Doing e-fieldwork in Criminology: The pros and cons of doing online interviews

By Daniela Mradones-Bravo

 Introduction

“Embarking on digital research will, potentially, place a researcher on less stable ground owing to the perceived newness of the terrain. This may cause doubt in the mind of the researcher. Doubts may also be manifested as scepticism or uncertainty on the part of a doctoral supervisory team or a university ethics review board. Research in previously uncharted territory is exciting, and learning to defend the choices made will help in the robustness of the research undertaken, but it can also be time consuming”

Quinton and Reynolds (2019, p.8)

This quote reflects what many qualitative researchers are facing in light of the Covid-19 Pandemic: the unprecedented challenge of not being able to do their fieldwork to gather data and the need to move the research online.  Without knowing when they are going to be allowed to travel again, many have been forced to change their methodologies from classic paradigms of ethnography or interviews to online and digital methods. What happens next?

This post addresses the journey of moving research online and the hard decisions that researchers must make to adapt their research. More positively, it also highlights the benefits and unexpected advantages of doing in-depth interviews online instead of in person. 

First, it should be noted that there is a distinction between people doing research online about the internet (phenomenon) and those using the internet as a tool to study topics not directly related to the online environment. In this post, I will be discussing the latter: digital research as a method/instrument to research a topic that is outside the digital realm, rather than a topic of research itself (Quinton and Reynolds 2019, p.11). It will discuss how established questions can be solved with emerging methods: “While the question asked and/or the phenomenon investigated may not be digitally focused, the methods used to access research data, and/or the data accessed, are digital.” (Quinton and Reynolds 2019, 14).

1. Online interviewing for academic research

At first, interviews may appear to be directly transferable from existing tools and techniques to the digital method. In reality, however, there is an opportunity for new toolkits 

There is, however, enough information to understand the benefits and limitations of using online interviews as the default method for qualitative research.

Literature related to this topic is still limited in comparison with other methods. There is, however, enough information to understand the benefits and limitations of using online interviews as the default method for qualitative research.

Online synchronous interviewing is very popular in some fields. Most of the information is about how to do research online about online topics (for instance, social net, forums), about marketing and business research (for example, online focus groups) and to recruit new staff (human resources) but not necessarily academic research. However, social anthropologists and sociologists developed the concept of netnography (internet ethnography) to study online environments and communities (Costello, Mcdermott, and Wallace 2017).

Also, some fields have developed online research methods for empirical research such as health care studies, but there has not been much reference to this topic within the criminological field because most of the research has focused in digital has a phenomenon (online child pornography, online fraud, online environments). 

Despite the lack of attention from some fields, interviews intermediated by technologies have been an important method of study for a long time. It is possible to find papers about telephone interviews from the 80s and internet interviews in the 2000s.

Currently, research focuses on two types of internet-based interviews: asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous interviews are non-real-time interviews and they were largely developed during the 2000s. Most are interviews over email, but it can also include online forums and chats. In other words, it is a written form of communication, but one which is faster than classic mails exchange. 

Synchronous interviews are in real-time and they have evolved recently with the new technology. Although video conference and video calls seem very normal now, researchers have only started using it consistently to interview within the past ten years. So, the initial research talking about synchronous interviews refer to written communication through chatrooms or conferencing sites (see Chart 1) and not to video conference or calls. 

A screenshot of text

A comparison of the characteristics of offline and online interviews
O’Connor et al, 2008 (p.273)

There are many reasons to choose one platform or another, including availability, accessibility and data security. However, regardless of the platform the researcher chooses to use, it is important to test the technology with practice sessions because unanticipated issues may arise that disrupt the research. Such issues may not be evident from the description of the platform.

An example of this is described in Tuttas (2015): they discovered, while testing the system, that the programme sent an automatic email to participants after the meeting telling them that they could access the recordings; which violated privacy rules. Also, a couple of participants who used a telephone or tablet instead of a computer were unable to use the video connection (probably because of software compatibility), so they only participated through audio.

In the next sections, I will discuss some of the benefits and drawbacks of using this method for qualitative research.

2. Advantages of using synchronous online interviews

(i) Recruitment

Even if the researcher is planning to conduct face to face interviews, at least part of the recruitment process will likely be through internet communication because “In many ways the Internet simplifies matters, as it provides access to groups of users with tightly defined and narrow interests” (O’connor et al. 2008, p.276). So, researchers can find groups of people that meet the criteria for their research that may not be accessible in person.

The limitation is that emails and online posts can be easily ignored. Normally, in-person recruitment creates a commitment between the researcher and the subject, you cannot just “delete” someone that is sitting in your waiting room or asked for an appointment in your office but online recruitment does not create the same interaction.

Nevertheless, online recruitment can reach a bigger number of potential participants than if you just rely on face-to-face recruitment. Ideally, doing both seems to be the best option. For instance, using social media or social networking sites like Facebook has proven to be useful (Fileborn 2016). However, due to the current world scenario and the geographical distance, for most research, online recruitment is the only option although it could be combined with telephone recruitment. 

It is also important to manage the participant`s expectations to have successful recruitment. The new technologies allow researchers to have innovative online spaces where participants can learn about the study through video introductions, webpages, blogs or podcast (Salmons 2020). These resources can broaden the scope of recruitment and at the same time ensure that the research is seen as reliable by the participants.

(ii) Easier to keep anonymity. 

In an in-person interview, other people may know that the interviewee met the interviewer. Normally the interview will take place in a private room but from a public building (such as an office or research centre). Despite the best efforts of the researchers, some participants could be reluctant to participate because they think that they could eventually be identified.  

However, online interviews give the chance of easily keeping anonymity, the participant can choose where and when to do the interview and without fearing they will be seen with the researcher. Unfortunately, there are some vulnerable members of the population with limited access to the internet that may not have this choice of privacy (for instance, prisoners, or victims of domestic violence) and the researcher must acknowledge these challenges to work with a vulnerable population online (Salmons 2020) and should create a new tailored data collection plan to protect their privacy (Ravitch, 2020).

(iii) Time and cost-effectiveness 

Most of the researchers that had previously used these methods agreed that one of the main benefits is that it is cheaper and faster than in-person meetings. Firstly, there is no need to travel which immediately reduces transport costs to zero (in my case I was considering to spend at least £800 only on plane tickets). Furthermore, without any time spent travelling, the time invested in the interview is exactly the amount of time that the interview lasts which is very convenient for the researcher and for interviewees that have busy schedules.

Secondly, it is irrelevant if the participants are geographically widespread. This allows people from all over the world to be interviewed without financial or time constraints.  The only limitation is different time zones. It is very important to check with all the participants in which time zone they are located and also to specify the time zone in which you are setting the meeting if you are sharing the event. Fortunately, there are many free time zone converters online and some software and email servers recognise the time zone automatically when an event invitation is received. However, it is always necessary to double check with the participants to avoid misunderstandings.

(iv) Video 

With this technology, it is possible to easily record the video interview. This allows interviewers to see the body language including some visual and spatial elements which were not possible with previous synchronous technology (telephone, chat) or with asynchronous (email).

