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New Perspectives on Criminological Questions

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Humanities Research Institute

Upper Hanover Street


S3 7QY

United Kingdom

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This workshop will showcase some of the diversity of the research at Sheffield that bears on criminological questions. In bringing together researchers who are working on a wide range of perspectives on criminal justice, we aim to emphasise the exciting diversity of criminological research under the umbrella of CCR, and to bring people into contact who might not otherwise realise that they are working on similar topics, or that they might benefit from working together. The workshop will run from 10am to 5pm.


Christopher Bennett (Philosophy) and Katherine Ebury (English)


10.00-10.30 – Coffee and networking


Panel 1: Crime and Harm in Society

Rowland Atkinson (Urban Studies), ‘The pursuit of pleasure and denial of harm in a leisure society’
Dario Ferrazzi (Urban Studies), ‘Crime and the city: updating the narrative. Questions of housing and crime.’
Helena Ifill (English), 'Criminals born and made: tracing the causes of crime in Victorian sensation fiction'

Lunch 12.00-1.00


Panel 2: Dealing with Crime through Criminal Justice

Christopher Bennett (Philosophy), ‘Expert Decision-Making, Democracy and Criminal Justice’
Alasdair Cochrane (Politics), ‘Dangerousness, Incapacitation and the Prison’
Jules Holroyd (Philosophy), ‘Implicit Bias, Self-Defence, and the Reasonable Person’ (written with Federico Picinali)
Christopher Millard (History), ‘The Concept of Psychopathy in post-1945 Britain: Weaponised Ambiguity?’

Break 2.45-3.15


Panel 3: The Aftermath of Crime

Katherine Ebury (English), ‘“How Murderers Die”: Justice and Punishment in Life-writing by Executioners’
Sarah Jankowitz (Max Batley Peace Studies Fellow), ‘Art and conflict transformation’
Joanna Shapland (Law), 'The ins and outs of forgiveness in restorative justice'

Networking session 4.45-5.30


Rowland Atkinson, ‘The pursuit of pleasure and denial of harm in a leisure society’

In late 2017 the police issued an alert that they believed that 20,000 British men were interested in sexually abusing children, an estimate generated by an online chatroom that they had set-up. In this paper I want to consider the shifting forms of sociality generated by life in a leisure society that publicly decries abuse and harassment while facilitating a back-region of appalling acts, simulations and interactions. The production and consumption of extreme forms of pleasure and violence found in virtual spaces (pornography and videogames) and holiday leisure more broadly (sex tourism) suggest the need for a criminological imagination to dig into these recesses of human experience and to consider the real human and criminal consequences of conduct. The common thread to these experiences is the way in which technology has generated new possibilities for more or less enclosed image and experience-spaces which enable potentially dehumanising encounters with other people, or renderings of people. The folding of social media into daily life has provided newfound opportunities for harmful, voyeuristic and seductively sadistic encounters. These spaces of cultural exception (exceptional in the sense of being more or less exempted from forms of social or legal regulation) are like many millions of boxes or containers within each of which real and virtual harms are enacted without prohibition or sanction. The possibility of such ‘murder boxes’ is that the darker, instinctual elements of social behaviour are enabled at the same time that more progressive ideas about abuse and harassment are being foregrounded.

Christopher Bennett, ‘Expert Decision-Making, Democracy and Criminal Justice’

This paper will look at the role of experts in criminal justice, and the extent to which expert decision-making presents a threat to democratic legitimacy. Having briefly surveyed the range of expert decision-making in criminal justice, I focus on the discussions triggered by the suggestion of releasing convicted rapist John Worboys on parole. This was a decision made by members of the Parole Board, and where it was insisted that a full account of the reasons could not be made public. While this is standard practice, it caused some outrage when taken up by the media. Media coverage of this case focused on the interest of victims in knowing when their offender would be released. However, while noting the variety of stakeholders implicated in these questions, my main interest is in the right of democratic citizens more generally to have some control over these decisions. There might be various different forms of public input into decision-making: knowledge; active oversight; through to actual control and direct participation. Another related question is whether oversight by elected representative is sufficient, or whether a more valuable form of democracy requires more direct forms of public participation in such decision-making. One question at issue in parole cases is offender’s legitimate rights to privacy. But I will also be interested in drawing more general lessons about the tensions between experts and democracy. My overall aim is to connect debates about experts in criminal justice with ongoing debates in political philosophy about the need for and appropriate role – and appropriate limits – of expert decision-making in a democracy.

