To help you feel prepared for your university studies, we’ve gathered together a range of course related activities including suggested reading, useful websites and some great things to do right now. Open the links below to find out more:
During Induction Week, you will be provided with a comprehensive reading list of key texts, and guidance from your tutors on how to make the most of them. In the meantime, you may wish to make a start with some reading.
Politics textbooks have a habit of becoming out of date rather quickly. So we don’t recommend you buy any until you are on the course and have a clearer idea of what you need. However you can prepare by looking for the following in large public libraries.
- Besly et al (2018) How Parliament Works (might be listed under Rogers) London. Routledge
- Ferdinand et al (2018) Politics. Oxford. OUP.
- Westen (2008) The Political Brain. New York. Public Affairs.
Also look for political biographies, autobiographies, memoirs and diaries. Material by or about any current or recent politician or political operator will be useful. We particularly recommend:
- Balls, Ed (2016) Speaking Out. London. Biteback
- Clarke, Kenneth (2016) Kind of Blue. London. Macmillan
- Seldon, Anthony (2019) May at 10. London. Biteback
- Campbell, Alastair (2011 and later) Diaries
You will be studying Political Theories in your first year and you can often find some of the key texts on line. They should also be available in cheap paperback form and are guaranteed not to go out of date. If you can, have a look at one or more of these:
- Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty
- Marx and Engels. The Communist Manifesto
Finally, it is worth getting to know some of the political commentators with blogs or twitter feeds. We recommend:
- Conservative Home
- Labour List
- Lib Dem Voice
- Britain Elects
- Law in Action – As BBC Radio 4’s long running legal podcast, this show features reports and discussion on all matters relating to law, from questioning whether new technologies affect human rights, to interviews with guest such as Lord Chief Justice, Sir Ian Burnett. As an easy to follow podcast, this is an interesting listen, whether you are considering a direct career in Law on not.
- Serial (Series 1) – This investigative podcast follows the murder of 18 year old Hae Min Lee in 1999. Involving interviews with convicted ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, who maintains his innocence, the series questions whether the justice system failed Hae and Adnan, and explores how complex cases such as this can be.
- If you’d like to organise your tasks and create a to-do list try Trello.
- If you’d like to explore careers within the Legal sector or law enforcement visit the Prospects website.
Especially, but not only documentaries. Some are more easily available than others and some you would have to pay for. Please be clear that these are just suggestions and you aren’t required to watch these.
- 13th is an excellent Netflix film about how the mass incarceration of Black people in the United States has come about historically and how it mirrors the slavery of the nineteenth century. The Dirty Money series on Netflix is also very good on aspects of crimes of the powerful.
- The house I live in is a powerful documentary by Eugene Jarecki about the failure of the ‘war on drugs’. It argues that the war on drugs has led to massive harm in the United States and globally.
- Before the Flood, an Inconvenient Truth, Our Planet and A Plastic Ocean are all really interesting and powerful films about environmental crisis. Of course there is also a wealth of documentary material now emerging about the pandemic. It has been argued for some time now that disruption of natural environments and closer proximity of humans and non-human species has elevated the potential for these pandemics. It is how Ebola, Sars and coronavirus pandemics each originated. This is not new, human diseases have long emerged from such inter-species interaction (the smallpox that nearly wiped out indigenous Americans for example was originally transferred from animals to humans in Europe – by the time Europeans invaded the Americas they had developed immunity, but the native population hadn’t). But the ever greater pressure that humans put on the environment for land, the greater the danger.
- Capitalism a Love Story, Inside Job and Too Big to Fail are all worth watching to develop an understanding of the financial crisis of 2008 – the response to which included tripling your tuition fees. Again, most of what happened was attributable to legal practices and values. A number of criminologists / zemiologists would argue that such destruction should not have been permitted to happen. It is interesting that many of the top people who pursued policies that led to the crisis have seen their careers rise, rather than fall.
- Auschwitz, Nazis and the Final Solution and Nazis: A Warning from History are both very good documentary series you should be able to find online.
- The Corporation is an online documentary that was released alongside a very good book of the same name by Joel Bakan. They both examine how the normal structure and legal status of corporations have led to massive harms.
- The War You Don’t See by John Pilger. This is available free on his website. It is a searing indictment of lying and deceit by government and media that manufactured public consent for the Iraq war.
- Fourteen Days in May is a harrowing fly on the wall documentary about an American prisoner on Death Row. Brilliant and agonising. Don’t watch it alone.
Gain an understanding of current events
As a Politics and Criminology student, you will need to have a good knowledge and understanding of current events (at home and abroad) so getting into the habit of paying attention to news and political events will certainly help you with your studies.
- Get into the habit of reading a good quality, broadsheet newspaper on a daily basis; The Guardian is a good choice. The ‘i’ newspaper is a cheap and effective way of getting across current events.
- Listen to or watch extended news programmes and programmes specifically about politics. Radio 4 has a lot of these. The BBC Parliament Channel is also an excellent source. The Politics course includes a focus on International Relations, so an awareness of what is going on internationally will help.
- Look at the UK Parliament website and browse around the sections.
- Look at the House of Commons Library Service and sign up for updates on areas that interest you.
- Look at the books listed at the top of this page. While these are useful for you when on your programme, they are useful preparation too.
It might be worth seeing if you can borrow or get access to some zemiological or related material. Lookup the titles below online and see which of them interests you. Don’t spend much money – try and get them through your library if you can. If not, borrow them once you get here.
Textbooks are not included here – you can read those when you arrive. Don’t spoil your summer!
