Alternatives to punitive workfare systems: evidence from the Parisian suburbs

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Dr Charles Umney, University of Leeds

Charles Umney, Ian Greer and Lisa Schulte reflect on their research into differential approaches to addressing social exclusion in the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb of Paris.

Across Europe mainstream recipes for combatting poverty and social exclusion have failed. A recent Eurostat report put it this way:

The EU has not made any progress towards achieving its ‘Europe 2020’ social inclusion target, adopted in 2010, of lifting at least 20 million people from poverty and social exclusion by 2020.

This has happened as governments – British, German, and Nordic alike – have cut cash benefits and support services while rolling out strict job-search requirements and withdrawal of social benefits for noncompliance: all measures which were supposed to, in the UK government’s language, ‘make work pay’. Evidence mounts, however, that the people who are actually made to pay by these kinds of policies are the vulnerable groups they push into destitution.

‘Work-first’ social policy reflects an international consensus that is influenced by US-style workfare. It emphasises a more coercive and punitive approach to welfare recipients, the use of for-profit contractors to deliver welfare-to-work services, and market-based funding systems emphasising payment-by-results and more standardised service models. But as we have found from our field research in Seine-Saint-Denis, the relatively deprived banlieues North-East of Paris, there are holdouts against this drift toward workfare.

We examined insertion (‘integration’) services. This term denotes specific social services targeted at vulnerable groups (such as recovering drug addicts, single parents, young people from ‘sensitive urban areas’), with the aim not just of finding them a job, but also for helping to meet their wider needs such as secure housing or accessing welfare entitlements. In Seine-Saint-Denis – our fieldwork site – these services were delivered by a complex network of specialised small organisations, for-profit enterprises and charities. They offered traditional kinds of social work and had added employment-related training and employer-engagement schemes, aimed at specific groups of clients. Public funders stabilised this network through a preference for funding incumbent organisations on the ground, rather than creating an open market with commercial work-first provision. We interviewed front-line staff in various organisations charged with delivering welfare-to-work services (public, private or non-profit) as well as the funding organisations with whom they worked, examining up-close the business of delivering insertion services and the street-level consequences of policy change.

Provision of services for the unemployed by private for-profit organisations are controversial in France. But attempts have been made to expand the role of large for-profit enterprises: Multinational firms such as Australian-based Ingeus and Yorkshire-based A4e have sought to establish commercial provision, and also larger nonprofits such as Groupe SOS have emerged as vocal critics of the ‘small is beautiful’ ethos in French social services. In the new President, Emmanuel Macron, such organisations will likely find a highly sympathetic ear. Indeed, Macron’s party, En Marche!, has promised to:

encourage cooperation and mergers which will allow businesses in the Economie Sociale et Solidaire [i.e. nonprofits] to insert themselves into the value chain, to change scale to “better” respond to social and environmental needs, and to respond to the requirements of public orders, notably in terms of volume.

Our findings indicate that such a change of scale might be a disservice to those who need support the most.

While Pôle emploi (the French equivalent of Job Centre Plus) has adopted some of these characteristics, the employment services targeted specifically at disadvantaged populations continue to operate very differently. These services are usually provided by smaller non-profits which do not have the power or inclination to sanction service users. Front-line staff tend to approach their work with the ethos of social work, and service users’ progression through different organisations is handled by long-established informal contacts between associations rather than competitive contracting between government and firms.

In Seine-Saint-Denis we asked: why do these kinds of systems for these kinds of service users remain strong in France, while they have been integrated into workfare-type systems in many other countries?

One part of the explanation is that the people involved in delivering these services – i.e. those charged with overseeing the implementation of public policy at ‘street level’  — see obvious advantages to the insertion approach. It means that local services evolve in tandem with local needs, and interventions are adapted to problems that they observe on the ground, rather than being purely determined by the priorities of national policymakers. Staff in insertion providers can provide a more tailored and in-depth service to individual service users. Under these circumstances a much less coercive and sanctions-centric approach to service users becomes possible and the undesirable consequences of for-profit provision are mitigated, such as ‘creaming and parking’, where front-line staff systematically focus effort on the least needy.

The resilience of this landscape can be seen in the attempts to impose greater private provision through initiatives such as the Sarkozy-era contrat d’autonomie. For-profit organisations have found it difficult to enter this terrain. To recruit service users, they needed to penetrate the pre-existing network of providers, but there was often suspicion that an organisation with a profit motive will not share the ethos of the insertion network.

