Private public spaces

Had an interesting discussion with a mate on Facebook last week around the ethics of taking photos of people in public places and putting ’em on a blog. She said that she wouldn’t like it if a photo of her was posted online and discussed without her knowing.

What is ‘public’ and what is ‘private’ is a chewy philosophical area. And I’m always struck by the ‘private’ activities people do in ‘public’ spaces (see below). To be honest, I was surprised and pleased to find out there are no rules about permission/consent (unless you want to use the photos for commercial purposes – slight qualifications outlined here).   Basically you can crack on happily.

This is so unlike academic research which is subjected to such scrutiny by ethics committees that it can be unproductively constraining, frustrating and time consuming. But going back to the Facebook discussion, just because there are no rules about this, should I photograph and post images of people without consent?

Well I’ve decided to set my own ethical standards in addition to those outlined in the above link;

  1. If someone wants their photo removed from this blog, I’ll remove it straightaway.
  2. If I’ve photographed someone and they would like a copy, I’ll email a high res version or send a print.

Job done. (As long as a train is considered a public space…)


Another day, another cone…

Went to a meeting yesterday where I ended up wearing a cone of shame once it became apparent how I’ve largely ignored sexuality in my research. Evidence highlights differential health and social care outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex peeps (LGBT) and yet, despite making a claim for ‘diversity’ in my sampling, I haven’t actively recruited LGBT participants.

My cone of shame was a bit bigger than usual as I’ve been looking at ways of making research more inclusive recently.  I’ve written and ranted about how we exclude certain ‘groups’ of people from studies, only actively seeking their involvement if the research is focusing on their ‘group’. We ascribe people in these groups a kind of meta-status that obscures other dimensions to their identity. Learning disabled peeps are an obvious example here. The learning disabled identity is so all encompassing that researchers (or others) would rarely think to recruit learning disabled people to a broader study about relationships or cancer or living in a rural area. (And if they do think about it, that thought can be dealt with neatly and speedily by a throwaway statement in the methods justifying their exclusion on ‘ethical’ grounds.)

So, the research community is sustaining and reinforcing exclusion through research practice. ‘Specialist’ research focusing on learning disabled people (or sex workers or asylum seekers or traveller communities or homeless people – the list is pretty extensive) can be ignored by the mainstream world cos it ain’t relevant. Instead, what is considered mainstream should be challenged through more inclusive research practice.The concept of ‘ableism’ offers some tasty insights here, as Fiona Kumari Campbell asks how the fiction of “the able bodied person” has been sustained over time when there is such variation among people? (see a chirpy and stimulating interview with FKC about this here).

Of course you can ask the same question of the dominance of heterosexuality. Discussing the current cone with a couple of people the challenges raised were about disclosure and relevance. ‘People may feel uncomfortable disclosing their sexuality to a researcher…‘ Well we ask ’em to state other ‘personal’ details so not sure why sexuality is any different. They don’t have to tick any boxes if they don’t want to. It ain’t going to be a deal breaker. ‘Sexuality may be less relevant in some health conditions than others…‘ Er, that is missing the point.  And so on.

But then I got to thinking that maybe cones of shame aren’t cones of shame at all. They’re cones of reflexivity which will inevitably involve uncomfortable feelings at times. It’s all part of the gig.

Louise Casey, Problem Tsar

Louise Casey, who calls herself Director General, Troubled Families, published a report this week; ‘Listening to troubled families’. This report generated headlines and television news coverage across the UK. There has been some criticism. Zoe Williams provides a good summary here.

So why am I bothering to write anything? I suppose because I feel incensed. Because I’m a researcher and I hate to see fake ‘research’. Especially published fake ‘research’. Especially in a government publication. And most importantly, because this sort of toxic bile sticks. I can imagine how it’s been reported in the Daily Mail and Telegraph. Middle class people across the country turning their noses up at these ‘feral families’ over their breakfast tea and toast. It’s wrong.

So, where shall I start? Well, Casey’s certainly overstretched herself with the report. It’s poorly written, repetitive and drips with judgemental statements. Even the foreword (written by herself) is rambling, repetitive nonsense. I keep coming back to ‘why did she do it’? She ain’t no researcher. There’s a ton of up to the minute, well researched studies the government could have drawn on. I can only think she was given the ‘problem families’ gig (why?) and took it upon herself (in a self important way) to go and ‘interview’ some families, select extracts from the interviews (bypassing the essential stage of analysis) and vomit text around them. Text that reeks of her own fears,anxieties, assumptions and prejudice. The random referencing of academic study underlines a woeful lack of engagement in this area.

A bug bear of mine when providing student feedback is meaningless, throwaway statements. Louise has got a real handle on these;

In some cases there are clearly negative consequences for children growing up in these structurally unstable families, especially where the instability is accompanied by violence. [You don’t say..]

She also shines at lobbing in unsubstantiated, judgemental statements;

Some of the families reported being able to cope with the children when they were younger but as they got older found it more difficult, as they often started to display more challenging behaviour – often borne of their early experiences.

