Department of Sociology

The blog of the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey

Making sense of the EU Referendum hate crime spike: preparing for the future

By Matt Hall

In the wake of the Brexit vote, the UK saw a discouraging rise in hate crime. As headlines furled out- Police call emergency meeting to deal with post-Brexit vote explosion of racist hate crime (Daily Mirror) and Brexit: Wave of hate crime and racial abuse reported following EU referendum (The Independent) – it may have felt like we were in the midst of an epidemic. As a researcher interested in the interplay of far-right extremism and hate crime, getting an accurate picture of the figures is a priority.

The summer of 2016 alone engendered a catalogue of politicised tragedies, both nationally and abroad. Orlando, Jo Cox, Brexit, and terrorist attacks in Nice and Munich – each potentially a trigger event to be exploited by extremist groups. Now we await further anticipated spikes following the invoking of Article 50 in March, and at key junctures throughout the protracted, years-long process of leaving the EU. For hate crime scholars, accurate information on the EU-Referendum spike is key to understanding what might lay ahead.

As evidenced by national police statistics and third-party reporting services, the spike in hate crime was all too real. However, months later, there were suggestions that spike may have been the wrong word. Instead, for many, a “lasting rise in hate crime” (The Independent) was the general impression, despite NPCC figures having indicated a decline back to expected rates by mid-August. The expressly divisive nature of Brexit as a trigger cannot be completely ignored when exploring figures. Nonetheless, there are numerous forms other than hate crime in which normalised far-right nationalist sentiments can express themselves.

When interrogating the figures themselves, two further contexts emerge. Firstly, and most easily disaggregated from the given numbers, is the expected increase in reporting rates between July 2015/16. All monitored strands of hate crime recorded to the police have been steadily climbing since 2011 (Home Office) due to initiatives aimed at encouraging victims to report. This increase in reporting should not be misunderstood as anything but welcome.

Weighing for the second context is more onerous. What proportion of the remaining figures could be explained by amplified public vigilance to hate incidents? It seems likely that at least some of the increased reporting, particularly of public order offences, may have been encouraged by the flurry of coverage and anecdotes spanning social media. Was this something partially resembling the moral panics extensively written about by criminologists and cultural theorists, such as Stanley Cohen and Stuart Hall, through the 1970s and 80s? The overzealous use of the term ‘epidemic’ by parts of the press would certainly suggest as much.

Tentatively, I am proposing three contributors to the reported post-referendum hate crime spike: (1) an increase in hate behaviour – people felt a new license to express their prejudices; (2) an expected year-on-year increase in reporting rates; and (3) amplified public awareness leading to transient increases in reporting of routine hate crime. The challenge is how to disaggregate (1) from (2) and (3). This would offer a much more valid figure for the spike in actual hate incidents. If we can develop informed valuations for expected spikes following events like Brexit, then we may be on our way to measuring the impact of far-right exploitation of them on violence. This could help us plan appropriate interventions. But first and foremost, we need to refine our gaze to changes in hate crime rates, rather than reporting behaviours.


Please note: Blog entries reflect the personal views of contributors and are not moderated or edited before publication. However, we may make subsequent amendments to correct errors or inaccuracies.

PhD Symposium – Part 1

By Jo Smith

On 18th January 2017 PhD students from the Sociology Department organised a departmental symposium titled ‘PhD Fieldwork: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Loving my Research.’ Attended by Masters students, PhD students and academic staff, this day provided an opportunity to explore some of the different methodological and ethical issues facing us as researchers. We were delighted to host a wide range of speakers.

Opening the symposium were PhD students from the Sociology Department. Amy Kirby talked about her experiences of coming to terms with the ‘them and us’ divide during her ethnographic research into the criminal courts, whilst Emily Setty highlighted some of the challenges and rewards of conducting research with young people. Annie Bunce provided an insight into her attempts to try and balance the demands of different groups in her prison-based research. Melissa Pepper reflected on her decision to adopt a mixed-methods approach to her research into policing, and Jo Smith explained what she saw as the advantages of using online research methods in her study of online misogyny. Finally, Nadia Harizadeh-Yazdi spoke about her experiences of researching a sensitive subject in her work of childhood cancer.

Together these papers showcased the diversity of work being conducted by the post-graduate students in the department, in terms of the subjects being explored and the methods being used to collect data. They also highlighted the extensive thought and reflection being given by the PhD students to the methodological and ethical aspects of their work.

