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CrimeTalk: purpose and value

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CrimeTalk is unique in form. It is not an academic journal, nor a news vehicle, and is more like a serious magazine. But, because it's online, it has capacities no hard-copy academic journal or magazine can have, and which the big academic publishers steer away from, such as 'live' published comments after articles and daily dynamic exchanges on forums. It is therefore a kind of e-zine, but it could be seen as an online 'common room'. It also has the potential to become a direct online educator one day, and that dimension will certainly be developed.

It provides an opportunity for academics and researchers to write journalistically, to post comments on other people's ideas, and to air their first thoughts, early drafts, basic theories and initial findings - as such it occupies a distinctive space and is not intended to replace academic publications. It is a place to archive work which would not be published in traditional academic journals. It is not a place to dump unpublished stuff that is weak but a chance to record or archive that which, for various reasons, should or will not be published conventionally.

For the public, as well as journalists and politicians, it is an opportunity to make public statements, to ask questions of criminologists and to learn more about the subject. It does not replace gossip, media stories or speeches and policy documents. It is  a chance to engage in intelligent discussion with, or just plain 'grill', people who have thought about the subject a lot, or taught it to thousands of people, or who have policed crime of all kinds for years, or who have wrestled with policy dilemmas. For journalists, it could be an easily accessible and plain-speaking resource when researching a new story, and a source of contacts; as well as an opportunity to publish all that stuff your editor had not got room for or which your television producer said could not be shown for whatever reason.

For students of criminology, law and the social sciences, it is an opportunity to tap into the thinking of the public, their university teachers and the researchers. Students too live in their own bubbles and often fear to write and think because of the disconnect between themselves and the professional worlds out there. They need easy access to information and informal thinking. Postgraduate students in particular have the further need to get feedback informally, from anyone really, on their ideas, project design, research methods and writing up. They also need an informal but educated space to publish their first papers, comments on others' work, book reviews and research diaries.

For criminal justice professionals, Crimetalk enables anonymous whistle-blowing, interchange with public and researchers, and access to a world beyond the in-house bureaucracy. My own personal experience of teaching, or supervising the writing of, many distinguished professionals is that they say they get huge benefit from having the time and space to examine and discuss other people's perceptions and perspectives on crime. Moreover, they have so many great stories to tell us all about, anonymity guaranteed.

The purpose of CrimeTalk is to educate - by providing information, stimulation, resources and facilities enabling the educative process. Educate who? Everyone and anyone. I myself use this site for my own education and archive stories from the press here instead of having press cuttings all over my office. You'll be amazed at what’s in here if you surf around and open some of the links. But, educate where and at what level? Well, emotionally as well as intellectually, and at a publically or widely accessible level, and on an international and global scale.

CrimeTalk is consciously situated in the interface or, more accurately the space, between university research, teaching and publication on the one hand and public experience, action and opinion on the other. It aims to be at the heart of thinking, feeling and doing about crime, anti-social behaviour and criminal justice. The heart is the location between the head, which is cognitive, tries to think things through and directs operations, and the feet, which seem to have a life of their own but are often steered by the heart in directions we don’t yet know about. CrimeTalk will be located in between formal research and informal experience, in order to understand and develop the connections between the two in a way that is comprehensible to both.

The value to professional criminology of this is twofold: [1] it creates a space to expand and explore globally that underbelly of all research -informal talk, rough ideas and life experience; [2] it returns the public to its place in the phrase ‘scientific publication’. It will be a constant reminder to criminology that scientific research and writings do not emerge without reference to public money, political decisions, real life experience, informal beliefs and prejudices, and that technocratic thought should explain itself and its often vulgar roots to its ultimate users and paymasters: the wider public, the mass media, governmental departments and quangos.

Crime talk of all kinds is public in this double sense: it has public roots and is in public. Its progress and limits need to be exposed to public scrutiny – for truth to emerge and slander to be exposed. Criminology has more to educate the public with than mere gossip, but it has much to learn from the public. After a lifetime teaching criminology, I would say that it has a lot to offer the public, the media and the government, if it can be bothered, or find the time, to communicate it honestly in clear language, but also that there is a lot of mutton dressed up as lamb and some real bullshit that is saying nothing. Crime talk is best served dirty and street-wise, and best not by angels.

Public sensibilities on crime and justice need sophisticating by exposure to our scientific knowledge about crime and the operations of criminal justice. The science of crime isn’t really based on forensic or stats, nor drunken Crackers or psychometric wizardry, but on clear thought, penetrating insight, true stories, interesting interviews and biographies, history, analysis of social conditions, moral debate and philosophy.

The public, the tabloid press, the televison news and politicians needing re-election, all need to listen to this stuff and to come out of the dark ages many of them inhabit. The ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade have had their day and have failed spectacularly, although I’m sure they themselves feel better for having made the problem much worse and having cost us all a fortune. The mass incarceration of mostly ineffectual individuals who’ve committed minor crimes is a really stupid, very costly and an exceptionally pointless way of dealing with…dealing with what exactly? The so-called crime problem needs thoroughly re-defining and our feet are showing us the way already, by looking at hate crime, corruption, crimes of officials, environmental crime, financial crime and the crimes of multinationals, but the head is not looking too much because the heart is torn between morality and money…. 

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