Public criminologist

Almost a year ago, my friend Kate and I went to a little office on the 4th floor of the Lionel Robbins Building, 10 Portugal Street in London, to hand over the 318 pages of my doctoral thesis. And just a few minutes ago I completed and submitted a form to book a place for my Ph.D. Graduation Ceremony that will take place in July this year. It was 9 years ago when I was guided to look into criminology as my academic career path, and it was 6 years ago when I commenced my Ph.D. In retrospect, there is so much I am grateful for. I pursued my doctoral research at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, under the supervision of two great academics who set the bar very high, which was in the end defended in the presence of two renowned British criminologists. In my recent correspondence, another highly distinguished criminologist wrote: Do let me know what becomes of you. I’ll follow your career with interest.

However, what would I like to become of me then?

Naturally, I want to have my work published. Like many of my colleagues, in the post-Ph.D. rush, my very first step was to start drafting book chapters, peer-reviewed journal articles and a book proposal. Be that as it may, it was my November study visit to the Wrocław Centre for Restorative Justice and my January trip to the Polish prison in Lower Silesia that made me realise what sort of a criminologist I would like to become.

Looking back over my professional career, I always considered myself to be a risk-taker, an idealist who wants to make a change. I very often made decisions that were unpopular at the time, and only in hindsight it was indeed confirmed that my academic intuition was on point. The identity of an adventurous early career researcher however was put to the test while talking last month about restorative justice, mediation, forgiveness, apology to serving prisoners and men addicted to alcohol in a rehab centre. I could barely calm my nerves before each talk, I was unusually worried how what I was going to say would be received. I do not think I was this tormented even minutes before my Ph.D. viva. What an interesting situation it was. I have been going places with my research perspective on victim-offender mediation, but this was the very first time I talked about my topic with people who should actually practise and benefit from it in real settings. The feeling of uneasiness about my ‘scientific disconnection’ has led me to rethink my role in the scientific community and to recollect the literature on public criminology.

Public criminology originated in the debates over public sociology that raised the question about the civic mission of social sciences. In a few words, public criminology is about engaging with politics and public policies related to crime, punishment and criminal justice. In other words, public criminology is about balancing out theory, research, activism, practice and policy in order to translate criminological research into policy options. In Understanding Deviance (eds. Downes, Rock & McLaughlin) we can learn that:

What is now distinguished as ‘public criminology’  has been self-consciously designed  to encourage scholars to talk to communities, policy-makers, and other constituencies about matters of practical criminological interest, steering, informing, and responding to lay preoccupations and problems. Its place within the larger body of criminology has been analysed by Ian Loader and Richard Sparks in the guise of a typology of ideal-typical, professional roles[1]. Theirs is not a prescriptive or critical account but a description of varying stances and justifications, veering from  the engaged activist, at the one pole, to the detached scientific adviser, at the other. What they omit, for reasons that are not clear, is the position of the disinterested academic who is not bent on making his or her on politics or policy but on researching intellectual puzzles and problems.’

If I have recently learned anything about myself, it is that I want to do criminology differently. I want to be a good public criminologist who contributes to public knowledge, strives for excellence, not perfection, effects changes and makes an impact. It’s still early days, however, I have already taken some ‘academic baby steps’ towards my mission. I encouraged my students to include a section in their dissertations on policy implications of their own work and part of my research methods module was dedicated to the process of data dissemination.

Although I want to be the best version of a public criminologist I can possibly become, it appears that I again made a very unpopular decision to pursue this endavour in highly challenging justice settings of my own country. As always, I trust my intuition on this score.



Downes, D.; Rock, P. & McLaughlin, E. (2016) Understanding Deviance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Loader, I. & Sparks, R. (2010) Public Criminology? London: Routledge.


[1] Loader & Sparks distinguished the following types of criminologists: scientific experts, policy advisors, governmental players, social movement theorists, and lonely prophets.

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