Thoughts from the criminology team

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“My Favourite Things”: Dan

My favourite TV show - A combination of F.R.I.E.N.D.S (accepting that it’s okay to be in my 30s and still have no idea what I’m doing…) and Family Guy (pushing the boundaries of “socially acceptable” conversations to expose everyday stressful situations as simply funny historical ‘moments’ in a comparably very short existence on our planet).

My favourite place to go - Aside from my Armenian hometown, Yerevan, I’m torn between munching on Ntakos on the sandy beaches of Western Crete with an iced latte, and taking a slow walk through New York’s Central Park in a February snowstorm.

My favourite city - See above 🙂 

My favourite thing to do in my free time - Procrastinating: whether through gaming, playing the piano, cooking, or any other unearned leisure activity in the dark playground.

My favourite athlete/sports personality - None, their egos get under my skin.

My favourite actor - *actress: Melissa McCarthy, actor: Steve Carrell. In combination, they are both geniuses of comedy.

My favourite author - Erica Spindler. She is a hidden gem, but singlehandedly the best contemporary crime and mystery novelist.

My favourite drink - Bubbletea: White peach with tapioca & lychee jelly.

My favourite food - Anything authentically Italian will satisfy 25% of my genes.

My favourite place to eat - Pickle & Rye in Richmond: a family-run restaurant with the best American-style buffalo chicken burgers you will find in the UK!

I like people who - are upfront and honest (sometimes skipping the small talk is best).

I don’t like it when people - treat service staff like second-class humans. It costs nothing to be polite. Let’s exercise some empathy for people who are paid pennies for the amount of work they do for us (and that can go for all sectors).

My favourite book - Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World by James Ball. It's been eye-opening throughout my PhD.

My favourite book character - Difficult one. Fictional characters don’t resonate with me as much as real people…though Horace Slughorn from the Harry Potter series did leave a positive lasting impression!

My favourite film - This is very tough as I have many favourites. May have to settle with the Back to the Future trilogy…for now…

My favourite poem - Not so much a “poem”, but Martin Niemöller’s First They Came… is infinitely adaptable to all situations of social injustice, and serves as my moral compass to empathise and speak out at times when others might not be willing or able to do so.

My favourite artist/band -  Impossible to answer as my taste is eclectic. It can be as wide a range as between Ella Fitzgerald, The Human League and Muse.

My favourite song - Another impossible one to answer!

My favourite art - Leonid Afremov’s work has a special place in my heart.

My favourite person from history - Komitas: a remarkable Armenian composer with a tragic life. He spent the last years of his life in various psychiatric facilities trying to cope with having witnessed the worst imaginable human atrocities during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in (at the time) Ottoman Turkey.

The Problem is Bigger than Tate

While there are many things that have got under my skin lately, it seems that every time I go on social media, turn on the television, or happen to have a conversation, the name Andrew Tate is uttered. His mere existence is like a virus, attacking not only my brain and soul but it seems a large population of the world. His popularity stems from his platform followed by thousands of men and young boys (it’s known as the ‘Real World’).

His platform ‘educating’ men on working smarter not harder has created a ‘brotherhood’ within the manosphere that celebrates success and wealth. Tate is framed as a man’s man, physically strong, rich and he even has a cigar attached to his hand (I wonder if he puts it down when he goes to the bathroom). It seems many of his aspiring followers want to mimic his fast rich lifestyle.

This seems to be welcomed, especially now when the price of bread has significantly risen (many of his followers would sell the closest women in their life for a whiff of his cigar, and of course to be deemed to have an Insta-desirable lifestyle). While this ideology has gained hype and mass traction in recent years (under the Tate trademark) it seems that his narcissistic, problematic image and what he stands for has only just been deemed a problem … due to his recent indiscretions. 

There is now outrage in UK schools over the number of young boys following Tate and his misogynistic ideology. But I cannot help but ask … why was this not an issue before? I am aware of rape culture, victim blaming, sexual harassment, and systems of silence at every level of the UK education establishment. The launch of ‘Everyone’s Invited’ shone a light on the problematic discourse, so why are we only seeing that there is a problem now?

