Guardian coverage of “Reading the Riots” project 1

December 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday the Guardian started publishing reports of the findings of the “Reading the Riots” research project which I have been involved in since October. My role in the project was to conduct some of the interviews with people involved in the riots. As I haven’t been involved in the analysis of the data gathered by myself and the 30 other researchers who carried out interviews, it has been very interesting to find out some of the findings of this analysis.

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One of the thoughts that came to my mind as I read through the coverage in yesterday’s newspaper was that while the headline news is that most of the rioters emphasise negative experiences with the police as a significant motivation for their behaviour in August, the interview guide we used to conduct the interviews (available online here) studiously avoided asking direct questions about the police until the end of the interview. This is an important point which adds weight to this element of the findings: where rioters emphasised the police as a factor, this was not a result of prompting by the interviewers.

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This is not an insigificant point given how Neil O’Brien of Policy Exchange has reviewed the research project in The Telegraph:

The list of questions asked about the causes of the riots (p6) reflects that [the leftist bias Neil O’Brien attributes to the social scientists, researchers and journalists behind the project]: lots of reasons favoured by the left, and nothing about acquisitiveness. (Neil O’Brien, “How the Guardian destroyed the left’s excuses for the riots”, The Telegraph, December 5 2011)

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Aside from the fact that ‘acquisitiveness’ is often understood to have a fairly similar meaning to ‘greed’ (which appears as one of the options on page 6 of the interview guide but appears to have escaped Mr O’Brien’s attention), Mr O’Brien misses the point that the main focus of the interviews was qualitative data gathered through open-ended interview techniques, rather than the multiple-choice questions at the end to which he refers (for more on the methodology see here). What this means is that the majority of each interview was carried out in the form of a conversation around certain topics, in which the interviewer avoided leading questions, to the best of her/his ability. In this context it is striking that most of those I interviewed mentioned negative experiences with the police long before we got to the multiple-choice questions.
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At this point I don’t have the time to engage with the rest of what Mr O’Brien has to say; besides which it hardly seems likely that he would have any interest in my attempts to do so, given that – like most people, perhaps? – he seems to have all the answers to why the riots happened without the need to take into account the insights that might be provided by (leftist, biased) social science research.

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Some of the coverage of the project so far:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/06/stop-and-search?newsfeed=true
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2011/dec/05/reading-riots-video
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/05/reading-riots-nothing-to-lose?newsfeed=true
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/05/more-english-riots-to-come?newsfeed=true

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