In Britain, such resistance has been overcome through authoritarian and centralising means: central government extending its authority over local welfare-to-work networks, marginalising existing networks and forcing through the entry of large multinational for-profit organisations. The abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and regional Learning and Skills Councils, along with severe cuts to local authority budgets reinforced this centralisation trend. As a result, services for the unemployed are increasingly the domain either of Jobcentres or large firms, with local customised services on the decline.

In France, by contrast, local control has been maintained, protecting insertion providers. The Pôle emploi – which is responsible for enforcing job-search requirements for the unemployed – is only one player among many in local networks of funders, planners, and providers that carry out insertion. In some regions, it is local government rather than the Pôle emploi that pays the minimum out-of-work benefit. This administrative fragmentation enhances local control, thereby reducing the state’s capacity to implement harsh workfare policies.

It remains to be seen how insertion will fare under Macron, who has a clear preference for neoliberal international policy orthodoxies. But greater private provision and a more sanctions-centred approach would be both difficult and counterproductive. To forcibly marginalise non-profit insertion networks the French state would have to reverse its long-term shift towards decentralization, and this disruption would jettison what is good about insertion and replace it with a model which has, in other countries, inflicted large amounts of misery on vulnerable people. If Macron is serious about ‘reforming’ French welfare-to-work systems in this direction, the result is likely to be a lot of pain for negligible gain. However, it would be a neat parallel of the wider package of austerity measures that have been imposed across European economies more generally in the last decade.

For the wider world, insertion offers an under-appreciated alternative to the largely failed project of marketised workfare systems. They also provide a reminder that public policies are to a large extent made at the street level, and that any policy to punish the poor will need to go hand-in-hand with the extensive state-led reordering of public services and the marginalisation of professional staff on the front line.

Kate Hardy launches ‘Housing and mental health network’

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A major research finding from a recent study into displacement from London during the housing crisis found that 89% of respondents mentioned worsening mental health as a result of their unstable housing situation.

Kate and her colleague from the University of Manchester, Tom Gillespie used their findings to hold a “Housing is a Mental Health issue” event on Wednesday 26th April in East London. The event brought together scholars, activists and practitioners working on issues relating to local housing policy, austerity and its links to psychological distress.

Over 80 people attended the event, including local residents, members of The Mental Health Resistance Network, NHS workers, Psychologists for Social Change members, CAB, local academics and many other organisations. Bringing together so many people with a wealth of experience and knowledge, including both lay experts and professional practitioners raised the possibility of using these findings influence real change in the area of housing and mental health.

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Following presentation from the report authors and researchers from Focus E15 campaign group, as well as a speaker from Debt Resistance UK, participants were invited to think together about the ways in which we could use the shared knowledge in the room to tackle issues of housing and homelessness. This raised various issues including a desire to unlock services, link up professionals, safe spaces and community control, as increasing the availability of high quality social housing as solutions to the combined mental health and housing crisis.

The event also enabled us to officially launch the “Housing and Mental Health Network”. This will be a partnership between local communities, homeless charities, mental health charities, community/clinical psychologists, artists, social workers, community workers, teachers and academics addressing issues of mental health, austerity, housing and homelessness. Through the establishment of the “Housing and Mental Health Network” we hope to generate new partnerships which will address this issue in the long term. We will do this by developing research projects, undertaking advocacy work and raising awareness through events, artistic productions and informational material.

Watch a video about the project here: http://business.leeds.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/blog/article/video-homelessness-health-and-housing/

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Dr Kate Hardy is an Associate Professor in Work and Employment Relations at the University of Leeds.

The key to a solicitor’s career success? Creating connections

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By Juliet Kele, Doctoral Student and Teaching Fellow, WERD

Employment lawyers regularly counsel and advise both employers and employees on a diverse matter of workplace related issues, but do they ever reflect upon the employment relationship, and inclusive working practices within their own firms? Historically, the legal profession has been perceived as an ‘old boys club’ – and can still be argued as such in modern times. The senior positions in most law firms are filled with middle-aged, white men (‘male, pale and stale’). These issues have animated my research in aiming to discover whether a smaller law firm size has a favourable impact upon the career progression of female and ethnic-minority lawyers.

The findings of this research reveal that while smaller law firms were thought to have a more supportive culture than larger firms – in terms of implementing flexible-working initiatives and being ‘family-friendly’ employers – lawyers with high levels of social capital were looked upon more favourably at each career progression round.

