‘What are you working on’… Benedikt Lehmann

After the previous three pieces by Rob Creasy, Matt Spokes and Jack Denham – the latter of whom passed his PhD viva with the usual minor corrections earlier this week – it falls to me to say a few words about my current research and activities. Unlike Jack’s, my viva has not been scheduled yet, so I am still some time off that monumental, but as I am told, frequently anti-climactic event. So for the time being, I will have to remain slightly jealous of my colleague’s recent success.

That said most of the last few months have been occupied with writing my own PhD, so I should perhaps provide a bit of an overview of the thesis at this stage. The project deals with high-frequency and algorithmic trading, which have been linked to a number of destabilising market events in recent years. This includes the so-called ‘Quants Meltdown’ in 2007, a misbehaving algorithm which cost Knight Capital $400+ million in August 2012, and most famously, the ‘Flash Crash’ on 6 May 2010, resulting in a nine percent drop of the Dow Jones in the course of a few minutes. While devised primarily as a theoretical endeavour, the research draws on a mixture of ethnographic and more traditional interviews to examine the emergence of high-speed algorithmic trading in financial markets. Employing a specifically criminological perspective concerned with the critique of an unethical society and its political economy – as opposed to an analysis of crime defined in socio-legal terms – the study highlights a deeper systemic drive for ‘frictionless’ capitalism unburdened from marked barriers of capital accumulation. It is argued that the manifestation of this drive in the advancement of computerisation and algorithmic automatisation creates complex organisational arrangements and networks which work to cultivate and deploy ‘strategic ignorance’ in regulatory knowledge practices, while reaffirming the power and influence of neoliberal economics and disavowing its harmful dynamics.

In autumn 2016 I also submitted an article to the German criminology journal Kriminologisches Journal titled ‘High-frequency trading and the technological constitution of anomie’. This was part of a special issue on Sociotechnical Perspectives for Criminology and it was finally published earlier this month (07/2017).

As with most academics, I have several projects on the back burner and a few others floating around at the ‘idea stage’. One of these is a joint project with Matthew Spokes and Jack Denham, which explores the contested memorialisation of deviant spaces on the basis of three individual case studies selected for their infamous history. For my own contribution, I will investigate the role of Dresden’s history, as the site of extensive Allied bombings towards the end of World War II, in the often nostalgic symbolism of right-wing protest movements. More than this, recent attempts to prevent such protests on the anniversary of the Dresden bombing by deploying a human chain around the city centre, are looked at, not as a sign of solidarity, but instead interpreted as working to repress the desire for political change.

‘What are you working on’…Jack Denham

Continuing our blog series on current research practice, it’s my turn to step into the digital limelight. In terms of research, I’m going to tell you briefly about four ongoing projects. One of which is almost completed, one will take but a day, one is yet to begin, and one is never-ending.

My PhD – submitted

PhD write up has taken almost every second of my non-lecturing time of late, submitted just three weeks ago. The final piece of this puzzle was the abstract, which is probably the easiest way for me to summarise this work for you:

This thesis investigates crime memorabilia, or ‘true crime objects’, and proposes the concept of ‘authenticity’ as a way of understanding the perceived value and imagined criminality inside of objects, artefacts, exhibitions and consumables associated with famous violent crimes. Murderabilia has enjoyed a sustained rise in interest in both news media and popular culture, but academic research has been limited. It addresses a central contradiction in the paucity of literature that has touched upon murderabilia – to what extent is murderabilia an extension of existing violent transgressive narratives in popular culture; or a will to transgress these mainstream discourses themselves; or a combination thereof? To that end, this thesis seeks to understand where the consumption of criminal transgression sits as part of the broader system of objects, and the broader popular cultural genre of true crime as well. Through a digital and traditional ethnography conducted over ten months (September 2014 – July 2015), covering museum exhibitions of murderabilia, personal murderabilia collections, and manufactured murder merchandise, murderabilia is revealed as a complicated negotiation of some of the contradicting demands of art, culture, antique – and consumerism. It is argued that the consumption of murder objects is reflective of a broader societal will to transgress banality and sameness in 21st century Western consumer capitalist marketplaces, and not as an embracement or glorification of criminal transgression itself. Consumers are positioned in pursuit of experiences of perceived authenticity, despite embracing dominant popular cultural narratives of crime in the process.

