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NB: The term ‘white’ in this blog is being used to describe those racialised as white within the dominant culture of the UK, and those that benefit the most from white privilege. Though Gypsy Roma Traveller [GRT] communities may in cases be racialised as white, their culture sits juxtaposed to the dominant thus ‘not white enough’, so may not always be seen as white by white British people (see Bhopal, 2018: 29-47).
“Extending the gaze to whiteness enables us to observe the many shades of difference that lie within this category – that some people are ‘whiter’ than others, some are not white enough and many are inescapably cast beneath the shadow of whiteness” (Nayak, 2007).
Following Haley’s excellent blog on the Jimmy Carr debacle, I would like to bring another perspective. For those of us racialised outside of whiteness, I know I do not need to describe the litany of examples where those racialised as white portray racist hatred as humour on and off social media. Haley continues in writing, “Jimmy Carr’s [His] Dark Material stand-up comedy is the latest in a long line of everyday racism that has been subjected to a trial by Twitter.” When we challenge these “jokes”, at least in my experience I was told iterations of “stop being so sensitive”; “it’s just a joke”; “lighten up” and so on …
In her long-essay What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition, Irish author-academic Emma Dabiri (2021) writes:
“I grew up in a culture of bantering and, ngl, I love a caustic riposte. And while in certain ways I resent the current policing of language, there is a distinction. I hate to break it to you, but a “joke” in which the gag is that the person is black isn’t a joke, it’s just racism disguised as humor. A joke told to a white audience where the punch line is a racist stereotype isn’t a joke, again it’s just racism; if there is only one black person present, it’s also cowardly and it’s bullying. Jokes of this nature probably aren’t funny for black people.”Emma Dabiri (2021: 98)
Whilst in my time writing for Thoughts I have engaged with many issues, one I have not yet written on is the ‘canteen culture’ of bantering I grew up in amid the English private school system. So, I am quite familiar with the culture of private schools having gone to them myself (aged 5-16) where racism (specifically anti-Blackness) against me was passed off as “a ‘joke’ in which the gag is … just racism disguised as humour”(Dabiri, 2021: 98). As a boy, Carr went to sixth form at Royal Grammar School, a selective boys’ school in High Wycombe in the image of a posh state school famous for projecting its boys into Oxbridge. Thus Jimmy Carr passed into Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
If there was to be a culture of ‘banter’ where Carr learned such behaviours, these selective schools and universities are a good place to start. For people not racialised as white, these places can be a new-kind of hell very much in the image of colonial-style racism. At school, in my experience there existed a toxic human concotion of racism (as banter) which infected not only the students but also the staff. It’s this sort of thing that may sit under the thinking behind Carr’s “joke”, and why he thought it was okay to make it in the first place. However, as much as I would like make this about him, this isn’t really about him at all.
Carr has had a very successful career of punching down on the marginalised and historically excluded, profiting from their suffering. For me, this is more about how large institutions like Netflix give platforms to people they know are bad news and let them espouse hatred anyway. Professor Sunny Singh tweeted how it is a “reminder that Jimmy Carr’s joke went through a whole production process in order to appear on @netflix.” When we consider how any piece of media goes through a rigorous editing / production process, the fact nobody questioned a Holocaust “joke” about Roma and Sinti people is a stark reminder of how white supremacy functions in media.
Here a white man makes a “joke” to an audience of mostly white people backed by a production team (largely white, let’s be honest) at a white institution Netflix … with ‘institutional whiteness’ hardening (Ahmed 2006; 2007; 2012; 2014; Hunter, 2015; 2019; White Spaces). Simply affirming what the late Charles Mills (2004) wrote where “… white supremacy implies the existence of a system that not only privileges whites but is run by whites, for white benefit” (p31).
The uproar to Jimmy Carr’s “joke” follows #ClanchyGate where author-schoolteacher Kate Clanchy was criticised for perpetuating racism and ableism in her 2019 memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. She used descriptions like “chocolate-coloured skin” and “almond-shaped eyes.”Moreover, she referred to autistic children as “unselfconsciously odd” and “probably more than an hour a week” around them “would irriate me, too, but for that hour I like them very much.”
Like Netflix, her publisher Picador did not spot these in the editing process. Or they did spot them, and said nothing … reiterating the ableism, racism, and white supremacy that exists in publishing where rather than hold Kate Clanchy accountable, her colleagues like Philip Pullman berated women of colour who challenged her taking to Twitter and comparing them to the Taliban. The same three women of colour who have been erased from this discourse. The issue with Picador is a reminder of how predominantly white artists (not always … like Dave Chappelle in his Netflix special The Closer) with power are then platformed with no accountability when they cause harm (intended or not). Kate Clanchy has since gone on to find another publisher for her book after she was required to rewrite!!
