Nothing beats the smell of a new book (or – let me rephrase – almost nothing: good coffee, drams of Laphroaig or Lagavulin, or very, very old books are strong competitors).  Today the print copies of Criminology and Democratic Politics landed in my mailbox.  It’s a great volume with a wonderful line-up of authors – and the fruit of an excellent collaboration with my colleague and co-editor Stefaan Pleysier. So I’m pleased to write a few words about the book in this post.

On 24 and 25 April 2019 the Leuven Institute of Criminology organised a conference ‘Criminology and Democratic Politics’ at the Faculty of Law of KU Leuven. This conference was followed by the conferral of an honorary doctorate upon Professor Richard Sparks.  During the official ceremony Richard Sparks gave a public lecture ‘Beyond the Rendez-vous: Criminology, Critique, Connection’ which was published, together with the Dean’s introduction and our laudatio, in a separate booklet (you can read it here).  All of this happened because our institute celebrated its 90th anniversary. 

But next to the scholarly debate, there was also plenty of opportunity to enjoy good company over tasty food and a glass of wine, to celebrate our anniversary with colleagues and alumni – and, yes, to do the kind of bonding that I do miss in these covid-19-times.  If you want to grasp the atmosphere at the time, then do have a look at these pictures or the video on our website or check hashtag #SparksCriminology on twitter.

The speakers at the conference were subsequently invited to contribute a chapter to the book. The themes of the conference (and the book) reflect some of the key areas in the work of Richard Sparks (punishment and penal politics; fear of crime and the media; public criminology; etc) but Criminology and Democratic Politics is not a Festschrift: all chapters can be read as stand-alone pieces of scholarship. Of course, there are explicit or implicit references to Richard’s life and work in many of the chapters – and several of the authors have (intensely) collaborated with him (as Richard also acknowledged in his public lecture). Moreover, on 16 April 2020 Stefaan and I talked at length with Richard about his life and work – chapter 2 of the book brings the edited version of our conversation. But also readers who are not (yet) familiar with Richard’s important scholarship will certainly benefit from – and, so I hope, enjoy – reading this book.

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