York City Big Read – just a day

For one hour in the evening of Tuesday 19th September, I’ll be doing a public lecture on the merging of crime fiction and crime fact for York City Library’s York City Big Read festival – more information on this to follow in the coming weeks at www.jackdenham.com

Deviant Spaces – yet to begin

My first project after PhD completion – with Matt Spokes and Ben Lehmann, I’ll be reviving an old project idea that I had back as an MA student to investigate how the dead, particularly victims of famous violent crimes, inhabit space and place through differing approaches to memorialisation. We’re hoping to turn this into a book – again, expect updates on this intermittently via www.jackdenham.com

Death and Culture – ongoing

Ongoing is the development of the Death and Culture Network. We have a call for book proposals for our new book series Emerald Studies in Death and Culture, dates announced for the biennial conference (7-8 September ’18), and keynotes as well – information on all available on the website.

‘What are you working on’…Rob Creasy

*Over the Summer, academic staff in Social Sciences will be posting updates on what they’re working on in terms of their research: up first, subject director Dr. Rob Creasy*

I have just submitted a book to Palgrave Macmillan which we hope will be published by Xmas. This means that you can put this on your Xmas list for Santa. The book is to be titled “The Taming of Education: contemporary approaches to teaching and learning” and draws upon Sociology, Social Policy and Education Studies to argue that over recent decades the way in which we provide education has changed in ways that make it not fit for purpose. It draws upon the work of Rittel & Webber (1973) in using the concept of wicked problems to argue that education has increasingly been seen as a process and where that process has become tame. This is not a good thing. It is the basis of the third level module The taming of education! Basically it doesn’t matter if you see education in an idealistic way as contributing to your self-development or a utilitarian way, as only having value in how it can get you a job, education that is tamed is impoverished. Think about how at 6th form you were expected to learn a script and focus on a right answer. This is tame. Think about how some students are solely focused on content and getting the right things in, this is tame. Education needs to be able to promote creativity and originality but it often doesn’t do this because of a focus on targets and passing. The thing is that education is not a process in the way that a manufacturing process is and you aren’t buying a degree. There is uncertainty to education but uncertainty reflects the concept of wickedity and many people don’t like the idea of this.

As a process the book draws upon work that I did for my doctorate but develops this and widens it so it’s about 25% doctoral thesis and 75% new material. It’s taken me about a year to write and has provided a few headaches along the way. It’s my first book so has been a new challenge for me but very rewarding. In fact I am now thinking of pitching to write a textbook aimed at students on courses related to the wider Children’s workforce as this reflects work that I did between 2009 – 2015 so it will be a matter of organising class notes. The plan is to do this as a joint book with my wife so that will ease the workload. Whatever happens, I will expect to be busy over the next year writing a paper or two for a journal and looking to get started on the textbook. Ideas for papers are always welcomed.

Introducing…Dr. Beverly Geesin


I’m Beverly and I’ve been a lecturer at York St John since 2008. I’m a ‘Citizen of the World’, or a ‘Citizen of Nowhere’ according to Theresa May. I’m also American, from North Carolina or the suburbs of Washington, DC, depending on how you define ‘from’. I originally moved to the UK to do my MA in Interactive Media at Goldsmiths College in London. I chose Goldsmiths because I thought of myself as a bit ‘arty’ and it was mentioned in a song by the Television Personalities. While I was there I developed a passion for French sociologist, Henri Lefebvre, and complaining about surveillance. Those interests then evolved into my PhD thesis, completed in 2012 at the University of York, entitled ‘Resistance to Surveillance in Everyday Life’ which used the work of Henri Lefebvre and the Situationists to develop a framework for understanding everyday monitoring and everyday practices of resistance.