As well as providing helpful questions and comments throughout the day, members of the academic staff presented papers on their research experiences. Professor Jon Garland provided a fascinating – and at times unnerving – account of his research into the English Defence League. Lightening the mood, Dr Tom Roberts spoke about his use of ‘walking methods’ and how these might provide insight beyond those obtained when only using interviews. Dr Corinna Elsenbroich managed to convince many of the technophobes in the room that agent-based modelling is for everyone, introducing a number of us to a method that we had never really considered before.

We were also delighted to welcome guest speaker Dr Bina Bhardwa, from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research based at Birkbeck, University of London, to talk about her ethnographic fieldwork in dance settings. She provided us with a down-to-earth account of dealing with ethical and methodological issues in the field – quite literally, given that some of her research took place at music festivals. Of particular interest were her accounts of how she managed issues of obtaining consent from intoxicated nightclub participants, her discussion on walking the line between ‘researcher’ and ‘friend’, and her descriptions of some of the unusual situations in which she found herself conducting her research.

To finish off the day attendees took part in a workshop in which involved discussion of some various research worries and how these could be addressed.

It was apparent throughout the symposium that seemingly disparate research projects have faced similar challenges when it comes to designing and implementing fieldwork – reassuring for those of us who sometimes feel we are the only ones struggling. If there was one take home message from the day, it is that it is ok to worry about our work, but that we should not let these worries stop us loving our research.

The symposium organising committee would like to thank everyone who contributed to the day, including all of the speakers and attendees, and Louise Jones for her help in organising refreshments. We are particularly grateful to Dr Paul Hodkinson for encouraging us to arrange this symposium and for his help in organising it.

My Life at the University of Surrey By Hannah, Final Year undergraduate student

I am currently in my third and final year at university, studying Criminology. It has definitely been challenging, but it has made me the person that I am today. Attending the University of Surrey has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have many highlights of my overall experience, however, a favourite one that stands out the most was the day I moved into my university accommodation in my first year – that feeling of excitement, as well as feeling nervous! Unpacking all my belongings and then running upstairs to meet all my new house mates and helping them to unpack too! My first night out at university was definitely one to remember! Spending the evening with my new friends, cooking dinner together and then getting ready for our very first night out to see ‘Scouting for Girls’! It was amazing and a night I will always remember. We strolled back to our accommodation at 3am and ordered a massive pizza to share! University has definitely changed me as a person as before I came here, I was a really quiet, shy girl who had no confidence at all. However, 3 years on, I am much more confident and have learned to stay positive in life. Being at university has also taught me various life skills as this was the first time I lived alone, independently.

Being at university has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. I have undertaken various presentations throughout my time at university, which is something I would never have even thought about when I first started. The continuous support from staff has been amazing, they always encourage you to do your best. I threw myself straight in the deep end and presented in front of my class. Since that day, I have been able to go out and apply for jobs. Despite being petrified of attending an interview – I thought if I can do a presentation, I can certainly do an interview! Before I came to university, I was scared of getting things wrong, however, throughout my time here, I have realised that it is ok to make mistakes since that is how we all learn. It is ok to email a member of staff if you are struggling and it is certainly ok to put your hand up during class if you don’t understand something. You need people around you to point out your mistakes, so you can make yourself a better person by correcting them. I have become very responsible whilst I have been at university, managing my own time better and ensuring that I get everything done I need to do.

My friendship group has changed too. I still have my friends from back home, but here at university, I have made friends for life! We all face the same challenges each and every day, such as coursework deadlines, revision for exams etc. but we have created this bond to motivate one another, which encourages you to do your best. During my second year and especially my third year now, the nights out that you go on feel so much more rewarding! I go out much less now due to writing up my essays and revising for my exams, but there is nothing better than completing a huge part of your essay and then celebrating your hard work on a night out with friends!

