Wednesday 30 May 2018

#STILLCROSS | #notmyfeminism @JamesCleverly

Here I am on a fairly sunny afternoon minding my own business when I thought I'd just check my twitter account. Mistake. First there was this:

@JamesCleverly: And on the point about whether Theresa May is a proper feminist, it’s worth noting that she’s spent her whole time in Parliament working to get more women elected to Westminster. She prioritised domestic violence, domestic abuse, and modern slavery whilst Home Secretary.

To which I replied:

@gletherby: Austerity disproportionately affects women + rape clause + period poverty + treatment of women at Yarl’s Wood + welcomes to world leaders with obvious misogynistic views etc etc etc #notmyfeminism @JamesCleverly

And also this:

@JamesCleverly: Those Labour women who are pointing at Theresa May, a highly successful women in a traditionally man’s world, and trying to undermine her over abortion rights in a devolved part of the UK should ask themselves “am I a proper feminist?” [NB these are just two tweets in Cleverly's 'educational' thread]  

My (sarcastic) response:

@gletherby: Thanks for the advice @JamesCleverly - my sweet little head is obviously so full of all things pink and fluffy I am unable (as are my sisters) to think or speak for myself on reproductive and human rights #feminism

Feeling slightly (just slightly) better for having responded, not that I am under any illusion that I’ll get a reply.


Friday 18 May 2018

'Nothing has Changed' | 'Change is Coming'

The 12th May (2018) was National Limerick Day. A few days late I’ve written a political limerick compilation/thread (with the odd bit of poetic license). 

‘Nothing has changed, nothing has changed.’

A snap general election in June (2017),

To shut down descent and maroon (anyone who dares to have a different view).

The manifesto divides,

[A couple of examples of manifesto backtracking:

‘The Conservatives are in meltdown after Theresa May is forced to make another embarrassing U-turn’ 

‘'Dementia tax': What is the Conservative policy and why is it so controversial?’ ]

The Prime Minister hides,

[Just one link here -  ‘Theresa May Accused Of Dodging 'Any Form Of Public Scrutiny' After Keeping Journalists At A Distance’  - there were more times]

But; ‘nothing has changed’ is the tune.


Moving on to the spring of this year,

Still fit for nothing but jeer.

Abandoning anything good, 

[@AngelaRayner: The ‘Do nothing’ PM dodges 181 election vows. Theresa May is "the do nothing Prime Minister” Stop procrastinating, we don’t need a review into student finance, we need to scrap fees and restore grants now!

They don’t debate, just sling mud.  

[Lots of evidence here, including:
‘Theresa May gets personal in attack on Jeremy Corbyn as election polls narrow:  Tories try to contrast the PM and the Labour leader, who she claims would go ‘alone and naked’ into Brexit negotiations’
‘At PMQs today, Theresa May chose to insult doctors and nurses on the 69th anniversary of the NHS’
‘Sajid Javid threatened with legal action after calling Momentum ‘neo-fascist’

So, ‘nothing has changed’. This is clear. 


Brexit, Grenfell, Windrush and more,

With promises crushed to the floor.

[For example:
11 Brexit promises the government quietly dropped
Leaving aside the £350m for the NHS, Brexit has promised quick and easy trade deals with the EU and the rest of the world, an end to ECJ jurisdiction and free movement, and British control of North Sea fishing. None of this has come to pass.
84 Men, Millicent, Mary, Jesus and a ‘Monument to Tory Britain’ | #VoteLabour3dMay
Why Tory Promises to Windrush Children Aren’t Enough 

Quick to strike and to arm,

They condemn calls for calm,

[@YouGov: With an attack on Syria looking imminent, YouGov reveals only 22% of Brits would support missile attacks on the Syrian military - almost twice as many (43%) are opposed ]

Again, ‘nothing has changed’, that’s for sure.


Royal babies and weddings prompt (inter)national fest (I’m in Canada at the moment and the anticipation amongst some is palpable),

Despite those deprived of the place where they rest.

