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Research in Social Policy & Criminology

The Department of Social Policy and Criminology pursues internationally excellent, impactful, policy-relevant research that has the capacity to transform lives as well as promote social justice.

With a long tradition of social policy research, the department is also now home to a significant critical mass of zemiological (the study of social harms) and criminological research. As a department we excel in:

Policy analysis: focusing on the substance and process of policy making, and the impacts of social institutions, policies and practices on human welfare worldwide.
Critical analysis: particularly linked to the (re)production of patterns of global social ordering and its impact on human welfare in historical and contemporary UK and international contexts.
Ethics in Policy and Practice: in relation to corporate, public services, and criminal justice systems.
Social harm: especially linked to gendered and sex based harms, workplace, food and environmental safety/harms, and a variety of corporate and state-based harms.
Crime, welfare and punishment: with a particular interest in the links between domains of public policy and criminalisation, and with a concentration in youth related issues, abolitionism and alternatives to criminal justice.
Innovative research methodologies: and particularly narrative analysis, discourse analysis and co-production and participatory methodologies.

Our departmental staff have a wide of range of research interests and expertise. We have substantive research expertise, including:

Abolitionism Intimacies
Corporate regulation and harm Policing
Criminological and Zemiological Theory Policing and Ethics
Critical Animal Studies Prisons and Alternatives to imprisonment
Cultural Criminology Sexual Violence
Deaths in Custody Social inequalities and the administration of criminal justice
Decoloniality Transformative Justice and Gender-based Violence
Housing and Homelessness Utopianism
Human Trafficking Youth Governance and Youth Justice
International Policy Development Youth Violence

Staff in the Social Policy and Criminology Department also play an active role in the following OU research groups and areas:

Engaging with the wider world

As researchers we are committed to conducting research that is intellectually rigorous, critically engaging and has relevance beyond academia. We regularly work in collaboration with and in support of global and national policy reform campaigns, grassroots movements and advocacy initiatives in the fields of deaths in custody, housing inequality and homelessness, health and safety, health policy, youth employment, gendered violence, labour migration, penal abolition, criminal justice reform and youth violence.

How we work with others

We bring our expertise to national and international organisations, advising bodies such as Parliamentary Committees, Inquest, the Youth Violence Commission, The Howard League for Penal Reform, World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Our department is also a member of The Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO) which is a global network of research centres and University departments in the field of social sciences and the humanities.

Our research frequently features in blog articles which you can read about in research news and you also can catch up on our most recent research projects discussed in the School of Social Sciences and Global Studies Magazine.

Our publications

Canning, Victoria and Tombs, Steve (2021) From Social Harm to Zemiology: A Critical Introduction Routledge.
Cooper, Victoria and Paton, Kirsteen (2021). Accumulation by repossession: the political economy of evictions under austerity. Urban Geography (Early Access).
Chonody, Jill M.; Killian, Mike; Gabb, Jacqui and Dunk-West, Priscilla (2020). Relationship Quality and Sexuality: A Latent Profile Analysis of Long-term Heterosexual and LGB Long-term Partnerships. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work
Copson, Lynne and Boukli, Avi (2020). Queer utopias and queer criminology. Criminology & Criminal Justice.
Irwin-Rogers, Keir; Muthoo, Abhinay and Billingham, Luke (2020). Youth Violence Commission Final Report. Youth Violence Commission.
Tombs, Steve (2020). Home as a Site of State-Corporate Violence: Grenfell Tower, Aetiologies and Aftermaths.

Recent BBC collaborations

Drawing on our research expertise, Social Policy and Criminology members also act as academic consultants on high-profile BBC television and radio programmes, some of which are listed below.

Prison perimeter.
Imagining a World without Prisons

BBC Ideas

Dr David Scott and Dr Deborah Drak

Wormwood Scrubs. Photo: David Merrigan
I went from Prisoner to PhD

BBC Ideas

Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski and Dr Daniel McCulloch

Multiracial hands holding each others wrists.
The Myth of Race

BBC Ideas

Dr Lystra Hagley and Dr Mark Pinder

Forever in our hearts support banner on the Grenfell tower, August 2019. Photo: © Alex Danila/Dreamstime
The Fires that Foretold Grenfell


Professor Steve Tombs

Find out more

You can find out more about what is going on in Social Policy and Criminology by following us on Twitter. Latest news relating to research at the OU can be found on the main OU research news webpage. Discover our individual researchers and team of academics here.

You can also read the latest blogs by the team here.

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