After a semester as a visiting lecturer in Media Studies I began working at YSJ full-time in 2008 running the BA Communication and Culture programme and taught on International Studies, Peace Studies and English Language and Linguistics. When the Communication and Culture programme was closed I moved to English Language and Linguistics where I mainly spend my time teaching modules such as Language and Identities, Analysing Media Texts and E-Communication at BA and MA level as well as supervising PhD students. I began teaching on the new Sociology programme in 2015.

Like my teaching background, my research is interdisciplinary. I’m happy to rummage for ideas across many disciplines. The work from my PhD has sort of split into four main areas of research.

  • ‘Consumption of Surveillance’ – Within my PhD I explored how consuming surveillance works to ideologically legitimate surveillance practices. I have expanded upon this with research on the use of surveillance technologies in Las Vegas casinos and how tourists consume both vice and surveillance. This work was funded via a visiting fellowship at the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Additionally, I have begun a Critical Discourse Analysis of toys which use artificial intelligence and surveillance to explore how children are socialised to embrace surveillance through the consumption of such toys.
  • ‘New forms of collective action towards precarious labour’ – The Taxi Workers Association of Pennsylvania was a case study for my PhD. I was interested in how the taxi drivers had adapted traditional forms of collective action to contest the introduction of GPS (global positioning systems) within cabs across the city of Philadelphia. More recently, with funding from the British Academy of Management, I have been looking at forms of collective action deployed to preserve the fishing industry on a small island off the coast of North Carolina. While centred upon saving the fishing industry this project is also tied to debates over tourism, regulation, community and identity. Finally, using job advertisements as data, I have been looking at the ways in which casinos in Las Vegas circumvent employment regulation in the hiring of seasonal cocktail waitresses.
  • ‘Theories of Resistance’ – This work draws upon the theoretical side of my PhD considering what ‘counts’ as resistance and how practices of subversion and evasion can be integrated into everyday life with a focus on resistance to everyday forms of monitoring and surveillance. Again taking a inter-disciplinary approach, this research draws upon ideas from sociology, cultural studies, new media studies and contemporary art.
  • ‘Political discourse and new media’ – Lastly, politician’s use social media as a way of communicating and connecting directly with the public. But, is the public that they engage with through social media truly representative of the public more broadly?  And, what are the implications for political discourse when politicians are increasingly communicating via social media? The approach to this work is to examine how brief but intense controversies involving UK politicians play out via Twitter.

Beyond my academic life, I am obsessed with music, having been a musician for many years, and my cat, Washington.

Introducing…Dr. Rob Creasy

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Rob entered HE at the age of 25 having realised that he was not a very good electrician, and on the strength of an “O” level in Sociology (Grade B, still his only “O” level). He started teaching GCSE Sociology 3 years later when his “O” level tutor retired leaving a vacant class (Rotherham CAT was desperate). 28 years later he is still teaching sociology and still thinks that someone is going to find out sooner or later.  As YSJU students know, what he really wanted to do was play for Sheffield Wednesday but that was just for the cheers, he is an attention seeker!

Rob is best described as an academic drifter having degrees in Sociology, Social Policy & Education. He is currently completing a book which argues that education in England is tame and that this is not at all good. Instead, he argues, education should be wicked! (this is a term that’s quite trendy now in policy matters but the book draws heavily on sociology to make its point).

Introducing…Anaïs Duong-Pedica


I’m  Anaïs and I’ve recently joined the YSJ Sociology team as a part-time lecturer. I’m originally from New-Caledonia (a French colony in the South Pacific but have been living at York for the past 6 years).

I’m currently in the process of writing my PhD on non-assisted suicide at the University of York. Unlike many suicidologists, I’m interested in instances in which suicide prevention is problematised and suicide isn’t necessarily perceived as a social nor health problem (for example: suicide as a rational decision or as a right to die). I look at narratives or spaces that provide alternatives to the mental health discourse or reject it altogether.  Two of my sources of data are « suicide websites » and my personal experience. In parallel, I’m (slowly) collecting data for a side research project on young girls’ (below 13 years old) sexual and romantic experiences with other girls and challenging notions of asexuality and heteronormativity in children, especially girls.