University has definitely been worthwhile. You learn something new each day and you will grow in confidence and meet people who will be your friends for life! My time at the University of Surrey has been amazing! All the staff here offer you so much support and help you to achieve great things! When I graduate, I am hoping to join the Police Force. I will definitely be coming back to talk about my new career and how my degree helped me learn so many new things. My dream job is to become a Probation Officer. When I found out I was going to be studying the module ‘Prisons and Prisoners’ during my final year I was so excited, as I realised the new information I was going to learn on this module would benefit my future knowledge when applying to be a Probation Officer! Within this module, I have been able to understand the experience prisoners go through and the variety of needs each individual has and contemplating different methods in order to make prisons work and for these institutions to become more beneficial to prisoners in order to prepare them for the outside world. This module has definitely been my favourite along with studying Forensic Science in my first year and having a mock crime scene set up for us. We put on our forensic suits and gathered evidence in order to establish the cause of what had happened! Within my degree, I have learnt many things that open a wide range of jobs that I could apply for. I have a variety of skills that I have adapted throughout university which has made my career path a lot more flexible!

I am feeling quite anxious, but also excited, about graduation day. Being able to stand up in front of my parents with all my friends, holding my certificate and knowing that the overall mark that I gained, is something that I have worked so hard for. I will be sad to graduate from University, as I have met so many amazing people and it has been the greatest experience of my life and one I will never ever forget. I have some very important advice for students who are thinking about university….’AIM HIGH AND ACHIEVE BIG!’ Take each day at a time, work hard, party hard and remember, if you need any help/support don’t be afraid to ask!

Reflections on my Professional Training Placement Year by Boran Shenhuy

When I first started studying Sociology, I promised myself that I will use my knowledge to help my community and improve the lives of Turkish speaking Cypriots. This year, as part of my professional training placement, I have had the chance to work with the longest running environmental NGO in the Turkish speaking Cypriot community, Cyprus Green Action Group (CGAG), which was established in 1988. Its aim is to increase environmental awareness and harmony. CGAG has participated in many projects, such as recycling and wildlife projects, as well as undertaking short film contests, cultural festivals, and producing reports on energy, environment and infrastructure.

I am a part of a team that has designed the first ever questionnaire on environmental awareness and recycling in Cyprus. It has been a unique and exciting experience, which has helped me to put my knowledge about social research, developed during the first two years of my Sociology degree, to good use. Although it was a challenge at first, because of the lack of previous studies in this cultural context, I have contributed significantly to the project and have received very positive feedback. Because of this, I am more confident in researching social phenomena and I am happy that I chose the University of Surrey, a university which has given me the exceptional advantage of learning how to do research and also the wonderful opportunity of taking a professional training placement year. I wouldn’t feel that my education had been as fulfilling, if I had chosen another university.

It is not just research that I am carrying out with CGAG. I also contribute to recycling projects, short film contests, festivals and other environmental and cultural activities that I have known about and followed before. I have been interviewed and interviewed others on national television and had meetings with mayors and government officials. As a result of my education at the University of Surrey, I feel more confident to go out and try to help people as much as I can.

Through one of the CGAG projects that I have worked on, ‘Cans of Hope’, which is funded by the EU, I am in contact with EU officials on the island, as well as Greek speaking Cypriot Civil Society Organisations. It is one of my career goals to work on bi-communal projects to improve living standards and encourage sustainable development in areas previously in conflict. This year, whilst on my placement, I have started my career in this respect and I want to continue to improve my knowledge and contribute more to sustainable development and peace on my island.

I am confident that my professional training placement year has given me very relevant practical experience which has, combined with the knowledge I have gained so far on my Sociology degree at Surrey, given me the right combination of skills to develop my career in sustainable development in the future. The fact that the University of Surrey allows and encourages their students to go out and practice what they have learned is an outstanding opportunity for any student who wishes to become successful and lead in their chosen field.

Faith and Policing

By Karen Bullock

Together with my colleague, Paul Johnson from the University of York, I have recently been conducting research on the role that faith based organisations (FBOs) play in policing. We have been looking at how the British police seek to co-produce forms of crime control with FBOs. One facet of this research has looked at how faith groups may deliver policing relevant interventions on behalf of police services. At the present time there has been interest in this form of coproduction. This interest stems from wider debates about the role of civil society in the delivery of public services and from the long held belief that working with communities will promote police responsiveness, increase police legitimacy, and more effectively control crime. However, the extent to which officers identify, engage with, and motivate FBOs to deliver interventions aimed at controlling crime is far from clear.


