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Criminology First Week Activity (2021)

Winning posters 2021, from L to R: Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3

Before embarking on a new academic year, it is always worth reflecting on previous years. In 2020, the first year we ran this activity, it was a response to the challenges raised by the Covid-19 pandemic and was designed to serve two different aims. The first of these, was of course, academic, we wanted students to engage with a activity designed to explore real social problems through visual criminology, inspiring the criminological imagination for the year ahead. Second, we were operating in an environment that nobody was prepared for: online classes, limited physical contact, mask wearing, hand sanitising, socially distanced. All of these made it very difficult for staff and students to meet and to build professional relationships. The team needed to find a way for people to work together safely, within the constraints of the Covid legislation of the time and begin to build meaningful relationships with each other.

The start of the 2021/2022 academic year had its own pandemic challenges with many people still shielding, others awaiting covid vaccinations and the sheer uncertainty of going out and meeting people under threat of a deadly disease. After taking on board student feedback, we decided to run a similar activity during the first week of the new term. As before, students were placed into small groups, advised to take the default approach of online meetings (unless all members were happy to meet physically), provided with a very short prompt and limited guidance as to how best to tackle the project. The prompts were as follows:

Year 1: Femicide

Year 2: Mandatory covid vaccinations

Year 3: Revoking British citizenship

Many of the students had never physically met, yet managed to come together in the midst of a pandemic, negotiate a strategy, carry out the work and produce well designed and thoughtful, criminological posters.

As can be seen from the collage below, everyone involved embraced the challenge and created some remarkable posters. Some of these have been shared previously across social media but this is the first time they have all appeared together in one place.

I am sure everyone will agree our students demonstrated knowledge, understanding, resilience and stamina. We will be running a similar activity for the first week of the academic year 2022-2022, with different prompts to provoke thought and encourage dialogue and team work. We’ll also take on board student and staff feedback from the previous two activities. Plato once wrote that ‘our need will be the real creator’, put more colloquially, necessity is the mother of all invention, and that is certainly true of our first week activity.

Who knows what exciting ideas and posters will be demonstrated this time, but one thing is for sure Criminology students have the opportunity to flex their activism, prepare to campaign for social justice, in the process becoming real #Changemakers.

There’s no I in teamwork but maybe there’s space for me and you?

Teamwork is often promoted as a valuable transferable skill both by universities and employers. However, for many the sheer mention of this type of group activity is enough to fill them with dread. This is a shame, and I want to use this blog to explain why.

I’m definitely not one for sports, but even I cannot avoid the discourse around women’s football and Euro 2022. Much has been written about the talents and skill of England’s Lionesses, of which I know very little. Equally there has been disquiet around the overwhelming whiteness of the team, an inequality I am very familiar with throughout my studies of crime, criminality and criminal justice. Nevertheless this blog isn’t about inclusion and exclusion, but about teamwork. Football, like many activities is not a solo enterprise but a group activity. All members need to be able to rely upon their team mates for support, encouragement and ultimately success. If a player doesn’t turn up for training, doesn’t engage in sharing space, passing the ball and so on, the team will fail in their endeavours. Essentially, the team must be on the same page and be willing to sacrifice individuality (at times) for the good of the team. But football isn’t the only activity where teamwork is crucial.

One only has to imagine the police, another overwhelmingly white institution, but with a very different mandate and different measures of success. Here a lack of support from team mates could be a matter of life and death. Even if not so severe, the inability to work closely with other officers in a team can make professional and person life extraordinarily difficult to maintain. It has repercussions for individual offices, the police force itself and indeed, society.

Whilst I’ve the made the case for teamwork, it is not clear what makes a good team, or how it could be maintained. Do all teams work? Personal experience tells me that when members have very different agendas and lose sight of the main objective, team work can be very challenging, if not impossible. There has to be a buy in from all members, not just some. There has to be space for individuals to develop themselves as well as the wider team. However, when the individual aims continue to take priority over the collective, cracks emerge. The same experiences suggest that teamwork cannot be accomplished instantly regardless of intent. Teams take a long time to build rapport, to bond, to gain trust across members and this cannot be hurried. Furthermore, this process requires continuing individual and collective reflection and development. So where can we find an example of such excellence (outside of the wonderful Criminology Team, of course)?

I recently watched the BBC 4-part documentary My Life as a Rolling Stone. Produced to mark 60 years of the band, the documentary explores the lives of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and the late, Charlie Watts. There were lots of interesting aspects to each part, but the most striking to me was the sense of belonging. That the Rolling Stones are a cohesive team, with each member playing very different parts, but all essential to not only the success of the band, but also to the well-being of the four men. Alongside discussions around creativity, musicality and individual skills, they describe drug taking, alcohol abuse, romantic relationships, fights, falling out and making up. There were periods of silence, of discord and distrust and periods of celebration and sheer personal and collective joy. Working together they provide each other with exactly what they need to thrive individually and collectively.

