Monday, 3 December 2012

Criminologists Behaving Badly

The following blog focuses on two related topics resulting from attending the Australian, New Zealand Society of Criminology conference, held at University of Auckland (jointly with AUT University of Auckland), from 27-30 November, 2012.  

Part 1 offers a brief summary of the Maori-focused papers presented at the conference, while Part 2, titled When Criminologists Behave Badly, provides commentary on some of the bizarre behaviour exhibited by senior members of the Academy in response to the Maori-centric presentations.

Part 1 - Maori focused papers.
A couple of things stuck out about this years ANZSOC conference; 1) unsurprisingly (given it was held in New Zealand) a decent number of papers focused on Maori perspectives were offered, and 2) all of said papers either spoke directly from the Maori perspective (by using 'engaging methodologies'), or (if delivered by a non-Maori  presenter) took a 'critical' view of issues of importance to Maori.  This situation was a distinct improvement on the trend evident at past ANZSOC's where the greater majority of 'Aboriginal papers' were delivered by non-Indigenous scholars utilising non-engaging methods while largely ignoring Indigenous-generated theorising, empirical evidence and literature (the specific session on 'Aboriginal issues' at the 2011 conference in Geelong a recent, classic example). 

In all, 8 papers were offered that privileged the Maori voice and experience of criminal justice issues.  The following section provides some brief comments on each paper; I will make available longer commentaries sometime early in the New Year:

Moana Jackson (Keynote speech): Taking the 'Crim' out of Criminology: Towards an Indigenous Causation Theory.  Moana's key points related to the weaknesses of Eurocentric criminology, in particular its lack of focus on the historical drivers of Indigenous marginalisation and the part this plays in over-representation, and the power of Indigenous theories and responses  to social harm, based on the (re)building of relationships, using a theory of relational distance to analyse and explain incidents of social harm, and why the state and criminology's responses are often ineffective.

Terikirangi Miheare (Victoria University of Wellington): The Misappropriation of Maori Culture in Prison.  A beautifully presented paper; started off with a gentle meander through the recent history of Corrections use of Maori culture to sell itself as 'culturally responsive', and ended with a devastating critique that demonstrated that the Departments so-called 'tikanga programmes' are little more than a misappropriation of Maori culture in pursuit of policy/political legitimation.  

Kristen MaynardRuru Parirau: The Power of Stereotypes and Potential Implications for Justice Policy and Practice.  This excellent presentation focused on the negative impact that stereotypes of Maori amongst policy workers is having on the development of effective policies and interventions.  Kristen used a recent example where she and her colleagues purposefully challenged stereotypes of Maori and alcohol to develop an effective policy programme aimed at minimising harm from alcohol consumption.  This paper provided a nice policy-in action case study to supplement the more 'theoretical/political/ideological' focus of other papers presented at the conference.

Antje Deckert (AUT University):  Neo-Colonial Criminology: Decolonising Research Methods and Discourse. Antje's paper was based on preliminary findings from analysis of the types of methods used by criminologists who publish journal articles on Indigenous people: her conclusion so far: about 75% don't bother to talk to Indigenous peoples directly, preferring instead to use silencing methodologies.  Interesting, one criminologist who attended this session seemed to think this was unfair as it implied that any criminologist who didn't write about Indigenous issues was therefore guilty of silencing, which is weird given that this has no bearing on the focus of the paper as was clearly stated by the presenter during her talk.

Juan Tauri (Queensland University of Technology): 'If You're so Good, Why is Your Policy so Bad?' A Critical Indigenous Appraisal of New Zealand's Crime Control Industry.  My perspectives on the poor quality of NZ policy making is well documented elsewhere :-)

Robert Webb (AUT University): Maori Offending: A Critical Analysis.  Rob's paper took us through the recent history of policy making in New Zealand and Maori in the criminal justice system, and how this has resulted in individualistic, poorly crafted interventions.  Anyone wanting to read his perspective simply type in Robert Webb, Maori and crime into google - there are at least 2 papers readily available on line. 

Tracey McIntosh (University of Auckland): Rethinking Over-representation: Maori and Confinement. This paper provided a Maori/offender informed critique of issues with correctional policy making with regards Maori (especially Maori women).  

Kim Workman Maori over-representation in the criminal justice system: the police response.  In this paper Kim decided to focus on policing and Maori issues.  Starting with an overview of research that evidences the drivers for the poor relations between Maori and the police, Kim then highlighted some of the genuine attempts by police to improve the situation (for example, Liaison Officers), but finished by highlighting that the recent Tuhoe incident and statements that no bias exists in police in NZ demonstrate that we still have work to do in this area. 

Part 2 - Criminologists Behaving Badly
A summary of the ANZSOC 2012 experience wouldn't be complete without commnetary on the behaviour of a small group of (prominent) Criminologists towards Indigenous issues (in general ) and a small group of Indigenous speakers (specifically). My reasons for mentioning these issues are 1) to educate these people about how to act respectfully when engaging with people they disagree with regardless of ethnicity, and 2) to forewarn our post-graduates about the types of people, attitudes and behaviour they are likely to experience as they go about their work as Indigenous scholars.