There are many reasons why there’s a delayed outrage, and I would be here all day highlighting all the problems. So, I will give you a couple of reasons. The first is the Guyland ideology: many Tate supporters who fall into the cultural assumption of masculinity expect to be rewarded for their support, in ways of power and material possession (this includes power over women and others deemed less powerful). If one does not receive what they believe they are owed or expected, they will take what they believe they are owed (by all means necessary).

There is also a system of silence within their peer group which is reinforced by parents, female friends, the media, and those that are in administrative power. The protection of toxic behavior has been continuously put under the umbrella of ‘boys will be boys’ or the idea that the toxic behavior is outside the character of the individual or not reflective of who they truly are.

I will go one step further and apply this to the internalised patriarchy/misogyny of the many women that came out and supported Jeremy Clarkson when he callously attacked Meghan. While many of the women have their individual blight with Meghan for reasons I do not really care to explore, by supporting the rhetoric spewed by Clarkson, they are upholding systemic violence against women.

The third point is that capitalism overthrows humanity and empathy in many ways. All you need to do is to look at a history books, it seems that lessons will never be learned. The temptation of material possessions has overthrown morality. The media gives Tate a platform and in turn Tate utters damaging ideology. This brings more traffic to the platforms that he is on and thus more money and influence….after all he is one of the most googled people in the world.

The awareness of the problematic behaviour and the total disregard for protecting women and girls from monsters like Tate shows, how the outrage displayed by the media about harms against victims such as Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard is performative. The news coverage and the discussion that centred on the victimisation of these two women have easily been forgotten. If the outrage is real then why are we still at a point where we are accepting excuses and championing misogyny under the guise of freedom of speech, without challenging the harm it really does.

It seems that society is at a point of total desensitization where there is more interest in Tate losing an argument with Greta Thunberg, posing with a cigar on an exotic beach for likes, than really acknowledging the bigger picture. Andrew Tate has been accused of rape and human trafficking. The worst thing is, this is not the first time that he has been accused of horrific crimes – and with the audio evidence that was released to the press recently, he should be in prison. But with the issues that permeate the Met police there is no surprise as to why he has been given the green light to continue his violent behaviour. But this is not just a UK issue.  There has been a large amount of support overseas with young men and boys marching in masses in support of Tate, so I cannot be surprised that he was able to and continues to build a platform that celebrates and promotes horrendous treatment of women.

For many the progression of a fair and equal society is an aspiration, but for the supporters of the Tate’s in the world they tend to lean on the notion that they are entitled to more, and to acquire what they think they are owed, and will behave to the extreme of toxicity. While it is easy to fixate on a pantomimic villain like Tate to discuss his problematic use of language and how this translates in schools, the bigger picture of institutionalised patriarchy is always being missed.

It is important to unpick the toxic nature of our society, to understand the contributing factors that have allowed Andrew Tate and others like him to be such influential figures.

A race to the bottom

Happy new year to one and all, although I suspect for many it will be a new year of trepidation rather than hope and excitement.

It seems that every way we turn there is a strike or a threat of a strike in this country, reminiscent, according to the media, of the 1970s.  It also seems that every public service we think about (I mean this in the wider context so would include Royal Mail for example,) is failing in one way or another.  The one thing that strikes me though, pardon the pun, is that none of this has suddenly happened.  And yet, if you were to believe media reporting, this is something that is caused by those pesky unions and intransigent workers or is it the other way round?  Anyway, the constant rhetoric of there is ‘no money’, if said often enough by politicians and echoed by media pundits becomes the lingua franca.  Watch the news and you will see those ordinary members of the public saying the same thing.  They may prefix this with ‘I understand why they are striking’ and then add…’but there is no money’.  

When I listen to the radio or watch the news on television (a bit outdated I know), I am incensed by questions aimed at representatives of the railway unions or the nurses’ union, amongst others,  along the lines of ‘what have you got to say to those businesses that are losing money as a result of your strikes or what would you like to say to patients that have yet again had their operations cancelled’? This is usually coupled with an interview of a suffering business owner or potential patient.  I know what I would like to say to the ignorant idiot that asked the question and I’m sure most of you, especially those that know me, know what that is.  Ignorant, because they have ignored the core and complex issues, wittingly or unwittingly, and an idiot because you already know the answer to the question but also know the power of the media. Unbiased, my …. 

