Public Release: 

Conference goes down to 'The Wire'

University of York

It is Barack Obama's favourite television show, and legendary Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson says it has done more 'to enhance our understanding of the challenges of urban life, and the problems of urban inequality, than any other media event or scholarly publication.'

The object of their admiration is The Wire, the critically-acclaimed US drama series set in the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, which ran from 2002 to 2008.

Now the cult series, produced by HBO, is the subject of a two-day conference that is attracting social scientists from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the UK. They will include art historians, political scientists, philosophers, criminologists, musicians and sociologists.

The conference 'The Wire as Social Science Fiction?' takes place at Leeds Town Hall on November 26 and 27. Plenary speakers include former Baltimore City police officer Peter Moskos assistant professor of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the City University of New York. He is the author of Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District.

He will be joined by Griselda Pollock, Professor of the Social and Critical Histories of Art, and Antony Bryant, Professor of Informatics at Leeds Metropolitan University.

The event is co-hosted by the University of York's Departments of Sociology and Theatre, Film and Television and the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), at the University of Manchester and the Open University. The conference also features significant contributions from the Taylor & Francis journal Information, Communication & Society at the University of York, and the Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law at the University of Leeds.

Roger Burrows, Professor of Sociology at the University of York and a member of CRESC Advisory Board, said: "The Wire presents a challenge to what we do as academics. It promotes a huge amount of popular and intellectual debate, and we wanted to explore that across the social sciences.

"Peter Moskos will compare his own academic experiences working with the Baltimore Police with the fiction of The Wire, and asking which provides more insight - his academic study or the TV drama. Griselda Pollock will examine how personal morality can still exist in a corrupt and dysfunctional institution. In a sense, this strand in the programme goes to the heart of contemporary politics.

"We thought we would perhaps get 10 or 11 people coming, but as things have turned out, we have 55 papers and 140 people attending."

CRESC Co-Director Professor Mike Savage, from the University of Manchester said: "The huge success of The Wire reflects the growing interest in how fiction and social science relate to each other.

"In CRESC we plan a range of projects looking at this area of research which allow theoretical and methodological reflection on these issues. This conference is part of that effort."

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