Guest post by Kristin Kjønnøy Slettvåg and Synnøve Økland Jahnsen. Kristin is at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo. Synnøve holds a postdoctoral position at Rokkan Centre, Norwegian Research Centre, affiliated researcher at Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo. This is the fourth instalment of Border Criminologies’ themed series, which includes short posts based on chapters from the book 'Criminal Justice Research in an Era of Mass Mobility', edited by Andriani Fili, Synnøve Jahnsen and Rebecca Powell. 

What is the difference between 1 and 100 reported cases of human trafficking? How can registry data be useful? Is it true that there is a link between border control and crime control? If so, what is it and how do we know that a particular claim about crime is true? Are we always right to do research, or are some social phenomena better left unaccounted for? What are the right questions, and which ones will lead us astray? Can we measure the economic cost of immigration, or does it not have a price tag? Is it possible to measure the pain inflicted on humanity in the name of protecting national borders? For whom are these numbers important and why? These are only some of the questions faced by researchers grappling with the consequences of migration policies. In this blog post we present some of our main arguments and ideas from our book chapter called “Crimmigration statistics’: numbers as evidence and problem” in Criminal Justice Research in an Era of Mass Mobility.

Numbers and statistical representations have the benefit of being translatable across languages, cultures and contexts. Numbers are used to question power, problematize common sense, provoke debates and debunk arguments, but also to legitimize political decisions and the existence of institutions. Thus, statistical analysis is often presented as a stalwart of technological development and advanced economies. In many respects, numbers have become the markers of social change and the stitches that connect lived life experiences with larger historic shifts. Politicians, activists and scientists frequently refer to statistical analysis as the pathway to making sound decisions. Even qualitatively oriented social scientists tend to use numbers to show a ‘bigger picture’, to evoke social imagination as they strive to illustrate the relevance of their own research agenda and place their arguments within a larger horizon of meaning.

Numbers seem to be bestowed with a kind of symbolic power, especially in public policy debates. Whatever one might disagree about, it seems that some aspects of social reality are simple, and matters of facts that one can acquire with significant mathematical insights. But is it true that numbers simply mirror our reality? Is it not a problem that we rarely are exposed to the more fundamental questions informing our political debates – questions that relate to how we best are to interpret and use statistical information, as well as avoid its misuse?

In our chapter we argue that while numbers in themselves do not lie, they can be used to mislead or at worst to produce and sustain false assumptions, half-truths and misrepresentations. We examine some methodological and ethical challenges associated with statistical analysis on migration and crime and point out ways to identify relevant sources of data. Importantly, we argue against a clear-cut distinction between qualitative and quantitative research designs, warn against harmful research practices that worsen or maintain the status quo of marginalized groups and argue that paying attention to practices of categorization and counting is critical for any research project seeking to enhance our knowledge about the increasingly intertwined nature of our criminal justice and migration control regimes.

Studying criminal justice in an era of mass mobility is not only about studying people and actions as they move across borders. Researchers must also learn how to navigate within and across borders and orders that classify different types of legality and illegality, and with altering registration practices. Thus, our chapter speaks to the fragmented and continually shifting landscape of criminal justice where ‘crimmigration’ as both a phenomenon and a research perspective challenges researchers to find new ways to do research.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Slettvåg, K. K. and Jahnsen, S. Ø (2019) ‘Crimmigration’ statistics. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2019/01/crimmigration (Accessed [date])