A Queer Criminologist Starts on the Tenure Track
Class of ‘22 grad Max Osborn shares what helped him land a faculty role at Villanova.
In September, Max Osborn (Ph.D. ’22, Criminal Justice) will start a tenure-track assistant faculty role at Villanova University where he’ll continue his research on how LGBTQ individuals are affected by the criminal justice system, an area known broadly as queer criminology. Osborn, who is transgender and uses he and they pronouns, was drawn to the subject area partly for personal reasons. In this interview, they spoke about those reasons, what the job search was like for them, and what they wished they had known in the early days of their Ph.D. program.
The Graduate Center: What do you think made you stand out for a tenure-track faculty position?
Osborn: With Villanova, it felt like a really good match. Queer criminology is a very small subfield. There aren’t too many people who would call themselves queer criminologists. We have a division. It's very tight knit; it's a great space, but it's still seen as a niche subfield. There were not many jobs that were specifically asking about that, or seemed specifically interested in that. It felt like an uphill battle with me trying to explain why these topics are important or how they're relevant to the wider field of criminology. Villanova expressed that they valued the research interests that I was trying to pitch to people.
The Graduate Center: How did you get interested in queer criminology?
Osborn: Queer criminology focuses on LGBTQIA+ people's experiences with the criminal legal system. Not as much attention has been paid to that historically. It felt interdisciplinary and exciting. My work borrows from queer studies, from sociology, from psychology. And just speaking personally, I'm a queer, non-binary, trans person myself. Reading the traditional criminological literature, I often felt that it didn't acknowledge the perspectives of people like me or people that I knew.
GC: How would you describe your dissertation to someone who is unfamiliar with your field?
Osborn: My dissertation is a qualitative interview study with queer and trans people and service providers who work with queer and trans people, looking at people's experiences with the police and their experiences accessing social services. We talked a lot about identity, gender presentation, risk, and safety, and different types of situations and strategies that people use to adapt their appearance or behavior in response to what feels like really high-pressure social contexts such as police encounters or accessing social services or health care. Often, these are situations where there's an individual interacting with an institution that has a lot of power over them and that is scrutinizing their appearance or behavior or holding them to some standard of normativity that it's often dangerous to deviate from. So it requires a lot of vigilance and a lot of strategizing on the part of the individual to keep themselves safe and to manage their presentation across different contexts.
GC: How has your experience as a transgender person impacted your research?
Osborn: I think it's really important that work on trans people is done by trans researchers. There's often a tendency to treat trans people as different. I also want to be clear that my perspective is not the trans perspective. I come from a very specific background. I'm white. I went to graduate school, I come from a pretty comfortable middle-class background. My experience is not necessarily representative, but I think that it did help me in terms of interacting with people. I had people say that if I were not queer, or if I were not trans, they would have felt less comfortable talking to me, or maybe would not have participated. I think that did help establish some sort of baseline rapport with people.
GC: Looking back at your Ph.D. journey, what advice would you now give yourself?
Osborn: Find your people. That might not be people you know — your classmates or people in immediate physical proximity to you. But there will probably be some sort of space or group to join or seek out that that will be a helpful support space. So, for me, the American Society of Criminology Division on Queer Criminology has been a really great space. We have social events, we have writing groups, we have opportunities to promote each other's work and find collaborators. And that’s just felt really great — to have a network of people who are interested in similar research topics, but who also have a very close-knit sense of supporting each other.
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