On 8th - 9th June, the Oxford MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice cohort came together for a one-and-a-half-day symposium where each of the students had the opportunity to present their ongoing dissertation research. The topics for these dissertations were chosen by students themselves; the only constraints were the need to fit under the loosely defined purview of criminology and criminal justice, and the need to be feasible within the two-month period allocated for dissertation work.

The symposium programme made clear that the students’ research was wide in scope and breadth, and extended beyond what was covered in the taught courses over the previous two terms. The panels in the symposium covered everything from issues of terrorism, law enforcement and border criminologies, to matters of race, gender and vulnerable populations: be it children, BME youth or victims of domestic violence. There was focus both on domestic issues as well as international, and topics that are transnational in nature.

The variety of themes presented certainly addressed the criticisms that traditional criminology has faced as a discipline, such as being ‘malestream’, white-centric, Western focused and country-bound. Some students’ research were focused on race/ethnicity, gender and sexuality. For example, one student discussed the methodological difficulties of conducting research in the LGBTQ+ community and called for criminology to listen to LGBTQ+ voices despite the methodological challenges that may stand in the way. Another student applied an intersectional approach to the analysis of representation of female police officers in TV series by examining representation from the point of view other than merely gender. Moreover, the variety of projects extended well beyond a solely Western focus, with students researching topics such as race riots in Malaysia, the physicians’ role in capital cases in India, or sentencing guidelines in Singapore. The dissertation research conducted by students also employed a cross-national approach, with one student proposing an innovative strategy to tackle child sex tourism through direct appeals to offenders travelling to Cambodia using in-flight videos, and another student examining the smuggling of migrants across the Serbia-Hungary border.

Furthermore, the symposium showed that the research conducted by Oxford MSc students demonstrates an outstanding attention to topical development in society at large. For instance, there was a multitude of presentations relating to terrorism, both in more theoretical terms through challenging the concept of ‘new terrorism’ and examining the way in which terrorism is defined, but also in more practical terms. Against the backdrop of recent events such as Brexit and multiple terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, one presentation highlighted the need for European cooperation in addressing the travel and return of foreign fighters. The student emphasised how it is in everyone’s interest to have a soft Brexit to enable more effective cooperation on a pan-European level. Another presentation examined the use of the Prevent duty in the educational sector, arguing that it undermines ‘inclusive’ safe spaces. The same presentation highlighted the possibility of Prevent to infringe upon the human right of freedom of expression. Considering the political climate in which the possibility of leaving the European Convention of Human Rights to fight terrorism has been mentioned, research by Centre for Criminology students that problematises and criticises such developments is both relevant and important.

The presentations from the symposium also speak to the possibilities within criminology as a discipline itself, not only in regard to the scope of the topics but also the scope of the methodological perspectives and approaches that can be utilised. The approaches taken in the students’ research ranged from library based research to conducting interviews, undertaking statistical analysis and employing content analysis. Beyond a literature-based approach, content analysis was a particularly popular method utilised by the students. It was used for both fictional TV programmes as well as newspapers. This speaks not only to the importance of investigating the relationship between criminological issues and mainstream media, where most of the general media get their information about crime-related issues, but also demonstrates the motivation of students to employ empirical approaches despite the short time period to complete their dissertations.

Finally, holding a symposium during a term with few other departmental requirements and much time for independent work provided a unique occasion for all the students to come together. Most importantly, the symposium provided an opportunity to learn more about the specific interests and passions of each individual student in a supportive environment filled with critical engagement. The time, effort and dedication that went into the dissertations clearly shone through in the each and every student’s presentation, and this is something that this short blog piece cannot begin to do justice to.