In a recent study (Archibald et al., 2019) participants stated that using a synchronous platform (Zoom) for interviewing was better than other digital systems like email or telephone, although most of them still preferred to meet in person if possible.

Video also allows the collection of data related to nonverbal communication during the interview including kinesics (Salmons, 2018).

non verbal communication online chart

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Non-verbal communication online (Salmons, 2018, p.48)

Furthermore, nowadays it is easy to transcribe and code videos in the same way that researcher previously used to code audio recordings, using any qualitative data analysis software (QDAS). The benefits of coding video with QDAS is that they allow the researcher to work simultaneously with the image, audio and transcription so it is easier to connect what has been said with the body expressions.

Nevertheless, it is important to consider that participants can choose between joining an online interview only with audio and it is impossible (and not recommendable) to force them to turn on their webcam if they do not want to. Also, some interviewees may find it intimidating to be video recorded. All the online platforms give the option of having only an audio call instead of a video call. In this case, researchers should let the participant know in advance that the interview will be video recorded and, if the participant does not agree, they should be familiarised and prepared to face a similar challenge to a telephone interview and understand the benefits and disadvantages of this method (Hay-Gibson 2010).

(v) Accessibility 

This used to be a disadvantage and still is for some of the population. However, every year more people have access to the internet. Currently, 59% of the world’s population has access to the internet, and it is constantly increasing.

Of course, access is not evenly spread around the world. In 2017, 94% of households in the United Kingdom had access to the internet whilst it was 87.5% in Chile, 78% in the USA, and 50.9% in Mexico (OECD Data, 2020). However, there have been some indications that the internet access will now sharply increase as a consequence of the pandemic because mediated communication systems have become the only secure way to communicate with people that are more vulnerable to the virus.

Unfortunately, the same people that are more vulnerable to the virus are the ones with less access to the internet (for example, the elderly, ethnic minorities, immigrants, prisoners). So, there is a chance that governments will put more effort into giving access to the internet to these populations. Currently, many countries are encouraging and funding policies that allow prisoners to have cell phones or direct access to the internet and video conferencing with some restrictions so they can contact their families and lawyers. For instance, in the United Kingdom there is an app for having secure video calls that was especially designed for the criminal justice system (check “Purple Visits”).

3. Disadvantages of using synchronous online interviews

(i) Validity 

There are still some concerns about the validity and quality of the data obtained through online interviews mainly because “the face-to-face interview has become somewhat of a ‘gold standard’ in terms of validity and rigour (…)  and online interviews are presented as a second choice or alternative when this ‘gold standard’ of interviewing is not possible” (Deakin and Wakefield 2014, p.604).

However, this standard is changing. Now, more online tools are available, and more researchers are learning how to use them safely and ethically. Also, with the constant improvement in technology, there are no real limitations to data obtained through video call interviews in comparison with in-person interviews. But there are some limitations in other forms of online qualitative research like email-based research (James and Busher, 2006). Nevertheless, there is an increasing number of studies that validate online research methods so these are probably going to become concerns of the past.

(ii) Ethical concerns 

The main ethical issues are data security, informed consent online and online identity which may differ from the corporeal identity (Deakin and Wakefield 2014). Also, giving written consent is more difficult. Some researchers used a mixed approach by obtaining consent through an online survey (Survey Monkey) and then oral consent at the beginning of the interview (Archibald et al., 2019). 

These ethical issues have been a concern for researchers since the beginning of online research. Accordingly, the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) has extensively updated guidelines related to different stages of online research and different types of digital data (franzke et al., 2019). This document should be consulted by any researcher before starting their research.

(iii) Place/environment and privacy

The interviewer only has control over his or her environment and cannot influence the interviewee’s location. The interviewee could be in a place where they are easily distracted or surrounded by other people which compromises the autonomy of their responses. It could disrupt the interviews if they are in a place where other people can hear them. Also, the participant could be in a noisy place which interferes with communication.

This is a problem in every household but it is more serious some contexts like prisons or care facilities. The researcher must acknowledge that every participant will have different privacy/ environment settings and they must discuss this with the interviewee in advance to prevent, as far as possible, any type of interference or intrusion and, if necessary, adapt the methods and tools used.

(iv) Absentees. 

Some researchers (Deakin and Wakefield, 2014) that used face-to-face and online interviews suggest that the absence rate is bigger in an online interview. One of them had 5% of absentees and the other had 20% (compared to no absentees in face-to-face interviews). However, they were able to reschedule all but one interview. The authors conclude that the avoidance of a meeting in your university or workspace is hard but skipping an online meeting where “there is no risk of being seen and definitely little loss on the interviewees part” (Deakin and Wakefield 2014, 612) seems to be a normal reaction.

This may be because the interviewees feel less committed to attending an online interview, and also because they know they are easier to reschedule compared to an in-person meeting. The absences recorded by Deakin and Wakefield also appeared to be related to a lack of familiarity with the researcher: most of the absentees were previously unknown to the researchers. To avoid this, the researchers suggest that it is necessary to increase previous communication with these interviewees to increase familiarity and create rapport (for example, emailing them more often and for a longer period of time). 

Tuttas (2015) faced a similar problem while recruiting participants for online focus groups. They concluded that they needed to invite a much more interviewees than they required, anticipating an attrition of up to 50%, because “the virtual methodology might have distanced them from a compelling sense of commitment to attend their scheduled meeting” (Tuttas 2015, p.129).

(v) Technical difficulties. 

To use this method interviewer and interviewee must have technical equipment, access to the internet, and know computer at least at the user level. Also, the interview relies on the connection and call quality.  In a recent study, Archibald et al (2019) found that 88% of participants experienced some problem joining the session, 25% reported issues about the video or audio quality and some of them had setup issues like “poor webcam functionality, software incompatibility, low device battery, or issues with audio (e.g., sound could not be heard without the use of headphones)” (Archibald et al. 2019, p.5).

However, in this study, participants did not report problems that were common in previous research (poor video or audio quality, loss of internet connection) which is probably due to the improvement in technology. Other authors (Hanna, 2012) also mention some problems with the use of technology (proficiency) and technical hitches like faulty webcams or slow and unstable internet connections.

All these factors should be considered while planning the online interview but also when choosing the participants. It is clear from theses disadvantages that interviewing certain demographic groups (e.g. the elderly) or sectors of the population (e.g. rural populations) poses challenges especially if they do not have or have limited internet access. 

Finally, the table included below, taken from Deakin and Wakefield (2014), summarises the benefits and drawbacks of conducting Skype interviews. It provides an overview of some of the points raised above:

A screenshot of text

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Deakin and Wakefield, 2014 (p.613)

Daniela Mardones-Bravo is a Chilean lawyer and criminologist. She holds an MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Edinburgh, and is currently a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh currently researching the elderly prison population in Chile. Twitter: @danielamarbrav

References

Archibald, Mandy M, Rachel C Ambagtsheer, Mavourneen G Casey, and Michael Lawless. 2019. “Using Zoom Videoconferencing for Qualitative Data Collection: Perceptions and Experiences of Researchers and Participants.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods 18: 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406919874596.

