Holly Bird

Holly bird headshot, long hair and blue sweater looking to the right.

St Cross Social Sciences Divisional Scholarship

Joining us from: Scotland

MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice (2020)

I was born and went to school in Glasgow, where, towards the end of my secondary school years, I developed an interest in a range of social justice causes. Unsure exactly how I might be able to channel these interests beyond my school years, I ended up applying for law programmes, and began my studies in joint honours Law and French at the University of Edinburgh in 2015.

I didn’t immediately enjoy my undergraduate programme: I often felt that we were skirting around rather than addressing head-on the most interesting issues and questions during my black-letter law tutorials—that there was too much ‘this is the law’ and not enough ‘why and how is this the law?’. However, in my second year, optional modules on issues on the contemporary criminal justice system and the philosophy of law allowed for a much more critical (and for me, academically enriching) approach to the legal system. By taking a wider range of subjects beyond those typical of an undergraduate law degree (for example on politics, legal history, and international relations) during my year abroad in France, I was able to connect my interests in social justice more broadly to what I had learned so far in my legal education. In my final year, I chose to study subjects that allowed me to think about the law in its wider social context—subjects that were fundamentally criminological and sociological (rather than strictly legal) in terms of scope, analysis, and perspective.

I was offered a place on the MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Oxford in early 2020, and a couple of months later, I was shocked (and genuinely overwhelmed) to find out that I had also been granted the St Cross Divisional Scholarship (Social Sciences) by St Cross College—an opportunity that enabled me to take up my place on the programme with security and confidence. This year, I have had the chance to study a wide range of criminal justice issues and criminological perspectives. I often find myself having to explain when asked what I study that no, criminology isn’t about scouring crime scenes hunting for clues, or finding new ways to ‘catch more criminals’. To give a better idea of what criminology is to me, over the course of the MSc I have written about neoliberalism and ‘rehabilitative’ prison work programmes, the fundamentally punitive nature of immigration detention practices, the relationship between political ideologies and responses to ‘crime’, colonial and neocolonial forms of punishment, and the victim-offender binary embedded in modern criminal justice institutions. I also designed a study to evaluate the impact of the prison visitation restrictions implemented as a result of Covid-19 on prisoners and their families. In the future, I’d like to work either in academia or in research and policy for a social or criminal justice organisation. I’m also thinking about applying for a PhD in the next few years, too.

I am incredibly grateful to St Cross College for awarding me this scholarship and for making me feel welcome in Oxford!