I have always been wondering why the ASC never does a conference in Miami Beach. Certainly not for the lack of accommodation. I think now I have the answer. Waking up to the sound of the waves of the Mediterranean and the smell of the salty sea breeze mixed with the smoke of wood-fired ovens in neighbourhood restaurants, it took some self-encouragement to don a jacket and a conference badge as opposed to shorts and take the long bus ride out to the university building instead of the short walk to the beach. But soon I realised the sea and the conference is not either-or. One never leaves the sea in Málaga: it is in the air everywhere, and it can come unexpectedly come into view at any turn; it was there for a morning run before the conference and was there in the middle of the night when I returned.
In many ways, the geographic setup was perfect: a beautiful city right on the sea, ficus-shaded grand avenues and meandering streets, medieval fortresses, the smell of tropical flowers, and bustling restaurants and bars, combined with a venue still within easy reach, but far enough from all this temptation for the participants to hang around at the venue for most of the days. It also certainly helped that Spanish university cafeterias serve better quality food than many fancy restaurants in our respective countries, with a decent wine or beer to match. Drinking during lunchtime on a workday would be an interesting comparative anthropological study; in some countries or regions, it is shunned; in others, it is a fact of life. The fact that this habit is an obvious part of the Spanish way of life also clearly helped the conversations going on during lunch breaks.
I would not say it is due to this daytime fun, but Spain is an absolute record breaker: already 3 ESC conferences have taken place in Spain (with exactly 10 years between them): first Toledo in 2002, then Bilbao in 2012 and now Málaga in 2022. In any case, the ESC and its members clearly seem to have an emotional attachment to Spain.
The conference was a record breaker (yet again): almost 2000 participants came to Málaga at the end. The combination of such an attractive city and post-covid hunger for academic conferences certainly played a role in this record: after years of holding classes via Zoom or Teams, recording Panopto lectures at home while holding screaming or bored kids at bay, who would not have wanted to reconnect with colleagues under the Mediterranean sun? However, the trend of growing participant numbers clearly is still there and might force the ESC to make some changes in a few years if it does not want to say farewell to university buildings and move the conference to some dreadful convention centre.
In Málaga, space was not a problem. Plenty of simple, functional rooms were available in the main building and the surrounding area to house everyone comfortably. It is a question of personal taste, of course, but I prefer such simple, no-nonsense functionality over opulence at a conference venue. I also especially liked the architecture, the rooms that managed to be full of light but without the direct sunlight, and the shady courtyards, places to mingle and socialise.
The opening ceremony started with a timely call for a European-wide victim survey for our outgoing president, Catrien Bijleveld. Then the mood turned more sombre as the presentation of Caroline Fournet drew attention to Russia’s aggression on Ukraine, and the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide suspected to have been committed (or sadly, more precisely put, being committed) in the course of it. Russia’s brutal war, and its human and societal consequences, which at this time are still hard to fathom, will occupy many members of our Society for many years to come.
The evening was concluded with a wonderful reception in the magical Botanical Garden, where participants wandered on moonlit paths, reconnecting with each other after the long covid years.
The next day, the conference easily settled into its usual rhythm: people buzzing around between venues or engaged in intense discussions in the cafeteria. The size of the conference was not necessarily visible due to the clever allocation of panels and venues. The only sign that gave this occasionally away was that in some thematic areas, such as prisons or environmental criminology there were so many panels that the area ran out of panel time slots, and parallel sessions had to be held.
The primaries were also particularly interesting, taking us out of our comfort zone and facing fundamental challenges criminological thinking is facing, for example, how the virtual space is changing criminality and our perception of it (Rita Haverkamp) or how climate change is affecting many “traditional” form of criminality, such as violent crime (Ellen van Damme).
This year, the European Criminology Award was presented to Mike Levi from Cardiff. For one of the founding members of the ESC, who is also a former board member and conference organiser, on top of being one of the most globally recognised names of European criminology, the award was clearly well deserved. Mike started talking about corporate crime when it was an obscure backwater of British criminology, occasionally populated by transient Marxists who believed there was little use in studying it as it could not be addressed until we torch capitalism in its entirety. Fifty years later, it is a booming field of criminology in Europe, and Mike has a significant role in this development. Corporate crime is also booming, but our generation of criminologists is much better equipped, both theoretically and methodologically, to understand it (though our theoretical sophistication is not exactly a solace for the average citizen, who tends to pick up the bill for the harms caused). But hardly any articles will be written about it without reference to a certain “Levi, M.” Popping up in the bibliography. In his characteristically witty and self-depreciating speech, instead of congratulating himself for his own greatness, Mike offered a thoughtful reflection on how the field has changed and where the white spots remain – clearly a marching order for future generations.
The fact that we had so many participants from the Global South was another very positive development at the conference. While many of such participants were from Latin America due to various Spanish and Portuguese cooperation projects, my impression was that the door had been opened in this regard. This might also be something that the ESC should encourage, with a special fellowship program, for example, for criminologists coming from countries outside the Council of Europe.
The farewell dinner was a fitting conclusion to the conference. Each farewell dinner is a unique experience, and this one also was one clearly delivered: as the sun set over the Mediterranean, an intimidating number of tapas was served, and the wine flowed freely. Those not initiated into tapas culture might have filled up merely an hour into the dinner; those who took a more strategic approach to feast on the first six-seven dishes were rewarded with a comprehensive tableau of Andalusian specialities. As if chefs, not being able to decide which dish to cook from the Andalusia cookbook, ended up cooking all of them. It is not a surprise that after such a feast, the party went on, first at the venue, then in town.
I myself got home well after 6 am. I stood for a while at the window, glazing at the sea, turning from mute grey to deep blue as the sun rose behind. Suddenly, a group of people walked past under by window on the promenade, gesticulating wildly and excitedly talking over each other. They all still had the ESC conference badge on their neck. What can be a better testament to a great conference than that?