Shades of Deviance – interview

On the day the film is released that partly inspired the title, here are some thoughts on the collection and what it was intended for.

Can you tell us a bit about your academic background?

Well, my doctoral research looked at the ‘invisible’ problem of household displacement in London, I was always interested in social problems and particularly those that hadn’t really seen much attention – displacement from gentrification was often discussed but had never really been measured before. When I finished this work I moved to Glasgow as a research assistant and began to do a lot of contract related research around social exclusion and marginality in the peripheral housing estates there, and in Edinburgh. With John Flint I did work on processes of informal social control; we were both fascinated by the way that residents in poorer communities were stigmatised as being disorderly and antagonistic to the police. Though the story was more complex what we often found was that residents often saw the police as the first line of action against problems. I like to think that my work is always relevant but also trying to work with middle-range theories and ideas. Much of the work I have done on gated communities and the privatisation of public space, for example, has tried to problematize the self-segregation of the wealthy when many policy-makers and the public tend to start from the position that we should look inside poorer areas. We know from such work that many of the problems of ‘poor’ areas is not only about the lack of opportunities but also the discrimination and exit of the middle-classes from such areas as well as the way that higher income groups argue for the kind of defunding and policing measures that characterise many public approaches today.

The cover art

The cover art

What got you interested in deviance as a speciality?

I think that like many people working in and around criminology I like to see my work as being broader than the problem of crime. When Simon Winlow and I organised the first York Deviancy Meeting for forty years I remember phoning Stan Cohen (who died only this year, 2013) and when he asked what kind of things I was working on I said sheepishly that my main interest was in gated communities and that perhaps that wasn’t a key area in criminology, his response was ‘well, surely those kind of issues are absolutely central to criminology!’ I think this gave me more confidence to address the field of criminology with the voice of someone who was interested in crime and harm, but through the background of someone who had emerged out of the field of urban and housing studies, rather than perhaps the more conventional route of a criminology degree (my first degree was at Kingston University, in sociology). Yet the more I have thought on these ‘boundary’ issues I have felt that criminology is in many ways an ‘urban’ field when we look at its primary concerns, and that urban studies has perhaps tended to neglect or underplay a concern with disorder and human harm when, in so many ways, it is concerned with the harm to human potential that emerges from poverty and hardship, the geography of opportunity, inequality, low-skills and housing systems.

What sets this book apart from others in the field?

Shades of Deviance emerged over dinner conversations at the European Group for the Study of Crime and Deviance at Nicosia in 2012. Some of us were talking about the need to translate complex ideas without sacrificing too much subtlety, as well as the need to connect early students to more of the politics and critique that we find in criminology today. In my earlier work I had tried to work on applied areas in social research (such as public housing and gated communities for the wealthy) for a lay audience and so Shades of Deviance became ultimately an attempt to bring together a wide range of experts who were told – look, stop trying to write in a neutral way, write something short (this was a struggle for some of the academics of course!), energetic and authoritative that tells the newcomer something of the lie of the land as well as its political constitution; rather than pretending that complex and contested crimes and harms could somehow be explained without that kind of background. I wrote a very clear brief so that all of the authors wrote to a similar ‘recipe’ and asked each to provide the title of a film that somehow distilled many of the issues for their particular contribution. So I think these elements are distinctive but I also intended the collection to be for students leaving their first phase of full-time education and moving to a degree environment. In my institution many students will ask for some suggested reading before arriving and we often scratch our heads about what to recommend; I would like to think that thumbing through Shades of Deviance would be just a great way of preparing for a degree but I also wanted to achieve something that I hoped Routledge would price in such a way that the audience could be extended to those outside criminology completely.

How have you organised the layout of this book?

The book has 56 entries with a general introduction to the concepts of crime and deviance which says something about the complexity of the debates within the field. At first I wanted to perhaps order all of the entries from forms of social rule-breaking with no real harm, through to the most obvious problems and crimes, but I then realise how fraught with problems this would be (of course this is a great exercise to get some really heated debates going in the classroom!). So I created a series of thematic headings that reflected some attempt to bundle-up groups of crimes, forms of deviance and patterns of harm that made sense but also still retained some sense of severity. I couldn’t help adding a final word about how to be (in the widest possible sense) a student of crime and deviance that stems from the way I teach my students and my beliefs about the need to be well-informed and politically engaged as well as just getting on with studies.

Finally, what do you see as the main emerging trend in the study of deviance?

Speaking really from my interests I would have to say that I think there will be more and more to say about growing urbanization globally is producing a wide range of strains and harms for humanity generally. Not only do inequalities between regions drive many forms of crime like the drugs trade and trafficking but also see a lack of government co-ordination and investment generating problems of ill-health, poor education, unemployment and poverty that criminologists increasingly see as forms of harm that they should respond to. Those complexities come on top of the more obvious issues like urban violence and violence towards women which, I think, is beginning to finally see greater awareness and action globally. I think we will also see a major return to questions about the relationship between media technologies and the kinds of crimes and harms circulating around exposure and immersion in forms of extreme content that include pornography and violent gaming which have become ubiquitous and yet remain denied as the roots of harm by many liberal commentators and researchers. I think that our theories in this area need bringing up to speed given the leaps in processing power and complexity of networking and entertainment today. All of this is to say nothing of the links between climate change and various kind of crime and social pressures that it is generating and which seem likely to get much worse, and rapidly so. Criminologists are certainly likely to be busy in the coming years.

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