Monday, 5 December 2011
You can read sample pages of the book (or even buy it!) here.
The book has received the following reviews:
‘Helen Wells sets out on an important and timely quest to place roads policing through speed cameras in the context of a “risk society”. Rightly, she avoids a debate about their effectiveness. Rather, she looks at changes in policing through greater use of technology and at the roles played by researchers, pressure groups and experts. As an expert cited, I found this a fascinating survey of a controversial topic.’
– Robert Gifford, Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, UK
’We’ve waited a long time for this fresh perspective on a topic that touches us all in risk society. Using a multi-method, multi-site empirical study as her basis, Wells unpicks the many and contradictory strands of the speed camera debate, deliberately retaining a neutral stance and positioning the whole enterprise within a risk narrative. As such it delivers a powerful analysis of what was seen to “go wrong” through giving “voice” to drivers, and serves up timely insights for the enforcing authorities. A real tour de force!’
– Claire Corbett, Brunel Law School, UK
’A real thought provoker for anyone who has ever had an opinion about speed cameras! Through the voices of drivers, enforcers, persuaders, and decision-makers, this is an insightful look at the debate on arguably the most contentious of ‘techno-fixes’. In explaining how, in many people’s eyes, “safety cameras” became “speed traps”, Wells reminds us that opinions cannot be changed by scientific evidence alone and that public acceptance is a prerequisite for any intervention.’
– Lindsey Simkins, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, UK
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Adam Snow is a Ph.D candidate, in the Research Institute for Social Sciences. His project, entitled 'Pay-As-You-Go-Justice? On the spot fines and the future of the Magistracy' is jointly funded by Keele University and the Magistrates' Association. Adam is supervised by Dr Helen Wells, Professor Barry Godfrey and Dr Mary Corcoran.
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
These web pages have been designed to provide new students with important and relevant information. They offer clear and concise direction and information about what you need to do before and when arriving at Keele. They also provide an essential insight into what life as a Keele Student will be like. Welcome videos from VC Professor Nick Foskett and the KUSU Student Officer team are a great addition to what we hope will be a resource that can be developed year on year.
Within these webpages (on the opening page) you will find the Welcome Handbooks for new students. This year three handbooks (Undergraduate, Postgraduate and International) have been designed and are being distributed to students. The handbooks contain key information about preparation forarrival, enrolment, welcome talks, events and activities and key services and support on campus.
This year also sees the start of a new e-newsletter called 'Keele Life' which is aimed at incoming students due to arrive in 2011/12. Keele Life features introductory passages from a number of University services together with interviews with staff and students. As a new student you will receive three e-newsletters between late August and the start of the semester. The first one is available here.
There is also a whole series of induction events planned to run during Welcome Week that are designed to support you, our students, and make your start to University life as good as it can be.
We look forward to welcoming you later this month!
Monday, 5 September 2011
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Keele University has today (17th August 2011) been confirmed nationally as a top ten University by the National Student Survey. The annual survey which began in 2007 has shown that 90% of Keele students were satisfied with their course compared to an average of just 83% nationally.
Keele students were particularly pleased with the intellectual stimulation that their course offered and the quality of feedback they receive from academic staff. Students also indicated that they felt Keele's courses made them more confident personally and equipped them to deal with a breadth of challenges that modern day graduates are required to face.
Commenting on the results Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Rama Thirunamachandran, said "This is an excellent result for the University and is testament to all the hard work of both staff and students. Keele recognises that students have real choice in where to study and we take the responsibility of supporting them and ensuring that get the most from their time at Keele very seriously."
The summary data for the NSS 2011 can be found here
The course specific information can be found on the Unistats website at
More on the specific results for Sociology and Criminology soon...
Tuesday, 9 August 2011
The truth is that the Coalition Government represents the very rich, and at a push the upper middle classes, leaving the rest of us to put up, shut up, and swallow austerity measures designed to protect the rich. My feeling is that the current riots in our major cities are the result of what happens when a political class actively constructs and pursues the creation of an ultra-divided society comprised of included and excluded peoples. What is happening now is that the excluded – the scum, the rats, as one women called them today – are returning to remind Cameron et al that they are part of the society that he governs whether he likes it or not.
As has been noted endlessly over the last few days, these riots are not about political protest. Of course, they are not. Politics are irrelevant in our society because those in power are entirely dis-interest in the views of the people (consider student demos and strikes which had absolutely no impact on government opinion) and the opposition is too weak to offer any kind of worthwhile opinion. New Labour may as well not exist.
Instead of occupying a political society we live in a consumer society. Consumption is what matters and this is why protest today has to take the form of looting and stealing – if subjective protest takes the form of demos and strikes, objective protest is on the side of the rioters and looters. Of course, there is no defence for this behaviour, but let us make no mistake, the Conservative government is responsible for this situation. They have taken an already divided society and pulled up the ladder of social mobility leaving the excluded with nowhere to go. They have created social chaos.
In response to this, I do not think we should listen to popular right fascists who want to see military police on our streets. This is not the answer. Instead, what we need is a government who can manage our society responsibly in the name of everybody in our society, including those people Cameron, Gove et al, think are scum. Unfortunately, I do not think this is the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Our current government is clearly not fit to create and oversee an equal, peaceful, society.
Akin to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who has talked about ‘sheer criminality’, the media has tended to report the unrest in terms of a kind of irrational, meaningless, pointless deviance. As a Sociologist, I have no doubt that the riots appear irrational and meaningless, but I also know that this is not really the case and that there are social reasons for these kind of disturbances. In some ways it is easy to talk about ‘criminality’. All you have to do is lock people up. You don’t have to try to understand or deal with deep rooted social and political issues. Having said this, there is no doubt. The riots are not explicitly political. Instead, they are the acts of people who feel excluded and believe that they have no stake in the communities and society they are seeking to destroy.