In the past, I’ve written on personal narratives of victims/survivors of sexual violence by using women’s memoirs and diaries. I looked at the ways in which they negotiated and reconstructed their identity after rape. This has led me to be a prevention of sexual violence activist for several years. I’ve been involved in local associations who support victims of sexual violence such as Survive and have organised training for university stakeholders and students on how to prevent and respond to sexual violence on campus. In my MA in Women’s Studies I was famous for being the one who wrote a dissertation on mermaids! I looked at visual representations of mermaiders (a subculture of people who dress up as mermaids, mermen and merbabies for entertainment or personal purposes, principally in the US but increasingly in the UK) and compared them to photographs of Polynesian women in the South Pacific islands. I showed that Polynesian women and mermaids shared many visual markers in the western imagination especially as exotic Others. As you can see, my academic interests are varied : death, sexual violence, feminism, postcolonialism, pop culture, personal experiences, visual methods, sexuality and queer studies…

Before teaching at YSJ, I was tutoring on seminars in Social Psychology and on the Sociological Imagination at the University of York. I’m also an academic writing tutor and give advice to students about the ways in which they can improve their academic writing. You can follow me on Twitter where I re-tweet a lot of resources that are relevant to my teaching and learn more about my research projects on my academic blog.

Introducing…Jack Denham

Jack Denham

Hi, I’m Jack. I, like Ben, joined the newly established school of Psychological and Social Sciences in September as a Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology – helping establish the first year of two new degree pathways. As an early career researcher, I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my PhD that investigates the cultural consumption of crime through physical objects. That’s things like, crime museums, communities who collect crime artefacts, and crime products like clothes, for example. My PhD is researched from a Cultural Criminology perspective, and my background is as a Criminologist. But despite this crime focus, my research interests are far reaching and include crime in popular culture, deviant leisure, dark tourism, death and morbidity.

On that note, I recently organised a three day international conference called Death and Culture. This brought together scholars from a broad array of disciplines to discuss death and its importance in sociology, museums studies, heritage, modern studies, art history, history, literature, film, television, theatre, sociology, criminology and many more. You can see the conference website here, and a review crafted by some conference guests here. There will be follow up events taking place collaboratively at York St John University and The University of York, as well as a series of publications, and you can subscribe to this blog for further updates. This interest in death was driven by overlaps with my PhD work on morbid fascination – and you can read some of my work on the commodification of infamous criminal Charles Manson here, published in the journal Mortality.

My teaching at York St John University will be far reaching as a multi-disciplinary scholar in a small department, but for the time being I am running two first year criminology modules; Key Concepts for Criminologists – laying the foundations of criminological knowledge, and Crime and Deviance in a Contemporary World – considering the implications of globalisation on criminology. And two sociology modules; the first year Investigating Sociologically, and the second year The Sociology of Work. Before embroiling myself in all of this morbidity, I was a student and teacher at The University of York where I completed all of my degrees. This consisted of studying a BA in Sociology with Criminology, followed by an MA in Social Research Methods, and a PhD in Sociology. Teaching included criminology and sociology modules Popular Culture, Media and Society, Introduction to Crime and Deviance and Social Research Methods.

My current research agenda includes submitting my thesis in the coming months, before editing and submitting this research for journal publication. In particular, this will take the form of an ethnography of crime museums for Theoretical Criminology, an analysis of the market for mass produced crime consumables, and an investigation of the value and meaning of collections of crime artefacts, both intended for Crime, Media, Culture. You can keep up to date with the progress of my work by following me on twitter, or by subscribing to my academic blog.

Introducing…Dr. Matthew Spokes


So I’m Matt – officially Dr. Matthew Spokes (I worked for it so I should probably use if more often) – and I’ve been lecturing for around five years. My teaching experience has been pretty varied; before coming to St.John at the tail-end of 2015, I’d worked at the University of York for four years, intially as a post-graduate teacher where I ran seminars for first year students on Sociological Theory whilst I was completing my PhD, and then as an Associate Lecturer, a teaching-only role that enabled me to develop my pedagogic practice and build up a portfolio of experiences across a diverse range of sociological and criminal topics.

