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An alternative Christmas message

Sometime in October stores start putting out Christmas decorations, in November they slowly begin to play festive music and by December people organise office parties and exchange festive cards.  For the best part of the last few decades these festive conventions seem to play a pivotal role in the lead up to Christmas.  There are jumpers with messages, boxes of chocolates and sweets all designed to spread some festivity around.  For those working, studying, or both, their December calendar is also a reminder of the first real break for some since summer. 

The lead up to Christmas with the music, stories and wishes continues all the way to the New Year when people seem to share their goodwill around.  Families have all sorts of traditions, putting up the Xmas tree on this day, ordering food from the grocers on that day, sending cards to friends and family by that day.  An arrangement of dates and activities.  On average every person starts in early December recounting their festive schedule. Lunch at mum’s, dinner at my brother’s, nan on Boxing Day with the doilies on the plates, New Years Eve at the Smiths where Mr Smith gets hilariously drunk and starts telling inappropriate jokes and New Year’s at the in-laws with their sour-faced neighbour.

People arrange festivities to please people around them; families reunite, friends are invited, meaningful gifts are bought for significant others and of course buy we gifts for children.  Oh, the children love Christmas! The lights, the festive arrangements, the delightful activities, and the gifts!  The newest trends, the must have toys, all shiny and new, wrapped up in beautiful papers with ribbons and bows.  In the festive season, we must not forget the kind words we exchange, the messages send by local communities, politicians and even royalty.  Words full of warmth, well-meaning, perspective and reflection.  Almost magical the sights and sounds wrapped around us for over a month to make us feel festive.

It is all too beautiful, so you can be forgiven to hardly notice the lumbering shadow, at the door of an abandoned shop.  Homelessness is not a lifestyle as despicably declared by a Conservative councillor/newspapers decades ago.  It is the human casualty of those who have been priced out in the war of life.  Even since the world went into a deep freeze due to the recession over a decade ago and the world is still in the clutches of that freeze.  More people read about Christmas stories in books and in movies, because an even increasing number of people do not share the experience.  Homelessness is the result of years of criminal indifference and social neglect that leads more people to live and experience poverty.  A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of homelessness.  There is no goodwill at the inn whilst the sins of the “father” are now returning in the continent!  Centuries of colonial oppression across the world lead to a wave of refugees fleeing exploitation, persecution, and crippling poverty.  Unlike the inn-keeper and his daughter, the roads are closed, and the passages are blocked.  Clearly, they don’t fit with the atmosphere… nor do the homeless.  Come to think of it, neither do the old people who live alone in their cold homes.  None of these fit with the festive narrative.

As I walked down a street I passed a homeless guy is curled up in a shop door.  A combination of cardboard, sleeping bag and newspapers all jumbled together.  Next to him a dog on the cardboard and around them fairy lights.  This man I do not know, his face I have not seen, his identity I ignore; but I imagine that when he was born, there was someone who congratulated his mother for having a healthy boy.  Now he is alone, fortunate to have a canine companion, as so many do not have anyone. What stands out is that this person, who our festive plans had excluded, is there with his fairy lights, maybe the most festive of all people, without a burgundy coat, I hear some people like these days.    

It is so difficult to say Merry Christmas this year.  In a previous entry the world cup and its aftermath left a bitter taste in those who believe in making a better world. The economic gap between whose who have and those who do not, increases; the social inequalities deepen but I feel that we can be like that man with the fairy lights, fight back, rise up and end the party for those who like to wear burgundy, or those who like to speak for world events, at a price.

Merry Christmas, my dear criminologists, the world can change, when we become the agents of change.    

Mundial: Why I won’t be watching the World Cup this time

It has been called the beautiful game; in the past even during war the opposing sides played a game; it has made some of its players stars and household names, football or soccer has a global appeal.  From the townships in South Africa, to the Brazilian Favelas, the makeshift pitches the world over to the highly pristine pitches in academies, kids the world over learn to kick a ball, and play the game that requires speed, agility, and dexterity in the feet.  Kids who just play for fun in an after-school club or to bond with friends.  The appeal of this game has been intertemporal. 

Generations of kids, begged their parents to stay longer out to play with their friends, asked for another ball, shoes or shorts and each family responded according to their means.  After all, football is/was a working-class game.  The relative low cost makes it accessible; it allows plenty of kids to play together and build relationships.  Football was an equaliser that did not care who you are or where you come from. 