But if the riots are clearly an expression of rage, and reflect what happens to people when society falls to listen to them or factor them into its plans, they are also clearly entrepreneurial in respect of the fact that the rioters are clearly looters, stealing clothes, electrical equipment, and other consumer durables. Again, one does not need a PhD in Sociology to understand the reasons behind looting. The American Sociologist Robert Merton explained in the 1930s that if a society sets itself up on the basis of particular goals and objectives and then deprives a large section of the population from access to those goals and objectives, then that excluded population will find alternative means to achieve those goals and objectives. In Merton’s American case, it is easy to see how this theory plays out. The goals and objectives are money, consumption, success, and the American dream and the excluded population are the poor people, and especially the racially excluded Blacks and Hispanics, who turn to crime in order to achieve the goals that the middle classes take for granted.
Is the same theory not playing out in Britain today? What has happened over the course of the last 15 years is that we have raised a generation of people on the basis of an ideology that said that the capitalistic goods of society should be accessible to everybody. Following the last Conservative government, the New Labour model of social mobility, premised on the value of education, was meant to allow everybody to have a piece of the pie. Unfortunately, even then, youth ran out of control in a society absolutely geared around consumption and enjoyment, because nobody wants to wait and our society is already massively unequal. However, Blair et al held back the tide of criminality because they could offer people the potential of legitimate means to achieve the socially determined goals of consumption and success. Unsurprisingly for a group of millionaires who have never had to think about means to ends because they have always been there, the Conservatives behaved in an entirely socially irresponsible manner and set about destroying the basic social framework in Britain which could allow for the promise of legitimate means to the goals of inclusion in consumer capitalism.
Cuts to everything, including welfare and education, have created an atmosphere where the poor and alienated feel that the basic means to the ends of success are no longer available. Moreover, at the same time that austerity is expected of the poor, who are simply meant to swallow their lack of opportunity, it is, of course, business as usual for the rich who continue to consume and the mass media which persists in selling everybody a consumer fantasy. In other words, at the same time as the Conservative government has pulled up the ladder of social mobility, the media has continued to advertise the spectacle of the riches and excesses of the consumer society. As a consequence, our society has effectively rubbed the noses of the poor and young in their lack of opportunity. Of course, New Labour never did anything to tame the excesses of the rich, but at least they had the good sense to leave a crack in the door open for the poor and centrally the young who still believe they can make it.
It is precisely this crack in the door that the Conservatives have slammed shut. If our current economic problems last for another five to ten years, the average 16 year old could be somewhere between 21 and 26 by the time we emerge from this situation. It is not enough to sacrifice these people and treat them as collateral damage in order to save the bacon of the rich who would rather not pay more tax. It is not enough to say that cuts are necessary and lump the burden on the poor and the young, leaving the rich free to enjoy what they have apparently earned. If cuts are necessary, the burden should fall on the richest members of our society, who should carry the weight of the mistakes of the past, because they are the people who benefited most in the good times. Quite apart from the ethical evil of throwing a generation on the scrap heap before they have even had the chance to start their adult lives, it is entirely socially irresponsible to do so, because riots will inevitably by the result. As a Sociologist, I am truly amazed that the Conservative government did not see these riots on the horizon. The fact that they clearly did not see this coming illustrates a number of important points for me, which should lead us to democratically remove them from office as quickly as possible. First, they have absolutely no sense of society or the majority people who live within it. They have no idea about the way people feel or how they react when they feel that they have no future. They are out of touch.
Second, they have no idea about recent history. Did these people not live through the inner city riots in the 1980s, which were the result of Thatcher’s war on the working classes? There is no specific working class unrest today, and what we are witnessing is not class war, so perhaps we can excuse people with no sense of social history this over-sight. But what about the French riots in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Did the Conservative government not see how young, disenfranchised, people responded to deep social exclusion in Paris and other French cities? Did they not imagine that the same events might occur in Britain? Third, the Conservatives are clearly arrogant and socially irresponsible in the extreme because they did not consider the possibility that their policies could destabilize our society in this way. They thought they could ride roughshod over people and that everybody would simply consent to their violent policies. Unlike New Labour who understood the political import of maintaining the idea of social mobility, the Conservatives appear to have such a low opinion of the people and their aspirations that they do not feel the need to provide them with the basic possibility of opportunity.
Regardless of the entirely predictable line of Theresa May – we have to be tough on crime – we have to ask ourselves whether we want to live in a society where so many people feel excluded and badly treated? What kind of society do we have where people, and especially young people, feel this way? What kind of democracy do we have where people riot because they feel that they have no voice and no future?
Ironically, we have the same kind of democracy that ignores massive student protests and waves of strikes. We have the same kind of democracy that we had in the 1980s when the Thatcher government felt it was acceptable to destroy entire communities in the name of economic growth and the same kind of democracy the French have today which leaves young ethnic people to rot on sprawling suburban estates. But I do not think we should accept a return to the social divisions of the 1980s. It is not enough for a government to mindlessly repeat the mistakes of the past in the name of protecting the privileges of the rich. Nobody wants to live with riots and social chaos. Nobody should have their homes and businesses burned to the ground. This is not the kind of society anybody wants and it is not enough for government to say that every rioter is a mindless criminal. That is no explanation and that is no way to handle massive unrest. A true democracy listens. As we know from the Arab Spring, democracy is better than authoritarianism because it involves all of the people. It does not ignore them and lock them up.
On the basis that nobody should want to live in a society where so many people are excluded to the extent that they feel that rioting is the way forward, I think it is a mistake to simply focus on the symptom – the rioters – and talk about their ‘sheer criminality’ because this will not change anything. Instead, I think that we need to think about the deep social and political causes of what we have witnessed over the course of the last three nights in our major cities and decide that we need a society that is inclusive and cares about the future of the majority of the population, rather than one which is dominated by a self-interested elite who have no sense of the need to provide the rest of the population with the means of social mobility.