Deakin, Hannah, and Kelly Wakefield. 2014. “Skype Interviewing: Reflections of Two PhD Researchers.” Qualitative Research 14 (5): 603–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794113488126.

Fileborn, Bianca. 2016. “Participant Recruitment in an Online Era: A Reflection on Ethics and Identity.” Research Ethics 12 (2): 97–115. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747016115604150.

franzke, aline shakti, Anja Bechmann, Michael Zimmer, Charles and the Ess, and Association of Internet Researchers. 2019. “Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0 .” https://aoir.org/reports/ethics.pdf;

Hanna, Paul. 2012. “Using Internet Technologies (Such as Skype) as a Research Medium: A Research Note.” Q R Qualitative Research 12 (2): 239–42. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794111426607.

Hay-Gibson, Naomi Victoria. 2010. “Interviews via VoIP: Benefits and Disadvantages within a PhD Study of SMEs.” Library and Information Research 33 (105): 39–50. https://doi.org/10.29173/lirg111.

James, Nalita, and Hugh Busher. 2006. “Credibility, Authenticity and Voice: Dilemmas in Online Interviewing.” Qualitative Research 6 (3): 403–20. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794106065010.

O’connor, Henrietta, Clare Madge, Robert Shaw, and Jane Wellens. 2008. “Internet-Based Interviewing.” In  The SAGE Handbook of Online Research Methods, edited by Nigel Fielding, Raymond M Lee, and Grant Blank, 2nd ed. Sage. https://doi.org/10.4135/9780857020055.

OECD Data. 2020. “Internet Access (Indicator).” 2020. https://data.oecd.org/ict/internet-access.htm.

Quinton, Sarah, and Nina Reynolds. 2019. “Digital Research as a Phenomenon and a Method In: Understanding Research in the Digital Age Introduction and Scope.” https://doi.org/10.4135/9781529716573.

Ravitch, sharon. 2020. “THE BEST LAID PLANS… Qualitative Research Design During COVID-19 – MethodSpace.” 2020. https://www.methodspace.com/the-best-laid-plans-qualitative-research-design-during-covid-19/.

Salmons, Janet. 2018. “Choosing Methodologies and Methods for Online Studies.” In Doing Qualitative Research Online. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781473921955.

Salmons, Janet. 2020. “Online Research with Vulnerable Populations – MethodSpace.” 2020. https://www.methodspace.com/online-research-with-vulnerable-populations/.

Tuttas, Carol A. 2015. “Lessons Learned Using Web Conference Technology for Online Focus Group Interviews.” Qualitative Health Research 25 (1): 122–33. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732314549602.

Thinking differently about harm seminar day

On Tuesday 16th July, BSC postgraduate committee held a seminar at the University of Chester as part of the ‘thinking differently’ series. The seminar series aims to bring together academics and practitioners to critically explore contemporary issues in criminology. The seminars are a space for postgraduates to contribute to challenging taken-for-granted thinking in criminology and criminal justice.

There were two keynote speakers: Dr Vicky Canning from University of Bristol and Dr Holly White from the University of Chester. Vicky opened the day and spoke about women’s experiences of migration and the harms of those seeking asylum in Europe and stressed the importance of identifying and therefore addressing the broader social harms they experience in day to day life. Mark Bushell from Teesside University followed and led an interesting discussion about the harms faced by migrant workers in the North-East night time economy. He identified how deep rooted harms experienced by these individuals are exacerbated by a lack of regulation and support which takes away their ability to challenge them.

There were two policing perspectives on the day, the first by Wayne Cronin-Wojdat from Wrexham University told attendees that some long-serving officers he spoke to wished to take a more welfare driven approach in response by identifying the reasons behind a young person’s behaviour, but ultimately found that differing understandings of its definitions, measures of Police performance and issues with skills and training meant that, at times, a more harmful crime based approached was taken in response to anti-social behaviour. Megan Bettison from John Moores University followed and also discussed harms faced by young people subject to the prevent duty agenda. Megan highlighted the importance of inter-disciplinary research to identify the social harms associated with policy and problematic definitions within it. The final speaker of the day, Daryl Kenny, considered the policing of harms due to the significant number of incidents that the Police deal with that they define as non-crime rising due to increased social and economic inequality.

The paper from Holly White pulled together a lot of the themes presented, as she identified how harm is narrated within society through politicians and corporations and how this actually legitimises harm. The discussion that arose from the day was focused on the issue of safeguarding; how individuals who are subject to social harms are vulnerable and require support, however, they are often positioned within society as problematic and at odds with values held.

The day closed with a publishing panel led by Vicky Canning and it is hoped that the conversation will continue into important communication of the discussion through publishing opportunities disseminated to a relevant audience to evoke change and fundamentally provide opportunities to help those who are being harmed within society.

The day was well attended by postgraduates from a range of Universities across the UK. Attendees included postgraduates, lecturers and those drawn from professional practice.

The postgraduate committee would like feedback from postgraduates about the day itself and what events you wish to see in the next academic year.

Jayne Price

University of Chester

Welcome back!

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the BSC postgraduate blog! My name is Carina O’Reilly, and I’m the new Chair of the Postgraduate Committee. This first post is by way of introduction to myself and my colleagues, Grace and Jayne, and to share some of the things that we’d like do with the committee – and to invite you all to join us, both on the committee, and the blog.

If you want to know more, just get in touch – we’re looking for anyone who’s keen to get involved in any way: just get in touch with a couple of sentences about yourself and what you’d be interested in doing.

Carina O’Reilly

Carina wooden headI’m a part-time PhD student (that’s me on the left) in the final stretch of my doctorate at Anglia Ruskin University, where I also now teach full-time.

My research is in neighbourhood and community policing and public confidence, and I tweet on @carinaoreilly.

In my spare time, I help edit a web-based magazine about policing governance as well as being a local councillor and a member of the UCU. I also have an allotment, a cycling habit and not enough hours in the day.

As a part-time research student, I’m hoping bring some insight into the challenges facing postgraduates trying to wrestle with multiple commitments.

I was the anti-casualisation officer for my union branch for a year and I understand the difficulties of balancing the need to gain teaching experience, earn a living, find the time to carry out research, write up, and to have a life. These challenges also impact particularly on postgraduates who are parents, or who have disabilities, or other responsibilities beyond their studies.

I’m really keen to expand the blog to include research and career advice and first-person experiences – so do get in touch if you want to contribute!

Jayne Price

Jayne (@jaynelprice) is coming to the end of her PhD within the University of Liverpool. Her research explores the pathways and transitions between juvenile and adult penal institutions.

The research project is a CASE studentship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and is in collaboration with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. She is also a lecturer at the University of Chester.

Her research interests are criminal justice policy, the juvenile secure estate, prisons, transitions, young adults and youth justice. Jayne also volunteers within her local Youth Offending Team as a panel chair and member.

Grace Gallacher

Faculty of Business staff portrait of Grace GallacherGrace (@grace_gallacher) is in her final year of her PhD within the University of Plymouth. Her research investigates the normalisation of everyday harms through children’s leisure experiences.

Adopting a deviant leisure framework, her research specifically explores children’s engagement with grassroots football, and is funded by the University of Plymouth.