Jimmy Carr follows Chapelle, Clanchy as well as Joe Rogan and his racist rhetoric. Not only is Carr’s just horrific, but it also reinforces the the discrimination Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller [GRT] people face in Britain where their cultures will be erased should the government’s crime, policing and sentencing bill reach fruition. The conversation around Carr’s “joke” reminds me how general opinion is still comfortable with racism so long as it is wrapped in ‘humour’. With the ‘free speech’ champions following behind. It’s also showing me the number of people that think racism only happens to those racialised as Black or Brown.
It is not so simple. The way we define racism is worthy of further discussion and analysis when we consider the racism that happens because of cultural belongings. As Emma Dabiri writes:
“The myth of a unified white ‘race’ makes white people, from what are in truth distinct groups, better able to identify common ground with each other and to imagine kinship and solidarity with others racialized as ‘white’, while at the same time withholding the humanity of racialized others. The ability of whiteness to create fictive kinships where differences might outweigh similarities, or where one ‘white’ group thrives and prospers through the exploitation of another ‘white’ group, all united under the rubric of whiteness constructs at the same time a zone of exclusion for racialized ‘others’, where in fact less expected affinities and even cultural resonances might reside.
In truth, this is the work of whiteness, who invention was to serve that function. Saying that all “white” people are the same irrespective of say, culture, nationality, locatioin, and class literally does the work of whiteness for it. But despite the continuities of whiteness – the sense of superiority that is embedded in its existence – we cannot disregard the differences that exist. This demands a truthful reckoning with the fact that the particulars of whiteness, as well as the nature of the relationship between black and white, will show up differently in different countries and require the crafting of different responses.”(Dabiri, 2021: 45-46)
Emma Dabiri’s What White People Can Do Next (2021) follows David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness (1991), Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White (1995), Matthew Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color (1998) and Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People (2010), all of which in some way show how different white groups have modifiers attached when talking about “white people.” This must be discussed interlocking with other factors including culture, place/geography, and class. Through Roediger, Ignatiev, Jacobson, Painter, Dabiri, and other scholars, we can see how whiteness splits and mutates to serve its purpose of divide and rule, and really how white supremacy may also negatively impact against those read as white and ‘not white enough’ in different ways.
The late archbishop Desmond Tutu believed that our quest for liberating the oppressed must also come with liberating the oppressor too. He saw how white South Africans during Apartheid had become bitter and hateful as a result of the racism that pervaded through their lives on a daily basis. Visiting Israel as well, he saw the same thing in the Israeli state’s dehumanisation of the Palestinian people. As Tutu himself states:
“Part of my own concern for what is happening there [Israel] is in fact not what is happening to the Palestinians, but is what the Israelis are doing to themselves. When you go to those checkpoints and you see these young soldiers behaving abominably badly, they are not aware when you carry out dehumanising policies, whether you like it or not those policies dehumanise the perpetrator.”Demond Tutu
That ‘dehumanisation of the Other’ is central to any system of oppression, and we see this again in Britain with the police’s treatment of Black people going all the way back to 1919. However, we also see it in the state’s treatment of GRT people, compounded by the policing and sentencing bill. On a local level, the dehumanisation of GRT communities can be seen again when we observe the comments sections of local news. The comments of everyday people reflect the racist policymaking of politicians. In the continuous persecution of racialised minorities more generally in Britain, we must also consider what racism does to the perpetrators and what this ‘dehumanisation of the Other’ has done to the cultural majority. Even scarier, what has this dehumanisation done to the people that do not even realise they are racist?
When that ‘dehumanising’ appears on big public platforms like stand-up “comedy” shows, we have a problem – essentially giving racism the green light underpinned by violent policymaking in government. So, the discussions around Jimmy Carr not only show me that there needs to be more conversation about how whiteness impacts those read as Black or Brown, but also how whiteness impacts those read as white or not white enough (GRT, Eastern Europeans and so forth). We have work to do and lots of it.
Time and time again we revisit previous times of our lives, especially when trying to come to terms with unprecedented realities. Society works with precedent and continuity that allows people to negotiate their own individual identities. We live in a society that fostered the culture of the one, and played down the importance of the collective, especially when people in positions of power declared that they can do more with less.
One pandemic later, and we clapped at the heroes those we regarded as needy money-grabbers previously, those we acknowledge now, that we previously cast aside as low skilled workers. One pandemic later, and social movements came to prominence, asking big questions about the criminal justice system and the way it interacts with those numerous people, that are not perceived as “mainstream”. Across Western countries, people are registering the way the system is operating to maintain social order, through social injustice. Each case that appears in the news is not an individual story as before, but are becoming evidence of something wider, systemic and institutional.
