Professor Frances Heidensohn

Frances Heidensohn

I came to criminology in the 1960s after reading sociology at the LSE. I was fortunate to be taught by the older generation of scholars – Mannheim, Terry Morris, while my fellow students included Paul Rock, David Downes and Stan Cohen. These were exciting times intellectually, but only later did I find ways to analyse the topics and issues which really concerned me, and which thereafter led to the development of feminist criminology.

While in the 1960s there were a few token nods to the puzzles of low recorded levels of female crime in the literature, many of them were based on sexist assumptions and also inadequate data; an issue was why few scholars had explored these matters. In those earlier days, my research was quite a lonely project and I was met with incomprehension from colleagues. Even when I approached the Home Office for permission to interview women and girls in prison & Borstal, staff whose task it was to manage and to care for them regarded mine as a perplexing project.

Gradually, however, the landscape changed: second-wave feminism arrived from the United States, a few fellow scholars (notably Carol Smart) joined the endeavour. I continued to work on women and crime, and later on the role of women in law enforcement, on gender and justice, and on comparative studies in criminology.

The most significant conference of my career and of many who attended it was held at Mt Gabriel, Quebec in July 1991. This was the first international feminist criminology conference, and it provided the forum for many key discussions forging lasting links.

My first experiences of the BSC were of the seminars held at Mary Ward House in Bloomsbury, where I gave a presentation myself, jointly with Susan Edwards in the early 1980s. The first annual BSC conference I attended was at the then Bristol Polytechnic in 1989, and I have been to many of the following ones. It is worth reflecting on how comparatively recently these annual events became established, and a key part of the criminological calendar after the early 1980s. As other Honorary Members have noted, the growth of the BSC has been part of the broader consolidation of criminology in the UK. The BSC Southern Branch seminars are now held jointly with the Mannheim Centre at LSE, and are excellent and well- attended. A significant development in the recent history of the BSC is the success of the Women, Crime and Criminal Justice network which younger generations of feminist criminologists have nurtured. It was a privilege of mine to take part in the first national conference, partially funded by the BSC, at City University in 2018, and to see the marvellous younger scholars presenting their work.