Perspectives on Justice: Why public engagement is a fundamental feature of justice research methodology

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Thu Jul 15 2021

Author: Guest contributor

Springer Nature's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Programme aims to connect the researchers who are tackling the world’s toughest challenges with the practitioners in policy and business who desperately need those insights to achieve their goals in improving the world, by making our publishing activities more visible to our key communities through a variety of channels. Earlier this year we launched our SDG16 hub, focused on peace, justice and strong institutions. 

In honor of the World Day for International Justice (July 17) we reached out to some of our authors, editors, and researchers, asking them to reflect on ‘Justice’ and how they are helping in the ongoing mission to achieve SDG16, and how we, as a scholarly publisher, are helping to contribute to these goals by publishing and distributing their research. In this interview we hear from Dr. Pamela Davies.

Please tell us about the nature of your work.

I am Professor of Criminology at Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK where, as an academic, I have been researching, writing, educating and promoting the understanding and appreciation of criminological problems, issues and concerns virtually since the turn of the century!

My research interests coalesce around gender, crime, harm, victimization and justice. Working closely with colleagues including the late Victor Jupp and my co-editors Professors Peter Francis and Tanya Wyatt, my own contribution adopts a victimological perspective and combines a social harm with a critical/feminist infused approach. In doing so I have explored a range of contemporary social problems – both visible and hidden. I have published widely with the support from peer reviewers and publishers on the subject of victimisation and social harm and on how gender connects to matters of community safety, public protection, well-being, equality and social justice.

What does ‘Justice’ mean to you personally?

Personally and professionally the concept of justice drives my value system. For me justice is a positive motivator, it is about equality and freedom, growth and flourishing. As a criminologist I conceive of justice in its widest and most inclusive sense. I adopt what I call an expansive definition of ‘crime’, one that captures a full range of harms that are often routinely experienced by individuals, groups, societies and non-human species around the world. Many social harms are not defined as ‘crimes’ by the law and this is where research and activism can play a part, to broaden our understanding of what is criminalised and what isn’t and the impacts.

For me, justice is not confined to securing ‘criminal’ justice and ensuring victims ‘of crime’ achieve justice, though this is of course hugely important. My preferred use of the term justice would see it prefaced with the word ‘social’.

There are myriad types of justice and my take on justice is equally as expansive as my conceptualisation of ‘crime’. One recent systematic review conducted by criminologists (Mulvihill and Hester 2021)1 found at least 20 different models of justice (including community, economic/financial/distributive justice, effective/affective justice, egalitarian justice, feminist and therapeutic jurisprudence, gender justice, human rights, women’s rights, interactional and restorative justice, procedural justice etc). The majority of the literature discovered in the review focused on justice as related to the criminal justice system.

[1] Mulvihill, N. and Hester, M (2021) ‘Models of Justice’, Chapter 22. In: Davies, P. and Rowe, M. (eds) Introduction to Criminology. London: Sage.

How have you and/or do you work directly to address justice, victims' rights, and/or International Criminal Justice?

I have and do engage in work that directly addresses each of these. I have long done so with the same colleagues mentioned above and with numerous others who I have had the pleasure of conducting research with and writing with and in our research underpinned teaching and education at undergraduate, degree apprentice, postgraduate Phd and through mentoring activities, external and peer review activities. In over 15 textbooks published in the main by Palgrave Macmillan and Sage, we have made our work on invisible crimes and their harms, policing and criminal justice and victimisation accessible to students around the world. In my teaching I have exposed students to these issues and institutions of justice though modules such as ‘Crimes of the Powerful’, ‘Criminological theory and Perspectives’, ‘Gender, Crime and Victimisation’, ‘Crime, Offenders and Victims’ on programmes including Criminology – with all manner of other disciplines including psychology, sociology, law – Criminal Justice Studies and Professional Policing.

How is this addressed in your research/work?

It might help if I briefly contextualise my answer. I have gravitated towards ‘victimology’ - often described as a sub-discipline of criminology – and I have described myself to others by way of introduction as a feminist influenced criminologist-cum-victimologist (a bit if a mouthful). I combine my interest in victimology and social harm with a critical/feminist infused approach to explore a range of contemporary social problems – both visible and hidden. My early research explored female offending and the inter-play between women’s offending patterns and experiences of victimization. More recently I have examined tensions around social and environmental justice adopting a case study approach. I have led a number of research projects and evaluations of multi-agency innovations that tackle gendered forms of harm including interpersonal violence, domestic abuse, the policing of serial perpetrators and support for victims. The ways in which gender mediates our life experiences continues to provoke new areas of inquiry and I am currently working with colleagues on ‘gendering green criminology’.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

I like to be able to feel that I have made a difference every day. That way I get to hopefully be a little bit useful and inspirational with those I work with be it students, colleagues and collaborators at the same time as I gain a sense of personal satisfaction and achievement. In scholarly terms I guess this tends to get dressed up as ‘impact’. In my work to improve multi-agency partnership work to tackle domestic abuse for example, interventions and incremental changes can be effected that enhance child and adult safety and protect members of communities at the same time as perpetrators are held to account and supported to desist. These research endeavours can effect change in real time and persuading those involved in community safety that their work is essential to saving lives and that the hard work of being engaged in multi-agency work is worthwhile is perhaps a goal. Longer term I would like to see others continue to work for social justice based on some of the values, principles, theoretical perspectives, research methodologies and practices that I am committed to, mainly because I think a difference is being made and that more sensitive and just outcomes can be achieved.

