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Volunteering Matters

Some people volunteer because they have to, I volunteer because I want to. From a personal perspective I knew that the foodbank was the place that I wanted to be at.

I started volunteering in 2016, doing just 1 day a week and as the years have gone by it has meant more hours spread over a couple of days, especially during the Christmas holidays which are incredibly busy. Proving that many volunteers are necessary and needed to help keep it going.

It is a place that suits me because its local and fits around my studies. I am able to learn new skills and gain insightful knowledge. The volunteers are very welcoming and warm people. However, over the years I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the use of the foodbank and its diversity. In theory, its usage should be on the decrease.

Within the foodbank, we deal with some very complex individuals who require different approaches. It sounds cliché, but I volunteer to make a difference and eradicate the myth that the foodbank is used for those in society that are labelled as people who can’t budget properly.

I have found that service users are predominantly people living on low incomes. People who are working on zero hours contracts; or have reduced hours and having their wages topped up with benefits like Universal Credit. As a result, they just don’t have enough money coming in; leaving hardly anything for essentials such as food and heat. I found during my research that many families have been without electricity, that means no cooking facilities or warmth! Pushing them further into poverty. In this day and age people should not be without the basics.

In my time as a volunteer I have met some lovely people who have been affected by different adverse life events and it is heartbreaking to witness, but equally by giving something back I can see their eyes light up when they are given their food parcels. I feel I am learning to be more compassionate. However, if the person has no access to electricity how are they supposed to cook or provide a meal for their children without electricity?

On a weekly basis we see many different people from so many backgrounds; from civil servants, to social workers and the homeless. Service users can often be emotional and sometimes defensive, who feel they don’t deserve to be given food because they are working. The foodbank does not discriminate, it sees everyone as equal.

What does that say about the world we live in? That being food poor or food insecure is something that must stay hidden and not be talked about…people living with food insecurity would rather go without, than ask for help. The basic income does not cover the essentials such as food after paying bills.

It makes me mad that poverty is an accepted part of society and service users state they feel undervalued and unaccepted. The question that must be asked ‘Is poverty violence? The answer is a resounding YES, due to the structures within society that prevent people living with food insecurity from accessing food. Therefore, locking them into poverty, preventing them from moving out of the cycle of deprivation.

It is left to charitable organisations to do whatever they can to help that person to be able to eat and survive. But how long can these charities go on for? The Trussell Trust began in 2000 in the UK….

Children and families should not be going without food, as it is a fundamental right that everyone should have access to the basics. Food insecurity is more prominent now than ever with The Trussell Trust (2020) reporting an increase of 81% in emergency food parcels.

The foodbank is available to help people to access a 3 day food parcel to ‘see them through” a difficult period in their lives. During my time spent conducting my dissertation within the foodbank, food poverty was a combination of a variety of reasons such as low income, often together with a contributory factor such as an adverse life event. For example, the loss of employment or breakdown of a relationship which will only add more shame and stigma. The foodbank is not just about giving away free food, it’s about offering a safe place to sit and get warm and service users can relax, tell their stories and feel free for as long as they can, before they have to face more challenges from the world.

Furthermore, some in society see the foodbank as the sticking plaster that holds the poor in society together. I would say that without the foodbank many people would be committing crimes or be starving. Some politicians have stated that food banks are the heart of community cohesion. The only time I have seen the local MP at our foodbank is for a photo opportunity. The poor in society are forgotten and its about time they weren’t!

The service users are people who are neglected by society and the government, who by definition, make them feel they are to blame for their situation. By visiting the foodbank we show them respect and compassion.

The pandemic and me – Paula


Portrait de Dora Maar, Pablo Picasso, 1937

The last time I physically went to work was Thursday 19 March, over 12 weeks ago. Within days, I blogged about the panic and fear that risked overwhelming us all in the light of a pandemic. Some of that entry was based on observation and the media, other parts, my own feelings and emotions.

Prior to the pandemic, I had been the kind of person that felt the need to be at work, often for 10-12 hours a day This was partly to kid myself that there was a clear delineation between the personal and the professional (something, I’ve never managed to achieve since joining academia). Part of it was due to my previous career in retail; when there are customers there must be staff, so there is a necessity to presence. Part of it was tied up with notions of work ethic and fear of missing out, dropping out, losing connection. The regularity of the Monday to Friday (and sometimes, Saturdays for events) commute there and back, the same familiar route, the same familiar timetable, the same familiar faces. Even prosaic matters, like my wardrobe, is primarily designed for my professional life, however, #lockdown life requires something different than formal suit, dresses and court shoes. Similarly, make-up seems out of place, why paint your face or nails, without the rest of the professional apparatus, deemed so necessary to what Goffman (1969/1990) identified as The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

In his play Huis Clos (No Exit) Jean-Paul Sarte famously claimed that ‘Hell is—other people’ (1947/1989: 45). This is often interpreted as if the company of others is hellish, but that is a misreading. Sartre, like Mead (1934) before him recognised the role of the other, in our own understanding of ourselves. In essence, we can only ever see ourselves through the lens of others. In lockdown that lens dissipates or even disappears entirely, even with technology, which although we appreciate as an enabler of communication, I’ve yet to hear anyone say it is a complete replacement for human interaction.