With this in mind, our research sought to unpick how officers understand work with FBOs, the mechanisms which exist to facilitate such interaction between FBOs and officers, the extent to which the wider police family engages with issues relating to faith and the perceived benefits and challenges of working with FBOs. To examine this we conducted interviews with officers and police staff in three English constabularies. We found that police officers support a degree involvement of FBOs in policing. FBOs were seen to share values which accord with public service, were thought to be well positioned to mobilise community resources and were thought able to deliver services in ways that reduce demands on constabularies. Participants gave examples of FBOs working with officers to implement projects and programmes that sought to improve community safety. However, we found problems as well. Much more critical attention needs to be placed on the assumption that FBOs are well placed to work with the police to increase the security of communities and citizens. Our research suggested that FBOs may be less willing and less well positioned to work with the police than is sometimes assumed. For instance, FBOs are different sizes, have different degrees of internal stability, have different outlooks on their role in the community and are more or less competent to deliver police relevant interventions. The consequence is that they may lack the technical expertise and capacity to work with the police and/or be more or less willing to do so. In addition, whilst FBOs may be thought to offer an important way of delivering services which reduce demands on constabularies, something viewed as especially important at a time of state retrenchment, it may well be that the reverse is actually true. We found that working with FBOs places demands on the time of officers. From identifying suitable FBOs, to motivating them to participate, to sharing information, to making joint decisions about the delivery of interventions, to managing or coordinating service delivery, FBOs need to be supported by police organisations if they are to deliver police relevant interventions. Incorporating FBOs into police work does not remove officer responsibility for the delivery of policing but merely alters the nature of officer responsibility. Lastly, orienting officers towards new ways of working will be challenging. There is now a long history of failed attempts to promote citizen participation in police work. Our research suggests that it will continue to be difficult, not least because of officer attachment to conventional modes of crime control, the organizational configuration of constabularies, and the considerable investment required to equip officers with the necessary skills. Taken together, this research indicated that the role of FBOs was seen to be valuable but that it should not be taken for granted.


To read more see the article recently published by the British Journal of Criminology

Karen Bullock and Paul Johnson, Faith in Policing: The Co-production of Crime Control in Britain British Journal of Criminology azw080 first published online October 21, 2016 doi:10.1093/bjc/azw080


Please note: Blog entries reflect the personal views of contributors and are not moderated or edited before publication. However, we may make subsequent amendments to correct errors or inaccuracies.

More than the sum of its parts: social science and technological development

By Nigel Gilbert [1]

New technologies can only be successful if they are fit for market and society. The dramatic scale and pace of technological developments offers tremendous potential, but with these opportunities come new dangers and new responsibilities. This implies that technological innovations need to pay close attention to the social contexts in which they are to be placed. Moreover, many social innovations require technological development to be successful. Thus, social and technical research need to go hand in hand.

Robotics, mobiles and Internet based technologies have already caused revolutions in social organisation well beyond the communication area. Similar effects are being caused by the explosively developing bio- and pharma- technologies. Science and technology enabled shifts will contribute to the redrawing not only our economy, culture and society, but also our biology and our ethics. It is thus of utmost importance to incorporate a social sciences and humanities research component in the development of these new technologies from the earliest stage.

However, social science is often seen as merely the ‘handmaiden’ to scientific and technological research, offering at best advice about how to make new developments more socially acceptable, or providing hints about how they can be marketed. In this blog post, I outline some of the ways in which social science (and humanities) can act as equal partners to engineering and science (for a related discussion, see a previous post by Graham Scambler: Six Sociologies).

Among the roles that social science can play are:

1. Opening up new policy questions and identifying new societal needs. For example, users and organisations are increasingly aware of and demanding that software preserves their privacy. In response an approach called ‘privacy by design’ is becoming popular among software designers. But what do users mean by privacy and how should it be designed into software? What are the trade-offs involved? This is an area where the social sciences have already helped to set the agenda.

A second example: the so-called “sharing economy” (as represented by Uber and AirBnB) have pointed to a new kind of division of labour, with the platforms and those who operate and own them making high salaries and large profits while the operators (drivers, room sharers) not only earn little, but are also stuck at the bottom of the organization with little job security. Research, some funded by Horizon 2020, has begun to propose new ways of distributing value in the collaborative economy in a way that is potentially more equitable and is as ‘disruptive’ as the current sharing platforms. However, refining these ideas requires a close cooperation between social scientists and software developers (see for instance the H2020 programme, Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation).

