to change the way it written and stop ignoring the truth.    

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-57350650

Meet the Team: Dan Petrosian, Lecturer in Criminology

Hi all! My name is Dan Petrosian and I have recently joined the Criminology team as a Lecturer. I also teach at The Open University where I am a member of the Harm & Evidence Research Collaborative, and have previously taught at Croydon University Centre and University of Westminster, where I am part of the Convict Criminology Research Group. Currently I am still working on my PhD with the aim of submitting later this year.

Having thought initially about studying law for my undergraduate degree, I couldn’t imagine the prospect of spending 3-4 years of my life trawling through pages on Corporate and Tort Law to eventually specialise in an area I was really interested in. Just as well…studying Criminology from a critical and holistic angle, it became clear to me that Law was never really my area of interest at all. Almost instantly, I knew Criminology was where life would take me for the long-haul. The ‘common-sense’ and ‘taken-for-granted’ narrative about crime/criminality that I had long been accustomed to suddenly looked flawed…and, in many ways, deliberately tilted towards those who had the power to set the narrative. Over the years, I became particularly interested in how this power manifests itself in different areas of society, how it is exercised through the use of ‘video activism’ and the media in general, and how language and discourse is used in order to shape collective stereotypes about some groups but not others.

My PhD focusses specifically on racial (in)justice; how dominant mainstream media and political discourse is used to ‘frame’ immigration, how this is then challenged by the broader anti-racist movement in the UK through the use of ‘video activism’, and what types of knowledge are produced from this process which can help us understand the complex power interplay between the state and those within its borders. It would be amazing to meet and work with other academics interested in these areas of research!

Although I still have deeply-rooted Imposter Syndrome from having migrated to the UK in the 90s without speaking a word of English and trying to ‘fit in’, studying and working in higher education has taught me that there is always a gap that can be filled at the right time in the right place…a gap that can flip every self-critical flaw into momentary virtue. Joining the Criminology team at Northampton has become part of my learning curve, and I am very much looking forward to working closely with the team and meeting all our students when teaching starts this semester!

Yanking the Lion’s tail: Sir-Prized, not

Sir Tony Blair was made a knight of the garter in the Queen’s New Years Honours list. Photograph: Tolga Akmen (via The Times)

With the announcement of the Queen’s New Years Honours, it’s that time of year where I do my (sometimes) twice yearly blog on the Honours system. In this round (like every round), we have seen many recieve accolades simply for being famous! Yet, a gong for former-PM Tony Blair is something that upset many, with over half a million people signing a petition to revoke it. However, is Tony Blair’s appointment as a ‘Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter’ so terrible? When we look at the sorts of people that have recieved this historically, his name sits alongside the likes of Sir Winston Churchill. And whilst he was voted the Greatest Briton by the British public in 2002, his name is tainted against histories of colonial brutality in the Global South. As Shashi Tharoor writes:

“… by the time [The Bengal Famine] ended, nearly 4 million … starved to death … Nothing can excuse the odious behaviour of Winston Churchill, who deliberately ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere. ‘The starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious’ than that of ‘sturdy Greeks’, he argued. Grain for the Tommies, bread for home consumption in Britain (27 million tonnes of imported grains, a wildly excessive amount), and generous buffer stocks in Europe (for yet-to be-liberated Greeks and Yugoslavs) were [his] priorities, not the life or death of his Indian subjects. When reminded of the suffering of his victims his response was typically Churchillian: The famine was their own fault, he said, for ‘breeding like rabbits’ . When officers of conscience pointed out in a telegram to the prime minister the scale of the tragedy caused by his decisions, Churchill’s only reaction was to ask peevishly: ‘why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?'” (p160).

Extracted from: Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor

King Leopold II of Belgium most famous for using Congo as his own private playground (violently so with an estimated 5-15 million dead Congolese), recieved the same knighthood. Rewarding statesmen, diplomats and the like who have violently checkered pasts is completely and unequivocally in character for the British state. However, while I do understand the outrage to Blair’s knighthood, I question why there is not as much outrage to the system at large that glorifies the British Empire and colonialism? Sure, be outraged, but the same anger is a little quiet at the Honours system in general.

