From now on, it is demanded from future organizers of ESC conferences to hold the opening ceremony in a building at least as splendid as the one in Vilnius. The baroque church of the University also mirrored the social construction of reality that is so central to criminology – the illusion, the rhetoric, the hierarchy, the hidden power structures and the portraying of saints and sinners. Huge thanks to you Aleksandras Dobryninas and your fellow organizers for this welcome and, of course, for the whole conference. I can recommend anyone who wants to organize a conference to hire this “firm” – not least because of all the voluntary and unpaid work that was put down in the project.
At the Vilnius conference, as usual, a change of guards took place. Miklós Lévay left the presidency. Thank you Miklós for having represented our Society so well and for your efforts to try to bring Central and East European criminology more into the ESC. We are looking forward to see you in charge of the conference in Budapest in 2013.
There was also a change of editors at both The European Journal of Criminology and the Newsletter of the Society. Julian Roberts leaves as the editor of the journal in 2012. We thank him for his work and great achievements. The journal is now well established among international journals in criminology and penology: last year, barely 6 years after its launch, with an impact factor of 1,159, it already ranked among the top 20 criminology journals worldwide. I am confident that under the new editor, Paul Knepper of Sheffield University, the journal will continue its rise. We also would like to thank Michael Tonry, our ever present European-American criminologists, for having taken care of the Newsletter from its very start. And finally we would like to express our gratitude to our executive secretary, Marcelo Aebi and his colleagues at the secretariat of the ESC, especially Grace Kronitz, who will fortunately continue their work for ESC. Without you we haven`t managed.
The Vilnius conference did – as usually – show the immense versatility of criminological research in Europe. Among others, there were presentations in the tradition of unveiling hidden crimes and injustices (trafficking, domestic violence, economic crimes, hate crimes, green criminology …) and presentations on crime prevention, some positively trying to find remedies against crime, others negatively through critique of those proposed or already applied solutions. There were also a great number of paper on policing, a topic that well deserves the attention of criminology as it has increasingly come to the forefront in criminal policy as the perceived solution to the crime problem. And, last but not least, there were, as always, large a number of presentations on trends in criminal policy.
This leads to an observation. At the conference, the topic of criminal policy clearly dominated the plenary sessions. Miklós Lévay in his presidential message reporting from the World congress of Criminology in Kobe in August also brought up criminal policy and the relationship between crime and criminal policy with general political and economic change. The annual conference of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control equally focused on penal policy and especially on immigration policy and the large number of foreigners in prisons in Europe.
Questions concerning criminal policy arise typically in comparative research. A policy that looks natural in one’s own country might turn out to be fairly arbitrary when compared with the situation in other countries. Dissimilarities in criminal policy lead to searches for explanations in terms of culture, politics and the distribution of wealth and welfare. Equally, crime patterns get different interpretations when related to other countries.
This leads to the question of comparative research in the ESC. We had some of it but not very much in the conference presentations in Vilnius. In this Newsletter, Bitna Kim and Alida Merlo are publishing an analysis of the comparative focus of the ESC conference presentations and EJC publications up untill 2010. The number of presentations and publications that have been comparative are quite small. In the same issue, Young Criminologist Award winner, Sappho Xenakis, stresses the importance of comparative criminology. Also Miklós Lévay underlines the importance of the comparative approach in both criminological teaching and research. The conclusion seems obvious – comparative research should be expanded. For European criminologists criminal policy seems to be a particularly fruitful theme, in terms of both theory and practice.
This brings up some practical reflections on the presentations. It is most important when writing a paper for an ESC conference to think in terms of “the other”, that is, the participating criminologists from other countries. Some presenters seem to take for granted that national conditions are well known in other European countries. They are usually not. Some presentations were also somewhat local. An analysis of a local phenomenon can of course be scientifically interesting. It would then, however, have to be done in terms of theories, concepts and methods that can inspire criminologists from other countries in their research. Ask yourself: “In what way can my paper be of interest and helpful to someone from Spain, Denmark or Lithuania?” This will improve the scientific quality.
That said, the Vilnius conference was, like any other ESC conference, of course in a way a huge success in terms of comparative criminology. Sessions with presentations from different countries and meetings with colleagues from Europe and elsewhere are the fundamental prerequisite of the comparative idea. The ESC meeting-places – the conferences, the working groups and the Journal – will hopefully inspire more comparative research.