When we look at all the different services, we see that there is one thing in common, a continuous, often political ideologically uncompromising drive to reduce real time funding for public services.  As much as politicians will argue about the amount of money ploughed into the services, they know that the funding has been woefully inadequate over the years. I don’t blame the current government for this, it is a succession of governments and I’m afraid Labour laying the blame at the Tory governments’ door just won’t wash.  Social care, for example, has been constantly ignored or prevaricated over, long before the current Tories came to power, and the inability of social care to respond to current needs has a significant knock-on effect to health care.  I do however think the present government is intransigent in failing to address the issues that have caused the strikes.  Let us be clear though, this is not just about pay as many in government and the media would have you believe.  I’m sure, if it was, many would, as one rather despicable individual interviewed on the radio stated, ‘suck it up and get on with it’. I have to add, I nearly crashed the car when I heard that, and the air turned blue.  Another ignoramus I’m afraid.

Speak to most workers and they will tell you it is more about conditions rather than pay per se. Unfortunately, those increasingly unbearable and unworkable conditions have been caused by a lack of funding, budget restraints and pay restraints. We now have a situation where people don’t want to work in such conditions and are voting with their feet, exacerbating the conditions.  People don’t want to join those services because of poor pay coupled with unworkable conditions. The government’s answer, well to the nurses anyway, is that they are abiding by the independent pay review body. That’s like putting two fingers up to the nurses, the health service and the public.  When I was in policing it had an independent pay review body, the government didn’t always abide by it, notably, they sometimes opted to award less than was recommended. The word recommendation only seems to work in favour of government. Now look at the police service, underfunded, in chaos and failing to meet the increasing demands. Some of those demands caused by an underfunded social and health care service, particularly mental health care.

Over the years it has become clear that successive governments’ policies of waste, wasted opportunity, poor decision making, vote chasing, and corruption have led us to where we are now. The difference between first and third world country governments seems to only be a matter of degree of ineptitude.  It has been a race to the bottom, a race to provide cheap, inadequate services to those that can’t afford any better and a race to suck everyone other than the rich into the abyss. 

A government minister was quoted as saying that by paying wage increases it would cost the average household a thousand pound a year. I’d pay an extra thousand pound, in fact I’d pay two if it would allow me to see my doctor in a timely manner, if it gave me confidence that the ambulance would turn up promptly when needed, if it meant a trip to A&E wouldn’t involve a whole day’s wait or being turned away or if I could get to see a dentist rather than having to attempt DIY dentistry in desperation.  I’d like to think the police would turn up promptly when needed and that my post and parcels would be delivered on time by someone that had the time to say hello rather than rushing off because they are on an unforgiving clock (particularly pertinent for elderly and vulnerable people).

And I’m not poor but like so many people I look at the new year with trepidation.  I don’t blame the strikers; they just want to improve their conditions and vis a vis our conditions.  Blaming them is like blaming cows for global warming, its nonsensical.

And as a footnote, I wonder why we never hear about our ex-prime minister Liz Truss and her erstwhile Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng; what a fine mess they caused. But yesterday’s news is no news and yet it is yesterday’s news that got us to where we are now.  Maybe the media could report on that, although I suspect they probably won’t.

Avoiding challenge: A strategy for organisational change

Have you ever wondered as a manager or worker what the best way is to avoid having your ideas challenged?  Tired of trying to make organisational changes and having those changes called into question. Fed up with trying to instigate something only for someone else to be less than keen.  Had enough of trying to do things that will promote your ambitions only to be thwarted by others that just have to add their two pennorth in?  Annoyed at extra work being created for you because of a lack of acceptance of your ideas?  Are you fed up with the ‘nay sayers’?  The answer is simple… don’t communicate anything, just make the changes, and wait for yet another calamity. 

The above of course is somewhat tongue in cheek and I am reminded of working with some consultants several years ago (you know the ones; steal your watch to tell you the time).  I jest, as they had some sage advice on change management. Two things that come to mind: If you think you have communicated enough about change, you haven’t; communicate more.  And find the person or group that needs convincing and work with them, it’s the ‘nay sayers’ that need to be convinced, not the ‘yay sayers’.  They are far more valuable to your organisation than those that say ‘yes’.

What we were talking about was major organisational change, but even small changes can have a major impact on a workforce. In our own organisation a recent staff survey suggested that ‘Over 50% of respondents considered that consultation about change at work is poor’.  That of course relates to previous iterations of change and a new management team would hope to address the issues.  However, in doing so there is a need for organisational change.