Grace’s wider interests lie within critical criminology, childhood, leisure and the neoliberalisation of society.

She is an associate lecturer at the University of Plymouth as well as delivering researcher tool kits to her peers. She holds her mental health first aid and is interested in promoting good wellbeing practices throughout the PhD journey and beyond.

We’re all really looking forward to hearing from you and hoping to have a few more to join us here on the committee and on the blog!

A day of zemiology: Reflections on the ‘thinking differently about harm’ seminar day

On Tuesday, 16th July 2019, I had the pleasure of attending the thought-provoking BSC Postgraduate Seminar day, ‘Thinking Differently about Harm’. Jayne Price’s earlier blog includes a summary of the topics covered during the seminar day. My blog post gives an alternative perspective on the event by reflecting on how the seminar influenced my understanding of zemiology. I admit that it was only during my PhD that I became aware of the concept of zemiology. In the most basic of summaries, zemiology is about exploring topics by focusing on the effects of harm. It is a particularly relevant concept if you hold the view that something harmful effects human behaviour.

As shown by the presentations at the event, zemiology is a concept applicable to a broad range of academic disciplines and topics. By using the theme of harm, the seminar participants explored a variety of subjects, including asylum seekers and migrant workers. Additionally, police officers’ perspectives on anti-social behaviour (ASB), non-crime policing, and statutory Prevent responsibilities in educational settings. Furthermore, the consequences of questionable information originating from the political rhetoric of President Trump in America and within the United Kingdom by politicians during the Brexit debates. The vast number of academic discussions potentially reframed through using a zemiological approach to them is staggering.

The seminar reinforced my perspective that in recent years, people and organisations have developed an increased awareness of the concept of harm. In many instances, practitioners are using a zemiological approach during their work without realising it. For instance, my research explores police officers’ perspectives on policing youth ASB over the last twenty-five years. In the past, the category of an offence reported by the complainant influenced the police services decision making about the deployment of resources to it, and its policing priorities. Today, an assessment of risk, harm and threat caused by an incident is often the basis for such decisions.

Increased awareness about harm has altered policing practices whereby the focus on youth ASB has moved from what a young person is doing towards why they are doing it. Now, the police service acknowledges that a youth’s behaviour is potentially because of harm caused to them by personal, financial and social issues. Subsequently, the youth’s ASB then generates a range of forms of harm within the local community.

Policing youth ASB has significantly become about the police service contributing information to a multi-agency overview of the factors that are causing a young person to become involved in ASB. The strategy for encouraging a youth to desist from engaging in ASB is through multi-agency working to alleviate such harms in their life rather than through an immediate recourse to criminalising them.

The zemiological approach to youth ASB has led to the revelation that other strategies for dealing with it allowed the police and other agencies to miss the reality of situations. Youth ASB has recently become associated with child sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation. For instance, at some ASB hotspots where young people frequented, were perceived as a problem and criminalised, were later identified by victims as the place where offenders groomed them. In hindsight, the earlier use of a zemiological approach to youth ASB may have prevented young people from becoming the victims of child sexual exploitation. The insight means there is now a more significant consideration about what is happening at a youth ASB hotspot, as it may assist in identifying young people who are vulnerable to being groomed or are victims of child sexual exploitation or child criminal exploitation.

I drew several conclusions from the seminar day. The potential exists to study an array of research topics from a diverse range of academic disciplines through a zemiological approach. It is worth a researcher considering the significance of the approach to their work as it may allow new themes to appear from their research data. The advantage for practitioners is that a zemiological approach may lead to innovative solutions to long-term problems.

Wayne Cronin-Wojdat

PhD student

Wrexham Glyndwr University

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/waynecroninwojdat

ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Wayne_Cronin-Wojdat

The Experiences of an International Conference.

This month to celebrate the ESC 2019 in Ghent, we have asked postgraduate students to write blog posts about their experience. This is our very first one, please enjoy! and do get in touch if you would like to contribute!

EuroCrim2019 by Ruwani Fernando

Between the 18 and 21 of September 2019, the 19th Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology took place in the beautiful city of Ghent, in the Flemish region of Belgium. The conference was organised by and held at the University of Ghent, with the theme being Convergent roads, bridges and new pathways in criminology. During four sunny days, we had over 300 panels with presentations from postgraduates to professors on a wide range of topics within criminology, as well as a poster session and four plenary sessions.

Having never been to an international conference before, I arrived in Belgium looking forward to experiencing my first event with the ESC. Now that I am back home, I want to tell you about my conference highlights.

The opening plenary on Wednesday evening kicked off the conference with some interesting speeches: Professor Michel Tison, the Dean of the Faculty of Law and Criminology of the University of Ghent, gave us a warm welcome to the city and the University. Professor Tom Vander Beken, the president of the ESC (at the time of the conference, the current president being Professor Lesley McAra from the University of Edinburgh) gave a presidential address entitled ‘Hot and cold topics in European Criminology’, where he overviewed the most and least popular topics researched in Europe in recent years. A lovely welcome reception followed in the UFO building, with drinks and snacks, including some delicious fresh Belgian fries, which were particularly popular!

The next day, I attended a panel on the theme of prison studies and community sanctions. A presentation that stood out was Professor Axel Dessecker’s from the University of Göttingen in Germany, who spoke on the harmful collateral consequences of punishment as seen in Europe. He outlined the existing research and discussions on the collateral consequences of incarceration. He stressed the difference between collateral consequences and labelling, or stigmatisation. The harmful consequences of imprisonment concern issues with families, relationships and communities, sources of income and caretaking responsibilities for instance.
This is of particular interest to me because in talking to people who wish to desist from offending, these collateral consequences are often brought up in the form of barriers to cease offending and social integration. Professor Dessecker has also demonstrated the usefulness of distinguishing direct collateral consequences – for example, the prison term itself or the loss of employment – to indirect collateral consequences, such as the potential open access to criminal records and subsequent challenges in (re)entering the labour market.

On Thursday afternoon, it was time for me to present my own paper. I had prepared a presentation entitled ‘Narratives of change: a cross-national comparative study of desistance processes’, in a panel on narratives of crime and justice. I presented initial thoughts from data collected (currently still collecting) in the context of my thesis, which uses narratives to explore experiences of desistance from crime in France and England. After introducing myself and my work, and providing some background to the research, I presented two case studies from interviews I had conducted. Through extracts from my transcripts, I drew a parallel between the two discourses, demonstrating participants’ narratives of change and motivations outside of offending. At first, I was a bit nervous, but I quickly gained confidence when I introduced myself to the audience and started my presentation.

At the end of the panel sessions on Thursday, there was a plenary session where Professor Martine Herzog-Evans spoke on the multidisciplinary approach of qualitative criminology. Professor Herzog-Evans is a researcher from the University of Reims in France and has been one of the few French academics to take interest in desistance from crime and indeed from criminology altogether, so I was particularly keen on hearing her talk. Her background is in law and it seems that her interests in sentence implementation law and probation have led to her multidisciplinary approach in legal and criminological theory. Her talk made it clear that our research gains from its multidisciplinary feature and that as researchers we can benefit from thinking about criminological issues from various lenses whether this is sociology, law, psychology or other.