Using interviews conducted within Yorkshire small and medium-sized legal practices (firms with fewer than 250 employees), my research considers how career progression is experienced by a diverse range of employees and the factors perceived to influence career progression in this context. My analysis shows that a crucial factor perceived as having a positive effect upon career progression – regardless of the smaller firm size – was that of having high levels of social capital: favourable connections and networks.

Some individuals acknowledged their ‘luck’ of good connections – for example, paralegals being able to move companies with their supervisors – and individuals gaining their current position through connections or recommendations. Moreover, it was felt that in smaller law firms, competing against fewer colleagues, individuals may be able to foster a closer mentoring and sponsorship relationship with supervisors than in larger businesses. This, in turn, may be beneficial to career advancement as management come to recognise and acknowledge the efforts of their staff.

Part of a solicitor’s work responsibilities is the development of connections and constant networking. These are highly-desirable skills, not only for the business interests of the company but are also for accelerating the speed of career progression. However, my research demonstrates this may be easier for some groups than for others.

While the smaller law firms were considered to have more supportive cultures than larger firms, for female lawyers aspiring to progress their careers, as reported by the Law Society Gazette, one main stumbling block endured: the choice between career and family. The general impression was that there were still ‘fairly limited opportunities’ for progression in law firms for female employees who wished to have families. Due to familial responsibilities, they felt unable to commit to the extensive demands on their time in terms of networking in connection to both servicing existing and generating new clients, often known as ‘rainmaking’.

Female employees admitted that being a woman in the legal profession was ‘difficult’. Although they had invested heavily into their legal education, they still felt that their colleagues expected them to have children. While some female employees thought that they should not have to choose between prioritising family and work, others said that there was still a ‘sacrifice’ to be made for women in the legal profession. Moreover, two female solicitors directly stated that being pregnant was a career obstacle and disadvantage they had experienced.

Similarly, minority ethnic lawyers also had greater levels of commitments outside of work; either relating to religious observations, responsibilities to both their close and extended families and in assisting their wider communities. The legal profession itself was criticised: with long-working hours and frequent late-nights, networking and weekend work, maintaining a work-life balance was challenging – as one respondent said: ‘something’s got to give’. The opportunity cost here is deciding whether to dedicate more time to family life or to career advancement.

Working-fathers also made sacrifices, but they came at more of a personal than career cost. Work-life balance was important to them, as their ‘biggest career driver’ were their new families. Some working-fathers also criticised the legal profession stating it was ‘a younger man’s game’ – they said that their priorities now shifted more towards a family-focus and being at home with their families; rather than rain-making for their employers.

In sum, from my research, these smaller law firms and their workforces recognise the importance assigned by its valuable ‘knowledge workers’ to maintaining a ‘work-life balance’. These legal practices thus awarded more prominence to the implementation of flexible-working practices than larger companies.

This smaller company size was felt by employees – especially those with external commitments – to have a more accommodating organisational culture than larger law firms. Despite this, with importance continuously placed on a long-hours culture, building connections and constant networking, lawyers with the highest social capital levels will make the most advances in their careers. These lawyers continue to be of the ‘male, pale and stale’ variety.

Industrial Strategy and Steel

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Dr Ian Greenwood, Leeds University Business School

With the restructuring of its former ministry for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) into the ministry for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), led by Minister Greg Clark, the government looks to have accepted the idea that an element of coordination of the economy is necessary in order to be able to compete with other industrial nations. The Green Paper on industrial strategy, the consultation period to which ended on 17th April 2017, appears to have consolidated this position.

Although the Green Paper, ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’, proposes that industrial strategy is not about directing the economy, it does, nonetheless, suggest an intent to intervene in the working of the economy. This is in somewhat stark contrast to the position in July 2015 when the then Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Savid Javid,  informed those desperate for the government to engage with the crisis engulfing the UK steel industry, that he believed in an ‘industrial approach’ for the UK industry rather than an ‘industrial strategy’. It was the deep crisis in steel, that in large measure, through the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for steel, that propelled the government to think again about the extent to which strategic intervention in industrial is necessary.