I remember as a kid, year after year playing in the summer with the same kids in teams between Greek and Yugoslavians.  We were keeping score and the losing side was buying the other side ice-creams.  Not quite the golden ornate cup but a wager worth playing 10 games across the summer.  We called each other’s teams with the name of the country we came from.  My lasting memory was the last time we played together before the civil war in Yugoslavia erupted.  The Yugoslavians won and they were chanting “Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia”.  Those kids did not come the following summer.  In the next summer, the same kids would be carrying the flag and arms of one of the opposing sides armed to kill each other.  When football is not the game, disputes are resolved in brutality. 

In the past decades, football’s appeal made it the game to watch.  The transition to professional football made the game lucrative, some clubs acquired big budgets and of course attracted a finer audience.  The pundits, as a former footballer put it, started eating “prawn sandwiches” an indication of their more expensive tastes.  Still people stick with the sport because of their own memories and experiences.  My first ever game was with my grandfather.  We went to the stadium of the club that was to become the team I support for life.  The atmosphere, the emotional roller coaster and most importantly a shared experience with someone very dear, that even when they are gone, you carry the sounds, the emotions with you forever. 

Some footballers started earning enormous fees for playing the game; the club colours became trademarked and charged over the odds for a simple scarf or a top.  The rights to the games sold to private companies requiring people to pay subscriptions to watch a simple game.  People objected but continued still to support, although some people were priced out of the game altogether.  The game endures because it still resonates with people’s experiences.       

In particular, the national games have kept some of their original appeal of playing for your country, playing for your colours!  Football is an unpredictable sport and in international events you can have an outsider taking the cup against the odds!  Like Greece winning the UEFA Euro in 2004!  The games in international tournaments leads to knock out games, with the drama of extra time and of course the penalty shootout.  Nail biting moments shared with family and friends.  These magical moments of personal and collective elevation, as if you were there with the players, part of their effort, part of their victory. 

When the host country was announced some years ago that will be hosting this year’s world cup there were already calls for investigation into the voting process raising concerns.  Since then, there have been concerns about the safety of those who work on the infrastructure.  Thousands of migrant workers, many of whom are/were undocumented have worked in building the stadiums that the games will be played in.  There are accusations of numerous deaths of migrant workers (an estimate from The Guardian comes to a staggering 6,500 deaths).  This has raised a significant question about priorities in our world.  It is unthinkable to put a game above human life.  This was later followed by “the guidelines” to teams and visitors that alternative sexualities will not be tolerated.  Calls about respecting the host’s culture adding to the numbers of people calling for a boycott.  So why I won’t be watching this time around?

We have been talking for years about inclusivity and tolerance.  Women’s rights, LGBTQ+, immigrant rights, worker rights and all of them being trampled for the sake of a competition.  Those who have been asked about the issues from the football federation, former footballers and even governments have played down all these concerns.  In some cases, they opted for a tokenistic move like rainbow-coloured planes or include the rainbow on national team logo.  Others will be issuing rainbow bracelets and some saying that they will raise issues if/when given the opportunity.  This sounds too little considering what has happened so far especially all the fatalities caused building all the constructions.  If we are not to uphold civil rights and if we are not ready to act on them, why talk about them? 

I remember the game for being inclusive and serving to get people together; this competition is setting an incredibly horrible precedent that human life is cheap and expendable; that people’s rights are negotiable and that you can stop being who you are momentarily, because the game matters more than any of the above.  It does not!  Without rights, without respect, without life there is no game, there is nothing, because there is no humanity.  These games do not bother me, they offend me as a human being.  If people died to build this stadium then this space is not fit for games; it’s a monument to vanity and greed; hardly sportsmanlike qualities.    

The dance of the vampires

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 415565ip ) THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, 1974 VARIOUS

We value youth.  There is greater currency in youth, far greater than wisdom, despite most people when they are looking back wishing they had more wisdom in life.  Modernity brought us the era of the picture and since then we have become captivated with images.  Pictures, first black and white, then replaced by moving images, and further replaced by colour became an antidote to a verbose society that now didn’t need to talk about it…it simply became a case of look and don’t talk!

The image became even more important when people turned the cameras on themselves.  The selfie, originally a self-portrait of reclusive artists evolved into a statement, a visual signature for millions of people using it every day on social media.  Enter youth!  The engagement with social media is regarded the gift of computer scientists to the youth of today.  I wonder how many people know that one of the first images sent as a jpeg was that of a Swedish Playboy playmate the ‘lady with the feathers’.  This “captivating” image was the start of the virtual exchange of pictures that led to billions of downloads every day and social media storing an ever-expanding array of images.   