I’ve had recent experience of being told that something was happening because someone, in agreement with someone else, thought it was a good idea.  It promotes their department, showing them in a good light; they took the idea to a meeting and lo and behold, it is agreed.  No consultation with those that need to implement the idea, which may be good or bad, who knows.  The point being that it is not just change brought about by managers without consultation that causes annoyance, anxiety and stress, it is those daily working practices of people in the organisation that fear challenge of their ideas.  Changes are often made with the best of intentions.  Sometimes those intentions are to alleviate burgeoning workloads within a department, sometimes to promote the organisation or individuals or to lighten the burden on students, for example.  Often, there is consultation, but it is consultation with the wrong people, consultation with the ‘yay sayers’ and those that have little idea about the impact of the change (for the best will in the world, managers can’t know every detail of the work carried out by their staff).  Such consultation avoids scrutiny but provides a thin veneer of respectability.  Time and again we see staff queuing up to join consultative groups, but how many of these do so with a view to providing a real critique?  Take the idea to a management meeting, get it agreed and there you are, its done.  If asked about consultation, then the answer is ‘yes of course we did’. The problem is nobody asks the question ‘who exactly did you consult with’?

It will take a huge shift in organisational culture to get the ‘nay sayers’ to volunteer for consultative exercises.  They need convincing that their voice is valued and yet they are a valuable asset.   Challenge and scrutiny are healthy and help to mitigate unwanted and unintended consequences.

There is nothing worse than having it done to you when it could so easily have been a case of having it done with you.  Next time you think about changing something, don’t assume you know best, by doing so you demonstrate how little you value others.  

Public confidence in the CJS: ending on a high?

2022 has been a turbulent and challenging year for many. Social inequalities and disadvantage are rife, with those in power repeatedly making bad, inhumane decisions and with very little, to no, accountability or consequences (insert your favourite example from the sh** storm that is the Conservative Party here). Union after Union, across sectors, engage in industrial action in response to poor working conditions and pay, amidst a cost-of-living crisis. And although seemingly unconnected, as the year comes to a close, the Sentencing Guidelines (2022) report on Public Confidence in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) has got me feeling frustrated. My previous blog entries have often been ‘moans’. And whilst January is often dubbed the month of new beginnings and change for the year ahead: we’re not quite there yet so true to form here is my latest moan!

The report exists as one of many conducted by Savanta to collate data on public confidence, in terms of effectiveness and fairness, in the CJS and public awareness of the sentencing guidelines. The data collected in March 2022, was via online surveys given to a “nationally representative sample of 2,165 adults in England and Wales” (Archer et al., 2022, p.9). Some of their highlighted ‘Key Findings’ include that confidence levels in CJS remains relatively stable in comparison to 2018, on the whole, respondents viewed sentences as ‘too lenient’ however this varied based on offence, the existence of the sentencing guidelines improves respondent’s confidence in the fairness of sentencing, and that engagement with broadcast news sources was high across respondents (Archer et al., 2022). It is not the findings, per se, that I take umbrage with, but rather the claim it is a “nationally representative sample of adults in England and Wales” (Archer et al., 2022, p.9).

I take issue on two fronts. The first being that the sample size of 2,165 adult respondents is representative when the demographic factors included are: gender (male and female), age (18-34yo, 35-54yo and 55+), region, ethnicity (White, Mixed, Asian, Black and Other) and socio-economic grade. Now considering we are, thankfully, at the end of 2022 we should all be able to recognise that a sample which only includes cis-gendered options, narrows ethnicity down to 4 categories and the charming ‘other’, and does not include disabilities is problematic. There has been a large body of research done on people with disabilities and their experiences within the CJS, the lack of representation, the lack of accessibility to space and decisions, potentially impacting a defendant’s right to a fair trial, and a victim’s right to justice (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2021; Hyun et al., 2013 ). So I ask, is this not something which needs considering when looking at public confidence in the CJS of a “nationally representative” sample?

