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.
Wrexham Glyndwr University