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Editor's Blog http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=946&Itemid=292 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:18:02 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Review essay: David Wilson's Looking for Laura: Public Criminology and Hot News http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=954:review-looking-for-laura&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=954:review-looking-for-laura&catid=946&Itemid=292

David Wilson Looking for Laura: Public Criminology and Hot News. 2011. Sherfield-on-Loddon: Waterside Press. xxiv and 224 pp. Foreword by Donal MacIntyre. P/b £22.95 with free delivery in the UK.


Looking for Laura is a vivid testimony to David Wilson’s huge and bold contribution to the creation of a ‘public criminology’, a term that will be the focus of this review. The book’s subtitle is ‘public criminology and hot news’. It contains plenty of interesting stories of David’s investigations into prisons, serial killers, policing, the internet, shootings, profiling and psychology and the presentation of this work in mass media formats.


It is a book I should review despite the fact that David is a friend, a referee of mine, and even a former player in my incredible, or, more accurately, scarcely credible, cricket team in Cambridge 1983-91, The Old Spring CC, named after a sponsoring pub and not an indicator of mid-life crisis. That team had quality, playing frequently against good club-level, some county-level players and even the occasional international, and playing over 40 games a season. Composed of an unholy mix of robust builders, a stubborn driving instructor, the serially unemployed and unemployable, an accountant, an architect, a top businessman, all sorts of Cambridge postgrads, a delicate literary critic, historians of varying calibre, the occasional affluent gadfly of uncertain origin, abode or purpose, visiting scholars of high cricketing ability, actors of note, and a star all-rounder, a sociologist who captained the side like the great Mike Brearley, relentlessly to one moral victory after another, and even to win a few games. Distinguished alumni include Professor Peter Swaab [English UCL], the actor Jonathan Cake [Mosley and Desperate Housewives), Judge Dennis Davis [Cape Town High Court], Dr Tom Morris [Artistic Director, Bristol Old Vic], and our very own Boycott, Professor John Pratt [Criminology, Wellington]. The list of the undistinguished is too long to mention, but I believe the young David Wilson managed 4 or 5 ducks in 6 innings, as the scorebooks will show. However, rugby was really his forte and once he had played for HM Prison Service, scoring many tries, his career as a prison governor was assured. This is not to mention that I met David when he was doing his doctorate in history in Cambridge, American Civil War if I remember correctly.


The point is not nostalgia for great times but that David was always a man of the people whereas too many criminologists are monads talking to themselves. The book is named after the search for one Laura Stainforth, a 15-year old from Cleethorpes who ran off one day with a 49-year-old. David’s introduction addresses the interface between crime, the public and the media. He had for some years “deliberately and consciously adopted a strategy whereby I talk to the print and broadcast media” [p.xv], unlike those of us who have tended to avoid the media, at least after our initial experiences with them. But wait, before going any further, let us note that David is talking about newspapers and television mainly, and that at Birmingham City U, as he tells us, he only teaches on Thursdays. He made the time.


In my view, we should not talk of public criminology as if the term ‘mass media’ excluded higher education and our students. Students are merely members of the public who fell under our influence! From experience, I know that David is great with students, clearly seeing them as public, and my Irish students love him after his visit in 2014 and 'the session' afterwards. But I think we should understand media to include education and remember that when considering public criminology many of us redeem our sins by teaching long hours and many students. Many of us already are public criminologists in that we are devoted teachers, and in a certain way: we not only give students detailed attention but we talk to them as members of the public, not as our children, and we try to reduce the amount of technical jargon in our speech. Indeed we admit growing numbers of ‘mature’ students. Criminology teachers are in many ways producing that public, one with civic awareness, as well as the criminology of the future.


Because crime is at its historic core a public matter, criminology must be taught in a public way to a diverse public. It should never retreat into a reclusive technocratic cave, sitting alone playing with its dependent variables. Nor should it ever become a private toy, especially not for the rich and powerful. The whole point of crime, criminalisation and criminology is that it is there to protect the res publica, the state, that repository of the public interest in the name of the people. It therefore cannot be privatised inside a web of impenetrable technical language or aloof and cloistered distanciation from the mass media. It is tempting. After all, how easy is it to fit years of research and thinking into a 5-second soundbyte? And why should we? Journalists never offer money, and they are pushed to claim that our collaboration is always in the interest of the public and never media profitability or convenience. Moreover, our statements get badly rewritten, distorted and scrunched. We are not even in the same game as them - they are in the 1-minute game, we are the long firm. Their product is only intended to be like baked beans, as one senior journalist once told me: in one end, easily and fast, out the other soon after, often with wind but few lasting effects either way.


Jake Arnott used some of my stuff in his novel The Long Firm. So maybe we are in the same game. I could never forget that scene in Lenny’s Tale, episode 4 in the BBC serialization, where the radical-liberal sociologist, who has taught the psychopathic, working-class, homosexual gangster, Harry, for two years in prison and given him his new manuscript on the sociology of deviance to read over. Harry, played by that great actor Mark Strong, measures his words like a surgeon, before delivering the damning verdict that the text needed a lot more Foucault and was old hat, shallow. He tells Lenny that deviancy theory is dead. He says he is a homosexual not gay, because he likes his boys turned out nice..... Critical sociology indeed, but with better acting....


David Wilson, quite rightly, wants criminologists to take seriously that which the public wishes to discuss, “to inject some reason into what is understood about crime and punishment” [p.xvi]. His comments on Loader and Sparks’ Public Criminology are polite but telling: their language alone speaks the difference. Our Oxford and Edinburgh colleagues talk of the need for criminology to “cultivate the will and necessary tools to make sense of the place and functions of the debate around crime and punishment in contemporary culture” [quoted in bid., p.xviii]. That somewhat misses the point of course. We are not studying public criminology from an ivory-towered distance, we are doing it. Universities are not personal property, quiet estates with pleasant gardens for pedantic research, well separate from the great unwashed with all their noise and anger, their warts, farts, foibles and universal insights. Criminology needs to smell the coffee of the public’s agenda, not the government's. The public in Ireland want to talk about the crimes and misdemeanours of bankers, multinational tax evaders, property developers, priests, and the IRA; not talk of talk or some idolatry of clever acts of cultural deviance.


When launching the new BA Criminology in UCC recently, the first in Ireland, and therefore with its own distinct moral and political concerns, very different from those of that UK jurisdiction in the North, the first criminologist I invited to speak was David Wilson. David does public criminology; he does not talk about it that much. Looking for Laura is therefore an insight into his practice and concerns, with no punches pulled. It gives plenty of clues how to deal with the media, one of which is to turn down most requests for interviews, if only to avoid becoming an unpaid researcher or a “rent-a-quote” [p.xix]. It is a personal record of his dealings with mass media [p.xviii].


I would have liked David to comment in greater detail in the Introduction on the dangers of his experiment in braving the media. Yes, you get access to stuff and places you would never see otherwise, but, equally, the story gets re-framed and the agenda rarely seems to change. David consciously chooses not to talk about his impact, mainly because impact is so hard to gauge and even if you do pin it down that discovery would probably reduce the chances of it ever happening again. Fair enough, but the deeper issue is that the agenda seems permanently set, and that progress in changing that agenda is slow. Criminologists know what I mean: the punitive attitude, the fascination with murder and particularly serial killers, the fatal attraction of the detective who thinks outside the box and probably has never seen a box, or worn one, and the value of working outside the rule of law to kill the villain and do the decent thing.....