In addition to this, I take issue with the requirement that the sample be “nationally representative”. We have research piece upon research piece about how Black men and Black boys experience the CJS and its various agencies disproportionately to their white counterparts (Lammy, 2017; Monteith et al., 2022; Parmar, 2012). Their experiences of stop and search, sentencing, bail, access to programmes within the Secure and Youth estate. There is nothing representative about our CJS in terms of who it processes, how this is done, and by whom. According to Monteith et al., (2022) 1% of Judges in the CJS are Black, and there are NO Black judges on the High Court, Court of Appeal of Supreme Court: this is not representative! Why then, are we concerned with a representative sample when looking at public confidence in CJS and the sentencing guidelines, when it is not experienced in a proportionate manner?

Maybe I’ve missed the point?

The report is clear, accessible, visible to the public: crucial concepts when thinking about justice, and measuring public confidence in the CJS is fraught with difficulties (Bradford and Myhill, 2015; Kautt and Tankebe, 2011). But this just feels like another nail being thumped into the coffin that is 2022. Might be the eagerness I possess to leave 2022 behind, or the impeding dread for the year to follow but the report has angered me rather than reassured me. As a criminologist, I am hopeful for a more inclusive, representative, fair and accountable CJS, but I am not sure how this will be achieved if we do not accept that the system disproportionately impacts (but not exclusively) Black men, women and children. Think it might be time for another mince pie…

Happy New Year to you all!

References:

Archer, N., Butler, M., Avukatu, G. and Williams, E. (2022) Public Knowledge of Confidence in the Criminal Justice System and Sentencing: 2022 Research. London: Sentencing Council.

Bradford, B. and Myhill, A. (2015) Triggers of change to public confidence in the police and criminal justice system: Findings from the crime survey for England and Wales panel experiment, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 15(1), pp.23-43.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (2021) Does the criminal justice system treat disabled people fairly? [Online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/inquiries-and-investigations/does-criminal-justice-system-treat-disabled-people-fairly [ Accessed 4th November 2021].

Hyun, E., Hahn, L. and McConnell, D. (2013) Experiences of people with learning disabilities in the criminal justice system, British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42: 308-314.

Kautt, P. and Tankebe, J. (2011) Confidence in the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales: A Test of Ethnic Effects, International Criminal Justice Review, 21(2),pp. 93-117.

The Lammy Review (2017) The Lammy Review: An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black Asian and Minority Ethnic Individuals in the Criminal Justice System, [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/goverment/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/643001/lammy-review-final-report-pdf [Last Accessed 14th February 2021].

Monteith, K., Quinn, E., Dennis, A., Joseph-Sailsbury, R., Kane, E., Addo, F. and McGourlay, C. (2022) Racial Bias and the Bench: A Response to the Judicial Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (2020-2025), [online] Available at: https://documents.manchester.ac.uk/display.aspax?DOCID=64125 [Accessed 4th November 2022].

Parmar, A. (2012) Racism and ethnicity in the criminal justice process, in: Hucklesby, A. and Wahidin, A. (eds.) Criminal Justice, 2nd ed, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.267-296.

An alternative Christmas message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not your “ally” (or am I?)

Today’s blog entry is a stream of consciousness rather than a finished entry with an introduction, middle and conclusion. It’s something that has been puzzling me for sometime, trying to work out why the term “ally” discomforts me and yet, not really coming to a firm conclusion. So I thought I’d explore it through a blog entry and would welcome anyone’s input to help me clarify and refine my own thinking and either embrace or reject the term.

Anyone that knows me, knows I love reading and of course, I love words. I love to play with them, say them, write them, discover new ones and trace the etymology as far as I can. Equally, I do not hide the fact that I try to understand the world through both pacifism and feminism. This makes me rather susceptible to interrogating and challenging the things that I see around me, including the written and spoken word.

The most obvious place to start when exploring words, is a dictionary, and this blog entry does similar. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary the term “ally” has three distinct definitions:

“a country that has agreed officially to give help and support to another one, especially during a war”

“someone who helps and supports someone else”

“someone who helps and supports other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although they are not themselves a member of this group”

Now for obvious reasons, I find the first definition problematic, put simply for me, war is a crime. The act of waging war includes multiple violences, some individual, some institutional, some structural and all incredibly harmful decades, or even centuries later. Definitions which have roots in the military and warfare leave me cold and I hate the way in which they infiltrate civilian discourse. For example “the war on drugs”, “the war on poverty”, “officer to the meeting” and the reshaping of the term “ally” for the twenty-first century” I definitely don’t want to be the “ally” described in that definition.

