The past forty years have been marked by a resurgence of interest in victim needs, rights, and experiences in what has been for many years a sector of top-down criminal justice policy-making. With the politicisation and responsibilisation of victims within this contemporary landscape, further emphasis has been placed on managing harm and delegating responsibility to those that remain in the aftermath of violence and a diverse victims’ movement has emerged over the past forty years that speaks to this claim. Despite the disruptive and overwhelming effects of lethal violence, bereaved families can often be found at the forefront of efforts to drive forward recognition of injustices, raise public awareness, and prompt criminal justice reform.

This research, funded and supported by an ESRC Post Doctoral Research Fellowship, explores these issues through the phenomenon of bereaved family activism: namely, the efforts of bereaved families to manage their experiences of violent death through public expressions of grief and become proxies for wider debates on social injustice.

This project has four key objectives:

  1. To contribute to literature on the effects of lethal violence on families. Lethal violence presents friends and families with a distinctive set of experiences to contend with a well-elaborated literature existing that demonstrates the often disruptive and overwhelming effects of violent death on those that remain in the aftermath. This project will contribute to this literature with the aim of better understanding the transmission of effects of lethal violence across ties of kinship, identity, and social bonds.
  2. To understand the importance of family activism in criminal justice policy making. The efforts of bereaved families have been central in driving forward policy reform, instigating new inquests and investigations, and informing public debates on issues of crime and punishment. This project aims to understand the place and potential of families in criminal justice policy and practice.
  3. To consider the international relevance of this phenomenon. Examples of bereaved family activism have emerged across the globe in an effort to raise awareness of social injustices and mobilise against state harms. This research aims to consider bereaved family activism in an international context and compare the various shapes and forms of this phenomenon and their impact upon public and political debates.
  4. To explore the significance of this phenomenon in the context of domestic homicide. This research will also explore the significance of this phenomenon in the context of domestic homicide and the distinctive dynamics that this experience presents families with in the aftermath.

Publications

  • E Cook, 'Witnessing, Responsibility and Spectatorship in the Aftermath of Mass Violence: Fieldwork Reflections from Srebrenica' in S Walklate, M Hviid Jacobsen (ed), Towards a Criminology of Emotions: Connecting Crime and Emotions (Routledge 2019)
    The act of witnessing the suffering of others is an unfortunately characteristic feature of modern life. Contemporary media culture has prompted a proliferation of new ways of seeing and spectating irrespective of where, when, or who you are. The trends towards globalisation, the collapse of public and private spheres in late modernity, and the saturation of society with visual representations of suffering have encouraged us to understand, empathise with and imagine the suffering of others. These developments have raised new questions in criminology regarding the moral responsibility of witnessing suffering, the ethics of spectatorship and the dangers of empty gestures of outrage and voyeurism. Following Richard Quinney’s notion of ‘criminologists as witnesses’, this chapter explores the responsibilities of criminologists in bearing witness to the aftermath of mass atrocities. The discussion draws upon fieldwork reflections on attending the commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre at the Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The notion of witnessing is used here as a way of making sense of these experiences arguing that criminologists should move beyond mere spectatorship and towards how we act upon these experiences. The act of witnessing can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. However, for an exhaustive insight into lethal violence these emotions must be written in rather than written out of criminological research.
  • E Cook and S Walklate, 'Excavating Victim Stories: Making Sense of Agency, Suffering and Redemption' in L Presser, J Fleetwood, S Sandberg and T Ugelvik (eds), The Emerald Handbook of Narrative Criminology (Emerald 2019)
    The potential for a 'narrative turn' in victimology carries with it all kinds of possibilities and problems in adding nuanced understandings smoothed out and sometimes erased from the vision of victimhood provided by criminal victimisation data. In this chapter, we explore the methodological and theoretical questions posed by such a narrative turn by presenting the case of Eve: a mother bereaved by gun violence that unfolded in Manchester two decades ago. Excavated using in-depth biographical interviewing, Eve told the story of the loss of her son, the role of faith in dealing with the aftermath of violence and eventually, how this story became a source for change for the community in which it was read and heard. Eve’s story provided an impetus for establishing a grassroots anti-violence organisation and continued to be the driver for that same group long after the issue it was formed to address had become less problematic. As a story it served different purposes for the individual concerned, for the group they were a part of, and for the wider community in which the group emerged. However, this particular story also raises questions for victimology in its understanding of the role of voice in policy and concerning the nature of evidence for both policy and the discipline itself. This chapter considers what lessons narrative victimology might learn from narrative criminology, the overlaps that the stories of victims and offenders might share, and what the implications these might have for understanding what it means to be harmed.
  • E Cook, 'Bereaved Family Activism' in P Davies and J Tapley (eds), Victimology: Research, Policy and Activism (Palgrave Macmillan 2020)
    ISBN: 978-3-030-42287-5

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