[Royal wedding: Homeless near Windsor Castle have sleeping bags taken away by police before Meghan Markle and Harry’s big day’ ]

More tax for the poor,

Those offshore ignore,

[A piece of ‘fiction’ seems relevant here:  The People Who Live In Trees - ]

Nothing has changed’; you can see it's no jest.


Yet, much of the media re-frames or denies,

Smearing the alternative and all this implies.

[A personal view here:
Grieving for the BBC (and the mainstream media more generally) | #VoteLabourMay3rd

Giving the ‘elite’ (!) a free pass,

Leads to challenge en masse.

Oh, ‘nothing has changed’, the commentariat cries.

@evolvepolitics: These Daily Mail headlines just one month apart show precisely what’s wrong with the Mainstream Media (the first heading relates to Windrush)

But still there are many together who rise up in hope,

Across all walks of life we challenge the trope.

We’re not ‘out of touch’,

Nor ‘too thick’ to know much.

Change is possible. Change is needed. Change is coming (sorry ran out of rhymes at the end).


Sunday 13 May 2018

Why (do) I Write | I write because of 'ducks with hats on'

As a sociologist who engages in research, scholarly writing, teaching supervision, mentorship and so on I reflect often on the reasons for such activity. In 2013 I wrote: 

In thinking back to the beginnings of my academic career it makes me smile to think how when starting my doctoral research on the experience of ‘infertility’ and ‘involuntary childlessness’ I was excited about what a difference I could make. My doctoral research was invaluable to me. It taught me a lot about the whole process of research, it fuelled my fascination in methodological and epistemological debate, it enabled me to say some useful (I hope) things about childlessness, parenthood and identity, it gave me the resources to work in an environment I continue to find rewarding and challenging. What my PhD did not do was have the impact I hoped it would. I spoke about my work at conferences, wrote some articles and chapters and a few small pieces for non-academic audiences and I am gratified that I am still sometimes asked to speak, write, examine on the topic. I could have done more but at that time I did not have the skills or the support to do so. More recently with colleagues from Coventry University I was involved in a series of projects concerned to explore the experience of teenage pregnancy and young parenthood. All of this work was commissioned by practitioners, themselves responsible for the care and support of young women, their partners and their children. In addition to positive responses to our calls for the need for further research in specific areas (e.g. violence and abuse in the lives of pregnant teenagers and young mothers, antenatal care, father’s experience) as a research team we have been, and continue to be involved in activities that could be described both as impact and as ‘public sociology’. We have, for example, developed and delivered (with young mothers) training packs for health and social care professionals; trained young mothers to become peer researchers and developed a questionnaire for young women entering and leaving semi-supported housing. In addition we have presented and published of our findings within and beyond the academy (e.g. at local and regional meetings of those responsible for the deliverance of the UK Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, in the local and national press and in practitioner-focused publications) … (Gayle Letherby, (2013) ‘Objectivity and Subjectivity in Practice’, in Letherby, G. Scott, J. and Williams, M. Objectivity and Subjectivity in Social Research London: Sage).

What my research experiences have taught me is that the impact we make is in part down to our own efforts and in part determined by the work of others including funders, research partners, those responsible for policy and practice change etc. (Gayle Letherby and Paul Bywaters (2007) Extending Social Research: application, implementation, presentation Buckingham: Open University)What I hope, along with others I work with,  is that my research will make some kind of difference, make some small impact (in the broadest sense within, beyond and besides the academy). Thus, there is a political motivation here. Acknowledging both the strengths and the limitations of the academic project (I’ll write more on this another day) I research, write and all the rest because following Alvin W. Gouldner (1970 The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology London: Sage) I support and aim for a morally responsible, reflexive, radical, critical sociology. I do not want to exaggerate the significance and reach of my work, I am not so arrogant as to claim any greatness in it but the small steps and changes we can all make are invaluable.

I have compared research to a relay race whilst one person carries the baton for a while and then passes it on (Gayle Letherby, (2003) Feminist Research in Theory and Practice Buckingham: Open University) and the sharing of thoughts and ideas through written and verbal presentations is similar I think. I know that reading about and listening to the ideas of others encourages me to reflect and to challenge, and stimulates me to add something to discussion and debate. I hope that my work does the same for others.

