Professor of Criminology

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Richard Sparks is Professor of Criminology at the University of Edinburgh.

From 2014-17 he was Head of the School of Law. He was from 2006-16 a founding Co-Director of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research

He is a member of the editorial boards of several journals including Punishment & Society, of which he was editor-in-chief 2000-2004.

Richard has also edited a number of books. The most recent of these are: Democratic Theory and Mass Incarceration (with Albert Dzur and Ian Loader) (Oxford, 2016); four volumes on Punishment (with Richard Jones) in Routledge's Critical Concepts in Criminology series (2015); The SAGE Handbook of Punishment & Society (with Jonathan Simon) (SAGE, 2012); Travels of the Criminal Question (with Dario Melossi and Máximo Sozzo) (Hart, 2011) and Escape Routes: Contemporary Perspectives on Life After Punishment (with Farrall, Hough and Maruna), Routledge, 2010.

Click on the link below to listen to a discussion, recorded in 2011, on the roles of criminological theory and research in public life. The participants include Richard Sparks and Ian Loader (Oxford), Jonathan Simon (Berkeley) and Sarah Armstrong and Fergus McNeill (Glasgow):

Richard welcomes enquiries from prospective doctoral applicants in his fields of interest - the sociology of punishment and penal politics, prisons, expertise and policy-formation and also welcomes enquiries from prospective postdoctoral candidates.

Research Interests

Richard's main research interests lie in the relationships between penal policies and democratic politics; the sociology of punishment (especially imprisonment); public responses to crime and punishment; and the uses, abuses and non-uses of criminological knowledge in shaping public policy on crime and punishment.

Earlier research projects have included studies (with Marion Smith and Evi Girling) of nine-year old children's conversations about justice and punishment and (with Elaine Crawley) of older men in English prisons. Richard is the author of Television and the Drama of Crime (1992) and co-author (with Tony Bottoms and Will Hay) of Prisons and the Problem of Order (1996) and (with Evi Girling and Ian Loader) of Crime and Social Change in Middle England (2000). 

Current Research Interests

Richard's current work principally concerns the relationships between policies, discourses and practices of crime control and punishment and democratic politics. He is currently working, in collaboration with Ian Loader (University of Oxford), towards a book provisionally entitled A Better Politics of Crime. This extends their earlier work in their book Public Criminology? (Routledge, 2010) which focused on the place of criminology in debates on the public roles of the social sciences. See further:

 You can read more about Loader and Sparks's current activities at:


Professor Richard Sparks's Homepage at Edinburgh Law School

Courses Taught

Media and Crime (MSc) (Course Organiser)

Theoretical Criminology (MSc)

PhD Supervisees

Louise Brangan  'Comparative Penality in Ireland and Scotland'

James Gacek  'Fear(ed) Agents and the Prison/Urban Core: Reimagining Relationships between Space, Criminality, and the Carceral Continuum'

Shane Horgan  'Cybercrime and Everyday Life: An exploration of public sensibilities towards the digital dimensions of crime and disorder'

Daniela Mardones Bravo  'The Elderly Population within the prison system in Chile: Characteristics and Challenges.'

Griff Williams  'Tripartite Communication under the Community Payback Order'

Books and Reports

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, Albert Dzur, Democratic Theory and Mass Incarceration, (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Richard Jones, Richard Sparks, Punishment, (Routledge, 2015)

Richard Sparks, Jonathan Simon, The SAGE Handbook of Punishment and Society, (SAGE Publications Ltd, 2012)

Richard Sparks, Dario Melossi, Maximo Sozzo, Travels of the Criminal Question: Cultural Embeddedness and Diffusion, (Hart Publishing, 2011)
Abstract: The expression 'the criminal question' does not at present have much currency in English-language criminology. The term was carried across from Italian debates about the orientation of criminology, and in particular debates about what came to be called critical criminology. One definition offered early in the debate described it as 'an area constituted by actions, institutions, policies and discourses whose boundaries shift'. According to this writer, crime, and the cultural and symbolic significance carried by law and criminal justice, is an integral aspect of the criminal question.'The criminal question' draws attention to the specific location and constitution of a given field of forces, and the themes, issues, dilemmas and debates that compose it. At the same time it enables connections to be made between these embedded realities and the wider, conceivably global, contours of influence and flows of power with which it connects. This in turn raises many questions. How far do the responses to crime and punishment internationally flow from and owe their contemporary shape to the cultural and economic transformations now widely known as 'globalisation'? How can something that is in significant ways embedded, situated, and locally produced also travel? What is not in doubt is that it does travel - and travel with serious consequences. The international circulation of discourses and practices has become a pressing issue for scholars who try to understand their operation in their own particular cultural contexts. This collection of essays seeks a constructive comparative view of these tendencies to convergence and divergence.

