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Series co-editors Robert Brooks and Jeffrey Cohen joined us for an interview on how the Criminology Explains series came about, the newest books in the series, and their advice on how to submit.

Robert A. Brooks is Professor of Criminal Justice at Worcester State University. He is the author of Cheaper by the Hour: Temporary Attorneys and the Deprofessionalization of the Law and coauthor of Confronting School Bullying: Kids, Culture, and the Making of a Social Problem.

Jeffrey W. Cohen is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Washington Tacoma and coauthor of Confronting School Bullying: Kids, Culture, and the Making of a Social Problem.

Thanks for joining us to talk about the Criminology Explains Series. Could you tell us briefly how the series came about?

Robert hatched the idea for this series when he was teaching a course with equal numbers of criminology and psychology students. He found himself struggling to help students not only better understand the basic tenets of criminological theories, but also see how these seemingly disparate theories can actually work together to provide a more complete understanding of a given phenomenon. We would later talk about this a lot, that as teachers in these courses, we found ourselves struggling in similar ways. Our experience showed us that for many of our students, criminological theories seemed abstract and, for some, irrelevant to their own lives.

Through our conversations about teaching theory, we realized that most of the primary theory textbooks in our discipline were great, but they lacked a “through line” that allowed students to draw connections across theories. Each chapter would focus on a particular theory or theoretical school, but none would really provide the kind of synthesis that allowed students to identify the ways the theories work as an interconnected web of explanation that could be used to better understand the world around them.

So, we decided that since such an approach wasn’t available in the current textbook market, we would fill that gap with this series. We also wanted to ensure that students would find the books in this series accessible and interesting, so we decided to focus each volume on a timely and important topic. We wanted the series, and each volume within it, to bring criminological theory to life in a way that is relevant to the lived experiences of our students and connected to major contemporary areas of focus within the discipline.

Ultimately, the series came about because of our desire to be good teachers and to support students and other educators who were struggling with the same things we were struggling with in our theory courses.

How would you describe the series and the kind of projects you’re looking for?

Well, we formally describe the series as a pedagogically oriented series that provides a concise, targeted overview of criminological theories as applied to specific criminal justice-related subjects. But, really, our hope is that each volume in the series brings to life for students the relationships among theory, research, and policy in ways that are connected to their lived experiences and to the things that interest or excite them the most as criminology/criminal justice students. We have intentionally designed the series in a way that allows each volume to fit neatly alongside the major theory textbooks, so that teachers may adopt one or more volumes as supplementary reading in criminology and criminological theory courses.

We also believe that the series will be of use to those teaching topic-based courses as well. For instance, those teaching a victimology or sex crimes course might use the upcoming volume Criminology Explains Sexual Violence, in order to provide students with an accessible, easy to understand, grounding in criminological theory as applied to sexual violence. Finally, we hope that graduate students would find the series useful as they begin thinking about their theses or dissertations.

In terms of the kinds of projects we are looking for, as we mentioned above, we expect each volume to tackle an important area of focus that is both relevant to students’ lives and to the current state of criminology as a discipline and to broader cultural moments. For example, we chose to include a volume on school bullying because it is something that just about every student has experienced and/or witnessed. Moreover, school bullying has been a topic of growing concern among the general public, and has also been linked to the troubling trend toward the criminalization of schools and its disproportionate impact on students and communities of color, and to serious forms of school violence such as school shootings. We invite interested authors to contact us with their ideas for a volume in this series.  

Philip Stinson’s Criminology Explains Police Violence released early this year, a highly relevant topic given the current moment in the United States and the increasing public awareness of police violence against Black communities. Can you tell us more about this book and how it fits in the series?

Certainly. But first we want to acknowledge and honor the incredible work and significance of the Black Lives Matter Network, the Movement for Black Lives, and the countless members of BIPOC communities who have and continue to organize and lead the fight for racial justice and an end to police killings of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in this country and around the world. While the current moment has definitely increased awareness of police violence against Black communities among White people, these forms of racialized violence are not new.

That said, Stinson’s volume on police violence was a great way to launch the series. It illustrates our hopes for the series in that it addresses a timely and important issue in the discipline, draws connections from theory to research to practice, and provides readers with a comprehensive review of criminological theory as applied to police violence. For those who are particularly interested in the current moment and how criminological theory can inform police reform efforts, we especially recommend the chapter entitled Societal Conflict and Legitimacy Theories. We would also note that while the volume certainly addresses police shootings through the lens of various criminological theories, it also digs into forms of everyday police violence that often go unexamined, especially among those who are not directly impacted. We hope that this volume will provide a context for critical conversations in theory courses and in courses focused on policing.

Your own book, Criminology Explains School Bullying, also published this year. Why is this topic important and how do you envision it being used in the classroom?

We felt compelled to write a volume on the application of criminological theory to school bullying for three reasons. First, it aligned with our existing collaborations. We really enjoy working and writing together, and after finishing our first book, Confronting School Bullying, we were itching for another opportunity to do just that.

Secondly, we both often use research on school bullying in our courses to help illustrate how theories can be applied to our life experiences and those of our students. We have been amazed at how quickly students are able to draw those connections, mainly because just about every student has experienced and/or witnessed bullying behaviors in school. Connecting seemingly abstract theoretical concepts to very real, concrete, and emotionally laden experiences is something that has brought our theory classrooms to life. We hope that in adopting this book for their courses, other teachers will find this approach similarly useful.

Finally, while school bullying may seem outside the realm of criminology, the reality is that attempts to deal with bullying in schools have been grounded in criminal-legal practices. In fact, we have found that researchers are increasingly applying criminological theory to school bullying. We should note, however, that while we find the application of criminological theory to school bullying useful and appropriate, we do not in any way support the increasing criminalization of bullying. In our view, schools across the United States have adopted increasingly problematic responses to school bullying, including criminalization. These kinds of approaches to bullying prevention and response have helped fuel the school-to-prison pipeline and the disproportionate criminalization of students of color. All of this makes the volume not only relevant to criminologists, but also to current and future K-12 educators and administrators.

Do you have any advice for scholars hoping to submit to the series?

Reach out to either of us or check out the series website for more information. We have made the proposal process as smooth as possible. We provide interested authors with a standard template and are happy to walk them through the process and provide feedback along the way. You could also find a writing partner and submit a proposal as co-authors. We love working together and have found co-authorship a great way to learn and grow as scholars and teachers.

We are particularly interested in volumes on topics at the cutting edge of criminology and that address current and/or perennial social problems. We also want this series to be an opportunity for new and emerging scholars, especially those whose voices have been traditionally marginalized within the discipline. Even if you are at the early stages of an idea, just reach out and we would be happy to think through if and how it could fit with the series!

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