This matters to the chattering classes - because it might mean that just doing our jobs is reproducing the same rotten system daily. Maybe, and we should all have reflected on this after Marx’s comment long ago on the functionality of crime for police, law professors, judges etc, just maybe, we should stop talking about crime. Maybe, as in The Long Firm, as Harry says, the work we do should not attempt to rehabilitate, since for professionals crime is their work so how can earning a living possibly be seen as recidivism? In aiming for progress, maybe we are just doing ‘our’ work and maybe it benefits us more than the villain doing 10 years or their victims who cannot get their property or their loved ones back?


Maybe…..But there are no doubts in my mind that I prefer the system I know to  one that might involve stoning, a ducking stool, capital punishment, and a visceral brutality with no appeal. We do see progress, even from the Victorian period with its mine-owner magistrates sentencing coal-miners harshly for stealing from the pit. We do not really need more Foucault, contra gangster Harry, to delude us that criminology is just discourse in historic lineages with no social cause, or mindless gossip. We as a society actually do need to describe, explain and assess the links we see between crime and social contexts. Harry, like several real-life crooks, gets his sociology degree and wants to be understood and to understand himself. Victims and police do the same, for the same reason. We want our lives to mean something and not to disappear without a trace. We also want the unrelenting shit of violence and injustice to reduce, if not go away altogether.


Murders obviously matter, as do serial killers and paedophiles; especially if you are a victim. Children like Laura need protection; hippy-dippy liberalism is dead and certainly not one for parents. The key point that recurs throughout David Wilson’s work is that “true crime” disproportionately predates upon the poor, the vulnerable, the elderly, women, runaways, “throwaways” and kids. David’s standpoint is always that of the human victim, not so much the damage done to that abstraction ‘society’. Ultimately, he connects with that human aspect of serious crime and tough punishment that brought many of us into criminology in the first place; not the desire to justify our own social deviance. 


The opening chapter, on “Children, the Internet and the Crime Figures” is a very good example of what is attractive about this book. The stories of David’s encounters with the media are frank and endearingly to the point, but at the same time he gives us comments on the official statistics and the British Crime Survey that are incisive yet more interesting than the usual formulaic textbook critique. Combining his focus on the media reaction with a constant awareness of the perpetrator’s damage and/or threat, he is able to paint a picture with rich texture, one whose macabre nonsensicality can still make room for a smile at the futility and stupidity of our species. This is no apologia for the media nor an idealistic tale of communicative success.


Indeed, like crime itself, the reporting of crime appears banal and error-prone. David confirms something I have long thought: you can easily deter the media by asking for money, because they never seem to have any budget, despite their plush 5-star venues, or by insisting on telling the truth of your research because they are far less interested in that than keeping their market happy. The chapter also hints at the pushy aggression of journalists, the media scrum for a byte of superficial information; creating an unpopularity and even contempt that they do not seem to understand one bit.


The media’s shock and horror at its own sins during the phone-hacking scandal was a case in point. Like naughty boys, in unison they cried ‘what us? We regulate ourselves’ But should we be without them, the little rascals? The following chapter on serial killers is another good example of Wilson’s beautiful combination of analytic acuity with full engagement with the concerns of a mass public.  It discusses the role of forensic science in popular culture and the lawyers’ dubious ability to criticise that science, but his keen eye hits the fact that both academics and the public are fascinated by the stunning normality, and even banality, of many serial killers, such as Nielsen, a civil servant and former soldier and police officer. Steve Wright, “socially conservative”, one of the serial killers discussed, played golf, allegedly occasionally with the Chief Constable [p.55], after a string of failed marriages and businesses, and his killings were, says Wilson, a revenge against his culture’s failure to reward or recognise his worth.


The media’s relentless obsession with serial killers, forensic science and CSI almost conceals their insight that even serious crime can be committed by stunningly normal people, something ‘scientific’ criminology has only recently begun to accept, along with the other very contemporary revelation that apparently normal people in very establishment positions can be stunningly psychopathic and anti-social. This “hot news” may rarely have been consciously understood by the mass media but their news values tell them it sells product. As Graber’s research indicated in 1980, the mass media disproportionately report the sins of the powerful, celebs and the super-rich. True Confessions of course set the standard in the 1920’s.


So, no, maybe we do need the hacks that “hold people to account” [Rupert Murdoch, see Sumner 2012 in CrimeTalk]. The protocols of academic science may prevent us intuiting the insights a salacious and greedy media stumbles upon and holds to its bosom, like the magic key to a door it knows exists somewhere. If the commercial press were n’t there, would criminology have studied crimes of the powerful more readily? It is academic. In any case, we should neither forget that the media obsession with serial killers has little critical depth. No programme ever explores the possibility that the army is a natural port in a storm for a serial killer: why not get paid for doing what comes unnaturally? Nor do the media discuss the fact that serial killers typically target the vulnerable and powerless. Would they be portrayed differently if they preyed upon property developers and bankers? Yes, because that would be easier to explain, as rational, and some might even try to justify the acts. Yet, there is a rationality in serial killing, as Wilson argues, because that parasitic vulture the serial killer, like De Sade, is at core a mirror reflection of predatory social relations whereby the greedy, selfish, arrogant and inherited wealth brigade parasite upon the weak and poor to salve their frustrations; a bit like the current Tory government, in fact. ‘Punishing the poor’ is certainly the motto on their coat of arms (and see also Wacquant’s book of that title in 2009).


This theme is the direct target of chapter 3 on Mike Todd, former Chief Constable of Manchester who committed suicide in 2008. David Wilson retired from the prison system, as a governor, because of having to defend its “appalling culture”, and I myself, an enthusiastic teacher and recidivist intellectual, quit academia for 10 years because its culture disgusted me after 30 years enduring it. I felt uncomfortable with this chapter because I worked with Mike Todd once on a conference in East London at my request. He struck me as a gentle man, a thinker and progressive, and unusually well-educated in social science for a police officer: ‘new breed’. Nevertheless, David’s chapter is well worth reading as an acutely educated and reasoned assessment of whether the ‘cop culture’ [Reiner 2000] of pragmatism, machismo, sexism, action-orientation and social conservatism is reflected in the style and decisions of top cops. The analysis becomes especially acute with the discussion of Alison Halford’s comments on Todd’s alleged aggressive and licentious lifestyle, because Halford was passed over for promotion many times and never made Chief Constable. This leads to an engaging analysis of whether we taxpayers get value for money given the weaknesses of cop culture and their support in high places. The police, quietly backed by the media, are undoubtedly a major player in the interlocking elite that runs most countries.


