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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.

#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)

Meet the Team: Stephanie Richards, Student Success Mentor and Associate Lecturer in Criminology

A Warm Welcome

Hello all! I would like to introduce myself. My name is Stephanie Richards and I am your Student Success Mentor (SSM). Some of the criminology and criminal justice students would have already had the opportunity to meet me, as I was their Student Success Mentor previously. So, it will be great to touch base with you all and it would also be great for the new cohorts to say hi when you see me on campus.

It is that time of the year when we see new students and our existing students getting ready to tackle the trials of higher education. Being a SSM I am fully aware of the challenges that you will face, and I am here to support you throughout your time at UON. As a previous student I can testify that studying at university is incredibly challenging. The leap from school/ college can be daunting at first. A new building that seems like a maze or the idea of being  surrounded by strangers that you probably think you have nothing in common with can be enough to encourage you to run for the hills….stepping into a workshop for the first time can give you a stomach flip, but once you take that first seat in class you will come to realise it does get easier.

Upon reflection of my experience as a new undergraduate student I would have to be honest and express the difficulties that I suffered adjusting to my new way of life. I could  not keep my head above the masses of reading, and when I did manage to get some of the seminar prep completed, most of the time I struggled with the new questions and concepts that were posed to me. This will be the experience of most, if not all the new students starting out on their university education. This is part of the complex journey of academia. My advice would be to pace yourself, time management is key, if you struggle to understand the work that has been set, ask for clarity and develop positive relationships with your peers and the staff at UON…………..being part of a strong community will get you through a lot!

My role is not just about assisting the new students that have started their university journey, I am also here to help UONs existing students. Getting back into the swing of studying can be daunting after the summer break. Adjusting to face-to-face education can be an overwhelming process but one that should be embraced. We will all miss our pyjama bottoms and slippers but being back on campus and getting some normality back in your day is worth the sacrifice.  

The team of SSM’s are here to support you throughout your journey so please get in touch if you require our assistance. We never want you to feel alone in this journey and we want to assist you the best ways we can. We want you to progress and meet your full learning potential, and to get the most out of your university experience.

Meet the Team: Francine Bitalo, Student Success Mentor and Associate Lecturer in Criminology

Hi everyone! My name is Francine Bitalo and I will be your new Student Success Mentor for this year. I am looking forward to meeting and assisting you all in your academic journey. Feel free to contact me for any support.

Being a graduate from the University of Northampton I can relate to you all, I know how challenging student life can be especially when dealing with other external factors. You may go through stages where you doubt your creativity, abilities and maybe even doubt whether the student life is for you. When I look back at when I was a student, I definitely regret not contacting the Student Success Mentors that were available to me or simply utilising more of the university’s support system. It is important for you seek support people like myself are here to help and recommend you to the right people.

Besides everything, Criminology is such an interesting course to study if you are anything like me by the end of it all you won’t view the world the same. Many of you have probably already formed your views on life especially when it comes to understanding crime. Well by the end of it all your ways of viewing the world will enhance and become more complex, theoretical and constructive. The advice I give you all is to enjoy the journey, be open minded and most importantly prepare for exciting debates and conversations.

Look forward to meeting you all.

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.

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

#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

The pathology of performance management: obscuration, manipulation and power

My colleague @manosdaskalou’s recent blog Do we have to care prompted me to think about how data is used to inform government, its agencies and other organisations.  This in turn led me back to the ideas of New Public Management (NPM), later to morph into what some authors called Administrative Management.  For some of you that have read about NPM and its various iterations and for those of you that have lived through it, you will know that the success or failure of organisations was seen through a lens of objectives, targets and performance indicators or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  In the early 1980s and for a decade or so thereafter, Vision statements, Mission statements, objectives, targets, KPI’s and league tables, both formal and informal became the new lingua franca for public sector bodies, alongside terms such as ‘thinking outside the box’ or ‘blue sky thinking’.  Added to this was the media frenzy when data was released showing how organisations were somehow failing.

Policing was a little late joining the party, predominately as many an author has suggested, for political reasons which had something to do with neutering the unions; considered a threat to right wing capitalist ideologies.  But policing could not avoid the evidence provided by the data.  In the late 1980s and beyond, crime was inexorably on the rise and significant increases in police funding didn’t seem to stem the tide.  Any self-respecting criminologist will tell you that the link between crime and policing is tenuous at best. But when politicians decide that there is a link and the police state there definitely is, demonstrated by the misleading and at best naïve mantra, give us more resources and we will control crime, then it is little wonder that the police were made to fall in line with every other public sector body, adopting NPM as the nirvana.  

Since crime is so vaguely linked to policing, it was little wonder that the police managed to fail to meet targets on almost every level. At one stage there were over 400 KPIs from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, let alone the rest imposed by government and the now defunct Audit Commission.  This resulted in what was described as an audit explosion, a whole industry around collecting, manipulating and publishing data.  Chief Constables were held to account for the poor performance and in some cases chief officers started to adopt styles of management akin to COMPSTAT, a tactic born in the New York police department, alongside the much vaunted ‘zero tolerance policing’ style.  At first both were seen as progressive.  Later, it became clear that COMPSTAT was just another way of bullying in the workplace and zero tolerance policing was totally out of kilter with the ethos of policing in England and Wales, but it certainly left an indelible mark.

