Innovation in democracy and politics

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Last week I attended the inaugural event of the The Bernard Crick Centre for political understanding (you can watch a recording here). The debate was primarily focused on engagement in UK democracy. The event was interesting and a credit to those who ran it, but to my mind the proceedings were quite representative of how we go about ‘doing democracy’ in the UK: expert-led debate, well-trodden arguments about institutional failings, rehashed generalisations about disaffected youth and very few alternatives being provided. Continue reading

Book Review: Prisons, Punishment and the Pursuit of Security (2012)

In a Cabinet reshuffle in August of 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron removed Ken Clarke as Justice Secretary. Clarke had proposed to reform penal policy by strengthening community sentencing and reducing prison numbers. Cameron abandoned those plans replacing Clarke with Chris Grayling, a notoriously conservative Minster who publicly promised to make the prison environment in the UK harsher. In Prisons, Punishment and the Pursuit of SecurityDeborah Drake provides one way to understand why this view remains so persistent, despite the lack of any evidence that severe approaches to crime control make society safer.

Based on more than 300 interviews and interactions in five men’s maximum-security prisons in England between 2005 and 2009, Drake suggests the purpose of prison is essentially political – designed to showcase severe sanctions as a means provide the public with a false sense of security. Drake approves of Nils Christie’s call that those who work close to penal systems should work to puncture myths, problematize simplistic assumptions, and expose the ideologies that underpin our expectations about human security (p. 11-12). In this book, Drake argues that prisons tend to obscure underlying social problems, justify repressive practices, and rely upon simplistic assumptions about the role of punishment. Continue reading

Tattoos, Structuration and the Role of Sociology

Is it enough for social research to be interesting to merit its conduct? Undoubtedly the social world produces weird and wonderful phenomena with which sociologists can engage. However, we live in a world in which there are multifarious crevasses of inequality, both material and symbolic, in which the global economy operates in a perpetually risky manner, to the extent that chaos is the new norm, and in which human rights violations are all too common, and all too often perpetrated by nation-states. As such sociology should refrain from seriously researching the facets of social life that are interesting, but unimportant. Continue reading