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Doing Criminological and Criminal Justice Research: Methods, Challenges and Opportunities

PhD Conference of the Criminal Justice Centre

19th February 2021, 1.00-5.30 pm

School of Law, University of Warwick

Venue: Please use this MS Teams link to join


1.00-1.15 Introduction: Ana Aliverti and Henrique Carvalho (CJC Directors)

1.15-2.35 Panel 1:

  • Chair: Simon Berhman (Law, Warwick)
  • Erika Herrera Rosales (Sociology, Warwick) ‘From humanitarianism to migration control: the case of “casas del migrante” in Mexico’
  • Kathryn Farrow (Criminology, Oxford) ‘Trust, Risk and Blame in Police Organisations’
  • Sophie Serrano (Criminology, University of Neuchâtel), ‘The Social Harms Market: A case study of the Genevan Philanthropy’

2.35-2.50 Break

2.50- 4.10 Panel 2:

Chair: Solange Mouthaan (Law, Warwick)

Simon Gansinger (Philosophy, Warwick) ‘Conceptual breakdowns: ASBOs and deep legal change’

Leonara Catuara (Law, Warwick), ‘Communication, Moral Fortification and Respect for Wrongdoers’

Patryk Gacka (Law, University of Warsaw) ‘The concept of circumstantial victimization in international criminal law’

4.10-4.25 Break

4.25- 5.25 Panel 3:

Chair: Laura Lammasniemi (Law, Warwick)

Megan Reynolds (Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast) ‘Prevalence Rates of Unwanted Sexual Experiences and the Mental Health Impacts of such on Higher Education Students: A Systematic Review’

Alice King (Law, Warwick) ‘Unwanted, Non-consensual and Uncomfortable’ – Defining Unacceptable Sexual Behaviours Among Students at Elite UK Universities’

5.25 Concluding remarks


Erika Herrera Rosales PhD Candidate in Sociology, University of Warwick

From humanitarianism to migration control: the case of ‘casas del migrante’ in Mexico

Humanitarian organisations in Mexico offer shelter, food, and other types of aid and services to migrants who are fleeing their places of origin. These organisations (also known as “migrant houses” or “casas del migrante”) have become the principal advocates and intermediaries of Central American migrants with society and governmental institutions. As a result, they are highly regarded and indisputably relevant to counteract the state’s discourse, challenge local xenophobia and, ultimately, improve the lives of migrants. Notwithstanding, not much attention has been given to the effects of NGOs’ discourses whilst they seek to help individuals. This research project explores some of the consequences as NGOs end up controlling migrants’ mobilities. It highlights instances where NGO workers participate in the surveillance, policing and deterrence of migrants travelling through Mexico and into the US. This research project enquires the extent to which humanitarian organisations borrow practices from the penal system that hinder migrant trajectories, as well as their active contribution to the migration governance.

This research is based on fieldwork carried out in Mexico; namely, in the cities of Tijuana, Tapachula and Mexico City. It draws on 38 semi-structured interviews with staff members from local organisations and migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Also, it looks at 21 public documents from NGOs to trace their common rhetoric. The main interest of this research project lies in the reproduction of power and colonial relations between humanitarian workers and migrants, and the latter’s resistance seen as acts of survival.

Kathryn Farrow Dphil Candidate in Criminology, Corpus Christi College, University of

Trust, Risk and Blame in Police Organisations

I am currently undertaking research with South Wales Police force, focusing on issues of 'trust, risk, blame and confidence' within their internal occupational culture.

Over recent years there has been an emerging national concern in the police service that police organizations are characterised by a blame culture. Such a culture, it is claimed, produces risk aversion and a reluctance to innovate, fosters a lack of trust and confidence, and erodes the well-being of officers. This research will investigate these claims about a blame culture and its consequences by means of an intensive case study of South Wales Police. It will explore the roots and extent of risk aversion, address staff fears of a blame culture within the organisation, and seek to understand the effects of current practices and perceptions on the culture and workings of the force.

Instead of conducting in-person fieldwork, as was the original plan, due the current pandemic fieldwork has been adapted to focus on the impact that COVID-19 has had on staff and their job, how they feel about their role, and what has changed for them, especially in relation to the issues of trust, risk, blame and confidence. Online focus groups and interviews have been conducted within a variety of teams that work for South Wales Police. This includes response and neighbourhood officers, as well as call handlers and dispatchers, and several members of the senior management team. The findings shine a light on staff experiences with regards to the pandemic, and how this has affected their role and remit. It also explores how key relationships with colleagues, partnership agencies and members of the public have also been affected. The aforementioned issues of risk, trust, blame and confidence are also examined, particularly with respect to the ongoing pandemic.