The selfie, brought with it a series of challenges. How many times can you take a picture, even of the most beautiful person, before you become accustomed to it.  Before you say, well yes that is nice, but I have seen it before.  To resolve the continuous exposure the introduction of filters, backgrounds and themes seems to add a sense of variety.  The selfie stick (banned from many museums the world over) became the equipment,  along with the tripod, the lamp and the must have camera, with the better lens in the pursue of the better selfie.  Vanity never had so many accessories!

The stick is an interesting tool.  It tells the individual nature of the selfie.  The voyage that youthful representation takes across social media is not easy, it is quite a solitary one.  In the representation of the image, youth seem to prefer.  The top “influencers” are young, who mostly like to pose and sometimes even offer some advice to their followers.  Their followers, their contemporaries or even older individuals consume their images like their ‘daily (visual) bread’.  This seems to be a continuous routine, where the influencer produces images, and the followers watch them and comment.  What, if anything, is peculiar about that? Nothing!  We live in a society build on consumption and the industry of youth is growing.  So, this is a perfect marriage of supply and demand.  Period!    

Or is it?  In the last 30 years in the UK alone the law on protecting children and their naivety from exploitation has been centre stage of several successive governments.  Even when discussing civil partnerships for same sex couples, Baroness Young, argued against the proposed act, citing the protection of children.  Youth became a precious age that needed protection and nurturing.  The law created a layer of support for children, particularly those regarded vulnerable. and social services were drafted in to keep them safe and away from harm.  In instances when the system failed, there has been public outrage only to reinforce the original notion that children and young people are to be protected in our society. 

That is exactly the issue here!  In the Criminology of the selfie!  Governments introducing policies to generate a social insulation of moral righteousness that is predicated on individual – mostly parental – responsibility.  The years of protective services and we do not seem to move passed them.  In fact, their need is greater than ever.  Are we creating bad parents through bad parenting or are people confronted with social forces that they cannot cope with?  The reality is that youth is more exposed than ever before.  The images produced, unlike the black and white photos of the past, will never fade away.  Those who regret the image they posted, can delete it from their account, but the image is not gone.  It shall hover over them for the eternity of the internet.  There is little to console and even less to help.  During the lockdown, I read the story of the social carer who left their job and opened an OnlyFans account.  These are private images provided to those who are willing to pay.  The reason this experience became a story, was the claim that the carer earned in one month of OnlyFans, more than their previous annual income.  I saw the story being shared by many young people, tagging each other as if saying, look at this.  The image that captures their youth that can become a trap to contain them in a circle of youth.  Because in life, before the certainty of death there is another one, that of aging and in a society that values youth so much, can anyone be ready to age? 

As for the declared care for the young, would a society that cares have been closing the doors to HE, to quality apprenticeships, a living wage and a place to live?  The same society that stirs emotions about protection, wants young people to stay young so that they cannot ask for their share in their future.  The social outrage about paedophiles is countered with high exposure to a particular genre in the movies and literature that promotes it.  The vampire that has been fashioned as young adult literature is the proverbial story of an (considerably) older man who deflowers a young innocent girl until she becomes infatuated with him.  The movies can be visually stunning because it involves the images of young beautiful people but there is hardly any mention of consent or care!

It is one of the greatest ironies to revive the vampire image in youth culture. A cultural representation of a male prototype that is manipulative, intruding into the lives of seemingly innocent young people who become his prey. There is something incredibly unsettling to explore the semiology of an immortal that is made through a blood ritual. A reverse Peter Pan who consumes the youth of his victims. The popularity of this Victorian literary character, originally conceived in the era of industrial advancement,at a time when modernity challenged tradition, resurfaces with other monsters at times of great uncertainty. The era of the picture has not made everyday life easier, and modernity did not improve quality of life to the degree it proclaimed. Instead, whilst people are becoming captivated by ephemera they are focused on the appearance and missing substance. An old experience man, dark, mysterious with white skin may be an appealing character in literature but in real life a someone who feeds on young people’s blood is hardly an exciting proposition.

The blood sacrifice demanded by a vampire is a metaphor of what our society requires for those who wish to retain youth and save their image into the ether of the cyberworld as a permanent Portrait of Dorian Gray.  In this context, the vampire is not only a man in power, using his privilege to dominate, but a social representation of what a consumer society places as the highest value.  It is life’s greatest irony that the devouring power of a vampire is becoming a representation of how little value we place on both youth and life!  A society focused on appearance, ignoring the substance.  Youth looking but not youth caring!   

