Nicola Harding, Leeds Trinity University, Wednesday 23rd August 2017, The Old Hall, Girton College, Cambridge, with a response from Dr Jonathan Harvey, Plymouth Marjon University.
Abstract: Constructing the everyday experiences of women subject to punishment in the community as subjugated knowledge poses methodological challenges. Challenges that feminist criminology and visual criminology have the potential to overcome. By examining a Participatory Action Research (PAR) cycle run with women subject to offender supervision and community punishment, this paper identifies the potential for visual, creative, and participatory methods (Photovoice, mapping, creative writing, and creative analysis) as a way of uncovering the hidden life experiences of some of the most marginalised in society. With the women in this study positioned as co-creators of knowledge, they become active agents of change; performing positive action in their lives, and the lives of those who share their experiences of punishment. Exposing their lived experiences can offer a meaningful critique of the way the criminal justice system in England and Wales treats women with convictions, and how this contributes to their ability to craft crime free futures.
RESPONSE from Jon: I was struck by many aspects of this presentation, including the complexities of enacting research within a critical feminist framework within, an arguably masculine subject such as criminology. However, in this short piece I wish to begin by focusing on the way which a study is conducted when similar life experiences are shared between researchers and research participants. Engaging with the ways that the subjective life experiences that researchers bring to a study have a huge impact on research is an avenue of enquiry that I find fascinating. Within my doctoral research, I had to think about the ways that my study was both shaped by the experiences I brought to the study (and the way this would impact on the research) as well as the way that my identity would be affected by the process of researching subject so relevant to my own life. In response to a question about how the research would be affected by her own experiences, Nicola Harding responded that the way she had some experiences that were the similar to the participants, simultaneously had both a positive and negative impact on the study. Issues of trust and reciprocity were listed as distinct advantages which may or may not have resulted in richer data being gained. This struck me as a particularly pertinent point as Harding cited the importance of the relationship between the researcher and the participant, particularly in terms of the power imbalance that may occur.
Researching topics that we have personal experience of involves a good deal of reflection, as within research researchers try to reach toward complicated understanding of the experiences of their participants. Harding’s choice of creative methods (more specifically participatory action research) involves much reflection, and we were told the choice (to use participate reaction research) is much a political one. I feel the determination to engage with participants and involve them in creative ways, reflects Harding’s determination that participants are not simply seen as people who have rebelled against the criminal justice system, rather that they are all special and unique individuals.
Another aspect of the research which I was particularly struck by, was the way that Harding encouraged her participants to write a ‘letter to the future me’. For me this was an interesting aspect of the research, as within research, it is all too often forgotten that when research is completed the life of the research participant does not stop there, it continues to grow. Harding reported that it was hard for people who were subject to ongoing punishment to imagine a future beyond their current engagement with the criminal justice system. Upon reflection, I feel that this is somewhat unsurprising, but is representative of the way that the criminal justice system can be all consuming for those within it.
In summary, I found Harding’s presentation to be particularly thought-provoking and interesting, particularly in the areas of power within criminal justice research and how this notion has to remain at the forefront of the mind of the researcher at all times.