Covid-19 affects people, and so we must maintain social distancing, cover our faces and clean our hands. Clear advice from WHO about the pandemic, but people also die when they drown as refugees crossing troubled waters. People also die when someone puts a knee on their throat (who knew?), people die when they have to deal with abject poverty and have no means to cover their basic subsistence. People die, and we record their deaths but officially some of those are normalised to the point that they become expected. Every year I pose the question about good and evil to a group of young adults who seem uncertain about the answer.
I was recently reminded of a statement made a long time ago by Manos Xatzidakis in relation to the normalisation of evil: “If you are not afraid of the face of evil it means that you have become accustomed to it. Then you accept the horror and you are frightened by beauty”. When we are expecting death for seemingly preventable causes, we have crossed that Rubicon according to Xatzidakis.
As a kid, one of my favourite stories was Hansel and Gretel. Like all fairy-tales it has a moral signature and is a cautionary lesson. In my mind it contracted the first image of evil, that of a witch. The illustration made it very real, but also quite specific. An oversized, badly dressed witch, with an unsatisfiable taste for children’s flesh. It was the embodiment of true evil. In later years, reading The Witches by Roald Dahl exacerbated the fear of this creature, seemingly normal but with layers of ugly under their skin. The evil that was on the face of the beholder, their intentions clear and their behaviour manipulative but clear on their objectives. This, I learn as an adult, is an evil that only exists in stories.
This kind of witch, is a demonstration of the social vilification of women and especially those who actively try to challenge the status quo, but not the evil that runs in our societies. The construction of social demons is a convenient invention to evoke fears and maintain order; well that is something a sceptic may say…but social scientists ought to question everything and be a bit of a sceptic. In my version of the fairytale the wicked witch is pushed into the oven by Hansel and Gretel, the image of her oversized bottom sticking out, whilst the rest of her body is consumed by the flames.
Admittedly, I was too old to get into the Harry Potter genre and read the books but the image of his opposition made it to popular culture. The “He who cannot be named” became another convenient, albeit complex, evil capable of unspeakable evils. An icon in its own right of the corruptive nature of evil.
The reality of course is slightly different. The big evils do not get extinguished with flames or other means. They do not cease and there is not necessarily happy ever after; social injustice and unfairness is continuous and so is the struggle to fight them. The victories are not complete, but gradual and small. If the pandemic shows us something other than death and heartache, it is the brittleness of life and the need to ask for more in a society that is geared to prime individualism over social solidarity. It is perhaps a good time, for those who never did, to engage with social movements, for those who left them to return and all find their passion of sharing human experience, that is predicated on equality and fairness.
Fairytales, are interesting insomuch of giving us some moral direction but they do not help us to understand the wider social issues and the actions people have to take. The witches out there may not carry brooms and mix spells in cauldrons but evil carries indifference, apathy and lack of empathy. As Edmund Burke said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, now that is true evil. After all, is there such a thing called evil or are we content with finding easy answers?
The latest book to grace the Criminology book club was My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and after some excellent choices by @5teveh and @manosdaskalou, and a meh choice from @paulaabowles, the pressure was on for my choice. Unfortunately, it received mixed reviews, but I think I speak for all members of the book club when I say: It’s definitely better than The Yellow Room (sorry @paulaabowles)!
The negatives of the book, as expressed by the uneducated and picky members of the club (I promise I’m not bitter-HA), include the unlikableness of the characters: all morally repulsive, selfish and uninspiring. Whilst the book is set in Nigeria, there isn’t much description to transport you there, something the other books have done well, so this was disappointing. And there is a lot left unanswered. At times the book drops some hints into the characters’ past, hinting at why the sisters are the way they are (basically why one of them is a serial killer of her ex-boyfriends and the other mops up the mess), which is gripping and exciting, until it is left unanswered. The ‘older’ members of the club who weren’t overly keen on the book, felt it had potential but it wasn’t their cup of tea… and in all fairness the factors which they raised as being disappointing, were disappointing. BUT, it was still an excellent read! Myself (@jesjames50), @saffrongarside and @haleysread enjoyed the book, and below we have shared our views:
It is fast past, written in what feels like snippets, dangling possibilities and explanations in each chapter, throwing it back to their childhood, alluding at the dangers they faced together, fighting over the same man who isn’t great so that is slightly confusing: c’mon, have better choices in life partners, or even just dates! So many questions raised and so many left unanswered, but this is part of the book’s charm. It’s a story, an experience, a gripping account of a sister’s devotion to her strange, ex-boyfriend stabbing, sister. How far will she go? Why does she go to these lengths? What happens when the sister becomes too much of a loose cannon? You’ll have to read and not find out! But that’s what makes it an excellent read, by an excellent writer!@jesjames50