Kirstin Anderson, Sarah Colvin, Fergus McNeill, Mike Nellis, Katie Overy, Richard Sparks, Lyn Tett, Inspiring Change: Final Project Report of the Evaluation Team, (Inspiring Change Project Team, 2011)

Stephen Farrall, Richard Sparks, Shadd Maruna, Mike Hough, Escape routes: Contemporary perspectives on life after punishment, (Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2010)
Abstract: Escape Routes: Contemporary Perspectives on Life After Punishment addresses the reasons why people stop offending, and the processes by which they are rehabilitated or resettled back into the community. Engaging with, and building upon, renewed criminological interest in this area, Escape Routes nevertheless broadens and enlivens the current debate. First, its scope goes beyond a narrowly-defined notion of crime and includes, for example, essays on religious redemption, the lives of ex-war criminals, and the relationship between ethnicity and desistance from crime. Second, contributors to this volume draw upon a number of areas of contemporary research, including urban studies, philosophy, history, religious studies, and ethics, as well as criminology. Examining new theoretical work in the study of desistance and exploring the experiences of a number of groups whose experiences of life after punishment do not usually attract much attention, Escape Routes provides new insights about the processes associated with reform, resettlement and forgiveness. Intended to drive our understanding of life after punishment forward, its rich array of theoretical and substantive papers will be of considerable interest to criminologists, lawyers, and sociologists.

Ian Loader, Richard Sparks, Public Criminology?: Criminological Politics in the Twenty-first Century, (Routledge, 2010)
Abstract: What is the role and value of criminology in a democratic society? How do, and how should, its practitioners engage with politics and public policy? How can criminology find a voice in an agitated, insecure and intensely mediated world in which crime and punishment loom large in government agendas and public discourse? What collective good do we want criminological enquiry to promote?In addressing these questions, Ian Loader and Richard Sparks offer a sociological account of how criminologists understand their craft and position themselves in relation to social and political controversies about crime, whether as scientific experts, policy advisors, governmental players, social movement theorists, or lonely prophets. They examine the conditions under which these diverse commitments and affiliations arose, and gained or lost credibility and influence. This forms the basis for a timely articulation of the idea that criminology’s overarching public purpose is to contribute to a better politics of crime and its regulation.Public Criminology? offers an original and provocative account of the condition of, and prospects for, criminology which will be of interest not only to those who work in the fields of crime, security and punishment, but to anyone interested in the vexed relationship between social science, public policy and politics.

Richard Sparks, Fergus McNeill, Punishment, Incarceration and Human Rights, (International Council on Human Rights Policy, 2009)

Richard Sparks, Tim Newburn, Criminal Justice and Political Cultures: National and International Dimensions of Crime Control, (Willan Publishing, 2004)
Abstract: The development of ideas and policy on the control of crime has become an increasingly international affair, necessarily so as crime increasingly crosses national boundaries and as international cooperation in the form of police cooperation, international treaties, protocols and conventions takes firmer shape. Much less well understood, however, is the process whereby ideas about crime control developed in one context are transferred into different countries or regions, and in doing so are then shaped, naturalised and changed in their new context. This book is concerned to address this range of issues, examining this process of policy transfer and reception. How are particular slogans (zero tolerance policing), gadgets, technical vocabularies (electronic monitoring) and rhetoric (war against crime) spread from place to another, and what new meanings do they take on when this takes place? How are these ideas changed when they meet resistance and counter discourses, and encounter strong local traditions and sensibilities? How differently then are ostensibly similar vocabularies taken up and applied in the distinct settings they encounter. This book brings together an influential international team of contributors to explore these issues. Their book makes a significant contribution not only to an understanding of crime control policy but of the nature of the process of globalization itself.

Richard Sparks, Tim Hope, Crime, Risk and Insecurity, (Routledge, 2000)
Abstract: Just what is the 'fear of crime' and how does it impact upon the lives of the citizens of late modern societies? These are topical questions in an era when politicians compete to diagnose and respond to our worries, when newspapers are sold on the hook of our anxieties and when fortunes are made promoting the latest security technology for the home and the high street. How can the social sciences contribute to this part of the self-understanding of our times? This book presents new empirical and conceptual work on the questions of fear, anxiety, risk and trust - both as problems of everyday living and as key themes in the culture and politics of contemporary western societies. The volume includes contributions from distinguished social researchers from Britain, the United States, Germany and Italy.

Richard Sparks, David Garland, Criminology and Social Theory, (Oxford University Press, 2000)
Abstract: Contemporary criminology inhabits a rapidly changing world. The speed and profundity of these changes are echoed in the rapidly developing character of criminology's subject-matter, whether it is crime rates, crime policy, or the practices of policing, prevention and punishment. The questions that animate this book concern the challenges that are posed for criminology by the economic, cultural, and political transformations that have marked late twentieth-century social life. In this unique collection of essays, a diverse group of distinguished social theorists reflect upon the intellectual challenges and opportunities presented to criminology by recent transformations in the social and intellectual landscapes of contemporary societies. As each essay in its different way reveals, crime and punishment have ceased to be topics that can be contained within the bounds of any specialized discipline. Crime and punishment now play such integral roles in the politics of contemporary societies, are so densely entangled with our daily routines, so deeply lodged in our emotional lives, so vividly represented in our cultural imagination, that they easily escape any analytical box, however capacious, that criminology may develop for their containment. Several of the most persuasive sociological accounts of the present give a prominent place in their analysis to crime, fear of crime, and the calculations of risk and measures of repression to which these give rise. This collection offers a series of powerful and provocative accounts of how crime and its control mesh with the underlying social and political dynamics shaping contemporary society. It raises a series of profound questions about the political and ethical frames through which these problems ought best to be governed.