Nevertheless, lockdown has forced us to look again and not only at our wardrobes. Once the panic and the novelty of not going to work, socialising and all the other activities, that are part and parcel of our lived experience passed, a new normality replaced this. Introspection is often missing in twenty-first century life, even among those of us that spend considerable amounts of time, professionally, if not personally, reflecting on what we’ve said, what we’ve done and how we can change, amend and ultimately improve as human beings. It’s also provided space to consider what we can’t wait to get back to, what we’re glad to have a break from and what we are looking for ways to avoid in the future.

For me, part of that introspection has focused on my need to be present at work. After all, in academia there is less pressure to be on campus, particularly on one which has been designed with the future in mind. There is no office, where I need to water plants, (most of) my academic books are here and I also have a work laptop, as well as my own pc. At home, I can have silence, or music while I work. If I am hungry or thirsty I can satisfy those needs. If I am overwhelmed, I can simply walk away for a little while, without explanation. If I am lonely, confused or need advice, I can pick up the phone, message, video call and everything else that technology can offer. My professional life can pretty much continue without too much interruption.

So what happens when things return to normal, should I throw myself back into the same patterns as before? I am hoping the answer is no, that I will do things differently, not least for my own wellbeing. Although I love the look and feel of the campus, I have always struggled with what, criminologists will understand as the panoptic gaze (Foucault, 1977). The sense that wherever you are, the threat of observation is ever present. The panoptic gaze does not differentiate between deviant or pro-social activity, it simply retains its disciplinary function designed to constrain and control For many, it is an open welcoming space, however, as a person who thrives on quietness, on privacy, on spending time away from human contact, it can have the opposite effect. Not all of the time, but at least some of it, I wouldn’t want to abandon campus life completely. The lockdown has shown me that it is possible to have the best of both worlds

References

Foucault, Michel, (1977), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, tr. from the French by Alan Sheridan, (London: Penguin Books)

Goffman, Erving, (1959/1990), The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, (London: Penguin)

Mead, George Herbert. (1934). Mind, Self and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. (Ed. Charles W. Morris). (Chicago: Chicago University Press)

Sartre, Jean-Paul, (1947/1989), No Exit and Three Other Plays, (New York: Vintage International)

The pandemic and me – Lessons I’ve learnt from the #lockdown

This lockdown has certainly given us time to think and perhaps reflect on a variety of topics and situations. I’ve shared a few thoughts below and I wonder just how many are universal in some way.

I need to ensure I have a structure to my day and week.  I think we all need some sort of structure to our lives and that structure is often given to us by work and perhaps other sociable events such as going to the gym or going to a coffee shop.  It may be that the weekly shopping provides us with an anchor, Saturday may be a shopping day or religion might dictate a visit to a place of worship on a particular day.  At times I’ve found myself getting confused about what day it is, Groundhog Day, I think.  However, for the most part, I think I’ve got it sorted out.  My wife and I discuss our schedule every morning over a cup of coffee.  We have sorted out a routine of work, daily chores, fun bits and exercise.

My willpower is tested but I can be determined.  I have never been a heavy drinker, the occasional binge, yes but then who hasn’t?  It is however, quite easy to slip into the habit of having a glass or two of wine in the evening, every evening and perhaps a gin and tonic or two.  I can’t go anywhere so thinking about having to drive the next day is not an issue. It’s not until you start totting up the consumption that you realise maybe you might have to reign this in.  ‘School nights’ are back again, no drinking in the week.  I make up for it at the weekend though.

I’m not risk adverse, I just like to think I’m logical.  I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist or in fact any scientist to work out that the government (particularly a Conservative government) would not enforce the cessation of most business in the country without a very, very, very good reason.  Stay in has been the mantra and of course we all know how difficult it is and we all know that as usual, the most vulnerable in society have been hit the hardest by this pandemic. Logic dictates, well at least to me, that going out to any store anywhere carries a risk.  Some risks are necessary, for instance a trip to the chemist to pick up a prescription, but a trip to a DIY store, really?  I’m sorry but given the risks, I think it’s a no brainer. Not only do I not want to catch the virus, but I would be distraught if I thought that through my own selfishness I had passed it onto someone else.

I never really thought about all those people that are truly special.  We clap every week for the carers and the NHS and all those involved who are truly remarkable. I do ask myself though, would I want to turn up to work in a supermarket? Would I want to be out delivering parcels or the post? Would I be a NHS volunteer?  Would I be happy working on public transport or emptying dust bins? There are so many people doing ordinary, even mundane jobs and volunteering roles that I now appreciate more than ever.  And I would go far as to say I am humbled by what they do and continue to do despite the risks.