With specific reference to writing there are many examples of people sharing what motivates them.  Just a few that I find particularly inspiring:

I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart'
Anne Frank

I Rise (first verse)
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me down in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Maya Angelou


. . . writing as a method of inquiry, a way of finding out about yourself and your topic. Although we usually think about writing as a mode of “telling” about the social world, writing is not just a mopping-up activity at the end of a research project. Writing is also a way of “knowing” – a method of discovery and analysis. By writing in different ways, we discover new aspects of our topic and our relationship to it. Form and content are inseparable (Laurel Richardson (1994) ‘Writing: a method of inquiry’ in Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. (eds.) A Handbook of Qualitative Research, (first edition) Thousand Oaks: Sage 515).

Most recently  I read George Orwell's essay Why I Write (George Orwell (1946) ‘Why I Write’ in Orwell, G. (1984) Why I write (Great Ideas Series) London: Penguin). Orwell suggests:

I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any own writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

1.    Sheer egotism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered …
2.    Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement….
3.    Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
4.    Political purpose – using the word ‘political’ in the wildest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with political is itself a political attitude.

(NB: I’ve just started reading Deborah Levy's (2013) Things I Don't Want to Know: A response to George Orwell's 1946 essay 'Why I write' London: Penguin, which I feel sure will lead to further reflection). 

I accept almost all of Orwell’s points although I’m wary of the term ‘true facts’ in point 3 (see Bias, Truth, Trust.... below) and I’d add to point 4 that all writing, be it book, article, story, poem, research thesis and so on, is in some ways political. With this latter acknowledgement in mind at least one of the reasons I write is because of ducks with hats on:

‘Mummy, mummy there's a man at the door with a bill.’
‘Don’t be silly darling, it’s a duck with a hat on.’

For the last few years in my attempt to work beyond and besides the academy (see above), and in trying to tell important stories in different ways I have, alongside (and sometimes within) my academic work written ‘fiction’ (acknowledging that there are truths to be found in ‘stories’ and that there is always interpretation in research*) memoir and some overtly political opinion pieces. I have also become an occasional political letter writer sending such communications to newspapers and to politicians.  

*Katherine Frank (2000) “The management of hunger”: Using fiction in writing anthropology. Qualitative Inquiry, 6(4), 474-488) 

What follows are links to some of my non-academic writings over the last year or so, all inevitably informed by my sociological understandings, much of which drawing on my own professional AND personal auto/biography, all - in recognition that the personal is political and the political  personal - political whether overtly so or not: 

Bias, Truth, Trust | what the media can learn from social research(ers)

Sex, Gender and All the Rest | Hidden, Airbrushed, Suppressed and Oppressed PART TWO (reproductive rights, experiences, identities)

84 Men, Millicent, Mary, Jesus and a ‘Monument to Tory Britain’ | #VoteLabour3dMay

‘Mind Your Language’ | Watching our Ps & Qs OR Cs & Ts in Political Debate

Dear Mrs May | ‘deeds not words’

For John – Experiences and legacies of brutality

Reflections of Mother’s Day as a Motherless, Childless Woman

'T'was the Night Before Christmas' | a version for 2017


The Seven, Or So, Ages of Man

Childhood Memories, Food Poverty and Political Responsibilities | Personal Reflections and Experiences

Snow Days

Grief and Loss, Emotional and Material Concerns | Part Memoir, Part Rant

Tuesday 1 May 2018

The 'Undeserving' Part 2 | #VoteLabour3rdMay

(Yet more of) THE UNDESERVING.

