Lorana Bartels and Kelly Richards (Eds), Qualitative Criminology: Stories from the Field

Article excerpt

Lorana Bartels and Kelly Richards (eds), Qualitative Criminology: Stories from the field. Sydney: Hawkins Press, 2011; 251, pp.: ISBN 9781876067243, $59.95 (pbk)

This edited volume is a needed addition to the relative dearth of work in qualitative criminology regarding the problems and challenges facing researchers in the field, in research design and implementation, in the ethics of research, in the role of the researcher, and many other aspects of qualitative research. Unlike quantitative research journals, which are replete with articles on method, reliability and validity, and other challenges or problems; and qualitative research in other fields such as sociology and anthropology that have more directly addressed both the practical and theoretical problems in qualitative research, qualitative criminology has been hesitant to do so until recently.

This has been the case not only in Australia, but also in Britain and the United States. While it is difficult to know, one can speculate that this lack of reflexivity as well as reticence towards opening up of the 'black box' of qualitative research is related to the degree to which criminology has been historically dependent upon other disciplines for its knowledge claims, as well as more beholden to and aligned with dominant and hegemonic forms of social power. Of course qualitative work in areas of crime, deviance, and criminal justice have long spoken to some of the issues set forth in this volume--one can think of William Foote Whyte's (1943) self-admitted blunders in establishing relationships with people on Boston's North End, or more recently the work of Philippe Bourgois whose ethnographies In Search of Respect (1996) and Righteous Dopefiend (2009, with Jeff Schonberg) demonstrate a reflexivity in research that eschews any claim to objectivity while linking the lives and choices of people to larger social, political and cultural determinants. The point is not that there is nothing new in this edited collection, quite the contrary, but rather that qualitative researchers have largely been required to piecemeal together such accounts themselves through disparate readings and/or insider knowledge of research. In this regard alone, volumes such as this one are useful and important as contributions to understanding how such knowledge is produced, and how knowledge claims are related not only to epistemological considerations, but equally to relations of power, standpoint, experience, and even relatively practical or mundane factors all of which influence the realities of social research.

On the first reading of this collection, I was mostly struck by how much I still do not know about qualitative criminology, as well as the degree to which specific settings and research questions require specific or even unique methods, approaches and sensibilities. As someone who has been in the field, and developed research from the ground up, as I read though the book, and in particular the first three sections, I nevertheless found myself thinking 'I should have done THAT,' or 'Yes, I have faced this problem as well.' To be clear, this is not a methods book, nor is it intended as such, so my benefit as a reader was based on my experiences as a researcher. Nevertheless, the book would serve as an excellent accompaniment in most criminology methods courses. The first three sections of the book address or confront many of the 'behind the scenes' aspects of qualitative research in criminology that we are never taught in graduate school, or that in fact we never learn until or unless we do work in these areas. These include questions of gaining access to field sites or participants, negotiating one's role and auspices as a researcher within institutional settings, negotiating research parameters and guidelines with ethics review boards, working with groups (particularly policing agencies and criminal justice professionals) that may be uninterested or even hostile towards research and/or researchers, working with socially or culturally diverse populations, working with vulnerable groups, and so on. …