VUB Strategic Research Program (SRP) – Crime & Society: New Challenges

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The goal of Crime and Society: New Challenges is to increase synergy between the four research lines of the Crime & Society Research Group (CRiS): penality, youth studies, policing and security, crime and the city. It intends to approach some cutting-edge areas in an integrated manner, simultaneously transcending the various areas of crime control and public order in addition to the traditional criminological areas linked to them.

At the center of this SRP there are three major, prevailing and prospective, challenges to criminology and society: first, the experiences of human rights; second, the impact of technology; and third, the new faces of social exclusion. Human rights are recognised as ‘one of the great ideologies of the age’ (Galligan & Sandler 2004: 23). However, there is little empirical research into how human rights are experienced, used or resisted in practice by those exercising or being subjected to crime control and public order (Murphy & Whitty 2013). Similarly, the digitalisation and use of new information and communication technologies (ICT) is without doubt one of the most far-reaching revolutions of the late modern network society (Castells & Cardoso, 2005). However, their impact on the existing (prevention and penal) organisational practices and cultures of crime control is still understudied. Although social exclusion may be a classical object of study in criminology, globalisation is creating a new ‘precariat’ (Standing, 2010), encompassing the new faces of social exclusion such as: young women and men – urban nomads – Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) young adults, refugees and un-documented migrants (denizens) (in and out prison), “old agers”, and so on.

Our dialectic approach focuses on the experiences of both clients and crime control/public order professionals with human rights, technology and social exclusion, and on how these experiences shape their practices. This bottom-up approach is applied to the three transversal themes in two ways:

  1. a) by studying each theme through integration between the four research lines (penality, youth studies, policing and security, crime & the city);
  2. b) by focusing on the methodological, ethical and theoretical implications of our approach

This transversal approach is innovative, as it connects topics that are usually studied separately: e.g. prisoners’ rights or children’s rights; use of technology in urban surveillance or in punishment, etc. We expect intersecting insights and added value from crossing these domains.

Moreover, the Research Program will look into interconnectivity between the three themes: the experiences of human rights,  the impact of technology, and new faces of social exclusion.

The research questions are:

  • What are the experiences and practices with human rights, technology and social exclusion lived by subjects and professional actors of crime control and public order?
  • What are the methodological and ethical implications of our research approach?
  • What are the theoretical and conceptual implications of our research approach?

These overall questions have been refined into more precise research questions in each Work Package.

Work Package 1 Empirical Human Rights.

What is the relationship of human rights to: (1) political/criminological discourses on crime control; (2) the experiences of ‘dignity’ by different people in different institutions/situations of crime control/public order; (3) the increased emphasis on citizenship (exclusion of non-nationals, children as “not yet”- (full) citizens); (4) quality of life in institutions (risk of counterproductive effects such as formalisation and bureaucratisation); (5) the increasing reliance on technology; (6) preventive strategies (absence of judicial control)?

WP 2 Experiencing Technology:

What is the relationship between technology and: (1) political/criminological discourses on crime control/public order; (2) the transformation of control practices and cultures in existing and new crime control/public order agencies; (3) citizens’ everyday lives and new possibilities for citizens’ participation in crime control; (4) the digitalisation of everyday urban practices and their impact on how crime is committed, investigated and countered.

WP 3 New Faces of Social Exclusion

What is the relationship between the new ‘precarity-crime-control-complex’ and: (1) political/criminological discourses on crime control; (2) the experience of members of the new precariat (e.g. NEET young adults, undocumented migrants) with crime control practices; (3) the experiences of crime control practitioners with the precarity and social exclusion of its clientele?

WP 4 Methodological, Ethical and Theoretical Implications

Each thematic WP will look into the methodological, ethical and theoretical implications of our approach, which will be then integrated into this WP 4:

(1) how can/should research on social practices and experiences and discourses/narratives be conducted?

(2) what is the impact of researching voices and practices with crime control professionals and vulnerable participants on the ethical stance of the criminological researcher?

(3) what is the impact of researching voices and practices on criminological theorisation, and more precisely on theories concerning procedural justice, legitimacy, surveillance and discretion, and human/children’s rights;

(4) what are the theoretical advances resulting from transcending traditional criminological domains?