What do you think is the most productive way that researchers can engage policy makers? What has your experience been with policy engagement?

Others have engaged policy makers much more effectively than I have. My approach is a long game and requires a long-term, comprehensive and steady long term strategy. If we think about policies to tackle injustice, and in terms of achieving social justice, in my view there needs to be a preventive strand to the policy. Most harms are entirely preventable and can be headed off and this starting point needs to be adopted wholeheartedly. There will continue to be injustices and harms will continue to occur. For those who suffer, their needs should be attended to and appropriate support and services available. A further feature requires the tackling of fundamental systematic and systemic inequalities, discrimination and bias in our major institutions, cultures and relational practices. This requires a commitment from policy makers to support changed practice amongst professionals, practitioners and educationalists who are influential in our major institutions of society.

What does public engagement look like in your field and how important do you think it is for researchers to make a societal impact with their work?

Public engagement is a fundamental feature of our research design and methodology. Our qualitative research for example, gets to the heart of peoples lived experience and teases out in a sensitive and ethical way what the impact of crime, harm and victimisation feels like and what the long term and ripple effects of such injustices are. Under the broad umbrella that is the social sciences, criminological and victimological research addresses contemporary social problems and thus plays an important role in our society by raising awareness and providing evidence-based ideas and interventions that translates into real benefits for society and individuals.

Our public engagement activities includes traditional public lectures such as those offered from our own Centre for Crime and Policing under the leadership of Professor Mike Rowe at my own institution are part of this bundle of activity. Workshop and seminar activities emerging from academic-police collaborations are regular occurrences around the world and in new educational partnerships between police forces and Higher Education Institutions in England and Wales, protocols and frameworks that underp these developments demand a policing that is inclusive, procedurally fair and just.

More recently co-production in research has gained momentum – see for example the pioneering work emanating from the N8 Policing Research Partnership – an innovative collaboration between 11 police services and their respective Police and Crime Commissioners and 8 universities in the north of England with a programme of research and knowledge exchange that pioneers outcomes that include solutions that have practical utility and lead to transformative action. The ambition of the N8PRP is to strengthen the evidence base on which police policy, practice and training are developed and so support innovation and the professionalization of policing.

What progress would you like to see next towards justice, victims' rights, and/or International Criminal Justice?

My agenda would be to adopt an approach towards justice, victims’ rights and international criminal justice that is based on the premise that social harm matters from a victim perspective. This agenda – which essentially foregrounds harm and victimisation in the ambitions to do justice is something I have tried to articulate recently in the final chapter of a new The Palgrave Handbook of Social Harm (2021).

The chapter concludes a volume comprising 18 chapters. Within this piece I explain what a victim perspective is and how harm and victimisation are compatible concepts. I exemplify and illustrate why social harm matters via a focus on gendered violence and abuse. I foreground five reasons why harm matters from a victim perspective and the contribution problematises the dominant criminological discourse on human violence at the same time as it facilitates an alternative conceptualisation of violence and abuse that is inclusive of environmental harm and non-human animals suffering. The chapter concludes that social harm matters from a victimological perspective now and should continue to do so in the wider – and reformed –

criminological project. Progress in this direction would cement the incremental and slow movement towards giving voice to victims, our ability to seek out significant wrongs from the past, address them in the here and now and prevent them happening. I guess I should stick to the argument I made in the chapter to The Palgrave Handbook of Social Harm and say that’s the progress I would like to see.

How have movements, such as Black Lives Matter, helped to amplify global narratives around social justice? What are the most impactful ways that researchers can join and perpetuate these important conversations?

BLM has been a hugely important social movement and, I want to stress, it was three very strong women who instigated this social media inspired movement a core element of which focuses on African Americans and how they are, and have been, routinely and systematically policed in racist ways. In 2013, activist Alicia Garza, in response to Zimmerman’s acquittal, wrote her now famous Facebook post ‘A love letter to black people’. Fellow activist, Patrice Cullors, plucked out the phrase ‘black lives matter’ and together with another black activist, Opal Tometi, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was born. This grass roots activism is perhaps the most powerful voice in amplifying global narratives around social justice. Researchers can and do join and perpetuate these important conversations. Academics engaged in research, knowledge production, dissemination and education have a responsibility to pass on what we know to improve the conditions in which humans and non-human species live and relate to one another. Victimology Research, Policy and Activism (2020) explores numerous forms of activism including my own subdued form of activism percolated through my research, teaching and publications. The BLM campaign catapulted into a full blown movement provoking all of us to appreciate the imperialist, Caucasian colonisation by states such as Portugal, France and Britain for example, in establishing and maintaining the slave trade and to understand colonisation and imperialism, the state-organised violence of mass incarceration in the US where people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population and where African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences.

My own efforts to engage in and perpetuate this conversation, have been quieter but they have involved taking a lead part in on-line conferences, putting together a resource pack for use in teaching, writing a chapter using case study material, hosting and taking part in a launch of a co-authored book Crime and Power (2021) with my colleagues and public audience which features this chapter and over a dozen more devoted to exposing the crimes and harms committed by those wielding unfettered personal power, and crimes by corporations, business and states, crimes against human and non-human species and the environment.

Other Blogs you might find interesting:

Perspectives on Justice: Why justice means accountability 

Perspectives on Justice: How practising law transformed one researcher's approach to justice

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About Dr. Pamela Davies

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