Challenging ‘Crime’ and ‘Crime Control’ in Contemporary Europe

By Ana Ballesteros Pena

The last 13-16 September 2017, thanks to the support provided by the Sociological Review to Early Career Researchers, I had the opportunity to attend the 17th Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology in Cardiff, UK Challenging ‘Crime’ and ‘Crime Control’ in Contemporary Europe. On arrival, I met a colleague who shared with me the following episode: The first time she attended an international conference, she was shocked by the advice of a senior researcher she was with who told her: “Go to buy a highlighter and let’s get a coffee”. She was confused until discovering that the purpose of this advice was aimed at the exercise of carefully analyzing the conference programme in order to choose the panels and lectures that she wanted to attend. Arriving at the ESC conference in Cardiff, this recommendation – and the highlighter –proved very useful in navigating more than 1000 delegates and speakers from 60 countries, even in spite of the fact that the ESC had launched an app. The Annual Conference of the ESC was a great opportunity not only to learn from papers and lectures, but also to catch up with colleagues, meet new ones, and discuss future lines of collaboration.

My selection of panels and lectures was, this time, based on my current research and associated methodological issues that I am starting to explore. The final selection proved extremely difficult due to the wide and diverse set of interesting themes included in the programme. At the end of the conference, I realized that I had had the opportunity to learn about the foremost and emerging topics in criminology and, specifically, sociology of punishment. First, regarding prison studies, I heard the results of recent research projects on minorities and marginalised groups in prison such as foreigners, Muslims, Roma, and elderly people and the challenges they pose to criminal justice systems. Furthermore, in the panels I attended, there were different papers analyzing the specific situation of women in prison, that considered aspects such as the presence of children and the measures implemented to tackle this issue. Methodological and ethical dilemmas are also at the heart of my current reflections. For this reason, I attended panels focused on strategies to conduct research inside prison and also on profound questions such as the positionality of the researcher in the field. Finally, I had the opportunity to learn about an emerging topic that is expanding the boundaries of the study of punishment: border control. In this sense, I was able to discover the most recent advances in the study of political responses to human mobility, such as deportation or detention, with special focus on gender issues. All of these panels and papers offered me not only a great amount of new ideas and also innovative ways to analyze my research data, but also interesting suggestions for future lines of inquiry.

I presented two papers at the conference; one in the panel Punishment of Womenorganized within the framework of the ESC Working Group on Women and Crime and the other was linked with a project in which I am currently involved: Understanding Prison Life: New Research Frontiers. When preparing an abstract for a conference, I always try to remind myself that these events represent a great opportunity to take steps forward in first versions of papers or to shape a set of ideas that we are trying to organize. In this sense, the effort that we make by presenting our research is responded with fresh ideas and perspectives coming from the audience that help us to continue or improve our lines of inquiry. For that reason, I think that it is very important to take full advantage of the opportunity.

The first paper presented was entitled Women’s subjectivities under responsibilisation strategies in the Spanish penitentiary system. It focused on a new line of analysis of the data collected in 3 women’s prisons in Spain during my PhD research. My thesis explores the punishment of women, focusing on the manner in which traditional features of female penal enforcement intersect with new practices under the framework of innovative programs and equality policies. In doing so, it pays attention to the perspective of the institution by considering its practices and the actions undertaken. However, as what I wanted to share in the panel was a new line of inquiry, my goal was to offer some new reflections using the perspective of those subjected to penal enforcement. Thus, my paper tried to describe and analyze the main subjectivities that emerge in response, reaction or as a consequence of these new programs implemented inside prisons in Spain.

The second paper responded to the goals of the project Understanding prison life which are mainly to explore the substantive, methodological and ethical challenges and potentials of research on the internal aspects of prison life. With my paper entitle Reflexivity and intersectionality in prison research from a feminist criminology approach, I wanted to reflect on some episodes of my fieldwork in prison attending to the effect of the researcher in the field and also to consider how some variables such as gender, ethnicity, nationality or social class impact the relationship between the researcher and the participants as well as the results themselves.

In my both presentations I received very good comments and reflections that will be relevant in continuing my analysis. And in sum, I highly benefited from my attendance to the ESC Conference in Cardiff last September through attending panels and lectures, presenting my research and also discussing during coffee breaks or with a beer. The conference showed the active and vibrant situation of criminology in Europe and elsewhere as well as the relevance of the discipline to tackle with emerging global problems in contemporary societies.

Ana Ballesteros Pena holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Barcelona in Spain. Her research examines female incarceration in the Spanish penitentiary system with specific focus on the analysis of prison policies implemented over the past decade.

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