Ben Lohmeyer, Tabor College of Higher Education:
Politics and Crime Control in the 21st Century: Controversies and Challenges
After the TASA Crime and Governance symposium, sitting with a small group of attendees in the heart of Sydney, a senior academic reflected ‘I think that the best presentations today were by the postgrads’. This was not a criticism of the keynote speakers, whose presentations were engaging and thought-provoking. Rather, it was a compliment to the energy, passion and insight that the PhD students brought to their research and presentations.
Symposiums like this are an invaluable experience for PhD students. They are an opportunity to share the research that has become a huge part of our lives and which is deeply attached to our developing identities as academics. Presenting our work to an engaged and supportive group of peers is instrumental for building confidence in our research and communication skills. The Politics and Crime Control in the 21st Century: Controversies and Challenges Symposium was precisely this kind of space. This nurturing environment included critical discussion and feedback provided in the spirit of mutual pursuit of further knowledge. Importantly, it was also an opportunity to build connections between researchers and research projects. This networking opportunity is invaluable for postgraduates to find collaborators and colleagues; people who ‘get’ what we are doing and with whom we can join forces.
As a (welcome) surprise, I was scheduled as the second speaker of the day; right after the first keynote. Interspersing the postgraduate presenters between the keynotes was a shrewd move by Joel McGregor (convenor of the TASA Crime and Governance thematic group). The timetable included plenty of space for discussion and breaks. Combining this with conveniently located coffee and food (in that order) sustained the level of energy and enthusiasm throughout the day. This tactical scheduling further contributed to the experience of the postgraduates who, as a result, felt they were valued contributors. It also meant there was plenty of time for them to summon up the courage to initiate conversations with senior academics who commented on their presentations.
The postgraduate presentations on the day included Megan McElhone (@MeganKMcElhone) and Michelle Peterie (@MichPeterie). Megan presented her findings on the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad: Policing the risk of ‘Middle Eastern Crime’ and ‘Middle Eastern Criminals’ in New South Wales. Her presentation was so engaging that the symposium chair lost track of time and forgot to tell Megan when her time was up. No-one in the room noticed. Michelle’s presentation ‘Secondary Prisonization’ in Australian Onshore Immigration Detention Network, was likewise fascinating. It provoked continuing discussion within the group that spilled over question time and well into the lunch break.
My own presentation was titled: ‘Calling bullshit’ in the age of hollow government: neoliberal violence and restorative practices with young people. I offered one of the main findings from my PhD project in which the hyper-governed young people I interviewed rejected the violating effects of neoliberalism experienced through the marketisation of restorative practices. On other occasions, my title has been censored by the group organising the presentation. So, as I had on these occasions, I paused at the beginning of my presentation to explain that ‘calling bullshit’ was a direct participant quote. Another benefit of presenting to my peers in this setting is that they understood the importance of representing young people in their own terms. Hence, not needing to defend this decision, I was able to focus on the young people’s stories and their reclaiming of their right to the representation of the wicked problems that inhabit their social worlds. I argued that the ‘hollowing-out’ of the state can be understood in terms of the shifting values from justice and participation to prioritisation of efficiency. This emphasis on efficiency in a competitive funding market aligns youth and community services to dominant political values. Hence these organisations begin to value ‘what works’, and compromise on their traditional critical and emancipatory goals. This compromise was rejected by hyper-governed young people as they restated their right to participation and justice.
I received valuable feedback on my presentation from the group. This included how I might nuance my representation of neoliberal violence. I received affirmation from a senior academic about my critique of restorative practices. I also exchanged ideas and experiences with another PhD candidate who is submitting around the same time as I am. We are planning a celebration at the TASA Annual Conference, which happens to be a couple of weeks after our joint submission date. These kinds of experiences, made possible by TASA thematic groups, are necessary for sustaining and succeeding in a PhD; a time well-known for otherwise being isolating and exhausting.
Thank you to TASA, the Crime and Governance thematic group, and the University of Newcastle for supporting this event. Many thanks to Joel McGregor for organising the event, and Xanthé Mallett who created the collegial environment as chair of the symposium. Finally, thank you to all who attended and presented at the symposium.