Skip to main content


Photo of Professor Malcolm Cowburn

Professor Malcolm Cowburn

PhD, MPhil, MA, CQSW, BA, & FHEA

Honorary Professor of Criminology

In June 2014 I was appointed as an Honorary Professor of Criminology at the University of Exeter.

I am an Emeritus Professor of Applied Social Science at Sheffield Hallam University, having taken early retirement in March 2013.

I have previously worked at Sheffield Hallam University (5 years), Bradford University (2 years) and Sheffield University (12 years).  Prior to entering academia, I worked as a probation officer for 12 years and also managed a therapy centre that provided help to children and young people who had been sexually abused.

My work incorporates criminology, psychology, sociology, social policy and social work, and I am interested in how the various disciplines can contribute to a fuller understanding of sexual violence. I have three main areas of research interest:

1. Sex offenders, sexual violence and masculinities

2. Prisons and the management of diversity

3. Research/applied ethics.

My  joint authored book ‘Social Work with Sex Offenders: making a difference’ written jointly with Steve Myers of Salford University is published on 27th April 2016.  I have also contributed a chapter ('Values in Probation with people who commit sex offences') to forthcoming book 'Probation through the Looking Glass: Academic reflections on rehabilitation' edited by Philip Priestley and Maurice Vanstone and to be published by Palgrave later this year.  I am co-editing (with Loraine Gelsthorpe and Azrini Wahidin) and contributing a chapter to 'Research Ethics in Criminology and Criminal Justice– Politics, Dilemmas, Issues and Solutions' for Routledge due to be published in Autumn this year. 

Research interests

Research Funding

2010                                         Northern Rock Evaluation of ‘Melting Pot’ project HMP Frankland £7,000 – Project Consultant to Hallam Centre of Community Justice

2010                                         Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) Knowledge Exchange Small Grants. Opening up communicative space: towards a collaboratively generated impact in responding to Diversity in HMP WakefieldAward number: RES-192-22-0047.  Co-investigator;  Principal Investigator Dr Victoria Lavis, University of Bradford. £3,876.00

 2009                                         Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC). Appreciative inquiry into the Diversity Strategy of HMP Wakefield.  Award number RES-000-22-3441.  Principal Investigator; (Co-investigator Dr Victoria Lavis, University of Bradford); £79,719.27. (March-November 2009)

 2009                                         Leicester City Council Sexual Safety Strategy.  Project Manager, Hallam Centre for Community Justice. £15,000.00

 2009                                         General Social Care Council.  Professional Boundaries. Research team member, led by Professor Mark Doel.  £35,000.00

 2006- 2007                            “Ethics and Research with Perpetrators of Sexual Violence”.  Research partner with the Tema Institute, Linköping University, Sweden.  Sexual Violence Research Initiative. Funded by Global Forum for Health Research.  Funding was paid to Tema Institute for the cost of the research assistant.


1995                                          NSPCC Evaluation of Sex Offender Project, Derby (£5,000).  This study involved the use of repertory grids and qualitative interviews.  It produced two reports to the Funders.


1989-1991                            Sex Offenders in Prison: a study of structured interventions designed to change offending behaviour. The study  (for my MPhil) attracted financial support from John Paul Getty jnr Charitable Trust (£10,000).   

Research Consultancy

2013  (ongoing)                                       Consultant & Executive Steering Group member - ESRC: Research Grant An Appreciative Inquiry into the response to diversity in three Yorkshire Prisons.  Award number: ES/K005049/1

 2010                                         National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) invited peer reviewer for: Erooga, M., Allnock, D., Telford, P. (2010) ‘Creating Safer Organisations: Using the perspectives of offenders to inform organisational safeguarding of children.’  Research Report.

 2010 - ongoing                   Member of ESRC Peer Review College.  Economic & Social Research Council

 2009                                          Member of Sexual Violence Research Initiative Technical Advisory Group, The Sexual Violence Research Initiative, Global Forum for Health Research.

 2008-2009                            Advisor to Dr Sarah Nelson’s, lottery funded  (2009) ‘Report Care And Support Needs Of Men Who Survived Childhood Sexual Abuse.  Edinburgh; Centre for Research on Families and Relationships ( & Health in Mind (


2008                                          Ethical Recommendations for Research with Perpetrators of Sexual Violence: a consultative meeting.  17th-18th July 2008, Pretoria South Africa.  The Sexual Violence Research Initiative, Global Forum for Health Research.


