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Conference at Dartington, Totnes, Devon

12th and 13th February 1999

During a person's life-cycle they are going to experience a range of physical and social harms in different contexts: in the home, on the street, at work and at play. The patterns of harm and the social background of those affected may vary according to the level of development of their country. The source of harm will include poverty, malnutrition, war, state violence, pollution, traffic accidents, disease, crime, work hazards, medical negligence, natural and avoidable disasters. Many of these harms will be ignored whilst others will be responded to by a number of different agencies. At a national level, for example, in Britain the response may come from the police, the health and safety executive, social services and increasingly private organisations. At the international level, human rights organisations play an important role in responding to social harm.

The aim of this conference is to explore the feasibility and policy potential of moving beyond the analysis of crime to the study of harm, hence zemiology, which comes from the Greek word zemia meaning harm. The main objective will be to define what we mean by harm; the contexts in which harm is most likely to occur; the patterns and extent of harm; and the characteristics of those most likely to experience harm.

A second objective will be to understand why criminology has been so impervious to the substantial critiques which have been made over many years. To begin with, there is no ontological reality to crime and the vast majority of events which are dealt with by the criminal justice system would not score particularly highly on a scale of personal hardship. Moreover, events which do cause serious harm and appear to be within the embrace of the criminal justice system are either ignored or dealt with in other arenas. Furthermore, it accepts uncritically key notions of criminal law such as intent and individual responsibility which play a fundamental role in classifying certain social harms as criminal.

A third objective is to explore whether a new approach would assist in developing a broader and more effective range of policy responses to the harm which people experience during their life cycle. When a harmful event is defined as a crime a process of criminalisation is set in motion, foreclosing social policy and political responses. The criminalisation process - the defining, the collating, the classifying, the broadcasting, the fortifying and the disposing - is expanding and penetrating deeper into the social structures of modern societies. Crime control has become an industry, yet it remains extremely ineffective in providing protection from harm.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 in Britain may exacerbate the emphasis on harms defined through criminalisation. It makes provision for every local authority to produce a "Crime Audit". The issue, however, is not just crime but public protection. What is the potential to broaden the remit to produce a social harm or a public safety audit which might include data on pollution, deaths and injuries at work, epidemiology and iatrogenesis? Some local authorities are already moving in this direction. The conference will provide essential information for anyone involved in the Crime Audit.

The fourth objective of the conference will be to discuss the viability and potential of an approach organised around the concept of social harm. Would such an approach be subject to insoluble definitional problems? Would it challenge the narrow paradigm of criminology? Would it lead to a change in emphasis on events which are considered harmful? Would it lead to a decline in the criminalisation? Would it change the range of responses to social harm?

Further information can be obtained from Clare Biddlecombe, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Social Justice, SPS, University of Bristol, 8 Priory Road, Bristol BS8 1TZ Tel: 0117 9546765 E-Mail C.L.Biddlecombe@bris.ac.uk

Zemiology: Beyond Criminology?

List of Speakers

Violence and democratic societies: a framework for a systematic analysis of human rights violations

Jamil Salmi is a Development Economist working for the World Bank. He is author of Violence and Democratic Society (1993).

Discourses of deceit and contexts of harm: from Hillsborough to Dumblane

Phil Scraton is Director of the Centre for Studies in Crime and Social Justice at Edgehill University College.

Mapping the Spaces of Fear

Pete Shirlow is Lecture in Geosciences at Queens University Belfast.

The environment and social harm

Tom Bigg works for the United Nations Environment and Development UK Committee.

Assessing the impact of 'low intensity conflict' in Northern Ireland

Marie Smyth is Director of the Cost of the Troubles Study, Belfast.

The politics of crime and harm: the case of occupational health and safety

Steve Tombs is Professor of Sociology, at Liverpool John Moore University.

Harm in institutions

Mike Little is Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow at the Dartington Social Research Unit.

What kills you and makes you sick

Nicky Pearson is a Consultant in Public Health Medicine with Somerset Health Authority.

Contested harms

Tony Ward is Senior Lecturer Law at De Montfort University, Leicester.

The construction of 'intent' in courts and crime/social harm relationships

Andrew Sanders is Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at the University of Bristol.

New Labour and social harm

Joe Sim is Professor of Criminal Justice at Liverpool John Moore University.

Crime Auditing in practice

George Mair is E. Rex Makin Professor of Criminal Justice at Liverpool John Moore University.

Criminologies of sameness and difference: implications for punishment and control

Barbara Hudson is Professor of Criminology University of Northumbria at Newcastle.

Disasters, public safety and corporate criminal responsibility

Louise Christian is a solicitor with Christian Fisher and Chair of the Civil Liberty Trust.

Public protection and private law in children's welfare

Marianne Hester is Professor Elect of Sociology and Social Policy at Sunderland University.

Paddy Hillyard is Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Social Justice, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol.

David Gordon is Director of the Townsend Centre of International Poverty Studies, University of Bristol.

Christina Pantazis is a Research Associate in the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Social Justice, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol.


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