Thursday, 18 December 2014

Intergroup dynamics and the REF

In the current context of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), there are some similarities between how academics react to the pressures of the REF and how crowds respond to novel, pressurised situations.
I find it interesting that, unlike other ‘human sciences’, psychology is somewhat fragmented. As an example, biological psychology and social psychology are so different in their subject matter, assumptions and methods that they hardly appear to be part of the same discipline. And social psychology itself is often characterized by differences and deep disagreements over its proper subject matter (cognition? talk?) and appropriate theoretical framework (social identity? social cognition?).
These within-discipline differences become more or less salient according to context. For example, in the departments I have studied and worked in, I have noticed that the arguments about what psychology is and should be are often most evident – most argued over – when the different groups are together in the same place to hear a guest speaker identifiable with one branch or another. In other settings – for example when the same people in the same department come together in a departmental meeting to discuss their teaching and administration – these differences of perspective on the nature of psychology are often less evident, and we think and act as a single group.
In the current context of the REF, psychology departments are being pulled in both directions – towards fragmentation and towards unity – and the process resembles in some ways the changes in group identity and alliance – the intergroup dynamics – I have observed elsewhere.

The REF context and intergroup dynamics

One of the things to understand about the REF is that, in common with other drives towards measurement in the Higher Education sector, it encourages a greater emphasis than in the past on ‘outputs’. When I got my first research funding, some years ago, the purpose of the work I was to undertake, I imagined, was to produce findings that would increase knowledge and develop theory. That is a traditional view of the nature of academic research. But it is not the way that we are encouraged to think about our research activity now.
Irrespective of actual scientific contribution, research grants now need to produce outputs. What are outputs? They are measurable and hence publicly verifiable products of the research. The problem is how we define a valuable output. Not all products of research fit the bill, if we use metrics such as journal impact factors. Journal articles count as outputs but not all journal articles are equally valued. Even among all those journals that are peer reviewed in the same subject, such as psychology, some have better impact factors than others. An impact factor is a calculation of the journal’s citation rate, but there are different reasons why one journal has a higher average citation rate than another journal. So, this leaves psychology in a situation whereby some journals are ranked better than others, if we are to use journal impact factors.

Journal impact factors are divisive

It is well known that social psychology journals have lower impact factors than psychiatry and neuroscience journals. It is also well known that this difference is partly a function of different publishing schedules for different (sub-)disciplines, and the size of the readership or access to the journal, rather than a reflection of the scientific worth of different kinds of research. The current REF guidelines tell us that journal impact factors will not be used to evaluate outputs, but there is a lot of doubt about this pledge. The idea that value depends on a journal’s impact factor is persistent.
One thing the emphasis on impact factors has meant in my own university (and I know we are not unusual, as I have heard the same thing from others) is that social psychologists are encouraged to publish in general psychology journals or those from other branches of psychology. This may actually be a good thing. However, any implication that social psychology journals are inferior, and that publications in these journals are less worthy, does not seem such a good idea – either for the morale of researchers or for the development of knowledge.
The second consequence of this unevenness in the measured value of journals is not simply in terms of presentation but in terms of content. One psychology department I know of was advised that they shouldn’t bother with a social psychology group at all, but instead should invest in more fMRI-based researchers. This puts some branches of psychology at risk. The other problem with this sort of approach is, taken to its logical conclusion, leaves psychology not looking too good relative to other sciences. Given the relevance, for receiving government funding, of being a STEM discipline, arbitrary rankings can therefore have serious consequences for the future of psychology as a field.

Pressure from the REF can be a unifying factor

However, in this topsy-turvy world, where measurement is to some extent driving the phenomenon it is meant to measure, there is also a sense in which psychologists from the different areas of the discipline are all in the same boat. At a departmental level, there is a shared cynicism about the REF, about all the extra work involved, and about the pressure on us all to maximize our outputs to meet the 2014 deadline. It is something we complain about together and commiserate collectively in the tea-room. In this context, therefore, the social world is clearly organized not in terms of different groups of psychologists with different ideas about the nature of psychology, but in terms of psychology departments and the government, with senior management mediating between the two.

This is not to say that there are not salient REF-related differences within departments, for someone in the department has to make sure that everyone else is ‘REF-ready’, and in effect to represent the REF to the rest of us and the rest of us to the REF. On occasions, when I have criticised the REF (and the RAE before it), I have been reminded by colleagues that to simply ignore it would be suicidal for a department because of the funding that is bound up with it, and that we must therefore ‘play the game’. To maintain within-group morale, in the pressurised climate of the REF, psychologists should reassure their colleagues that they think their work is valued - over and above their REF rating. One of the findings that has come out of my research on people in stressful situations (mass emergencies) is that the group is a key source of survival and recovery through the social support it offers its members.

