The Survey Files: Government Research Work and the British Crime Survey

Julian Molina

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The Survey Files is an archival ethnography which examines how the Home Office initiated work on an ongoing monitor of crime, the British Crime Survey (BCS). For forty years, the BCS – now, the Crime Survey for England & Wales and the Scottish Crime & Justice Survey – has produced a wealth of data and insights into patterns of crime and public attitudes to the criminal justice system. From how we understand differing levels of trust in the police amongst ethnic groups, through to the increasing prevalence of domestic abuse, the BCS is widely perceived to be a gold standard survey on the scale and nature of crime. While the BCS offers a significant source of data for criminological research and policymaking, there is a thin historical record about its administrative origins. We know relatively little about the administrative origins of the survey, its relation to other programme of governmental research on crime or the collaboration between criminologists, survey researchers and Home Office officials during the preparation of the first survey. The book aims to understand these administrative origins through an archival ethnography of administrative practices, criminological reason and its epistemological boundaries.
In the late 1970s, early BCS proponents claimed a crime survey would educate the British public about the nature of crime, uncover the ‘dark figure of crime’, and offer valuable insights for criminal justice policymaking. The book examines how these claims were made at a time of crisis for criminal statistics and an expanding law and order politics. After the election of a Conservative government in 1979, austerity measures reduced the budgets of Home Office criminal statistics divisions, and Home Office officials had longstanding mistrust about the accuracy of police figures. In this context, the BCS offered the possibility of developing a new epistemics of crime that first required officials’ careful management of intra-departmental conflicts, new policy priorities and a set of logistical negotiations within, and outside, government. The Survey Files draws from Home Office and other administrative archives, interviews with government officials and criminologists, and the author’s experience of using crime survey data as a government official, to develop a case study criminological research in government. The book will be of interest to anyone concerned with the history of ‘law and order’ politics, criminal statistics and survey research, or criminology and the criminal justice system.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherEmerald Publishing Limited
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Nov 2021

Publication series

NameEmerald Advances in Historical Criminology


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