The final All Soul's criminology seminar of Hilary term was given by Professor Susan McVie from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Edinburgh. Entitled Negotiated Order: Towards a new theory of offending, the paper drew on evidence from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime to develop a fascinating theory of offending that centred on the identities of young people and how these are these are produced and shaped by the institutional and social contexts within which they live.

Taking as their starting point a critique of the 'ghettoisation' of much current criminological theory, Susan and her co-author, Professor Lesley McAra, have, along with other colleagues, sought to develop a theory of offending that envelops the influence of both formal orders (such as those represented and imposed by the police and schools) and informal orders (such as those the rules of peer-group interactions) on young people's propensities to offend. 'Negotiated order' proposes that people's position within social groups, and affiliations with more or less problematic identities, are influenced by their interaction with processes of both formal and informal ordering and classification. The notion of negotiated order thus resonates with older criminological theories, such as labeling theory, and more recent developments, such as models of procedural justice.

The empirical evidence marshaled in support of the theory was impressive. The extremely rich longitudinal data generated by the Edinburgh study was used to show that exclusion from school, contact with the criminal justice system, and particularly adversarial contact with the police earlier in people's lives - that is, interactions with agents of formal ordering that are also processes of labeling that generate particular social identities - were all independently linked with later levels of offending. Similarly, social conflict with parents and peers, and experiences of exclusion by the same (representing processes of informal ordering and identity formation) were also linked with later levels of offending.

These ideas look set to generate much research and debate in the future. To give just one example, the role of system contact in generating offending behaviour was striking. As McAra and McVie have written elsewhere, it seems there may be something inherently criminogenic about entry into the criminal justice system. As discussed during the seminar, the policy lesson here would appear to be 'diversion diversion diversion'; something that, it was pleasing to hear, the Scottish Government has been attempting to implement.

Equally notable was the extent to which exclusion by peer-groups was linked to offending. Far from the more traditional image of offenders as embedded in social groups of similar others, there was clear evidence, at least in relation to the most prolific or extreme offenders, that they were mutiply excluded not only by formal but by informal structures. In relation to such individuals all sources of social influence had withered away.

Looking forward, it seems future research will be needed on (a) what, precisely, it is about people's social identities that encourages or inhibits offending and (b) how, if at all, structures of formal social ordering, such as policing, can be calibrated to counteract or at least minimize the negative labeling and other effects described in the paper. It is to be hoped that the rich and subtle ideas developed by McAra and McVie will encourage others to take up these and related challenges.