In Part 1 of this two part piece I reflected on how the historical framing of people and groups as ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ (which we can date to the 16th Poor Laws) still serves both to stigmatise and impact on the lives of many. I focused on the Windrush generation in the main, with a brief consideration of those living in poverty today. Here I continue to highlight the perniciousness of such labelling with some further examples. (See here for Part 1 )

As discussed in Part 1 the 2014 Immigration Act and support for Mrs May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy showed it is not just those (obviously) on the Right who distinguish between those that deserve resources and respect and those who do not – the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’. Only 16 MPs voted against the Act, six of these were Labour and included, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell.  

Another example of a government strategy which had a detrimental influence on (at least some) people’s experience and sense of self was the New Labour Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. The strategy had two targets. These were to:  

         [Reduce] the rate of teenage conceptions, with the specific aim of halving the rate of conceptions among under 18s by 2010.

         [Get] more teenage parents into education, training or employment, to reduce their risk of long term social exclusion. (SEU 1999:8)

The existence of these targets had a negative impact on the experience of young parenthood. The focus on prevention automatically positioned parenthood for young people as negative and the narrow focus of the support agenda supported the view that the only measure of success within society is that of economic activity. Young mothers were stereotyped as a burden on the state and as bad mothers who along with their children were severely disadvantaged. The political discourse then stigmatised young mothers and individualised the problems of teenage motherhood, due to the focus on age, rather than an examination of the structural factors that affect(ed) young peoples’ lives (Phoenix 1991). While the Labour Government did in some ways attempt to highlight structural inequalities that affect young people experiencing teenage pregnancy and parenthood, government initiatives reinforced negative images. By placing the issue of teenage pregnancy and parenthood under the remit of the Social Exclusion Unit, the UK Government recognised that there can be a detrimental impact on the lives of those involved. But this also reinforced the pervading notion that teenage pregnancy leads to an inevitable exclusion from mainstream society.

With colleagues from Coventry University (I must especially mention and thank Geraldine Brown and Geraldine Brady here) I was involved in a series of research studies, evaluations and initiatives aimed at understanding and supporting pregnant teenagers, young mothers and their children and partners. This included research on pregnancy and post-natal experience, on housing, on education, on experiences of violence and abuse and a project looking at the experience from the perspective of young fathers. The work that we did led us, not surprisingly, to argue strongly for a focus on the holistic experience of teenage pregnancy and young parenthood highlighting the many positive as well as the negative aspects of this experience.

Our research had some good impact including specialist service provision, training for health and social care professionals, peer research opportunities for young mothers and some positive media coverage. However, although we tried hard, we had less influence than we wanted on the strategy itself. So although we suggested ways in which the strategy might be re-framed in a way that did not inevitably problematise teenage pregnancy and young motherhood/young families these were rejected.

With reference to his own research Gary Younge writes:

One of the most tragic aspects of writing about gun deaths in America is hearing black parents make the case for why their child should not have been killed. They will impress on you that their children were not gang members, even when you don’t ask. They will make sure you know their kids had never been in trouble with the police, even when it is not relevant. In short they want to make it clear their child was a casualty worthy of your grief and empathy.

Similarly, we found (as did other researchers) that in an attempt to separate themselves from negative and stigmatising stereotypes the young mothers we spoke to sometimes distanced themselves from similar others in order to present themselves as not like ‘other’ young mothers; thus as ‘deserving’ of respect and resources (e.g. for example Letherby et al 2007, Brown et al 2009). The framing of the current focus on similar individuals and families suggests that the current government seems to have learnt little from the plethora of research in the area:

My PhD (undertaken prior to the work considered above) was on the experience (predominantly women’s) of ‘infertility’ and ‘involuntary childlessness’ (in quotation marks because of the complexity of definition) (e.g. Letherby, 1999, Exley and Letherby 2001). Interestingly then I began by researching a group of women who felt stigmatised because they did NOT have children and continued by researching a group of girls and women who felt stigmatised because they DID. With reference to childlessness, here again many of the issues and concerns relevant to this group in the 1990's remain relevant today. Not least, at times, the sense of ‘otherness’, of ‘exclusion’, of being viewed as ‘undeserving’. Yesterday I read this discussion of a comment made in 2015 from Tim Wilson (at that time Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner). (Thanks to Jody Day @gatewaywomen for sharing):

….he pushes the point that everyone is invested in raising and educating younger generations. Parents invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money raising their children, whilst the equivalent amount of income remains discretionary for childless people. “How much can society turn around to these people and say, well you never carried the cost of children so why should we help you?” Wilson asks rhetorically.

