Sunday, February 26, 2017

Coming to America - Reflections of an academic

Las Vegas Strip at night - photo Tarah Hodgkinson
by Tarah Hodgkinson

There has been a great deal of media recently regarding the immigration policies of the United States and the now blocked executive order banning citizens from numerous countries. During this madness, I traveled to attend the Western Society of Criminology’s (WSC) annual conference in Las Vegas.

Academic conferences have become a bit of a ritual. Go, give a talk, see some other talks, network with some new colleagues, catch up with old colleagues, and check out the local city. Unlike SafeGrowth trainings or SafeGrowth Summits where we teach how to address local problems affecting local people and create local solutions, most academic conferences are bereft of any action research and rarely, if ever, engage with the local community.

Rather, they present a string of experts in specialized areas, talking about small and trifling data, without any local voice or real change. Claims of “policy implications” often suffice for demonstrable action.


However, the vibe at WSC this year was markedly different than other academic conferences. It was clear that a number of those attending were shaken by recent political choices. Many of the annual award winners used their acceptance speeches to demand a call to action around what has been called, discriminatory, racist and Islamophobic policy decisions.

Alex Piquero, winner of the Western Society of Criminology President’s Award, gave a talk on immigration that undermined the misconception that immigrants commit more crimes.

Flamingo Hotel in  Las Vegas - photo Tarah Hodgkinson

On the street, however, it appears these divisive politics are emboldening a new generation of culture jammers. With their rights under attacks, citizens have taken to the streets, various prime ministers have promised to protect those who seek refuge, universities are making statements, staging protests and waiving application fees to those affected.

What can be done?

At this critical time, it seems that neighbourhood engagement is the key. In SafeGrowth that happens by empowering and training citizens to solve their own neighborhood problems and by rebuilding trust, collective efficacy, and social cohesion. These are the actions that help everyday citizens learn practical skills to destabilize the narratives that seek to divide, rather than unite us.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. Using this blog for discussion of political activism essentially unrelated to the core topic is not of interest. In fact, I unsubscribe as my own form of activism.

  2. JL, I understand how politics today creeps into all our lives, even when not welcome. Sorry, you felt you had to leave. I respect your decision but respectfully disagree with your assessment. JL, if you are willing to report on events or presentations of an alternate criminological perspective ignored here, feel free to submit a guest blog. We encourage open debate. 

    From my view, this blog reported on comments by the criminological community regarding the current state of political affairs. In this case that included scholars at the Western Society of Criminology conference including, no less, the winner of the Society’s President’s Award. Those criminologists obviously felt that large P politics is negatively influencing crime policy, particularly immigration policy. From such a large and important group of criminological experts, that is noteworthy and important. 

    On one hand, I’ve been critical of the narrow and policy-irrelevant role of criminological theory regarding crime prevention (a point Tarah makes in her blog). On the other hand, when criminologists step forward into public debate it would be unfair to ignore speakers at a major criminology conference who sound alarms regarding proposed federal policy, particularly regarding immigration. Tarah’s blog does an admirable job reporting that. 

    As for SafeGrowth, we strive to help neighborhoods turn back from the brink of crime. Right wingers appreciate our focus on individual responsibility as a part of rebuilding neighborhoods. Left wingers appreciate our focus on building a collective response and enhancing social cohesion. Thus SafeGrowth strives to be neutral on large P politics, preferring on-the-street strategies that work, not large P political posturing that doesn’t. After all, victims of crime come from all political persuasions. 

    When Tarah says that big P politics are divisive, it is hard to ignore that fact. But I can see where a comment like, “divisive politics is emboldening a new generation of culture jammers”, shows personal bias. Blogs are, after all, a combination of reporting and opinion.

    However, Tarah concludes by saying: “neighborhood engagement is the key…by empowering and training citizens to solve their own neighborhood problems by rebuilding trust, collective efficacy, and social cohesion”. 

    I cannot imagine a better way to bring right and left perspectives together to solve their mutual crime problems.


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