I will also speak about the opportunities and challenges that online fieldwork presents, as well as what can be done to address these issues so that future research can utilise such technology to maximum effect.

Sophie Serrano PhD candidate in Criminology, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland Visiting PhD candidate at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford, UK

The Social Harms Market: A case study of the Genevan Philanthropy

The moral entrepreneur is a social actor capable of turning social situations, perceived by themselves as harming, into public problems. In line with Howard Becker's work, the criminological literature has looked at the processes of problem construction by moral entrepreneurs and their consequences. It explains how certain social situations are turned into public problems and how these are then publicly dealt with. In parallel, the social harms perspective understands how given harmful social situations are not turned into public problems. In this light, this paper studies what processes lead to the prioritisation of harms by moral entrepreneurs in the public arena, which remain to this day a blind spot in the criminological literature. It then investigates this blind spot through a case study: Genevan philanthropy. Indeed, among a range of social harms, philanthropists have to select the social harms in which they will invest their resources. Using a qualitative methodology (observation, interview, documentary analysis), this research reaches two main conclusions:

(1) The prioritisation of harms is collectively handled, as Geneva's philanthropists are continuously in interaction with one another. (2) These interactions constitute what is here defined as a "Market for Social Harms," within which problems are prioritised according to a risk/benefit assessment stemming from the financial world (i.e., hiring analysts, or relying on indicators such as reputation, risk categorisation, and contagion). Consequently, a philanthropic moral entrepreneur's commitment to a particular project depends essentially more on the group dynamic in which they operate, than on a specific affinity to a cause.

Simon Gansinger PhD Candidate in Philosophy, University of Warwick

Conceptual breakdowns: ASBOs and deep legal change

Analytic legal philosophy struggles to account for the dynamic structure of law. In particular, rule-centred theories, such as HLA Hart’s,1 provide little explanation of normative transformations that do not follow pre-established paths of rule-change. I call these processes deep legal change. In my paper, I look at the introduction of twostep prohibitions2 in order to criminalise incivilities, especially in the form of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs).3 I show that this example is problematic for a Hartian concept of law, and suggest an alternative way of thinking about deep legal changes.

To be clear, my argument is not that ASBOs are bad law. My argument is that, by following the rules of legal change (including the principles constraining these rules) that were established in the mid-1990s, we could not have arrived at anything like an ASBO. The rise of hybrid civil/criminal measures in the last few decades lacks good internal justification. It is a result, not of playing by the rules, but of changing the fundamental rules of the game. A theory such as Hart’s cannot provide insight into self-justifying rule-changes: the breakdown of the civil/criminal distinction does not make sense within an identitybased concept of law.

This critical observation is the main point of my talk. In order to understand deep legal changes, I suggest further, we need to understand law’s grounds of justifications beyond the usual rules-framework. Deep legal changes, like the one described, require a theory that appreciates the dynamic of law against the political background from which it derives its normative and social force.

Leonara Catuara PhD Candidate in Law, University of Warwick

Chapter 2: Communication, Moral Fortification and Respect for Wrongdoers

The main theme of this chapter is to capture the idea of respect for wrongdoers as moral agents in penal punishment. Presented as a critical piece, it will begin with some suggestions on what respect for wrongdoers may or may not require, proceeding with a reflection on the ideas of Antony Duff’s communicative theory and Jeffrey Howard’s punishment as moral fortification – both of which place respect for the moral agency of wrongdoers at the heart of their justificatory theories of punishment. In particular, there will be an analysis of four central concepts of moral agency: holding wrongdoers responsible as moral agents, understanding the conflict between coercion and respect, acknowledging wrongdoers’ freedom to remain unpersuaded, and the challenges posed by prudential incentives for legal compliance. In highlighting the tension between punishment and respect, this chapter raises the importance in developing a theory of what it means for responses to criminal wrongdoing to respect persons as moral agents.