Concurrently, the arrival of COVID-19 and the allocation of senior COVID jobs is a reminder to me of how power is transferred in the UK. The shredding of the NHS by the government in favour of an American-style system that puts profit ahead of access to healthcare is unshocking when we see the relationship between Honours and big jobs, and who gets projected into them. For example, at the start of the pandemic former-TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding was tasked by PM Boris Johnson to lead the Track-and-Trace system. Harding was a good friend of former-PM David Cameron who made her a life peer in 2014, and her grandfather Sir John Harding was knighted for quashing anti-colonial insurgencies in the 1950s.

An acceptance or declination of a state honour will always be politicised, but it warrants saying that numerous legitimate achievements are also interlocked with an alleged corrupt system of merit. For Global Majority people, in my opinion, it still feels that being included into the establishment is an indicator of how our Britishness is temporary – while being included into white proximities of power is viewed as the ‘magnum opus’ of achievement. And for people like me with immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents that moved from those English colonies (as they were at the time), colonial honourifics allow whiteness to harden. As Guilaine Kinouani writes:

“Although [respectability and assimilation] may provide temporary escape and possibly material gain and conditional access to structures of power, they produce white supremacy and such breed further shame and self-alienation. Self-contempt, disdain and scorn were not merely accidental by-products of colonialism – they were manufactured, deliberate colonial weapons to fortify whiteness and reduce resistance” (p56).

Extracted from: Living White Black by Guilaine Kinouani (2021)

While there is the fact of ordinary people’s social investment into the monarchy and empire via Honours, the rewarding of people like Tony Blair revisits how colonial footsoldiers have been rewarded by the British state. Historically, Blair sits alongside not only King Leopold II and Churchill, but also … Lord Kitchener following his ‘services‘ during the Boer conflict in South Africa. Further to Sir Evelyn Baring who was Governor of Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprisings in the 1950s. Baring is the grandfather-in-law of PM Boris Johnson’s former-aid Dominic Cummings. Thus when I think about Honours, Blair’s knighthood is very in character for a country that has rewarded those that serve the inhumanity of the state.

During the Mau Mau Uprisings: Kenya, 1952 (Photo: Popperfoto / Getty Images / The Guardian)

In a broadcast for Double Down News, Byline Times editor Peter Jukes said “it is illegal to solicit Honours / peerages in return for donations but … you are highly likely to get [one] – in fact 55% of those who donated more than £1.5m [to the Conservative Party] get an honour or a peerage.” Meanwhile both Tony Blair and David Cameron were previously challenged for tapping their mates for Honours, showing this system is intertwined with political dynamics across parties. And while educators that have taken empire medals pontificate about whiteness, decolonising the curriculum, and the rest (ahem), one must ask if we will ever have lasting change. What was it Audre Lorde said about masters’ tools and masters’ houses?

So, I think equity would be to go further than curriculum. That means ordinary folks will need to let go of some of those privileges … including honourifics to those days of pillage and plunder. Are we ready for that?

Merry Christmas

“Merry Christmas”, a seasonal greeting dating back in 1534 when Bishop John Fisher was the first on record to write it.  Since then across the English-speaking world, Merry Christmas became the festive greeting to mark the winter festive season.  Although it marks a single day, the greeting relates to an entire season from Christmas Eve to the 12th night (eve of the epiphany).  The season simulates the process of leading to the birth, circumcision and the baptism of Jesus.  Like all births, there is an essential joy in the process, which is why in the middle of it there is the calendar change of the year, to mark more clearly the need for renewal.  At the darkest time of the year, for the Northern hemisphere the anticipation of life and lights to come soon.  Baby Jesus becomes an image of piety immortalised in numerous mangers in cities around the world.        

The meaning is primarily religious dating back to when faith was the main compass of moral judgment.  In fact, the celebrations were the last remnants of the old religion before the Romans established Christianity as the main faith.  The new religion brought some changes, but it retained the role of moral authority.  What is right and wrong, fair and unfair, true and false, all these questions were identified by men of faith who guided people across life’s dilemmas.  There is some simplicity in life that very difficult decisions can be referred to a superior authority, especially when people question their way of living and the social injustice they experience.  A good, faithful person need not to worry about these things, as the greater the suffering in this life, the greater the happiness in the afterlife.  Marx in his introduction to Hegel’s philosophy regarding religion said, “Die Religion ist das Opium des Volkes”, or religion is the opium of the people.  His statement was taken out of context and massively misquoted when the main thrust of his point was how religion could absorb social discontent and provide some contentment. 