After this plenary session, we were back at Campus Aula for the poster session and Belgian beer reception. This was a particularly efficient initiative to expose people’s research in a setting which encouraged more spontaneous and relaxed conversation.

My colleague and friend Charlotte Walker has presented her poster entitled ‘Conducting research in the Magistrates’ Court: practical and ethical issues’. Her thesis looks at experiences of defendants who do not have legal representation. Charlotte is seeking to explore why people chose to represent themselves in court, what resources they use for this and the impact of unrepresented defendants on court proceedings and on other agents of the criminal justice process like judges, magistrates or legal representatives. Her fieldwork involves observations of court proceedings and interviews of a variety of court actors. The poster she presented focused on the fieldwork and obstacles faced in the data collection phase of her research. This resonated with me as I have also been conducting interviews with participants that are rather difficult to reach.

The following day, I decided to attend a panel organised by the Community Sanctions and Measures Working Group, which was entitled ‘Transforming resettlement?’. In researching processes of desistance and teaching a ‘Rehabilitation of offenders’ module, I have somewhat familiarised myself with the literature on resettlement and rehabilitation, specifically concerning the role of probation supervision.

In this panel, I particularly enjoyed Professor Peter Raynor’s presentation, entitled ‘Resettlement after short prison sentences: what might work in England and Wales’. Professor Raynor contrasted the current notion of resettlement after prison to that of “aftercare” used until the 1980s. In the context of the changes brought about in probation by the Transforming Rehabilitation initiative, he pointed out that nothing concrete was put in place to ensure resettlement plans were implemented. With the decrease of voluntary sector involvement in resettlement since Transforming Rehabilitation was implemented, the risk of recall to prison has increased, which begs the question: what might work? This presentation is perhaps one of the talks that stuck with me the most during this conference, as it challenged the notion of compulsory supervision in thinking about efficient efforts for offender management and resettlement.

Friday afternoon, there was a coffee and ice cream break, provided by the American Society of Criminology, followed by the ESC general assembly. Among other things, the topic of the conference sponsorship by private security companies G4S, Securitas and Series Security was discussed. Prior to the conference, a number of academics had written an open letter to the president and president-elect of the ESC to challenge and question the coherence of these sponsorships. During the assembly, it was agreed that members would have time during the following weeks to contribute in drafting criteria and conditions that frame the accepted sponsors of the society and the conferences.

Saturday morning, I went to a panel on ‘Development and life-course criminology’. My own topic of research has been influenced by development and life-course studies, so I was particularly drawn to this panel. Babette von Hazebroek presented a paper entitled ‘Who are really at risk? Using risk profiles to differentiate between offending trajectories of early onset offenders’. Babette has used questionnaire and interview data to perform a statistical analysis to explore differences in offending trajectories according to different risk profiles. I particularly liked that she had linked her findings with theories of life-course criminology, which I was familiar with, as this provided me with a different approach to understanding and employing these theories, specifically through the notion of risk.

In the last plenary session, our very own Professor Joanna Shapland gave a talk entitled ‘Seeing people in the round: the challenge for criminal justice policy and practice’. She suggested that one of the challenges criminology today was to avoid the perception of individuals at the heart of our research, as an amalgamation of factors and risks rather than people who actively navigate through their contexts or situations. Focusing on desistance, she put forward the argument that theories need to be about change, agency, opportunity, hope, ultimately “restoring the whole person from the pile of their fissured parts”.
The closing ceremony ended the conference with a speech from next year’s organiser from Bucharest and from the president-elect of the ESC, Professor Lesley McAra.

In summary, my first international conference was a great experience. I attended some excellent panels and thought-provoking presentations. I have genuinely learned and gained a lot from talking and listening to other academics. I hope to return in the future to present the results from my thesis and continue to exchange with criminologists from all around the world.

Ruwani is a third year PGR at the University of Sheffield’s School of Law. Her thesis is a comparative study of desistance processes in France and England. She looks at subjective experiences of people who wish to stop offending and who are supervised on probation, through the narratives of those who are concerned. With this study, she aims to take an international approach to advance knowledge on the unique contexts and processes involved with desistance from crime. More broadly, she is interested in rehabilitation, reintegration, prisoner resettlement and comparative criminology.
You can reach Ruwani on rfernando1@sheffield.ac.uk or @Ruwani_F on twitter.

My postgrad story

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No more Belgian fighter planes

What’s your postgrad story?

When I first started thinking about doing a PhD, I had no real idea what it entailed, and I’d been years out of education. I had a decent job, but I knew if I wanted to do more on policing – which was increasingly what was interesting me – and less on Belgian fighter planes (it was a strange old job), then I needed to go and study more.

I had a friend who supervised PhDs and he talked me into signing up at Anglia Ruskin as a part-timer. I went to a couple of introductory sessions that the university laid on, and I knew I’d found where I needed to be.

And then I did bugger all for a year.In my defence, I’d just got elected as a local councillor in Cambridge, while my full-time job was in London. I was commuting for four hours a day, then going to meetings in the evenings. At weekends, I went campaigning and tried to keep an allotment going. Frankly, signing up for a PhD was completely insane.

It got to the point by the end of the year that I knew that something was going to have to give – I couldn’t keep everything going without breaking.

So I jacked in my job. Obviously.

It was like jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute. The next few years were a precarious balancing act between finding and working enough part-time jobs to survive, council responsibilities (I was an executive councillor and deputy leader of the city for a while), trying to inch forward with the PhD, retaining some semblance of a life, and growing giant weeds. Reader, I failed (apart from the last bit).

It took me the best part of four years to get into a position (clearances, access etc.) to do fieldwork, and by then I’d nearly forgotten why I’d started the doctorate in the first place and what it was that fascinated me enough about the subject to keep plodding on.

The fieldwork saved me, and my PhD. I was passionately interested in the people I was talking to and the work that they were doing. It was like a tiny falling in love every single time I undertook an interview or observation. I had the best part of a year (squeezed in around trying not to starve or get evicted) of having my delight in the subject revitalised every couple of weeks. I’ll be grateful forever for the police officers and ordinary local residents who gave me their time and their trust.

The shape of the PhD has changed profoundly, and a couple of times I’ve been convinced that I’ve wasted not just weeks but entire years. But coming into the final straits, I feel like I can see the shape of it and how everything I’ve (very slowly) done over these years is all finally contributing; that nothing has been wasted, after all, even if I have written about four times the number of words I’m actually allowed to include.

It doesn’t look anything like I thought it was going to at the beginning – it’s taken on a life of its own. And my life has changed along with it. Not just professionally (though I’m now actually employed with an actual proper job, God Bless ARU and all who sail in her), but also in personal ways.

I’m more bruised, and less confident, and much more open to learning and to being wrong about everything. I’m more resilient, and more focused. I hope I’m more thoughtful. I am still a truly terrible allotment gardener, but if anyone’s interested in slugs the size of space hoppers, we can do a deal.

The story’s not done yet, but I’m starting to see the end.

