|| ‘the other’ conference @amsterdam

I had the pleasure to attend the International Cultural Criminology Conference “The Other” at Amsterdam last week. I gave a talk on the multi-layered relationship of bouncers and the police and heard a lot of interesting talks and comments. And realised that I want to say sentences like “A couple of books I’ve written…” as casually as the cool kids one day. Better watch out!

The interested reader can find the abstracts online and some of the topics that mattered the most to me below:

#how to do ‘good’ research

The Dutch scientific community was shocked by the science fraud of Diederik Stapel in 2011. This incident has intensified a discussion on good scientific practise: How are data created? Who should have access to raw data? How to deal with informed consent and research ethics? Would ethics commitees such as in the medical sciences and in other countries limit the possibilities of ethnographic research? I understood these questions – that were raised in several talks and personal conversations – as the reflection of a tension that research in general and ethnographic research project in particular have to handle. How do research methods that rely on personal interactions and the institutional logics of ethics commissions get along? Perhaps, it is more obvious in ethnographic research which depends very much on a personal relationship between the researcher and the protagonists of the field. It is the personal relationship and its interactions that enables the researcher to take part, to experience, to discover, and to create data. Personal trust matters more in the field than the vote of an ethics commission. On the one hand. On the other hand, ethical considerations should be essential to every ethnographic research: Could the participation be harmful to the protagonists of the field? What possibilities do researchers have to protect their participants and how far are they ready to go (see the case of Rik Scarce)? But this is only one part of good scientific practise. The other part is the stipulation of transparency as one quality factor of scientific research. So, how transparent can you be about your data to whom without risking disadvantages for your participants? And how much can this be institutionalised through ethics committees without threatening the freedom and possibilities of ethnographic research? It became apparent, that this is still an ongoing discussion. No matter to which end it will come, I would strongly wish for more education on research ethics already on a students’ level.

#do gangs exist?

Honestly, I didn’t know that this was an issue till last week. Now that I know, I learnt that scholars are divided over the question.

#public space

Jeff Ferrell (one of Cultural Criminology’s pop stars) addressed public space and visibility in his keynote. He talked about the mechanisms that displace a broad variety of individuals from an increasingly consumer-orientated public space to its fringes. These individuals are replaced by caricatures of themselves that remain as threatening ghosts in public discourse. It is Cultural Criminology that looks for these individuals in public space and analyses the process of turning them into invisible ghosts at the same time. In the panel on public space, Mattias De Backer presented first results from his research on young people’s use of public space and showed that teenage girls use public space only at certain times and in certain constellations. This touched my work indirectly: Female citizens use public space even less at night than at daytime. CalvinJohn Smiley depicted a finely nuanced biotope in his talk about the protagonists of a public transport station. He showed how some regulations are stretched to allow people to stay there, while their behaviour is controlled in these spaces at the very same time: It is okay for a homeless person to stay in the waiting hall and sleep on a bench – as long as the person has a ticket (which never expires) and sits upright. My own talk was also part of this panel, even though I didn’t take spatial aspects explicitly into account in this talk. But of course, space and the interplay of public and private spheres form key concepts of my work. Stay tuned.

#alternatives to textual data

Somebody asked “Do you ever feel limited by words?” (unknown author) in panel 1b. This topic popped up once in a while during the conference, ending in a worried audience that was left alone with the question “But… what happened to the donkey?” by David Redmon in panel 8a (it is well off, I think). I love to experiment with different formats, too, and admire the work of others, such as Sousanis’ graphic novel-dissertation “Unflattening”. Still, never underestimate the possibilities of good literature and never overestimate the possibilities of videos. Every medium is limited and texts, videos and photographies share the focus on the visual sense to some extend. Which isn’t always a bad thing. I’m not sure if my supervisors would be that thrilled if I added broken bottles, audio samples of roaring drunk guest, and olfactory samples of pepper spray, piss, puke, and the typical sweat-stage smoke-cigarettes-and-alcohol smell to the appendix of my dissertation to give more sensual insights to my field. Hmm.

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