The Origins of Criminology

The knife was raised for the first time, and it went down plunging into naked flesh; a spring of blood flowed cascading and covering all in red.  The motion was repeated several times.  Abel fell to his death and according to scriptures this was the first crime.  Cain who wielded the knife roamed the earth until his demise.  The fratricide that was committed was the first recorded murder and the very first crime.  A colleague tried to be smart and pointed that the first crime is Eve’s violation in the garden with the apple, but I did point out that according to Helena Kennedy QC, she was framed!  In the least Eve’s was a case of entrapment which is criminological but leaves the first crime vacant.  So, murder it is!  A crime of violence that separates aggressor and victim. 

The response to this crime is retribution.  In the scriptures a condemnation to insanity.  In later years this crime formed the basis of the Mosaic Law inclusive of the 10 commandments and death as the indicative punishment.  In the Ancien Régime the punishment became a spectacle on deterrence whilst the crowds denounced the evildoer as they were wheeled into the square! In modern times this criminality incorporated rehabilitation to offer the opportunity for the criminal to repent and make amends. 

‘The first man who having enclosed a piece of ground bethought himself of saying “This is mine”’!  This is an alternative interpretation of the first crime, according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762/1993: 192).  In The Social Contract he identifies the first crime very differently from the scriptures.  In this case the crime is not directed at a person but the wider community.  The usurping of land or good in any manner that violates the rights of others is crime because it places individualism ahead of the common good.  As in this crime there is no violence against the person, the way in which we respond to it is different.  Imperialism as a historical mechanism accepts the infringement of property, rights, and human rights as a necessity in human interactions.  The law here is primarily protected for the one who claims the land rather than those who have been left homeless.  In this case, crime is associated with all those mechanisms that protect privilege and property.  Soon after titles of land emerged and thereafter titles of people owning other people follow.  The land becomes an empire, and the empire allows a man and his regime to set the laws to protect him and his interests.  Traditionally empires change from territories of land to centres of government and control of people.  The land of the English, the land of the Finnish, the land of the Zulu.  In this instance the King become a figure and custom law subverts natural law to accommodate authority and power.

These two “original” crimes represent the diversity in which criminology can be seen; one end is the interpersonal psychological rendition of criminality based on the brutality of violence whilst on the other end is an exploration of wider structural issues and the institutional violence they incorporate.  The spectrum of variety criminology offers is a curse and a blessing in one.  From one end, it makes the discipline difficult to specify, but it also allows colleagues to explore so many different issues.  Regardless of the type of crime category for any person attracted to the discipline there is a criminology for all. 

Between these two polar apart approaches, it is interesting to note their interaction.  In that it can be seen the interaction of the social and historical priorities of crime given at any given time.  This historical positivism of identifying milestones of progression is an important source of understanding the evolution of social progression and movements.  Let’s face it, crime is a social construct and as such regardless of the perspective is indicative of the way society prioritises perceptions of deviance.  

Arguably the crimes described previously denote different schools of thought and of course the many different perspectives of criminology.  A perfectly contorted discipline that not only adapts following the evolution of crime but also theorises criminality in our society.  When you are asked to describe criminology, numerous associations come to mind, “the study of crime and criminality” the “discipline of criminal behaviours” “the social construction of crime” “the historical and philosophical understanding of crime in society across time” “the representation of criminals, victims, and agents in society”.  These are just a few ways to explain criminology.  In this entry we explore the origins of two perspectives; theology and sociology; image that the discipline is influenced by many other perspectives; so consider their “origin” story. How different the first crime can be from say a psychological or a biological perspective. The origins of criminology is an ongoing tale of fascinating specialisms.  

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, (1762/1993), The Social Contract and Discourses, tr. from the French by G.D.H. Cole, (London: Everyman’s Library)

Forensic science and police procedure – how the investigative process really works

This is an interesting blog on the “CSI effect” from our favourite Crime writer Vaseem; he is making some fair points worth considering before watching another crime show!

Vaseem Khan

(Article originally written for the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.)

The CSI effect. We’ve all heard the term, but perhaps only those who work in and around law enforcement and the judicial system wince with pain each time it enters their field of view. The term was coined to describe the way the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (and its various derivatives) has warped the popular perception of how forensics, crime scene investigation, and the investigative process in general, works. This warping effect has embedded itself to such an extent that some judges feel obliged to warn juries in advance that they must disregard whatever they might have gleaned from such shows when they sit at trial.

So what is myth and what is real when it comes to modern crime investigation?