My Sister, the Serial Killer is unlike any other book I have read before. I loved the fast pace and the creeping sense of dread that builds as you read on. The book is like a snapshot in time of the lives of two sisters – there are no right answers, no resolutions and no sense of justice served. Although I felt little affection for the characters, I was invested in their relationships, the story and how it would play out. I think it would work well as a TV or film adaptation and I look forward to reading other books by Oyinkan Braithwaite in the future@saffrongarside
In an odd sort of way this book reminds me of my relationship with my younger siblings. I’m sure that many older siblings will agree that there is an unwritten obligation to support and protect younger siblings in many situations. In Kerode’s case… she takes this obligation to the extremes! I enjoyed this book as a thriller, but as with the last thriller we endured for book club I did not like any of the amoral characters. I also desired a bit more depth to the story line, the characters and location background – but maybe this is what makes thrillers so successful? Who knows?@haleysread
So overall, not quite as successful as the Baby Ganesha Detective Agency novels, but I mean come on, its competing with a Cadbury chocolate eating baby elephant! But it’s a book that’s modern, well written, gripping and possess twists and turns. It’s short, sharp and snappy! I am proud and satisfied with my choice, as is Saffron and Haley. The others are in agreement that they struggled to put it down, it was intriguing! But alas not all literature is for everyone (albeit I think they are just being fussy)! On to @saffrongarside’s choice next, wonder what the club will think of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada? Stay tuned…
Way back when before we were in lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation, myself and my partner started to look for somewhere to move to. It wasn’t a decision made lightly, moving never is, but we had been in our current place of residency for 6 years and had got unlucky this year with the neighbours. Very unlucky! Fast forward to today, and we have signed contracts exchanged monies, and have received keys: a time to celebrate or a time of guilt?
Considering the circumstances we leave behind regarding neighbours, I am mostly happy, and grateful that the Government have stated moving is essential and still able to go ahead. The issues with this are as we have gone from a furnished property to an unfurnished property, we will be sleeping on a mattress until normalcy returns (or whatever that will look like when we are eventually through the end of the tunnel). Additionally we can’t help feeling guilty with being outside, packing/ unpacking cars, walking mattresses through the streets (because you cannot hire a van), and potentially increasing the risk of spreading anything. We are both fine, and have been in isolation since teaching moved online so we believe we are not carrying anything, but then I assume that is what everyone thinks.
So, it is an exciting time for us, but also a time filled with unease. What will people think of us moving in this time, should we have cancelled/pulled out? But then equally having this normal part of life during this time, I know, is making us happy: but is this selfish? My parents, whom I am contacting daily, and my grandparents are very excited and it seems to also be bringing them some kind of escape (not literally, they are isolating as hopefully we all are), so should I feel guilty?
Would this be something we could universalise? Is this absolutely wrong? I am not saying it is right, but knowing our previous circumstances and why we are moving, it is not a case of we want to live somewhere different (I would have stayed indefinitely – its home), but we were left with little choice, and the timing just outright sucks. But we will be sensible and get moved as soon as possible, and maintain social distancing whilst moving, and also fully submerge back into isolation when we are done!
Maybe I am being selfish, maybe us moving is wrong? What do you think?
A Spoken Word poem for young people everywhere, esp Youth in Asia, who may never know WE LIVED before smartphones…and live to tell about it.
Walk down the street.
Find my way.
Go someplace I had previously been.
Go someplace I had previously not been.
Meet friends at a specific time and place.
Meet new people.
Meet new people without suspicion.
Strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Make myself known to a previously unknown person.
Now, everything and everyone unknown is literally described as ‘weird’.
Eat in a restaurant by myself.
Pay attention to the waiter.
Wait for my order to arrive.
Sit with others.
Listen to the sound of silence.
Listen to music.
Listen to a whole album.
Listen to the cityscape.
Overhear others’ conversations in public.
Watch kids play.
See the same picture in the same spot.
Read a book.
Read a long article.
Read liner notes.
I used to be able to stand at a urinal and focus on what I was doing,
Not feeling bored,
Not feeling the need to respond to anything that urgently.
Nothing could be so urgent that I could not, as the Brits say, ‘take a wee’.
Wait at a traffic light.
Wait for a friend at a pre-determined place and time.
Wait for my turn.
Wait for a meal I ordered to arrive.
Wait in an office for my appointment.
Wait in line.
Wait for anything!
I used to appreciate the downtime of waiting.
Now waiting fuels FOMO.
I used to enjoy people watching…
Now I just watch people on their phones.
It’s genuine anxiety.
Walk from point A to B.
I used to could walk between two known points without having to mark the moment with a post.
Now I can’t walk down the hall,
Or through the house or even to the toilet without checking my phone.
I avoid eye contact with strangers.
Anyone I don’t already know is strange.
I used to could muscle through this awkwardness.
Have a conversation.
A friend and I recently lamented about how you used to could have a conversation and
Even figure out a specific thing that you couldn’t immediately recall…
Just by talking.