Richard Sparks, Evi Girling, Ian Loader, Crime and Social Change in Middle England: Questions of Order in an English Town, (Routledge, 1999)
Abstract: This text offers a new way of looking at contemporary debates on the fear of crime. Using observation, interviews and documentary analysis it traces the reactions of citizens of one very ordinary town to events, conflicts and controversies around such topical subjects of criminological investigation as youth, public order, drugs, policing and home security in their community. In doing so it moves in place from comfortable suburbs to hard pressed inner city estates, from the affluent to the impoverished, from old people watching the town where they grew up change around them to young in-comers who are part of that change.

Richard Sparks, Evi Girling, Ian Loader, Responses to Crime in Macclesfield and Prestbury, (Department of Criminology, Keele University, 1998)

Richard Sparks, Anthony Bottoms, Will Hay, Prisons and the Problem of Order, (Clarendon Press, 1996)
Abstract: This book presents a substantial new statement on the character of social life in confinement. Drawing upon extensive fieldwork in two contrasting English maximum security prisons, the authors systematically compare their institutional order, including the differing control strategies deployed in each, as seen by both custodians and captives, controllers and controlled. The authors discuss the implications of their research for the tradition of sociological concern within the 'prison community'. They re-examine the resources of that rich but latterly somewhat dormant field in the light of some of the main currents in contemporary social theory, and thereby provide a new perspective on the 'problem of order' in maximum custody.

Richard Sparks, Television and the Drama of Crime, (Open University Press, 1992)
Abstract: Crime series are prime time viewing. They are significant in understanding the rhetoric of crime and law enforcement in our society. Richard Sparks explores the relations between watching cop shows (like Hill St Blues, Miami Vice, Bulman and The Sweeney) and the extent and intensity of public fear and alarm about crime. He examines the arguments about the effects of television violence; analyses the prevalence of certain predominant images and kinds of story, and their appeal to the audience; and relates them to the wider social and political agenda. He draws upon and successfully interweaves social theory, social psychology, cultural and media studies, narrative theory and criminology in providing an important account of the meanings of crime and law enforcement in contemporary culture.

Richard Sparks, John Muncie, Imprisonment: European Perspectives, (Prentice Hall, 1991)
Abstract: This volume of contributions to the study of European prisons and penal systems appears at a time when, perhaps more than ever before, problems of imprisonment are at the forefront of public consciousness and debate. In the United Kingdom, the penal system has broken out of its traditional invisibility, through a succession of prison disturbances, industrial disputes and increasingly spectacular riots and roof-top protests and subsequent judicial enquiries. In attempts to understand and come to terms with a penal system that is commonly regarded as being in crisis, academic commentators and newspaper editors have begun to look elsewhere - notably other European countries - in what can only be described as a desperate search for instances of good practice which could help politicians and penal administrators find a solution to current ills. A desire and energy to reform the penal system is arguably greater now than at any time since the rehabilitative vision of the Gladstone report of 1895. This volume is intended as a contribution towards enhancing the quality of such debates. It underlines the importance of comparative study at a time when the economic, legal and political integration of all European nations is high on the political agenda. It does so by firstly reminding us that a willingness and desire to learn from the practices and policies of other countries has strong historical precedents dating back at least to the 16th century, and reaching its apogee in the work of John Howard at the end of the 18th century. Secondly, this volume explores contemporary penal policies in a number of European countries - notably England, Wales, Scotland, Germany, Holland and France - with a view to highlighting the diversity of practice that can (and does) exist within roughly comparable industrial societies. Thirdly, the final section of this volume considers the possibilities for the future convergence of policy and practice under the auspices of the 1987 European Prison Rules as well as the influence of the European convention on Human Rights, especially via its judicial arm - the Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

Richard Sparks, Will Hay, Anthony Bottoms, Control Problems and the Long-Term Prisoner, (Home Office Research and Planning Unit, 1990)
Abstract: Unpublished report submitted to the Home Office.

Richard Sparks, Phillip Brown, Beyond Thatcherism: Social Policy, Politics and Society, (Open University Press, 1989)


Richard Sparks, James Gacek, 'Persistent punishment: The philosophy and ethics of private corrections in the context of contemporary penality', (2019), Criminology and Public Policy, Vol 18
Abstract: Our paper attends to the implied outlooks (‘philosophies’ in the sense of operative practical discourses and assumptions) and the competing ethical concerns that animate differing views on privatizing corrections. We consider some normative arguments and empirical observations that have been mobilized for and against privatization since the inception of the modern version of this debate in the late 1980s, and seek to place these in the context of accounts of penal problems over that contentious period. We argue that a multidimensional approach to understanding the sociology of punishment and in particular how certain forms of punishment persist, survive and thrive is required when considering the privatization of corrections. Such an approach raises quizzical questions regarding the pairing together of punishment and privatization, and seeks to sharpen discussion about future prospects.

Ian Loader, Richard Sparks, 'The question of public criminology: Seeking resources of hope for a better politics of crime', (2017), International Annals of Criminology, Vol 52, pp 155- 177
Abstract: This paper develops an argument lightly sketched in our book Public Criminology? (2010). There we posed the question of what it would take for criminology to make a substantial contribution to the search for “a better politics of crime”. We were of course well aware of what some of our critics then informed us, namely that this was just a suggestion in need of much fuller articulation.Here we begin by summarizing the position outlined in that book and some subsequent papers. We argue that criminology has indeed made some salient contributions to the search for a better politics, but the scale of that contribution has also been limited by some intellectual tendencies that draw energy and attention away from the kind of reconstruction that we propose.In particular, the tone of some of the leading accounts of recent penal politics is grim — not without reason, as we freely acknowledge. If the trends with which we have become so familiar in some parts of the world — chronically high levels of incarceration, racial disproportion, demotic symbolic politics — flow either from core features of ‘late modernity’ or from inherent logics of neoliberal globalization, as some key contributors have insisted, then the prospects for changing these in any substantial and purposeful way, any time soon, seem rather slim. There have of course been reversals in the unremitting rise of mass incarceration recently. Are these more than temporary, reversible fluctuations? Are some of those who celebrate them clutching at straws?It is not necessary to share such (perhaps premature) optimism to wish to promote a somewhat different and more hopeful form of analysis and engagement. Is there perhaps also an opposite tendency to depict some of these problems as so massive and intractable — the tendency that we here call ‘hype’ — as to deter us from practical intervention? This paper seeks to identify some resources that could contribute to the task of reconstructing our approaches to theorizing our institutions and practices of crime control. If criminology is to contribute more effectively to thinking about how we draw limits to state coercion and demand strict scrutiny over the threats to individual rights, human development, and civic dignity posed by institutionalized exclusion and stigmatization it will need access to a certain range of perspectives and to build (or re-build) some alliances. What kind of criminology is best suited to the challenge of developing penal practices and institutions fit for democratic societies?

Richard Sparks, Louise Jackson, Neil Davidson, Linda Fleming, David Smale, 'Police and community in twentieth-century Scotland: The uses of social history', (2017), British Journal of Criminology, Vol 51, pp 18-30
Abstract: Drawing on archival research and oral history interviews, this article compares the characteristics of the relationships between police officers and communities in the Glasgow conurbation with those in the highlands and islands of Scotland in the period c. 1900–70. Rejecting the uniform or linear narrative suggested by existing historiography, it argues that these relationships were diverse, complex and shaped by local cultural, social and economic factors. By analysing the grassroots or everyday policing delivered by the urban beat officer and village constable, it reconstructs a social history of policing in twentieth-century Scotland. Moreover, the article identifies key constitutive elements that enabled or disrupted the forging of trust and legitimacy in Glasgow and the highlands in an era still associated by some with a ‘golden age of policing’. The article focuses in particular on the capacity of discretion, ‘insider’ status and embeddedness within local settlements to deliver effective policing, enhancing conclusions about best practice that have been drawn from studies of more recently formalized ‘community policing’ initiatives.

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'Ideologies and Crime: Political ideas and the dynamics of crime control', (2016), Global Crime, Vol 17, pp 314-330
Abstract: This paper assembles some theoretical resources for a project that investigates the ways in which thinking about politics has since the 1970s been bound up with thinking and action around crime. Such investigation is hampered by a dominant (neo-liberal) narrative of governance that tends to reduce crime policy to a ‘contest’ between tactics and technique. In contrast, we establish a political framework for theorizing crime and its control. This framework calls for close interpretive analysis of the ways in which disputes about the crime question are always in part contests between different political ideologies and the meaning and significance of their defining concepts. By revisiting penal developments of recent several decades with these questions in mind, one can get closer to the heart of what is at stake when crime is being discussed and acquire a better sense of why crime and its control are legitimately the subject of politics.Keywords: crime; ideologies; neo-liberalism; politics; security

Richard Sparks, 'In memoriam: Barbara Hudson', (2014), Punishment & Society, Vol 16, pp 223-24

Richard Sparks, Lyn Tett, Kirstin Anderson, Fergus McNeill, Katie Overy, 'Learning, Rehabilitation and the Arts in Prison: A Scottish Case Study', (2012), Studies in the Education of Adults, Vol 44, pp 171-84

Richard Sparks, Fergus McNeill, Kirsten Anderson, Sarah Colvin, Katie Overy, Lyn Tett, 'Kunstprojecten en What Works: Een stimulans voor desistance?', (2011), Justitiele verkenningen, Vol 37, pp 80-101
Abstract: This paper draws principally on a literature review that explored the question of whether arts projects in prisons can support desistance from crime. The review, which aimed to connect the literatures on arts projects in prisons, on learning in prisons and on desistance from crime, was undertaken to support the evaluation of a major arts initiative in Scottish Prisons – Inspiring Change – which took place during 2010. A brief summary of the findings of the evaluation is also provided. The paper concludes that while it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect arts projects to ‘produce’ desistance, there isevidence that they can play a vital role in enabling prisoners to imagineand to embark on the desistance process.

Richard Sparks, 'The Prisoners' Dilemma: Political Economy and Punishment in Contemporary Democracies ', (2011), Punishment & Society, Vol 13, pp 93-95

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'Wacquant and Civic Sociology: 'Formative Intentions' and Formative Experiences', (2010), Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol 10, pp 405-15

Richard Sparks, 'Dirk van Zyl Smit and Sonja Snacken, Principles of European Prison Law and Policy: Penology and Human Rights ', (2010), Edinburgh Law Review, Vol 14, pp 520-22

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'What is to Be Done with Public Criminology? ', (2010), Criminology and Public Policy, Vol 9, pp 771-81

Ian Loader, Richard Sparks, '"What are we gonna do now?": Revisiting the public roles of criminology', (2008), Criminal Justice Matters, Vol 72, pp 18-19

Richard Sparks, Elaine Crawley, 'Is there Life after Imprisonment?: How Elderly Men Talk about Imprisonment and Release', (2006), Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol 6, pp 63-82
Abstract: Based on findings from a two-year study in four UK prisons, this article discusses the prison experiences and release expectations of male prisoners aged 65 and above. In terms of the prison experience, we argue that elderly men in prison often have enormous difficulties simply coping with the prison regime. In addition, most have certain painful pre-occupations, including a fear of dying in prison, the loss of familial contact, the loss of a ‘protector’ role, the loss of a respectable (non-prisoner) identity and the loss of a coherent and satisfactory life narrative. In terms of release, we argue that elderly men in prison often experience significant release and resettlement fears. Many recognize that not only are they vulnerable to assault when released (this applies particularly to those convicted of sexual offences) they also have ‘nothing to go out to’ and too little time left to ‘start over’. Using prisoners’ own accounts, we examine how elderly men in prison think about their lives during and after imprisonment.

Richard Sparks, Stephen Farrall, 'Introduction to Special Issue: What Lies Beyond? Problems, Prospects and Possibilities for Life after Punishment', (2006), Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol 6, pp 7-16

Richard Sparks, Elaine Crawley, 'Hidden Injuries? Researching the Experiences of Older Men in English Prisons ', (2005), Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol 44, pp 345-56

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'For an Historical Sociology of Crime Policy in England and Wales since 1968 ', (2004), Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol 7, pp 5-32

Richard Sparks, Evi Girling, Marion V. Smith, 'Lessons from History: Pasts, Presents and Futures of Punishment in Children's Talk', (2002), Children & Society, Vol 16, pp 116-30
Abstract: This paper draws on a study of the ways in which the moral and practical dilemmas of punishment are debated and deliberated upon in discussions among nine year old children (with adult facilitators). Theoretically, we are concerned with the points of connection between the social study of childhood and the analysis of punishment as an arena of discourse and practice; and methodologically we address this topic from the perspective of conversation. Here we focus on one aspect of the children's talk, namely the mobilisation of themes and images that seem to have their origin in the more or less remote past. We argue that a contextual and nuanced exploration of the historicity of such ‘punishment talk’ can help in disclosing how punishment ‘works’ as a theme in politics and culture—history offers a resource of precedents and examples that children find good to think with. We suggest a particular association between this historical imagination (and the often physically forceful measures that it invokes) and times of crisis or emergency. This is apparent, for example, when discussion turns to the persistence of the death penalty in the United States. We conclude with some brief remarks on the significance of involving children in such deliberations for the development of alternative (or ‘replacement’) penal politics. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Richard Sparks, 'Out of the "Digger": The Warrior's Honour and the Guilty Observer', (2002), Ethnography, Vol 3, pp 556-81

Richard Sparks, 'Degrees of Estrangement: The Cultural Theory of Risk and Comparative Penology', (2001), Theoretical Criminology, Vol 5, pp 159-76
Abstract: We can accept that risk is a key idea in understanding contemporary penality—but which constructions of risk are most compelling? Moreover, how does risk-based practice intersect with other structuring principles of penal systems and penal politics? I compare and contrast the views of Feeley and Simon (1992) and of Mary Douglas's `cultural theory' (Douglas, 1992), and conclude that among the attractions of the latter are its orientation towards comparative empirical inquiry and its understanding of the notion of `political culture'. I conclude with some reflections on the comparative penological work in a period marked by both globalizing and particularizing trends.

Richard Sparks, Evi Girling, Ian Loader, 'Fear and Everyday Urban Lives ', (2001), Urban Studies, Vol 38, pp 885-98

Richard Sparks, Evi Girling, Marion V. Smith, 'Children Talking about Justice and Punishment ', (2001), The International Journal of Children's Rights, Vol 8, pp 191-209

Richard Sparks, David Garland, 'Criminology, Social Theory and the Challenge of Our Times ', (2000), British Journal of Criminology, Vol 4, pp 189-204

Richard Sparks, Marion V. Smith, Evi Girling, 'Educating Sensibilities: The Image of "The Lesson" in Children's Talk about Punishment', (2000), Punishment & Society, Vol 2, pp 395-415
Abstract: Theoretical work in the sociology of punishment (especially since Garland's influential introduction of the notion of penal `sensibilities') increasingly recognizes the importance of the cultural aspects of the topic. Yet surprisingly little examination exists of how penal questions actually figure in people's everyday consciousness or conversations. We address penal culture from the perspective of conversation. Specifically, we discuss a number of conversations that we have had with 9-year old children. By considering the dynamic aspects of these conversations we seek (a) to demonstrate one method for investigating sensibilities-in-action and (b) to indicate some ways in which the terms of penal culture are mobilized, assimilated or subverted among children. Such analysis discloses a quite high degree of ambiguity and semantic density in ordinary language discussions of punishing. We exemplify this inter alia by indicating the varying uses of the expression `teach someone a lesson'. The children's dominant idea of the `lesson' suggests that punishment is an intractable problem, and that people are not particularly tractable to its corrective or suasive force. On the other hand the `lesson' can also suggest communication of a different kind with more radical and hopeful implications.

Richard Sparks, 'The Media and Penal Politics: Review Essay', (2000), Punishment & Society, Vol 2, pp 98-105

Richard Sparks, I. Loader and E. Girling, 'Narratives of Decline: Youth, (Dis)order and Community in an English Middletown', (1998), British Journal of Criminology, Vol 38, pp 388-403
Abstract: The paper is concerned with how adult residents of one medium-sized, moderately affluent English town which is generally regarded as having a relatively low crime rate interpret and respond to teenage ‘incivilities’. We begin by locating the conflicts over teenage mis/behaviour that occur across many of the town's diverse areas and assessing how the intensity of adult response varies according to people's relationship to place. We then examine the kinds of discourse that such mis/behaviour prompts, discourse that frequently slips away from the locality as such and speaks to the condition (and decline) of the ‘national community’. Finally, we consider some of the responses people make to teenage mis/behaviour in their own immediate neighbourhoods. By connecting people's ‘crime-talk’ to their sense of place, we tease out a contradiction between the obligations that people acknowledge to troublesome ‘local’ youth and their more punitive, exdusionaiy utterances about ‘youth in general’.

Richard Sparks, Evi Girland and Ian Loader, 'A Telling Tale: A Case of Vigilantism and its Aftermaths in an English Town', (1998), British Journal of Sociology, Vol 49, pp 474-90

Richard Sparks, 'Masculinity and heroism in the Hollywood ''Blockbuster': The Culture Industry and Contemporary Images of Crime and Law Enforcement', (1996), British Journal of Criminology, Vol 36, pp 348-60
Abstract: This article considers the connections between masculinity and heroic agency in certain versions of popular film. It proposes that how films dignify and celebrate the suffering and striving of their leading men may be quite centrally indicative of durable sensibilities regarding the qualities and virtues seen as defining manliness; and, moreover, that some of the more drastic reaffirmations of rugged masculinity in recent films starring Schwarzennegger, Stallone, and others are in reaction against instabilities in current notions of masculine gender identities. It is in such aspects of representation, and in what they suggest about the appeal of such films to their audiences, that we should now locate discussions of the social influences of screen ‘violence’.

Richard Sparks, A. E. Bottoms, 'Legitimacy and Order in Prisons ', (1995), British Journal of Sociology, Vol 46, pp 45-62
Abstract: This paper attempts to theorise some aspects of problems of order in prisons in the light of recent contributions in the theory of legitimacy by Beetham (1991) and Tyler (1990). Previous work in the sociology of punishment has generall raised the problem of legitimation only implicitly, and often merely to deny its possibility. Drawing on fieldwork in two English maximum security prisons, we argue that while prisons present chronic problems of legitimacy, it may nevertheless be possible to specify circumstances under which prisoners are more or less likely to confer or withhold degrees of recognition of legitimate authority of prison staff and regimes. Such conditions include not only the regularity and efficiency of service delivery, but also perceived distributive and procedural fairness of treatment, as well as human qualities in the nature of routines. We deploy these considerations in analysing aspects of current British penal politics.

Richard Sparks, 'Can Prisons be Legitimate?: Penal Politics, Privatization and the Timeliness of an Old Idea', (1994), British Journal of Criminology, Vol 34, pp 14-28

Richard Sparks, A. E. Bottoms, W. Hay, 'Situational and Social Approaches to the Prevention of Disorder in Long-Term Prisons ', (1990), The Prison Journal, Vol 70, pp 83-95

Richard Sparks, J. Pratt, 'New Voices from the Ship of Fools: A Critical Commentary on the Renaissance of Permissiveness as a Political Issue', (1987), Contemporary Crises, Vol 11, pp 3-23
Abstract: Conventional ‘left’ accounts of ‘Thatcherism’ have stressed the authoritarian nature of its political rhetoric. This paper suggests that convergences between the ‘new’ conservatism and more fundamentalist moral positions, meeting on the ground of obscenity and violence in the media, are a relatively recent development, associated with renewed strategic concentration on the question of law and order. Indeed, the libertarian right, in adhering to a utilitarian laissez-faire understanding of private pleasures, has presided over a positive proliferation of erotic and other gratifications. We argue that in the United Kingdom the authentic constituency of the ‘moral right’ is an increasingly socially marginal one, rendered progressively more so by the rapid development of technologies of communication and entertainment.


Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'Penal populism and epistemic crime control ' in Alison Liebling, Shadd Maruna, Lesley McAra (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (Oxford University Press 2017) 98-115

Albert Dzur, Ian Loader, Richard Sparks, 'Punishment and democratic theory Resources for a better penal politics' in Albert Dzur, Ian Loader, Richard Sparks (ed.) Democratic Theory and Mass Incarceration (Oxford University Press 2016) 1-17
Abstract: This chapter introduces the central theme that animates the chapters in this volume: that one underexploited resource for a better penal politics lies in investigating the ideals and institutions of democracy, and thinking about how these ideals can be theorized and given practical effect in reshaping the criminal justice and penal arrangements of advanced capitalist democracies today. Penal scholarship has seen the emergence of a defensive, nostalgic orthodoxy, one that sees technocratic governance as the most plausible route out of penal excess. In contrast, this chapter makes the case for enriching the exchange between punishment and democratic theory. By paying closer attention to the unrealized promise of democratic values and commitments, we can sharpen the critique of mass incarceration, restrain the power and reach of the penal state, and focus greater attention on the question of how to reconstruct criminal justice institutions to make them agents of a deeper democracy.

Jessica Bird, Louise Brangan, Richard Sparks, 'The Politics of Imprisonment ' in Yvonne Jewkes, Ben Crewe, Jamie Bennett (ed.) Handbook on Prisons (Routledge 2016)

Katrina Morrison, Richard Sparks, 'Research, Knowledge and Criminal Justice Policy The Scottish Experience' in Hazel Croall, Gerry Mooney, Mary Munro (ed.) Crime, Justice and Society in Scotland (Routledge 2015) 30-44

Richard Jones, Richard Sparks, 'Introduction ' in Richard Jones, Richard Sparks (ed.) Punishment (Routledge 2015) 1-17

Joachim Savelsberg, Lorine A. Hughes, Janne Kivivuori, James F. Short, Maximo Sozzo, Richard Sparks, 'Criminology, History of ' in James D. Wright (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences (Elsevier 2015) 238-243
Abstract: The history of criminology is examined comparatively for four countries or regions: the United States, Latin America, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom. Each case history considers a common set of analytic dimensions: origin and takeoff (time, discipline, political context); changing shapes (themes, theoretical orientations, data); changing organization (associations, journals, position in universities, government and nonprofit institutes); and the political-economic environment of criminology. Commonalities across national and regional developments and particularities of each region speak to the conditions of criminology. Globalization is at work, partly under US guidance, but academic exports are challenged and adapted to nation-level political, ideological, and institutional contexts.

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'Knowledge Politics and Penal Politics in Europe ' in Tom Daems, Sonja Snacken, Dirk Van Zyl Smit (ed.) European Penology? (Hart Publishing 2013) 53-76

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'Unfinished Business Legitimacy, Crime Control and Democratic Politics' in Alison Liebling, Justice Tankebe (ed.) Legitimacy and Criminal Justice (Oxford University Press 2013) 105-26
Abstract: This chapter seeks to recover and re-explore the central importance of the concept of legitimacy for criminological analysis. The chapter treats the idea of legitimacy as a political construct with critically important applications to the contemporary analysis of crime control. The chapter begins by noting what is seen as the problematic disconnect between two important bodies of work on legitimacy in criminal justice: one focused on the situational deployments of penal and policing power, the other on more macroscopic analyses of the emergence of late-modern (or ‘neoliberal’) penality. What falls between these preoccupations, the chapter suggests, is a closer analysis of the institutional arrangements for debating, deliberating, and deciding on what it is that criminal justice institutions are being tasked with and called upon to do.

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'Situating Criminology On the Production and Consumption of Knowledge About Crime and Justice' in Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan, Robert Reiner (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (Oxford University Press 2012) 139-40

Fiona Jamieson, Katrina Morrison, Marguerite Schinkel, Richard Sparks, 'Crime and Punishment Around the World ' in Crime and Punishment Around the World (ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara/Oxford 2012) 380-389

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, ''Beyond Lamentation' Towards a Democratic Egalitarian Politics of Crime and Justice' in Tim Newburn, Jill Peay (ed.) Policing (Hart Publishing 2012) 11-41

Richard Sparks, Ian Loader, 'Criminology's Public Roles A Drama in Six Acts' in Mary Bosworth, Carolyn Hoyle (ed.) What is Criminology? (Oxford University Press 2012) 17-34

Richard Sparks, 'The Politics of Imprisonment ' in Yvonne Jewkes (ed.) Handbook on Prisons (Willan Publishing 2007) 73-94

Richard Sparks, 'Ordinary Anxieties and States of Emergency Statecraft and Spectatorship in the New Politics of Insecurity' in Sarah Armstrong, Lesley McAra (ed.) Perspectives on Punishment (Oxford University Press 2006) 31-47

Richard Sparks, 'Punishment, populism and political culture in late modernity ' in Sean McConville (ed.) The Use of Punishment (Willan Publishing 2003)

Richard Sparks, 'State Punishment in Advanced Capitalist Countries ' in Thomas G. Blomberg, Stanley Cohen (ed.) Punishment and Social Control (Aldine de Gruyter 2003)

Richard Sparks, 'Prisons, Punishment and Penality ' in Eugene McLaughlin, John Muncie (ed.) Controlling Crime (SAGE Publications Ltd 2001) 201-56

Richard Sparks, ''Bringin' it All Back Home' Populism, Media Coverage and the Dynamics of Locality and Globality in the Politics of Crime Control' in Kevin Stenson, Robert R. Sullivan (ed.) Crime, Risk and Justice (Willan Publishing 2000) 194-213

Richard Sparks, 'Risk and Blame in Criminal Justice Controversies British Press Coverage and Official Discourse on Prison Security 1993' in Mark Brown, John Pratt (ed.) Dangerous Offenders (Routledge 2000) ch 7

Richard Sparks, 'Perspectives on Risk and Penal Politics ' in Richard Sparks, Tim Hope (ed.) Crime, Risk and Insecurity (Routledge 2000)

Richard Sparks, 'Recent Social Theory and the Study of Crime and Punishment ' in Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan, Robert Reiner (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (Oxford University Press 1997) 27

Richard Sparks, 'Prisons, Punishment and penality ' in Eugene McLaughlin, John Muncie (ed.) Controlling Crime (SAGE Publications Ltd 1996) 52

Richard Sparks, 'Penal Austerity The Doctrine of Less Eligibility Reborn?' in Roger Matthews, Peter Francis (ed.) Prisons 2000 (Macmillan 1996) 20

Richard Sparks, 'Television and the well-being of children and young people ' in Ved Varma (ed.) Violence in Children and Adolescents (Jessica Kingsley 1996) 11

Richard Sparks, 'Entertaining the Crisis? Television and Moral Enterprise' in David Kidd-Hewitt, Richard Osborne (ed.) Crime and the Media (Pluto Press 1996)

Richard Sparks, 'Are Prisons Part of the Public Sphere? ' in Stephen Edgell, Sandra Walkgate, Garth Williams (ed.) Debating The Future of the Public Sphere (Avebury 1995)

Richard Sparks, 'Situational and Social Approaches to the Prevention of Disorder in Long-term Prisons ' in Timothy J. Flanagan (ed.) Long Term Imprisonment (SAGE Publications Ltd 1995)

Richard Sparks, 'Television, Dramatization and the Fear of Crime ' in Richard V. Ericson (ed.) Crime and the Media (Dartmouth 1995) 23

Richard Sparks, 'Can Prisons be Legitimate? ' in Roy D. King, Mike Maguire (ed.) Prisons in Context (Oxford University Press 1994)

Richard Sparks, 'Inspector Morse 'The Last Enemy' (Peter Buckman)' in George W Brandt (ed.) British Television Drama in the 1980s (Cambridge University Press 1993) 86-102

Richard Sparks, 'Expansion and contraction in European penal systems ' in John Muncie, Richard Sparks (ed.) Imprisonment (Prentice Hall 1991) 18

Richard Sparks, 'Reason and Unreason in Left Realism Some Problems in the Constitution of the Fear of Crime' in Roger Matthews, Jock Young (ed.) Issues in Realist Criminology (SAGE Publications Ltd 1991) 17

Richard Sparks, 'Dramatic Power Television Images of Crime and Law Enforcement' in Colin Sumner (ed.) Censure, Politics and Criminal Justice (Open University Press 1990)