What’s your #postgradstory? Leave a comment – or better still, write us a blog (you can contact us here).

Police reforms and community policing in Poland 2017-2020 by Monika Baylis

Polish Police was established on the 24th of July 1919 by the Act of ‘’Sejm’’ – the lower chamber of Polish parliament of the Second Polish Republic and recently has celebrated its’ 95th birthday. Today, the organisation employs over 100.000 police officers and has just emerged on a new journey called ‘’A programme of modernization of Police, Customs and Boarder Services, Fire Service and Government Protection Bureau’’ allocated for the years between 2017 – 2020, proposed by a current Minister of Interior Affairs and Administration, Mr Mariusz Blaszczak in 2016 and accepted in 2017 by Polish ‘Sejm’. 

01-baylis-main2Monika Baylis who is in her final year of PhD at the University of Huddersfield, argues that the Act, which was a continuation of the previous Act dated from 2006 can be seen as ‘a fresh breath of air’ and much needed ‘’a wake-up call’’ to improve Police service in general which goes along with the view of Polish Police Federation (NSZZ) or NZZPZK expressed in an official letter directed towards Polish government in 2016, stating: ‘’Policja’ has been neglected for many years’’(NZZPZK; 2016, n.p).


Monika Baylis, University of Huddersfield

email: Monika.Baylis@hud.ac.uk  Twitter: @MonikaBaylis

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Monika Baylis with Polish Police – Warsaw airport – September 2017.

Polish Police is based on a centralized model of policing which is similar to Italian or French one. Since its creation in 1919, the organisation went through some difficult transformations by changing its’ name (e.i. from ‘Policja’ to ‘Milicja’ during the communist regime); structure and the role; reflecting some major political, economic and social changes of that times; the First; the Second World War; the Soviet Era, the fall of Communism in 1989; the birth of Polish capitalism in 1990. However, as some Polish academics argue, Polish Police known these days as ‘’Policja’’ faced considerable reforms that resulted in a restructuring of the entire policing model when Polish parliament passed a new Police Act that took effect on April 6,1990.

This Act organized the police force by allowing ‘’Policja’’ to combat crime through the new democratic political framework, where the Minister of Interior Affairs and Administration gained the administrative controls over the institution by becoming ‘’ultimately responsible for “enforcing all statutory tasks in the field of public safety and order” (Pływaczewski and Walancik, 2004, p. 93).

Other reforms occurred independently in 1995 and 1999, which restricted municipal public order forces; ‘Straz Miejska’/ ‘’Municipal guards’’ from using the official title of “police”, and added sub‐divisions within the nationalized force, therefore, widening the scope of Police work by including criminal service, prevention service, drug squads and anti‐terrorism squads.

In addition, the reforms of 1999 introduced major changes in the administrative structure of the police force as they created another level of checks on police power by requiring officers to report to both regional police chiefs and county‐level police chiefs for all police‐related matters. Therefore, each commander of the region and county become responsible for identifying and assessing problems specific to his/her jurisdictions; drug abuse, organized crime, or property crime and then allocating the appropriate resources to address each problem.

This can be seen as a policing model that echoes elements of Community Oriented Policing (COP) model found in the US and it has been argued that it was created to bring officers and community members closer together by forming a trust between police and a public. However, gaining a trust of society can be a tricky issue, especially in the country where people still remember the methods of policing used by Milicja during the Communism time, and recall or witnessed the ‘zero tolerance’ approach or ‘hard policing’ when it comes to public disorder or ‘’hooliganism’’, which is currently used by Polish Police. Therefore, there are mixed messages passed across the country; according to latest statistics published by CBOS in 2016, 65% of Polish public trusted the Police, while the remaining 27% did not. Moreover, recently Polish Media featured and questioned the Codes of Ethics of police officers who dealt with a famous case of detaining of 25 years old Igor Stachowiak from Wroclaw, who died in a police custody in May 2016.

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The Police protecting the main exit of Police Station in Wroclaw (Wyborcza.pl, 2017).

The footage appeared on one of the most popular Polish TV channels; TVN24, which prompted massive public and official reaction; public demonstrations in Wroclaw and the dismissal of officers involved in the case.

Although, the case of Igor is still controversial one in Poland, it is important to add that gaining a trust of any community can play an important role in the way the Police is being perceived by others as some scholars argue that people are more likely to obey the law when they believe in the legitimacy of police authority. Therefore, the community policing and Police reforms; ‘’the Programme of modernisation of Polish public services; Police; Customs and Boarder Services, Fire Service and Government Protection Bureau’’ have become a popular agenda in marketing materials of Polish Government or Polish Police. This can be seen as the latest mission to improve the organisation’s image and the existing model of policing by adding a new rank of NPT officer known as ‘’starszy dzielnicowy’’; using social media; Twitter; FB; National TV or by taking on more pro-active approach by helping out with the National Programme called ‘’Kreci Mnie Bezpieczenstwo’’ – ‘’ Safety first’’ funded by Polish Government, where police officers from prevention units regularly visit local schools and interact with children, young or elderly people by discussing different aspects of ‘safety’, Anti-Social Behaviour or crime.

The arguments presented above have become a part of my PhD Literature Review, however, what is more relevant is the fact, that by being a PhD researcher in Criminology I carried out in total 32 semi-structured interviews with Polish Police and Municipal Guards plus joined them on car and foot patrols between 2015 and 2016. The experience gained and my project, has provided me with a rich data with a basic message to pass on; ‘’The change is needed and welcome by police officers’’.

This can go along with the view represented by Polish Police Federation and a current Minister of Interior Affairs and Administration; Mr Mariusz Blaszczak as both sources keep pointing out that it is high time to bring a modern technology; body worn cameras; faster cars and improve officers’ conditions of work by re-opening and refurbishing police stations; adding updated system of communication or increasing officers’ salary to bring a positive change into the formation and improve the morale in general.

Finally, a recent report carried out by NIK (National Audit Office) in 2016, revealed that there is still plenty to do; increasing hours of Police training, introducing new equipment, and finally defining the role of the NPT officer itself. Yes, the list is vast and some work; testing body worn cameras; opening new police station or signing on new ammunition’s suppliers has been in the process but there are still three years left to be able to comment on the current work of Polish government and the evaluation of the reforms shall be carried out afterwards to see ‘’what works’’ or could be changed in the future. Therefore, a waiting game is on and let’s hope all actors involved will get it right as the safety of Polish public and the future of Polish Police is depending on the decisions of current government and the Chief Constable; Dr Jaroslaw Szymczyk.

Reference List:

Czapska, J., Radomska, E., and Wojcik, D. (2014), ‘’Police Legitimacy, Procedural Justice, and Cooperation with the Police: A Polish Perspective’’: Journal of Criminal Justice & Security, Vol. 16 Issue 4, p453-470. 18p.

Cebulak, W. and Pływaczewski, E. (2000), “Poland: developing nation-state”, in Barak, G. (Ed.), Crime and Crime Control: A Global View, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, pp. 163-76.