I appreciate the world around me. Not being able to go out and socialise in some way, be that work, or friends or family has provided more time for other activities.  Our walks to the next village and back on roads devoid of most traffic has revealed an astonishing array of wildlife to be gazed upon and appreciated.   That is of course if you’re not gasping for breath following a walk up a steep hill (well I call it steep but in a car its barely noticeable).

Some things don’t change.  I’ve also noticed the gate to the footpath across the fields near our house has gone. A heavy wooden gate which, apparently has been stolen.  On our walks we have noticed the increased number of cyclists whizzing along the road.  Most give a wide birth, but some don’t seem to have a care for others, one nearly colliding with us as he flew around the corner. It seems with the reduction of cars; the idiotic driver has now given way to the idiotic cyclist.

What will a ‘new normal’ look like.  At some stage we will get back to normal but its difficult to contemplate when that will be and what it will look like.  Maybe getting back to the old normal is not what is needed.  I’m trying to envisage how I will make changes in consideration of what I have learnt during this lockdown.  What changes will you make? 

Dear Media: Do BLM?

Media.

 

By now, we’ve all seen all 8 minutes and 46 seconds of

A Minneapolis officer using his full-body weight

To press his knee on a handcuffed Black man against the ground.

Several cops stood around, rather calmly shooing bystanders away.

With the cop’s knee on his neck, we watch a grown man cry out for his momma,

Which some have said showed the man was already crossing over to the other side to see her.

 

The killer cop, the one pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck, was training the other cops.

These junior officers were just days on the job, so

It’s safe to assume the head officers was showing off his skills:

He may have thought that he was showing the rookies how to put down a n*gger!

He actually showed them how to perform a. Modern day lynching.

 

The Minneapolis mayor didn’t bother watching the video until Mr. Floyd died.

Da mayor’d been told about the incident while the man lay dying in the hospital and

The murderous cops roamed free.

This is what’s carefully declared in a public radio interview.

Da mayor can’t be fake in the face of this very disarming journalist, who is also white.

There is absolutely no anger in the journalist’s voice.

 

Da mayor was animate that this was a pattern, when

The journalist disarmingly confronted him with statements by local Black leaders who’ve told Da mayor the city would burn if the cops’ behavior continued unabated.

Oh, now Da mayor wants to separate himself from 45!

45 is calling for complete suppression,

Even bullying governors and mayors into said suppression.

Folks in his flock are breaking ranks, denouncing his deployment of the military against Americans.

Social media rated 45’s words incendiary.

Facebook employees even staged a walk-out!

George Wallace couldn’t tweet in those days!

Yet, then and now, all your silence is complicity.

Silence = Death!

 

The journalist presses on: You were warned.

Da mayor conceded: He’d ignored explicit, non-violent warnings, neglected evident signs.

Chronic poverty kills.

Police murders maim families.

Racist stereotypes murder souls, and

Breaks the social contract.

The journalist asks Da mayor if he felt any responsibility for the riots.

Again, there is absolutely no emotion at all in the journalist’s voice.

He asks flatly, fumbling through his words, just as he always does.

He simply applies the critical questions to this issue, just as he has countless other topics.

This has gone on for years.

They’ve covered this issue before, but not like this.

Are they only covering it now because of the horrific video of Mr. Floyd’s murder?

Now, they want to uncover the truth that’s been staring them in the face all these years.

 

We watched Rodney King get beat, and

We waited a year for the trial on mediocre charges, and

We rioted when the officers who beat him were set as free as Emmet Till’s killers!

NOW, now, now THEY wanna stop the violence!

Where were you back when?

Even this liberal journalist can’t claim to have raised the alarm before today.

These murders eerily echo one another.

Diallo-41-shots

Amadou Diallo was at his front door.

There are no videos of the 1999 incident.

No 9-11 calls to replay.

Just giant headlines: 41 shots!

 

We DO even have surveillance footage of the 2014 murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice,

Shot playing in a park.

The surveillance video is lengthy, and

From the video we can see from his movement and stature.

He’s playing with what we now know was a toy gun, and

On the 9-11 call, we hear the caller calmly explain:

Probably a juvenile, you know.

“The guy keeps pulling it out of his pants…is probably fake, but you know what? It’s scaring the sh*t outta me”

“He’s sitting on a swing right now, but he’s pulling it in and out of his pants and pointing it at people… He’s probably a juvenile, you know?”

This (white) man can’t even talk to a (Black) kid.

 

The dispatcher fails to announce ANY of these details, save for:

‘He’s in the park by the youth center…’

Apparently, that was all they needed to hear: Black guy, gun.

Recall Tamir was twelve, Black, brandishing a toy gun in the kids’ area of a city park.

We see cops rush up on him in the park and shoot Tamir dead within seconds.

In dispatch recording after the incident, when officers are standing just feet away from Tamir’s body, they say: “Shots fired. Male down. Black Male. Probably 20.”