I also appreciate the examples we discussed.
Say you wanted to mention a world leader but couldn’t immediately remember their name. What would you do before?
Rattle off the few facts you could recall and in so doing you’d jog your memory.
Who was the 43rd US president?
If you didn’t immediately recall his name,
You might have recalled that the current one is often called “45” since
Many folks avoid calling his name.
You know Obama was before him, therefore he must’ve been number “44.”
You know Obama inherited a crap economy and several unjust wars,
Including the cultural war against Islam. And
That this was even one of the coded racial slurs used against him: “A Muslim.”
Putting these facts together,
You’d quickly arrive at Dubya! And
His whole warmongering cabinet. And
Condi Rice. And
That whole process might have taken a full minute,
But so would pulling up 43’s name on the Google.
This way, however, you haven’t lost the flow of conversation nor the productive energy produced between two people when they talk.
(It’s called ‘limbic resonance’, BTW).
Yeah, I used to be able to recall things…
Many more things about the world without my mobile phone.
Allow my mind to wander.
Entertain myself with my own thoughts.
Think new things.
Think differently just by thinking through a topic.
I used to know things.
Know answers that weren’t presented to me as search results.
I used to trust my own knowledge.
I used to be able to be present, enjoying my own company,
Appreciating the wisdom that comes with the mental downtime.
Never the fear of missing out,
Allowing myself time to reflect.
It is in reflection that wisdom is born.
Now, most of us just spend our time simply doing:
Surfing, scrolling, liking, dissing, posting, sharing and the like.
Even on a wondrous occasion, many of us would rather be on our phones.
Not just sharing the wonderful occasion –
Watching an insanely beautiful landscape through our tiny screens,
Phubbing the people we’re actually with,
Reducing a wondrous experience to a well-crafted selfie –
But just making sure we’re not missing out on something rather mundane happening back home.
I used to could be in the world.
Now, I’m just in cyberspace.
I used to be wiser.
Over the years, in my line of work, there was a conviction, that logic as the prevailing force allows us to see social situations around (im)passionately, impartially and fairly. Principles most important especially for anyone who dwells in social sciences. We were “raised” on the ideologies that promote inclusivity, justice and solidarity. As a kid, I remember when we marched as a family against nuclear proliferation, and later as an adult I marched and protested for civil rights on the basis of sexuality, nationality and class. I took part in anti-war marches and protested and took part in strikes when fees were introduced in higher education.
All of these were based on one very strongly, deeply ingrained, view that whilst the world may be unfair, we can change it, rebel against injustices and make it better. A romantic view/vision of the world that rests on a very basic principle “we are all human” and our humanity is the home of our unity and strength. Take the environment for example, it is becoming obvious to most of us that this is a global issue that requires all of us to get involved. The opt-out option may not be feasible if the environment becomes too hostile and decreases the habitable parts of the planet to an ever-growing population.
As constant learners, according to Solon (Γηράσκω αεί διδασκόμενος) it is important to introspect views such as those presented earlier and consider how successfully they are represented. Recently I was fortunate to meet one of my former students (@wadzanain7) who came to visit and talk about their current job. It is always welcome to see former students coming back, even more so when they come in a reflective mood at the same time as Black history month. Every year, this is becoming a staple in my professional diary, as it is an opportunity to be educated in the history that was not spoken or taught at school.
This year’s discussions and the former student’s reflections made it very clear to me that my idealism, however well intended, is part of an experience that is deeply steeped in white men’s privilege. It made me question what an appropriate response to a continuous injustice is. I was aware of the quote “all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” growing up, part of my family’s narrative of getting involved in the resistance, but am I true to its spirit? To understand there is a problem but do nothing about it, means that ultimately you become part of the same problem you identify. Perhaps in some regards a considered person is even worse because they see the problem, read the situation and can offer words of solace, but not discernible actions. A light touch liberalism, that is nice and inclusive, but sits quietly observing history written in the way as before, follow the same social discourses, but does nothing to change the problems. Suddenly it became clear how wrong I am. A great need to offer a profound apology for my inaction and implicit collaboration to the harm caused.
I was recently challenged in a discussion about whether people who do not have direct experience are entitled to a view. Do those who experience racism voice it? Of course, the answer is no; we can read it, stand against it, but if we have not experienced it, maybe, just maybe, we need to shut up and let other voices be heard and tell their stories. Black history month is the time to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.
 A very rough translation: I learn, whilst I grow, life-long learning.
For much of the year, the campus is busy. Full of people, movement and voice. But now, it is quiet… the term is over, the marking almost complete and students and staff are taking much needed breaks. After next week’s graduations, it will be even quieter. For those still working and/or studying, the campus is a very different place.