(A version of this article was originally published in the BPS Wessex Psychologist Bulletin, No. 8, Spring 2013.)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Ebola and the usefulness of ‘panic’

When there is an emergency in the news, I am often asked by journalists to comment on how people behave in such circumstances. The main question is usually ‘why do people panic?’ A follow up question is typically along the lines of what governments can do to stop people panicking. I was asked this about the Ebola crisis only today.

My interest in these kinds of questions developed from an ESRC-funded project in which I and colleagues developed a social identity explanation of crowd behaviour in emergencies. According to this explanation, under certain conditions, an emergency can create a shared social identity amongst survivors which is the basis of inclusive solidarity behaviours amongst them. In line with previous work in sociology and psychology, the research from this project questioned the usefulness of ‘panic’ as a description of mass emergency behaviour, both empirically and conceptually.

Empirically, instances of crowd solidarity in emergencies were too common for the crowd to be an inherent conduit of unreasonable fears and personally selfish behaviours, as the concept of ‘mass panic’ would imply. Where escape behaviour is disorderly and individualistic, it is not the crowd as such that is the psychological problem but the fact that people are acting as individuals when they are in a crowd.

Conceptually, even for those crowds where sudden fear spreads or where escape behaviours are frantic, what is the criteria for labelling such responses as ‘panic’? Reasonableness is often in the eye of the beholder – especially in emergencies where it is not clear to those involved just exactly how much danger they are in. Research on fires shows that its safer to ‘over-react’ than ‘under-react’.

Yet the same research that questioned the usefulness of crowd ‘panic’ as a thing also pointed to the importance of ‘panic’ as a representation. ‘Panic’ exists as a discourse or interpretative repertoire in popular culture and in organizations’ texts, and can be mobilized to achieve various goals. This was the basis of a second programme of research, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

The Leverhulme research found that ‘panic’ was widespread as a representation, and that it could operate as the warrant for emergency measures such as limiting public information and maintaining expert control (‘the public can't be trusted – they will panic’). As well as being used by those preparing for emergencies, ‘panic’ is used by those caught up in such events. Survivors of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster used the term ‘panic’ to excuse their own ‘uncharacteristic’ behaviour and to criticize the police approach during the event.

What was clear here and in other places was the considerable usefulness of the term ‘panic’ as a way of explaining ‘wrong’ behaviour and hence of making a criticism.

The usefulness of the discourse of ‘panic’ as a device in criticism is also evident in two concepts in sociology: moral panic and elite panic. Stanley Cohen’s concept of moral panic characterized a societal response of hostility and/or concern towards a group or social object that becomes seen as a moral threat. In his example of the moral panic over mods and rockers in the 1960s, Cohen was not simply describing this concern but arguing that it was overstated, unreasonable and exaggerated: it was a panic. Yet the process behind this panic was not one of collective pathology; the panic didn't arise because of collectivity but rather because of particular sets of interests, such as the media and other ‘elites’, which actively constructed the threat to channel existing public concerns.

The concept of elite panic, coined by Lee Clarke, was useful as a way of turning round the ‘crowd panic’ debate. He argued that it is not the public that panics in emergencies but the government when they start to see the grassroots self-organization in affected communities which effectively challenge the legitimacy and necessity of government control.

Elite panic is perhaps a concept that comes to mind when considering the Ebola crisis. The UK Government may not be alarmed by public self-organization right now, but it certainly appears to many to be acting in an ill-judged and hasty manner. Yesterday morning, the Government said that no screening measures were necessary at UK airports, in line with advice from the World Health Organization (WHO). But, by the afternoon, it was announced that people arriving in the UK from areas hit by Ebola would face ‘enhanced screening’ for the virus. Was this some kind of elite overreaction? The medical advice from WHO and others had not changed; and the chairman of the government's own Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens, Professor George Griffin, was quoted as saying that the screening measures to be used - temperature tests - were ‘a very ineffectual tool’.