Further chapters on the importance of assessing television output and movies about prisons and criminal justice as proper topics of research, on serial killers and crime reporting generally, on various famous murders and their glamorisation of crime by the media, on offender profiling, and on psychological explanations of murder demonstrate Wilson’s wit and wisdom and combine an erudite knowledge of ugly human reality with both humour and the public’s interest in it. Sometimes, the text drifts into the rambling of an obsessive but that is what we academics do, and more importantly it is this fascination with the underworld, the dark side, that drives the public’s interest in the sordid details. Crucially, the text never ceases to tell us something substantial, albeit combined with something gossipy and rivetingly tawdry, something that no academic textbook conveys.


The classic Wilson line is that the responsibility for serial killing lies within both the individual killer and the social structure that produces both him and his victims (p.165). The victims of British serial killers “have been exclusively confined to certain marginalised groups in our culture - the elderly, gay men, prostitutes, immigrants, babies and infants, and young people moving home and finding their feet elsewhere in the country”. The killers themselves he sees as social and personal failures responding homicidally to structurally endemic challenges to their status, identity and wealth. This conclusion demands much more analysis but it meets the public head on and creates an arena for further debate and research.


The media return in the final brief section where David concludes that even he does not advocate initiating engagement with the media but merely responding to their advances in ways which might bring “reason” to the “heat of the public discussion of crime and punishment (p.194). The success of his “experiment in public criminology” is left open to us readers. My view is that the mediatedness of our lives has changed so much with the internet that the terrain for debate has changed. In many ways, that field of discussion is much less public, much more private, and much more open to individual idiosyncrasy. No one reads the same stuff. Some of David’s stories are hard to know what to make of, unless you know them, having read, watched or listened, for that very reason.


Criminology as a public pursuit was always difficult. It is now more so. This is partly because of increasingly fragmented and segregated audiences, but it is partly because academic criminology is returning to being a self-referential technocratic discourse only read by those with the credentials and knowledge of ‘the code’. On the other hand, we have now educated more people in criminology at undergraduate and postgraduate levels as the public come inside our educational institutions, fascinated by what they have read or seen. Crime and punishment become their windows on the world they live in, their way of doing social science and humanities, their hope of understanding the difficulties of existence. So, maybe, after all, education has become part of the media and media part of education; and maybe education is now integral to that public sphere that debates crime and punishment. Maybe, journalists and academics are not so different in their fascinations but simply deal at different levels of patience and understanding. If so, we will always be ‘looking for Laura’.


David Wilson has worked at the coalface between higher education and mass media, and his integrity and determination have ensured they will continue to talk to each other, probably with fewer delusions and more understanding than ever before. A more criminologically educated public will, in my view, always be a gain, a sign of humanity and progress against injustice; a social basis for future wisdom. This modest book deserves much more attention and should be widely used in teaching, especially first year undergraduate criminology, to bridge the gap between emotional response and analytic sense.



Colin Sumner, Editor of CrimeTalk and Head of the School of Sociology and Philosophy, UCC, Cork, Ireland.


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c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner) Editor's blog Wed, 08 Apr 2015 21:22:41 +0000
Best of capitalism over by 2060, with no way to identify the villains? http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=939:best-of-capitalism-over-by-2060-with-no-way-to-identify-the-villains&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=939:best-of-capitalism-over-by-2060-with-no-way-to-identify-the-villains&catid=946&Itemid=292

I wouldn't want to worry readers, but since most of you probably think life is a cruel farce anyway Paul Mason's reading of the latest OECD report will probably come as good news. The best of capitalism will be over by 2060, according to their stats, which are linked in to the piece below by the way, and global inequality will increase massively, along with a decrease in world growth. See The best of capitalism is over for rich countries – and for the poor ones it will be over by 2060. The byline is 'Populations with access to technology and a sense of their human rights will not accept inequality'.

It must be true, because this is elite data: "One of the upsides of having a global elite is that at least they know what's going on. We, the deluded masses, may have to wait for decades to find out who the paedophiles in high places are; and which banks are criminal, or bust. But the elite are supposed to know in real time – and on that basis to make accurate predictions." OK, Paul Mason, fair point, but what about your next point?

"And then there's the migration problem. To make the central scenario work, Europe and the USA each have to absorb 50 million migrants between now and 2060, with the rest of the developed world absorbing another 30 million. Without that, the workforce and the tax base shrinks so badly that states go bust." So, we will never know who are the criminal bankers because by then the Daily Mail will have blamed the incoming migrants for all that went before....

In any case, as Paul rightly says, the effects of high-carbon emissions will have kicked in anyway so, as already implied by my local council in Lincolnshire [shame on your 'advertising'{jcomments on} campaign, fridge magnets and all, bastards!], we will all be rowing dinghies down Shit Street - and, even with a paddle, the internet reception in a failed and very wet state is unlikely.

Lincolnshire County Council flooding adverts

It gets worse: as Picketty and this Report suggest, there will need to be more tax on the wealthy with all their offshore and by then probably off-planet tax havens. They will have gone and we will never catch them on Mars in rowing boats and dinghies! So, frankly, I am not inspired by Paul's conclusion, after he openly sees that the OECD's answer is simply more globalisation and more privatisation, i.e. more of the same that got us into this mess in the first place: "The ultimate lesson from the report is that, sooner or later, an alternative programme to "more of the same" will emerge. Because populations armed with smartphones, and an increased sense of their human rights, will not accept a future of high inequality and low growth."

In other words, those of us who are down here in the undergrowth are fucked, but it is down to us to save ourselves. Spot on, Paul, because no-one else will. Twas ever thus. The deeper implication and really important point of all this though is that there will be very little criminology by 2060, above ground or underwater, and therefore in anticipation we expect CrimeTalk to have ceased functioning by then. Sorry, but at 111 I could not be expected to row a boat and write at the same time......get real!


c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner) Editor's blog Sun, 13 Jul 2014 14:23:32 +0000
CrimeTalk upgrade, refurb and sustainability http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=930:crimetalk-upgrade-refurb-and-sustainability&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=930:crimetalk-upgrade-refurb-and-sustainability&catid=946&Itemid=292

Thank you  for your patience. I worry that many of you have given up on CrimeTalk, but a special thanks to all those who have urged me not to let this project drop or decline. As you may know, I have given up on retirement and decided I might as well get paid for what I was doing for free, talking criminology. CrimeTalk remains not-for-profit but I am back in the labour force: in the Department of Sociology, University College Cork, Ireland. So, since August 2012, my feet have not touched the ground. I have been overwhelmed by the demand for criminology here and it's been a pleasure to be back teaching. In addition, I am now Head of the School of Sociology and Philosophy, which brings another set of burdens. It's also partly my own fault, for creating a new BA in Criminology, launched in September 2014.

As you may have seen, I have been encouraging students here to write for CrimeTalk, as part of their development and because criminology will be the better for engaging with Irish moral and criminal justice issues. This engagement will grow over the years to come, and I urge all you professors out there to get your students and colleagues to do the same. More on that later but suffice it to say that I aim to sustain CrimeTalk and not let it decline, despite the cost and despite my workload. Progress on CrimeTalk has been significantly held up by the latter, plus [a] the need to keep up with developments in technology, and at my own cost, [b] the problems we faced with unwanted and intrusive advertising, that costs money to eliminate, [c] the various logistics of my move to Ireland, and [d] progress with CrimeTalk Books. Most of these matters are now resolved.