Later officers claimed to have commanded Tamir to show his hands in those split seconds.

Two officers responding to a routine, white citizen’s call about a potential Black threat.

But we know it’s BEEN going on since emancipation.

‘Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck.’

strange-fruit

“My Favourite Things”: Saffron Garside

My favourite TV show - It's probably Peep Show, I've rewatched it so many times and it doesn't stop being funny. I often find myself quoting it to other people too and it's what I put on when I don't want to think about anything

My favourite place to go - The Natural History Museum has been my favourite place to go for a very long time - the building is beautiful and you could spend days in there and still not see everything. I learn something new every time I go. I also love taking the kids there now - some stuff is still the same as when I was small like the T-Rex and the earthquake room! It'll be one of the first places we go when museums and galleries reopen

My favourite city - It's definitely Paris - it really reminds me of London in a lot of ways, it feels small and big at the same time and there is so much to see and do there. I was lucky enough to go at the beginning of March on a surprise trip - it was fun to be a tourist and we walked so much!

My favourite thing to do in my free time - Read! If I'm not doing something else then I'm usually reading. I carry a book everywhere just in case I get a couple of minutes to read. I'm in two book clubs so always juggling a few books at once

My favourite athlete/sports personality - I'm not a big sports fan and I'm not sure this counts but the kids and I have been loving doing PE with Joe Wicks. It's been great for keeping us moving during the lockdown and it's a pretty big commitment to show up every day. He always seems so positive

My favourite actor - Edward Norton. I think I've seen nearly all the films he's ever been in!

My favourite author - It's too difficult to choose. I really like Chuck Palahniuk and I've reread the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling a lot of times!

My favourite drink - I'm not sure you can beat a good cup of tea. It's about the most comforting thing I can think of and it's never not a good time to put the kettle on

My favourite food - caramel shortbread - but it has to be one of the really good ones (no digestive base!) and you need a good chocolate to caramel ratio!

My favourite place to eat - Every Sunday my husband and I take it in turns to cook a big family meal (complete with pudding!) and we play lots of board games after. It's one of my favourite times in the week and it always feels special.

I like people who - are enthusiastic about life and the things they are learning about, who want to share stories and make spontaneous decisions

I don’t like it when people - don't communicate their feelings or try to resolve things through conversation - I think things would often be simpler if people tried to talk about things honestly 

My favourite book - I think my favourite book of all time is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson it's such a good adventure story and bits of it are really scary!

My favourite book character - Bilbo Baggins! I really enjoyed The Hobbit as a child and my kids love it so much we've already read it together twice. There is something wonderful about how his character develops throughout his quest - he goes from being a reluctant adventurer to the person holding the whole thing together. He isn't motivated by greed or fame and commits himself to seeing it through. Whenever he feels disheartened he dreams of the comforts of home; cooked meals, a boiling kettle, a warm fire

My favourite film - Fight Club is easily my favourite film- great actors, great soundtrack, great twist!

My favourite poem - Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. She's my absolute favourite poet and it felt like magic when I first discovered her! She writes about nature with such reverence and wonder

My favourite artist/band -  For more than half my life it's been Green Day so I think I am stuck with them now!

My favourite song - In My Mind - Amanda Palmer. I really, really love this song - positive messages and ukulele, what more do you need?

My favourite art - I don't know if I have a very favourite piece of art - I love going to a modern art gallery like the Tate Modern in London or the Centre Pompidou in Paris and just spending hours losing myself in all the emotions that get stirred up. I really love the work of Yayoi Kusama but haven't been lucky enough to see her art in person yet

My favourite person from history - Mary Anning made some really important fossil discoveries but didn't really get the recognition she deserved during her lifetime. Plus she was struck by lightning as a baby, which is a pretty cool story!

Teaching, Technology, and reality

I’m not a fan of technology used for communication for the most part, I’d rather do things face to face. But, I have to admit that at this time of enforced lockdown technology has been to a large extent our saviour. It is a case of needs must and if we want to engage with students at all, we have to use technology and if we want to communicate with the outside world, well in the main, its technology.

However, this is forced upon us, it is not a choice.  Why raise this, well let me tell you about my experiences of using technology and being shut at home!  Most, if not all my problems, probably relate to broadband.  It keeps dropping out, sometimes I don’t notice, that is until I go to save my work or try to add the final comment to my marking. I know other colleagues have had the same problem.  Try marking on Turnitin only to find that nearly all of your feedback has just disappeared in a flash.  Try talking to colleagues on Webex and watch some of them disappearing and reappearing. Sometimes you can hear them, sometimes you can’t. And isn’t it funny when there is a time lag, a Two Ronnies moment when the question before the last is answered. ‘You go, no you go’, we say as we all talk over each other because the social cues relied on in face to face meetings just aren’t there. I’ve tried discussion boards with students, it’s not like WhatsApp or Messenger or even text. It is far more staid than that. Some students take part, but most don’t and that in a module where attendance in class before the shutdown was running at over seventy per cent. I’m lucky to get 20% involved in the discussion board.  Colleagues using Collaborate tell me a similar tale, a tale of woe where only a few students, if any appear.  Six hours of emptiness, thumb twiddling and reading, that’s the lecturer, not the students.