Patryk Gacka PhD Candidate, University of Warsaw

The concept of circumstantial victimization in international criminal justice

Victimization is a broader concept than standard images of victimhood seem to suggest. In international criminal law, for instance, the concept of victimization does not revolve solely around victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (so-called ‘primary victims’). Or so I argue. Although one would not want to dispute the fact that acts of victimization amounting to international crimes define the system of international criminal law, one should not forget about other forms of victimization that are either explicitly (e.g. ‘systemic victimization’) or implicitly recognized within it.

I submit that one concept of victimization which is only implicitly recognized by the system of international criminal justice is circumstantial victimization which arises once one is forced to act in a way one would not act had it not been for the coercion resulting either from external non-personal circumstances (e.g. environmental causes) or from other people’s actions. It is therefore in the violation of one’s autonomy or agency where the nature of circumstantial victimization is located. More specifically – in legal terms – circumstantial victimization is hidden behind three commonly recognized defenses to criminal responsibility – duress, superior orders and necessity. I maintain, however, that only the first two of aforementioned defenses present an ‘ideal’ form of the said victimization, and – for this reason – I shall limit my further remarks to them.

Megan Reynolds Queens University Belfast (QUB), School of Psychology

Prevalence Rates of Unwanted Sexual Experiences and the Mental Health Impacts of such on Higher Education Students: A Systematic Review

Over the past few years, unwanted sexual experiences (USE’s) at Higher Education Institutions (HEI) have become a major topic of conversation among student activists, researchers, media outlets and HEI, as they pose significant public health and safety risks for students (Sabri, Warren, Kaufman, Coe & Alhusen, 2019). USE’s can have a range of negative impacts on both an individual’s mental and physical health (de Visser, 2007), and their academic performance (Jordan, Combs & Smith, 2014). Most of the research on the prevalence rates of USE’s has and continues to be conducted in the United States of America (USA). However, research has been emerging from the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland.

The main reports include Hidden Marks (2010), Stand Together Report (2016), Say Something (2013) and The Sexual Experiences Survey (2020), respectively. However, this research conducted by Student Unions is insufficient in addressing USE’s and the impacts of such among university students. Thus, in order to fully examine the literature within this area, a systematic review was undertaken.

This paper was conducted in the context of a wider study examining the issue of USE’s and it’s impacts in Northern Ireland, hence the rationale for including the UK and Ireland, and the US was included in the review, as most research has been conducted in this country. At present, there has not been a systematic review that has synthesised evidence from the US, UK and Ireland that can help us understand the evidence and gaps in relation to the prevalence and impacts of USEs in student populations. Therefore, in this paper, we propose to systematically review recent literature on the prevalence rates of USE’s and it’s impacts on HEI students in the USA, UK and Ireland. We will consider how research has defined and measured USE’s among students and whether participant demographics are representative of student populations across gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We argue that this systematic review should provide context for how researchers can build networks in using consistent definitions and measures when investigating USE’s of HEI students.

Alice King PhD Candidate in Law, University of Warwick

Unwanted, Non-consensual and Uncomfortable’ – Defining Unacceptable Sexual Behaviours Among Students at Elite UK Universities

Over the past ten years, research has indicated that sexual violence amongst the student population is a sizeable and persistent problem (Hidden Marks 2010, That’s What She Said 2014). As such, researchers have begun to explore strategies for tackling the problem. At present, however, there exists little research concerned with students’ attitudes towards sexual violence or indeed socio-sexual norms more broadly.

This paper forms part of a larger project concerned with interpreting students’ attitudes towards sexual violence in elite institutions and considering what such attitudes might tell us about the potential for behavioural change. Using quantitative data collected from an online survey distributed at Russell Group Universities in 2019, this paper documents the attitudes held by undergraduate students pertaining to the acceptability and permissibility of common
sexual behaviours.

In particular, it examines how students define unacceptable behaviour. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it explores how students define the term ‘unacceptable sexual behaviours’ on a theoretical level. Secondly, it considers the extent to which these definitions translate into answers given by students in response to specific scenarios presented to them.

In doing so, I argue that their abstract definitions are centred around three key concepts. 1) If a behaviour is unwanted by either party, it is unacceptable. 2) If a behaviour makes one party feel uncomfortable, it is unacceptable. 3) If a behaviour is non-consensual, it is unacceptable. However, on practical application, the third concept (presence or lack thereof of consent) is relied on most often. In my conclusion, I consider how these findings correlate with legal definitions of rape and sexual assault and think about the limitations of these definitions in the context of behavioural change.