Section: Research Interests

Research Interests

Research Interests

This page contains an outline of the research interests of the Centre for Law and Society.

Further information on specific projects can be obtained from our Research Projects page.

Criminology and Penology

Criminology and penology continue to be among the strengths of work in the Centre. The Centre has sustained interests both in `primary’ criminology – the generation of theory and evidence on the nature, distribution, correlates and causes of offending – and in `institutional criminology’ - the study of the institutions and practices of the criminal justice system and associated regulatory processes, their attendant controversies, their place in political culture and ideological dispute.

With respect to `primary’ criminological inquiry the chief contribution has been through the continued development of The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime. More information on this program is available in our Research Projects section.

Work on the institutional, cultural and political aspects of criminal justice in the `punishment and society’ tradition of scholarship has a lengthy and distinguished history at Edinburgh. The Centre's recent contributions have included reflection on the comparative study of penal systems and practices in light of the cultural theory of risk; on the international mobility and circulation of penal and other crime control discourses; on the historical development of crime policy in England and Wales and on questions of specificity (or otherwise) in the penal politics of Scotland. 

Dr Richard Jones’s research is within the areas of social control, surveillance, security, cybercrime, and penal populism. He is currently carrying out a research project on techniques of social control, including the use of physical and virtual constraints in crime control and criminal justice. We continue to examine the outworkings of these transformations on the levels of practice, for example in Professor Lesley McAra’s work tracking changes in the Scottish youth justice system, of lived experience, for example in Professor Richard Sparks’s research (in collaboration with Elaine Crawley) on older men in prison, and of public sensibilities, for example through Professor Richard Sparks’s work with Evi Girling and Marion Smith on children’s conversations about justice and punishment. Dr Alistair Henry's current research focuses on community policing and community safety partnerships. Dr Anna Souhami's research explores the emergent system for the governance of youth crime in England and Wales, using an in-depth ethnographic study of the operation of the Youth Justice Board as a basis to explore wider questions of the organisation and culture of contemporary youth justice. A second strand of current research explores policing and police culture in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, drawing on a major ethnographic Home Office-funded study which she co-authored with Tim Newburn and Janet Foster at LSE. Dr Andy Aitchison's work focuses on criminal justice reform in transitional states.

An important and connected tradition in socio-legal studies involves the analysis of law from social actors’ perspectives. “The Child’s Voice in Legal Proceedings” undertaken by Professor Anne Griffiths in Scotland and Dr Randy Kandel at the John Jay College of Justice in New York has been a project of this kind. There is more information about this project in our Research Projects section.

A major vehicle for the future development of our work in criminology and criminal justice will be The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR). More information about the SCCJR is available on Research projects section.

Legal, Political and Social Theory

One of the Centre's main foci of research in legal and political theory is the intersection and articulation of law and politics in their many expressions, but especially in respect of philosophical discussion surrounding ‘constitutionalism’ and sovereignty’ and how these inform thinking on political action. Members of the Centre have published widely on these issues (see especially Professor Neil MacCormick's Questioning Sovereignty, and Professor Stephen Tierney's Constitutional Law and National Pluralism) looking at philosophical aspects of the debates. The Centre is also interested in the constitutional architecture and the legal and social theoretic implications of the EU. Members have explored questions of constitutionalism, identity in the EU asking in particular whether there is a way of conceptualising these as non-exclusionary. 

The Centre's expertise in legal and political theory has recently received a major boost by the appointment of Professor Neil Walker as the Regius Professor of Public Law, and the Law of Nature and Nations. His main area of expertise is constitutional theory. He has published widely on the constitutional dimension of legal order at sub-state, state, supranational and international levels. He has also published at length on the relationship between security, legal order and political community. He maintains a more general interest in broader questions of legal theory as well as in various substantive dimensions of UK and EU public law.

There is a long tradition at the Centre of work on the relationship between law and ethics. This has included discussion of the traditions of positivism and Natural Law, the exploration of the ethics of rule-following’ or what it means to live a life under the law (Professor Zenon Bankowski’s Living Lawfully and associated publications constitute an exploration of these issues), and more concretely what light it sheds on the relation of justice and mercy, or reparations for past injustices. Of interest, thus, is also the study of problems of ethics both in terms of what it means to live by the rules as well as through the optic of the theory of decision-making and reasoning in law. A major related concern is the exploration of law to questions of community and shifting modes of solidarity, especially with regard to the mixes of market and non-market relations that characterize various institutions of commercial society and everyday life today.

The appointment of Dr Claudio Michelon in 2007, whose interests include legal reasoning and the philosophy of private law, have further boosted the Centre's expertise in legal and political theory. Dr Michelon's book, Being Apart from Reasons, was published last year. Legal reasoning is also explored from another angle, namely computational legal theory, by Mr Burkhard Shafer, who is also involved in the Law School's Joseph Bell Centre for Forensic Statistics and Legal Reasoning.

Dr Sharon Cowan's research focuses on legal and social theory as it relates to sex/gender and sexuality, and her work includes various conference papers and publications analysing the social and legal construction of gender identity and citizenship, particularly as it applies to the transgender community, as well as several recent book chapters articles examining the issue of sexuality and consent in the criminal law. She is currently working on a research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, looking at the treatment of women whose asylum applications involve a claim of rape.

The Centre's members are also involved in the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group.

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