Tuesday, 12 July 2011
By Siobhan Holohan
Can you help with this research project?
The 'Muslims in the European Mediascape' Research Project funded by The Institute for Strategic Dialogue in partnership with the Vodafone Foundation Germany and the British Council aims to explore the complexity of media production and consumption in an ever-more diverse Europe. The research is being led by two teams based in the UK (Dr Siobhan Holohan, Keele University and Dr Elizabeth Poole, Staffordshire University) and Germany (Professor Andreas Zick and Dr Jörg Heeren, Bielefeld University), and aims to identify relationships between social cohesion and trends in the use and production of media in view of key variables, including socio-economic background, education, gender, ethnicity, religion, generation, personal and private inter-cultural relationships, and age in the UK and Germany.
Having completed the first stage of the research – in-depth interviews with media producers from mainstream and ‘Muslim’ media organisations – we are now looking for participants for stage two which aims to identify the choices people make when it comes to the media they consume, and what impact those choices might have on inter-cultural social relations in the UK and Germany. The first part of this research is being conducted via a short online survey which can be found at http://www.unipark.de/uc/muslim-media-research. This version of the survey is specific to UK media consumers. However, we are looking for people from all cultural / ethnic / religious backgrounds and from as many walks of life as possible to participate in the survey. All views are valid. The survey should take no more than 10 minutes to complete and is anonymous. From this start we hope to build a picture of media consumption and attitudes toward inter-cultural relationships which can be furthered by qualitative media consumer focus groups at a later stage.
If you would like further information about this survey or the project as a whole please contact Dr Siobhan Holohan, firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr Elizabeth Poole, email@example.com.
The successful applicant will join one of the well established research groups in the Research Institute for the Humanities or the Research Institute for Social Sciences. Applications are invited across the following research areas:
Research Institute for the Humanities
Research Institute for Social Sciences
The successful applicant will join a doctoral programme with opportunities for further specialist research training and become a member of a vibrant postgraduate community in the Research Institute.
The GTA is awarded with a teaching component allowing students to gain professional experience in a relevant Humanities and Social Sciences subject area. Successful applicants should have already completed, or be about to complete, a Master's degree in a related disciplinary area, should demonstrate aptitude as academic tutors and should be able to demonstrate a strong interest in research.
Up to £2,052 per annum, plus £11,538 stipend and Home/EU fee waiver.
Deadline for applications: 5pm Friday 15th July.
Further information is available here
Informal inquiries may be addressed to Helen Farrell, PGR Administrator: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01782 733641.
Friday, 24 June 2011
Dr Bill Dixon, Head of the School of Sociology and Criminology said: “We are delighted that our teaching and research excellence is showing through. Staff in our School are committed to providing a high-quality and well-supported learning experience for our students”. This commitment shows through in student feedback: the national student survey rates Keele overall 11th in the country for student satisfaction and ten members of the staff (half of the teaching team) in the School of Sociology and Criminology were nominated this year for Teaching Excellence awards with Dr Dixon himself receiving an award.
While providing excellent teaching and student support is a priority, the School of Sociology and Criminology also achieved a number of key successes for students and staff in community and workplace engagement. A student from our School again won the prestigious Neil and Gina Smith Student of the Year award for 2010-11. Amy Chapman, a local mature student who came to Keele from an Access to HE course at South Cheshire College, won this award for her academic excellence while playing an active role locally improving opportunities and aspirations for other young people. Two out of the three runners up in this year’s award – Dani Hughes and Danielle Bremner - are also from our School. Amy is the third winner from our School in only six years that the award has been running. Sociology and Criminology student Matt Bedding managed to get elected as Student Union Vice-President for Welfare while continuing his work with Nightline for which he received a national lifetime award. All of these students will graduate with first class honours.
The School also successfully launched its new Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, which is taught in blocks to allow professionals to study while maintaining their employment, and a new module ‘Working for Justice’ which enables undergraduate students to find out more about the Criminal Justice field from professionals. A further scheme with work experience opportunities is in development for both Sociology and Criminology students, following the award of a Teaching Innovation grant for employer engagement to Dr Rebecca Leach.
Thursday, 23 June 2011
Following a presentation on urban utopianism and dystopianism in Beijing last night, I was surprised to find myself in an indie bar playing late 1970s-early 1980s British punk-new wave music. The surreal effect of listening to music by The Undertones, Buzzcocks, and Vapours that I grew up with in late 1970s Hull in the middle of Beijing was cemented when The Specials’ anthem to Thatcherite urban decay, Ghost Town, began to play. Visiting the bar, I was even more surprised to see the video for the record running on a large screen on the wall, and I could not help but remember seeing images of Terry Hall et al packed into a car for the first time on TV in 1981. While many of the other records I heard last night reminded me of growing up in the 1980s, what was different about Ghost Town was that it said everything to me about my experience of the social condition of Hull and the decay and decline of the city in a kind of urban gothic that I found simultaneously depressing and frightening, but also exciting because of the sense of possibility I found in the ruins of a society slipping away into history.
Ghost Town is thirty years old this year, having been released in 1981, the year of widespread riots across the UK, but I cannot help but feel that is has renewed relevance to British society today. The destruction of industrial Britain which took place under the Thatcher governments in the 1980s and produced the kind of urban gothic so brilliantly captured by The Specials is today being repeated at a more advanced level by the coalition government which is similarly in the process of wasting large parts of the country which are heavily reliant on the public sector for employment. It is ironic that I heard Ghost Town for the first time in many years in Beijing because the Chinese capital would initially appear to be about as far away from a ghost town as it is possible to imagine. Contrary to English cities such as Hull and Stoke-on-Trent, which are haunted by ghosts that have never been laid to rest, Beijing recalls the sci-fi urban imaginary from Blade Runner, and seems completely devoid of history. Whereas it would seem appropriate to understand places such as Hull through Ghost Town, if you need to understand Beijing I would suggest looking to French post-modern theorists, such as Paul Virilio, and other contemporary urban thinkers, such as Mike Davis, for guidance.