At ‘other’ York I was responsible for running first year Criminology (The Sociology of Crime and Deviance), and worked with colleagues to deliver year long modules on Social Research Methods and Crime, Culture and Social Change in Year 2. I also taught on Year 3 modules for Theoretical Criminology and Master’s sessions on Research with Social Media and Critical Perspectives on the Criminal Justice System. At St. John I’ve built on these experiences to design modules that equip first year Criminology students with a solid grounding in research methods and fundamental theories in criminological research, trying to ensure a contemporary spin on the classics, assist first year Sociology students in developing a critical eye for questions around deviancy, and cultivate perspectives of enquiry for second year Sociology students moving towards their dissertations.

Aside from teaching, I’ve also developed my research a fair amount since beginning my lectureship at St. John. My PhD focused on deviant subcultures around avant-garde music, and the connections between the classifications, organizations, spatial and resistive practices of participants, stemming from a reappriasal of Becker’s Art Worlds. I suspect unlike many academics, I’ve little interest in publishing from the PhD (drawn a line through it and move on etc.) though space and resistance are themes that continue to run through my work. I’d describe myself as a magpie academic so far, as I tend to find inspiration not in following one particular route or theoretical framework, but instead allowing chance and circumstance dictate things somewhat. This might be why I’m writing another blog post comparing social demographic changes in Cumbria with Postman Pat (according to creator John Cunliffe, Greendale is supposedly modeled on Longsleddale near the Southern Lakeland town of Kendal where he grew up).

At the beginning of September I delivered a paper at the Death and Culture conference in York which has been accepted for publication following revisions, so I will be spending the next few weeks tinkering with that. Alongside this I am working with a former colleague on a long-winded and often-stalled project on the quantification of the self (using Lupton’s work) where my own database of my PhD drinking habits is being used to demonstrate the problems with unreliable data sets. Finally, I am collaborating with an artists community in East London on a paper about gentrification and the housing crisis, looking at the redevelopment of the Woodberry Down Estate from an insider-perspective: the paper uses photo documentary, photo-elicitation and psycho-geography to explore the narratives of current residents, with the intention to co-write the article with participants.

Introducing…Benedikt Lehmann

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting brief biographies of the staff who teach on Criminology and Sociology programmes at YSJ. First up, we have Benedikt, who teaches on Sociology modules in Semester 1 and Criminology module in Semester 2:

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‘I joined the recently established School of Psychological and Social Sciences in September 2016 as a Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology. As is perhaps suited to such a young school, I am also an earlier career researcher with broadly spanned interests across the social sciences. My main research focus is centred on social theory, financial industries, and both material and moral dimensions in the growing implementation of automation technology.  In addition to this, I have previously conducted research on urban planning and the politics of public space. This study was ethnographic in nature and concentrated on crime prevention strategies in town centres. More recently, my PhD research dealt with the growth of automated financial trading activities with a focus on high-frequency trading – a special kind of automated trading, which employs algorithms to execute orders in financial markets at speeds beyond human capabilities.

Growing up in Germany and the Philippines, I moved on to study Applied Criminology at Canterbury Christ Church University, followed by postgraduate studies in Criminology at the University of Kent. Shortly after completion of my MA and having already taught on a number of Criminology modules at Canterbury Christ Church University, I received a part-time teaching position at London Metropolitan University across a range of courses in the social sciences. After moving to York in September 2015, I stepped in to lead modules on York St John’s ‘Children, Young People and Families’ programme, also contributing to the validation process of the new BA Criminology degree. For my PhD, I was awarded an EU funded joint doctoral fellowship between Hamburg University in Germany and Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

My current teaching at York St John spans across the criminology and sociology programmes, including modules on social inequalities, violence, prevention and punishment as well as victimology.’

This time next week, Dr. Matthew Spokes will be profiled.