The author of the article, Miriam Cosic, responds: ‘I think it’s a fair point’ (AFR Magazine 1st May 2015). There is no recognition here of the personal and paid-work based care that many provide for other people’s children and no consideration of the taxes and other contributions to society that individuals who do not have children make. Given the rise in numbers of childless elders (which as yet, as Ageing Well Without Children (AWOC) and others have pointed out, has been given scant political attention ) the swell of individuals who are deemed ‘undeserving’ grows and grows.   

I have concentrated here on issues with which I am particularly familiar. There are many more examples. Just a couple of others below.

Rachel Revesz writes: 

From April 2017 any woman claiming the equivalent of £53 per week for a third or subsequent child would have to fit into one of several exceptions – including declaring she had been raped or that she had the child within an abusive relationship… The government said it consulted widely on the issue and 52 organisations had submitted evidence. The policy and the rape clause were brought in, under the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, with the government declaring it would “restore fairness in the benefit system”….

Within four months of the policy becoming law last year, Child Poverty Action Group issued a claim for judicial review in the High Court against the secretary of state for work and pensions, then Damian Hinds, on behalf of three families. CPAG solicitor Carla Clarke told The Independent that the two-child policy was “deeply disturbing” and “ultimately unlawful”, treating some children as less deserving than others purely because of the order in which they were conceived.

Steve Topple writes:

Nearly two million people are no longer sick or disabled enough not to work. The DWP has magically cured them of their illnesses and fixed their impairments. But the march towards a society which views everyone in terms of ‘work’ and… neoliberal ‘financial worth’, is not over.

… the next groups of disabled people on the DWP’s ‘hit list’ to get fit-for-work are those living with musculoskeletal conditions and mental health issues.

On 25 April 2018, the government released  its first set of data from the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) employment adviser trials. This is where the DWP is co-opting the NHS, by putting Jobcentre staff into therapy settings to get people back to work. DPAC calls  this “psycho compulsion”. Then you have the continuing controversy over the so-called PACE trial – i.e. DWP-funded research that claims  people living with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and other ‘invisible illnesses’ can think themselves better and return to work. Because obviously their symptoms are ‘all in their heads’….

To end where I began in Part 1 the appointment of a new Home Secretary Sajid Javid has not resolved the Windrush scandal, nor has, or should it, ended the spotlight on the prime minister’s role in the creation and progression of a ‘hostile environment’ for the Windrush generation and for others. See for example:

And this in the news today:

Moreover, as this (limited) discussion has shown there are many other individuals and groups who experience stigma and prejudice; many others who are defined as ‘undeserving’ and have little or no power to challenge this definition and it’s negative consequences; many others, even beyond those affected by the 2014 Immigration Act, whose lives are blighted by attitudes, practices and policies that are nothing but HOSTILE.   


Brown G Wilson C Brady G Letherby G (2009) ‘Teenage pregnancy and young parenthood: questioning the inevitability of risk, lone motherhood and social exclusion’ in Johns N and Barton A (eds) Evaluating the Political Achievement of New Labour Since 1997: Social Policy and the Public Trust Ceredigion: Edwin Mellen

Exley C and Letherby G (2001) ‘Managing a Disrupted Lifecourse: issues of identity and emotion work’ Health 5:1

Letherby G (1999) ‘Other than Mother and Mothers as Others: the experience of motherhood and non-motherhood in relation to ‘infertility’ and ‘involuntary childlessness’ Women’s Studies International Forum 22:3

Letherby G Brady G Brown G (2007) ‘Working with the Community: research and action’ in Clay C J Madden M and Potts L (eds) Towards Understanding Community: people and places Houndsmills: Palgrave

Phoenix A (1991) Young Mothers? CambridgePolity Press