Call me naïve, call me an idealist, but one of my personal reasons to pursue a career in Academia is the fact that I hope to be able to effectuate change through my research and writing. Having spent a couple of years actually working in Academia and seeing the impact of my own and my colleagues’ studies, I know now that it is good to have these ideals and to stand for them but to also be realistic about the actual direct changes in legislation or policy one can effectuate: not that many! As pointed out in previous blogs, despite many critiques from criminal justice scholars, over the past couple of years all too often the legislature seems to be following its own – political – course. Are criminal justice scholars just unsuccessfully crying out into the wilderness?
The power of dialogue
Since the previous blogs have focused on the fact that it is at least concerning to see how the legislature in the current security-obsessed society easily seems to ignore academic reflections and input on new legislative proposals, here I would like to focus on the question: who is to blame? Is it fair to dismiss this behaviour of the legislature as “purely political”, or should we as academics also search our own hearts? Recent research seems to indicate that there is also room for improvement in the way criminal justice scholars communicate with policy makers, politicians and the legislature (See – in Dutch – Van der Woude)
The power of public dialogue
Whereas there are many ways in which one could try to improve the communication between the legislature on the one hand and criminal justice scholars on the other, for the sake of this blog I will focus on one specific aspect: the publication culture. In order to be heard by a larger public than just the academic world, it is important to adjust not only the publication style – the language and the tone – but also the medium of publication. The one-liners and the blunt tone of politicians concerning crime-related issues call for legal scholars to perhaps sometimes also use a bolder style, which is at the same time easily understandable for the general public. This also means that legal scholars besides publishing in English peer reviewed journals should take into account possibilities for publications in the more popular Dutch media. Even though it is utterly important to publish in prominent international journals on abstract, yet fundamental discussions, the chance that these publications will be read by people other than colleagues and fellow scholars – let alone politicians who generally need to react to current issues before a certain deadline – seems marginal at best.
I can be quite brief about the influence of the media on the creation of the public image and opinion on crime and crime control: it is significant. The same goes for the influence of the media on political agenda-setting and the political discourse: many questions in Parliament are asked with reference to television programs or articles in newspapers. This makes the media, particularly the popular media, another potential and powerful channel through which legal scholars can exercise influence over both the public and the political discourse or at least foster these discourses, by providing knowledge and critical insights. Nevertheless, partly for reasons relating to the concern expressed in the previous section – namely the lack of recognition for such media appearances within the academic world, etc. – the majority of legal scholars generally prefers to stay out of the spotlight.
Putting despair into action
A pessimistic reader might view this blog as a confirmation to simply refrain from engaging in conversation with politicians and policy-makers: too much extra effort on top of our already busy academic schedules and no guarantee for ‘success’. Nevertheless, without wanting to sound overtly activist, I would like to underline that scholars must resist the tendency to throw up our hands in despair with the lament that the political powers in play are impossible to get through to. Those who aim to also somehow influence the legislative and policy realm must resist the impulse to nihilism and instead try to tune in with – though not automatically sway to - the public social and political rhythm the legislature has to ‘dance’ to.