Picture attribution: World Skills UK CC 2.0

First, an introduction: why am I qualified to talk…

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Protect international law

https://www.flickr.com/photos/galrinho/5410199284

In criminological discourses the term “war crime” is a contested one, not because there are no atrocities committed at war, but because for some of us, war is a crime in its own right.  There is an expectation that even in a war there are rules and therefore the violation of these rules could lead to war crimes.  This very focused view on war is part of a wider critique of the discipline.  Several criminologists including, Ruggiero, DiPietro, McGarry and Walklate, to name a few, have argued that there is less focus on war as a crime, instead war is seen more as part of a metaphor used in response to social situations. 

As far back as the 1960s, US President Johnson in his state of the union address, announced “The administration today here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America”.  What followed in the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, was seen as the encapsulation of that proclamation.  In some ways this announcement was ironic considering that the Vietnam war was raging at the time, 4 years before the well documented My Lai massacre.  A war crime that aroused the international community; despite the numbers of soldiers involved in the massacre, only the platoon leader was charged and given a life sentence, later commuted to three and a half years incarceration (after a presidential intervention).  Anyone can draw their own conclusion if the murder of approximately 500 people and the rape of women and children is reflected in this sentence.  The Vietnam war was an ideological war on communism, leaving the literal interpretation for the historians of the future. In a war on ideology the “massacre” was the “collateral damage” of the time.

After all for the administration of the time, the war on poverty was the one that they tried to fight against. Since then, successive politicians have declared additional wars, on issues namely drugs and terror. These wars are representations of struggles but not in a literal sense. In the case of drugs and terrorism criminology focused on trafficking, financing and organised crimes but not on war per se. The use of war as a metaphor is a potent one because it identifies a social foe that needs to be curtailed and the official State wages war against it. It offers a justification in case the State is accused being heavy handed. For those declaring war on issues serves by signalling their resolve but also (unwittingly or deliberately) it glorifies war as an cleansing act. War as a metaphor is both powerful and dangerous because it excuses State violence and human rights violations. What about the reality of war?

As early as 1936, W.A Bonger, recognised war as a scourge of humanity.  This realisation becomes ever more potent considering in years to come the world will be enveloped in another world war.  At the end of the war the international community set up the international criminal court to explore some of the crimes committed during the war, namely the use of concentration camps for the extermination of particular populations.  in 1944 Raphael Lemkin, coined the term genocide to identify the systemic extermination of Jews, Roma, Slavic people, along with political dissidents and sexual deviants, namely homosexuals. 

In the aftermath of the second world war, the Nuremberg trials in Europe and the Tokyo trials in Asia set out to investigate “war crimes”.  This became the first time that aspects of warfare and attitudes to populations were scrutinised.  The creation of the Nuremberg Charter and the outcomes of the trials formulated some of the baseline of human rights principles including the rejection of the usual, up to that point, principle of “I was only following orders”.  It also resulted in the Nuremberg Code that set out clear principles on ethical research and human experimentation.  Whilst all of these are worthwhile ideas and have influenced the original formation of the United Nations charter it did not address the bigger “elephant” in the room; war itself.  It seemed that the trials and consequent legal discourses distanced themselves from the wider criminological ideas that could have theorised the nature of war but most importantly the effects of war onto people, communities, and future relations. War as an indiscriminate destructive force was simply neglected.  

The absence of a focused criminological theory from one end and the legal representation as set in the original tribunals on the other led to a distinct absence of discussions on something that Alfred Einstein posed to Sigmund Freud in early 1930s, “Why war?”.  Whilst the trials set up some interesting ideas, they were criticised as “victor’s justice”.  Originally this claim was dismissed, but to this day, there has been not a single conviction in international courts and tribunals of those who were on the “victors’” side, regardless of their conduct.  So somehow the focus changed, and the international community is now engaged in a conversation about the processes of international courts and justice, without having ever addressed the original criticism.  Since the original international trials there have been some additional ones regarding conflicts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.  The international community’s choice of countries to investigate and potentially, prosecute has brought additional criticism about the partiality of the process.  In the meantime, international justice is only recognised by some countries whilst others choose not to engage.  War, or rather, war crimes become a call whenever convenient to exert political pressure according to the geo-political relations of the time.  This is not justice, it is an ad hoc arrangement that devalues the very principles that it professes to protect.   

This is where criminology needs to step up.  We have for a long time recognised and conceptually described different criminalities, across the spectrum of human deviance, but war has been left unaccounted for.  In the visions of the 19th and 20th century social scientists, a world without war was conceptualised.  The technological and social advancements permitted people to be optimistic of the role of international institutions sitting in arbitration to address international conflicts.  It sounds unrealistic, but at the time when this is written, we are witness to another war, whilst there are numerous theatres of wars raging, leaving a trail of continuous destruction.  Instead of choosing sides, splitting the good from the bad and trying to justify a just or an unjust war, maybe we should ask, “Why war”?  In relation to youth crime, Rutherford famously pondered if we could let children just grow out of crime.  Maybe, as an international community of people, we should do the same with war.  Grow out of the crime of war.  To do so we would need to stop the heroic drums, the idolisation of the glorious dead and instead, consider the frightened populations and the long stain of a violence which I have blogged about before: The crime of war     

Days to mark on our calendar!