2008                                          Developing Public Policy on Men and BoysMen’s Coalition  – Home Office Funded Project.  Principal researcher: Sandy Ruxton.  Advisory group – Professor Brid Featherstone, Professor Jeff Hearn, Professor Keith Pringle & Dr Malcolm Cowburn.


Recent Research Collaborations

2012                                         Lead Discussant – ‘Online discussion 2: Access to and the impact of sex offender disclosure on minority groups’. ESRC Knowledge Exchange – ‘Sex offenders & Public Disclosure’ ES/J010251/1 (P.I. Dr K McCartan, C.I. Prof Hazel Kemshall).

2008 – 2009        Project partner: “Performing Straight White Masculinities: Représentations et Expériences de la masculinité blanche hétérosexuelle dans les pays anglophones”, Projet innovant – Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3. 

External impact and engagement



2016  Social Work with Sex Offenders: Making a difference Policy Press; Bristol, UK

Articles in refereed journals

2015    Sex offenders’ in Wright, J. D. (ed) International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (2nd ed), Vol 21. Oxford; Elsevier Inc. pp 672-677 (with Myers, S.) ISBN 978-0-08-097087-5 

2014    Speaking about sexual abuse in the British South Asian community: offenders, victims and the challenges of shame and reintegration.  Journal of Sexual Aggression  (with Gill, A. K. & Harrison, K.) DOI 10.1080/13552600.2014.929188  

2013    Using a prisoner advisory group to develop diversity research in a maximum-security prison: a means of enhancing prisoner participation.  Groupwork 23 (3), 67-79 (on-line publication) with V. Lavis.

2011  Perceiving the continuum of sexual harm and the need for varied responses to sexual violence.  [Guest Editorial] International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 55, (2) 179-181


2010                                         Invisible men: social reactions to male sexual coercion -bringing men and masculinities into community safety and public policy.  Critical Social Policy, 30 (2), 225-244


2010                                         Editorial. Themed issue on Masculinities with additional articles. Critical Social Policy, 30 (2), 163-164 with B. Featherstone.


2010                                          Social Work Admissions: applicants with criminal convictions - the challenge of ethical risk assessment. British Journal of Social Work, 40 (4), 1081-1099 (with Nelson, P.)


2010                                          Principles, virtues and care: ethical dilemmas in research with male sex offenders.  Psychology Crime & Law, 16(1-2), 65-74.



2009                                         Race Relations in Prison: Managing Performance and Developing Engagement.  British Journal of Community Justice, 17(3), 77-89. (with Victoria Lavis)


2008                                          BME sex offenders in prison: the problem of participation in offending behaviour groupwork programmes – a tripartite model of understanding (with Victoria Lavis & Tammi Walker).   British Journal of Community Justice, 6 (1), 19-34


2008                                          Safe recruitment, social justice, and ethical practice: should people who have criminal convictions be allowed to train as social workers? (with Peter Nelson) Social Work Education 27 (3), 293-306


2007                                          Men Researching Men in Prison: The Challenges For Profeminist Research. Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 46 (3) 276-288


2005                                          Hegemony and discourse: reconstruing the male sex offender and sexual coercion by men.  Sexualities, Evolution and Gender 7, 3, 215-231


2005                                          Confidentiality and public protection: ethical dilemmas in qualitative research with adult male sex offender Journal of Sexual Aggression 11, 1, 49-63


2001                                          Masking Hegemonic Masculinity:  Reconstructing The Paedophile As The Dangerous Stranger  (with Lena Dominelli) British Journal of Social Work 31, 399-414


2000                                          Pornography and Men’s Practices  (with Keith Pringle).  Journal of Sexual Aggression, 6, 1/2, 52-66


2000                                          Assessment of Social Work Students: Standpoint and Strong Objectivity.  (with Peter Nelson and Janet Williams).  Social Work Education 19 (6) 627-637


2000                                          Consultancy to groupwork programmes for adult male sex offenders: some reflections on knowledge and processes.  British Journal of Social Work 30, 635-648


1998                                          A Man’s world: Gender Issues in Working with Male Sex Offenders in Prison.  Howard Journal, Vol. 37 No 3, pp234-251


1998                                          Moving beyond Litigation and Positivism: Another Approach to allegations of Sexual Abuse   (with Lena Dominelli).  British Journal of Social Work 28, 525-543


1996                                          The Black Male Sex Offender in Prison: images and issues.  Journal of Sexual Aggression 2(2): 122-142.