Definition two is also problematic, albeit for different reasons. This definition seems far too broad, if I hold the door open for you, is that me being an ally? If I help you carry your heavy bags, can I say I’m your ally? This seems a nonsensical way to talk about everyday actions which would be better described as common civility, helping each other along the way.Should I say “thank you kind ally” every time, someone moves out of my way, or offers their seat on the bus? It seems evident that this definition does not help me explore my reservations.

The third definition appears to come closest to modern usage of the term “ally”. This term can be applied to many different groups (as can be seen from the badges below and these are just some of the many examples). “whilst I identify as cisgender, I’m a trans ally”, whilst currently heterosexual, I’m a LGBTQ+ ally”, despite being white, I’m a BLM ally” and so on. On the surface this is very positive, moving society away from the nonsense of people describing themselves as “colour-blind”, “gender-blind” or such trite phrases as “we all bleed the same”, ignoring the lack of equity in society and pretending that everyone has the same lived experience, the same opportunities, the same health, wealth and happiness. Buying into the hackneyed idea that if only you work hard enough, you will succeed, that we live in a classless society and the only thing holding anyone back is their own inertia.

However, maybe my problem isn’t with the word “ally” but the word “I”, and the fact that the two words seem inseparable, After all who decides who is an ally or who is not, is there a organisation somewhere that checks your eligibility to be an ally? I’m pretty sure there’s not which means that that “ally” is a description you apply to yourself. After all you can buy the badge, the t-shirt, the mug etc etc, capitalism is on your side, provided the tills are ringing, there’s every reason to sign up. Maybe a tiny percentage of your purchases goes to financially benefit the people you aim to support, for example the heavily criticised Skittles Pride campaign which donated only 2p to LGBTQ+ charities (and stands accused of white supremacy and racism). Of course, once you have bought the paraphernalia, there is no need to do anything else, beyond carrying/wearing/eating your “ally” goods with pride.

All of the above seems to marketise and weaponise behaviour that should be standard practice, good manners if you like, in a society. Do we need a special word for this kind of behaviour or should we strive to make sure we make space for everyone in our society? If individuals or groups gain civil rights, I don’t lose anything, I gain a growing confidence that the society in which I live is improving, that there is some movement (however small) toward equity for all. Societies should not make life more difficult for the people who live in them, regardless of religious or spiritual belief, we have one opportunity to make a good life for ourselves and others and that’s right now, so why seek to dehumanise and disadvantage other humans who are on the same journey as we are.

Ultimately, my main concern with the use of term of “ally” is that it obscures incredibly challenging social harms, with colour and symbols hiding inaction and apathy. Accept the label of “ally”, wear the badge, if you think it has meaning, but if you do nothing else, this is meaningless. if you see inequality and you do not call it out, take action to remedy the situation, the word “ally” means nothing other than an opportunity to make yourself central to the discussion, taking up, rather than making, room for those focused on making a more just society.

I still remain uncomfortable with the term “ally” and I doubt it will ever appear in my lexicon, but it’s worth remembering that an antonym of ally is enemy and nobody needs those.

Regulation and the Internet

*Trigger warning: article contains mentions of suicide, mental illness and self harm in regard to a recent news article*

It seems that internet usage, regulation and monitoring can be a divisive topic for some. The internet can be a fantastic tool for learning, communicating and employment, among other things. However, as with everything, there is a dark side to it. I once watched a video about the internet and regulation, the narrator likened internet usage to when people drove cars with no seatbelts. The world now has this wonderful tool, with little to no effective safety mechanisms, and with many young people, and vulnerable people being able to view harmful content without regulation, we are seeing extreme and negative repercussions.

I think one of the main appeals of the internet is the inherent freedom that it gives the user, the key word here is freedom. It seems that some people believe that unregulated usage of the internet is now an inherent part of their freedoms. This is perhaps why attempting to further regulate usage could result in disagreement and objection. The topic of internet regulation is a very nuanced topic; it toes the line of freedom and restriction and profit and protection. Algorithms are one way that social media companies can prolong the amount of time a person is scrolling through their newsfeed, for example: If you ‘liked’ a picture of a cat, it is more likely that related content would then be shown to you. For social media companies, more engagement equals more money. The algorithmic style of newsfeeds seems great in theory but they can become harmful. If we replace viewing cat content on Instagram with viewing suicide related content, we can see how this can become very problematic very quickly.