It is common practice to have a day in the year to commemorate something.  In fact, we have months that seemed to be themed with specific events.  I look at the diary at the days/months which are full of causes, some incredibly important, others commemorating and then there are those more trivial.  Days in a year to make a mark to remind us of things.  An anniversary of events that brings something back to a collective consciousness.  Once the day/month is over, we busily prepare for the next event, month and somehow between the months and days, I cannot help but wonder; what is left after the day/month? 

When International Women’s Day was originally established, at the beginning of the 20th century, socialism was a driving political movement and women’s suffrage was one of the main social issues; since then other issues have been added whilst the main issue of equality remains on the cards.  Has women’s movement advanced through the commemoration of International Women’s Day?  Debatable if it had an impact.  Originally the day was a call for strikes and the mobilisation of women workers. Today it is a day in the calendar that allows politicians to utter platitudes about how important the day is, and of course how much we respect and love women these days!  It is hardly a representation of what it was or set out to be.  Like so many, numerous other events are marked on our calendar, but wehave lost sight of what they were originally set out to be. 

Consider the importance of a day to commemorate the Nazi Holocaust.  Never again!  The promise that such a mass crime should never happen; the recognition that genocide has no place in our respective societies.  Since that genocide, numerous others have taken place, not to mention the mass murder, violent relocations, and the massacres and ethnic cleanings that have happened since.  Somehow the “never again”, to people in Biafra, East Timor, Rwanda, Darfur, former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and many other places simply sounds ironic!  We commemorate the day, but we do not honour the spirit of that day. 

In this mixture of days and months we also have days for mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, hugs, happiness, and many other national and international events.  To commemorate or to offer a moment of reflection.  Somehow the reflection is lost and for some of these days, millions of people are required to purchase something to demonstrate that they care or worst still, to make something!  How many mothers worldwide have had to admire badly made pottery or badly drawn cards from kids who wanted to say “I love you” on one specific day.  Leaves me to wonder what they would want to say on all other days! 

So, is it better to forget them? Get rid of these days and if anyone suggests the creation of another, we feed them to crocodiles?  It would have been easy from one point to end them all.  Social issues are never easily resolved so we can recognise that a day or a month does not resolve them!  It raises awareness but it’s not the solution.  In the old days when the Olympics started there was a call for truce.  They did not allow for the games to take place whilst a war was happening.  Tokenism? Perhaps, but also the recognition that for events to have any credibility they need to go beyond words; they must have actions associated with them.  What if those actions go further than the day/month of the commemoration?  Imagine if we respect and honour women, not only on IWD but every day, imagine if we treat people with the respect, they deserve beyond BHM, LGBTQ+ months?  Maybe it is difficult but if we recognise it to be right, we ought to try.  We know that the Holocaust was a bad thing so lets not just remember it…lets avoid it from happening …Never again! 

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.           

#CriminologyBookClub: Dying in Brighton

As you know by now, a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Hence the creation of #CriminologyBookClub! Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all eight bloggers contributing! This title was the second chosen by @manosdaskalou and is our 14th book. Read on to find out what we thought….

Photograph by Paisley (age 6)

I have no profound objection to self-published books but have read only one other. The rationale for reading the first one was to proof-read/copy edit for the author. That can’t really be called reading, because you miss the story by studying the text so closely. However, I digress. The blurb for this book sounded fascinating, individual narratives heading toward one place: Brighton. Unfortunately, whilst the idea for the book was clever, the writing was overly descriptive and at times, turgid. There is no space for the reader to imagine the characters or the places, everything is told in minute detail. There is a clear attempt to be inclusive with the choice of characters, but they are largely one-dimensional and lack authenticity. The final character talks about his supposed lack of representation as a white man in Brighton (with a white population of 90%) and at that point, I lost what little interest remained. In feminist circles, the question “what would a mediocre white man do?” is prevalent, a possible response could be; write this book. The only positive I have to offer is the support offered by sales to Shelter.