This time of year is traditionally a time of reflection. Weighing up what went well, what could have gone better and what was a disaster. This year is no different, although the move to a new campus understandably features heavily. Some of the reflection is personal, some professional, some academic and in many ways, it is difficult to differentiate between the three. After all, each aspect is an intrinsic part of my identity.
Over the year I have met lots of new people, both inside and outside the university. I have spent many hours in classrooms discussing all sorts of different criminological ideas, social problems and potential solutions, trying always to keep an open mind, to encourage academic discourse and avoid closing down conversation. I have spent hour upon hour reading student submissions, thinking how best to write feedback in a way that makes sense to the reader, that is critical, constructive and encouraging, but couched in such a way that the recipient is not left crushed. I listened to individuals talking about their personal and academic worries, concerns and challenges. In addition, I have spent days dealing with suspected academic misconduct and disciplinary hearings.
In all of these different activities I constantly attempt to allow space for everyone’s view to be heard, always with a focus on the individual, their dignity, human rights and social justice. After more than a decade in academia (and even more decades on earth!) it is clear to me that as humans we don’t make life easy for ourselves or others. The intense individual and societal challenges many of us face on an ongoing basis are too often brushed aside as unimportant or irrelevant. In this way, profound issues such as mental and/or physical ill health, social deprivation, racism, misogyny, disablism, homophobia, ageism and many others, are simply swept aside, as inconsequential, to the matters at hand.
Despite long standing attempts by politicians, the media and other commentators to present these serious and damaging challenges as individual failings, it is evident that structural and institutional forces are at play. When social problems are continually presented as poor management and failure on the part of individuals, blame soon follows and people turn on each other. Here’s some examples:
Q. “You can’t get a job?”
A “You must be lazy?”
Q. “You’ve got a job but can’t afford to feed your family?
A. “You must be a poor parent who wastes money”
Q. “You’ve been excluded from school?”
A. “You need to learn how to behave?”
Q. “You can’t find a job or housing since you came out of prison?”
A. “You should have thought of that before you did the crime”
Each of these questions and answers sees individuals as the problem. There is no acknowledgement that in twenty-first century Britain, there is clear evidence that even those with jobs may struggle to pay their rent and feed their families. That those who are looking for work may struggle with the forces of racism, sexism, disablism and so on. That the reasons for criminality are complex and multi-faceted, but it is much easier to parrot the line “you’ve done the crime, now do the time” than try and resolve them.
This entry has been rather rambling, but my concluding thought is, if we want to make better society for all, then we have to work together on these immense social problems. Rather than focus on blame, time to focus on collective solutions.
Gillian is an Academic Librarian at the University of Northampton, supporting the students and staff in the Faculty of Health and Society.
I was inspired to write this blog post by an article from the BBC news website that my friend sent me (BBC, 2019). A reading list was used as a punishment for teenagers who were convicted of daubing graffiti across a historically significant building in the state of Virginia, USA. Normally such an offence would earn a community service order. In this case, due to the nature of the crime – using racially charged symbols and words, the Prosecutor and Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Alejandra Rueda decided education may be the cure. She provided the five teenagers with a reading list that they had to read, and write assignments on, over the course of their 12-month sentence.
“Ignorance is not an excuse” is a principle expressed regularly throughout society, yet are we doing anything to address or dispel this ignorance? Rueda realised that books may help these teenagers to understand the impact of what they’d done and the symbols and language they had used in the graffiti. She chose books that would help educate them about racism, anti-Semitism, apartheid and slavery, to name just a few of the topics covered in the reading list. These were the books that helped her understand the wider world, as she grew up. Rueda’s approach indicated that punishment without an understanding of the impact of their crime, would not help these teenagers to engage with the world around them. These books would take them to worlds far outside their own and introduce them to experiences that were barely covered in their High School history lessons.
It’s not the only time an ignorance of history has been highlighted in the news recently. A premiere league football player was investigated for apparently making a Nazi salute. Although he was found not guilty, the FA investigation found him to be appallingly ignorant of Fascism and Hitler’s impact on millions of people across the globe (Church, 2019). Whilst the FA lamented his ignorance, I’m unsure they have done anything to help him address it. Would he be willing to read about the Holocaust and impact of Fascism in Europe? Would being forced to read about the lives of people over 70 years ago, help him understand how a chance photograph can affect people?
Should reading be a punishment, would it help people understand the impact of their actions? As a Librarian, people often assume that all I do all day is read. For me, reading is a luxury I indulge in daily, when I’m at home. I find a distinct difference between reading by choice, for escapism, and reading because you have to. I remember studying English Literature at school and finding any books I was forced to read, quickly lost their charm and became a chore rather than a pleasure. I’m not sure reading should be a punishment; it could disengage people from the joy and escapism of a good book. However, I understand the value of reading in helping people to explore topics and ideas that may be well outside their own world.