The upgrade is complete and I hope you all like the new look. The major technological advance is that the site now works really well with handheld devices, such as the iPad and smartphones. But do note the new 'add comments' widget at the end of each article. You have to be logged in - it's for registered users only now. We have disabled our social network software, CrimSoc, since few people used it and it's expensive to maintain - it could be restored if funds for it and the demand were there. The biggest change is the creation of an Editorial Board, a list of Corresponding Editors who will commission articles for CrimeTalk. From May onwards, I will also have an editorial assistant. Increasingly, CrimeTalk will become more academic in style, for the simple reason that most of you raeding this are either academics, students or well-educated; although I want to retain the emphasis on plain speech, the style of serious journalism and the aim of being accessible to a wide audience.

CrimeTalk still needs funding, if it is to stay alive. Not-for-profit does not mean there are no costs every year or that I am privately wealthy. To this end, I will increase the amount of [relevant] advertising, continue to seek donations, and even sell shares in the website so that it becomes owned by a group of us. Please contact me at c.sumner@ucc.ie if you are interested in becoming a shareholder of CrimeTalk. Straightforward donations can be made on the Donations page, under the About CrimeTalk menu. I would be delighted if the professors amongst you tried to get your universities to advertise postgrad degrees and even criminology posts with us: we will now charge for such ads, albeit at very low rates. More from me on all of these developments soon, probably under the About CrimeTalk menu.

Thanks for reading and still being here. As always, this project is to create a resource for you and your students. It hopes still to provide that fascinating, basic, 'grass roots', raw criminology that got us all interested in the subject in the first place. More than ever, it is intended as an educational forum for criminology students, a place many can get their first publication, and to provide a weekly connection to the regular world of crime and justice out there.

Colin Sumner

c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner) Editor's blog Mon, 28 Apr 2014 01:11:35 +0000
Different class: Duncan Smith, Tevez, Thatcher and cultural capital http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=912:different-class-thatcher&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=912:different-class-thatcher&catid=946&Itemid=292

 Eeh, bah gum, it's great to be back in the UK for a brief Easter break after working my socks off in austere Ireland for the last few months; back to the Victorian class war that poses as a modern society. Whatever happened to that ludicrous notion, held only by sociologists of course, that we had entered postmodernity? Well, maybe they had a point: the nature of internet publishing is such that I can now, several days later than the original, add a paragraph at the end on Thatcher who has just died, rounding off my picture of the week to an exact T. Your CrimeTalk editor, in touch with the zeitgeist, working for you....

Iain Duncan-Smith, the multimillionaire liberal idiot wing of the multimillionaire Tory party, declared that people can get by on £53 a week, whilst £200,000-a-week Carlos Tevez, the multimillionaire ghetto idiot wing of the multi-billion pound Premiership soccer league, gets a £1000 fine, community service and a 6-month ban for a batch of driving offences which if I, as a poor idiot United-supporting sociologist, had committed would have led to a £4 million fine, a year in prison, excommunication from churches I don't even belong to, public mutilation, my car being scrapped and transportation to North Korea.

Iain Duncan Smith: Thousands sign petition challenging Tory to live on £53 a week

Carlos Tevez ordered to carry out 250 HOURS of community service but can only move abroad if court lets him leave

So the class war is alive and kicking; back 'home' in my comfort-zone of shameless class cultures - what you might call the de-spiritualized zone between Ireland and France. In Ireland, quite a few people are committing suicide, especially men, and many youngsters are emigrating, with urban unemployment around 20% and national at 14%, but in England we are protected from the dangers of shattered expectations by being repeatedly reminded that it makes no sense to have any hope unless you are a millionaire. Ireland seems to breed optimism: 'sure it'll be grand' seems like a pervasive cultural matrix and compares well with our 'sure it'll be shit'. Ireland's aphorism at least inclines towards a friendly, albeit surprisingly authoritarian, conformism in the comfort that the new Pope will sort it.

Having little cultural and social capital is actually OK, providing you don't expect it to make a blind bit of difference to the barbarism of the British class system. You can tune out, find your own vibe and just live, which is just about possible if you can deploy one of many ways of not actually paying for things [benefit claims, identity theft, drug deals, investment banking, a political career, inherited wealth, grow your own, join the share-net culture, get everything free from Don't Dump That, etc etc] and don't want to watch Premiership football. That's why we've not had any serious rioting since, errr, the summer before last.......

So it was no surprise to hear that the Tories were considering cutting benefits up North - where the unemployed actually are and whose teams sit atop the Premiership. Well, there'd be no point in cutting them in the South-East, would there? Anyway, how would you cut the benefits of running a bank: the knighthood, the multi-million pound salary, the second and third homes, the island in the Caribbean, the membership of the House of Lords, the golf club, the moat with its duck house, the maid, and of course the bloated pension fund. Technically quite difficult, that one. It might involve chivvying one's chums instead of those awful 'chavs', what, old boy?

It's slim up North: Benefits could be cut outside of South East

But it was tragic to read about the death of the young film-maker, wanting to apply for an investigative journalism course by making a realistic film about the homeless and 'sleeping rough' on the streets of a very cold Newcastle. He froze to death after 3 days. You see Mr Duncan Smith, the poor have to learn how to survive, it doesn't come easy; not like being a rich fool. Class has material consequences and that is not changed by having social and cultural capital. The latter might increase your status but they do not change your class - it is your class that gives you your social and cultural capital, and you have to take it from there. You can give young footballers £100,000 a week but they will just buy fast cars and commit an amazing number of driving offences, that is, when they've stopped drinking and shagging everything that moves. OK, Georgie was my idol as a teenager on the Stretford End....

Filmmaker, 27, 'froze to death' sleeping rough while making documentary about homelessness

To top it all off, this orgy of ludicrousness, some esteemed sociologists this week came up with a new classification of social classes which seems to leave Rupert Murdoch, who may still own a lot of our media but has absolutely no cultural capital over here any more if indeed he has an address here, in a lower social class than some middle-class law graduate with 400 'friends' on Facebook and a lot of hobbies.

Britain now divided into SEVEN classes, not just upper, middle, and working: Which are you? [Daily Mirror]

What class are you? [The Guardian]

Of course, the newly redundant wrote in to deny being correctly allocated in the elite and leading sociologists of class made the obvious point that by deriving class from its symptoms all that is achieved is confusion and deception, at least amongst the "new affluent workers" and the "precariat" who have yet to recognize themselves in their new non-designer labels. Of course, the 'established middle-class' always identified with the workers with their denims and scruffy look.

Little solidarity over the question of class [The Guardian]

So I truly despair, and will return to the emerald isle next week refreshed with enthusiasm as a member of the well-established, semi-affluent, semi-technical and forever non-emergent precariat, that unholy mix of the proletariat and the precarious but as the 1 in 30 who got a university education and the 1 in 10 million who somehow became a Cambridge don. Having observed Tevez and Iain Duncan Smith this week, I can honestly say that the deepest truth about class, even above the fact that it is governed by your position in the political economy, is that class is permanent and form merely temporary. Just look at George Osbourne, the hapless Chancellor of the Exchequer, trying to suggest that a man who killed 6 of his children illustrated the evil of the culture of welfare dependency, as if Mick Philpott could be typical of anything.