As chief officers pushed the responsibility for meeting targets downwards through so called Performance and Development Reviews (PDRs), managers at all levels became somewhat creative with the crime figures and manipulating the rules around how crime is both recorded and detected. This working practice was pushed further down the line so that officers on the front line failed to record crime and became more interested in how to increase their own detection rates by choosing to pick what became known in academic circles as’ low hanging fruit’.  Easy detections, usually associated with minor crime such as possession of cannabis, and inevitably to the detriment of young people and minority ethnic groups.  How else do you produce what is required when you have so little impact on the real problem?  Nobody, perhaps save for some enlightened academics, could see what the problem was.  If you aren’t too sure let me spell it out, the police were never going to produce pleasing statistics because there was too much about the crime phenomenon that was outside of their control. The only way to do so was to cheat.  To borrow a phrase from a recent Inquiry into policing, this was quite simply ‘institutional corruption’.

In the late 1990s the bubble began to burst to some extent. A series of inquiries and inspections showed that the police were manipulating data; queue another media frenzy.  The National Crime Recording Standard came to fruition and with it another audit explosion.  The auditing stopped and the manipulation increased, old habits die hard, so the auditing started again.  In the meantime, the media and politicians and all those that mattered (at least that’s what they think) used crime data and criminal justice statistics as if they were somehow a spotlight on what was really happening.  So, accurate when you want to show that the criminal justice system is failing but grossly inaccurate when you can show the data is being manipulated.  For the media, they got their cake and were scoffing on it.   

But it isn’t just about the data being accurate, it is also about it being politically acceptable at both the macro and micro level.  The data at the macro level is very often somehow divorced from the micro.  For example, in order for the police to record and carry out enquiries to detect a crime there needs to be sufficient resources to enable officers to attend a reported crime incident in a timely manner.  In one police force, previous work around how many officers were required to respond to incidents in any given 24-hour period was carefully researched, triangulating various sources of data.  This resulted in a formula that provided the optimum number of officers required, taking into account officers training, days off, sickness, briefings, paperwork and enquiries.  It considered volumes and seriousness of incidents at various periods of time and the number of officers required for each incident. It also considered redundant time, that is time that officers are engaged in activities that are not directly related to attending incidents. For example, time to load up and get the patrol car ready for patrol, time to go to the toilet, time to get a drink, time to answer emails and a myriad of other necessary human activities.  The end result was that the formula indicated that nearly double the number of officers were required than were available.  It really couldn’t have come as any surprise to senior management as the force struggled to attend incidents in a timely fashion on a daily basis.  The dilemma though was there was no funding for those additional officers, so the solution, change the formula and obscure and manipulate the data.

With data, it seems, comes power.  It doesn’t matter how good the data is, all that matters is that it can be used pejoratively.  Politicians can hold organisations to account through the use of data.  Managers in organisations can hold their employees to account through the use of data.  And those of us that are being held to account, are either told we are failing or made to feel like we are.  I think a colleague of mine would call this ‘institutional violence’.  How accurate the data is, or what it tells you, or more to the point doesn’t, is irrelevant, it is the power that is derived from the data that matters.  The underlying issues and problems that have a significant contribution to the so called ‘poor performance’ are obscured by manipulation of data and facts.  How else would managers hold you to account without that data?  And whilst you may point to so many other factors that contribute to the data, it is after all just seen as an excuse.  Such is the power of the data that if you are not performing badly, you still feel like you are.

The above account is predominantly about policing because that is my background. I was fortunate that I became far more informed about NPM and the unintended consequences of the performance culture and over reliance on data due to my academic endeavours in the latter part of my policing career.  Academia it seemed to me, had seen through this nonsense and academics were writing about it.  But it seems, somewhat disappointingly, that the very same managerialist ideals and practices pervade academia.  You really would have thought they’d know better. 

#CriminologyBookClub: The Guest List

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 chosen by @svr2727and is our 12th book. Read on to find out what we thought….

I took one look at the cover and didn’t think the book would be for me. The cover gave the impression it would be scary, and I don’t do scary. One of the reasons for book club is to read things we wouldn’t ordinarily go for so I started reading – and couldn’t stop. The bitesize chapters not only enabled me to pick the book up more frequently, but they also made me want to keep reading. I would tell myself ‘just one more, another, last one now, this is definitely the last one then I’ll make tea/go to sleep/get out of bed. The second thing I liked about it was that the narrative viewpoint changed each chapter, flitting between the perspectives of each character. However, what was odd that I felt no strong connection to any of the characters. I am a pacifist and would not wish anyone dead in real life, but I desperately wanted Will to be the one to die. It was quite obvious he was a wrong ‘un early on. Each of the characters had been victimised in one way or another by Will at some point in their lives but it was almost as if the author wrote in barriers to building empathy with them, either in their personality or their actions. Jules was stuck up and pretentious, her sister wouldn’t tell us what was wrong with her for a long time, Johnno was complicit in the death of a child and we didn’t know about Aoife’s connection until the end. I liked this. It ties in nicely with one of my favourite concepts in victimology, Christie’s (1986) theory of the ‘Ideal Victim’, the idea that people will not fully be accepted as a victim unless they exhibit particular characteristics and behaviours. The book therefore tied right into my criminological interests. They say never judge a book by its cover and in this case the phrase could not be more accurate.