There is a growing body of literature that reflects on bibliotherapy and how reading can help people in varying stages of their life (Hilhorst et al., 2018; Brewster et al., 2013). A recent report by Hilhorst et al., (2018) advocates reading to transform British society, address isolation and improve social mobility. I believe reading can help improve our quality of life, helping us improve literacy, understand complex social issues and offer escapism from the everyday. However, I hesitate to view reading as a magical solution to society’s problems. Some people advocate the literary classics, the numerous lists you can find online that extort the virtues of reading the finest of the literary canon – but how much of it is just to conform to the social snobbery around reading ‘good literature’, a tick list? We should encourage reading, not force it upon people (McCrum, 2003; Penguin Books Ltd, 2019; Sherman, 2019).
Reading can help expand horizons and can have a tremendous impact on your world view, but it shouldn’t be a punishment. What Rueda did in Virginia, is illustrate how an education can help us address the ignorance in our society. We should encourage people to explore beyond their community to understand the world around us. Reading books can offer an insight and allow us to explore these ideas, hopefully helping us to avoid repeating or perpetuating the mistakes of the past.
BBC (2019) Graffiti punished by reading – ‘It worked!’ says prosecutor, BBC News [Online]. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-47936071 [Accessed 18/04/19].
Brewster, L., Sen, B. and Cox, A. (2013) ‘Mind the Gap: Do Librarians Understand Service User Perspectives on Bibliotherapy?’, Library Trends, 61(3), pp. 569–586. doi: 10.1353/lib.2013.0001.
Church, B. (2019) Wayne Hennessey: EPL player showed ‘lamentable’ ignorance of Fascism, CNN [Online]. Available from: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/16/football/wayne-hennessey-fa-nazi-salute-english-premier-league-crystal-palace-spt-intl/index.html [Accessed 18/04/19].
Hilhorst, S., Lockey, A. and Speight, T. (2018) “It’s no exaggeration to say that reading can transform British society…”: A Society of Readers, DEMOS [online] Available from: http://giveabook.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/A_Society_of_Readers_-_Formatted__3_.pdf [Accessed 15/04/19]
McCrum, R. (2003) The 100 greatest novels of all time: The list, The Guardian [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/oct/12/features.fiction [Accessed 18/04/19].
Penguin Books Ltd (2019) 100 must-read classic books, as chosen by our readers, Penguin [Online]. Available from: https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2018/100-must-read-classic-books/ [Accessed 18/04/19].
Sherman, S. (2019) The Greatest Books, The Greatest Books [Online]. Available from: https://thegreatestbooks.org/ [Accessed 18/04/19].
I’ve been thinking about Criminology a great deal this summer! Nothing new you might say, given that my career revolves around the discipline. However, my thoughts and reading have focused on the term ‘criminology’ rather than individual studies around crime, criminals, criminal justice and victims. The history of the word itself, is complex, with attempts to identify etymology and attribute ownership, contested (cf. Wilson, 2015). This challenge, however, pales into insignificance, once you wander into the debates about what Criminology is and, by default, what criminology isn’t (cf. Cohen, 1988, Bosworth and Hoyle, 2011, Carlen, 2011, Daly, 2011).
Foucault (1977) infamously described criminology as the embodiment of utilitarianism, suggesting that the discipline both enabled and perpetuated discipline and punishment. That, rather than critical and empathetic, criminology was only ever concerned with finding increasingly sophisticated ways of recording transgression and creating more efficient mechanisms for punishment and control. For a long time, I have resisted and tried to dismiss this description, from my understanding of criminology, perpetually searching for alternative and disruptive narratives, showing that the discipline can be far greater in its search for knowledge, than Foucault (1977) claimed.
However, it is becoming increasingly evident that Foucault (1977) was right; which begs the question how do we move away from this fixation with discipline and punishment? As a consequence, we could then focus on what criminology could be? From my perspective, criminology should be outspoken around what appears to be a culture of misery and suspicion. Instead of focusing on improving fraud detection for peddlers of misery (see the recent collapse of Wonga), or creating ever increasing bureaucracy to enable border control to jostle British citizens from the UK (see the recent Windrush scandal), or ways in which to excuse barbaric and violent processes against passive resistance (see case of Assistant Professor Duff), criminology should demand and inspire something far more profound. A discipline with social justice, civil liberties and human rights at its heart, would see these injustices for what they are, the creation of misery. It would identify, the increasing disproportionality of wealth in the UK and elsewhere and would see food banks, period poverty and homelessness as clearly criminal in intent and symptomatic of an unjust society.
Unless we can move past these law and order narratives and seek a criminology that is focused on making the world a better place, Foucault’s (1977) criticism must stand.