The day Britain changes

The week the welfare war broke out

Or as journalist Paul Routledge put it: "The rich and powerful, and employers with the ability to sack you, are in a different league. They're on the other side, always have been, always will be. They want to control and exploit. That's the real class issue, not your music tastes or TV viewing habits" (5 April 2013,  "No such thing as class? That's rich", Daily Mirror).

And then the Iron Lady died yesterday. Margaret Thatcher, the woman who single-handedly turned the clocks back in Britain a hundred years, making a mockery of British Summer Time.The Nation put its assessment this way:

We are all Thatcherites now

She was a proper woman, one who toughened and widened the power of the state whilst advancing rampant privatisation and declaring the subservience of the state to the power of the free market, thus ensuring right up to today that there was nothing that couldn't be shopped for, nothing that couldn't be sold, nothing that couldn't be turned into a commodity and that even public office was an opportunity to capitalise on one's good fortune. No wonder Barack Obama tweeted that she proved to women that there was no glass ceiling that couldn't be broken! After Thatcher's destructive periods of office, there wasn't much that wasn't broken. Still, despite the aggressive selfishness, the oh-so-LIncolnshire mean-spiritedness and rural short-sightedness, she only turned the clocks back a hundred years and failed in her real target of around 600 years, when she might have created a world without any society, any social aspiration or any forms of association bigger than the family. We can turn them forward again and recreate the forms of association, new forms of manufacture and energy, the democratic political organizations of ordinary people and an idea of a society worth the name.

The real question we stil have to answer directly, and then act upon, is why did we give her so much power? No one can blame the ruling classes for choosing their own class warrior to lead them to their idea of the promised land. But we can ask why so many working-class people thought and still think that Thatcherite views make sense and even worse would actually work as functional political ideology. Until socialistic political organizations work that one out we will remain in a Thatcherite period of British politics where all the leaders of the major political parties are actually Thatcherite and openly so. The mass of working people need to grasp that:

1] The welfare state was always created in exchange for the lives of millions killed 1939-45 and was never understood as a business or profit-making proposition; all public sector enterprises have to do is to deliver quality services and break even. It is the task of capital to make profit and accumulate.

2] Class still rules in all societies, not just Britain, and that, just because we are not ready for socialism does not mean that we should not regulate and keep a very close eye on the profiteering of our own ruling classes and their capitalistic enterprises.

3] There is no free ride for anyone and neither personal nor social development will come through cheating, bullying, idling, stealing or exploiting on either a local, national or international scale. The entrepreneurial capitalism so encouraged by Thatcher has not yet served its historic role to advance the means of production to a point where no more profit is possible. So let us welcome globalization and immigration as potentially advancing social production, human well-being and the wealth of nations, whilst rejecting all forms of parasitism and crime yet embracing a forgiving inclusiveness towards all those who find the whole thing impossible, heart-breaking, confusing and bewildering.

I remain more Groucho than Karl, more Lennon than Lenin. Let's now get our heads straight and have some imagination, but not join the club that will have us.

{jcomments on}

c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner) Editor's blog Fri, 05 Apr 2013 21:00:48 +0000
A "primitive" Catholic state? Ireland, disciplinary power and the Magdalenes http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=909:catholic-state-ireland-the-magdalenes&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=909:catholic-state-ireland-the-magdalenes&catid=946&Itemid=292

Our primitive Catholic, pseudo-Gaelic State laid foundations for Magdalenes

Many of my sociology of crime and deviance students have been discussing or writing this term on which was most important - church, state or economy - in determining, maintaining and sustaining the distinctly authoritarian and cold form of Catholicism embedded in Irish institutions and forms of general consciousness still today. The Kevin Myers article published in the Irish Independent in late February, and linked in above, speaks sharply and pointedly to exactly this issue. He argues that Bill McCormack's book Dublin 1916 sums it up in a way that explains the Laundries. The argument is that the "revolutionaries" of 1916 achieved what they set out to do: establish "a virulent and nationalistic form of Catholicism which had emerged in France in the late 19th century" [Myers, 26 February 2013]. Arguably, claims Myers, no other democratic country in the world has handed over so many key functions to religious orders, giving unquestioned "authority over both education and health". The Taliban will be listening, I'm sure.

In this way, the Magdalene Laundries placed "authority above mercy", "power above charity", "submission above freedom" and "consensus above individuality", argues Myers. As he puts it, "The Irish State and the Irish people were thus in thrall to a militant ultramontane Catholicism"; "a prison cell made with the willing labour of the prisoners". Socialist revisionists might exempt James Connolly as the secular exception, but Myers disagrees, finding him to be another intolerant "Catholic bigot". So, within a generation, Myers says, the Protestants had mostly vanished in a "primitive Catholic, pseudo-Gaelic state, in which both dissent or 'immorality' were savagely punished, within an all-pervading culture of physical violence" Therefore the Magdalene Laundries were "the very quintessence of post-independence Ireland".

I would be fascinated to hear your comments on this piece. Certainly, there is a residual thread of authoritarian coldness and superficial strictness evident in institutions, structures and processes here, evident even to a 'blow-in' sociologist, who is also impressed with, and grateful to, the warmth of welcome an Irish university has given to a recalcitrant radical. I do not know well enough Irish history to know whether this bureaucratic authoritarianism stems from the dominant ideologies of 1916, and have certainly not lived here long enough to say more. So, please, let's hear from some Irish social scientists and historians on this.

It would be particularly interesting too to hear from those who might know anything of the fall-out of this callous and strict form of Catholicism - the rebellion and anger of boys mistreated in strict, religious, detention centres, and of course their own families, who mature into hardened Dublin gangsters.

Criminologists in the UK and USA in recent years have begun to discover the phenomenon of state crime, but they have rarely researched the role of the church or religion in generating crime through its overly aggressive and even violent suppression of what it censures as moral deviance. My former UK students in Cambridge would have thought the church [qua Cof E] was dead and so inconsequential re moral matters and definitions of deviance and crime; many of my former East London students however, as Muslims, would curse, suffer from or bemoan 'the power of tradition'. Several young female victims of 'forced marriages' cried on my shoulder, so to speak, as Head of a Law School. Indeed, little has been said about the role and roots of religious authoritarianism generally in identifying, defining, over-punishing and over-scrutinizing minor pecadilloes, especially those alleged of girls and women. Links with patriarchy and religion still need exploring in the understanding of moral censure and social discipline; we lack a full critical knowledge and global history.

But perhaps we should also study the links between this Irish Catholic patriarchy and the distanced disdain of a tiny but very rich and powerful Irish bourgeois elite that to this day shamelessly and unreflexively evidences its greed and over-bloated sense of entitlement in the way it cosies up to and sleeps with the banks, accumulates capital in public office, collects directorships, awards itself huge salaries, pensions and pay rises, and demands that the rest of us tighten our belts. The ruling class in the UK pissed me off many years ago, and sociologists like Ralph Miliband documented interlocking elites and their grip on the state form in 1972 in The State in Capitalist Society, well before his sons attempted to seize that state power in the neo-Thatcherite age, but this one is truly shameless and doesn't even seem to feel the need to respond to the savage attacks of its eloquent journalists.