@paulaabowles

The format and style of the book was unlike anything I had read before: and I really liked it. The characters were full of life: a life riddled with inequalities, harm and pain. Unlike other reads where I have failed to feel anything for the characters (or anything other than a serious dislike), Dying in Brighton evoked a number of emotions from myself towards the people in the book. However these emotions were left in a sort of vacuum, with myself feeling very ‘meh’ at the end of the book. I was disappointed with the final chapter. Whilst I can appreciate the ending and the manner in which it is told, I did not like it. I wanted to know more about how Akeem, Nicola, Wasim, Lori and Paul got to the end they got to. Considering the ‘end result’ and my emotions from the previous chapters, I feel I should have had a more powerful response to the end: but I did not. The short snippets were not enough for me: and I feel that the last chapter does not do their stories or their lives justice. Despite this, I would recommend!

@jesjames50

The title Dying in Brighton does not leave much to the imagination. I am glad that the purchase of this book supports a charity. Unfortunately, I found this book to be problematic. I did not understand his selection of characters or how their stories linked. The book reads as though a heterosexual white man who is not disabled is congratulating the white men characters within the book for being friends with people who are migrants or LGBT. There is even a point where a character feels ‘underrepresented’ as a white man…I skimmed the book as I am sick of hearing similar to this in reality.  

@haleysread

This is a book that definitely divided the book club and I have to say the comments were by far more negative than positive. For my part, I found the narrative interesting in a strange sort of way.  I didn’t find myself labouring on the description and attributes of the characters but rather took in an overall sense of ordinary people that were troubled and in trouble for some reason or another and therefore found themselves gravitating to Brighton; in fairness they could have gone anywhere. The book didn’t take long to read, and the narrative ends rather abruptly but I think that is probably the point.  The book left me with a sense of sadness, and it reminded me that homeless people are real people with real lives and yet are very often invisible in our society.  Would I read something from the same author again, probably not? Would I recommend the book, probably not, but it did hit a mark somewhere along the line?

@5teveh

This book was a very quick read. Each chapter presented a very stereotypical view of a member of every marginalised group you can think of – a refugee, a trans woman, a troubled teenage girl. The book ended with a chapter about a rich white man with houses all over the world, finding himself feeling like he wasn’t represented. It turns out – spoiler alert – that all the marginalised people went to Brighton, became homeless and died. At the end a woman was selling craftwork with each of the dead, marginalised homeless person’s face. Now I can see how, to a critical criminologist, all this is problematic to say the least. However, the book carried a message that homeless people are invisible. People walk past them every day without a second glance. The author also donated profits of the book to Shelter so it was for a good cause. So, although the book was heavily criticised during our discussion, for people in many walks of life I’d like to think the book would quite literally open their eyes and say hello to a person living on the streets.

@amycortvriend

This book centres around 5 different characters and their life experiences and choices that lead them to Brighton. When I first read the blurb, I assumed this book would take me on a thought-provoking journey about individuals that could be seen as outsiders within society, and how their stories are interwoven. What was thought provoking for me was how the representation of individuals can be so wrong. Throughout the book I was distracted by the problematic ways in which the characters were portrayed. I didn’t like the hyper sexualisation of Lori, I felt like this was an attempt to explore transgender issues without any understanding of transgender issues… it was tasteless and done from a male gaze. I also didn’t like the lack of context and understanding of refugees, this exploration was very tone deaf and seemed informed by how the ‘Western world’ views refugees. Usually when reading a book I have some emotion to the characters, however I felt far removed from all the characters and their stories. At the end of the book I also felt like the stories of the five individuals were rushed, there was no back story to why or how they had died in Brighton just that they were dead. I don’t know what angle the author was going for but for me the ending fell flat.

@svr2727

This book sounded very promising and I usually really enjoy short stories about very different characters and their experiences and how they converge but this book was disappointing in so many ways. Obviously being self-published meant that it wasn’t as polished as it could’ve been and I find little mistakes to spelling and punctuation really distracting from a story. I wish this was my only complaint! The characters were badly written caricatures – you got the sense that the author had never spent any time with anyone from those backgrounds and that perhaps he wasn’t the right person to be telling these stories. The most authentic chapter of the book was the final one where the narrator (a successful white man) feels that he isn’t represented! Easily the worst book I’ve ever read.

@saffrongarside

This is an anthology of different stories of people in very adverse circumstances all of whom are heading to Brighton. In most cases it is not clear why they are heading that way and what they hope from their move there. The short stories are independent from each other and there is no obvious connection between them. Each story explores a different character faced with different issues from abuse, sexuality and substance use. It sends out a signal of some of the social vulnerabilities people are exposed; this however is done as a matter of fact not exploring the social dimensions of the situation. The end brings the stories together but for me this was unsatisfactory. This book has a great idea, an interesting layout but its execution does not meet the goal. The stories are interesting but some of them feel a bit rushed; more character development would have allowed the reader to get closer to the situation and the social issues the author wants to alert people to. As I read it, I thought that some of the stories read more like vignettes that we use in exercises or training for making people aware of certain problems. In terms of literary merit, these are not quite there.