The proposed industrial strategy is to be based on 10 pillars. These are science, research and innovation; skills; infrastructure; business growth and investment; procurement; trade and investment; affordable energy; sectoral policies; driving growth across the whole country; and creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places. Within an overarching ambition of improving living standards and more balanced growth by increasing productivity, the government sees industrial strategy as necessary for a stronger economy, ‘fairer society’ and development of ‘high paid, high skilled’ jobs. The strategy will, furthermore, reflect active government that moves beyond short term thinking. It will, ‘build on strategic strengths’ and ‘tackle underlying weaknesses’. Industrial strategy is though, to be ‘modern’. This, Clark explains. is not about directing the economy and 1970s style industrial strategy, ‘mistakenly focused’ on existing industries and the big firms within them. New industrial strategy will act to nurture new industries that will ‘challenge and in some cases displace’ existing industries, not to privilege the protection of incumbents. Picking losers as much as winners seems central to this philosophy. In the absence of key supports for manufacturing and energy intensive industries, this might well become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

What might also be cause for concern, however, is that apart from reference to advanced engineering, the aerospace and auto sectors, mention in the Green Paper of the wider manufacturing sector and primary such as steel is scant. Yet an industrial strategy in which industries such as steel are manifestly part, is precisely what is required. This is the case in respect not only of the intrinsic value of such industries, but also precisely because of the vital part played by, for example, steel, in the up and down stream viability of the aerospace and particularly automotive sectors. It is generally accepted that if car manufacturers cannot source around 40% of its materials and components domestically, they will look to relocate offshore. The consequence of this for the UK economy would be calamitous.

Although the importance of the steel industry to the UK has declined, it possesses attributes that are significant for the economy. The industry produces a trade surplus. Its productivity, investment in R&D and training per employees are higher than the general UK economy.  Crucially, the supply value added multiplier is greater than 3, and the employment multiplier is between 2 and 3. The industry has, hence, an important impact on skills, economic demand and employment levels for the country in general and for specific regions in particular.

The steel industry is categorised as a ‘Foundation Industry’. Such industries have been generally characterised as those that underpin the web of strategically important manufacturing and construction supply chains and whose output is largely for supply chain inputs rather than final consumption. As with the steel industry, Foundation industries are essential for the generation of primary value for an economy. They have been assessed to account for 17% of UK manufacturing GVA and 20% of manufacturing employment. Crucially, again as with steel, these industries have higher productivity than the UK economy norm, have relatively high levels of R&D and training per employee.

Academic research explains why it makes economic and social sense for a government to support Foundation industries through a strategy for industry. The reason why economies such as the USA and UK suffer from a defect in R&D and competitiveness, is because of the neglect and outsourcing of these basic industries. Commentators explain how manufacturing industries provide the infrastructure through which skills, R&D and the ability to innovate are nurtured. These are simply crucial for the international competitive success of advanced economies. The outsourcing and decline of manufacturing sets off a chain reaction that is ultimately destructive to the ability of the macro economy to innovate and compete. To address this potential crisis, it has been argued that, ‘government and business must work together to rebuild a country’s ‘industrial commons’, the collective R&D, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities that sustain innovation [and that depends crucially on the existence of a vibrant manufacturing base]. Yet funding of research and encouragement of collaborative R&D initiatives to tackle society’s big problems need to be stepped up. Companies must, furthermore, overhaul their management practices and governance structures in order to avoid making destructive outsourcing decisions.

Geographically skewed to industrial areas of the country such as Wales, the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, the steel industry is responsible for the retention of relatively high paid, high skill jobs in areas that are deindustrialising – often with devastating social consequences. When steel plants close or contract, a negative economic equilibrium around a low pay, low skill, and low value added economy is likely to evolve. The economic multipliers associated with the industry are relatively well understood, but what I term the ‘social multiplier’ is no less critical. has clearly demonstrated the negative psychological impact of job loss on steel workers many of whom have spent most, if not all, their working lives in the industry. Transition into work that is often comparatively low paid and low skilled, can be unnerving and demoralising. The strong sense of self-esteem, camaraderie and collective support that typifies steel work is rarely rediscovered.

The Industrial Communities Alliance (ICA), an organisation attempting to develop public policy for the deindustrialised, regions of the UK, such as steel and coal, points out that Britain’s older industrial areas contain around a third of the UK population. These are, though, largely communities ‘left behind’ and getting by on low paid work and benefits. The Alliance therefore supports an industrial strategy designed to rebalance the economy through a shift towards industry, production and exports. The perspective of the ICA is echoed in the analysis presented in the Green Paper which accepts that regional disparities are now wider in the UK than in other western European nations. An industrial strategy is necessary, the Paper contends, to spread growth and wealth more widely across regions, hence creating a fairer society that, in the words of Theresa May will engender, ‘a stronger, fairer Britain that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.’