See Philip Nolan's excellent critique, "Golden circle still thriving", The Irish Mail on Sunday, 24 March 2013, not available online without a subscription.

If the Catholicism of the 1916 revolutionaries owes much to late 19th-century France, let us remember that the great French sociologist Emile Durkheim saw excessive suppression of human diversity as at least as dangerous as over-tolerance and normative disintegration. We may have moved beyond the limp-wristed hippie permission of all excesses in the late 1960's but we have certainly not adequately critically dealt with that other great French 'sociologist of censure' Michel Foucault. In supposing that modern societies were societies of judgement, with moral assessment built into every capillary of power, Foucault never really grappled with the idea, and practical implication, that excess did have to be regulated, if not everywhere then certainly in the bank, church and family, and lines had to be drawn, without slipping back into an authoritarian penality of terror and strict discipline. When a society is ruled by a tiny powerful elite and it hands over its moral guidance systems to an undemocratic and unregulated religious elite, there is a risk that it will lose all hegemonic unity gained through the independence struggle and be seen by its people as a backward satrapy awaiting secular revolt.

c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner, with linked-in Kevin Myers article) Editor's blog Sun, 24 Mar 2013 18:45:41 +0000
HSBC admits laundering money for drug cartels, terrorists and rogue states http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=845:hsbc-laundering-money-drug-cartels-terrorists-and-rogue-states&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=845:hsbc-laundering-money-drug-cartels-terrorists-and-rogue-states&catid=946&Itemid=292

The HSBC story makes Barclays' interest-rate rigging pale in the shadows, as a sociological and political phenomenon. HSBC admitted to the US Senate essentially knowlingly, or at least incompetently, laundering the billions in drug profits from the brutally violent Mexican cartels, and billions more from various "terrorist groups and pariah states" [The Guardian - I think they mean Iran, Syria, Burma and Russia, and groups therein]. Moreover, the executive chairman of this bank during the time this all took place, 2003-10 was Lord Green, now UK Minister of Trade, David Cameron's leading banking advisor, and thought to be a candidate for the Bank of England job after Mervyn King!

"HSBC executives admit to US senators that staff at its global subsidiaries laundered billions of dollars for drug cartels, terrorists and pariah states. David Bagley, HSBC's head of compliance since 2002, resigns in front of the permanent subcommittee of investigations, which subjected Europe's biggest bank to a humiliating interrogation over the scandal" (The Guardian, 18 July 2012)

So, let's see the Guardian's highlights of the confessions, after the advert of course:

Then, on Lord Green, see: 

HSBC money laundering scandal draws in trade minister

and international banking in general:

HSBC, Libor and the cynical ethos of international banking

and on banking reform: 

The HSBC scandal shows the time for politicians to act on bank reform is now

Well done to the Guardian, but Luyendijk does not go far enough: apart from prison sentences for offenders, commensurate with the size of the crime and noting that these are systematic lapses of moral judgement, it is surely time we hung out all the big banks to dry and developed our own national bank. By this I mean let's re-enact the Glass-Steagall separation between retail and investment banking so that if the irresponsible rich want to gamble away their own money they can do so freely and we the nation can enjoy secure retail banking facilities suitably backed and matched by government funding. We need a Bank of England as a retail bank as well as a regulatory bank. That is my view, and I'd be delighted if someone can tell me why we haven't yet done that or at least agreed it....

It would surely have saved the UK over a hundred billions having to bail out what it emerges is a totally corrupt and now systemically incompetent industry. Not only do they not seem to know who to lend money to and who not to, but they seem happy to work for even the most criminal of organizations. They fail to lend to decent businesses that need the money and penalize many of us for failing even briefly to stay within agreed overdraft levels; not to mention the various mis-selling scandals where banks show themselves to be unscrupulous salespeople at heart. Let the guilty banks rot, I say, and pay for their incompetence and complete lack of ethics. If that makes them leave, let them go! Industry bail-outs should only be for deserving causes, such as the NHS, public transport systems and the Royal Mail. 

One final theoretical note: it is not a free market economy that the neo-cons or neo-Thatcherites believe in, their practice shows they clearly only bail out weak or incompetent companies and industries where they have friends, and slowly squeeze the life out of public services where they have no friends and little influence. In short, they stand exposed as the high priests of corruption, state asset-stripping and casino capitalism. Alongside their mates, and party donors, the big banks......

So, come on Miliband, set up a national bank with that  money reserved for quantitative easing, legislate the separation of retail and investment banking, set adrift the criminal banks to sink or swim with the drug cartels, and raise the statutory level of customer losses to banking negligence to £100,000 as in the USA!

c.sumner@ucc.ie (The Guardian, with comments by Colin Sumner) Editor's blog Thu, 19 Jul 2012 00:52:19 +0000
Moral standards in the City http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=820:moral-standards-in-the-city&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=820:moral-standards-in-the-city&catid=946&Itemid=292

Todays newspapers carry the story of the £290 million in fines levied against Barclays Bank by UK and US authorities. Sounds a big fine, but you really need to understand what they did, and then let it sink in....for it goes to the heart of a very big question: what is a crime and why do working-class crimes get such harsh penalties like prison sentences when elite worngdoings don't even get censured as crimes.

Barclays shamed by £290m fine for market fixing

It seems Barclays' traders, and those from other big banks, routinely lied about the interbank lending rates which determine LIBOR, the general rate that lending institutions like retail banks and building societies use to fix their interest rates when they lend out mortgages, personal loans etc. or conspired with others. Why does this matter? Because apparently LIBOR is based on a rough survey of the interest rates the big banks use to lend to each otther, which is a joke for a start - we let the big banks dictate the base interest rate? It also matters because those lies then benefitted those traders in their highly leveraged massive derivative trades where a fraction of a percentage point makes banks millions. See also Robert Peston's comments on the BBC News site:

Barclays 'attempted to manipulate interest rates'

So, yes, you got it, if I've represented matters more or less correctly, some of those bankers' bonuses, which, after all, often reward the derivative traders most, were based on manipulation of the market, or obtaining money by false pretences, or by criminal deception, or, in common parlance, fraud. That is perhaps the best reason why Barclays boss, Bob Diamond, has given his bonus back.

Now, we have had a lot of discussion on CrimeTalk recently about avoiding pre-emptive labelling of ordinary troubled youths who misbehave, but we might now want to consider the opposite issue: why don't we punish the serious crimes more severely? None of these lying traders or fraudsters will be sent to prison.

So, let's get this right, if you form a gang and rob a bank, taking nowhere near as much as lying traders did for Barclays, you could get 20 years in prison, but if you conspire to manipulate LIBOR by lying about interest rates to make huge profits running into hundreds of millions your boss takes the rap, your company is heavily fined and you only lose your job?

OK, perhaps this is the right way of doing things....a kind of restorative justice: we avoid clogging up the prisons with rich white people at the taxpayers' expense and and take some of the ill-gotten gains into our national treasury.....?  But then we give it back to the banks next week through quantitative easing, so not really.... 