1990                                          Work with Male Sex offenders in Groups, Groupwork, 3 (2) 157-171.


1990                                          Work with Sex Offenders in Prison:  What happens to the “Nonces”? Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 1 (1), 145-151

Edited Books

 (due Autumn 2016)                           Research Ethics in Criminology and Criminal Justice– Politics, Dilemmas, Issues and Solutions (Co-edited with Loraine Gelsthorpe & Azrini Wahidin).  London; Routledge


2013                                         Values in Criminology & Community Justice.  Bristol, Policy Press (co-edited with Duggan, M., Robinson, A. & Senior, P.)


1992                                          Changing Men: a practice guide to working with adult male sex offenders jointly with Wilson, C. & Loewenstein, P. (eds.).  Nottingham; Nottinghamshire Probation Service.

Chapters in edited collections

2016 (in press)    'Values in Probation with People who commit Sex Offences' in Priestley, P. & Vanstone, M. 'Probation through the looking glass: Academic reflections on rehabilitation' Palgrave; Basingstoke, UK

2016 (in press)  'Researching sex crimes and sex offenders:some ethical and epistemological considerations' in Cowburn, M. Gelsthorpe, L. & Wahidin, A. 'Research Ethics in Criminology – Dilemmas, Issues and Solutions' Routledge; London

2015                   ‘Social Work with sex offenders’ in Wright, J. D. (ed) International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (2nd ed).  Philadelphia, PA; Elsevier Inc.  (with Myers, S.)


2013                                         Postmodernism and criminological thought: ‘whose science, whose knowledge? (with Liz Austen). In Cowburn, M., Duggan, M., Robinson, A. & Senior, P.  Values in Criminology & Community Justice’  Bristol, Policy Press


2013                                         Working with different values: extremism, hate and sex crimes.  (with  Duggan, M. & Pollock, E.) In Cowburn, M., Duggan, M., Robinson, A. & Senior, P.  ‘Values in Criminology & Community Justice’  Bristol, Policy Press


2013                                         Men researching violent men: epistemologies, ethics and emotions in qualitative research. In Pini, B. & Pease, B. ‘Men, masculinities and methodologies.’ Basingstoke; Palgrave


2011                                         What's Happening in Men's Work in the UK?  Reflections on Policies and Processes. In Ruspini, E., Hearn, J., Pease, B. & Pringle, K. (eds) ‘Men and masculinities around the world: transforming men’s practices.’ Basingstoke; Palgrave Macmillan (with Carole Wright)


2008                                         Groupwork with male sex offenders in the 1980s.  In Senior, P. ‘Moments in Probation: celebrating the century of probation’.  Crayford, Shaw & Sons Ltd.


2007                                          Ethics, research and policy.  In Hodgson, S. M. and Irving, Z. ‘Policy reconsidered: Meanings, politics and practices’.  Bristol, Policy Press


2007                                          Working With Perpetrators or Offenders in Flood, M.; Gardiner, J. K.; Pease, B.; Pringle, K. (eds) ‘The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities’  London, Routledge


2007                                          Pornography (with Michael Flood) in Flood, M.; Gardiner, J. K.; Pease, B.; Pringle, K. (eds) ‘The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities’  London, Routledge


2006                                          Constructive work with male sex offenders: male forms of life, language games and change in Parton, N.; O’Byrne, P.; Gorman, K. and Gregory, M. (eds) ‘Constructive Work with Offenders’ London, Jessica Kingsley.


2005                                          A Man’s World: Gender Issues in Working with Male Sex Offenders in Prison.  In Britton, D. M. Gender and Prison.  Aldershot, Ashgate.  (reprint of 1998 Howard Journal paper)

 Edit profile