British universities, like their counterparts around the world, are subject to shifting fashions and ideas of research and education. Recently, we have been urged to engage in ‘Knowledge Exchange’ and to make our research findings freely available through a variety of forms of ‘open access.’ Universities, we are told, must engage more with the public.
To accuse academic researchers of sequestration in an ivory tower is nothing new. It is, moreover, an accusation that bears little resemblance to the variety of work in which many of us are engaged. Not only do we communicate our research in the classroom (presumably exchanging knowledge with our students), but many of us have long worked with policy makers, NGOs, and the subjects of state control to share findings.
Indeed, for a discipline like criminology, this aspect of our work has long been considered ethically problematic. Given that we typically require research access from those whose policies and actions we critique, sharing results and exchanging knowledge can be difficult. Too much frankness might endanger the project as a whole. Too little renders much of the work pointless.
Knowledge exchange also raises ethical questions. Part of the audience of much research is likely to be those with whom we are urged to ‘exchange knowledge.’ At what point, in a knowledge-exchange project, might we become implicated in coercive state policies? What about those who are vulnerable? Are we exchanging knowledge with them? How, under the requirements of open access, should we best ‘protect’ them? Does a potentially wider readership exacerbate their vulnerabilities?
Here at Border Criminologies we have a range of initiatives under way in both areas. Through the website we have, from the beginning, sought to share academic research more widely. This blog [linkme] is an important part of that project, as is the publications [linkme] page, the podcasts [linkme], the Flickr account, and the Leverhulme International Network on External Border Control [linkme]. As part of the latter project, over the next few weeks we will be initiating an open access Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship Research Paper Series on SSRN and inviting submissions.
In the field of knowledge exchange, we have also been active, creating a research methods course on ‘Knowledge Exchange in Custodial Research [linkme].’ Taught by Oxford faculty working alongside practitioners from a range of government, private, and non-governmental sectors, the course seeks to understand the changing nature of custodial sites and the varying needs and barriers to academic research. Funded by the University of Oxford Social Science Doctoral Training Centre, this series of six seminars will be open to any UK doctoral students who wish to attend.
We have other activities planned as well, working with the local immigration removal centre and national immigration detention organisations. These projects, which are still under negotiation, integrate visual elements and material culture. We have begun to assemble an immigration detention archive, for example, and are designing an institutional photography course.
Each of these plans is rooted in our research. Their success or failure rests on familiar territory: the goodwill of those determining research access and the involvement and trust of participants. So far, we have been fortunate in the range of figures involved in each project. Whether this would have been possible when the research on these topics commenced is less clear.
We would be interested in hearing about other similar initiatives. How do you communicate your findings without losing access? Who is actually interested in reading academic research? While knowledge exchange and open access are important goals, should we strive to retain some room for privacy as we develop ideas and accounts of contested practices? What might be some unintended consequences of these developments?