Now I don’t know whether my problems with the internet are resultant of the increased usage across the country, or just in my area.  I suspect not because I had problems before the lockdown. I live in a village and whilst my broadband package promises me, and delivers brilliant broadband speed at times, it is inconsistent, frequently inexplicably dropping out for a minute or two. It is frustrating at times, even demoralising.  I have a very good laptop (supplied by the university) and it is hardwired in, so not reliant on Wi-Fi, but it makes little difference.  I suspect the problems could be anywhere in the broadband ether.  It could be at the other end, the university, it could be at Turnitin for instance or maybe its somewhere in a black hole in the middle.  Who knows, and I increasingly think, who cares? When my broadband disappeared for a whole day, a colleague suggested that I could tether my phone.  A brilliant idea I thought as our discussion became distorted and it sounded like he was talking to me from a goldfish bowl. I guess the satellite overhead moved and my signal gradually disappeared. I can tell you now that my mobile phone operator is the only one that provides decent coverage in my area. Tethered to a goldfish bowl, probably not a solution, but thanks anyway.

If I suffer from IT issues, then what about students? We are assured that those that live on campus have brilliant Wi-Fi but does this represent the majority of our student body? Not usually and certainly not now. Do they all have good laptops; do they all have a decent Wi-Fi package? I hazard a guess, probably not. But even if what they have is on par with what I have available to me could they not also be encumbered with the same problems? We push technology as the way forward in education but don’t bother to ask the end user about their experience in using it. I can tell you from student feedback that many don’t like Collaborate, find the discussion boards difficult to engage with and some are completely demotivated if they cannot attend physical classes. That’s not to say that all students feel this way, some like recorded lectures as it gives them the opportunity to watch it at their leisure, but many don’t take that final step of actually watching it. They intend to, but don’t for whatever reason. Some like the fact that they can get books electronically, but many don’t, preferring to read from a hard copy. Even browsing the shelves in the library has for some, a mystical pleasure.

I’ll go back to the beginning, technology has undoubtedly been our saviour at this time of lockdown, but wouldn’t it be a real opportunity to think about teaching and technology after this enforced lockdown? Instead of assuming all students are technology savvy or indeed, want to engage with technology regardless of what it is, should we not ask them what works for them.  Instead of telling staff what they can do with technology, e.g. you can even remotely mark students’ work on a Caribbean island, should we not ask staff what works?  Let’s change the negative narrative, “you’re not engaging with technology”, to the positive what works in teaching our students and how might technology help in that.  Note I say our students, not other students at other universities or some pseudo student in a theoretical vacuum.  We should simply be asking what is best for our students and a starting point might be to ask them and those that actually teach them.

The day after!

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“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” This quote allegedly belongs to A. Einstein who imagined a grim day in the aftermath of a world war among nations who carried nuclear arms. 

It is part of human curiosity to imagine beyond the current as to let the mind to wonder on the aftermath of this unique international lockdown!  Thoughts wonder on some prosaic elements of the lockdown and to wonder the side effects on our psyche.  Obviously as I do not have a vast epidemiological knowledge, I can only consider what I know from previous health scares.    

The previous large-scale health scare was in the 1980s.  I still remember the horrible ad with the carved headstone that read AIDS.  One word that scared so many people then.  People were told to practice safe sex and to avoid sharing needles.  People became worried and at the time an HIV diagnoses was a death sentence.  Images of people suffering Kaposi’s sarcoma began to surface in what became more than a global epidemic; it became a test in our compassion.  Early on, gay people reported discrimination, victimisation and eventual, vilification.  It took some mobilisation from the gay community and the death of some famous people to turn the tide of misconceptions, before we turned the tide of the disease.  At this stage, HIV is not a death sentence and people who are in receipt of medical attention can live full and long lives. 

It is interesting to consider how we will react to the easing of the restrictions and the ushering on a new age.  In some Asian countries, since SARS in 2003 some people wear face masks and gloves.  Will that become part of our attire and will it be part of professional wear beyond the health care professions?  If this becomes a condition, how many people will comply, and what will happen to those who will defy them. 

We currently talk about resilience and the war spirit (a very British motif) but is this the same for all?  This is not a lockdown on equal terms.  There are people in isolation in mansions, whilst some others share rooms or even beds with people, they would rather they did not.  At the same time, we talk about resilience, all domestic violence charities speak of a surge in calls that have reached crisis levels.  “Social distancing” has entered the lexicon of our everyday, but there are people who simply cannot cope.  One of the effects the day after, will be several people who will be left quite traumatised.  Some may develop an aversion to people and large crowds so it will be interesting to investigate if agoraphobia will surge in years to come. 