Many of the people interviewed were just not very good at relationships –  unsurprising perhaps in light of their own upbringing.

There is a leaning towards a Mills and Boon type style of writing. Not your usual government report lingo;

For example, as soon as the relationship between the parents breaks down, the father disappears from the family never to be heard of again.

But mostly it’s meaningless nonsense, again openly framed by Casey’s view of ‘good’ (middle class) parenting;

In some cases the mother’s idea of protecting their children seemed extremely far away from what most would consider acceptable. “Yeah so Owen left and then I think Clare must have been probably the age of going up to secondary school herself and she was fine in her first year. She got to 12 and I don’t know what happened. She changed completely. Horrible child…she basically took over the house…” Jill

In the next extract, Louise seems to equate living in the same area for a long time as isolating. But I think she probably means living in the kind of area these families live in means they don’t mix with ‘normal’ people and this leads to some sort of interbreeding and more problems.

The impression of families’ isolation from more ‘normal’ or positive friends or networks came across strongly. While many families moved around from one place to another fleeing violence, others had never left the area they had grown up in. Their partners came from the same street or moved between women in the area. They tended to stick within a network of other dysfunctional peers.

She gets herself in a bit of a mess in the next section. When it comes to parents blaming services, she suddenly tries to inject some objectivity into the report and spouts gibberish;

Many of the families complained about professionals or agencies involved with them, and in particular, social services. However it would not be fair to always lay the blame there when looked at dispassionately [???]. Undoubtedly, some families have reason to feel let down. But there were often unwarranted feelings that their problems were not of their making, and that they had no control over the problem or its solution; that it was they that had highlighted problems, with services simply failing to intervene and do what they were entitled to expect of them.

She manages to slip in that some families want larger council houses and makes it clear that while the mothers raise challenges they face, such as overcrowding, unsupportive schooling and a lack of effective support, the problem is firmly located within the family. To the extent that she refuses to acknowledge that some of the kids had learning difficulties. This is kind of hilarious in a way. But of course it’s not.

In certain cases there were undoubtedly problems with children that any parent would find difficult to deal with. But for many it was clear that the reasons for that behaviour had come from the household itself – the poor parenting skills, the constant changes in the home, family and partners, and the ongoing verbal and physical violence (among many other factors no doubt).

Yep, she actually added that last bit in brackets..

The conclusion is firmly within Mills and Boon territory with “starkest messages” about these dysfunctional families “who are not beyond help and hope”. I am not going to even repeat any of her nonsense conclusions because they ain’t worth the paper they are written on.

I’m left with a few questions really;

  • How can this piece of billy bullshit (or bileshit) be presented as a government report?
  • Why is Louise Casey Director General of Troubled Families and what does this mean?
  • Are there any other Director Generals and if so, who are they?

The spreading of such toxic bile is deeply alarming, but so is what it demonstrates about this bunch of chocolate teapots running this country.

Travel tips 1: Getting to the USA

A brand new series of practical tips for the incompetent traveller, starting with the USA.

1. Do your research. Make sure you thoroughly read about where you are going and choose the hotel accordingly. Be aware that names like ‘Denver Tech-Center’ may not refer to the building in which your conference is being held, but an area of about 5km square. Remember that careless preparation can leave you staying in a hotel 15 km from the town centre with no means of transport and a lot of dual carriageways to negotiate.

2. Check everything at least ten times; date and time of flight, airport of departure and valid passport.

3. Apply for your ESTA visa waiver as soon as you can. Failure to do this may result in some very hairy, horror filled moments, especially if you are somewhere like a retreat the day before you fly with very patchy internet access.

Note: If the above scenario does happen to you, make sure you have a cool and calm mate handy, with internet access and savvy searching skills, to iron out all those creases, provide the relevant information and get you back on your way to the States.*

4.Still at home, make sure you empty your hand luggage bag/rucksack fully before packing it with the stuff you are taking on board.

Note: If you fail to do the above and realise, once you are through to the departure lounge, you have something like, for example, a big bottle of shampoo in your bag from your last weekend away, don’t panic as you could have bought it in Boots in the terminal.

5. If you have a connecting flight once in the USA, you will need to pack any bottles (from your hand luggage or bought in duty free) in your luggage for the hold. You will collect this luggage on the way through security.

Note: If you’ve forgotten about that (for example) silly shampoo bottle in your hand luggage, and have already handed your hold luggage back to some guy, you will need to dump the bottle in the nearest bin at this point.

6. At this point, recheck your hand luggage to make sure no other nasties got through accidently before you reach the US security check. For example, the matching conditioner to the shampoo in a different pocket of your rucksack. If you don’t, security will.

 That’s it for Travel Tips 1. Just remember, a good traveller is a prepared traveller.

* Indebted to Ulla for this one.

Laughing boy; agency, space and presents

I got to thinking tonight about LB’s agency.  I suppose this is because the work I’m doing at the moment is looking at the inclusion of people with learning difficulties in research. As usual, the research doesn’t bear an awful lot of resemblance to the experiences of people I know (including LB).

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