Research provides strong evidence that wholesale deindustrialisation is not an overdetermined economic phenomenon. Governments can act to shape the nature of their economies. From the coordinated market economy of Germany, to the Developmental State model of Singapore, to the way in which the USA actively intervenes in its trade defence mechanisms, across a range of capitalist economies, evidence for this is clear. What is required is a holistic strategy that endures and connects Foundation Industries to other sectors of the economy – high tech, the service sector and through procurement policy, the public sector – and which involves both employees and their trades unions. Industrial strategy can work. The ideological shibboleths of the political Right cannot be allowed to extinguish this, possibly final chance, for some basic industries, their workers and their communities, to survive and flourish.

Why so-called ‘Barista Visas’ won’t help UK Hospitality Workers

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Matthew Cole

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has recently introduced the idea of a so-called ‘barista visa’, undoubtedly to militate against the potentially disastrous effects of Brexit for UK businesses. The proposal was suggested by Lord Green, chairman of the right-wing think tank Migration Watch UK, who claimed it would, “kill two birds with one stone” by meeting employer needs while “maintaining links with the EU”. By links, he must have meant links to a highly exploitable workforce with no rights. The ‘barista visa’ would allow young European citizens to migrate to the UK and work in the hospitality industry for up to 2 years; however, it would deny them access to benefits, schooling, housing or any possibility of extending their stay. The proposed visa would be modelled on the Tier 5 (youth mobility scheme) visa, which currently allows 18-to-30-year-olds with at least £1,890 in savings from non-E.U. countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan to work in the U.K. for up to 24 months. Despite the government’s optimism, the ‘barista visa’ would not only fail to offer adequate solutions to Brexit, it would exacerbate issues in the industry for both employer and employees.

The hospitality industry (including hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants) makes a significant contribution to the UK economy. The industry added an estimated £57 billion to the economy in 2014, roughly 4% of GDP and it employs around 3 million people in the UK.  Since 2011, it has grown by 13%, more than double the employment growth of the economy overall. Yet in the context of this dramatic growth, working conditions remain poor. Average gross earnings for full-time workers in the hotel industry are the lowest in the UK and the industry has the highest incidence of low-paid workers. Added to this is its dubious status as one of the least unionised sector of the economy.

Today, the hospitality industry is experiencing increasing instability and pressure as a result of Brexit. Britain leaving the EU will no doubt have serious and lasting impacts on the UK labour market and workers rights. According to the ONS, E.U. nationals make up 7% (2.2 million) of Britain’s total labour market of 30.3 million. However, some industries will be more affected than others and the hospitality – with over 60,000 workers per annum working in this sector – is likely to be one of those feeling the impact of the referendum result. A report by KPMG indicates that hospitality is the largest business sector employer of EU nationals as a proportion of total workforce. Hotels and restaurants employ the highest percentage of EU migrants with certain roles such as waiters and waitresses (75.3% EU nationals), housekeeping staff and chefs representing a particularly high portion of migrants. Based on current projections, the absence of an annual inflow of new EU migrants into the hospitality industry each year would generate a significant recruitment gap, which would increase over time.

Despite it’s moniker the ‘barista visa’ scheme would fail from a business standpoint .The two-year limit alone is reason enough to anticipate this, since it forecloses incentives for training and retaining workers in an industry that is experiencing serious problems with skill shortages and turnover. According to People 1st, turnover in the hospitality industry is estimated at 20 per cent, while the KPMG survey of BHA members puts the estimate even higher, at 50.2 per cent. This costs the industry approximately £274 million annually. The Financial Times, reported that the ‘barista visa’ would also be open to other sectors that are heavily reliant on low-wage migrant labour, such as social care, agriculture, and construction. While the numbers of migrants for each industry will be restricted with an overall cap, there is no guarantee that there would be enough EU migrants who meet the proposed criteria and aim to work in hospitality. Last year, The Times reported that only 40,000 people applied on the existing Tier 5 youth mobility scheme for all industries. This is 20,000 less than the number of EU migrants who gained employment in the hospitality industry alone. Given the strict criteria of the ‘barista visa’ and the fact that the hospitality industry is expanding rapidly the number of EU migrants is likely to fall woefully short of the needs of employers. Combine this with low wages and the rising anti-migrant rhetoric of mainstream political parties and the situation looks dire indeed.

To attempt to lessen the impact of Brexit, BHA members have petitioned the government to retain EU workers and openness for tourism. They recognise how important migrant labour is for their businesses even if they have not necessarily recognised the rights and economic rights of migrants as a whole. The BHA’s focus on the business case for hospitality ignores the concerns of most of its labour force. Historically, they have opposed legislation designed to protect workers’ interests such as the minimum wage legislation in 1999 and tips legislation in 2009. They have also avoided addressing criticisms from trade unionists about issues in the industry. Last year, Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull offered a different explanation of why the industry cannot recruit and retain the type of workers it needs. He cited a fundamentally “flawed, low cost and exploitative business model” in an industry where “low pay, insecure working, exploitation and institutionalised bullying are rife”[1]. The ‘barista visa’ will only exacerbate these problems. It would further entrench divisions in the labour market and further undermine the collective rights of workers. The scheme denies migrants a social safety net and offers no chance to progress in a career or build a life in the U.K. long-term.