Faith has a level of sternness and glumness as the requirement to maintain a righteous life is difficult.  Life is limited by its own existence, and religion, in recognition of the sacrifices required, offers occasional moments for people to indulge and embrace a little bit of happiness.  When religious doctrine forgot happiness, people became demoralised and rebellious.  A lesson learned by those dour looking puritans who banned dancing and singing at their own peril!  Ironically the need to maintain a virtuous life was reserved primarily for those who were oppressed, the enslaved, the poor, the women, many others deemed to have no hope in this life.  The ones who lived a privileged life had to respond to a different set of lesser moral rules.       

People, of course, know that they live in an unjust society regardless of the time; whether it is an absolute monarchy or a representative republic.  Regardless of the regime, religion was there to offer people solace in despair and destitution with the hope of a better afterlife. Even in prisons the charitable wealthy will offer a few ounces of meat and grain for the prisoners to have at least a festive meal on Christmas Day.  Traditionally, employers will offer a festive bonus so that employees can get a goose for the festive meal, leaving those who didn’t to be visited by the ghosts of their own greed, as Dickens tells us in a Christmas carol.  At that point, Dickens concerned with dire working conditions and the oppression of the working classes subverts the message to a social one. 

By the time we move to the age of discovery, we witness the way knowledge conflicts with faith and starts to question the existence of afterlife…but still we say Merry Christmas!  There is a recognition that the message now is more humanist, social and even family focused rather than a reaffirmation of faith.  So, the greeting may have remained the same, but it could symbolise something quite different.  If that is the case, then our greeting today should mean, the need to embrace humanity to accept those around us unconditionally, work and live in the world fighting injustices around.  “Merry Christmas” and Speak up to injustices.  Rulers and managers come and go; their oppression, madness and tyranny are temporary but people’s convictions, collectivity and fortitude remain resolute.     

Christmas is meant to be a happy time full of joy, wonder and gifts.  Lights in the streets, cheerful music in the shops, a lot of good food and plenty of gifts.  This is at least the “official” view; which has grown to become such an oppressive event for those who do not share this experience.  There are people who this festive season live alone, and their social isolation will become even greater.  There are those who live in abusive relationships.  There are children who instead of gifts will receive abuse.  There are people locked up feeling despair; traditionally in prisons suicide rates go rocket high at the festive season.  There are those who live in such conditions that even a meal is a luxury that they cannot afford every day.  There are who live without a shelter in cold and inhuman conditions.  These are people to whom festivities come as a slap in the face, in some cases even literal, to underline the continuous unfairness of their situation.   

 Most of us may have read “the little match girl” as kids.  A story that let us know of the complete desperation of those people living in poverty.  A child, like the more than a million children every year that die hoping until the very end.  The irony is that for many millions of people around the world conditions have not changed since the original publication of the story back in mid-19th century.  During this Christmas, there will be a child in a hospital bed, a child with a family of refugees crossing at sea, or a child working in the most inhuman conditions.  Millions of children whose only wish is not a gift but life.  The unfairness of these conditions makes it clear that “Merry Christmas” is not enough of a greeting.  So, either we need to rebrand the wish or change its meaning!         

The Criminology Team would like to wish “Social Justice” for all; our colleagues who fight for the future, our students who hope for a better life, our community that wishes for a better tomorrow, our world who deals with the challenges of the environment and the pandemic.  Diogenes the Cynic used to carry a lantern around in search of humans; we hope that this winter you have the opportunity (unlike Diogenes) to find another person and spend some pleasant moments together.           

Poetry on prisons

Recently in CRI3001 Crime and Punishment we’ve been exploring prison poetry drawn from the volumes published by the fantastic Koestler Arts (some examples and inspiration can be found here). Students were inspired by this to write their own poems on prison and you will find some excellent examples below.

Moonlight

I sing to all of the spiders on the wall
They comfort me from my fear of the unknown
All the sounds outside as I lay here petrified
Of the consequences that lay ahead

Time is far behind my state of mind
Deprived myself of the will to fight
For peaceful nights

Noran

Moving on

Longing for the past,

Wanting to go back,

To change our future.

Living with regret,

Feeling sorry for hurting you,

Living in isolation,

Needing to hear from you.

Wondering if you’re doing well,

Do you remember me?

Are you moving on?

Do you like it?

Living on the outside?

Outside of these four walls.

These grey walls entrap me,

Every day I feel smaller.

Unimportant. I’m suffocating.

I hope the world hasn’t changed.

I hope everything stays the same.

So that one day, maybe

I could come back to you

Danique

Trapped,

Between four walls for life.