Tony Robinson, from Blackadder and the Time team summed it up very well indeed on BBC's Question Time: 

Tony Robinson asks if bankers are human

Even the Labour Party, that neo-Thatcherite party of the working class, does not quite grasp the depth of the issue here, and many criminologists don't either. These kinds of major elite wrongdoing are simply not part of the crime-ing process, not seen as crimes, they are hived off into another game altogether. Indeed, it could be reasonably argued that Labour actually sees little difference between crime and business. Only this week, Labour's Shadow Business Secretary said that if inner-city gangs applied their entrepreneurial zeal to legal business they would become rich men - he didn't actually say 'get rich quick' but you know what he means. Well, he's right in a way, because today's Barclays story illustrates how top financial institutions regularly use criminal methods [the criminal deception had been going on for years, and across the banking system].

Going straight... to the top: Gang members 'could be wealthy businessmen if they went legit'

So, now you know. You can be a successful businessmen if you serve your apprenticeship in an inner-city gang.......but Barclays knew that already.... It would spice up the Apprentice though if those wannabes had to do a robbery to prove they had the business mentality!  The serious point is that the skill-sets required for being a top business person and a top criminal gang leader appear to be seen as the same by both Tories and Labour. Err, guys, you are missing something........
The juxtaposition of these two stories is no one-off accident. Nor is just funny. It tells you what is fundamentally wrong with the state in a capitalist society and what is fundamentally naive about criminology, which still focusses on working-class crime. Committing serious property crime is merely the misapplication of a highly valued skill-set, not a sign of moral vacancy. And milking elite occupational positions for massive personal gain is not grounds for a prison sentence in this country. Indeed, it would enable you to form a company to buy the prison....
On the other hand, the nasty party, the one that is completely devoid of moral values and proud of it, the shameless Conservative Party, simply tries to make the poor pay for the sins and incompetence of the get-rich-quick merchants:

As Kevin Maguire says in that opinion piece above from The Mirror:

"THERE is no more nauseating sight in British politics than a Prime Minister born with a silver dinner service in his mouth hypocritically declaring war on a supposed culture of entitlement.

Here is a toff married to an heiress, a gentleman raised in a country house with a tennis court and swimming pool in the garden, nanny on permanent call, who was educated in a prep school favoured by royalty before Eton then Hooray Henrying with the Buller Club in Oxford, going on to secure his first job after a word was put in from Buck House, the second after mummy-in-law had a chat with her wealthy chum, daring to claim some people have it easy.

Chairman Dave with his Little Blue Book lecturing low income families, Chinese-style, on how many kids they can have is the political eugenics of a desperate leader.

Cameron, the Prince of ­Privilege, has no idea how ordinary people live and doesn’t care two hoots.

That upwards of 10 people are on benefits for every vacancy or most families on housing benefit are the working poor, employed but earning too little to afford Rachman rents, is conveniently ignored by a PM who blames the penniless for their hardship instead of the curses of low wages and unemployment.

Bashing the unfortunate on benefits is scapegoat tactics of a classic divide-and-ruler, turning the low income households against those even worse off.

Destroying the welfare state is one thrust in a wider attack to create a country of drones to toil cut-price in the interests of fatcats who bankroll the Tories.........."

c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner) Editor's blog Thu, 28 Jun 2012 12:38:28 +0000
Public engagement, mass media and science http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=792:public-media-science&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=792:public-media-science&catid=946&Itemid=292

Alice Roberts, the anthropologist who's on telly a lot, outlines the basics of why the world needs academics to engage more with the public [or does her job title mean that she meant that the public should engage more with science?]:

Prof Alice Roberts: 'Public engagement should be part of academic life' - video

Well, yes, of course the public should have more access to science in one sense, namely that knowledge is inherently free and should remain so - academic journals are far too expensive: that's one reason I set up CrimeTalk - to liberate the truths criminology has captured from the linguistic and methodological shroud involved in the capture.

To put science with public in the same sentence is not a simple matter, if only because academics are often very overworked in these days of mass education, and deeply resentful of the paperwork involved in being publically accountable. Plus there are others who merely serve time itself, being accountable only to spouse, children, golf club or football team and travel agent, having little science to purvey to a public they long since gave up on as a receptacle for meaningful information.

If only we could resolve  the problem by reducing audits so that an academia passionately committed to a public thirsting for knowledge can enthusiastically tell them all it knows....

Here's 10 reasons, off the top of my head, and I do have the T-shirts to prove it, the T-shirt - one of the most scientific forms of proof, why it is difficult for science to engage with its public:

1 Audits: the RAE and now the REF, forms of research audit, have the effect of accentuating the tendency of academics to write to each other; but  it should be acknowledged that [a] even without scrutiny of their research in audits by other academics, most academics prefer to talk to each other anyway - some even prefer to look at the floor than at other people, and conversely [b] some academics talk a great deal to their classes - and their students are of course members of the public until they join the academic club in their postgraduate years;

2 Introspection: academics, like other people, prefer to talk to people who speak and understand their language; it is still unclear why all knowledge should be reducible to two sentences in a banal vernacular squeezed in between adverts for tampons and betting companies;

3 It is hard to communicate complex ideas in the two seconds that the television and newspapers give you, especially when you know they will re-write or misinterpret what you said anyway. Media have their own agendas and need to examine why they think there is any advantage to the theories of relativity, climate change and the causes of crime being crushed into a brief soundbyte that explains little and creates a delusion of science. Television can sometimes re-present science well of course, but are we sure a little knowedge is a good thing? Isn't the real deal, and the only one really worth having, uncomfortable or difficult for both scientist and public?

4 There may be a disinclination in some quarters of science to give away the fruits of years of hard labour on ordinary pay to smooth media types who won't fart for less than a grand; this might be based on the profound idea, usually put forward by journalists, that scientific knowledge should be free but not newspapers or television;

5 To be fair, some academics would have more difficulty running a raffle, although less so with piss-ups in breweries I found, than actually communicating with other members of the species, so measured knowledge transfer to an enlightened public might be a tough call, subject of course to evolutionary breakthroughs on both sides;

6 Why would anyone in a capitalist society want to purvey their hard-won scientifically valid knowledge to the public anyway? If you have discovered something of value today, the next thing you do is acquire a business plan, a bank loan and staff; the last thing you would do is broadcast it. I worked in Cambridge for two decades: I'll say no more other than list the stock market epic codes of ARM, CSR and ABC, not to mention the now-sold-on-for-billions Autonomy;

7 It may well be that media filters or news-values ensure that the only scientific knowledge that gets through is either the incredibly universal, like Brian Cox says there's 76 galaxies, or the incredibly banal, like David Starkey says there are racial tensions in recent UK political history. A documentary producer for an ITV series once told me I couldn't say homicide was more of a male proclivity, despite the number of women sadly missing in our sample of cases, for fear of upsetting the men in my audience. It's ironic how knowledgeable media people are about the impact of their work on their audiences, master scientists in fact, despite the lack of persuasive work on the causal effects of media output.