The ‘barista visa’ also fails from a worker’s perspective. Labour Force data shows EU nationals are already concentrated in low-paid and lower-level occupations, especially in the hospitality industry. As of 2016, less than 1% of EU nationals in the hospitality industry were employed in the ‘higher managerial and professional’ occupation grouping. The current state of UK labour law weaves issues of migrant rights into the employment relationship, leaving open the potential for employers to terminate their contract which could effectively leave them exposed to deportation. The ‘barista visa’ ultimately will keep EU migrants in a legally subordinate position to nationals, exacerbating the ‘migrant division of labour’[2] and further undermining all working conditions. The further precarisation of migrant labourers in the hospitality industry will at best allow business owners to continue exploitative practices and at worst, further divide workers.

[1] Unite, 2016. Unite in direct plea to London mayor to tackle exploitative work practices in London’s hotel industry. Press Release. http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-in-direct-plea-to-london-mayor-to-tackle-exploitative-work-practices-in-londons-hotel-industry/

Meenakshi Sarkar’s poem wins Best Presentation at BSA event Public sociology and the role of the researcher

Recently, the British Sociological Association organised a postgraduate and early career researcher regional event – Public sociology and the role of the researcher: Engagement, communication and academic activism on 29th March 2017, at the DeMontfort University, Leicester.

The format of presentation was a five-minute PechaKucha presentation (20 slides-20 seconds each- so 400 seconds). Given the time constraint, I decided to do mine in the form of a poem! I was a bit apprehensive, but the poem was well received by the academic audience and I won the prize for the best presentation.

Meenakshi Sarkar - groupMy research explores the employment challenges for Pakistani men in the UK and why a quarter of them work as taxi drivers?  Nestled in a social constructivist paradigm, within the structure agency debate, mine is an ethnographic study drawing upon Bourdieusian concepts- habitus, doxa, illusio and the various capitals.

As a qualitative researcher I have often comes across this call for reflexivity or being reflexive (Bourdieu, 1984). Michael Buroway calls ethnography to be a ‘reflexive science’ (2003); Finlay says its ‘a difficult path’ (1998) yet ‘essential for all research’ (2002); Some call it ‘elusive and poorly described’ (Dowling, 2006); and others see reflexivity as a major strategy for quality control (Berger, 2015). Baffled with all these propositions, I sometimes find myself at a loss when trying to ‘be reflexive’ and had the same question as Pillow (2007) – is reflexivity ‘a reflection, confession or a cathartic outburst?’

The following poem is an expression of real questions I faced while writing my methodology chapter (which I am still struggling with!).

The Reflexive Researcher: The Pain and Gains of Reflexivity

1 in 4 Pakistani men in the UK, drive taxis for a living[1]
Is it a choice or constraint, their fortune’s misgiving[2]?
How free are they to choose a job? do they really have a choice?
Or do their class, religion, and ethnicity take away their own voice?

How does being a Pakistani man in UK, affect their life chance ?
What options do they get, in a society of white dominance?
Economists have sought to answer these questions in many ways
Through human capital theories, or the role an ‘ethnic penalty’[3] plays

Many a studies have pointed to the disadvantage of Pakistanis in this land[4]
Poor education, rural backgrounds, often push them to the lowest band
Discrimination is still rampant, in spite of all the laws,[5]
How fair is Britain, boasting of its equality vows?

But then, these penalties are not the same across all groups that dwell
Indians & Chinese, in the same British labour market have done pretty well![6]
Is education then the emancipator, the key to success ?
Yet, why do some second generation Pakistani boys to taxi driving recess?[7]

Unable to find an answer, I turned to sociology too!
To Giddens, Archer[8], and Pierre Bourdieu
I found Bourdieu closest to explaining the reproduction of class
Of habitus, doxa and illusio, how they affect our life, alas!

A habitus is formed , as a ‘mental structure’ which guides our minds
A perception of only this or that could be done, which a illusio binds
The habitus is reproduced generations after generations
Yet, between structure and agency lie man’s deliberations!