Haberfeld, M. P., Walanick, A., & Barrtel, U. E. (2003). Community policing in Poland, final report. National Institute of Justice, (NIJ #199360). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Ivkovic, S. and Haberfeld, M. (2000), “Transformation from militia to police in Croatia and Poland – a comparative perspective”, Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies

& Management, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 194-217.

Kancelaria Sejmu RP (2017), ‘’Dz.U. 1990 nr 30 poz. 179; Ustawa z dnia 6 kwietnia 1990 r. o Policji’’, Available from:  http://prawo.sejm.gov.pl/isap.nsf/DocDetails.xsp?id=WDU19900300179

KGP, (2017) ‘’USTAWA O MODERTNIZACJI POLSKIEJ POLICJI PRZYJETA’’, Available from: http://www.policja.pl/pol/aktualnosci/4432,Ustawa-o-modernizacji-Policji-przyjeta.html

Ministerswto Spraw Wewnetrznych I Administracji, (2016), ‘’Projekt ustawy o ustanowieniu „Programu modernizacji Policji, Straży Granicznej, Państwowej Straży Pożarnej i Biura Ochrony Rządu w latach 2017-2020”, Available from: https://bip.mswia.gov.pl/bip/projekty-aktow-prawnyc/2016/24051,Projekt-ustawy-o-ustanowieniu-Programu-modernizacji-Policji-Strazy-Granicznej-Pa.html

Misiuk, A. (2008) ‘’Historia Policji w Polsce. Od X Wieku do Współczesności’’, Wydawnictwa Akademickie i Profesjonalne.

NIK, (2016), ‘’NIK o pracy dzielnicowych’’, Available from: https://www.nik.gov.pl/aktualnosci/nik-o-pracy-dzielnicowych.html

NIST, (n.d.) ‘’Starszy dzielnicowy – awans dla dobra wspólnoty samorządowej’’, Available from: https://www.nist.gov.pl/serwis-obywatelsko-samorzadowy/starszy-dzielnicowy—awans-dla-dobra-wspolnoty-samorzadowej,428.html

Nowak, M, (2017) ‘’Polska Policja radzi, jak… schować się przed policjantem. Kto prowadzi im konta na Facebooku i Twitterze?’’, Available from: https://www.spidersweb.pl/2017/05/polska-policja-facebook-twitter.html

NZZPZ, (2016), ‘’Pan Mariusz Blaszczak Minister Spraw Wewnetrznych I Administracji WARSZAWA; WNIOSEK, Available from: https://bip.mswia.gov.pl/bip/projekty-aktow-prawnyc/2016/24051,Projekt-ustawy-o-ustanowieniu-Programu-modernizacji-Policji-Strazy-Granicznej-Pa.html

NSZZ, (2016), ‘’Wniosek o dodatek specjalny dla OPP i SPPP trafił na biurko Komendanta Głównego Policji’’, Available from: http://nszzp.pl/najwazniejsze-wiadomosci/wniosek-o-dodatek-specjalny-dla-opp-sppp-trafil-biurko-komendanta-glownego-policji/

Policja.pl, (n.d.), ‘’Historia’’, Available from: http://www.info.policja.pl/inf/historia

Policja.pl, (n.d.) ‘’Kampania MSWiA „Kręci mnie bezpieczeństwo”, Available from: http://www.policja.pl/pol/aktualnosci/142091,Ruszyla-kampania-MSWiA-Kreci-mnie-bezpieczenstwo.html

Policja.pl, (n.d.) ‘’Komendant Glowny Policji’’, Available from: http://www.info.policja.pl/inf/kierownictwo-i-struktu/komendanci/86241,Komendanci.html

Policja.pl, (n.d.) ‘’Zero tolerancji dla kiboli i chuliganów stadionowych’’, Available from: http://www.policja.pl/pol/aktualnosci/138687,Zero-tolerancji-dla-kiboli-i-chuliganow-stadionowych.html

Policja.pl, (2016) ‘’Wiekszosc Polakow Deklaruje zaufanie do Policji’’, Available from: http://www.policja.pl/pol/aktualnosci/122393,Wiekszosc-Polakow-deklaruje-swoje-zaufanie-do-Policji.html

Policja.pl, (n.d.) ‘’Nowe posterunki’’, Available from: http://www.policja.pl/pol/tagi/7816,nowe-posterunki.html

Pływaczewski, E. and Walancik, P. (2004), “Challenges and changes to the police system in

Poland”, in Caparini, M. and Marenin, O. (Eds), Transforming Police in Central and

Eastern Europe: Process and Progress, Transaction Publishers, London, pp. 93-114.

Summers, D. and Plywaczewski, E. (2012), ‘’The Polish context Examining issues of police reform, drug use and drug trafficking in a transitioning democracy’’: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, Vol. 35 Issue: 2, pp.231-252,

TVN24, (2017), ‘’Policja testuje kamery mundurowe. Docelowo mają rejestrować wszystkie interwencje (http://www.tvn24.pl)’’, Available from: https://fakty.tvn24.pl/ogladaj-online,60/policja-testuje-kamery-mundurowe-docelowo-maja-rejestrowac-wszystkie-interwencje,744485.html

TVN24, (2017), ‘’Sprawa śmierci Igora Stachowiaka. “Dążymy do tego, by policjanci byli wyposażeni w tasery” (http://www.tvn24.pl)’’, Available from: https://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/igor-stachowiak-zmarl-na-komisariacie-policja-o-uzywaniu-paralizatora,741922.html

University of Huddersfield, (2017) ‘’Same page or poles apart – policing anti-social behaviour’’, Available from: http://www-old.hud.ac.uk/news/2017/january/samepageorpolesapartpolicinganti-socialbehaviour.php

 

Building Foundations- A message for those at the start of their PhD.

As we start a new academic year, our Chair reflects on the early stages of the PhD.

So much of the early stages of the PhD is understanding the PhD process and what is expected of you. Where is the bar we’re aiming for? What level of writing? What level of knowledge? What level of analysis? An original contribution to what now?! It’s learning; how you work, how you write, how you get the best out of yourself. Building relationships, with other PhD students, with your supervisors, with your networks. Building resilience. Building confidence. And learning the field, learning your research topic. That in-depth knowledge of your topic begins from year one.

We’re in the PhD for the long haul. It is, as many say, a marathon. And the PhD can take over your life, and the lives of people around you. What do you mean people aren’t interested in discussing Goffman and Foucault?! The PhD has a presence with you, in your mind, a companion. The things you put in place in the first year need to make sense for the distance. You can’t sprint or push through for the whole of the PhD. There may be sprinting moments, but the way you work needs to be sustainable for the longevity. Be kind to yourself. Build practices that make sense for you and make sense for the marathon.

The first part of the PhD is important. It feels like nothing is happening and you’re getting nowhere. But this is building your foundations; your working practices, your knowledge, your confidence. And your PhD rests on these foundations. They are essential. It may feel like you’re lost in those early days, going down blind alleys of reading, different directions, different distractions. Is this relevant? Is it important? It may feel that you’re not achieving anything, going around in circles. But the foundation-building of the first year is fundamental. Trust that it is important. You absolutely need it. It makes for a strong PhD resting on solid ground.

This stage matters. You’re doing the building. Be patient. Be sensible. Be kind to yourself.

