“I’m very glad you asked me that, Mrs Rawlinson. The term `holistic’ refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I do not concern myself with such petty things as fingerprint powder, telltale pieces of pocket fluff and inane footprints. I see the solution to each problem as being detectable in the pattern and web of the whole. The connections between causes and effects are often much more subtle and complex than we with our rough and ready understanding of the physical world might naturally suppose, Mrs Rawlinson” —– Douglas Adams Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
I’m an academic, a criminologist focusing on prisons research. I’m also dyspraxic. This means I tend to experience the world as a maelstrom of sounds, colours, and textures. This sensory information is a challenge to process. Bright lights and sharp sounds heighten my disorientation and difficulty making my way through space. Keeping track of legs and arms while in motion requires consuming levels of concentration. Floundering in real time as I attempt to impose memory to get from here to there – using sound for primitive echolocation in a clumsy attempt to forecast coming obstacles. This outward chaos echoes the indistinct, interconnected blurring mass of ideas, sensations, feelings. Sitting down to work, to make sense of this overwhelming sensorium, means gearing up to wrestle a many-tendrilled beast of distractions. I cast blindly for the words to explicate this confusion of sensorial input, to impose some form and order.
In new and hectic environments, I experience this sensory overload as physical discomfort. Loud, sudden sound stings my ears, freezing my thoughts. I recoil from bright light which dazzles and discombobulates. I avoid touching and being touched in unfamiliar surrounds lest its novelty proves too intense and jars with my attempts to navigate space. I constantly try to maintain a smooth projection of normality, as I balance unruly limbs and focus thoughts all the while under the threat of halting disruption by the addition of one curve ball, some new and unanticipated thing; an innocuous instruction or request.
Visiting prison for the first time as a library assistant, the sensory experience of this alien space lodged deep in my memory. Over ten years on (and having returned to this particular prison on a couple of subsequent occasions) I revisit that same sensation by degree entering this closed and secret place as a researcher. The sounds, smells, and institutional hues intensify with each new creaking and clanging of an unlocked gate. Within the prison’s central control point, dizzying spurs (landings) stretch upwards and around in a sharp symphony of disorientating shouts, cries, bangs and jangles…Overwhelmed by this swirling soundscape, I lose all concentration.
What can this auditory deluge tell us about what it means to exist in prisons? How does it affect people and shape relationships within these most peculiar spaces? I feel through the inarticulable sensory fog, this thick plate glass, this just-too-much for words to convey sensory experience of this social world and fight to impose some sequence on this blurry collection of stuff. By focusing less on these distant, blunt-wordy tools, and more on the feelings, sounds and senses they can capture, the chaos calms. The sensory overload is partially abated and I can begin to discern a story through the “fundamental interconnectedness” of all these things:
Infliction of physical pain, non-consensual touch, slopping out, subjection to loud noise, social isolation – these are all experiences within penal settings of subjection to, or deprivation of, certain sensations, smells and sounds which are deeply relevant for understanding the nature of dignity violations. From our perspective as researchers analysing the interpretation of the right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in particular in European human rights law, we reflect on how a human rights lens has potential to illuminate why those involved in the governance and/or oversight of penal institutions should be concerned with the sensory. At the same time, we reflect on what those of us engaged in illuminating and concretising human rights can learn from bringing the sensory into focus; on how it can deepen our understanding of what is actually going on at the level of individual experience, and in turn shape our understanding of what falls within the purview of a legal norm such as the right not to be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The way that individuals experience dignity respect or disrespect is a core concern in the penal context. In human rights doctrine, dignity language is particularly prominent in relation to the experience of prisoners and other detainees, including in immigration detention. The , dealing with the treatment of prisoners, state in the very first sentence of the very first rule that “all prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.”
This is a powerful, if uncertain, red line. A challenge for working with the dignity idea is that it doesn’t possess a neatly labelled, off-the-shelf meaning in human rights discourse (or any other discourse). International agreements and human rights treaties are not philosophical works; they only try to capture and convey a sense of shared, social values. To understand the substance of dignity from a human rights perspective then, we have to piece together fragments of these shared understandings with the texts, with the pronouncements of monitoring bodies about the circumstances before them, and with theoretical accounts of dignity’s meaning. When we do so, we see patterns and gain insight into connections between sensory experience and dignity, respect and disrespect, as we outline below.
While the idea of dignity may be associated with metaphysical properties, it is a multi-faceted notion and contemporary accounts embrace its richness. It is widely recognised that human dignity is bound up with embodiment, and that dignity violations are socially-embedded experiences. Besides the ways the sensory can play a key role in the distress and harm that certain circumstances can occasion, sensory experience can also form part of actual and symbolic communication of a person’s perceived exclusion from the human community.
The sensory dimensions of physical torture in detention, perhaps the prototypical violation of human dignity, are well documented in testimony and scholarship. One example is Elaine Scarry’s landmark study in the 1980s, The Body in Pain, which connected the wrongness of torture, not only to physical sensation but also to loss of voice; a perverse substitution of ‘voice’ with ‘sound’ (chapter 1). Scarry explains how this perversion becomes a key dimension of the experience, devised to impact not only the person subjected to torture but also those subjected to hearing it.
Eventually the pain so deepens that the coherence of complaint is displaced by the sounds anterior to learned language. The tendency of pain not simply to resist expression but to destroy the capacity for speech is in torture renanacted in overt, exaggerated form. Even where torturers do not permanently eliminate the voice through mutilation or murder, they mime the work of pain by temporarily breaking off the voice, making it their own, making it speak their words, making it cry out when they want it to cry, be silent when they want it’s silence, turning it on and off, using its sound to abuse the one whose voice it is as well as other prisoners (p. 54).
As Oliver describes it in discussing Scarry’s account alongside survivor testimony, enforced “linguistic paralysis” becomes an act of exclusion (Oliver 2011, p. 92).
The connection between sensory experience and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment is not as well documented. This is partly because these wrongs have been subject to less attention than the prototypical experience of torture; they are often seen as less ‘severe’ and thereby less concerning. These forms of treatment, however, should not be seen as being of lesser importance or impact on those who are subjected to them, and sensory experience can be integral to what makes treatment or punishment inhuman or degrading in character.
In the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) case law we find inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment often characterised by subjection to humiliation and/or suffering through manipulation of, or insensitivity towards, sensory experiences. We see this in noise subjection or sensory destabalisation through hooding as part of interrogation practices, such as the ‘five techniques’ of interrogation (hooding, noise subjection, stress positions, deprivation of sleep and deprivation of food and drink) that were the subject of a finding of inhuman and degrading treatment in Ireland v. United Kingdom (Ireland v. United Kingdom, 5310/71, 18 January 1978). Concretely, the continuous use of a dark hood as part of the “five techniques” served to cause not only substantial discomfort and disorientation, but also profound distress; Survivors of these ‘five techniques’, who are often referred to as the ‘Hooded Men’ have recounted having a a hood placed over their heads and being thrown off flying helicopters, not knowing that the helicopters were flying only a short distance from the ground. The debilitating implications of such ‘techniques’ have more recently been recognised in findings of torture in the context of CIA rendition and co-called ‘standard interrogation’ and ‘enhanced interrogation’ practices (e.g. Al Nashiri v. Poland, 28761/11, 24 July 2014) and the enduring image of the Hooded Man in Abu Ghraib. We also see a recognition of the significance of sensory experience in the ECtHR’s attention to such things as the cumulative effects of airplane noise and constant loudspeaker announcements on a child in immigration detention (see A.B. and others v France, 11593/12, 12 July 2016), or carelessness regarding the impact of not being able to hear or to see as a result of impairment (Ābele v Latvia, 60429/12, 5 October 2017; Slyusarev v Russia, 60333/00, 20 April 2010). Moreover, non-consensual physical impingement on one’s body is a recurring concern in case-law, from a slap on the face (Bouyid v Belgium, 233380/09, 28 September 2015) to the performance of full body searches (Valašinas v Lithuania, 44558/98, 24 July 2001). Further, the ECtHR has repeatedly underlined, in the context of the imposition of segregation in penal settings, that “complete sensory isolation, coupled with total social isolation can destroy the personality and constitutes a form of inhuman treatment” (Onoufriou v Cyprus, 24407/04 10 December 2009, para. 69). Sensory experience does not constitute the full picture of dignity violations, but it can be a key aspect of treatment that reflects or communicates dignity and disrespect.