2. Developing and promulgating new social ‘technologies’ and defining a more holistic approach to technology governance. For example, in an increasingly complex world, it becomes ever harder to evaluate public policies to see whether they are actually working as intended, or even to determine whether some observed change is in fact the result of the application of a policy initiative. Social scientists are developing new methods (some involving advanced mathematics and statistics, and some using computational modelling techniques) to get a better understanding of policy impacts. Success would mean that we could become much better at formulating policies that actually have their intended effects.

Another example is the development of ‘community energy’: local, distributed energy generation and supply from renewable sources such as wind, photovoltaics and biomass. Current research shows that the prime obstacles to community energy schemes are social and economic: the need to find ways to bring together volunteers with sources of finance and to develop novel and sustainable business plans. However, these depend on the development of appropriate technologies that are cost-effective at the local scale and can be maintained using local labour. Social and economic research needs to go hand in hand with technical development of the generation equipment.

3. Critiquing current technologies and structures. For example, social science might show that certain technologies, and formations based on those technologies, discriminate against some groups. A classic example is the way in which violent and competitive video games, favoured by boys, can lead to girls being influenced away from pursuing computer science and technology at school and university.

A second example: Some 40 percent of energy is used directly by households, for heating, cooking, leisure etc. Because the demand for electricity is very uneven through the day and capacity has to be provided by generators to meet the maximum demand, even small shifts in the timing of peak electricity demand can yield substantial economic and environmental benefits. One proposed technology is to install smart meters and use differential pricing – charging more during peak hours – but pilots have shown that this achieves very modest reductions. It is probably not new technology that is required, but new social practices: that is, new ways of doing things that become habitual and customary. Understanding behaviour in terms of ‘social practices’ is an emerging and potentially disruptive approach that stands in opposition to the usual ideas of individual behaviour change.

4. Mapping trends in values for the future of Europe. Practices can be modified more efficiently and more rapidly if we know the values and norms that will become predominant in the future. What Europeans think about euthanasia, immigration, vegetarianism and so on, and what they will think about these values in the near future, crucially impacts the kinds of practices and technologies that should be developed. The way in which social and moral norms evolve is an important aspect of social science and its study should go hand in hand with the development of each technology with potential societal impact.

5. Developing a reflection on institutional design. The design of new, more efficient interconnected European institutions (academies, political parties, voting systems, firms) requires a joint reflection from the outset by experts in new technologies and in institutional design. For example, rethinking collective systems of voting through new technologies requires a joint effort between the social sciences and ICT research. Large scale, European collaborative projects to design new institutions can give Europe a competitive advantage and contribute to creating templates for institutions that will serve as models for other countries.

6. Integration of innovative perspectives from the arts and humanities into technological research. The development of socio-technological systems requires a “thinking out of the box” approach. Integrating techniques of reflection coming from arts and humanities (constructing narratives, scenario building, art performances, etc.), through promoting collaborations between the arts and humanities and science and technology will strengthen the creativity of European projects.

7. Improving the usability and attractiveness of technologies. It is often assumed that this is the only contribution that social science and humanities are able to make in technological and scientific projects: a role where social scientists are either consigned to cleaning up the mess that technology design has created, or are used to develop marketing materials to promote technical innovations. Hopefully the above examples show that this is not social sciences’ only role.

What could be done to increase the contribution the social sciences could make to research? The aim should be to have funded projects in which social scientists (and humanities scholars) are equal partners with those from other disciplines. Options to achieve this include:

  1. Making clear in Research Council and other Calls that social science input into science and engineering projects is welcomed and that inter-disciplinary proposals in which the social science questions are the driving force are eligible and encouraged;
  2. Making explicit in research programmes that social science and humanities have a role to play, especially when working with science and technology;
  3. Publicising exemplary projects that feature productive collaborations among social scientists and technologists;
  4. Maintaining a list of reviewers who have a track record of successfully evaluating inter-disciplinary proposals that include social scientists in partnership with scientists and engineers;
  5. Encouraging academic and industrial career paths that provide technologically literate social scientists and social science literate technologists.

[1] The ideas in this blog post have been developed with the members of the Future and Emerging Technologies Advisory Group. The examples quoted are drawn from the author’s research, much of it funded by Horizon 2020, EPSRC, NERC and ESRC.  Nigel Gilbert was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2016 for services to engineering and the social sciences.


Please note: Blog entries reflect the personal views of contributors and are not moderated or edited before publication. However, we may make subsequent amendments to correct errors or inaccuracies.

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