However, first impressions are not always correct and there is a sense in which perhaps post-modern Beijing is also haunted by its own particular ghosts and possessed by a kind of melancholia related to the destruction of the old city and gradual decline of traditional life, as documented in classic books such as Beijing Record. Perhaps, then, Beijing is also a kind of post-modern ghost town and in some ways this has been confirmed by my impressions of the place. Apart from my alienation from the architecture of Chinese power, my overwhelming feeling about Beijing is that it represents a hyper-divided society inhabited by a kind of ultra-poor who live in urban villages, strange slum spaces constructed on the basis of some rural imaginary of feudal China, and a post-modern super-rich, who live in upscale apartments in the Central Business District and enjoy wealth and opportunity similar to the super-rich in other global cities, London, New York, and Tokyo.
As a Marxist sociologist, speaking to Chinese academics about urban division has been a strange experience, primarily because the standard western notion that what is required to tame the worst excesses of capitalism is leftism and socialism makes no sense in a society where the Communist party is in league with business and drives the destruction of community. Unfortunately, my response to my Chinese colleagues who have celebrated the freedoms of the west, and talked positively about rightism, is that neo-liberalism with personal freedom is really little better than neo-liberalism with Chinese characteristics because both are essentially anti-democratic and controlled by elite business interests set on the money making policy of creative destruction which produces the kind of ghost towns The Specials sang about in the early 1980s. As you can imagine, the result of my response led us towards a kind of impasse, and we had to try to imagine a new way forward beyond traditional leftism and liberalism, since both of these approaches seem today to be totally under the thumb of business. Although we did not reach any conclusions, beyond ideas about progressive taxation and incorruptible politicians, we agreed that the importance of imagining a new kind of utopian politics today that transcends divisions between left and right, and centrally is willing and able to control business.
If my work in Beijing has taught me anything, apart from the fact that the Chinese have good taste in late 1970s-early 1980s punk / new wave music, it is that the task of contemporary sociology has to be to find this utopian anti-economic middle way between left and right. Unfortunately, this task may have been made more difficult by the idea of the third way, which was essentially neo-liberalism with a human face, but I think that the size of the challenge means that we must try to rethink solutions of social inequality on a macro scale which does not involve becoming servants of a state which has already made all of the important political decisions and simply wants sociologists to produce raw data. If we are not willing do this I think we can forget about resolving the problems of the ghost town and should instead simply accept the teenage kicks of the consumer society, when and where we can get them.
Friday, 17 June 2011
We are particularly pleased because Amy is the THIRD annual winner from our School in the six years that the award has been running. Previous winners from our School are Rachel Cason (nee Wiggett) and the first winner Heather Phillips. A prize of £5000 is made and both our previous winners have made good use of the fund to continue their studies at Keele.
Alongside Matt Bedding's national award this year for his work with Keele Nightline, it is clearer than ever that our students are graduating ready to put their studies in Sociology and Criminology to good use in 'making a difference' in society. And we also know that for every exceptional individual who receives the awards and plaudits, there are many more of you who are working away at your studies while seeking to make things better in your communities, or those of people less fortunate. This makes us very happy, because it is often one of the key reasons people study our subjects: that you are enabled to put this into practice while studying with us is a testament to your commitment and to the relevance of the teaching programmes in Sociology and Criminology at Keele.
Thursday, 9 June 2011
Wednesday, 1 June 2011
So here I am two months into a 3 year PhD and already the to-do list is piling up! I started my PhD in April, I’m undertaking a funded study into “on the spot” fines and the future of the magistracy. Fixed penalty notices are now the primary way in which most “crimes” are dealt with, accounting for over half of all punishments given out by the state. They are the primary way in which “ordinary” people come into contact with the justice system, either as drivers, receiving FPNs, or social drinkers receiving PND’s (Penalty Notices Disorder). My study aims to examine both the debates about the use of on the spot fines and the theories underpinning their use.
By now I had planned to have it all worked out, the reading planned out and a very definite direction. I was so excited when I started that I thought 3 years, pah! I’ll get this done in 12 months no problem. And then the books and articles started piling up and you realise just how much work is involved, I’m coming to the conclusion that there is literally a book for every idea that has ever been.
You start off with a very definite idea of where you want the study to go; you have completed your masterful research proposal. Surely it’s just a matter of following this to its conclusion. And then you begin reading. That’s when it starts to kick in how naive your research proposal is. You start off thinking that this study is going to shake the very foundations of knowledge, then soon start to fear that (within about a week) you’ll be lucky if anyone but your supervisor and external examiners will want to read it!
Having worked for years prior to starting my PhD was a blessing; I am used to the early mornings and work day monotony, following the Dolly Parton day 9-5. It wasn’t like this as an undergraduate: I had friends, we had fun; now I have books and concepts to keep me entertained! Only 34 months to go...
One question that I keep bugging the other PhD candidates with is when does the study start to take shape, when do you really know what you are doing? A third year candidate told me to give them a ring if I ever find out because they haven’t found an answer yet.
Having said all that I would still choose a PhD over work every day of the week and twice on a Sunday. The freedom to determine what you do on a day to day basis is a precious liberty and one that will not be afforded to you at work!
I still count my blessings every day that I obtained this position, Keele is a wonderful place to work and study and the people are incredibly friendly. The best tip I can give, with all my 2 months of experience, is to get a good supervisor! (I have) It makes all the difference. I remember a friend of mine telling me how when she was training to become a surgeon her supervisor would boast how he was unhappy if he did not make his students cry at least once a day. Luckily Dr Wells, my supervisor, doesn’t subscribe to this mantra. Well, not yet anyway.