Questions concerning the ‘wild west’ type environment that is the internet are becoming more common. With the recent inquest concerning the suicide of Molly Russel, these questions are even more relevant. Molly Russel saved thousands of images related to self harm and suicide months before her death, posts also included some promoting depressive content and encouragement to not seek the help from a mental health professional. Tech giant Meta’s response in the inquest was that the majority of these posts did not breach their social media posting guidelines (they conceded a few did breach the rules). Their response totally contradicts the reactions of those present at the court, with Molly Russel’s father stating that these images were graphic, dark and harmful. With mental health resources already being stretched beyond capacity, this unregulated environment that is legally accessible to children will surely exacerbate these problems. Molly Russel’s experience will not be the only one, thousands of vulnerable and impressionable people, young and old experience similar things and view similar medias. Whether it be accessing pro-anorexia content, content which promotes weapons and violence or content which advocates for avoiding professional mental health support.

The repercussions of an ineffectively regulated internet are unmeasured and the continuation of this deregulation is for the pursuit of profit fuelled by misguided ideas about what freedom of action and freedom of expression mean.

Why am I here? An open letter to students

Dear students,

I read Paula’s Friday message last week and it was sobering, but academic engagement is not just about attendance. It’s about doing the reading (and enjoying it because it’s interesting!), it’s about being passionate about social justice, it’s about engaging in conversations with lecturers and your peers. In my view, we are all criminologists – the only difference between you and I is that I have more experience of studying, reading and research. We are here to do the same thing – while students are writing assessments and revising for exams, lecturers are writing theses and papers, or revising their upcoming conference presentations.

Presumably we are all here voluntarily and because we have a shared interest. With the salary of a lecturer, I’m certainly not here for the money. I’m here because around a decade ago I fell into criminology and fell in love with it. I decided in my late 20s to return to education. I’d had my children when I was young so hadn’t done my A-levels so to get into university I had to do an Access course. I was required to select three subjects and I chose English literature, sociology and history. At the very last minute, I swapped history for criminology and here I am. I went straight onto university to complete my undergraduate, Master and now PhD, all in criminology. Why? Because it’s interesting – what’s not to love?

Criminology has broadened my horizons. It challenges my thinking on a daily basis. It has helped my to challenge my assumptions of others. One of the best things about teaching is when I read an essay and a student has proposed an argument that I had not considered before, or when one of you makes a point in a workshop that challenges me – after all, I don’t know everything. These are some of the moments that bring me joy at work. So, I challenge you to speak and write with confidence, to think critically and for yourself.

In the criminology team, we all have our own research interests covering a diverse range of topics. We would welcome you to visit us during our drop in hours to talk about our interests and research. Many who have been taught by me know that I am interested in border criminology which in my case stemmed from my interest in victimology and mass violence. Genocide and mass violence interest me and I wanted to learn more about the impact on victims, so I research asylum seekers – people who have fled conflict and persecution.

Having heard first hand some of the stories of people fleeing persecution, I am passionate about doing what I can to help – as most criminologists are. In criminology, we identify problems, offer solutions, call out injustices and enter into dialogue. For me, this means speaking to others about asylum seekers and challenging assumptions about them. It means submitting evidence to the Home Office when called for, knowing said evidence will be ignored. It means working with third sector organisations to offer help and support, and Jessica James and I are currently setting up a local supporter group for Freedom From Torture to support their work providing psychological help for torture survivors. It means writing blogs, journal articles and book chapters on the subject to help inform others of my research findings.

Being a criminologist is not just about writing assessments – they won’t make you a criminologist. To become a criminologist, you need to engage beyond essays and exams. Ask yourself, what are you interested in? What drew you to criminology? What do you want to learn more about?

I’m sure I am speaking on behalf of the team when I say we would love to spend more time discussing criminology. We are all passionate not only about our research areas, but about criminology as a whole. Tell us what you want to see, to learn, to talk about. Would you attend research seminars or film screenings, a book club (I would love a criminology book club – please email if you’re interested!), criminology themed social nights with lecturers and students present. We could even discuss and plan activist events – I have been known to attend the occasional demonstration outside immigration detention centres (see image above from the evening the first Rwanda flight was planned). Our doors and our ears are open. We want you to find your passion in criminology.

Amy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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