Non-existent,

I am but a shadow of my past self.

Detached,

No amount of WIFI can ever reconnect what was lost.

A

Prisoner’s Perspective

Prison is an escape, prison is a relief, prison is warm, prison is secure. Prison is easier than the cold, sleepless, torrid nights. Prison is not a punishment. Prison is a consolation.

Prison is lonely, prison is isolated. Prison does not help; it does not rehabilitate. Prison stops the time. Prison fails us.

Prison is opportunistic, prison allows me to be a leader, prison allows people to live in fear of me. Something I never was in the outside world.

Prison isn’t a one fits all, prison is individualised offender to offender. Does prison work? Is Prison effective? Is prison the way forward?

Saiya

I Created This

Pulled up and stopped

Big iron gates spiked with fear and dread

he shouts “Clear” and gates open

with rumbling vibration

Why does this feel like the beginning of the end

Queueing quietly waiting turn for changing clothing

Wishing the view was slightly different

This is my home, the world is now distant

Showers cold and beds so hard

Waiting for the order from the guards

“Dinner served” I hear them shout

Hoping it’s not just bland

Thinking about roast dinners

This is my life, I created this

Given the chance, time and again,

But now this is my life, I created this

SKM

Poetry and other forms of literature offer the opportunity to explore criminological issues in a different medium. They allow for ideas to develop in a more natural way than academic conventions usually allow. As you can see from the poems above, our students rose to the challenge and embraced the opportunity to think differently about Criminology.

Meet the Team: Tré Ventour, Student Success Mentor and Associate Lecturer in Criminology

Photo Credit: Kelly Cooper Photography

Hello everyone. My name is Tré and I will be one of the student success mentors [SSMs] starting from December 2021. Some of the now third-year criminology students reading this may remember me from when I attended some sessions within my role as a student union sabbatical officer (2019-2020) in their first year. However, as an SSM, I have previously been in some of the same situations many students have as I was also a student at the university (2016-2019).

The BTEC / A-Level-to-University pipeline can be challenging, but not impossible to navigate while the transition from school to university, is a social and cultural change that takes getting used to. Particularly the codes of acting and being so ingrained in university learning and working cultures.

I did my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Northampton. But I did my postgraduate degree in a completely different area of study — reading Race, Education, and Decolonial Thought within Leeds Beckett’s Centre for Race, Education, and Decoloniality. My academic interests are in race and social inequalities (but I previously used creative writing to discuss it), with my undergraduate dissertation being Permission to Speak: On Race, Identity, and Belonging. Furthermore, lots of my experience comes from the many talks I have done on Black history and race (including whiteness), further to the social investments I have in the local Northampton community where I grew up. Most recently, I am co-leading a Windrush project with a charity called NorFAMtoN built off an earlier largely Black community-led response to inequalities exasperated from issue relating to the COVID-19 pandemic (a project that is ongoing).

In 2018, I started using my knowledge on race to help organisations and that started with a theatre company called Now and Then Theatre where I was consultant on their play about Walter Tull. This took place in Buckingham and Northants. I became a student union sabbatical officer for Global Majority students in June 2019 where more questions about race occured. Leaving that role in July 2020, the overlap with the murder of George Floyd also saw more questions. And though I had done this sort of work prior to that summer, this time saw me and many of my colleagues being asked to do things where I have been freelancing as a race and Black history educator more consistently since September 2020.

Yet, I fell into criminology (as a sabbatical officer) when criminology programme leads @manosdaskalou and @paulaabowles contacted me to discuss my SU role, possibly in the July or August 2019. Unknown to me then, lots of the work I had done in the community including the types of poetry events I did (could be considered criminological). Over my year in the student union, I did think a lot about what my life would have been like had I done a creative writing-criminology joint honours degree rather than single honours creative writing. Anyhow, enough of whatifs. My life with the team since meeting Paula and Manos has not been the same, as they and Stephanie (@svr2727) convinced to go for my MA.

One of the poetry events I hosted during the lockdowns, exploring whiteness / white supremacy

I didn’t study criminology in a formal capacity, but in terms of understanding crime — race and thus whiteness certainly have roles (which is my area). Criminology via many conversations with the team, pertinently interacting with Paula’s module on violence (and engaging with these students when I was sabb), showed me a context for my institutional experiences at university and elsewhere. Criminology simply added more layers to my understandings of the world. As an artist, I find criminology to be multidisciplinary informing some of my poetry as what happened when I went to Onley Prison in February 2020 showing criminology’s relevance in life beyond theory (as valuable as theory is).