8 It may shock the more inquisitive among you but sizeable chunks of the public don't actually want to know; they want to consume; and with criminology this means that if you mention stereotypical criminals in the same sentence as explanation it is no longer amazing to see how many respond with 'lock 'em up, throw away the key - explaining their crimes is the same as sympathizing with them';

9 What a fair number of the public wants to consume isn't the wondrous mechanics of our physical and moral universe so much as something different that entertains them for half an hour; so ideally the best television and newspapers simply recycle familiarities at firmly fixed regular intervals - hence the existence of soaps; even that may be too demanding for those with ADD and they prefer paintballing to knowledge transfer;

10 When inquisitive members of the public want to know more detail about how stuff works, natural or social, they go to university and buy books - I have even known a fair few who won't let their kids watch television; funnily enough, it's their kids who are most inclined to do the same and also get degrees; the problem these people have today is that there is so much pressure on universities to pay for themselves that the proportion of intellectuals in those places is reducing, ever since the university demanded better paperwork, more fund-raising, better business-sense, full-on p.r., a motherly approach to student comfort, and a hard-headed managerialist approach to budgets -  so students don't find it easy to find the increasing percentage of profs who prefer to write books at home, go shopping for shoes, look after their kids, appear on tv or form their own company.

Personally, I feel there was more public engagement with science 40 years ago, when science was less of a lucrative commodity and more of a public service, and the media were less mass but a lot more public, in ownership, objectives and style. When you drive down the idea of public service from both your universities and your media, and replace it with the phony, private sector wisdom of 'the business model', managerialism and mission statements, you will find there is less of a public and fewer publically minded intellectuals to engage with each other. It's called a vicious circle in scientific quarters, which proves that you can circle quarters. I think I'll tweet that now.....because I'm not being paid for any of this wisdom......

"From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it." 

[Marx, Groucho, that is] 



c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner) Editor's blog Wed, 16 May 2012 13:37:57 +0000
Academic journals: an open and shut case http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=753:academic-journals-an-open-and-shut-case&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=753:academic-journals-an-open-and-shut-case&catid=946&Itemid=292

I would normally put thie link below into our Education section but CrimeTalk is very much about talk as well as crime. And talk is not cheap, especially for academics. They/we do/did all the hard graft: the hours and hours of painful labour poring over every word and thought for its truth value, the days of finding the right people to ask questions of, weeks discovering the sources of the information they need to build a picture....then they sell it, either to a book publisher for 10% or to a journal run by fellow academics who give them precisely nothing for it, other than an imaginary status voucher which they can then cash in at the next research audit/lottery and so keep their employment for a further few years.

Academic journals: an open and shut case

The link is to a Guardian leader and the comment begins as follows:

"Some very clever people have put up with a very silly system for far too long. That is the upshot of our reporting on scholarly journals this week. Academics not only provide the raw material, but also do the graft of the editing. What's more, they typically do so without extra pay or even recognition – thanks to blind peer review. The publishers then bill the universities, to the tune of 10% of their block grants, for the privilege of accessing the fruits of their researchers' toil. The individual academic is denied any hope of reaching an audience beyond university walls, and can even be barred from looking over their own published paper if their university does not stump up for the particular subscription in question.

This extraordinary racket is, at root, about the bewitching power of high-brow brands. Journals that published great research in the past are assumed to publish it still, and – to an extent – this expectation fulfils itself. To climb the career ladder academics must get into big-name publications, where their work will get cited more and be deemed to have more value in the philistine research evaluations which determine the flow of public funds. Thus they keep submitting to these pricey but mightily glorified magazines, and the system rolls on."

Following the Guardian comment, there are many interesting and sensible comments. Perhaps I can add here that the solution advocated in the article is the one supposed here in earlier articles in our Education section, namely that "the old order needs to change, not just for the good of academics, but for the good of the public who pay them. Copy-editing and admin will still need to be funded, but this can be done through direct grants for a fraction of the cost of subscriptions."

If websites like CrimeTalk were funded by universities directly, the latter would save themselves a lot of money. Moreover, academics could, through those universities and through editorial boards on websites, have considerably more control over content, production values and styles, and intellectual standards.

There is one vital thing I must add: by not overturning the iniquitous system of academic publishing, and it really is wrong not just "silly", scholars are, as the Guardian says, denying themselves an audience beyond academic walls. From personal experience and having committed the silly sin myself,  I can say this works in two ways: [1] by academics' writing in a technical language which is developed within the cloistered walls of an enclosed system and has no need to explain itself to anyone outside, and [2] by suppressing the public voice in return for re-employment within the university - the technical language combined with a rigged peer-review system contains the academic publication within its enclosed environment in return for a steady and comfortable salary. In developing countries, it is called bribing off potential trouble-makers....

c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner/The Guardian) Editor's blog Wed, 11 Apr 2012 16:02:49 +0000
It's just not cricket: the Riots Report http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=738:its-just-not-cricket-the-riots-report&catid=946&Itemid=292 http://crimetalk.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=738:its-just-not-cricket-the-riots-report&catid=946&Itemid=292

The Independent Riots Communities and Victims Panel was set up to examine and understand why the August 2011 riots took place. The Riots Communities and Victims Panel’s final report has now been published. This sets out their final findings and recommendations for action to help prevent future riots. This report has been presented to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Official Opposition.

After the Riots: The final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel

I have not read this report in full yet, but having seen some previews in the press and a few of its snippets and general findings I can only say 'welcome to a bygone age'. "Character-building"? Throwing money at 'problem families'? Alternatives to custody? My assessment of the riots hasn't changed: see Riots, aggravated shopping and 30 years of opportunism, although I admit a little more appreciation of the fact that some rioters were feeling economically and politically disenfranchised: see the press cuttings UK riots: the psychology of looting and If the rioting was a surprise, people weren't looking and my comment Rage and riots, all in CrimeTalk.

My first response then is that this report doesn't seem inclined towards a deeper sociological analysis of the UK's political economy in order to understand [a] the acute materialism our culture now suffers from and [b] the impact of current high youth unemployment, government cutbacks and years of reducing alternatives to hanging out on streets, such as sport and worthwhile FE. It's not characters these young people lack but a decent society. The present one is barely fit for purpose and will continue to generate these outbursts combining pointless material accumulation with anger at the failure of parents and authorities to provide anything worth believing in.

The materialist culture is a bigger problem than most people have allowed for. A people that uses wealth and money as its key criterion of assessment is always going to be devoid of character and values, irrespective of parenting quality and availability of sports centres. Arguably, an even bigger problem is that if you are going to emphasise wealth, money and the 'business plan' as the keystone of your society then you had better have a really fair distribution of that wealth or else the alienation caused by inequality is always going to cause social problems. That's the rub, and why Marx sold a few books: you cannot have crude Thatcherite capitalism without a socialistic approach to distribution and consumption.

My only hope is that the call for character-building leads to a resurgence of grass-roots cricket. Who wants to form a team? Let's call it the Rioters CC - I bet the fast bowling attack will be good! CLR James will be up there laughing his socks off and saying we should send them all to Ruskin to read Arnold and Carlyle. The problem with that is that if they did, they would not recognize any English sense of fairness or decency amongst the selfish and blind rulers of today's society - and so return to the same conclusion they'd already got to on the street.....that it's a society for the rich and money rules above all.....

c.sumner@ucc.ie (Colin Sumner) Editor's blog Wed, 28 Mar 2012 17:19:51 +0000