Anyway it’s time to get back to work: there are books to read! I’ll keep you posted throughout my study as to how things are developing.
Adam’s project is partly funded by the Magistrates’ Association, and is linked to their ongoing seminar series ‘The Magistracy in the 21st Century’. It is being supervised by Dr Helen Wells, Professor Barry Godfrey and Dr Mary Corcoran. If you are interested in Adam’s project or his experiences as a new PhD student at Keele, you can contact him at email@example.com. He is looking for volunteers to take part in focus groups or interviews later in the study, so if you have ever received “on the spot” fine he would love to hear about your experience.
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
After having been away from blogging for a few months because of research leave and teaching commitments, I decided to return after a research visit to Paris to finish talking about the sociology of immobility. I was curious to essay my own situation upon my return, but it has taken me more or less a month to get around to writing this piece. This is, of course, no advertisement for the high speed society, nor the advantages of blogging where information moves lightning fast. I wish that I could claim laziness, say that I had plenty of time on my hands, and that I simply hadn’t been bothered to write, because this would mean I had taken time off. But there is no laziness in the high speed society and unfortunately the truth is much worse. I simply have not had the time to write anything. Now, as research projects stack up around me, must-read books pile up in ever increasing quantities covering my office, and my diary swells with meetings, and many more appointments I have probably not written down, I thought I needed to sit down to write about the paradoxical relationship between mobility and immobility in contemporary society. So here we are.
There was something interesting about flying off to Paris, spending a day and a half in the suburbs of the French capital, and then returning to the UK in a desperate attempt to secure a visa for entry into China a week later. I never made it to Beijing in the end and had to postpone my trip. But by the time it became clear I was going nowhere the very effort of trying to organise a visa, flights, foreign currency, not to mention finish off papers to present in the Chinese capital, made me feel as though I had been to China and back without ever having left my office. Email went back and forth, and I made aborted phone calls to Beijing, without getting anywhere, before I eventually accepted I was staying put. In the end I had achieved very little, apart from discovering I had the wrong documentation to enter China on a lecturing visa. I had remained completely immobile in every sense of the word, and yet by the end of the week, I felt in a state of panic.
Admittedly, I may be prone to this kind of reaction when confronted with the prospect of travel. Those who know me know very well that I have never really considered myself a member of the global elite, having been brought up in a particularly immobile environment where nobody seemed to do anything and nothing ever seemed to change. On a continuum spanning those who belong to, or dwell in a place and those who live nowhere and everywhere at the same time, I fall very much into the former category, having never found mobility very easy. Unfortunately, having said all of this, I am, perhaps, in the worst possible position, being somebody who wants to dwell somewhere, but is also an exile from that place. So I live between somewhere and nowhere, which really means nowhere or a kind of liminal place. As a researcher of utopias I know that nowhere should be best possible place, or at least that’s what Thomas More told us, when he called his perfect world utopia meaning both good place and no place, but I can’t really sustain that belief. Nowhere is really no good. It is like the non-places French sociologist Marc Auge talks about. These places, airports and the like, are only good for moving through on your way somewhere else.
But then again, I’m ambivalent. Nowhere has its attractions. For example, I like airports. They’re transitory places and I feel a great sense of freedom in them. The paradox of airports is that even when you’re loaded down with bags, you have no baggage. You’re on the move and you could go anywhere. Unfortunately, the problem with non-places is that its easy to get stuck there. Nobody wants to be stuck nowhere, like the traveler in the Tom Hanks’ film, who ends up living in an airport for months on end, because its impossible to settle and grow any kind of roots there. There is some kind of freedom in that admittedly, but it becomes a bit tiresome in the end. So nowhere, and the non-place of the exile is nowhere to be, even though sociologists have long known that aliens make the best critical thinkers because the normal looks absurd to them. That’s okay, and it may make for good academic work, but it’s hard to live on the outside looking in. Having said all of this, I should not over-egg my status as melancholy exile. I spent my early life thinking about escaping from my immobile situation. Everybody I knew did. That was life. In this respect, roots and the idea of dwelling are based on a kind of imaginary situation for me. In the language of Benedict Anderson, I have an imaginary view of what it was like to live in a working class community.
But I also know that in a society premised on the idea of mobility, immobility kills. Perhaps this is why airports are the best and worst of places to be – we are all mobile in the airport, until we get stuck, and then our immobility is thrown into sharp relief by the very fact that the place we occupy is a kind of transitory non-place that exists for no other reason than to move people on. You absolutely do not want to get stuck there. In fact, perhaps we should learn to appreciate airports more for what they can tell us about contemporary society and our mindset today because the condition of the airport which enables movement but also invariably malfunctions and breaks down causing panic-inducing immobility symbolises the great problem of the mobile society. That to say that the great problem of moving around and running about without stopping to take stock is that you end up getting nowhere and nothing ever happens.
As such, there is a point where mobility folds into immobility, with the added ingredient of the desperate need to move in a society geared towards dynamism and change. Herein resides the difference between me now, stuck between Paris and Beijing in a kind of twilight zone, and me twenty years ago, caught on a council estate on the edge of Hull, wondering how I could escape. In the past I had nowhere to be. I had no reason to leave, even though I knew there had to be more to life, whereas now I have somewhere to be, but have come to see everywhere as a kind of transitory place on the road to somewhere else. In the past everywhere was an end, a kind of dead end, and now there is no end, but only endless movement. What is more is that I am not unusual in this view – I use myself as an example of a particular world view, the world view of the contemporary global nomad, the unsettler, who is propelled ever forward by the demand to move contained in contemporary society.