@manosdaskalou
Photograph by Paisley (age 6)

Prison education: why it matters?

Five year ago, Dame Sally Coates released an independent report on prison education. Recently the Chief Inspector for Ofsted, Amanda Spielman and The HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, made a joint statement reflecting on that report.  Their reflections are critical on the lack of implementation of the original report, but also of the difficulties of managing education in prison especially at a time of a global pandemic.  The lack of developing meaningful educational provision and delivering remote teaching led to many prisoners without sufficient opportunity to engage with learning.   

In a situation of crisis such as the global pandemic one must wonder if this is an issue that can be left to one side for now, to be reviewed at a later stage.  At the University of Northampton, as an educational institution we are passionate about learning opportunities for all including those incarcerated.  We have already developed an educational partnership with a local prison, and we are committed to offer Higher Education to prisoners.  Apart from the educational, I would add that there is a profound criminological approach to this issue.  Firstly, I would like to separate what Dame Coates refers to as education, which is focused on the basic skills and training as opposed to a university’s mandate for education designed to explore more advanced ideas. 

The main point to both however is the necessity for education for those incarcerated and why it should be offered or not.  In everyday conversations, people accept that “bad” people go to prison.  They have done something so horrible that it has crossed the custody threshold and therefore, society sends them to jail.  This is not a simple game of Monopoly, but an entire criminal justice process that explores evidence and decides to take away their freedom.  This is the highest punishment our society can bestow on a person found guilty of serious crimes.  For many people this is appropriate and the punishment a fitting end to criminality.  In criminology however we recognise that criminality is socially constructed and those who end up in prisons may be only but a specific section of those deemed “deviant” in our society.  The combination of wrongdoing and socioeconomic situations dictate if a person is more or less likely to go to prison.  This indicates that prison is not a punishment for all bad people, but some.  Dame Coates for example recognises the overrepresentation of particular ethnic minorities in the prison system. 

This raises the first criminological issue regarding education, and it relates to fairness and access to education.  We sometimes tend to forget that education is not a privilege but a fundamental human right.  Sometimes people forget that we live in a society that requires a level of educational sophistication that people with below basic levels of literacy and numeracy will struggle.  From online applications to job hunting or even banking, the internet has become an environment that has no place for the illiterate.  Consider those who have been in prison since the late 1990s and were released in the late 2010s.  People who entered the prison before the advancement of e-commerce and smart phones suddenly released to a world that feels like it is out of a sci-fi movie. 

The second criminological issue is to give all people, regardless of their crimes, the opportunity to change.  The opportunity of people to change, is always incumbent on their ability to change which in turn is dependent on their circumstances.  Education, among other things, requires the commitment of the learner to engage with the learning process.  For those in prison, education can offer an opportunity to gain some insight that their environment or personal circumstances have denied them.      

The final criminological issue is the prison itself.  What do we want people to do in them?  If prison is to become a human storage facility, then it will do nothing more than to pause a person’s life until they are to be released.  When they come out the process of decarceration is long and difficult.  People struggle to cope and the return to prison becomes a process known as “revolving doors”.  This prison system helps no one and does nothing to resolve criminality.  A prison that attempts to help the prisoners by offering them the tools to learn, helps with the process of deinstitutionalisation.  The prisoner is informed and aware of the society they are to re-join and prepares accordingly.  This is something that should work in theory, but we are nowhere there yet.  If anything, it is far from it, as read in Spielman and Taylor’s recent commentary.  Their observations identify poor quality education that is delivered in unacceptable conditions.  This is the crux of the matter, the institution is not really delivering what it claims that is does.  The side-effect of such as approach is the missed opportunity to use the institution as a place of reform and change. 

Of course, in criminological discourse the focus is on an abolitionist agenda that sees beyond the institution to a society less punitive that offers opportunities to all its citizens without discrimination or prejudice.  This is perhaps a different topic of conversation.  At this stage, one thing is for sure; education may not rehabilitate but it can allow people to self-improve and that is a process that needs to be embraced.  

 

References

Coates, S. (2016), Unlocking Potential: A review of education in prisons, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-potential-a-review-of-education-in-prison

Spielman, A. and Taylor, C. (2021), Launching our Prison Education Reviewhttps://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/launching-our-prison-education-review

Originally published here

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