In one of my exercise walks. I was observing the following scene. Grandparents waving at their children and grandchildren from a distance.  The little ones have been told not to approach the others.  You could see the uneasiness of contactless interaction.  It was like a rehearsal from an Ibsen play; distant and emotionally frigid.  If this takes a few more months, will the little ones behave differently when these restrictions are lifted?  We forget that we are social animals and although we do not consciously sniff each other like dogs, we find the scent of each other quite affirming for our interactions.  Smell is one of the senses that has the longest memory and our proximity to a person is to reinforce that closeness. 

People can talk on social media, use webcams and their phones to be together.  This is an important lifeline for those fortunate to use technology, but no one can reach the level of intimacy that comes from a hug, the touch on the skin, the warmth of the body that reassures.  This was what I missed when my grandparents died, the ability to touch them, even for the last time. 

If we are to come out of social distancing, only to go into social isolation, then the disease will have managed something that previous epidemics did not; to alter the way we socialise, the way we express our humanity.  If fear of the contagion makes us withdrawn and depressed, then we will suffer a different kind of death; that of what makes us human. 

During the early stages of the austerity we saw the recurrence of xenophobia and nationalism across Europe.  This was expected and sociologically seemed to move the general discussions about migration in rather negative terms. In the days before the lockdown people from the Asian community already reported instances of abusive behaviour. It will be very interesting to see how people will react to one another once the restrictions are lifted.  Will we be prepared to accept or reject people different from ourselves? 

In the meantime, whilst doctors will be reassessing the global data the pandemic will leave behind, the rest of us will be left to wonder.  Ultimately for every country the strength of healthcare and social systems will inevitably be evaluated.  Countries will be judged, and questions will be asked and rightfully so.  Once we burry our dead, we must hold people to account.  This however should not be driven by finding a scapegoat but so we can make the most of it for the future. Only if we prepare to see the disease globally, we can make good use of knowledge and advance our understanding of the medicine.

So maybe, instead of recriminations, when we come outside from our confinement, we connect with our empathy and address the social inequalities that made so many people around us, vulnerable to this and many other diseases. 

Things I Miss, or Introverts vs Coronavirus

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

The thing I hate most about self-isolation is how quickly I eased into this new pace of life. Is that the privilege of having somewhere to self-isolate to or does it come with having an introverted personality? Before quarantine, many would perceive me as a mild-mannered individual. I ask a lot of questions. I guess that’s where my affinity for journalism comes from. Yet, in a global crisis, not much has changed. For someone that suffers from anxiety, one would think I would have more emotional unrest during the worst public health crisis in a generation. But no. I’m content, staying at home.

Whilst this pandemic has been liberating for me, it has shown how much privilege I still have despite being at three disadvantages in society: the colour of my skin, my invisible disability and being an introvert in a world designed for extroverts. Yet, cabin fever does set in once in a blue moon and sometimes it does feel like Groundhog Day. Despite being at comfort in my own space, my concept of time is being challenged. Like, what is a weekend? Not even Bill Murray can save me from this paradox. Not my books, nor Disney+ subscription, films, or The Doctor, Martha and that fogwatch.

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What I hate about being an introvert in the buzz term of today – “unprecedented times” – is how I’m not suffering like my extroverted friends. Perhaps this is what it means to live in society designed to accommodate you. The world outside of a health crisis – is this what it’s like? Imagine if I also happened to be an able-bodied, White, straight man as well? Just imagine. Today, extroverts are suffering. Ambiverts are suffering. When this is over will we see an increase in agoraphobia?

And in a society where extroverts are privileged over introverts, the outgoing outspoken marketing professional is valued more than the introverted, reclusive schoolteacher.

Yet, today, we are seeing the value of nurses, doctors, teachers, lecturers / academics and so forth. Many of whom will be introverts going against the grain of what feels normal to them. The person seen to be outgoing and talking and networking is regarded as a team player, in comparison to the freelance blogger or journalist writing away on their computer at home. Many of my teacher friends that talk for a living also love to recluse in their homes, as drinking your own drinks and eating your own food in your own house is great. Can you hear the silence, the world in mute? Priceless.

In my job, I recall in the training we did the Myers-Briggs test in order to get to know each other better. Safe to say I was 97% introvert, which had increased somewhat since I was a student. Coincidence, I think not. In a job where I also go to meetings for a living, and network and people (if I can make a verb out of people), it can be draining. The meetings, the networking, the small talk, the different hats and masks people wear.

As awful as Coronavirus is, I will go back to my intro in saying that this new pace of life is almost like a dream, with intermittent periods of cabin fever. I can recharge my life batteries when I want. I can be alone when I want. I can read, watch films and television series when I want. I like to engage in activities that require critical thought. Self-isolation has given ample time for that. And good things have come from my introspection. Moreover, many conversations with myself. No, I’m not Bilbo Baggins. However, to talk with oneself is freeing. It’s the first sign of intelligence, don’t ya know?