Unlike the nomads of the past who went to a place and eventually settled somewhere, today we are unsettlers because we never stay anywhere for too long. My own case is hyperbolic, because as I am well aware that I have a dislike of both mobility and immobility, and this puts me in the difficult, even comic position of not wanting to go anywhere, but also not wanting to stay where I am for too long, wherever that may be at any given time. Perhaps this makes me the ideal of citizen of More’s utopian city that did not exist, a place that was also a no place. But I don’t think so. The problem with More’s people was they were far too settled where they were and that’s not how the unsettler is today. Caught in a place that’s not a place, but rather a non-place, the unsettler displays a strange psychological condition we might want to call topophobia – the fear of places. More’s people don’t show any symptoms of this problem. They seem happy where they are. By contrast the contemporary topophobic does not like any place that exists, but instead wants to imagine places they would like to inhabit and then inhabit these imaginary places through mental constructs made up of equal parts of melancholia and desire. Imagination and the desire to move are, therefore, key to understanding the topophobic. As I see it, there is none of this unrest in More’s people.
This is, of course, paradoxical since one would imagine that unrest is exactly what makes one a utopian. Is unrest not what defines the utopian imagination? But we know that unrest is difficult to live with and nobody wants to live between places. It’s not easy. Does this amount to saying that utopia is bad, and that social dreaming is no good, because what it means is that you will never be happy where you are, and always want to find somewhere else that doesn’t really exist? Does this mean that the utopian topophobic is a person who is addicted to movement, but at the same time hates going anywhere because what they want more than anything is to stop moving and rest for a little while in some imaginary place they will never find? In many ways this question touches upon the key point of utopian thinking and practice. What most utopian dreamers have done over the course of history is to try to design imaginary places where people could rest and would have no more need of their imaginations. In utopia other places cease to exist. You are where you are and that’s it.
This is exactly what communists of all types have sought to do over the course of history – from Plato through Stalin to Pol Pot, reds have sought to destroy our ability to think otherwise. Let’s imagine imagination out of existence, because its too hard to keep wanting something that you can never have, a place that does not exist. The response to this strategy has, of course, been the great dystopias which say exactly that. From Diogenes the Dog to George Orwell, the utopians of freedom have told us that even though its hard to keep moving, nobody wants to be subsumed in a place that is completely immobile. So accept your desire to move and live with it. I think that’s true, and I would go along with the radical critique of Plato’s Republic and the Orwellian attack on Stalinism, but the problem is that our own society has taken the idea of mobility too far.
Nobody wants to be stuck in a hopeless situation, where all you can do is dream but never go anywhere, but equally topophobia is no good either. In many respects this is where we are today in contemporary global capitalism. We are all supposed to be ‘super-busy’ - and smile about it. If we have any time we are meant to cram it full of work or leisure. There is no time to do nothing. But it’s enough to drive anybody mad and I’m not sure what’s worse – sitting on a council estate bedsit somewhere wondering what could be or finding yourself caught in a similarly immobile position frantically struggling to manage an overloaded work and leisure schedule.
Although the nature of the collapse of time may have changed, the experience of immobility remains the same. In the case of the bedsit dweller, time has no meaning and it is impossible to go anywhere, because they have nowhere to go and no reason to be anywhere. By contrast, the member of what Zygmunt Bauman would call the contemporary liquid class has no time and can’t get anywhere because he has to be everywhere and has no time to do anything. The outcome of both situations is the same, I think: topophobia, the desire to move, and escape, into a stable yet imaginary place which does not continually propel one forwards.
The great founder of liberal philosophy Thomas Hobbes would have considered any such attempt to find a place beyond mobility ridiculous, since he thought about life in terms of a race. In his view people are like atoms bouncing around in abstract space. They possess trajectories and this is what keeps them alive. Unfortunately, however, nobody can ever have an unimpeded trajectory through life. The very nature of human existence means that people desire similar objects and therefore invariably clash in their life trajectories. As such, we must compete and struggle to ensure that we come out on top in the great race that is life. Obviously, Hobbes was no Darwinian before Darwin, and he did not simply advocate natural selection and the survival of the fittest, but rather thought that it was necessary to take the natural inclination of people towards struggle and competition and lift it onto the level of economic competition where it could be safely controlled. Or at least, this is how the great Canadian theorist of liberalism, C. B. MacPherson, thought about Hobbes' most famous work on the emergence of society.
Although his work is not so well known today, I think that MacPherson provides us with a useful insight into the nature of contemporary society because what it illustrates is that the root problem of our situation – and the problem of the simultaneous divergence and similarity of the experiences of the bedsit dweller and the global traveler – is the result of an economic system that imperils us in equal measure every minute of the day. Why do we fear staying anywhere for too long? Why are we all topophobic today? The answer is quite simple. In the great game of capitalist survivalism, it does not pay to stay still for too long. In order to stay in, and preferably ahead of, the game you absolutely have to keep moving and stay mobile. However, as we have seen, there is a limit to how far this is possible, and in the end it is likely that our society will congeal into a kind of immobile opposition between those who cannot go anywhere because they have nowhere to go and those who cannot move because they have to be everywhere all at the same time. We really need to avoid the emergence of this kind of society because it will result in one outcome – a massive outpouring of psychological unrest in a society committed to mobility.
What should we do, then, to oppose this situation? First, we have to resist the utopian temptation to oppose the addiction to movement with the resolution of stasis in a society where nothing changes. This has been tried by communists throughout history. It does not work. Total immobility is no way forward and only results in the reemergence of the obsession with change and dynamism. Second, I think we have to try to transform our society into a less competitive place, which is not geared around endless change and transformation, but rather takes care of those who cannot keep up and stops challenging people to do more and move faster. As Marx saw in the 19th century, and Simmel recognised early in the 20th century, the society premised on the notion that ‘all is solid melts into air’ is not easy to stand. We all know this to be true and yet, in many respects, we have yet to learn the lesson of the classical sociologists. I think this is the challenge for our society in the immediate future – we must learn from Marx and Simmel. We must learn to demobilise. But how can we do this in a society which functions like a race track? Perhaps this should be the subject for another blog. But for now I fear I must suspend my commitment to demobilisation - I need to try to re-book my flights to Beijing.