Comparing this to another recent ‘crisis’, there does seem to be considerable scope for criticism using the discourse of ‘panic’. In March 2012, when there was a threat of a fuel tanker driver strike and the possibility of petrol shortages, the prime minister David Cameron went on television especially in order to make an official announcement that there was no crisis. At the same time, the Cabinet Secretary Frances Maude advised drivers to stock up on petrol. This made strategic sense for a Conservative government which had an interest in apportioning blame to potential strikers - for that was one effect of Cameron and Maude’s ‘communications’. But what was rational for the Government was certainly ill-judged from the point of view of ‘society as a whole’, and this was the basis of much of the criticism. The very fact of making such a high profile official announcement was to communicate that there was something to be very concerned about, no matter what the content of Cameron’s speech. And in saying ‘don’t worry, but do prepare’, Maude in effect communicated to the public that there was indeed cause for worry - and thereby hastened queues at petrol stations based on these reasonable fears.

Likewise with Ebola. Critics have argued that the Government’s apparently hastily-introduced screening measure is not a serious attempt to stop the spread of the disease, but something implemented to look at though the Government is ‘doing something’: it is politically motivated. But while the measures may make political sense from the perspective of the Conservative government, which might not be concerned that they are actually ineffective, we can also criticise them for risking creating unnecessary public fear of a threat where there wasn’t one previously.

For these reasons, the term ‘panic’ can be useful as form of criticism of actions by Governments that have unintended damaging effects on others. And the stock answer to the journalists’ questions are these:
Question: ‘Why do people panic?’
Answer: People’s fears in crises may be reasonable given what they know of the threat, which might be mediated through their perceptions of Government preventative measures.
Question: ‘What can governments and others can do to stop people panicking?’ 
Answer: When there is little evidence of widespread public fears, high profile acts and announcements by Government to prevent a ‘crisis’ can produce that crisis – so avoid them. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Identifying with a crowd can increase crowd safety, Sussex study finds

Identifying with a crowd can increase crowd safety, Sussex study finds

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Psychological change in the UK miners’ strike of 1984-85

During my PhD studies, I carried out interviews with a Welsh mining family who had been involved in the strike of 1984-85. The focus of the research was the way that participation in collective action – including protests, demonstrations, direct actions, riots and picket lines – served to change the social relations through which people defined themselves and thus inadvertently changed participants’ identities. The interviews uncovered some powerful personal stories – of people falling out with their scabbing neighbours and never speaking to them again, of ‘housewives’ who became people with independent interests and careers, and more. As part of the investigation I also carried out an analysis of secondary sources in which miners and their families described how the strike transformed their understandings. This analysis made up part of a literature review chapter in the thesis, but it has never been published before. I thought that today’s 30th anniversary of the start of the strike would be a good time to make it widely available.