But self-isolation to me and many of my introvert colleagues, it’s our normal. Social distancing is a farce because we are still being social. “Physical distancing” is a better term. Not in this era of WhatsApp, Instagram and Zoom, we’ve never been more social. Coronavirus has shown us a social solidarity that I thought I would not see in my lifetime. To put it bluntly, Coronavirus has pretty much eliminated the quite British obsession of small talk, and given me opportune moments to think.

Whilst my extrovert colleagues want to have that picnic in the park, I’m quite happy to sit in the garden. There lies another privilege. Simultaneously, I seldom feel the need to go out. Where I miss my cinema trips, I remember Netflix, Amazon Prime, Britbox and Disney+. Sure they’re not IMAX but they’ll do. I miss the pub but there’s the supermarket with all sorts of choices of IPA to choose from. Indeed, I have found solace in having my access stripped right back. The freedom to choose afforded to me because I work and live in a “developed country” (I use this term loosely).

For those of us that live in Britain, Coronavirus has swiftly shown that we live in a first-world country with a third-world healthcare system and levels of poverty – highly-skilled medical professionals in a perilously underfunded NHS systematically cut for the last ten years by the Tories.

Unlike University, I can mute social media for a couple of hours, and do some reading. I hate that I am so comfortable, whilst others are not. I often think about international students shafted by visa issues, and rough sleepers who don’t have the privilege of thinking about self-isolation. What about those having to self-isolate in tower blocks like Grenfell? What if we were to have another tragedy like Grenfell during a public health crisis? I hate how Coronavirus has exposed underlying inequalities, and how after this, these systems of power will likely carry on like it’s business as usual.

I don’t feel defeated or bored but the other inequalities in society do make me worry. Having been a victim of racism ten times over, both by individuals and institutions, I know that racism is its own disease and it won’t simply go on holiday because we’re in a pandemic. I know increasing police powers will disproportionately impact people from Black backgrounds, especially in working-class communities, but as Black people (pre-Coronavirus) at a rate of nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than a White person in Northamptonshire is bad enough, isn’t it?

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This solitude has pushed me creatively with my poetry and own blogs. Take Eric Arthur Blair, or George Orwell as he was known; when he was sick with TB, he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. The book we now lord about today is essentially a first draft. Rushed. A last bout before death. In my isolation, I’m excited for the number of dystopian texts that will come out of Coronavirus, particularly political narratives on how Britain and America reacted. I’m looking forward to artistic expression and if the British public will hold the Government to account. One could argue their thoughtlessness, and support of genocide (herd immunity) is a state crime.

Whilst it is easy to blame the Chinese government, our own government have a lot to answer for and metaphorically speaking, someone (or quite a few people) need to hang.

A good friend and confidant has implored me to write a book as a project. Being naturally inward in my personality, I could do it. Though, I have my reservations. Perhaps I could write a work of genius that goes on to define a generation. Nonetheless, I observe that during lockdowns around the world, there will be both introverts and extroverts applying their minds to art and creativity. Writing books. Painting pictures. Discovering theories, like Isaac Newton did when he was “confined” to his estate during the Plague in 1665.

One day the curve will flatten: we will see each other again at the rising of the sun, folks say we must make use of this time; however, this is unprecedented, so it is also perfectly okay to be at peace with your loved ones, cherish those moments, and do absolutely nothing of consequence at all.

Things I Miss (and don’t) – 5teveh

I was chatting with my wife the other day about household finances in the current situation.  My wife has lost her two zero hours contract jobs (I’m not sure why they call it a contract when basically it’s a one-way thing; you work when we want you to and if you don’t agree then you don’t work) and adjustments have to be made.  I’m not moaning about our finances, just stating a fact, things have to change.  Anyway, my wife declares that whilst she enjoys visiting coffee shops it’s not something she particularly misses. A bit ironic really as we can’t go out for coffee anyway in the current countrywide shutdown.  Of course, not going out for coffee saves money.  The conversation got me thinking about what I miss, and conversely what I don’t in these unusual circumstances. 

In a previous conversation, a friend and colleague said he missed the chats over coffee that we’d have on a weekly basis. I too miss this, but it wasn’t just the chats but also the venue, where we were able to somehow hide ourselves in our own little sanctuary, away from what at times felt like the madness of the daily machinations of campus life.

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the classes, lectures, seminars, workshops, call them what you will.  I miss the interaction with the students and that spark that sometimes occurs when you know they’ve got it, they comprehend what it is you are saying.  I don’t miss the frustration felt when students for what ever reason just can’t or won’t engage. I don’t miss travelling into work in all the traffic.  At least my fuel bill has gone down, and the environment is benefitting.

I miss seeing my boys, I get to speak to them or text them all the time but its not quite the same. They are grown men now but, they are still my boys.  I miss being able to see my mum, she’s getting on a bit now.  Sometimes I thought it a bit of a chore having to visit her, a duty to be carried out, but now… well its hard, despite speaking to her everyday on the phone.