Monday, 23 May 2011
Magistrates and academics came together last week at Keele Hall to discuss how the courts can encourage desistence from offending. Presentations from academics in the fields of criminology, law and social work contributed to a lively debate.The audience was also introduced to Adam Snow, who has just been appointed as the Magistrates' Association Fellow and will be studying for a PhD entitled 'Pay As You Go Justice: Out of Court Disposals and the Future of the Magistracy'.
This is the first in a series of seminars sponsored by the Magistrates' Association, organised by Dr Helen Wells, Dr Mary Corcoran, Professor David Gadd and Professor Barry Godfrey. The next two seminars will be held in Manchester and London and will discuss "the role of short sentences" and "the future of local justice".
This collaboration between academics and practitioners has been widely praised, and we look forward to more of these kinds of events at Keele.
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
We've gained promotion to the Premier League! Keele Sociology and Criminology programmes confirm their Top 20 status
Bill Dixon, Head of the School of Sociology and Criminology said "We're delighted that our programmes in Sociology and Criminology are achieving recognition nationally. Teaching staff here are committed to students and to providing high-quality, research-led programmes. Keele is a special place, and we're extremely proud to be providing a special learning experience."
"One of the things we're most proud of is the close, supportive relationships we build up with our students. Students appreciate this and we work hard to maintain good feedback, friendly learning environments and personal contact with teaching staff. In 2010/11 over half of the staff group in Sociology and Criminology were nominated by students for University teaching excellence awards."
You can find out more about the Sociology and Criminology programmes by looking at our prospectus, following this blog, following us on Twitter @socandcrimkeele or on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/socandcrimkeele If you'd like to come and visit us, you can talk to staff and current students at our Open Days or if you can't make these dates, contact us to arrange for a visit.
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
In Mathieu Kassowitz’s 1995 film 'La Haine' the outskirts of Paris are represented as a strange savage wilderness characterised by alienation, despair, ethnic tension, and low level criminality. Fifteen years on the characters may have changed, so that the ethnic aliens in Kassowitz’s film have been replaced by a new ‘other’ in the form of the Romanian immigrant, but the general condition of ethnic tension and class division remain the same. On my recent trip to le banlieues with the French cultural studies journal D-Fiction, I walked through the dystopian ruins of modern Paris, the spaces of Le Corbusier, a failed utopia, which has now decayed to a kind of anomic non-space.
But how can we understand the condition of urban monstrosity which has seen the modernist utopia become a post-modern dystopia in the context of contemporary Paris? How can we understand the contemporary nature of urban alienation in Paris, and the situation of the new ethnic alien, the Romanian or Transylvanian other, the vampire who threatens the life-blood of the French nation in Sarkozy’s neo-liberal imaginary? In my forthcoming work on urban monstrosity, I seek to explore the contemporary French urban condition through a discussion of Romanian philosopher, Emil Cioran, on the notions of decay, utopia, and dystopia, and a visual ethnography of the contemporary Parisian suburb. While Cioran spent much of his life in Paris, his dark works are important because they can shed light on the condition of urban decay, dereliction, and ruination. By contrast, images of urban graffiti and tags communicate the meaning of the contemporary suburban condition in the French capital, a neo-liberal dreamworld, the city of light, which is also a city of exclusion, marginality, and darkness.
Thursday, 5 May 2011
But while we're on, just a note about League Tables. Sure, they help you decide where you want to study; sure, they tell you a bit about the places you're interested in, and their reputation. But nothing really beats coming for a visit, talking to staff and students about what is important to you. Our Open Days are just that: open - you can speak to staff and students of the two programmes first hand to find out what it is really like.
One of the things about League Tables that makes a difference to us here at Keele is they can never have a 'perfect' methodology. It matters, in fact, because the clumsiness of the methodology doesn't always show us in our best light. For example, the National Student Survey only asks you ONE set of questions; yet still many if not most of our degrees at Keele are dual honours. Unless you've had EXACTLY the same experience in both your Schools, this fine-tuning of your views won't be reflected in your answers. There has yet to be any form of league table or 'rating' of University courses that can adequately reflect the Keele degree properly.
In addition, people often ask about the research rating for our subjects, since it is confusing. In some league tables you will see NO research rating for Sociology and/or Criminology. In others you will see we end up at the top end of the ratings! Sometimes, I've seen blogs, facebook comments and replies on The Student Room which highlight or question this. Why does this confusion arise?
Well, it is all to do with HOW research was assessed at Keele. Most of the School of Sociology and Criminology staff whose research was included in the last Research Assessment exercise (a process by which the quality of research in Universities is measured every few years) were submitted under the heading of 'Social Policy'. There isn't a separate 'Criminology' heading, and most of the sociologists (which was most of us) who were submitted went in Social Policy, which is quite common across the country. I won't bore you with the reasons these choices were made but you can rest assured that ALL staff in the School are research active. Keele was ranked 12th in the country for Social Policy - an excellent outcome- and criminology and sociology research in our School contributed to this along with research by members of other Schools (such as Public Policy and Professional Practice).
Now, some league tables have managed to reflect this complexity accurately, and have included part of the Social Policy score in their calculations for Sociology and Criminology. But some have not. So if it shows up a research score of 'zero', then take it with a pinch of salt. If you want to know what kind of research we actually do, and how good it is, look at the list of books on our Facebook page, the publications and research details on our individual homepages and so on.
The real issue in the league tables though is surely how good we are as educators, how much students appreciate what they get from us when they're here, and what difference it makes to them in the long term - in terms of employability and just general life-changing experiences. Hopefully, these rather arbitrary measures can get better at reflecting what you really get in the School of Sociology and Criminology: excellent, research-active teaching staff, who know and care about their students, teaching relevant and interesting courses that help develop you into all-round graduates.