Alasdair Cochrane, ‘Dangerousness, Incapacitation and the Prison’

It is common in the criminological literature, in the legal and political theory literature, and in the criminal and penal system itself to find imprisonment justified on the grounds of dangerousness. In other words, some individuals are so risky / dangerous that they warrant incapacitation in the form of incarceration. But obviously risk comes in degrees: from the risk posed by the ordinary individual with the simple capacity to violate others’ rights, to that of the self-professed terrorist intent on causing harm to as many individuals as possible. Similarly, incapacitation comes in degrees: from that imposed by the criminal law itself (which incapacitates through socialisation), to that imposed by the death penalty. So which kinds of danger and risk warrant which kinds of incapacitation? And more specifically, which kinds of danger and risk (if any) warrant imprisonment (and which kinds of imprisonment)? To answer such questions, we need a taxonomy of dangerousness and a taxonomy of incapacitation. This paper offers some first steps in how such taxonomies might be outlined.

Katherine Ebury, ‘How Murderers Die’: Justice and Punishment in Life-writing by Executioners

This paper will consider how after the end of public execution in 1868 the executioner becomes not merely the agent of punishment, but a privileged interpreter of it. I will look at case studies of a range of executioners’ memoirs from the period between the abolition of public execution and the final end of the death penalty in the UK, considering autobiography as a means of writing on the death penalty for, among others, James Berry, John Ellis, and Albert Pierrepoint. Given that only a judicially sanctioned set of observers could then witness a real execution, I will argue that the consumption of life-writing by executioners was a key means by which readers sought to access direct knowledge of the death penalty. This writing often comes with powerful truth claims about the nature and psychology of punishment. At the same time, as part of the terms of their employment, no practicing executioner was permitted to tell their sensational secrets to the public: in fact, this publishing culture depended on executioners retiring from and/or becoming disillusioned with their profession. Ultimately, I will argue that these textual representations of the death penalty ensure that, despite the end of public execution, capital punishment retains its visibility in popular culture through these books and their influence, many of which are still in print and in public circulation. In particular, I’ll examine the influence of these texts on criminological thinking in contemporary culture by considering Amazon reviews of these memoirs and the influence of life-writing by executioners on Martin McDonagh’s play Hangmen (2015).

Dario Ferrazzi, ‘Crime and the city: updating the narrative. Questions of housing and crime.’

The organisation of urban spaces is understood to have an important role in shaping criminal behaviour and action however, beyond refining theories and sharpening statistical approaches to understand these processes, little has been done in criminological literature to consider how thinking about cities and crime impacts urban change and policy. Common tropes for understanding crime, disorder and urban deviance have influenced policymakers and lay-person identifications of the roots of criminality. However, the ideas around, for example area effects, stigma and social disorganisation, reflect urban ecologies that have themselves changed quite dramatically since the time they were generated.

In this paper, starting from the work of Wiles, Bottoms and Walker (1976) in the Urban Criminal, I discuss these themes in conjunction with changes in the housing landscape of Sheffield, seeking to start a discussion about how we can reflexively understand the effects of ecological change of a cityscape on crime. The paper suggests that recognition of social, tenurial and ecological processes connected to housing and urban policies and city changes more broadly generate a need to refocus our attention on new mechanisms underpinning the social and spatial roots of urban crime.

