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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. We are proud that our Social Policy and Criminology research and impact was assessed as “world leading” and “internationally excellent” by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 - a national, seven-yearly exercise that assesses the quality and significance of research across the UK. Our research is in the top third overall and ranked fifth in the country for Research Power, a score that factors in the number of people submitted.

We have a long tradition of social policy and criminological research that brings together dimensions of criminology, harm, governance and inequalities. Our department investigates migrations and diasporas, as well as the regulation of intimacy, gender and sexuality. The department is also home to a significant critical mass of zemiological (the study of social harms) and criminological research.

As a department we excel in the following areas:

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.
Migrations, diasporas, transnational communities: especially linked to sexual harassment, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Relationships, and intimacies: focusing on intimacy and personal relationships alongside the regulation and social mores that legitimise and/or marginalise forms of sex and sexuality.
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 crime and policing, and the links between domains of public policy and criminalisation, with a concentration in youth-related issues, abolitionism and alternatives to criminal justice.
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 such as the effects of the prison system?
Crie, welfare ad punishment: with a particular interest injustice, prisons and policing, and the links between domains of public policy and criminalisation, with a concentration in youth-related issues, abolitionism and alternatives to criminal justice
Gender and sexuality: with a focus on feminist and queer theorising and the lived experiences of gendered and sexual subjects, as well as a consideration of different approaches to and meanings of ‘justice’.
Innovative research methodologies: particularly in relation to qualitative mixed-methods research, biographical and life-story research, visual methods, discourse analysis, and historical and ethnographic methodologies.

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 and 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. You also can catch up on our most recent research projects discussed in the School of Social Sciences and Global Studies Magazine.

Our publications

Banks, James and Waters, Jaime (2022) The Gambling Act 2005 and the (De)regulation of Commercial Gambling in Britain: A State-Corporate Harm Sociological Research Online (Early Access)
Billingham, Luke and Irwin-Rogers, Keir (2021) The terrifying abyss of insignificance: Marginalisation, mattering and violence between young people Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 11(5) (pp. 1222-1249)
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).
Copson, Lynne and Boukli, Avi (2020). Queer utopias and queer criminology. Criminology & Criminal Justice
Copson, Lynne (2021) ‘Crime, Harm and Justice: The Utopia of Harm and Realising Justice in a ‘Good Society’’ in Davies, P., Leighton, P., and Wyatt, T. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Social Harm, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dimou, Eleni Decolonizing Southern Criminology: What Can the “Decolonial Option” Tell Us About Challenging the Modern/Colonial Foundations of Criminology? (2021) Critical Criminology, 29 (pp. 431-450)
Murphy, T (2021), ‘Penal Transportation from Britain to Australia, 1788 to 1868: Four Phases of Penal Administration and Experimentation

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 Drake

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

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