These men have made more money than most of us can dream of. They have been to parts of the world and seen things that most of us will never see. All of them are heading toward 80 but keep writing and performing. More importantly for this blog, they seem to illustrate what teamwork looks like, one where communication is key, where disputes must be resolved one way or another, regardless of who was right and who was wrong and where the sheer sense of needing one another, belonging remains paramount. I could use a dictionary definition of teamwork, but it seems to me the Rolling Stones say it better than I ever could:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometime

You’ll find

You get what you need”

(Jagger and Richards, 1969).

Staff Changemaker of the Year 2022: Paula Bowles

Recently I received a nomination for a Changemaker Award, even more surprising, last night I won the Staff Changemaker of the Year Award. You can see the nomination below:

As our regular readers will now, we’ve been blogging for over five years on a variety of different and diverse topics, always with criminology at their heart. However, the pandemic changed the blog beyond recognition. Whilst our bloggers and readers were still fascinated by criminology, the worries and fears around the pandemic and lockdown, made concentration challenging for all of us. For me the turning point was David Hockney’s (2020): Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring

It seemed to me that we all needed something to ease the pressure and so My Favourite Things was born. It offered every blogger the opportunity to think about things (other than the pandemic), and to reflect on what mattered to them on a personal level. Each of these entries are a snapshot of the time at which they were written and were completed by a wide range of additional reflections around the Pandemic and Me. Each of these showed the need we had for human contact, for a place to discuss, vent and escape from everyday life. The blog became a focal point for many, as illustrated by our viewing figures:

I have loved reading since childhood, it plays an important part in my mental health, my equilibrium, my identity. As I’ve noted before, my guilty pleasure lies in the crime fiction of Agatha Christie. I thought if reading works such magic for me, maybe a book club would offer space, time and companionship to other people. The only rules were the book must focus on broad elements of criminal, it needed to be fiction and no one in the club had read it before.

The first book, chosen by me, was a disastrous read, confusing narrative, one-dimensional characters and a very unlikely story. But, we took our book seriously, lots of heated discussion, particularly around whether or not it was a easy to move a dead body around (thanks to @5teveh we know that’s not possible). Lots of laughter and a complete break from everything else. After that the books became much better in content and characterisation (apart from one!).

I am not sure the above makes me a worthy winner of a Changemaker Award, but I do know that none of it was possible without my fellow readers and bloggers. So a big thank you to them and of course, our readers, without whom the blog would be a much quieter affair.

A Love Letter: in praise of the blog

https://pixabay.com/photos/cake-5th-birthday-candles-birthday-3873495/

This is my fourth “love letter”, it follows on from personal dedications to art, poetry and the writing of Agatha Christie. This one is the newest of my “loves” and also marks a celebration.

Yesterday marked the 5th birthday of the Thoughts From the Criminology Team blog. I’ve documented our history before, so don’t want to go over the same ground. However, it is worth mentioning that very soon we will have reached over 50,000 views across 129 countries. (Interesting fact, after the UK and the USA, our next biggest group of readers is based in Hong Kong). We’ve come a very long way from our first cautious forays into the blogsphere and today I want to celebrate the things that I love most about our blog.

First, it provides accountability, it means that even in the most difficult times when writers’ block hits, I have to write. It may not be my best writing, at times it is very loosely structured and when I look back I do wonder what was in my mind. Nevertheless, something was written, which means that something else can be written. It means my ideas are captured and can be explored further, combined with other ideas or even abandoned. Over time it has also enabled me to see what reoccurs enabling me to develop my academic and personal passions.

Second, it provides a refuge and solace for writers (and hopefully readers). This was most obvious during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic when we were rapidly releasing entries, sometimes on a daily basis. In total in 2020, the blog published 222 separate entries containing 190,226 words. To put that into context, in an “ordinary” year, we generally manage around 90 entries a year. It is fair to say our bloggers have explored this unprecedented time in many different way. This place of refuge and solace has also been very apparent in entries centred on Black Lives Matter. Most recently in can be observed in entries around the recent UCU industrial action, see here, here, here. here and here.*

In August 2011, following soon after the police shooting of Mark Duggan, riots broke out in many of our inner cities. I desperately wanted to discuss what was happening with my colleagues and students, but alas it was peak summer and everyone was away. This brings me to my third point, the blog allows writers to respond quickly to events happening, both in the UK and globally, in a way that isn’t always possible in the classroom (timing, constraints of the timetable and curriculum). For instance, responses to the sexual allegations against Prince Andrew, the Windrush scandal, the murder of George Floyd, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to name but a few. It also allows us to take part in national and global initiatives such as Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month and Amplify Melanated Voices giving more space to those too often excluded.