I miss being able to pop out with my wife to various antique shops and auction rooms in pursuit of my hobby.  I’m repairing an old clock now and need some parts.  Ebay is useful but its not quite the same as sourcing them elsewhere.

I miss going out to meet my best mate for a beer and a Ruby (calling it a curry just isn’t cool).  We’ve been friends for over forty years now and perhaps only meet up every three or four months.  We text and chat but its not quite the same.

But what I miss most of all, is freedom. Freedom to see who I like and when I like. Freedom to visit where I like and to chat to whom I like, whether that be in a coffee shop with the owner or another customer or at an auction with other bidders and onlookers. It’s funny isn’t it, we take our freedom for granted until it is taken away from us.  All those things that we moan about, all the problems that we see, real or imagined, pale into insignificance against a loss of freedom.

“TW3” in Criminology

In the 1960s, or so I am told, there was a very popular weekly television programme called That Was The Week That Was, informally known as TW3. This satirical programme reflected on events of the week that had just gone, through commentary, comedy and music. Although the programme ended before I was born, it’s always struck me as a nice way to end the week and I plan to (very loosely) follow that idea here.

This week was particularly hectic in Criminology, here are just some of the highlights. On Monday, I was interviewed by a college student for their journalism project, a rather surreal experience, after all, ‘Who cares what I think?

On Tuesday, @manosdaskalou and I, together with a group of enthusiastic third years, visited the Supreme Court in London. This trip enabled a discussion which sought to unpack the issue of diversity (or rather the lack of) within justice. Students and staff discussed a variety of ideas to work out why so many white men are at the heart of justice decisions. A difficult challenge at the best of times but given a new and urgent impetus when sat in a courtroom. It is difficult, if not impossible, to remain objective and impartial when confronted with the evidence of 12 Supreme Judges, only two of which are women, and all are white. Arguments around the supposed representativeness of justice, falter when the evidence is so very stark. Furthermore, with the educational information provided by our tour guide, it becomes obvious that there are many barriers for those who are neither white nor male to make their way through the legal ranks.

Wednesday saw the culmination of Beyond Justice, a module focused on social justice and taught entirely in prison. As in previous years, we have a small ceremony with certificate presentation for all students. This involves quite a cast, including various dignitaries, as well as all the students and their friends and family. This is always a bittersweet event, part celebration, part goodbye. Over the months, the prison classroom leaves its oppressive carceral environment behind, instead providing an intense and profound tight-knit learning community. No doubt @manosdaskalou and I will return to the prison, but that tight-knit community has now dissipated in time and space.

On Thursday, a similarly bitter-sweet experience was my last focused session this year on CRI3003 Violence: From Domestic to Institutional. Since October, the class has discussed many different topics relating to institutional violence focused on different cases including the deaths of Victoria Climbié, Blair Peach, Jean Charles de Menezes, as well as the horror of Grenfell. We have welcomed guest speakers from social work, policing and the fire service. Discussions have been mature, informed and extremely sensitive and again a real sense of a learning community has ensued. It’s also been my first experience of teaching an all-female cohort which has informed the discussion in a variety of meaningful ways. Although I haven’t abandoned the class, colleagues @manosdaskalou and @jesjames50 will take the reins for a while and focus on exploring interpersonal violence. I’ll be back before the end of the academic year so we can reflect together on our understanding of the complexity of violence.

Finally, Friday saw the second ever #BigCriminologyQuiz and the first of the new decade. At the end of the first one, the participants requested that the next one be based on criminology and music. Challenge completed with help from @manosdaskalou, @treventoursu, @svr2727, @5teveh and @jesjames50. This week’s teams have requested a film/tv theme for the next quiz so we’ll definitely have our work cut out! But it’s amazing to see how much criminological knowledge can be shared, even when you’re eating snacks and laughing. [i]


So, what can I take from my criminological week:

  1. Some of the best criminological discussions happen when people are relaxed
  2. Getting out of the classroom enables and empowers different voices to be heard
  3. Getting out of the classroom allows people to focus on each and share their knowledge, recognising that
  4. A classroom is not four walls within a university, but can be anywhere (a coach, a courtroom a prison, or even the pub!)
  5. A new environment and a new experience opens the way for discord and dissent, always a necessity for profound discussion within Criminology
  6. When you open your eyes and your mind you start to see the world very differently
  7. It is possible (if you try very hard) to ignore the reality of Friday 31 January 23:00
  8. It is possible to be an academic, tour guide, mistress of ceremonies and quiz mistress, all in the same week!

Here’s looking forward to next week….not least Thursday’s Changemaker Awards where I seem to have scored a nomination with my #PartnerinCriminology @manosdaskalou.

[i] The first quiz was won by a team made up of 1st and 2nd years. This week’s quiz was won by a group of third years. The next promises to be a battle royale 😊 These quizzes have exposed, just how competitive criminologists can be….


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