On Thursday, 18 June 2015, the Centre for Criminology held a colloquium for its DPhil students. Attended by Centre graduate students, as well as academic and research staff, the day proved a great opportunity for the DPhil students to present on their work and for attendees to learn about the different types of research being carried out. The speakers demonstrated their ability to present their research in an accessible way to others, as well as fielding questions from the floor. It prompted much thought-provoking discussion during the lunch break, and inspired suggestions for further reflection and development.
Kate West was the day’s first speaker. She shared her research connecting criminology with portrait photography, explaining the notable absence of scholarship on the role of images in the production of criminological knowledge historically. Kate highlighted the dissonance between photography as a cultural practice, and as a science, and tracked its incorporation into criminology through the use of photos in schools, asylums, and rogues’ galleries in Victorian Britain. She made strong arguments in relation to the importance of criminal photography enabling the work of Lombroso and his idea that human beings’ physical appearances indicated criminality.
Having jetted in 36 hours earlier from her fieldwork in the Netherlands, Rachel Wechsler showcased her project, ‘Understanding Sex Trafficking Victims’ Experiences with the Criminal Justice System in the Netherlands.’ She discussed how she obtained access to her fieldwork site, an Amsterdam-based shelter, to be able to interview victims of sex trafficking. Her work aims not only to give a voice to this vulnerable group, but has a wider purpose of informing policy in such a way that the criminal justice system can better support trafficking victims and be more attentive to their needs in the prosecution process.
Anna Kotova followed Rachel with a presentation of her DPhil thesis, an exploratory study that seeks to merge two bodies of work: research on prisoners’ families in general, which shows the negative impacts they experience, and research on the sociology of imprisonment, which indicates the long-term effects of incarceration upon the prisoner, including depression and institutionalization. Anna’s work examines how this affects a prisoner’s relationship with his family, and whether families of prisoners become institutionalized themselves, for example, through regular prison visits over long periods of time.
Gabrielle Watson then spoke about her doctoral work which looks at situating the concept of ‘respect’ in criminological research. She outlined where respect is considered―and where it’s omitted―in research on contemporary criminal justice, locating her study in the absence of literature on this topic. Gabrielle discussed one of her thesis chapters on the significance of prison meals, referencing literature on cooking in prisons, force-feeding, and preparation rituals in relation to the concept of respect. She then applied this conceptual framework to the issue of prison meals and the rules governing them, looking in closer detail at the variety of prison meal menus, the standards of storage, and the various dietary requirements (such as Halal meat, veganism, and cravings of prisoners in detox programmes).
After lunch, Leila Ullrich took the floor to present her study, ‘Who is a Victim Before the ICC?: Exploring Negotiations of Victimhood Outside the Courtroom.’ She explained the distinction between ‘situational’ and ‘case-defined’ victims against the backdrop of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) limited powers, resources, and caseload. Leila’s presentation pointed out that ICC legal representatives’ intermediaries―‘outside court actors’―hold significant power to shape how victims are identified and treated by the ICC. She gave a particularly poignant example of how government language could change the narrative of understanding, such as when the ‘victim’ label was replaced with ‘internally displaced persons’ in the context of Kenya.
Rudina Jasini then spoke in detail about contextualising victim participation in international criminal proceedings, which she was motivated to study from her work with victims in Cambodia. She described three components of her fieldwork: looking at trial proceedings, interviewing legal practitioners, and interviewing victims. Her research found numerous challenges of integrating victim participation in the context of international criminal courts. Rudina argued that if victims are granted the right to participate, the court must develop consistent procedures and sufficient resources early on in the process to define and encourage participation in a balanced manner.
The colloquium concluded with an enthusiastic presentation by Sylvia Rich, asking ‘can corporations be criminals?’ She gave an overview of her thesis, exploring the requirements for an agent to be eligible for treatment under criminal law. Sylvia described in detail what constitutes a rational agent, aided by comparisons to a cat(!), and argued that an agent needs a certain type of mental state, the capacity to act, and the ability to understand the moral dimension of its choices.
Overall, the day showcased a fascinating variety of projects, each demonstrating how far-reaching the journey of DPhil research can be, as well as the wide-ranging nature of criminological research.