- Crimes of the Powerful: A Reader by Vicky Cooper and Dave Whyte
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Ignorance, Power and Harm: Agnotology and the Criminological Imagination by Alana Barton and Howard Davis
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein
- Criminal Records: The Use and Abuse of Music by Eleanor Peters
- Inequality and the 1% or Peak Inequality by Danny Dorling
- Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth.
As you watch or read, ask yourselves these three questions:
- What are the harms that are being described – how are people or planet adversely effected?
- Can I identify anything that might be considered to be causal factors in creating this harm?
- Do these harms arise because of deviance? Or conformity and obedience?
What are criminological issues? At first glance, it might be assumed that they are simply to do with what the law says are ‘crimes’, and who the law says are ‘criminals’. In both cases the assumption is often that ‘criminals’ are people who are different from ‘us’, the law abiding majority: that there is something fundamentally wrong with them as people. These sorts of assumptions indeed do run through a particular tradition of criminology – ‘positivism’ – in which criminologists tended to see themselves as scientists, explaining crime and criminals as if they were some sort of naturally occurring things, like trees or atoms, or climate.
However, during the twentieth century, drawing on thinkers from other disciplines, some criminologists began to do a couple of important things. First, they increasingly saw the ‘crimes’ defined by criminal law as being ‘caused’ by social as well as individual factors. This didn’t fundamentally critique the concept of ‘crime’, but it did widen the area of criminological focus. Poverty, for example, became a criminological issue insofar as it was thought to cause crime.
More fundamentally, many criminologists recognised that ‘crime’ doesn’t actually exist as a ‘natural’ phenomenon, with some sort of essential quality that makes it ‘crime’: taking drugs, taking property (say as tax), and even killing can be legal. So on this account, what makes an act ‘criminal’ is not something inherent to the act, but simply that the state – the government – makes it a crime. It passes a law that says this and pays police to arrest, and employs prison officers to punish people who transgress that law. So here, the idea is that what should demand our attention is ‘deviance’, the transgression of social norms, including those that are codified in law as crimes.
This leads to some problems for criminologists and there are a couple you might want to think a bit about before you come up to university.
- The first problem is that if crime is just what governments say it is – that there is nothing about the act itself outside of this process of legal definition that makes it a crime – then we need to be aware that this could have criminologists studying one sort of behaviour in one country, but not in another. For example, criminologists in Nazi Germany studied inter-racial marriages, because they were illegal. In the nineteenth century slaves who tried to escape were the subject of attention, because this was a crime. In Soviet Russia people could be arrested for thinking or acting politically in ways that the state forbade. In some countries today there are behaviours that whilst legal for men, are criminal for women. So at a very simple level, just following the state’s legal definition of crime would leave criminologists studying very different and often contradictory behaviours from country to country and from time to time. Similarly, if what we are concerned with – and maybe looking to persuade governments to criminalize – is deviant behaviour, then what counts as deviant in say, Saudi Arabia, would not be deviant in the UK, or vice-versa.
- The second, related but even more important problem that follows from this is that when we think about some of the examples above, simply following state definitions of crime can implicate criminology in some pretty terrible state-crimes. Many German criminologists for example, did a lot of racist research along the lines of Nazi thinking. Surely we would not want to be spending our time researching causes of supposed ‘crimes’, when we think that they shouldn’t be crimes? What is actually wrong with people of different ethnicities marrying? To use a more recent and UK based example, was it right that criminologists and other academics looked for ways to control, punish or treat homosexuality until it was made legal?
- Third, and this is the main issue I would like you to think about – if there are problems with simply following what the particular state you are in happens to define as crime, then what should be at the centre of criminological attention? This question has been brought to the fore in recent years, with criminologists not only asking why states criminalise some behaviours and groups of people and not others, but also asking what should we study? A very important development in the last twenty years has been the emergence of what is called a ‘social harms’ approach, or as it is sometimes known, a ‘zemiological’ perspective. In this view, many criminologists suggest that what really matters about an act is not whether it breaks a rule that a government happens to have established – which might be changed next month – but whether that act is socially harmful. Does it hurt someone? If so, how much? Can the hurt be justified? What causes individuals, organisations like big corporations or even governments to act in ways that cause harm? What should be done about the harm to reduce it? Maybe this will include criminalising the behaviour – but maybe not?
One of the interesting things of this zemiological approach is that significantly widens the areas that criminologists now study. So, for example, the rise of ‘Green Criminology’ has been closely associated with zemiology. Here, attention has been drawn to the fact that potentially disastrous environmental and social harm has been the result not of what the state labels as criminal or deviant acts, but as the results of legal acts – of people, like us, conforming to social norms including laws. Another interesting development has been ‘Peace-making Criminology’, which looks at how violence at all levels is generated and how it might be reduced or resolved. There has been a renewed interest too in so-called crimes of the powerful, in which harms that may or may not be criminalised in law, are studied. They include extremely harmful human activities such as war, genocide, torture, the generation of inequality and poverty, pollution and financial harms that draw wealth upwards and lead to financial crises.
In these areas and more, a zemiological orientation has stimulated intense research, debate and theorisation. This has been especially welcome and relevant because – as you won’t need to be told – we are living through some profound crises right now. The Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote about historical ‘conjunctures’ of crises, which have the potential to lead to very significant social changes – good or bad. As you enter university you do so at a time of acute and chronic environmental crises, financial and economic crises, and therefore, ultimately, social crises. None of the harms associated with these have been produced only, or even mainly by activities formally defined as ‘crimes’ in the legal sense. Maybe that should change.
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