Fourth, it allows writers to focus on issues that are very close to them. For instance, the Hillsborough and Grenfell disasters and Black history. These are extremely difficult to address in a single blog entry, hence they are discussed by a variety of different authors approaching them in diverse ways. What is more important than answers is the space to explore these issues, without censorship and with room for others to also contribute an alternative perspective.

Fifth, the blog provides a place to showcase student and graduate excellence outside of institutional paremeters. For example our now annual ‘First Week Activity‘ offers the opportunity for students to work together to create posters on very current issues. in 2020/21 the criminological issues discussed were Knife Crime, Policing Protest and Creating Covid Criminals and our students demonstrated their criminological knowledge and understanding to a very high standard. The blog also provide a space for our newest (or soon to be) graduates to write about their dissertations as well as students and graduates to write about the things that excite their criminological imagination.

Sixth, it provides space for debate, discussion and most importantly, disagreement. A beautiful example of this is the two entries focusing on policing and racism, here and here. Similarly, discussions around misogyny, femicide and the murders of Sarah Everard and so many other women, here, here and here. Only through thoughtful and empathetic dialogue and exposure to different standpoints can we hope to gain the holistic understanding so imperative to criminology.

Seventh, there are no rules around blog writing, only the constraints provided by the medium. Those that write for the blog are provided with very generic guidance to allow them to decide how best to explore their subject, maybe through a short essay, complete with references, maybe in the style of a news article with lots of images, or perhaps through poetry. The choice is down to the individual blogger and very little in the way of copy editing, beyond the occasional correction of typo goes on behind the scenes.

By now it should be clear that my love for the blog is strong and unwavering. From the smallest of ideas, the blog has grown into something beautiful and inspiring, beyond my imagination in 2017. It has attracted a wonderful collective of very different people coming from all different standpoints and perspectives. Equally important there is space for many more voices to contribute. For sure, there is plenty more we can do, to provide space for more subjects, more bloggers, more perspectives, more initiatives and we will keep striving to offer this. Nevertheless, I am incredibly proud to have played a part and to continue to be involved in this joint enterprise as partners in criminology. Our blog is definitely something worth celebrating and not just on its birthday. To my fellow bloggers, I raise a glass, may we never lose the desire to argue, debate, discuss and continue to learn from each other.

*It is worth noting that in discussions around what constituted Action Short of a Strike [ASOS], the Criminology Team decided that the blog was too important to each of us to consider abandoning it, even for a short period time while industrial action is ongoing.

Why I am on strike

UCU Northampton

UCU Northampton on strike! (Photos by DrJoUK)

Technically, I’m not on strike today because I don’t work today. I am employed as a senior lecturer in history on a 0.6 contract, and this semester that means I work – at least in theory – Wednesday – Friday, 9am to 5.30pm.

The reality of course is quite different. Keeping on top of admin and teaching preparation, attending meetings, marking assignments and actually delivering teaching (the core part of my job!) takes up that time. If I do research, it’s usually in time that’s not paid for by my university, even though it makes up 20% of my contractual hours.

In a lot of ways I’ve been fortunate. I was initially hired on a one year contract, on a 0.5 basis. That I’ve been made permanent, had my paid time increased slightly, and I’ve been promoted is hopefully testament to the…

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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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Criminology First Week Activity (2020)

Winning posters 2020, from L to R: Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3

As we prepare to start the new academic year, it is worth reflecting on the beginning of the last one. In 2020 we began the academic year with a whole cohort activity designed to explore visual criminology and inspire the criminological imagination. Students were placed into small (socially distanced) groups, provided with a very short prompt and limited guidance as to how best to tackle the project. The prompts were as follows:

Year 1: Knife Crime

Year 2: Policing Protest (e.g. Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion and so on)

Year 3: Creating Criminals: the CJS during the Covid-19 pandemic

Many of the students had never physically met, yet managed to come together in the midst of a pandemic, negotiate a strategy, carry out the work and produce well designed and thoughtful, criminological posters.

As can be seen from the collage below, everyone involved embraced the challenge and created some remarkable posters. Some of these have been shared previously across social media but this is the first time they have all appeared together in one place.

I am sure everyone will agree our students demonstrated knowledge, understanding, resilience and stamina. We will be running a similar activity for the first week of the academic year 2021-2022, with different prompts to provoke thought and encourage dialogue and team work. Who knows what exciting ideas and posters will be demonstrated this time, but one thing is for sure Criminology students have the opportunity to campaign for social justice becoming real #Changemakers.

#CriminologyBookClub: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

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 @paulaabowles and is our 13th book. Read on to find out what we thought….