Overall, the majority of participants appeared receptive to the issues raised by Maori/non-Maori scholars who attempted to bring Maori perspectives into the conference; even if they did not fully agree with the perspectives they brought to the table.  Unfortunately, a small group of scholars offered the sad, old style of engagement reminiscent of the colonial era.  This generally entails talking about Indigenous issues while lacking detailed knowledge of the Indigenous context, Indigenous theory, research, literature, and socio-cultural/political context.  This same group appeared to believe that the conventions regarding respectful conduct towards other delegates did not apply to them, something that was especially evident when Indigenous delegates presented their papers.  Here is a small number of 'case studies' from the conference that illustrate these issues:

1. The 'I know bugger all, but I'll make an expert comment anyway' Criminologist
This is one of my favourite 'criminological types' who  frequent criminology conferences.  This sub-species is more often than not white, middle class and male; academics who have spent little time researching with First Nations, but who might have written a paper (or 2) sometime in the distant past about Aboriginal people (extensively panned by critics).  These individuals enjoy 'putting the natives right' about their past and current social context, but react badly to any critique of their perspective, especially if it comes from said natives.  

A classic example of the boorish behaviour of this 'type' occurred during the Post-Graduate day: In a presentation on comparisons of Romani and Maori youth and criminal justice, one criminologist began his poorly evidenced rhetoric by stating "I don't really no much about Maori and New Zealand'... but continued, regardless, to argue that because Maori have parliamentary representation they cannot be viewed as 'marginalised', or not as marginalised as other Indigenous/marginalised peoples (as though there is some sort of international league table of Indigenous marginalisation).  Now, if this statement had been framed as a question regarding empirical issues relating to problems with comparing one group to another, and across jurisdictions there wouldn't have been much of a problem.  Sadly, this was not the case, as the commentator chose  instead to offer it as a statement that they clearly did not expect a response to.  It was delivered with the 'perspective of an expert'; presented as an incontestable statement on the current situation of Maori in the New Zealand context.  This situation is highly problematic both in terms of the accuracy of the statement offered by said Criminologist, and their expectation that the statement was beyond comment.  I responded anyway, stating that it was simplistic to equate political representation with empowerment, and that because of this, Maori cannot be considered as marginalised as other social groups.  This kind of representation is simplistic because it is contradicted by plenty of 'empirical evidence' that political representation does not automatically = significant impact on or over the development of policy and legislation: simplistic because the statement demonstrates a lack of meaningful engagement with material on the contemporary social context in which Maori live.  Unfortunately, this particular commentator was simply replicating the same misinformed perspective that is offered on a regular basis in New Zealand by non-Indigenous scholars, policy workers and talk-back radio hosts.  

The speakers responded later that evening by accusing me of playing the 'Race Card' (a claim they repeated to my boss the next day).  I interpreted this to mean one of two things, either a) I had disempowered him by talking as an Indigenous person (can't really help that!) or b) I had unfairly lumped him in with other ignorant non-Indigenous commentators, which was true, but impossible to avoid given the poor quality of his statement.  As usual, this individual gave me little chance to respond as he simply walked away after making his allegation.  If he had stuck around and engaged with me as he should have, I would have politely but firmly told him that we had both played the Race Card, me when I spoke as an Indigenous person in response to his uninformed comment, and he when he chose to speak with authority on the 'Maori situation', despite his own admission that he knew very little about either Maori or the New Zealand context.  Hopefully in future this individual will consider their ignorance of such matters, and think a bit more before privileging their own voice in this way.  I am also hoping that in future they learn to cease such puerile behaviour as falling back on the use of allegations such as 'the Race Card' against their detractors, and instead choose to debate the issues directly with us.  

The same individual confirmed both their ignorance of Indigenous issues and arrogance in thinking they can talk regardless when he asked Moana Jackson if he had "Any evidence to back anything he said" during this keeynote speech.  The ignorance/arrogance of this question is highlighted by the fact that plenty of evidence exists to back all aspects of Moana's talk, whether related to his argument for socio-cultural genocide of First Nations (truckloads), his contention that First Nations had their own law and 'justice' processes (shitloads), and that these processes are applicable to some/all Indigenous peoples today and will likely work better for us (a small amount and growing).  I would expect this experienced Criminologist, who enjoys commenting on  Indigenous issues with regularity, to have engaged with this material.  Unfortunately, the tone and nature of his question hints that he hasn't, to which only 2 explanations are possible (in my view of course): 1) he hasn't engaged, which does not require further comment, or 2) he knows it exists but because the material is generated by Indigenous people it is 'probably unscientific, and therefore invalid and easily dismissed'.  Either way, all he did was underline the reputation of this particular sub-species of Criminologist, universally ignorant of First Nation perspectives, but all too willing to 'tell the natives how it is' regardless of their lack of knowledge of the Indigenous world. 

2. The 'conventions of right, ethical behaviour don't apply to me' Criminologist
A number of incidents highlighted that certain Criminologists think themselves above all others when it comes to respectful behaviour towards participants.  Unfortunately, and whether by design or not, these incidents occurred too often when Maori delegates were presenting:

a) to the senior Criminologist who walked down about 12 rows, in front of Moana Jackson as he delivered his keynote speech and thrust the microphone in his face; this is rude and obnoxious to Maori and non-Maori alike: instead of being rude, simply ask for something to be done, or sit closer to a speaker!  Next time you behave this way you will be told in no uncertain terms that your behaviour is offensive... in front of 180 other criminologists :-)

b) to the same person and a colleague who talked, moaned and bitched through the entire session on Maori perspectives, and who's ill-informed, prejudiced comments could be heard by those around them; if you can't handle different perspectives to yours being aired, especially by Indigenous peoples, and you actually believe it's ok to behave in such an unprofessional manner, perhaps you shouldn't come to our sessions?  You'll probably have more fun talking to each other anyway.  

To both individuals concerned I present my third and last 'Bullsh*t Artist of the Week' award for 2012.

Cheers and a happy New Year to you all :-)

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