Jules Holroyd, Implicit Bias, ‘Self-Defence, and the Reasonable Person’ (written with Federico Picinali)

The reasonable person standard is used in adjudicating claims of self-defence. In US law, an individual may use defensive force if her beliefs that a threat is imminent and that force is required are beliefs that a reasonable person would have. In English law, it is sufficient that beliefs in imminence and necessity are genuinely held; but the reasonableness of so believing is given an evidential role in establishing the genuineness of the beliefs. There is, of course, much contention over how to spell out when, and in virtue of what, such beliefs are reasonable. In this talk, we identify some distinctive issues that arise when we consider that implicit racial bias might be implicated in the beliefs in imminence and necessity. Considering two prominent interpretations of the reasonable person standard, we argue that neither is acceptable. On one interpretation, we risk unfairness to the defendant - who may non-culpably harbour bias. On another, the standard embeds racist stereotypes. Whilst there are formulations of the defence that may serve to mitigate these problems, we argue that they cannot be avoided in the presence of racist social structures.

Helena Ifill, 'Criminals born and made: tracing the causes of crime in Victorian sensation fiction'

Sensation fiction featured many scandalous crimes, ranging from adultery, to imposture, to murder. While money is often the most obvious cause for criminal behaviour, the underlying reasons could be due to social or biological factors. This paper will focus on the ways in which the sensation novelists Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon trace the motivations (conscious and otherwise) that prompt criminal behaviour in their characters, and how these causes affect the representation (and ultimately the punishment) of those characters. These fictional examples will be read alongside nineteenth-century theoretical material concerning crime and compulsion, and compare the ways in which blame and guilt are applied depending on whether the causes are deemed to be internally or externally generated.

Sarah Jankowitz, ‘Art and conflict transformation’

In many societies recovering from violent conflict, the arts feature as one of a diverse set of tools to help individuals and communities come to terms with their violent past and affect the relational change necessary to prevent a return to violence. The assumed intrinsic value of the arts in this context is marked by significant investments by international, governmental and grassroots funding bodies, however evidence of the actual impact the arts may have is limited. My research attempts to test this assumption via a long-term evaluation of funded arts projects in Northern Ireland. It seeks to better understand whether and how art can contribute to conflict transformation, and how current practice in terms of managing the relationships between funders and organisations undertaking a variety of projects can best utilise the potential transformative quality of the arts.

Christopher Millard, ‘The Concept of Psychopathy in post-1945 Britain: Weaponised Ambiguity?’

During the 1950s and 1960s one of the key psychological concepts to emerge into public prominence was that of 'the psychopath'. Rather different from today's glamorised and violent stereotypes, psychopathy was an unwieldy category that covered everything from murderous outbursts of rage to chronic unemployment. Huge numbers of people have remarked upon how incoherent and ill-defined this concept was, but the contention of this paper is that this was intentional incoherence, or at least very useful incoherence. This category could be used to police the boundaries of social acceptable behaviour with remarkable dexterity and variety, precisely because it was so ill-defined. The ambiguity then becomes not a problem to be solved, but a tactic to be evaluated.

Joanna Shapland, 'The ins and outs of forgiveness in restorative justice'

Forgiveness has at least two parties involved: the person who has harmed and the person who has been harmed. The deed (and its wrongfulness and severity), the harm caused and assumptions about the character and moral beliefs of both are in play. In restorative justice it is the dyadic interaction between the harmed and the harmer, facilitated by the mediator/facilitator which is central: the communication in terms of questions and judgements about the past, willingness to interact in the present and intent for the future. Yet there is a potential army of others waiting in the wings and potentially 'hearing' that communication: supporters and those close to both harmer and harmed, the community or communities into which the harmer (and the harmed) need to re-find their place, powerful voices (such as the media) on what is seen to be the moral order of those communities, and of course those who are charged with promoting moral values in that community. It has been said that a criminal offence causes ripples of concern and potentially fear spreading out from the offence into the community. Can and should forgiveness be seen similarly - and what effects may this have on the person harmed and the person who has harmed?

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Humanities Research Institute

Upper Hanover Street


S3 7QY

United Kingdom

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