I chose this book on the strength of its quirky title. In terms of quirkiness, it didn’t disappoint. What’s not to like about the adventures of a centenarian? Part history lesson, part Forrest Gump, the cast of characters includes Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek and Harry Truman, alongside Allan, Beauty and an elephant called Sonya (seems Criminology Book Club cannot escape elephants from our reading diet…)! The story, despite including all manner of improbable deaths, is a gentle read. In many ways, it reminded me of Leslie Thomas’ The Adventures of Goodnight and Loving and I do have to say I prefer that story. Nevertheless, it was lovely to see the representation of older characters in an adventurous tale.

@paulaabowles

A centenarian is the most unlikely hero! Their mortality alone makes them too frail and fragile to be featured in a movie where villains end up dead in a path of carnage. In this book, the title is not a metaphor but most literal. A century old man is running away in his slippers dragging a stolen suitcase; somehow the story of what happens next, becomes compelling in this fast-paced action-packed adventure. The old man is carrying with him also a century of stories involving “who’s who” of the 20th century! At some point you are wondering if this is a comedy of errors, a farce or a spy thriller. The old man, in his back and forth stories, is bringing to light the absurdity of the 20th century, the political and ideological conflict of the time. This part of the story becomes a bit of a parody and the flashbacks become a bit tiresome as they seem to take us away from the main story, as you are left wondering will the old man live another day?

@manosdaskalou

I found this book an absolute joy to read, laughing out loud throughout. The book was about a centenarian who gets into all kinds of adventures and has done throughout his life. Each story of how he accidentally fell into situations with various historical political figures made me chuckle. What I also liked was that the book was devoid of any emotion. The love stories were quite clinical, the life and death situations fearless but this is just what I needed, and I think it made the book even more funny. More slapstick humour than romcom, it was completely ridiculous and an unlikely tale but because of this I could laugh at the dinners with murderous war mongers and the protagonist’s penchant for blowing stuff up.

@amycortvriend

We’ve come full circle in relation to book choices: it is Paula’s choice once again! And in all fairness, this book was more enjoyable than the Yellow Room. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, was a book of two halves for me. The first half was witty, quick paced, and not like anything I had read before. However the second half of the book, was repetitive and without giving away any spoilers, the characters did not develop into the loveable rogues I thought they were. They remained quite stagnant. Nevertheless, I did really enjoy the book and found myself chuckling away at various points. Something which none of the other choices (excluding Inspector Chopra) have done. Good choice, @paulaabowles: I wonder how @manosdaskalou’s second choice will fare?

@jesjames50

The 100 Year Old Man was a novelty for me. Prior to this I had never encountered a book where the main character at 100 years old gets up to all kinds of unintended mischief. The sense of adventure included within the book was something that I needed at the time, although I found that the appeal of the book began to wear off at the half-way point. I also found some descriptions to be problematic from my own point of view, but overall I enjoyed the book!     

@haleysread

I don’t suppose you get to be a hundred years old without having a few tales to tell.  Allan’s life appears to have been a little more adventurous than most and his absconding from an old people’s home seems to be a continuation of mishaps and mayhem. A delightfully funny book, cleverly written to incorporate some historic characters into the narrative.  The chapters jump from the past to the present and back again, sometimes leaving you wanting to skip a chapter to continue the narrative of the past or to find out what happens next in this tale of murder and destruction.  Its amazing what you can get away with when you are a hundred years old.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book.

@5teveh

I haven’t read a book like this before and really enjoyed the whole concept of a much older than average ‘hero’ and their adventures both past and present. The glimpses into his colourful past and the famous faces from throughout history that he met along the way gave this book an interesting sense of time and place – both completely fictional and yet almost plausible in the real world. The writing style was also different from the other books we have read as a group and I found it very funny in places. Overall I found the book slightly too long – the novelty began to wear off and I found myself a little fed up with the alternating chapters between past and present ( I preferred those set in the present, though I know others in the group preferred those set in the past) but am still excited to find out what happens to him and his friends in the next book!

@saffrongarside

I was not expecting what I was going to read….elephants, gangsters and men locked in freezers. This book is a light and easy read. It centres around the very colourful life of 100 year old Alan Karlsson. Throughout the book Alan takes you on a journey to meet some interesting historical figures such as Stalin and President Truman. In many ways Alan influences these characters, which in essence shapes events that have happened in history.

We also follow Alan’s life in present day, in which we follow outlandish characters through a very humorous story. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It kept me entertained and wanting more. Although some parts of the book were about some dark things, such as Eugenics and abuse under the guise of ‘medicine’ the humorous present-day story of Alan’s journey balanced this book out, making it a light hearted tale.

@svr2727

Taking a short break….back soon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/53558245@N02/4978362207

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll on everyone in a myriad of different ways. Nobody has escaped the impact of the last 16 months and we’re not out of the woods yet. Here at the Thoughts From the Criminology Team we’re no different. All of us are beginning to run out of steam and need a little break. Never fear, we’ll be back with lots of interesting entries from September. In the meantime, there’s plenty on the site to explore.

Enjoy your August whatever you are up to!

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