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LOUPS Conference 2016: Criminology

Well-organised and located, with passionate and interesting speakers, the LOUPS annual conference on Saturday the 18th June was time well spent. The talks were varied and interesting, with enough reference to psychology to keep them relevant through the lens of criminology. I am sure I am not alone in having been attracted to the event by an appreciation for Professor David Wilson’s books and documentaries. I was pleasantly surprised then to find, far from being a one-star show, the other speakers held their own.

Dr Jane Wood’s talk on the psychology of gang membership was interesting, not least because of the revelation that there had been no previous research in the UK into the psychology of gang membership, with the wealth of evidence into potential causal and contributing factors coming almost exclusively from criminology. I thought it was interesting how even prison gang membership can reflect the larger culture of a society: in the USA gangs tend to group by race, whereas in the UK geographical region was more important.

After a break for coffee and biscuits we headed back into the lecture theatre to hear Professor David Wilson speak on the phenomenon of murder and serial murder. It was enlightening to hear his assertion that only a structural approach to the study of murder and serial murder will help to protect potential victims. He argued that to ‘get inside the head’ of serial killers is a redundant technique because they are usually uncommunicative and if they speak about their crimes what they say is often nonsense. Brave in a room packed full of psychologists but utterly convincing. I was spurred on by his statement that if you want to prevent serial murder the place to start is to irradiate the vulnerability of victims. Challenge homophobia, challenge the isolation and powerlessness of the elderly, and protect sex workers. I was impressed with his candour and his sensitive approach to this potentially disturbing topic.

After a lunch break during which my study-buddy and I discussed the potential pitfalls for the next speaker of having the ‘graveyard’ after-lunch spot with the double-whammy of following David Wilson, we settled in for Professor Andew Silke’s talk on criminology and terrorism. We needn’t have worried for him, equally as captivating, his talk brought the topic to life. He situated the knowledge within our society and challenged lazy stereotypes and over-simplification of the causes of terrorism. As a mental health worker, I was relieved by the challenge to the idea that mental health is the key causal factor in terrorism. Also as someone with strong personal links to the military I agreed with the parallels that were drawn between the groups of young men who are radicalised by Jihadi groups and the recruitment of our own military. Young men with an (arguably evolutionary, certainly neurological) attraction to risk can be enticed by the excitement of war and swayed by the promise of three good meals a day. Andrew’s arguments were nuanced and effectively portrayed the complexity of the situation.

After yet more coffee, we headed in for the final talk from Dr Victoria Canning on harm and structural violence in the British asylum system. This was a revelation for me, as a complete novice in this area I had no idea about detention centres or how little someone seeking asylum is expected to live on (as little as £5 per day). Victoria was a passionate and engaging speaker and presented some interesting concepts that I had never heard of such as structural violence. The talk also highlighted the potential danger of privatisation of institutions such as detention centres: the lack of trained staff and lack of accountability to uphold important humanitarian laws such as the Geneva conventions. The lecture certainly provoked thought Iand I intend to watch the 15 minute documentary on Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.

Thanks LOUPS for such a great conference and for opening out to nonmembers like me. I will certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for future events, the value for money was phenomenal! It makes me proud to say that the question and answer section at OU conferences always far outstrips those of non-OU conferences I have attended. OU students ask more questions and more intelligent and complex questions, and I hope we all continue to do so in life, far beyond our graduations.

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