Or is it the various capitals he says, that create this doxic structure
Social capital?, religious?, symbolic?, or culture?[9]
So our Class, Affiliations, Gender, and Ethnicity form a certain CAGE,
A structure one is born in, as we enter life’s stage.

We do not choose these for ourselves, but they yield their power on us
Reproducing the habitus affecting our long term prospects thus
But man is born free, a rational thinking being!
How does one negotiate this CAGE?  when does agency kick in?

Faced with these questions, I took a social justice stance
An ethnographic study, an interpretivist dance
What counts can sometimes not be counted, and what’s counted doesn’t count,
So I am presenting their voices qualitatively, in their own account

But wait, who am I in this entire scheme of things?
What’s my positionality? a question of reflexivity rings!
Am I an insider or outsider here?
What common sense of my participants do I actually bear?

I am a contrast to them in many a way
What role does my own background here play[10]?
I am an educated, Hindu, Indian, woman from the middle class
They are taxi drivers, Muslim, Pakistani, men from a working class.

So, how does one research these subjective questions of the mind?
How will I unearth the habitus of being a minority in the grind?
How do my own assumptions affect what I say and ask?
How in the glory of my own habitus does my research bask?

Is reflexivity a reflection, confession, or just a cathartic outburst?[11]
If we all affect our research uniquely, then what epistemology do we trust?
Where does the researcher draw the line to remain objective?
Between the study and real people who are subjective?

Whose story is it anyway, mine or theirs?
Am I their true representative as someone who cares?
How will this help policy and practice? what impact will it make?
Finding social justice for the community, I wish to awake

I have more questions than answers at this stage,
Perhaps I am bound unknowingly, by my own CAGE!
But these questions, however painful need to be asked for sure
Only then will I as an impactful & reflexive researcher mature

By Meenakshi Sarkar, Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds
Email: M.Sarkar@leeds.ac.uk;  TWEET: @meenakshisarkar

Meenakshi SarkarCurrently in her 3rd year of PhD at the University o Leeds, Meenakshi is a Learning and Development professional with over 20 years of experience from India where she worked with various organisations such as Procter & Gamble, Bausch & Lomb, Oriflame, Metlife Insurance and New York Life Insurance as a L&D lead, leadership coach and facilitator for behavioral skills. She came to the UK as a matured student to pursue her second masters in Human resource management (the first being in English Literature) at the University of Leeds in 2012. Her research started from a simple observation that many of the taxi drivers she met during her stay at Leeds, Bradford and Manchester were of Pakistani origin. As per the EHRC (2010), 1 in 4 Pakistani men In the UK drive taxis for a living. Is it a choice or constraint?  Meenakshi set out to explore. As she is writing her thesis, she is also exploring issues around reflexivity, role of the researcher in public sociology.

The above poem was presented at a Public Sociology conference in Leicester this March.

End Notes and References

[1] Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Report, (2010) How fair is Britain? The first triennial review.

[2] Markus H. Schafer, Kenneth F. Ferraro and Sarah A. Mustillo (2011)Children of Misfortune: Early Adversity and Cumulative Inequality in Perceived Life Trajectories: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 116, No. 4 pp. 1053 -1091

[3] Richard Berthoud (2000) Ethnic employment penalties in Britain, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 26:3, 389-416

[4] Mairtin Mac an Ghaill and Chris Haywood (2015) British-Born Pakistani and Bangladeshi Young Men: Exploring Unstable Concepts of Muslim, Islamophobia and Racialization Critical Sociology Vol. 41(1) 97–114

[5] F. Carmichael & R. Woods (2000) Ethnic Penalties in Unemployment and Occupational Attainment: Evidence for Britain, International Review of Applied Economics, 14:1, 71-98

[6] Malcolm Brynin and Ayse Guvelli, (2012) Understanding the ethnic pay gap in Britain Work, employment and society 26(4) 574–587

[7] Tariq Modood and Nabil Khattab (2015) Explaining Ethnic Differences: Can Ethnic Minority Strategies Reduce the Effects of Ethnic Penalties? Sociology1–16

[8] Archer, M. (2003): Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation. UK: Cambridge University Press.

[9] Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L.J. (1992) An invitation to reflexive sociology. University of Chicago press.

[10] Marta Bolognani (2005) Islam, Ethnography and Politics: Methodological Issues in Researching amongst West Yorkshire Pakistanis International Journal of Social Research Methodology Vol. 10, No. 4, October 2007, pp. 279–293

[11] Wanda Pillow (2003)  Confession, catharsis, or cure? Rethinking the uses of reflexivity as methodological power in qualitative research, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16:2, 175-196

Injustice in Post Industrial Communities

By Simon John Duffy, Centre for Welfare Reform (@CforWR).

The Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change and Hope Not Hate came together to run an exciting cross-disciplinary event: A Future for Post Industrial Communities? The event, organised by CERIC’s Professor Jane Holgate, was lively, stimulating and wove together a vast array of information, helped by the use of the PechaKucha format, which forced all the presenters to concentrate their presentations to an essential minimum.

The central focus of the two days of discussion was the fate of the many towns and villages across the North, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales where heavy industry or mining had once been dominant. Where once the Labour Party was strong now there was growing support for UKIP and a strong vote for Brexit.

Academic research demonstrated that, contrary to the stereotypes, in these places people work hard and took care of each other, but struggled with low pay, job insecurity, benefit sanctions and growing poverty. Today the UK is the most unequal country in Europe, and these communities are on the wrong end of that inequality.

Many also noted that that these communities also lacked power. The UK is the most centralised welfare state in the world and in these places people have minimal democratic control and minimal representation in London. They seem abandoned by mainstream politics. Moreover social structures, the meeting places, the pubs, churches, working men’s clubs and leisure facilities had all declined. People have few opportunities to meet, organise or advocate for themselves. Poverty has been privatised.

These facts are rarely discussed and the assumption is that these places are now client states, dependent on subsidies from London. The truth is very different. For instance, if you calculate public spending in Barnsley it is £0.84 billion less than what you’d expect if you divided all public spending equally by head of population.

Barnsley Public Spending

The negative consequences of these overlapping injustices are severe and include much lower life expectancy. Yet none of this is inevitable; it was encouraging to hear that in other countries, like Germany, industrial change has not led to these kinds of problems. Communities can be supported to develop and to get back on their feet.

A further concern was that racism can feed off these social injustices. Speakers from Hope Not Hate shared their experiences of successfully over-turning prejudice in local communities where racists had exploited people’s fears and anger. But this also raised the question of what comes first: racism or injustice. And if, as most agreed, injustice comes first, how were we to understand and challenge that injustice.

Over the course of these two days I found my head whirling with competing categories and different understandings of social justice. Victims and perpetrators often seem to change places and people were forced to wear or to shed the group identities that mattered to some theory, but possibly not to people themselves:

– White working class men are seen by some as a threat

– White working class men are seen by others as victims

– But do white working class men really exist?

– Whose interests does this identity serve?

– Probably not the people shoehorned into it

Clearly some identities matter because others have chosen to use those identities for the purpose of scapegoating or vile attack. Categories like race, disability or native country become desperately important if others are using these categories hatefully. Yet we may think that these identities shouldn’t be important. It is injustice itself that has made them relevant.

For some these problems are obviously a function of capitalism. For others they are a function of class and elitism. Others stressed the organisation of power and the dominance of London and the big cities. Others looked back to the securities provided by large or nationalised industries; while some looked forward about to new forms of cooperative enterprise or community action.

What is critical here seems to be our sense of what is that actual reform or action that will reduce injustice. Politicians talk about ‘investment’ in these communities; but, reasonable as this seems, the reality is more complex. Often it amounts to no more than selling off our assets, our industries and our people. In Salford increased investment led to new offices and BBC premises, but local people saw no improvements. Increasingly housing policies has disconnected people from their communities: forcing people to move out just as the money comes in. We cannot assume that places and people are connected if people have no right to stay in their home communities.

Some, but not all, were attracted to the idea that power and money must down to community. Only if people can make their own decisions, shape their communities around their own assets and goals, can communities flourish. Others preferred the idea of national industries and even greater central control. Some were understandably suspicious that governments will exploit localism and asset-based approaches in order to disguise the structural injustices created by their own policies.

Perhaps one telling trend was the agreement across a range of speakers that change must begin by listening to and empowering communities. The Labour Party, trade unions, Citizens UK and Hope Not Hate have all made community organising a central plank of their strategies.

However this reinforces the need for more thinking about devolution in the UK. If we need to listen more now then that suggests that the current system is badly designed. If local communities are given more power, but the financial settlements are unfair, then this will just increase injustice. If devolution means merging large local authorities into even large areas, under the control of one mayor, then the powerlessness of smaller communities will only increase.

This two day conference did not resolve these issues, but it was certainly one of the richest discussions that I’ve been involved in. Brexit seems an unfortunate backwards step for the UK; but if it forces us to pay more attention to the deep and underlying injustices in the UK today then it will have at least one positive consequence.