Christie, N., 1986. The Ideal Victim. In: Fattah, E. (Ed.), 1986. From Crime Policy to Victim Policy: Reorienting the Justice System. Basingstoke: Macmillan

@amycortvriend

The most recent read for Book Club was very hard to put down, and equally difficult to pick up. Let me explain. Once reading, the story is interesting, swapping between narratives is ingenious but also frustrating as you don’t ever get a full picture. The characters are vile, so once the book was put down, I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to them: I did not warm to any of them, even the ones I think I was supposed to like. However the story was well worked, I did not see the many twists coming and I was exceptionally satisfied with who the unfortunate ‘victim?’ was. Overall it was a brilliant, fast-past read: I just wished I liked the characters! Looking forward to reading more of her work!

@jesjames50

The Guest List is a good book for those that enjoy reading books of the thriller genre. Whilst reading this book you really feel that anticipation that you get from wanting to know what will happen next. The book illustrates some interesting themes about wealth and privilege. This is not really a book that is suited to my own tastes, as I tend to read books where the characters are likeable. Although, with a thriller, disliking the characters means that its feels ok if any of these dreadful characters are then brutally murdered.

@haleysread

The story is told from the point of view of several different characters and has some clever twists that keep the reader guessing until near the end. Whilst I liked the style of writing, I wasn’t as enamoured with the storyline or the characters who seemed to display some very stereotypical traits. An enjoyable book but it just wasn’t different enough for me to consider it a ‘must read’.

@5teveh

This is a proper old school “whodunnit”, reminiscent of Agatha Christie, particularly in terms of tying up most of the loose ends. The atmospheric island, full of dangerous hazards and damaged people takes you on a journey. Clues aplenty abound and you get the chance to explore each of the characters in terms of their back story. Like many of the others in the Criminology Book Club, I didn’t like the individual characters, far too reminiscent of the Bullingdon Club. and other arrogant influencers…. Nevertheless, I enjoyed using my wits to follow the clues and work out who was going to be murdered and who did the deed. Ideal reading for holidays, or during a pandemic lockdown!

@paulaabowles

I really enjoyed losing myself in this story and read it very quickly. It was very atmospheric and I could really picture the island and the venue and the stormy weather. It all added up to create a real sense of foreboding. I enjoyed the way the story was paced – the flashes of the present interspersed with the back stories and leading up to the conclusion. It was also interesting to be trying to solve the crime and figure out who was the victim simultaneously (I didn’t solve it, I’m terribly bad at whodunnits but I still really enjoy them anyway!). I didn’t feel much empathy towards any of the characters however, and so by the end I didn’t really mind who did it!

@saffrongarside

This was an enjoyable read. We follow a group of characters that are going on a very secluded island, off the coast of Ireland to attend a super exclusive and lavish wedding. The groom is portrayed as handsome charismatic man and he is also a reality TV star. The bride is portrayed as a smart, successful, and rich women……It appears they have everything one would desire.

The story is regressive as it starts with a murder at their wedding, but then you are quickly thrust back to the events leading up to the point of the murder. Each chapter is written as a point of view from the guests at the wedding. This is a great addition, as you see the development of the characters and the secrets, mysteries, and tensions between them. I would like to point out that none of the characters were particularly likeable. I won’t give away any spoilers, but based on their behaviour throughout the book, I would not have felt sad if any of them were the victims of the murder and it seemed they were all capable of being the murderer. However, you will be kept guessing, and you won’t find out until the last few chapters of the book.

I loved that you are pulled in the weary atmosphere of the story, and at times I could almost feel the cold air and hear the waves crashing on the rocks. This mystery thriller definitely whisks you away.

If you are looking for some light summer reading, I would highly recommend, you will not be disappointed.

@svr2727

You are invited to a friend’s wedding in a remote island off the cost of Ireland and with the group of people that one is more obnoxious than the other, would you consider going? This was the question playing at the back of my head whilst I am reading this fast-moving whodunit thriller. The scenery is very pulpable and quite reminiscent of the Victorian crime novels; the mist that covers everything allowing crimes to happen whilst the guests look on terrified. Is this an accident or one of many to come? This is a tried and tested recipe brought into the 21st century, although I wonder if anyone can survive this long anymore without Wi-Fi! The story for the fans of the genre is culminating to an expected end with some interesting twists and turns. In the end I was just left wondering, why I did not care for any of the characters!

@manosdaskalou

In case you struggle to imagine the island at the centre of The Guest List…thanks to Quinn and Paisley for their fabulous works of art.

Paisley age 6
Quinn age 8
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