Centralised Neoliberalism and Statistical Methods

We have seen how the new criminology was the result of the rise of symbolic interactionism, first in the USA in the early 1960s and then in Britain in association with the National Deviancy Symposium of 1967-1973. This was the origin of the new perspective, symbolic interaction made permanent in the establishment of the journal of the same name in the mid-1970s, its first issue published in 1977.

C. Wright Mills in The Sociological Imagination provides a withering critique of positivist methods. The combination of abstracted empiricism and grand theory have produced a sterile neoliberal criminology fixated on gobbledygook like statistical measure of journals “performance” in terms of impact factor. It also leads to an obsession with measuring across the board, for example ranking universities and departments, pitting them against one another in an attempt to goad them into competition. In Britain the Research Assessment Exercises are yet another example of neoliberal bureaucratic development designed to give additional funding to Departments which are competitive. Another even more serious consequence is “grant capture“: a wonderful description of the competitive hunt for grant funding.

These all incidentally give power to Heads of Departments to exercise pressure on staff to “be productive” in ways that increase chances of “achieving” such results.

Grant capture is a topic I discussed in Chapter 3 “The Political Economy of Contract Research” in Chris Allen and Robert Imrie (eds) The Knowledge Business: the commodification of housing and urban research.

With a 90% failure rate, the assessment bureaucracies of grant-allocators has been assessed by Agneta Stark. Until 2010 she was Rector of Dalarna University College). In an article in Tvärsnitt – a Humanities and Social Sciences research publication –   “The Mathematics of Research Applications” (3/04, pp.32-33). She estimates, conservatively, the time spent on producing the 5,400 grant applications made to the Swedish Research Council for a share of SEK 2 billion in grants amounts to a staggering total of four centuries of work. 417 working years spent on writing these applications that have a 90 percent failure rate hardly bears contemplating.

And that is only the start. This is just one grant giving body and one SEK 2 billion’s worth of grant allocation. She questions the creation and maintenance of these gigantic sorting bureaucracies. C. Magnusson (2006) “Why only Men?” Svenska Dagblad (30 July p. 5) brought out their social inequality in terms of gender. No doubt similar inequalities could have been found in term of other factors such as age, class and ethnicity.

Mechanistic data processing was, I felt, far too distanced from the research act, the collecting and sorting the data into simple yes-no answers using knitting needles to shake out the number of cards. The more advanced this became the more alienating I felt it to be from “gathering” data. This, more than anything else, made me feel that the research process was potentially corruptible.

Research Fraud: (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_misconduct)

In Chris Allen and Rob Imrie The Knowledge Business: the Commodification of Housing and Urban Research (Ashgate 2010), I discussed this in Chapter 3 pp. 42-55) “The Political Economy of Contract Research”. There is much more than the quote below, but to read it all you are referred to the full chapter).

“A quarter of  Century ago, in a study of the US automobile dealership system, a symbolic interactionist coined the term ‘criminogenic market structures’ to describe the way some markets are socially constructed such that crime, fraud and misdemeanour become endemic (Harvey A. Farberman “A Criminogenic Market Structure: the automobile industry” Sociological Quarterly (16, 4, Autumn 1975, pp. 438-457). That this is a complex matter is well-illustrated by the widespread – not to say – universal – use of doping in individual-based sport competitions that is not reflected in team sports such as soccer where top teams become public limited companies and where other kinds of fraud are found, especially involving big business, corruption and organised crime.

“The same complexity applies to research fraud in several countries in recent years, including Sweden, with a number of high profile cases. As one professor in the Kaliber interview survey cited earlier in this chapter puts it: “sponsors don’t buy research, they buy the results they want.” This, combined with growing vulnerability to insecurity of tenure, plus the placing of the responsibility onto the shoulders of the individual researcher rather than the employing institution together make a potent combination. Clearly the kind of criminogenic market that is produced will vary depending on what these pressures are, which in turn will be refracted by how research is organised in different countries, not to mention the leverage that political research patrons are able to command.” (Kemeny in Allen and Imrie (2010, p. 53)

The concept of criminogenic markets has proved to be useful even beyond its original application to the US used car market.

The Knowledge Business is well worth reading to see the extent of the marketisation of research, and how countries have developed it in different ways.

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