As an artist, I try to approach as much as possible with an open-mind. Yet, as an academic as well, I also try my best to think how the issues we teach also have a human cost. For example, we must not only talk about violence as a purely academic matter. The decisions we make can have consequences. So, here then in your study time, I encourage you to think about the human cost of research (as there is both good and bad). Remember, there is no such thing as ‘being objective’ (there’s always a perspective or an agenda … see what I did there?). Debate with your lecturers, but more importantly debate with each other.

As an SSM, my role is about helping all students. Those that are just starting and also students that have been here for a while. I am here to help students that study at Northampton, including those who came straight from school all the way to those that came to university after a working career before going back to study. However, as an associate lecturer, I’m here specifically for criminology students.

My name is Tré and will be back at the university on a part-time basis starting from December 2021, and I look forward to meeting you all very soon! 😀


More on me here – https://linktr.ee/treventoured

The Suffering of Pride, Excerpt from The Art of Communicating

Striking is a criminological matter

You may have noticed that the University and College Union [UCU] recently voted for industrial action. A strike was called from 1-3 December, to be followed by Action Short of a Strike [ASOS], in essence a call for university workers to down tools for 3 days, followed by a strict working to contract. For many outside of academia, it is surprising to find how many hours academics actually work. People often assume that the only work undertaken by academics is in the classroom and that they spend great chunks of the year, when students are on breaks, doing very little. This is far from the lived experience, academics undertake a wide range of activities, including reading, writing, researching, preparing for classes, supervising dissertation students, attending meetings, answering emails (to name but a few) and of course, teaching.

UCU’s industrial action is focused on the “Four Fights“: Pay, Workload, Equality and Casualisation and this campaign holds a special place in many academic hearts. The campaign is not just about improving conditions for academics but also for students and perhaps more importantly, those who follow us all in the future. What kind of academia will we leave in our wake? Will we have done our best to ensure that academia is a safe and welcoming space for all who want to occupy it?

In Criminology we spend a great deal of time imagining what a society based on fairness, equity and social justice might look like. We read, we study, we research, we think, and we write about inequality, racism, misogyny, disablism, homophobia, Islamophobia and all of the other blights evident in our society. We know that these cause harm to individuals, families, communities and our society, impacting on every aspect of living and well-being.  We consider the roles of individuals, institutions and government in perpetuating inequality and disadvantage. As a theoretical discipline, this runs the risk of viewing the world in abstract terms, distancing ourselves from what is going on around us. Thus it is really important to bring our theoretical perspectives to bear on real world problems. After all there would be little point in studying criminology, if it is only to see what has happened in the past.

Criminology is a critique, a question not only of what is but might be, what could be, what ought to be. Individuals’ behaviours, motivations and reactions and institutional and societal responses and actions, combine to provide a holistic overview of crime from all perspectives. It involves passion and an intense desire to make the world a little better. Therefore it follows that striking must be a criminological matter. It would be crass hypocrisy to teach social justice, whilst not also striving to achieve such in our professional and personal lives. History tells us that when people stand up for themselves and others, their rights and their future, things can change, things can improve. It might be annoying or inconvenient to be impacted by industrial action, it certainly is chilly on the picket line in December, but in the grand scheme of things, this is a short period of time and holds the promise of better times to come.

Workplace Stress

There is comfort in knowing that there is shared experience

UCU Northampton

So, Northampton, why are we striking over the Four Fights of pay, equality, workload and casualisation? UCU explains here:

The Four Fights dispute is about demanding fair treatment for staff across the sector and a comprehensive remedy for the way in which your working conditions have been undermined over the past decade.  

The combination of pay erosion, unmanageable workloads and the widespread use of insecure contracts has undermined professionalism and made the working environment more stressful for staff.  

The average working week in higher education is now above 50 hours, with 29% of academics averaging more than 55 hours. A UCU survey conducted in December 2020 saw 78% of respondents reporting an increased workload during the pandemic. 

The pay gap between Black and white staff is 17%. The disability pay gap is 9%. The mean gender pay gap is 15.1% and at the current rate of change it will not be closed for another 22 years. 

Finally, workload, pay inequality and…

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UCU Strike 1-3 December 2021

More information around the University and College University [UCU] and the Four Fights Dispute can be found here.

Information about the Northampton branch of UCU can be found here and here.

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