Recognising this is beneficial for furthering our understanding of dignity and its concretisation from within a human rights law perspective. In the context of human rights law – both legal instruments and case law – individual and communal experiences are filtered into the legal form, of proscriptive abstract statements and narratives retold for the purpose of judicial decision-making. As such, the totality of particular experiences is not – and cannot be – conveyed or appreciated in this forum. For this reason, we’ve found it interesting to reflect on how attention to sensory experience can help shape the delineation of dignity-respecting treatment beyond its partial rendering in legal texts, through a richer understanding of what is really going on at the level of an individual’s experiences of violations of the prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Notably, there is substantial scope within the ECtHR’s case law on inhuman and degrading treatment for the recognition of the way in which (cumulative) sensory experiences, or lack thereof, may communicate, often in diffuse fashion, distinct from the “fanfare” (Luban 2014, p. 129) of torture, a denial of equal humanity; and how they may serve, intentionally or not, to wear someone down, or even break their spirit. Often this recognition is present, but goes unspoken – the sensory dimensions of one’s subjection to profound powerlessness, severe distress, or loss of hope, are often to be found between the lines of the Court’s reasoning – for example, when the Court sets out an acceptable square metres per person to avoid overcrowding (e.g. Muršić v. Croatia, 7334/13, 20 October 2016), or when it deems detention conditions to be ‘insanitary’ (e.g. Kalashnikov v. Russia, 47095/99, 15 July 2002), or describes prolonged solitary confinement as “one of the most serious measures which can be imposed within a prison” (e.g. A.B. v. Russia, 1439/06, 14 October 2010), para. 104, 112).
In a sphere of judicial decision-making where empathy can play a significant role (Heri 2021, chapter 7), it is worth asking: what would be the impact if human rights doctrine were to accommodate a more immersive sensory experience of the places and circumstances faced by individuals? How might such an approach inform judicial responses to carceral settings in particular? The “vividness of imagined experiences” (Webster 2018, p. 71) within judicial reasoning might be enhanced by a greater appreciation of sensory dimensions. While there seems to be something particularly relevant from a dignity perspective about the social gaze, the way that individuals see themselves, and the presence of onlookers in judgments surrounding torture, inhuman and/or degrading treatment or punishment, the significance of seeing need not negate the significance of sensing more broadly. There is space for these broader perspectives to enrich context-sensitive assessments (see discussion in Mavronicola 2021, p. 93-105) of when particular experiences fall within the scope of the prohibition of torture, inhuman and/or degrading treatment or punishment.
Foregrounding the sensory within human rights law perspectives could constitute a valuable resource, just as connecting the sensory to the language of dignity within criminological perspectives could constitute a valuable resource. And it goes without saying that, in scrutinising the experience of persons in detention, there is a continued need to engage creatively with all the resources we have available.
Recently, whilst designing a research project, I decided to look back on and examine my own experiences of participating in criminological research. I wanted to reflect on how we design and conduct research, bringing in knowledge of how it feels to be on the other side of the screen. I am a victim-survivor of abuse and have taken part in a small number of academic projects relating to this over the years. As I have only taken part in online interviews, and with an awareness many victim-survivors will experience the process differently to the way I do, I decided to investigate, and this is where I discovered a gaping hole in our conversations. There is plenty written about ‘ethical’ practice with victims of crime (Newman et al, 2006; Burgess-Proctor, 2014), how academics experience conducting their own research (Rice, 2009; Ross, 2017), and how methods may be experienced by participants (see Hlavka et al, 2007 and Campbell et al, 2009). But notably, almost all of this is written by and filtered through researchers, usually based on post-interview questions about the participant’s experience of the process. I question the effectiveness of this. How freely can those who have just sat in their vulnerability critique those imbued with more power? Participants do not have the same space to communicate for themselves about their experiences of taking part, and it seems that this has resulted in the loss of some of the nuance of emotions and sensations that taking part in research as a victim of crime can elicit.
Your research projects come into our lives suddenly and unexpectedly. Most often this is via a social media post, perhaps seen on a Saturday afternoon whilst I am sat with my family. There is a juxtaposition in this, the softness and warmth of my home against the harsh reminder of the world that exists outside of and prior to this new reality I have created. The pain which permanently exists under the surface is brought to the fore. But something about the research draws my interest and makes me stop, or go back to it. Curiosity perhaps. Most people don’t want to hear about my past, my existence is too uncomfortable for them to acknowledge and so they strip it from me on my behalf. We don’t have to talk about that. But I want to talk about it, and suddenly my head is bursting with things I didn’t know I wanted to say.
The words are almost tumbling out as I type a controlled message offering my time. Tap, tap, tap. My finger hesitates over the little arrow before I hit send. An odd thing about participating in research as a victim of abuse is that alongside the desire to be heard, worry and shame creep in at this point. Worry because I now have all these things I want to say, and if they say no I will have nowhere to put them. I will be left scrabbling to contain them again. I know I will be disappointed because the child within who couldn’t speak now desperately wants to be heard. The shame sits in my having contacted this ever-so-important person at all. Abuse lies, tells you that you have nothing of value to offer. Shame is the feeling of taking up too much space, and of needing to squash yourself into the smallest possible version so as not to trouble anyone. I am probably wasting their time.
Something that often goes unconsidered when designing time or resource pressured research is how we will communicate with people if they do not fit our study, or if we have finished data collection. Sometimes these limits are framed as ensuring researchers are not ‘over collecting’ data so as not to upset people unnecessarily, which while intended to be ethical, is actually cruel in its denial. What may seem like an innocuous email to say no thank you, might be experienced as deeply painful to someone who has already given something of themselves. If it has to be, effectively communicating why the decision has been made alongside a sincere acknowledgement that you appreciate them taking the time to get in touch can make all the difference to someone who has been repeatedly told they are not enough.
But in this case they say yes, and the interview is arranged. The screen flicks on, and the things most immediately apparent to me are that I am not in control, and the attention is entirely on me. In a way which is hard to put my finger on this feels reminiscent of the crimes I experienced. The distance through the screen mimics the disconnect I once felt with the world around me. The invisible bubble. The Untouchable. Suddenly I am acutely aware of the chair digging into my back, of not knowing where to put my arms and legs. Everything feels wrong. I feel myself shift uncomfortably whilst I try to project the image that everything is okay. Smile. That’s what ‘in control’ looks like, right? Is it? I can’t quite remember. Adrenaline floods my body; I can hear my heartbeat and I can feel that I am shaking slightly. Thump-thump, thump-thump. I clench my muscles in an attempt to regain some control. All of my senses tunnel in on this interaction, and everything else around me almost ceases to exist. There is an eerie stillness in being hyperaware of your breathing, of the tenseness in your body, in perceiving the other person, offset by the relative silence around me as my brain mutes out background information. But I want to do this. I focus on the questions, and on saying what I want to convey. Time and space begin to contort as I narrate both in the then and the now.
I wonder what the researcher sees in this moment. I suspect not much. Many victim-survivors, especially adult survivors of childhood trauma, are experts at masking pain. We often hide our experiences for many years, learning as children to live in disguise. Online research makes it easier for me to mask my distress. I can position my screen so that all you see is my face. So that you don’t witness the shaking, the shifting, the fiddling with a piece of Blu Tack. Abuse taught me how to disassociate my mind from my body, and I subconsciously do that now. I have learnt to mute myself, to deny my own physicality. I have learnt to silence myself before I am silenced, as a form of control. To exist in a half form so that I might be palatable.
Researchers may develop a strategy for managing participants distress, but in order to implement this we need to have perceived it. This can be difficult if someone is not visibly upset. Using Fricker’s concept of ‘hermeneutical injustice’ (2007), it is hard for me to communicate my experiences in a way which others will understand without showing them the physical effect on me. Abuse is inherently sensory, I can explain it only in how it felt, in sounds, and smells. Without this framework it is hard for others to comprehend, but this level of detail can be hard for researchers to hear, and so many reject it. ‘I don’t want you to get upset, shall we stop’, centres the researcher and inadvertently communicates that this may be becoming too much for you. That you want to stop. For me, my becoming upset isn’t necessarily a negative thing. In fact this may be one of very few spaces I can express myself in an authentic way. ‘Remember that this is your space, we can do whatever you need ’ communicates that the participant is in control, and gives someone whose “no” has previously been ignored permission to advocate for themselves. To be present in their whole form. To exist.
Afterwards the adrenaline floods out of my body, like a tidal wave has crashed and dissipated, leaving me tired and drained. But this experience has also felt freeing; I have put down some of the heavy stones which I carry. Brené Brown once said that “shame thrives on secrecy, silence and judgement. Shame cannot survive being spoken” (2012). In the very act of speaking, in a scenario where I have the safety of remaining anonymous, some of the shame I feel has been drawn out and leached. I have released it, and it less so belongs to me. Each time I speak, my body feels a little lighter to inhabit. I feel proud, and the warm swell that starts in my chest grows and spreads down each arm and into my fingertips. I feel bigger somehow, like an unfurling, and it is one of those rare occasions where it feels good to take up space. To have grasped at power in the choice of speaking. Of, in some small way, helping those who will come after me. In this moment I feel strong, and defiant.
Something that has come to interest me is the question of whether there is a risk that participants may feel emotions ‘outside of normal experience’, and I wonder who’s experiences we are using to define ‘normal’? To those who have not experienced trauma, what I have described would seem to be ‘outside of normal experience’. But I exist within and navigate this space every day. When I watch a film or go online, I do so knowing that I could be confronted with abuse at any time. I go out in public knowing that men will sometimes stand a little too close behind me. I have learnt to navigate and manage these things because abuse is a life sentence. I will never cease to be a victim-survivor. There is an arrogance in the assumption that I do not live with my experiences outside of academia’s research interests.
My identity has been forcibly and irrevocably changed, but that does not mean that I will never be in a position to talk about my experiences. Yes, talking about it is painful, but the silencing hurts more. Returning to Fricker’s work (2007), there is violence in the testimonial injustice inflicted on those who have experienced abuse, in the academy’s refusal to accept our right to frame our own narrative and make our own decisions about our ability to participate safely. The chokehold of his hand and of his threats now manifests in the chokehold of others’ discomfort, and in my fear of being cast out. The body has an horrendous ability to remember and replicate the bodily sensations of being silenced. And so important things remain unspoken, and I remain unseen. Being told my truth cannot exist in the world because of someone else’s perception of what is an ‘acceptable’ level of emotion is akin to having my voice removed once more. It is the imposition of power, of being spoken for, in others attempts to manage ‘risk’.
As soon as I was made a victim of abuse my entire existence became defined by risk. My risk of poor mental health. Of relationship breakdowns. Of chronic illness. Nothing is ever defined in relation to my strength. My power. My capacity to create change. I am an adult with the rights to make my own decisions, and I can assure you that victim-survivors do not speak without careful consideration and assessment first. Finding the balance is tricky, but in our desire to protect our participants we must also take care not to stifle those who want to speak, because of our failure to confront our own discomfort and fear. If you are not prepared to hear then do not do research with victims of crime, or you will compound and become complicit in the violence of our forced dissonance from the self.
Going back to rupi kaur’s poem, every day I become less afraid of my own voice. But in it’s assertions that it is acting in my best interests, I feel deeply the silencing and rejection from an academy which is afraid of hearing me.
Burgess-Proctor, A. (2014) Methodological and ethical issues in feminist research with abused women: Reflections on participants’’ vulnerability and empowerment. Women’s Studies International Forum, 48.
Campbell, R., Adams, A., Wasco, S., Ahrens, C. and Sefl, T. (2009) Training Interviewers for Research on Sexual Violence: A Qualitative Study of Rape Survivors’ Recommendations for Interview Practice. Violence Against Women, 15(5).
Fricker, M. (2007) Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hlavka, H. Kruttschnitt, C. and Carbone-López, K. (2007) Revictimizing the victims? Interviewing women about interpersonal violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(7).
Kaur, R. (2015) Milk and Honey. Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing.
Newman, E., Risch, E. and Kassam-Adams, N. (2006) Ethical Issues in Trauma-Related Research: A Review. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 1(3).
Rice, C. (2009) Imagining the other? Ethical challenges of researching and writing women’s embodied lives. Feminism and psychology, 19(2).
Ross, L. (2017) An Account from the Inside: Examining the Emotional Impact of Qualitative Research Through the Lens of “Insider Research”. Qualitative Psychology, 4(3).
Sensory criminology stresses the utility of broader, sensory experience for understanding processes of criminal justice. In doing so, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of over-emphasising the novelty of such approaches, but this would be to overlook the ways in which the sensory is deeply embedded in criminal justice practices. There are a host of exciting and innovative projects and people in a number of fields, doing vital work such as Forensic architecture, a research agency investigating an array of human and nature rights abuses, based at Goldsmiths using all manner of innovative approaches both applied and theoretical. Their Saydnaya project with Amnesty international is a persuasive demonstration of how the sensory can be combined with other techniques to powerful effect. They met with survivors and used their testimony to create an account of what went on behind the prison walls, using architectural and acoustic modelling. Kate McClean’s work in Sensory maps is another example of the ways foregrounding the sensory provide a means of deepening and broadening our understanding. The Odeuropanetwork, and their site host a number of innovative cross-disciplinary initiatives. It is not new developments I wish to focus on here, but the contention that the value of attending to the sensory is evident in established criminal justice practices – specifically in the form of cognitive interviewing – and that acknowledging this raises interesting and important questions for criminology.
Cognitive interviewing (CI) demarcates emotions and the senses, usefully distinguishing between these separate realms of experience. CI and the ideas that underpin it, provide an example of how sensory sources of knowledge are embedded in forms of criminal justice. Exploring these methods further reveals how an absence of dialogue between practice and theory has – in the case of the sensory – left theory lagging behind. Attending to the broader uses of sensory experience provides powerful instruction for research practice, and a means of deepening our understanding of violence and its impact.
Cognitive interviewing is a technique used for accurate information retrieval and/or “research synthesis” in social science, forensic and health settings (e.g. Miller et al. 2014; Beatty and Willis 2007). CI is a means of improving the quality of questionnaire data as well as a host of other applications for gathering information, but has gained greatest traction as a technique for interviewing victims and witnesses following a crime – most usually of a more serious, violent nature. In England and Wales CI was nationally wheeled out in 1993 (Shepherd et al. 1999). Its implementation across Australian, American and Canadian police services has been somewhat piecemeal though encouraging witnesses to “rely on their senses” in the process of interview retrieval has a long history, if often focused on speedily concluding investigation and suspects’ testimony (Alpert et al 2012). It has been demonstrated to be more effective than either standard interviewing or hypnosis (Geiselmen et al 1985). Its precision has been built upon in subsequent refinements in both practice and theory, while retaining its two core objectives: retrieving as much accurate information as possible, while safeguarding the wellbeing of the interviewee.
How does it work?
CI works to increase the amount and accuracy of memory retrieval, by circumventing the trauma, arousal and/or anxiety induced by witnessing or being involved in a violent event and minimising the conflabulations (the filling of gaps in memory with believed but false recollection) and inaccuracies that can result. CI places the health and wellbeing of the interviewee at the centre of the process by increasing their agency and control over the course of the interview. This is underscored by the crossover in use of these techniques in therapeutic and forensic settings. While cognitive interviewing has been enhanced and further developed, the basic cognitive theory and principles of memory its retrieval remain; i)in times of stress and trauma memory is better elicited when the broad conditions of the event are recreated, ii)when the subject is encouraged to think about all manner of detail, and iii)when they are encouraged to revisit the event from different points and iv)different perspectives.
These four points of memory retrieval strongly insinuate the sensory. They encourage the foregrounding of detail and perspective which might otherwise be regarded as peripheral, thereby utilising the weaknesses and quirks of memory while under duress; e.g. the trauma and/or distress of being caught up in a violent event. Lieutenant Jason Potts illustrates this point when he quotes Lisak (2002): “Victims are often able to recall the texture of a rapist’s shirt before being able to remember if the suspect was wearing a hat”. Reliving rich and vivid sensory experience, or “flashbacks”, characterise intrusive recollections; a “hallmark” of post-traumatic stress disorder (Clancy et al. 2020). Lee Broadbent’s tweet powerfully illustrates the debilitating effects of these intrusive, traumatic revisitations for witnesses, victims and those caught up in the aftermath of violent events. Effects cognitive interviewing can work to manage.
It is increasingly acknowledged that these techniques are useful when interviewing suspects too. This more accurately reflects the significant number of perpetrators of violent offences who are identified as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and associated symptomscknowled. Acknowledging the complicated relationships between victim, perpetrator, violence and trauma also works to disrupt the simplistic binaries we tend to ascribe these categories (e.g. Ternes et al. 2019).
Why this matters
Cognitive interviewing has the subject/participants wellbeing at its core, providing a means of extending greater agency and control over the narrative course. This allows those being interviewed to reflect on their responses in was which extricate their emotional response from their recollections. In this way, sensory memories form part of a broader repertoire of coping strategies, lending greater power to the interviewee in ways which safeguard their wellbeing and protect them against additional trauma. This distinction between feeling and feelings, provides a useful means of distinguishing the sensory from the realm of emotions for which it often provides a powerful conduit. While memory of our senses can offer a compelling means of evoking emotion, they are entirely separate facets of human experience. The senses are not emotions and collapsing them risks obfuscating both our recognition of the epistemological and methodological potential of the sensory and our understanding of how we make sense of our world.
Potts persuasively argues that cognitive interviewing can enhance police legitimacy when dealing sensitively with victims and witnesses of crime. He demonstrates the value of considering how these long-established knowledges can be better and more consistently incorporated into practice. In the social sciences, these approaches to working with people who may be vulnerable and/or have suffered traumatic experiences, offers instruction for how we may proceed more ethically in the field. Attending to the sensory highlighted this in my own practice, providing me with a means of working carefully when researching sound in the prison environment. Considering the utlity of cognitive interviewing also serves to validate the role of the sensory in understanding matters criminological. In this aspect of criminology, theory is substantially behind practice. We speak about the iterative process between research and theory but attending more closely (and carefully) to the sensory reveals a chasm in communication between those of us who talk and teach and those of us who do and practice. The deeply embedded practices and wisdom of CI illustrate how impoverished our thinking can be in the absence of these conversations.
Being more sensitised to the sensory onslaught which characterises the aftermath of trauma allows us to better comprehend the profound toll of those working with violence and its aftermath. Accounting for how the sensory can be a source of intrusive recollection and distress allows for a more sensitive response to victims of violent crime, as Potts persuasively argued. More controversially, perhaps, this also carves out space for considering the impact of violence – as well as the often complicated and pre-existing relationship with it – for those who engagined in it. It is not so much the extension of these techniques in the field of interrogating suspects I argue for here, but rather what this affords us in greater and deeper understanding of a complex criminological phenomenon. Often, representations of violence become couched in those tensions between moral and legal discourse, to the detriment of disinterested inquiry. We cannot see, hear, smell, feel for the emotions that so frequently characterise responses to criminal justice (Karstedt et al 2011).
CI is an example of the ways in which the sensory informs practice and understanding in the realm of crime investigation. It also demonstrates the value of honouring the iterative process between practice and theory as it extends beyond our academic realm. Here is a means of clearly distinguishing between our sensory and emotional worlds, and an opportunity to reassess our understanding of violence and trauma. Far from being a frivolous novelty, or an academic indulgence, exploring the ideas underpinning the development and deep-rootedness of CI illustrates the profound source of understanding offered by our senses.
For more on this, and the potentials of sensory methods for understanding criminological practices and processes, please see our forthcoming chapter: Herrity, K., Schmidt, B., Warr, J.J. “Sensory “Heteroglossia” and Social Control: Sensory Methodology and Method“ in Dodge, M., Faria, R. (eds) Qualitative Research in Criminology: Cutting Edge Methods. Springer
Alpert, G.P., Rojek, J. and Noble, J. (2012) ‘The cognitive interview in policing: negotiating control’, Australian Research Council, Centre for Excellence in Policing briefing paper, issue 13. Available online: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/30678703.pdf
Beatty, J.C., Willis, G.B. (2007) “Research synthesis: the practice of cognitive interviewing”, Public Opinion Quarterly 71(2): 287-311.
Shepherd, E., Mortimer, A., Turner, V. and Watson, J. (1999) ‘Spaced cognitive interviewing: facilitating therapeutic and forensic narration of traumatic memories’, Psychology, Crime and Law 5(1-2): 117-143.
Ternes, M., Cooper, B.S., Griesel, D. (2019) “The perpetration of violence and the experience of trauma: exploring predictors of PTSD symptoms in male violent offenders” International Journal of Forensic Health Vol.19, No.1
The theatre of law, the performance of accountability, justice and peace. The aesthetic grandeur of shiny courtroom glass, the scent of polished wooden fixings and fittings, the nostalgia of legal dress: dark shades of silk, the gleaming white centrepiece of robes, and the noticeable absence of clustered horsehair. The glare of the world through high-end Sony lenses, strategically placed to capture the actors in this performance of law. Their moments of triumph, despair, authority, indifference. The abrupt but comforting material banality of security x-ray machines, the fire evacuation diagram fastened to a wall, the heavily branded hot drinks machine, which accompanies, bears witness to these seismic life events.
Parallel to the public spectacle of international criminal justice, are the behind-the-scenes activities, back passages and corridors that is the legal archive documenting, recording, categorising, constructing, producing stories of past events, actions, actors, and experiences.
The archive, the material – who is it for? Me the researcher, me the teacher, me the curious member of the public? The legal people: lawyers, clerks, the investigators, the victims’ advisers? Them, over there, the individual, community, society, the bearers of trauma, the nameless who international justice purports to put centre stage, but all too often remain distant, absent, at the margins, a hollowed out rhetorical vessel of hope?
Space, place, and material stimulate the senses and memories. The distant memory of a particular smell. A trivial touch that thrusts us back to a moment of lived potency. The low toned circular sound of machinery providing momentary soothing respite. These stimulations are particularly evident at sites such as legal archives documenting traumatic pasts.
Archives are not neutral depositories of history.1 They are interplays of social, legal, cultural, and political constructs.2 Archives are also not neutral in the way they stimulate memories and the senses, which directly interacts and shapes our experience both of them and the stories within.
A legal archive: outside
The manmade and natural environment neighbouring an archive building can act as sources of sensory and memory stimulation before one enters, but which may journey with us inside. A soft warm breeze gently resting on our skin, meandering through our nasal cavities tickles a fond memory of a day in the countryside. Ascending the few steps leading to the building’s entrance a slightly out-of-place and elevated concrete slab engages at speed with the toes of our left foot. A first jolt forward head overtakes the knees, the right foot steadies the body, a quick glance around to see if anyone has witnessed this embarrassment, followed by an attempt at normalcy. A memory of vulnerability presents itself, not a specific memory but a feeling which like the blown seeds of a dandelion, scatter and linger in the mind. We open the door and enter.
A legal archive: inside
The bright and artificial harsh lighting makes it clear we have entered the institution. The small circular green and amber lights rhythmically flash as we pass through the metal detector. The sights and sounds of the archive reception room bring a sense of excitement and anticipation for the explorations to come. At the same time, the mood board of memory and sensory stimulation gathered during our morning remains close. The catalogue, a formidable gatekeep of the archive. It simultaneously brings a sense of order whilst being an unrelenting and impenetrable mass – numbers, labels, titles, dates. The rhythmic and authoritative ascending numbers and letters of archival coding, only partially quenches the sensory overload.
The material and post-conflict communities
Testimonies of action, the premeditated and spontaneous, the mundane. Spoken by witnesses, victims, perpetrators, foreigners. The objective storytelling of forensic reports, the matter-of-fact experience of death and suffering, the clinical imagery of x-rays showing a single neat bullet hole in the cranium of a nameless victim: ‘female, age 13-17’, a statistical accolade marking the failings of humanity. The letters and diary entries of perpetrators detailing, a ruthless plan, the functionary itinerary of a top-brass meeting, self-reflections on loneliness and fear. Imagery, the theatre of the trial, visual representations of atrocity, but also the everyday lived realities of its aftermath, and the intimate portraits of family celebrations before the violence.
These materials are memories, fragments of memories, which unlike the theatre of law whose story is singular and rigid, are plural, fluid and dynamic. These somewhat side-lined fragments can stimulate the senses, memory and dialogue, and between individuals and within communities. Words can be hard to find, particularly those that seek to describe traumatic and complex social events and relationships. The material fragments of memory through its sensory stimulation can be a gateway to articulating plural experiences of shared traumatic pasts, and connections to the present and future. The material fragments of memory in atrocity legal archives can open up understanding about how justice, peace, and social repair might look, sound and feel like to those who have experienced horrendous suffering.
Sight: the Rockstar of the senses
Sight as a tool to explore crime, law and justice, especially the ‘serious’ international versions has elevated this sense into somewhat of a socialite of the senses: wherever there is a sensory ‘gig’ sight is there at the top table of the VIP room. Before the tumbleweed crossing this blog occurs following the exiting of offended visually-orientated readers, the ocular has a lot to offer archival fragments of memory. A photograph of the post-conflict period depicting an image of a church could stimulate plural dialogue. Photographs are sites not when meaning is given but where meaning is negotiated and searched for. But, to fully seek the potential of archival fragments of memories for local communities we must consider not only the ‘look at me, look at me’ socialite of the senses but embrace the opportunities of the wider sensory field.
The sensory entourage
The sounds of atrocity, justice and attempts to navigate life in the aftermath of violence, are sources of stimulation. A stimulation of memories about difficult past events: both the internal memories of lived experiences, and external memories of narratives and trauma connected to lived realities but belonging to other people. The fragments of sound can also stimulate memories that are somewhat detached from the origins of the aural source though can equally stimulate reflection, exploration and dialogue. Touch, taste and smell are also present in archival encounters, sometimes through physical interaction with the material, and sometimes through the visuality which stimulates a past scent, a forgotten touch, a sweet taste. The senses, like memory, do not exist in an enclosed sphere, like an ornamental snow globe that when shaken the snow travels only within the boundaries of the glass wall. Instead, the senses are dynamic and fluid, pivoting from one direction to another sometimes with no warning and dashing in different directions. The lived reality of shared past experiences is plural, and the untethered nature of the senses is arguably a core component of legal archive material as well as post-conflict communities engagement with them.
International criminal justice likes distance, it embraces it, usually insists on it. The justification for this distancing from the sites of atrocity is neutrality and objectivity, to keep it sterile from the events it is judging.3 The archives of international justice are also distant from those these courts claim to put centre stage: none of the archives are located within the territories of the affected communities. Some material of international criminal justice is digitally available. But, the distance of the physical archive undoubtedly impacts on sensory, and likely memory stimulation. Whilst digital archives can engage these, the loss of physical materiality of both the archive and the material for affected communities continues to put up hurdles for the potential of legal archives.
Legal atrocity archives are commonly understood as having utility value as evidence or sources for fact finding endeavours. However, these archives understood instead as sites of research in themselves and interplays of the social, legal, cultural and political, force us to challenge and disrupt our understanding of what a legal archive is, what is its purpose, and who is it for? Crucially it illuminates that these archives in their attempts at institutional sterility and distance act to remove the actors that these materials record. There is an urgent need to relocate atrocity affected communities to the centre of legal records documenting their lived experiences. Ultimately it requires international criminal justice to listen to these communities, and to allow them to be active participants in exploring what justice, peace and social repair looks, sounds and feels like.
Thorne, B., 2020. Remembering atrocities: legal archives and the discursive conditions of witnessing. The International Journal of Human Rights, 25(3), pp.467-490.
Redwood, H.A., 2020. Archiving (In) justice: Building Archives and Imagining Community. Millennium, 48(3), pp.271-296.
Clark, P., 2018. Distant Justice: The Impact of the International Criminal Court on African Politics. Cambridge University Press.
In February 2014, I was carrying out fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro less than two months before the FIFA World Cup commenced. I had been invited to an International Mega Events and Cities Conference to join discussions on human rights, urbanisation, public policy, law, violence and security, accompanied by a tour of the primary site of discussion, the Maracanã Stadium, which was due to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. I still remember the words from the keynote speaker, Carlos Vainer, Professor at the Urban and Regional Planning and Research Institute at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (IPPUR/UFR): “There are winners and there are losers in life; this is also in the same context as any soccer match. We are yet to determine who will win or lose between the government and the Brazilian people.”
The Brazilian government was involved in greed, corruption and, as you might expect, a lack of consideration for the people of Rio through rapid urban transformations (which the image below vividly depicts). From exploring Rio, I could feel the intensity of the mega-event developments from the explosion of street protests, FIFA-themed resistant art and the noise resulting from helicopters hovering over Rio’s favelas and the stadium construction. The increased occupancy of the UPP stations (“Unidades de Policia Pacificadora”) maximised and militarised security by restoring state control in the favelas and integrating the favelas to address urban violence and disarm drug traffickers. In other words, the government wanted to set the stage for a global audience: a problem-free and glamorous Rio de Janeiro, but with a high price to pay for those not invited to the match.
The Aldeia Maracanã is a sacred, multi-ethnic village and resistance space in Rio de Janeiro that sits next to the Maracanã Stadium. The area has been occupied by indigenous urban people since 2006 and is the site of Brazil’s first indigenous museum, a building abandoned since the 1970s. Between 2006 and 2013, the Maracanã village bloomed into a community that became home to over thirty indigenous people from 17 different ethnic backgrounds. The indigenous people now had a vibrant space for rituals, fairs, cultural classes and bioconstruction to disseminate ancestral knowledge and demystify prejudices that indigenous people “do not belong” in the city. There have been numerous eviction attempts, with many of the community living in constant – and ongoing – threat of violent removals. The village faced brutality in the preparations for the World Cup and Olympics. In 2013, a military operation stormed the indigenous village using tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades and physical violence. Brazil’s colonial past has created a socio-political disintegrated landscape in which both race and ethnicity remain problematic. Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, and the ILO Convention 169, ratified by the government in 2002, offers protection to indigenous and quilombola groups. However, the reality suggests otherwise. An example of this is the non-existent land rights and a lack of building ownership for the indigenous Indians in Rio de Janeiro. The defence of tribal land rights are under enormous pressure from the current right-wing President Jair Bolsonara as Indigenous leaders have been fighting against Bolsonara’s man-led genocidal policies of environmental destruction of rainforests, including the Amazon.
Participants in the International Mega Events and Cities Conference, including myself, visited the Maracanã site with a local guide who lived close to the stadium. We were also taken to the Aldeia Maracanã.
The above picture shows the front of the indigenous home. On approaching the sacred building, I was met with an eerie sense permeating the space, and of what had been left of the Aldeia Maracanã from state-sanctioned violence, even though this visit occurred a year after the attack. The eeriness increased as I stood in the largely empty space in the aftermath of the tragedy. I began to picture a lively image and spirit of the indigenous community nurturing a home and school of sanctuary; creating art through painting, music and laughter. I also saw a garden in bloom with colourful vegetables and fruit, having the power of spoken words to educate the people of Rio on their traditions, and perhaps, creating common ground in a shared world where violations of residents’ rights led to thousands of Rio’s poorest being evicted for the games.
This was a life lived on guard against the threat of outsider raids – the violence nearing, not waiting or knocking, but forcing through their home. The air was stale and silent, despite being beside the stadium construction, and the windows represented dark, empty eyes on the inside, as if presenting a witness to the disappearance of indigenous life. Once we drew closer to the building, the display of the murals covering the Aldeia created a sense that theindigenous movement would return and that we are to view the murals as a visual message of presence, pain and resistance – “Commissions of Injustice”.
The building, standing like a skeleton, provides the framework for an indigenous man’s head; a gaunt portrait of what has been left in the ruins. The man’s eyes hold no fear as he looks directly at the viewers, who have no choice but to stare back into the windows of a now shattered shell. The portrait, painted on a crumbling plaster façade, is like a Giotto fresco. The image was not, however, paid for by a rich family like the Medicis. Instead, it came at a higher price, the cost of displaced indigenous families. Ruby war paint, a red cross in battle, covers the indigenous man’s nose, mouth and forehead like markings of blood and violence enveloping his sense of smell, vision and future insight. The arch of his eyebrows and nose opens into wings like the tail of a bird. Unlike a dove of peace, it leads to a pathway cut out by the disfigurement of his ebony raven locks—a shaved centre parting carved across his skull with a phoenix descending into a yellow flame.
On the corner of the Aldeia, the face of an indigenous child is crying heavy tears of blood as if they will drown in them, creating a pool of redness around the edge of the chin that does not leave the child’s face. The red eyes represent what the child may be seeing and experiencing; the battle against their family and community members, suffering, perhaps anger, but most certainly danger, as shown by their small mouth gaping in horror at the display of violence. The child’s hair is missing from the middle, deep enough to have been pulled out by the roots. With more harm inflicted from the missing part of their head, they will not forget this, even if it represents the onset of becoming invisible after the battle. The vulnerability remains beside the boarded fence which prevents the viewer from seeing beneath; a stick of sorts is either diagonally going into the child or being held up in defence. It is difficult to look away from the indigenous child’s trauma.
The perimeter of the Aldeia has the appearance of a prison with high steel fencing, wire and the reflection of the security camera indicating state control and monitoring of the sacred building. The chain padlock on the fencing adds another element to the atmospheric mix of distrust and control. The government is determined to prevent indigenous freedom and does so by keeping away and shutting out culture, diversity and Mother Earth. This is a village and university in survival mode floundering in a sea of tension due to war and encroachment on sacred space by the government. Indigenous people are not “urban rubbish” that can be discarded, and they are not losers in the games played by FIFA. A reinstatement of ancestral territory ownership will be reborn. The collective fight will return.
Alongside studying criminology and finishing my copy of Sensory Penalties, I have attempted to breathe life into my field notes that sat untouched in a drawer; scribbles on how I felt, what I saw and what I imagined by sharing the whole experience when I visited the Aldeia Maracanã. I believe I received a learning gift from indigenous communities in standing up to and epitomising injustice as fully as possible. I have opened the sensory aspects to a space and building where indigenous life had forcefully disappeared – and I was moved by the absence of the community and the after-effects of the military police ‘storm’ tactics of grenade bangs, weapon whacks and shots of pepper spray that left stale air and stone-cold silence. The initial unease of ghostly eeriness on approaching and standing in front of the Aldeia Maracanã acted as a trace to the brutality of 2013 and the outside remains, the murals, allowed me to resist a simplistic interpretation of the Aldeia as a vacant ‘haunted like’ building, but one in which Indigenous preservation and resistance are still present.
Comissões de Injustiça no Rio de Janeiro: indígena preservação e da resistência
“Todos assumem que as favelas são todas inviáveis, mas estão unidas por laços estreitos com a comunidade. [Moradores de favelas] não tiveram outra escolha a não ser tornar a vida o mais viável possível, já que o Estado faz vista grossa… Alguns desses despejos são corruptos, [procurando] ganhar as melhores áreas do Rio de Janeiro.” (James Freeman, professor da Universidade de Concórdia no mega evento estratégico das favelas do Rio de Janeiro.
Em Fevereiro de 2014, eu estava realizando trabalhos de campo no Rio de Janeiro a dois meses antes do início da Copa do Mundo da FIFA, onde fui convidada a participar em uma Conferência Internacional de Mega Eventos e Cidades sobre os direitos humanos, urbanização, políticas públicas, direitos, violência e segurança. Esta Conferência Internacional seria por sua vez, acompanhada de um passeio pelo local principal de discussão, o Estádio do Maracanã, que viria a sediar a Copa do Mundo em 2014 e as Olimpíadas em 2016. Ainda me lembro das palavras do palestrante Carlos Vainer, professor do Instituto de Planejamento e Pesquisa Urbana e Regional da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (IPPUR/UFR): “Na vida existe vencedores e perdedores ; este contexto também existe em qualquer partida de futebol. Ainda estamos para determinar quem vai ganhar ou perder na partida entre o governo e o povo brasileiro”.
O Governo Brasileiro estava envolvido na ganância, corrupção e, como era de se esperar, existe uma falta de consideração para o povo do Rio através de expontâneas transformações urbanas (que a imagem abaixo retrata vividamente). Ao explorar o Rio de Janeiro, eu pude sentir a intensidade dos desenvolvimentos de protestos de rua, da arte resistente à temática da FIFA e do barulho resultante dos helicópteros sobrevoando a construção do Estádio e as favelas do Rio. O aumento da ocupação de esquadras polícias pela UPP (Unidades de Policia Pacificadora) maximizou e militarizou a segurança, o que possibilitou o restauro do controlo estatal nas favelas, ajudando a integrar as favelas no combate há violência urbana e a desarmar os traficantes de drogas. Em outras palavras, o Governo queria preparar o palco para uma audiência global: um Rio de Janeiro sem problemas e glamouroso, mas com um preço alto a pagar para quem não fosse convidado para a partida.
A Vila Maracanã é uma vila sagrada, multiétnica e centro da resistência no Rio de Janeiro situada ao lado do Estádio do Maracanã. A área é ocupada por povos indígenas desde 2006, e é o local do primeiro museu indígena do Brasil, um prédio que ficou ao abandono desde a década de 1970. Entre 2006 e 2013, a aldeia do Maracanã floresceu em uma comunidade que se tornou o lar de mais de trinta indígenas de 17 diferentes origens étnicas. Os indígenas agora tinham um espaço vibrante para os seus rituais, feiras, aulas culturais e bioconstrução como meio de disseminar o conhecimento ancestral e desmistificar preconceitos que os indígenas “não pertencem” na cidade.A vila enfrentou a brutalidade nos preparativos para a Copa do Mundo e Olimpíadas. Houve inúmeras tentativas de despejo violentas, o que causou uma vida de constante – e contínua ameaça aos moradores da comunidade. Em 2013, uma operação militar invadiu a aldeia indígena usando gás lacrimogêneo, spray pimenta, granadas de choque e violência física. O passado colonial brasileiro criou uma paisagem sociopolítica desintegrada na qual os factores raciais e étnicos permanecem controversos. Em 2002, o Governo Brasileiro retificou a Constituição Brasileira de 1988 e a Convenção 169 da OIT, onde ofereceu proteção a grupos indígenas e quilombolas. No entanto, a realidade sugere o contrário. Um dos exemplos disso são os direitos de terra inexistentes e a falta de propriedades dos índios indígenas no Rio de Janeiro. A defesa dos direitos das terras tribais está sob enorme pressão do atual presidente de direita Jair Bolsonaro, já que líderes indígenas têm vindo a lutar contra as políticas genocidas lideradas pelo homem de Bolsonaro na destruição ambiental das florestas tropicais, tais como a Amazônia.
O prédio permanece abandonado no rescaldo da Vila Maracanã.
No decorrer da Conferência Internacional de Mega Eventos e Cidades, fomos convidados a visitar o Estádio e a Vila Maracanã, na companhia de um guia local e residente da mesma.
A foto acima mostra a frente de uma casa indígena um ano após o ataque. Ao me aproximar do prédio sagrado, contemplei o espaço, e reflecti sobre o que havia sido deixado para atrás, um sentimento de violência sancionada pelo Estado.
Este sentimento de estranheza aumentou enquanto eu contemplava este espaço praticamente vazio repleto de tragédia. Esta estranheza me levou a imaginar de como seria o espírito da comunidade indígena, alimentando uma casa, o ensino dos seus costumes sagrados; na criação de arte através da pintura, música e riso. Também imaginei um jardim em flor com vegetais coloridos e frutas, tendo o poder da voz para educar o povo do Rio sobre as suas tradições, e talvez, criando um terreno e mundo compartilhado, onde as violações dos direitos dos moradores seriam respeitados. Direitos, esses, que foram ignorados, levando ao despejo de milhares de moradores mais podres.
Esta era uma vida vivida de protestos contra a ameaça de ataques de forasteiros – a violência se aproximando, não esperando ou batendo, mas forçando através de sua própria casa. O ar estava obsoleto e silencioso, apesar de estar ao lado da construção do estádio. As janelas no interior representavam os olhos escuros e vazios como se fosse uma das testemunhas do desaparecimento da vida indígena.
Uma vez que nos aproximamos do prédio, a exposição dos murais que cobrem a Aldeia criou uma sensação de que o movimento indígena retornaria, e que, deveriamos ver os murais como uma mensagem visual de presença, dor e resistência – “Comissões de Injustiça”.
O edifício, acima representa um esqueleto, com a estrutura facial de um homem indígena; um retrato magro do que foi deixado nas ruínas. O olhar do homem não demonstra medo, enquanto ele que olha diretamente para os espectadores, que não têm outra escolha a não ser olhar de volta para as janelas de uma concha agora quebrada. O retrato, pintado em uma fachada de gesso em ruínas, como se fosse uma pintura renascentista de Giotto. No realidade, a imagem não foi paga por uma família rica, como os Medicis. Em vez disso, veio oriundo do custo das famílias indígenas relocalizadas. A pintura da guerra do rubi, uma cruz vermelha em batalha, cobre o nariz, a boca e a testa do homem indígena como marcas de sangue e violência envolvendo seu olfato, visão e visão futura. O arco de suas sobrancelhas e nariz se abre como forma de asas e a cauda de pássaro. Ao contrário de uma pomba de paz, esta imagem leva a um caminho cortado pela desfiguração do seu corvo ébano; esculpida no seu crânio acompanhado com uma fênix descendo em uma chama amarela.
Na esquina da Aldeia se encontra uma pintura, representando um rosto de uma criança indígena chorando lágrimas de sangue, como se ela se afogasse nelas, criando uma poça de vermelhidão ao redor da borda do queixo da criança. Os olhos vermelhos representam o que a criança pode estar vendo e experienciando; a batalha contra a sua família e membros da comunidade, o sofrimento, perigos e sentimentos de raiva, o que é demostrado pela pequena boca, surpresa pelo horror e violência. A falta de cabelo no meio da cabeça da criança é profundo o suficiente, como se tivesse sido puxado pelas raízes. A vulnerabilidade permanece ao lado da cerca. Cerca esta que impede o espectador de olhar para baixo; uma imagem de um tipo de varas que estão entrelaçadas ao redor da criança, talvez como meio de defesa, sendo difícil desviar o olhar da criança indígena.
O perímetro da Aldeia é parecido com o de uma prisão, cercas de aço alto, arame e câmeras de segurança indicando o controle estatal e o monitoramento do edifício sagrado. O cadeado de corrente adiciona outro elemento à mistura atmosférica de desconfiança e controle. O governo está determinado a impedir a liberdade indígena e o faz mantendo-se afastado na exclusão da cultura, diversidade e da Terra Mãe.
Esta é uma aldeia vive em um modo de sobrevivência, pois existe um constante mar de tensão devido à guerra e à invasão do governo na profanação do espaço sagrado. Os indígenas não são o nosso “lixo urbano”, nem os perdedores dos jogos disputados pela FIFA, onde podem ser descartados em qualquer oportunidade. Uma reintegração da propriedade do território ancestral renascerá, e a luta coletiva voltará.
Além de estudar criminologia e terminar a minha cópia de Penalidades Sensoriais, tentei dar vida às minhas notas de campo que estavam intocadas em uma gaveta; rabiscos sobre como me senti, o que vi e o que imaginei compartilhando toda a minha experiência quando visitei a Vila Maracanã. Acredito que fui presenteada de uma forma única e preciosa, ao aprender os factos vivenciados pelas comunidades indígenas, no confronto e no sistema simbólico da injustiça.
Esta experiência me fez compreender que o tudo aquilo que havia permanecido da comunidade indígena teria sido forçado a desaparecer. Acabando por ficar comovida pela ausência da comunidade e pelos efeitos posteriores das táticas de “tempestade” da polícia militar, sendo estes, golpes de granada, golpes de armas e tiros de spray de pimenta que deixaram no ar um sentimento envelhecido e silêncioso. O mal-estar inicial da estranheza fantasmagórica ao nos aproximar da Aldeia Maracanã nos serviu como um conta histórias , onde era visível o teor de brutalidade em 2013 e os restos externos, através dos murais, onde havia a representação simplista da Aldeia seria como um prédio vazio”assombrado pelo passado” e um espírito presente da preservação e da resistência indígena.
In mid-2020, my small, city-centre studio apartment became not only my lecture theatre and seminar room, but also the space where I conduct my research. I am, at time of writing, researching the use of video-call technology in prisons in England and Wales, looking specifically at how this is experienced by families of people in prison. This technology – an app called Purple Visits – was designed specifically for prisons with the necessary security features, but at its core it allows people in prison and their families to video-call in a way that has become increasingly familiar to many of us during COVID-19.
In a peculiar twist of fate, I have only been able to conduct interviews using either Zoom or the telephone. The original research design, mapped out prior to the start of the pandemic, would have involved me meeting with research participants face-to-face. So, whereas I would normally spend hours travelling to the interviewees, the research participants and I now enter each others’ homes, albeit virtually.
For those who opt for Zoom with the video on, this is all the more true. They can see my kitchen, the gin bar behind my shoulder, hear my neighbour’s dog (the bane of my current confined existence) barking next door to me. Likewise, I am able to see the research participants’ homes. At times, this helps build rapport – some show me their pets, their living rooms, or other items they are talking about during their interview (for example, one interviewee displayed the artwork she shared with her incarcerated loved one on their video-call and another her home office). Recently, an interviewee showed me the photos of her imprisoned sons. In another interview the interviewee’s teenage child was sat next to her and I could hear the young woman’s voice in the background. This would not have been possible were we sat in a community centre or office, and adds an additional dimension to the interviews.
There is also a sense of ease and comfort to these interviews, which, upon reflection, was unexpected for me as a researcher. In ‘normal’ times, these would be held in a private office, community centre, or a function room of a pub or cafe. We would be surrounded the hubbub and sensory intrusions of everyday life – the smells of coffee, the noises of doors shutting, even interruptions of someone knocking on the door or needing to pick something up from the room we were in. It would also be a neutral space with a sense of “official research interview” to the meeting. I would be dressed in work clothes, for example, and have my hair and makeup done. Online interviews are arranged (when possible) at a time when participants are mostly in a quiet and totally private place so there was very littlebackground noise. Likewise, I live alone, so there is very little interruption (noisy dog notwithstanding).
It is peculiar how the dynamics change when one is sat in their pyjama bottoms, in one’s own living room. Or, if the interview is on the phone, lying on the sofa or bed with my eyes closed, recovering from what is usually an exhausting day of teaching and marking. Even on video-calls, I am usually dressed in lounge or sports clothes rather than business attire. For me, the experience becomes an informal conversation, the sort of chat we have become so accustomed to during COVID-19 lockdowns. I become an over-worked academic in a similar situation to the stressed participants, who are often juggling work and childcare and supporting someone in prison. The researcher-participant hierarchy feels, to some extent, flattened for me – though of course I am aware that this might not be the case for those I interview. For instance, most appear on Zoom video calls dressed in what seem to be “work clothes”, and so might experience the interview as more formal than I do. Nonetheless, there is a sense of togetherness I seek to create via chats about lockdowns and COVID-19 and other topical issues (currently, this is vaccination in prisons!).
The sense of ease and the familiarity of one’s own setting helps most of the interviews to flow easily, with participants sharing their experiences openly and candidly. Those on Zoom are able to illustrate how they would stay still during a prison video-call, or show the backgrounds they use to ensure the call goes smoothly. This is because the technology can glitch or stop the call if portraitss or photographs are visible, or even if the caller’s head moves too much. This enables me to see exactly how the interviewees conduct themselves on a prison video-call – via them briefly reeancting the experience for me on a Zoom call – a fascinating experience which would not be possible offline (because I would not see the backgrounds, the framing of them on the screen, etc.).
Despite the positives, I wonder about the conflation of research and home. It is at times difficult to detach after the interviews, in a way that I might have done taking the train back after meeting with a participant. I would occupy myself with getting home, buying food, settling down for the evening. When one’s trip back is the few steps from the desk to the sofa, the interview lingers. It stays, intangibly, within my tiny studio apartment, the words of the interviewee lingering much longer in my mind as I reflect on what we have discussed. Since lockdown means very little sensory and experiential distraction – no trains to rush to, no adverse weather to be annoyed about – there is more headspace for the interview to occupy my mind after the event.
I am certain that remote interviewing is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future – and it is undoubtedly beneficial for those who have accessibility needs or for whom there are other reasons why a Zoom interview might be easier, practically and/or emotionally. Nonetheless, we need to be careful and consider the ethics of ‘entering’ someone’s home, albeit virtually. I do not know whether I linger with the participants after the interview, but there is no reason to suggest why this would not be the case for participants as well as the researcher.
Interviewing during a pandemic, thus, raises some interesting questions about power its fluidity in research. To some degree, inequalities are flattened because participants can choose what they show me, where they are located (for example, they can choose a white wall rather than a place where I would be able to see much of their room). They can even choose for me to not see them or their home at all if they opt for a phone call. On the other hand, I as a researcher still enter their home environment to some extent, albeit indirectly. Morever, it is possible that my perception of power inequalities flattening is heightened because I am used to conducting research interviews and therefore am comfortable with lying down and conducting a phone interview from my bed! For participants, this may not be the case – this might be the very first time they have taken part in research. Ultimately, the choice should rest with the interviewee.
I came across sensory criminology fairly recently whilst browsing social media, completely distracted from what I should have been reading. I found it fascinating, not least because it helped me to identify and make sense of some of my experiences whilst conducting prison research. However, what I was not expecting was the power this perspective has given me to really consider and understand my own position – transporting me back to pain, revealing scars I didn’t realise existed and considering what this taught me about the prison.
To give some context then, between the ages of 12 and 15 I was in and out of police custody. I was never sent to secure (although almost ‘for my own protection’) but I regularly spent periods of confinement in cells, often for full weekends when they had nowhere else to send me. This was during the mid to late 90s so pre-YOT and the YJB and, as a female, the police would often tell me I was better off in a cell than on the streets anyway.
My life has changed significantly since then and in both work and voluntary roles I have revisited criminal justice sites and institutions with relative emotional ease. However, this was challenged during my time conducting research in a prison and it is these challenges that shall be the focus of my writing. In particular, I found there were three experiences that acutely activated and revealed what I feel are sensory scars – that is sites of old wounds revisited via: the smell, the cell, and leaving the prison.
I was, and still am, surprised that the smell of the cleaning fluid activated emotion. That chemical disinfectant, that I’m assuming must be standard for communal areas in cold, soulless institutions with hard blue and green floors. It took me straight back. This smell is only around at certain points in the day so conducting research, rather than visiting, meant more opportunities to connect with it. That cheap, sterile, cold smell – it reminded me so much of being escorted down the corridor often by men twice my size, just a body, chucked in a cell and kept until another place or person knew what to do with you. I suppose that was the message, the ‘we don’t know what to do with you’ smell – you’re an inconvenience to society, it doesn’t know what to do with you so we’ll contain you for a bit in this building, disinfecting human traces.
I was given a small office to work from during my research. It was an old cell, small with cream walls and no natural light. It was similar to the cells I had been held in when I was a child, but without the window made from thick square panes of glass and set with concrete. I didn’t hold keys during my research and I couldn’t leave this office unlocked. This meant that I had to, or felt like I had to, wait for a prison officer to relieve me. I was very appreciative of the space I’d been given and didn’t want to add to the workload of prison staff and so sometimes I could be waiting a while – it was this that revealed the second sensory scar. The sounds while waiting…footsteps walking down the corridor, keys jangling and that feeling of relief that someone is coming. You think it’s time for you to go…only for the sounds to tail off at someone else’s door. It’s not your turn so there’s that sinking feeling. Then, waiting longer, and again, the same process repeated. You’re enclosed and powerless with nothing to do, convinced you’ve been forgotten about. Life is buzzing onwards and you’re left, no one is coming and you don’t matter. You’re forgotten.
The act of leaving the prison each day reminded me of how it felt every time I left police custody. Switching from the dull, still, confined space, with stale air and limited natural light to a heightened awareness of the outside world and that feeling of being free. The crisp, clean fresh air hitting your face after feeling nothing but stillness, demanding some consciousness. Having to wait a few seconds while your eyes adjust to the brightness, waking you up from the dull artificial gloom. The sounds of cars, birds and people walking past on the pavement. It made me feel so grateful that I could leave behind the emptiness of confinement and this time, step towards life.
Reflecting upon these sensorial experiences has provided me with a source of insight and understanding around some of the experiences of prison and social control. This is particularly with regard to the dehumanising nature of these institutions and the act of confinement. Perhaps the most pertinent aspect of this is reflected in my reaction, when discussing this blog, to someone using the word child. That really hit me… the idea that I was a child. I’d never thought of myself as a child. I certainly didn’t feel like a child at the time and over 20 years on, I still needed to be reminded that I was one. That is probably a testament to the long term damage dehumanising spaces have on our bodies and sense of self and it is the etching sensory scars that lay dormant ready to be raised to remind you of that.
There are three types of custody for children in England and Wales (who mysteriously become “young people” when criminalised): Secure children’s homes (SCH’s) – run by local councils for children 10-14, Secure Training Centres (STC’s) – for children up to 17, run privately by for-profit organisations, and Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) – for children and young people 15-21 (termed “people” on the government website), run by the prison service and private companies https://www.gov.uk/young-people-in-custody/what-custody-is-like-for-young-people).
England and Wales has the lowest age of criminal responsibility (10 years old) and the highest rates of child incarceration in Western Europe. Most children in custody are held in prison, (YOI’s). For some comparison, in December 20/21 60 were held in SCH’s, 94 in STC’s and 454 in YOI’s (figures taken from gov.uk: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/youth-custody-data).
 YJB refers to the “Youth Justice Board”, also established in the wake of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, to monitor and promote good practice. In 2000 they assumed responsibility for commissioning custodial places (taken from www.beyondyouthcustody.net)
My memory is crap. It’s a standing joke with my sister. I have no recollection of holidays we took as kids, favourite toys, friend’s birthday parties or family pets. Years of ingesting too much alcohol and fatty foods probably hasn’t helped the matter and many a counsellor has told me that it’s my brain’s way of suppressing childhood trauma. So, imagine my surprise when at work last year a taste transported me back to a situation I would much rather have forgotten. A cost cutting exercise at the day centre for young people with learning disabilities – where I worked throughout my undergraduate degree – had led them to downgrade the usual Yorkshire ‘proper brew’ tea bags to a much cheaper version. On that sunny morning in June I was sent back (thankfully only figuratively) to prison.
In July 2014 I started an 11 month prison sentence in Scotland’s only prison for women, the infamous Cornton Vale. I had never been in prison, never even really been in trouble with the Police, and here I was wrenched away from my home in England, my husband and my 16 month old daughter for an offence I had committed 7 years previously. My brain has done its usual trick of hiding many of the events that unfolded in the next 5 months, spent in that run down 1970’s building. However, what it chooses to whisper often comes back as recollections triggered by my senses.
Taste has always been one of the biggest triggers for my memory, helping me to recall the emotions, practicalities and surroundings of some of the most important and mundane situations of my life. Many mothers will tell you about how good (or awful) the first thing they eat after giving birth to their children is. For me, that was a soggy cheese sandwich on plain white bread with some sort of value, low fat spread. I’ve never had a better cheese sandwich in my life! Bound up inextricably with that waxy cheese slice is the memory of becoming a mum for the first time, and all that goes with that, the feelings of love, exhaustion, pain, fear and overwhelming joy.
The taste of that cheap teabag whisked me back to the cramped ‘staff’ room at the side of the card workshop where I spent much of my days in ‘The Vale’. The tea was made from the cheapest possible tea bag that the Scottish Prison Service could lay their hands on. The taste was more akin to the mud soup you would whip up as a kid than any sort of tea I had tasted before, strangely chemically tasting and earthy all at the same time. However, as is so often the case with food and drink, tea was part of a ritual. Breaks from the job were an important part of the rhythm of the day in prison, they gave us an opportunity to chat, vent, seek advice, size each other up and decide if we wanted to invest time in a friendship with our fellow prisoners. So I endured, I made tea, gratefully took tea made by others, screwed up my nose and swallowed down cup after cup of bargain basement, lukewarm, only slightly brown prison tea.
However, I was one of the lucky ones. I had a job in the prison that meant I made a few pounds every week and I had a supportive family on the outside who could afford to send in money for me to buy the things I needed whilst in prison. I didn’t smoke and kept my head down, choosing to spend much of it in the gym, in education or reading in my cell. All of this meant that I was able to afford the luxury of a pack of Tetley tea bags every other week off of my shop sheet! It’s funny the things that suddenly become important to you when you have little else to focus your mind or attention on. Shop day was the best day of the week, ask anyone who’s been in prison and they’ll tell you that, and the best thing I got from the shop was my delicious, longed for ‘proper’ tea bags.
Having time, space (and the privilege) to now reflect on my experience in prison I realise that this sensorial taste experience can really help us to unlock important insights into how we view imprisonment, prisoners and the physical spaces in which people are locked up. For me, it throws up questions about how society views people who are sent to prison. Is the fact that the prison service provides prisoners with the cheapest of everything representative of the way that prisoners are viewed by the wider population? Could we not stand the ensuing moral panic created if prisoners were to be given Tetley? If, like many a liberal prison officer will tell you, the punishment is not in fact the prison experience but the deprivation of liberty itself, should the dehumanizing conditions in prison be something that people have to endure? There are also questions around the self-worth of prisoners. So many of the women that I met in prison came from awful situations which forced them to often unquestioningly accept the hand that they were dealt. They coped with life by just putting up with all the crap that was thrown at them and I wonder if the acceptance of the most foul tasting tea could be seen as indicative of their life experiences? A life that had so often ground them down that they didn’t see the point of sticking their head over the parapet and demanding better.
All of this from a cup of fetid, brown liquid?
For me, the biggest thing that this sensorial recollection has brought was gratitude. That sounds ridiculous, but in some ways I am grateful for the experience of being in prison. Don’t get me wrong, there is so much work that needs to be done to reform all our systems so that they deliver much fairer, less harmful and just (in the truest sense of the word) outcomes for everyone whose lives they touch. However, the ability to recall in brilliant technicolor my prison experience opened my eyes, not only to how lucky I was, but to how I was wasting the opportunities that life had given me. It helped me see the world of opportunity that was before me, and set me on a path that will hopefully lead to me getting my PhD and helping to affect some really positive changes for people who come into conflict with the law. Three years of undergraduate study has given me the opportunity to retrospectively apply my sociological lens to my time in prison, and it’s interesting to do this from a sensory perspective. The senses allow us to get up close and personal with not only a person’s individual experience but with the emotions, sensations, thoughts and all the messiness that comes with that. It allows us to more deeply interrogate and hopefully understand the situation from all angles, and perhaps come up with more creative and innovative solutions as a result.
Amy’s chapter in “Sensory Penalities” revisits fieldnotes from extensive research experience in correctional settings, to ponder what value lies for our understanding in revisiting the “The Everything Else”. She prompts us to consider “what is the price of sharing these visceral details? What is the price of keeping them hidden?” and argues that “Sensory perceptions” allow us to “move forward with an intention to build a more authentic representation of our shared humanity”. These impressions, usually excluded after the data has been stripped and “consumed”, comprise not the “scraps” and left behinds as we commonly regard them, but are “the thickest cut that bleeds when you chew it, gets stuck in your throat, turns over in your stomach, and gives you a taste of what is actually being served” (Smoyer 2021: 202, full citation at the end of the piece).
As social scientists, academics, and activists dedicated to understanding, improving, and undoing correctional systems, we regularly travel through prison spaces. Our upcoming book, Sensory Penalties, describes some of these experiences touching, smelling, breathing, and hearing punishment. These observations of the inside become even more pressing and relevant today, as the COVID epidemic has pushed many of us to the outside, rendering correctional spaces invisible. And yet our work is deemed non-essential. Today, the inquiry persists outside, as we move through and with community, noticing the traces of prison all around us.
Research has found that the six months following release from prison are the most deadly, especially for women who live with opioid addiction (Binswanger et al., 2013). Was the woman who died in the park by the river several years ago on this pathway home? The news does not share this detail, but knowing that it is easier for a person who uses drugs in the US to go to prison than treatment, the scenario is possible.
Since the COVID lockdown began in March 2020, I have walked by her memorial countless times. Every once in a while, I will stop to see it. The memorial, which has been meticulously maintained through all the seasons over months and months, exudes a powerful love that shimmers with grief. Rainbow-colored mobiles capture the wind, mirrors and glass reflect light, knickknacks suggest an inside joke, candles build warmth. I have never seen anyone tend to the memorial and imagine a brigade of fairies building the project by moonlight.
Last week, I could barely make out the latest additions to the monument because the sun shone directly into my eyes and I was hesitant to stand too close. We see what and when we want to. The river was still, the park was quiet, and the cold air smelled like distant snow. I imagine her as a newborn baby, covered in goo; a child raising her hand in class, heart pounding; a young person in love, sweating; a desperate person causing harm, surviving; a grown woman waiting in the prison med line, impatient. I imagine her sitting next to the tree, mind focused on one destination, distant from fairies who would tend to her spirit when she departed.
Binswanger, I. A., Blatchford, P. J., Mueller, S. R., & Stern, M. F. (2013). Mortality after prison release: Opioid overdose and other causes of death, risk factors, and time trends from 1999 to 2009. Annals of Internal Medicine, 159(9), 592-600.