The Ghent Conference
Belgium is a relative small country on the world map, yet it has among the highest density of criminologists and criminology students and played an important historical role in the development of different schools of thought.
From a historical point of view, Belgium played an import role in the development of sociological positivism in the 19th century. Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874), the first professor of mathematics and astronomy at Ghent University was among the first to develop ideas among differences in crime rates between regions. In fact, the Belgian Quetelet was conducting urban (ecological / geographic) research and thinking about crime when Lombroso was still a toddler. Many contemporary criminologists are not aware of this. Under the influence of Lombroso’s biological positivism Belgium developed its anthropological school much under the auspices of Louis Vervaeck, who sometimes was ironically called the Belgian Lombroso. The “social defense” movement was a strong movement which contributed to the foundation of different schools of criminology at Ghent, Leuven and Brussels.
Intellectually, Belgium came under the influence of labelling and conflict theories, as was most of Europe during the 1960-1970s. However, this changed drastically at the turn of the century. Today, it is fair to say that pluralism reigns in Belgian criminology and that criminology has the possibility to connect scholars interested in both the etiology of crime and the societal reaction to crime. However, criminology is but one drop in the world of science. In the age of interdisciplinary studies of social facts, action and reaction, many cross-roads converge and diverge in criminology.
Belgium has something unique to offer as a meeting point for social scientists. Its complex political structure and its central location at the heart of institutional Europe draws the interests of political sciences. Because of its high population density, specific opportunity structure and growing diversity in the urban contexts, its cities constitute interesting social laboratories for criminologists.
With the expansion of city populations (it is estimated that in 50 years nearly 70% of the world population will live in cities) and the expansion of urban social life and public policy across many European cities, it is paramount to reflect on urban security/safety challenges that await European criminology, in terms of crime control, opportunities, terrorism and violent extremism, migration, criminogenic exposure and diverse forms of societal reaction to crime. Are 21st century developments in urban structure merely a threat or are there new challenges and opportunities that await criminology as an interdisciplinary enterprise? What is the role of technology in creating smart safe cities in a glocalized world? What is the price (in terms of loss of privacy and other freedoms) for enhanced (urban) security/safety? How should the European (in particular EU and Schengen) criminal policy be shaped, and based on which data and choices, to address security and migratory challenges? These are just a few topics that will become of major importance in criminology, criminal policy and crime control in the 21st century.
The 19th conference of the ESC is therefore an ideal moment to collectively reflect about what unifies and divides criminologists in the 21st century: roads, whether convergent or divergent, provide strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Some paths will be less trodden. Some (criminological) bridges are in desperate need of repair after years of dilapidation, other bridges have never been built strong enough to hold new ideas and pathways.
The organizing committee and the board of the ESC kindly invite you to take part in discussions on (cross)roads, bridges and new pathways in criminology.