Students from Keele have made the return leg of the trip for three years now and the programme has been a great success. Students learn about how the criminal justice system operates in a different country, particularly one where gun crime is a prevalent issue; where the police in response feel they need to carry an array of weapons for their own, and for public, protection; and where the death penalty still exists in many states. Students therefore had the opportunity to contrast this experience with what they have already learnt about the criminal justice system in England and Wales.
This year the week-long programme took place at the beginning of April and students enjoyed a packed schedule….
Monday 4th April: The students settled into Ball State University campus life and later attended a talk by the Chief of the University Police Department, and were treated to a K9 demonstration. Canines (usually German Shepherds) are predominantly used by the police for narcotics and bomb detection, and for tracking people. The demonstration involved a role-play exercise where a (rather nervous) police officer pretended to flee from a crime and the police dog was instructed to track and catch the ‘suspect’.
Tuesday 5th April: Students attended interactive sessions held on a victim advocacy programme, police investigation of domestic violence, and a court volunteering programme. Later that evening, students were given the opportunity to attend a police ride-along with the University, Muncie, and Delaware County Police Departments. This was a highlight of the week where students enjoyed (quite literally) a front seat to all of the action! Students were involved in stopping drivers who had committed a traffic offence; dealing with various disputes and disturbances; an alleged theft from a supermarket; as well as being involved in the arrest of individuals and taking them to the County Jail.
Wednesday 6th April: Students attended court to observe proceedings. The morning consisted of pre-trial hearings on ten cases, which included a 22 year old male being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, a 29 year old female accused of child molestation, a 21 year old male accused of committing an armed robbery, as well as cases of theft, battery, burglary and probation violation.
Thursday 7th April: Students job shadowed workers from probation and community corrections. This provided an opportunity for students to see first-hand what working in probation and community punishment entails in another country. Students could also see how ex-offenders cope with life after prison, with one interesting case of an ex-offender who discussed the difficulties of adapting to modern life after being released from prison two weeks earlier, having served a 26-year sentence for murder. Later in the day, students attended a tutorial on gang violence and were asked to design some solutions and crime prevention strategies for what was becoming a particular problem in the area.
Friday 9th April: To end the programme, students had a guided tour of Pendleton Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. This facility houses inmates who are serving long-term sentences as well as those who are on death row. Students were advised to wear non-provocative clothing on the day (due to the likely adverse attention from inmates) and to ensure all clothes and shoes were clean (due to the very sophisticated security system that all visitors must go through). Although certain wings were closed off on the tour for safety purposes, students were given a behind the scenes tour of all aspects of the facility. Despite a few shouts and whistles from inmates, students came away feeling privileged to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Saturday 10th April: Students had an exciting opportunity to visit Chicago for a day of sightseeing. They visited navy peer, took a trip up to the 103rd floor of Sears Tower, sampled the famous caramel and cheddar popcorn from ‘Garretts’, and even managed to fit in some shopping along the ‘Magnificent Mile’.
Overall, the trip provided students with a first-hand experience of all aspects of the US criminal justice system, from the time where individuals enter the system during the arrest by the police, right through to the trial, punishment and subsequent monitoring after offenders have completed their sentence. Students enjoyed the week and were keen to recommend it to others…
"The trip to Ball State University did not only teach me a great deal about the fundamental elements of the American criminal justice system but we also 'stepped into the shoes' of Americans for a week and met some really great people. All of which gave my peers and I, a unique and memorable week."
[Laura, first year Criminology student]
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
Matt Bedding, who is in his final year studying sociology and criminology, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Nightline Association - a confidential listening, support and information service, run by students for students - for his hard work at a local and national level.
The 21-year-old joined Keele Nightline in his first year at the University and has held several posts, including welfare, social and policy officer and external coordinator.
During the past year he has been responsible for promoting the service to Keele students and staff, establishing strong relationships to ensure Nightline's continued success.
He has run numerous awareness-raising campaigns, including the launch of the new online listening service, for which he secured funding from the University.
Matt is also the regional coordinator for the national Nightline Association, line-managing eight regional representatives, and has recently been elected national non-portfolio officer. He has also been elected as the next Vice-President (Welfare) of Keele University Students' Union.
Sally Wood, charity coordinator of the national Nightline Association, said: "Matt has shown exceptional commitment to the national Nightline Association and Keele Nightline. His management of Keele has been incredible as shown by his dedication to the online listening service and outstanding call volumes recorded.
"He is a true asset to the national Nightline Association, having taken the position of regional coordinator part way through the year due to a resignation. His effort with the regional representatives has led to anincrease in engagement from Nightlines. This will stand the team in excellent stead to continue their development over the next year. "We are looking forward to working with Matt as an executive non-portfolio officer next year. He has unbounded enthusiasm and we are honoured to be working with him again."
Matt, who comes from Wethersfield in Essex, said: "I am so honoured to have received this award. Keele Nightline has been an integral part of my University experience and ultimately shaped my ambitions within the welfare provision at Keele. I have put so much work into Keele Nightline and am so proud of what I have achieved in the past three years. I cannot wait to stay involved."
For more information about Keele Nightline, see http://nightline.kusu.net/
The Week@Keele notes that "[t]he record number of nominations and the high quality of the applications testify to the excellence of the teaching at Keele, and the increasing institutional emphasis on nurturing and recognising excellence in teaching and supporting learning." The winners receive a prize of £1,000 and will be presented with their awards at a summer graduation ceremony.
Bill has also been making the headlines with an appearance on Radio 5Live's Morning Report, where he was interviewed about 'frontline' policing. This followed the publication of a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary on the deployment of the police workforce in 'an age of austerity'.