British Society of Criminology
Outstanding Achievement Award
This award is intended to celebrate outstanding contributions made to the discipline.
British Society of Criminology Outstanding Achievement Award 2019
Long before the advent of zemiology as a proclaimed master narrative of criminology, all my working life has been concerned with boundaries and their appropriateness: organised crime, white-collar crime, money laundering, tax avoidance/evasion. Boundaries are useful because of what they tell us about our own and others’ stereotypes. My doctoral work – shortened to a still very long book The Phantom Capitalists – was partly about how different streams of the same activity – defrauding business creditors – were identified and proceeded against differently when they were committed by gangsters like the Krays and Richardsons, by professional fraudsters, and by businesspeople who only turned to fraud when business times were hard, as they may well do after Brexit. These opportunities for fraud are always there: but the dynamics of seizing opportunities can shift.
In recent decades, I have been much concerned with the anti-money laundering transnational legal order, which has been developing rapidly to incorporate all crimes great and small: there is thus a broad spectrum of political constituencies to whom it appeals, from left to right and from Green to climate change deniers, many of them less interested than they should be in the empirical aspects of ‘what works’. This presents dilemmas over how to differentiate the laundering of organized crime funds from other sources of criminal income, which include tax evasion, grand corruption, environmental crimes and the financing of terrorism – all of which can sometimes involve committing ‘organized crime’ offences.. For example, the funnelling of perhaps billions of dollars allegedly stolen from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund in the global 1MDB scandal (some of which, ironically, was used to fund the well-received fraud movie The Wolf of Wall Street) was well organized. It is simply that the principal people involved – allegedly the then Malaysian Prime Minister, his wife and step-son and their entourage, on trial there in 2019, plus former senior Goldman Sachs staff and a Malaysian entrepreneur who has not yet been found – would not be viewed (at least then) by many respectable elites or by many police as ‘organized crime actors’. We might extend this boundary problem to the ‘diesel-gate’ falsification of emissions, primarily by the Volkswagen Group. Arguably this involved several actors planning how to commit crimes and get away with them over a long period of time for the pursuit of profit and power: criteria that meet the UN Transnational Organized Crime Convention 2000. Yet notwithstanding the criminal aggravated fraud charges in 2019 in Germany against the former chief executive officer and 4 managers of VW, many readers would balk at the idea of labeling senior executives of major corporations as ‘organized criminals’, though others might complain if we did not so label them for their intentional deception. In countries with jury trials, this raises questions about jury decision-making and the impact of ethnic, religious and/or social prejudice in both directions (for and against defendants) on their adjudication processes, and how we can reduce the impact of such prejudice on the narratives that we tell ourselves about ‘what happened’. Prosecutorial conservatism in anticipating jury reactions remains a live practical issue in fraud as well as in violent/sexual crime cases. (Prejudice is not restricted to countries with jury systems.)
Whether the deaths from the dangerously ill-designed Boeing 747 Max will lead to criminal charges remains to be determined but – zemiologists take note – no-one can seriously argue that the designers and top management wanted people to die in plane crashes, even if it was a foreseeable consequence of their decisions. The subsequent losses from the plane’s grounding and from future civil litigation may lead us to re-evaluate the economic rationality of that allegedly reckless implementation in terms of the shareholders’ and the Board’s values; and it arguably makes little difference to the dead and perhaps to their families what the Board intended. But my plea is that we take account of civil and administrative penalties, and the business careers of those involved in the scandals – when we analyse the impacts of white-collar crimes on all the parties.
The very considerable rise of fraud – especially online fraud – as a mode of crime commission in contemporary societies has muddied the classical distinction between organized and white-collar crime. To some extent, the demarcation issue is our stereotypes of social class and status. The investigative media exposure of Operation Laundromat and subsequent European scandals such as Danske Bank and Swedbank in 2018-19 shows cross-ties between politicians in the former Soviet Union, organized criminals, professional crime enablers and bankers in the Baltic States, and international finance centres including London and New York. Although such linkages may have little impact on the laundering of the proceeds of drugs or human trafficking, the volumes of money involved are huge and this poses both practical and cultural/ideological questions about political and policing boundaries of the term ‘organized crime’.
These are only a few of the many issues I have been fortunate enough to research in my lifetime, and I am aiming to continue to do so for some years to come! I am grateful to the BSC for this honour, and long may the diverse and challenging traditions of British criminology flourish.
British Society of Criminology Outstanding Achievement Award – Previous Winners
2018 – Frances Heidensohn
The British Society of Criminology’s Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to Professor Frances Heidensohn at the British Society of Criminology’s annual conference, which this year took place in Birmingham, on July 3-6 2018.
Thank you so very much. I am most grateful to the BSC Executive for selecting me for this award, to my proposers, Marisa Silvestri and Rachel Condry, to Charlotte and Helen from the BSC who have been extremely helpful in organising my presence here, and for inviting my family and my friend Jan Jordan from New Zealand to join me & support me tonight. [Full speech here] Frances Heidensohn is now an honorary member of the BSC.
2017: John Braithwaite – The British Society of Criminology’s Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to Professor John Braithwaite at the British Society of Criminology’s annual conference, which this year took place in Sheffield, on July 4-7 2017. John Braithwaite is now an honorary member of the BSC.
2016: Dick Hobbs – President of the British Society of Criminology Professor Peter Squires FAcSS said: “I am delighted that Dick Hobbs is our outstanding achievement award-winner for 2016, for many years he has pioneered an approach to criminology that we ignore at our peril, meticulously studying crime, criminality and law enforcement at the ‘sharp end’. Without the valuable insights he has provided, our criminological imagination would be that much poorer”.
Dick Hobbs is now an honorary member of the BSC.
2015: John Lea – I see criminology as a healthily eclectic discipline drawing together people from a variety of academic disciplines and practitioner backgrounds. The British Society of Criminology is important for maintaining a common set of values and professional identity.
John Lea is now an honorary member of the BSC.
2014: Sandra Walklate – I was honoured to receive the society’s award for outstanding achievement.
Sandra Walklate is now an honorary member of the BSC.
2013: Joanna Shapland – The need to provide spaces and a forum for researchers, practitioners and policy makers to get together and explore what research can do is still vital, particularly in these times of austerity. Long may the BSC thrive!
Joanna Shapland is now an honorary member of the BSC.
2012: Jock Young died in 2013. He was Distinguished Professor of Criminal Justice and Sociology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, Visiting Professor at the University of Kent, UK and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Read the BSC Newsletter tribute to Jock Young published in 2013 and written by Keith Hayward and Roger Matthews.
2011: Robert Reiner is Emeritus Professor of Criminology in the Law Department, London School of Economics. He is now an honorary member of the BSC.
2010: Pat Carlen – In my view the British Society of Criminology’s main value is as the guardian of professional ethics and academic values within criminology. Pat Carlen is now an honorary member of the BSC.
2009: Stanley Cohen died in 2013. He was the Martin White Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics