Interview with lecturer in Criminology, Katharine Boyd

Belfast Katharine Boyd

This week we catch up with Katharine Boyd, lecturer in Criminology in our department.

Hi Katharine, I hope you are well! Thank you for doing this interview. Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Katharine: Hi Jason! I’m doing well, thank you. I’m a criminologist here at Exeter. My research focuses on terrorism, or political and religiously motivated violence, as well as evidence-based policing and alcohol related violence.  I moved here from NYC a year and a half ago and I suppose I can’t help but mention that I row, since I’m training 8 times a week!

What got you interested in researching policy and literature regarding terrorism and violence?

Katharine: It may sound cliché, but I became inspired to research terrorism following 9/11.  After this tragedy people suggested numerous strategies for how to respond, some more reasonable than others, and after doing some digging I realized there’s not a lot of research done on terrorism and evaluating counterterrorism policies.  I feel it’s important that policy decisions are informed by research and we do not make important, consequential decisions based solely on emotional or ideological rhetoric.  So, I guess, I am still quite idealistic hoping to someday contribute to a safer and more peaceful world by producing relevant research and by teaching students about this complex and important topic so they are informed citizens.

Congratulations on receiving funding of £249,974 from the Police Knowledge Fund HEFCE and College of Policing Grant. Could you let us know what sort of research will you be pursuing with this?

Katharine: Thanks!  This is a very exciting opportunity for me and my colleagues – Brian Rappert and Hannah Farrimond, also in SPA, and Mark Pearson and Iain Lang in the med school –to work with the Devon & Cornwall Police and the OPCC.  The ExPERT project has numerous components related to evidence-based policing.  The project aims to develop and sustain capacity amongst police officers and staff for evidence-based practice, to do research that is relevant to the realities of policing and accelerates evidence-based approaches, and to improve knowledge transfer between the police and academia.  The ExPERT Project includes four components to meet these needs. The first are workshops to teach police officers and staff how to identify, critically appraise, and utilize research evidence.  The second component is a series of Project Generation Forums (PGFs) where the police, academics, and community stakeholders meet for the co-production of research projects.  PGFs are used to identify specific topics of concern and develop concrete empirical research projects.  The third component to the ExPERT Project is the use of knowledge brokers to bridge the gap between research and practice communities by exchanging knowledge and information held within these different groups.  Short, goal-oriented secondments for police and university staff will enable us to identify areas where research can improve policing and embed evidence into practice.  The last component is to conduct systematic reviews that summarize research evidence on topics by identifying, assessing, and synthesizing the existing evidence.  Systematic reviews produce evidence that is more robust than a single study and provide valuable information for evidence-based policy making.

How has the international outlook on counterterrorist policies by governments shifted over the years since the 9/11 attacks? 

Katharine: Well, I think there is greater international attention to what counterterrorism policies are being used worldwide.  Social media is a platform where information is shared and it may be more difficult for governments to conduct themselves without public oversight.  People are more aware of, and interested in considering, the unintended effects of counterterrorism measures, and therefore may be more critical of certain policies.  At the same time, people who feel threatened, especially just after an incident, may understandably feel motivated by retribution and endorse short-sited policies.   I like to think that governments will be prudent and consider international opinions when making big policy decisions, though there is no guarantee this would necessarily affects outcomes.  It all depends on who holds powerful positions.  This brings up the importance of elections.

How do you see counterterrorism policy changing in the future?

Katharine: I think polices to prevent terrorism will continue to be advocated for and developed.  Studies show that not all counterterrorism measures produce the intended effect, and similar policies may not produce the same effect on different types of groups.  More research in this area is critical. Governments have been funding research on terrorism and counterterrorism policies, but whether accurate and relevant information is utilized in policy-making is an on-going question.

One of your research interests happens to be alcohol related violence. Is this solely down to alcohol causing the violence or a socially produced violence as a result of its consumption?

Katharine: I’ve only recently started studying alcohol-related violence since I’ve moved to the UK and started working on the #RU2drunk initiative.  In England and Wales, over half of the violent encounters between adults are alcohol related.  Obviously most people who consume alcohol are not involved in violence, so I wouldn’t say it causes violence directly.  People have described a ‘binge and brawl’ culture in the UK that suggests a relationship between drinking and violence that is influenced by the context and environment.

Could you take us through what goes on in someone’s mind when drinking alcohol? What goes through this person’s mind when consuming it? Why is there this heighten aggressiveness towards not only violence, but a heightened motivation to attempt acts that one would normally not do?

Katharine: I think these questions may be better answered by a psychologist or neurologist!  From what is known about alcohol as a substance, it affects neurotransmitters and therefore brain chemistry, which influences people’s perceptions and behaviour.  Rather than simply attributing aggressive behaviour to alcohol alone, however, I think it’s important to note the social and environmental factors that influence the relationship between alcohol and aggressiveness.  Social psychology and criminology show how people –  including you! – behave differently in different contexts.  I’m sure you can think of a time, especially when you were an adolescent, when you did something that you feel was very ‘out-of-character’.  Did you explain or justify your behaviour in relation to a substance and/or circumstantial and social factors?  Well I think it’s necessary to consider the interpersonal setting when assessing the relationship between alcohol and aggression.

Finally, having been in the university for over a year now, how would you reflect on your experiences so far?

Katharine:  I’ve really enjoyed it!  Both the city and the Uni.  I admit when I was moving here from New York City I was concerned Exeter would feel ‘too small’ for me, but Exeter has many of the conveniences of a city that I like and it is truly a beautiful place.  I love the rolling hills, the historic buildings, and the quayside.  I’m glad I started rowing here so I get to spend hours on the river!  As for the university, I really can’t speak highly enough of the colleagues in my department and in Q-step.  I am so fortunate to work and develop research ideas with such great people.  And, of course, I really enjoy the students here as well!  I’ve enjoyed getting to know students who have taken a few of my modules and students – like you – who I just see around campus all the time! Overall I’m really glad I came to Exeter and it’s been a great year and a half!

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