Bosworth, May and Hoyle, Carolyn, (2010), ‘What is Criminology? An Introduction’ in Mary Bosworth and Carolyn Hoyle, (2011), (eds), What is Criminology?, (Oxford: Oxford University Press): 1-12
Carlen, Pat, (2011), ‘Against Evangelism in Academic Criminology: For Criminology as a Scientific Art’ in Mary Bosworth and Carolyn Hoyle, (eds), What is Criminology?, (Oxford: Oxford University Press): 95-110
Cohen, Stanley, (1988), Against Criminology, (Oxford: Transaction Books)
Daly, Kathleen, (2011), ‘Shake It Up Baby: Practising Rock ‘n’ Roll Criminology’ in Mary Bosworth and Carolyn Hoyle, (eds), What is Criminology?, (Oxford: Oxford University Press): 111-24
Foucault, Michel, (1977), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, tr. from the French by Alan Sheridan, (London: Penguin Books)
Wilson, Jeffrey R., (2015), ‘The Word Criminology: A Philology and a Definition,’ Criminology, Criminal Justice Law, & Society, 16, 3: 61-82
Cards on the table; I love my discipline with a passion, but I also fear it. As with other social sciences, criminology has a rather dark past. As Wetzell (2000) makes clear in his book Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology 1880-1945 the discipline has (perhaps inadvertently) provided the foundations for brutality and violence. In particular, the work of Cesare Lombroso was utilised by the Nazi regime because of his attempts to differentiate between the criminal and the non-criminal. Of course, Lombroso was not responsible (he died in 1909) and could not reasonably be expected to envisage the way in which his work would be used. Nevertheless, when taken in tandem with many of the criticisms thrown at Lombroso’s work over the past century or so, this experience sounds a cautionary note for all those who want to classify along the lines of good/evil. Of course, Criminology is inherently interested in criminals which makes this rather problematic on many grounds. Although, one of the earliest ideas students of Criminology are introduced to, is that crime is a social construction, which varies across time and place, this can often be forgotten in the excitement of empirical research.
My biggest fear as an academic involved in teaching has been graphically shown by events in the USA. The separation of children from their parents by border guards is heart-breaking to observe and read about. Furthermore, it reverberates uncomfortably with the historical narratives from the Nazi Holocaust. Some years ago, I visited Amsterdam’s Verzetsmuseum (The Resistance Museum), much of which has stayed with me. In particular, an observer had written of a child whose wheeled toy had upturned on the cobbled stones, an everyday occurrence for parents of young children. What was different and abhorrent in this case was a Nazi soldier shot that child dead. Of course, this is but one event, in Europe’s bloodbath from 1939-1945, but it, like many other accounts have stayed with me. Throughout my studies I have questioned what kind of person could do these things? Furthermore, this is what keeps me awake at night when it comes to teaching “apprentice” criminologists.
This fear can perhaps best be illustrated by a BBC video released this week. Entitled ‘We’re not bad guys’ this video shows American teenagers undertaking work experience with border control. The participants are articulate and enthusiastic; keen to get involved in the everyday practice of protecting what they see as theirs. It is clear that they see value in the work; not only in terms of monetary and individual success, but with a desire to provide a service to their government and fellow citizens. However, where is the individual thought? Which one of them is asking; “is this the right thing to do”? Furthermore; “is there another way of resolving these issues”? After all, many within the Hitler Youth could say the same.
For this reason alone, social justice, human rights and empathy are essential for any criminologist whether academic or practice based. Without considering these three values, all of us run the risk of doing harm. Criminology must be critical, it should never accept the status quo and should always question everything. We must bear in mind Lee’s insistence that ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it’ (1960/2006: 36). Until we place ourselves in the shoes of those separated from their families, the Grenfell survivors , the Windrush generation and everyone else suffering untold distress we cannot even begin to understand Criminology.
Furthermore, criminologists can do no worse than to revist their childhood and Kipling’s Just So Stories:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who (1912: 83)
Browning, Christopher, (1992), Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, (London: Penguin Books)
Kipling, Rudyard, (1912), Just So Stories, (New York: Doubleday Page and Company)
Lee, Harper, (1960/2006), To Kill a Mockingbird, (London: Arrow Books)
Lombroso, Cesare, (1911a), Crime, Its Causes and Remedies, tr. from the Italian by Henry P. Horton, (Boston: Little Brown and Co.)
-, (1911b), Criminal Man: According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso, Briefly Summarised by His Daughter Gina Lombroso Ferrero, (London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons)
-, (1876/1878/1884/1889/1896-7/ 2006), Criminal Man, tr. from the Italian by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter, (London: Duke University Press)
Solway, Richard A., (1982), ‘Counting the Degenerates: The Statistics of Race Deterioration in Edwardian England,’ Journal of Contemporary History, 17, 1: 137-64
Wetzell, Richard F., (2000), Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology 1880-1945, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press)