Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hyperlocalism and the Potential of the Big Red Button

Last weekend, I was at a football match where I watched a group of fans stand and record with their phones some sort of fracas involving the stewards and some other fans. I was transfixed by this incident. The stewards tried to eject one or two people from the ground but they could barely drag them to the end of the aisle. They gave up and the fans stayed where they were until the end of the match. At half-time, those who possessed the ‘footage’ of the fracas on their phones gestured with them to the stewards as they passed as if to say “I’ve got you on here, I’ll be complaining to the club about you!”. The behaviour of fans, the actions of the stewarding, and the lack of police action doesn’t really interest me though; I’ve learned to accept it as part of the experience. But what does interest me is the way that ‘ordinary’ people are now surveilling ‘authority’; they are using mobile recording equipment to empower themselves to tackle perceived injustices. A Google search has led me to the terms ‘inverse surveillance’ and ‘sousveillance’ as the words which describe these actions.

We are now accustomed to major news stories breaking with ‘citizen’ video footage (the #mytramexperience story being a recent prominent example). No reporting about a political revolution or riot would be complete without ‘expert’ commentary on the role of Twitter or Blackberries as tools of organisation and mobilisation. Perhaps more commonly though, hyperlocal blogs and social media are utilised by communities proactively seeking to improve, in one way or another, the conditions of where they live. What’s more, video recording devices are becoming more affordable and easy to use: switch it on and press the big red button to start recording.

What I would be interested to learn more about is if, and how, communities can be empowered to tackle anti-social behaviour and reduce fear by the simple presence and knowledge of how to film the incidents that they are concerned about (something like those football fans but maybe a little more discrete!). In my research work, I often talk to members of vulnerable communities about what it is like where they live, their fears, and their struggles. Older people and people living alone have discussed with me their fears of anti-social behaviour; I have discussed with Gypsies and Travellers (living on permanent sites) the persistence of fly tipping outside their homes. As soon as the Council have organised one clean up, the vans are pulling up to dump yet more waste. I find this sort of behaviour abhorrent and it would be unacceptable to unload a van of rubbish on a road on any sort of housing estate. Local authorities (and therefore, taxpayers) are required to address the consequences of fly tipping and it is expensive; installing CCTV is possibly even more so. So what are the possibilities for communities such as these to adopt their own methods of surveillance to protect themselves? There are, of course, ethical and practical issues to consider. But, I would be interested to hear about any research or initiatives that have been implemented in this way at a community level and how effective it is at: reducing crime and ASB; and, perhaps more importantly, the fear of crime and the feelings of disempowerment associated with that fear.

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Choosing a Mission

I recently saw a thought-provoking television programme about entrepreneurship which featured one of the founders of Innocent Drinks, Richard Reed. Peter Jones, the programme’s presenter, believes that an entrepreneur’s main motivation is to make a profit, but Richard disagreed: for him, it is more important to have a mission. While he didn’t deny that he would like to make a healthy profit from his enterprise, he believed that working towards a mission took precedence over other considerations. As an example, Reed cited Google’s mission: ‘To organise the world’s information’. Jones also found that Reed’s ability to communicate his mission to his staff yielded greater intrinsic motivation from them – they felt as committed to the company’s mission as Reed himself.

As I have reflected on this discussion, I have thought a lot about what my own mission is. I am frequently caught up in what I am doing at any one time and the minutiae of my daily tasks. But now that I have accumulated a few years experience in practice and research, I can piece together the links between knowledge (how and why it is created), policy, and practice – these are some of the components of the social change ecosystem.

I’ve also reflected upon what it is about the world around me that I want to change. This is not necessarily about ‘doing things’ as a functional researcher/practitioner/employee/citizen, but what do I want to be a part of? What are the bigger goals? What is going on in the world that I don’t want to live with and what can I do to be part of the change? There are a few things I’m concerned about:

  • oppression in its various guises
  • rough sleeping/homelessness
  • substance misuse and its consequences
  • interpersonal abuses of power (particularly that of adults over children)
  • torture/human rights abuses
  • environmental degradation and the seemingly inevitable increase in nuclear energy
  • fuel poverty
  • the power of knowledge in society
  • the power of psychology (and the potential for its misuse)

I don’t consider this list to be complete or even completable but I’d like to move forward in the knowledge that I am working toward something worthwhile. Like Richard Reed, I’d like to have some personal success; I’d like to feel that I have accomplished something. But succeeding in isolation is of limited importance. As an early career researcher, there is much to deliver: published articles, conference presentations, research grants, and other ‘esteem’ factors. Reputation is paramount. My goal for the future is to keep reminding myself of the bigger picture that I’m part of. What can I do that will make a difference to those around me? As a researcher, what knowledge am I involved in creating and how will it be used?

I’d be interested to know if others think in this way? Or is this the rambling of an idealist? Do you see yourself as having a mission, and if so, what is it?

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Making a Start

I have decided to write a personal blog to give myself a space to think and share my thoughts and reflections as I move throughout my work. I have been writing a blog for a specific research project on homelessness which began in 2009 and I have also blogged previously about my PhD and contributed to other multi-authored blogging sites. So while I am not new to blogging, this is my first attempt to document my personal journey. I hope that it gives me an outlet for the reflective thinking that it is an inevitable component of my work, and that I can share my experiences with others in similar roles. Having read through the blogs of other academics at various stages of their careers, I am sure that this will be the case.  I also intend for the blog to help me orientate myself philosophically. Throughout my educational and working life I have accumulated knowledge and experience in a variety of roles and this has contributed to my perspective on the world around me and my role within it. I want to progress in a meaningful career pathway and make a positive contribution to the world I live in; therefore, I feel it is beneficial to consider how I can make sense of my experiences in order to provide direction for the future.

And so it is upon this basis that I intend to move onwards with this blog.