Claire Davis, BSC Postgraduate Chair.

 

Some Reflections on the Journey to Submission, by Claire Davis, BSC PG Committee Chair.

 

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Our Chair of the BSC Postgraduate Committee, Claire Davis, shares her thoughts on the PhD process towards submission. Claire is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Criminology at Nottingham Trent University and is in the final stages of her PhD on police leadership.


 

Some Reflections on the Journey to Submission

So… the thesis is submitted, and here is a different sort of writing…
The PhD comes from you. No one does the reading, the hard thinking, the long writing. When you’re sick, no one can cover your work for you. It’s you, it’s yours. You create it, you craft it, you master it.
And that ‘it’s all you’ comes with pressure. High expectations of ourselves. Can I do this? Is this enough? What the heck is an original contribution to knowledge anyway? But the PhD is a slow, evolving process and it’s this on purpose. As a first year PhD student, you’re not dropped into your final year expecting to have the confidence and knowledge. You grow and get there slowly. The process is designed to build you to this. Trust the process, it’s a process of building.
And because it comes from you, it’s up to you to celebrate the good bits. That celebration doesn’t always come from the process, sometimes it has to come from you. Remember your ‘I did that well’ moments, the unexpected ‘yes’ moments, the ‘I deserve to be here’ moments. Take them in, store them as keepers. They are the currency to draw on through the PhD journey.
One of the things I’ve learnt through the PhD process so far is the kindness of people. People who give and support because they believe in you and your work. To do the PhD well, we need people. Other people see the strength and resilience in us that we don’t see in ourselves. People to share the excitement of post-it-noting your findings chapter (yes, it was a moment of inspiration!), people to explain what a Venn diagram is (with accompanied illustrations), people to catch the sight versus cite oversights, people to take an impatient four-year-old to play at lunch. So many people have helped in maybe little but hugely encouraging ways and in daily (how many phone calls are acceptable in a day?!) going the distance ways.

People make the PhD easier. Find and keep hold of your people.

We don’t always tell our stories of what brought us to the PhD, we don’t always share our histories. But they are our strength and our determination. Our histories give us our bounce-back-ability, our get-back-up-again-ness, our ‘I can do this’. I am forever inspired by the journey of people to get here, their resilience, their grace, their desire and commitment for better. Believe in you. Others see it and think of you as a superhero.
Our job is thinking, the big and difficult kind of thinking. I am fiercely proud to be part of a community of postgraduate researchers who are doing such important and meaningful work. Your work matters. Believe in yourself. Because how you got here, who you are, what you do and how you do it, is absolutely incredible!

 

Thinking Differently in Youth Justice: changing and challenging the youth justice system

Roxanna is a Lecturer at Leicester Law School, University of Leicester and has recently defended her PhD thesis. Roxanna’s research, funded by the University of Leicester, examines the implementation of the appropriate adult safeguard in police custody for vulnerable adult suspects. Roxanna’s research has involved qualitative research methods (non-participant observation in custody and semi-structured interviews with custody officers). As the appropriate adult safeguard is also required for young people, Roxanna has also developed a keen interest in youth justice. She has written a paper on the vulnerability of children and young people in police custody to be published in the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law in November 2017.


The following blog post gives a brief overview of some of the themes arising from the ‘Thinking Differently in Youth Justice’ conference held at the University of Leicester on 25 April 2017. Roxanna was responsible for organising the conference, alongside Sarah Brooks-Wilson. If you would like to contact Roxanna, you can email her roxanna.dehaghani@le.ac.uk or tweet her @roxanna_law.

http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/law/people/roxanna-fatemi-dehaghani 

The ‘Thinking Differently’ series was established so as to create a space for postgraduates to challenging taken-for-granted thinking in criminology and criminal justice. This second event – on the area of youth justice – brought together practitioners, established academics, and PhD candidates at various stages of their studies. The day began with a talk by Prof Hannah Smithson (who has been labeled a ‘pracademic’) who spoke about ‘Knowledge Transfer and Youth Justice’. In her talk, Hannah highlighted that many young people are neglected in discussions surrounding youth justice. She urged that inclusion, whilst vital, must ensure representativeness: central in this should be the voice of young people (and not just one, but many). The youth-centred focus must exist, not simply in policy and practice circles, but too in academic fora. The youth-focused approach continued through Anne-Marie Day’s talk, which teased-out the various concerns of looked-after children (as part of her PhD, Anne-Marie interviewed looked-after children). These concerns included not being heard, and being labelled, dehumanized, bullied, and separated from their birth families. Anne-Marie also raised the issue of the ‘paper self’: young people felt that what was written in their risk assessment took over their identity and they became the ‘bad’ child or the ‘mad’ child. Both of these talks drew attention to how important the child’s voice is within the youth justice arean.

Dr Kate Gooch and Piers von Berg then examined some legal aspects pertaining to the detention of young suspects in police custody. Highlighting that the police custody suite is the ‘gateway’ to the criminal process and that it is ‘out of sight, out of mind’, Kate and Piers urged that we reconsider how young suspects are treated within police custody. In particular, they drew attention to the lack of a complete policy agenda and the absence of national guidance on how to interview a child. Within this context, they urged for the maxim ‘Child First, Suspect Second’, although they recognized that currently the opposite is very much true. The ‘child first’ approach seems to be more closely adhered to in Scotland, as explored in Fern Gillon’s talk on Early and Effective Investigation (EEI). The Scottish approach may, particularly for a criminologist hailing from England, Wales or Northern Ireland, seem wonderful. Yet, as Fern highlighted, it was far from perfect: although there were claims that the system was free from power relations, the reality is such that the police act as gatekeepers and it is they who decide which cases go through to EEI. The main question raised by Fern was whether the Scottish system of EEI is effective and working or whether it is simply better than the alternative.

Power relations and the silencing of young people are not the only problems within the youth justice landscape: as the panel (comprised of Jayne Louise Price, Shantey Francis and Sarah Brooks-Wilson) highlighted, other problems exist such as: what happens to those transitioning from the youth to the adult justice system? What type of environment is required for children and young people to flourish? Are children and young people being adequately supported? Do they face social exclusion and a lack of mobility? And how does this exclusion and lack of mobility impact upon their treatment within the justice system? Prof Jo Phoenix’s highlighted some further worrying trends in her talk on the death of youth justice: not only have YOTs staff declined sharply, the decline has been more deeply felt for sessional and casual staff and volunteers, i.e. those who spend more time with young people. Jo urged the audience to consider whether falling numbers of children and young people entering the system really equated to a more just system and highlighted the unachievable goal of ‘justice’ in a society marked by social inequality. Her talk also served as a call for youth justice researchers to start thinking more radically and to see past the current systems of youth governance and youth justice.

In all, the day contained two pertinent lessons. The first was that we need to consider the voice of the child and the second was that we need to think of new ways of providing justice for children and young people. The day also highlighted the massive appetite amongst youth justice researchers for future networking, discussion, and collaboration. With this in mind we are thinking of ways to facilitate this through the British Society of Criminology and/or the BSC Postgraduate Committee. Watch this space!