1 An outline of the dispute
The following summary account of the miners' strike is based largely on that in Green (1990). For a fuller account, see, for example, Goodman (1985).
            In early March 1984, one of the longest industrial disputes in British history began when Yorkshire miners came out on strike against a National Coal Board (NCB) plan to close two of the pits in the Yorkshire area. A week later, the NCB announced that a further 21,000 jobs would be lost in the industry.
            Part of the longer term background to the dispute was the recent history of strikes involving the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). In 1972, an overtly political miners’ strike had won improved pay and conditions in the face of opposition from Edward Heath's Conservative government; and, in 1974, another such strike forced Heath's government out of office. Accounts written subsequent to the 1984-5 strike (e.g., Goodman, 1985) suggest that the Conservative government of the time had a strategy of building up coal stocks prior to the strike as part of a plan not simply to force specific pit closures but to defeat the miners as the most powerful section of the British working class, thereby to ensure that the events of 1972 and 1974 could not be repeated.
            Although the strike soon spread from Yorkshire to other areas, in certain regions support for it among NUM members was relatively weak. In particular, the failure of Nottinghamshire area miners to support the strike consistently became a point of intense conflict. Solidarity was obviously essential to the strike, since working mines reduced the strikers' bargaining power considerably. Moreover, the importance of the strike was frequently expressed as not only about ‘jobs’ but about whole ‘communities’, since many if not most of the collieries were served by villages that only existed for the coal industry. In not supporting the strike, therefore, workers in the relatively profitable Nottinghamshire pits were seen by others to be condemning their livelihoods.
            When other miners first went to the Nottinghamshire pits, they had some success in persuading the Notts miners to join the strike. However the NCB obtained an injunction preventing miners picketing outside of their own area. Miners continued to come to Nottinghamshire, but so also did large numbers of police. In fact, an emergency force was mobilized, taking police from other forces to the Nottinghamshire coalfields. Police activities included preventing pickets getting near working miners not just at the colliery gates, but at roadblocks often hundreds of miles from where the pickets intended to go; thus police as far south as the Dartford Tunnel stopped Kent miners from going north. Following a ballot in which most Nottinghamshire miners voted to continue working but about a quarter came out on strike, a further 8000 police were deployed in the county.
            Throughout the strike, although the trade union movement as such conspicuously failed to support the miners through solidarity strikes, support was mobilized in other ways by people around the country raising funds. Miners and their families also toured Britain and Europe appealing for support. Miners, their families and supporters also took part in marches and rallies in London and across the country. In the pit villages, communal soup kitchens were set up, organized in particular by miners' wives. Meanwhile, the popular press carried out a vilification campaign against the strikers: violence by strikers was exaggerated or taken out of context; police violence against miners was played down; and working miner violence against strikers went unreported (e.g., Green, 1990, pp. 157-77).
            Indeed, the strike is widely remembered for picket line violence. The most notable such event, however, the so called ‘Battle of Orgreave’, took place at a coking works rather than a pit. Striking miners had been having some success in their campaign to stop the movement of coal, iron and steel. When they heard of a massive operation to move stocks from the coking plant in Orgreave, thereby undermining the strike, a huge picket was called. Two and half weeks of bitter clashes with police culminated finally in an enormous confrontation involving thousands of strikers and riot police on 18th June 1984. At the end of this event, dozens of miners were arrested and injured. Although the events was referred to as a ‘riot by miners’ in the mass media, the strikers themselves referred to it as an ‘ambush’ (e.g. Jackson & Wardle, 1986, p. 34). Significantly, the charges against all those accused of riot were thrown out in court (Northam, 1988, p. 53). Northam (1988, pp. 53-59) points out that a variety of sources (including former senior police officers) now agree that the police initiated the violence at this event.
            After the failure to prevent the movement of the coke and with the growing realization that more Notts miners could not be persuaded to come out, the strike became increasingly defensive. After the non-occurrence of a hoped-for dock workers' strike, miners largely returned to picketing their own pits in an effort to counter the NCB's renewed ‘back to work’ campaign. The police therefore moved with most of the strikers to Yorkshire, where further confrontations took place, often in the streets and gardens of the pit villages. Some commentators speak of police ‘running riot’ or ‘besieging’ the miners and their families (e.g., Coulter, Miller & Walker, 1984; Douglass, 1986; Waddington et al., 1989, p. 8).
            In September, the courts ruled that the strikes in Yorkshire and North Derbyshire were unlawful. When the NUM ignored this ruling, its funds were sequestrated. In November, the High Court replaced the union's elected officials with a receiver.
            In 1985, there were increased claims by the NCB and government of a drift back to work. Those who remained on strike finally marched back to work behind their union banners in March. However, Goodman (1985, p. 192) notes that even when the strike was over, some 10,000 men still stayed out.
            The literature on this dispute contains many vivid accounts of changes in the ideas and practices of strikers and their families. For ease of organization, the types of changes found in accounts of the experiences of those involved in the strike are divided here into four sections: conceptions of the police; conceptions of the state and its institutions; relations with other social groups; and the experiences of the women involved.

2 Relations with the police
The most salient finding in the literature on the experience of the strikers and their families is the reversal from seeing the police as protecting their rights to seeing them as an antagonistic outgroup (Coulter et al., 1984, pp. 188-9, 207-8; Evans, Hudson & Smith, 1985, pp. 192-3; Green, 1990, pp. 45-82; Salt & Layzell, 1985, pp. 43-5):

At one time if a policeman was getting a good hiding from some of the lads I'd have given him a hand - now I'll give the lads a hand.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 47)

            Green (1990) interviewed 51 picketing strikers in a Nottinghamshire village, and found that 44 reported this complete reversal in opinions on the police (p. 46). Among the types of experience that seem to account for this change, Green (1990, p. 50) notes first the shock amongst strikers at the sheer numerical presence of the police at the pickets, to allow working miners to get into the collieries. Green reports that, on some of the pickets, police outnumbered striking miners by more than two to one:

I couldn't believe - couldn't understand what they wanted them for.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 51)

            Secondly, there was the violence of the police towards the striking miners, which came to be expected and seemed to have no limits:

Most of them are like animals on picket lines - swinging their fists around - they're not bothered about who they hit. I've been down on Ollerton picket line and I've seen them dragging women around and ripping their coats.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 53)

            Many of the striking miners report that police used violence and provocation as a tactic to produce arrests. For example, a police cordon pushed a picket line towards a hawthorn hedge, and when the miners tried to protect themselves by pushing back they were arrested (Green, 1990, p. 55). Many miners also felt they had been arrested without even doing anything:

I was standing with my hands in my pockets when they got me - I never said a word.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 57)

            The arrests themselves were not seen by the striking miners as isolated acts of coercion; rather they were part of a general strategy of reducing picket-line numbers (Green, 1990, p. 56). Stringent bail conditions imposed on arrested miners served as evidence for this perception. Most of Green's striking interviewees felt that their civil liberties - the rights they expected to have to strike and picket - had been curtailed by the police action (p. 60).
            The curtailment of rights extended beyond violence, intimidation, provocation and arrest to the police's physical control of whole districts. The fact that police were seen to intervene by moving and excluding people from places that were nowhere near the collieries reinforced the perception that their actions were arbitrary abuses of power (Green, 1990, pp. 62-3):

I couldn't even get out of my own village to the mine which is only a mile away without providing proof that I lived in Cotgrave... In South Africa they keep men in zones and they've got to stay in those zones, now the police are doing it in Britain.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 61)

            Miners' new evaluations of the police took the form of seeing them as a political agency out to impose the government's will rather than enforce a neutral system of law and order (Green, 1990, pp. 66-8); most saw strike-breaking as the police's central function during the dispute. Hence also many refer to a ‘police state’ (Green, 1990, pp. 68-70).
            Waddington et al. (1989, p. 136) describe how the conflict between the police's behaviour towards the strikers and the latter's conception of their ‘community rights’ (e.g., to pick coal from around the colliery) led miners to turn from simply defending themselves to make more pre-emptive attacks on the police where possible. The illegitimacy of the police action made ‘violence’ legitimate. Similarly, in an account of the Orgreave ‘police ambush’:

Of course stones were thrown, we're miners not angels. When you've seen men trampled by horses or beaten by riot police purely for demonstrating, every instinct in you cries out against it. Of course you want to defend them just as you want to defend yourself.
(Quoted in Jackson & Wardle, 1986, p. 36)

            The strikers' perception that the police's interventions as a whole were systematically favouring the working miners is consistent with Green's finding (1990, p. 49) that working miners had no such complaints about police behaviour; rather they perceived the police more positively during the strike than before.
            Despite all this - or perhaps because of it - many of Green's (1990) respondents reported feeling greater determination to continue the strike:

It's the policing that's made strikers more determined not to give in to Thatcher and MacGregor.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 76)

3 The state and other institutions
Another prominent finding concerns the connections striking miners and their families made between the NCB and a whole series of other agents previously thought to be neutral or on their side. Part of the background to this was the claim of the government not to be involved in the dispute; the official and oft-repeated line was that the dispute was between the NCB and the NUM (Green, 1990, p. 129). The understanding of the struggle changed for those involved as the dynamic of the strike seemed to include more agents and elements than claimed by the NCB and government. As illustrated in the following quote, the loss of legitimacy of these institutions gave a new significance to suggestions (from the government and popular media) that the strikers were an oppositional force: in the context of wider illegitimacy, such opposition was fully justified:

my God, we've learned a lot over the past twelve months. We have discovered that the enemy that we face has got many, many heads. It is not just the Coal Board, and the DHSS, but the newspapers, the media and the Government. And if we are ‘the enemy within’ then I'm damned well proud to be ‘the enemy within’.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 74)

            As a single-industry trade union, the NUM has never been able to afford strike pay; striking miners and their dependants were therefore forced to rely on the Department of Health and Social Security. However, the difficulties miners' families experienced in getting payments from the DHSS (Salt & Layzell, 1985, pp. 17-8) led most of the striking miners and their families interviewed by Green (1990, p. 122) to conclude that the department was a political organ:

I think that Social Security have been told what to do by the government and I think she [Thatcher] is using it to starve the miners into going back to work.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 120)

Source: Miners' Strike rally, 1984. Author: Nick from Bristol, UK:

It was not just that the DHSS was reluctant to inform miners' families of their entitlements, but also that the Social Security Act of 1980 deducted £15 from their payments on the assumption that the union would offer the miners strike pay. Again this was understood as an attack by the government on the strike:

Whether direct orders went out or not, an attempt was made to heap as much agony on the miners and their families as they possibly could do... just one more example of the state attempting to beat the miners with a big stick.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 121)

            Mass media account of events at which the strikers had been present were so at odds with their own perceptions of what happened - and so damaging to the miners' case - that the strikers concluded that it was deliberate; the mass media became perceived a partisan force rather than a neutral reflector of news:

We don't even bother buying a paper now, unless we want football scores or something. They only print what they want. It's a type of prostitution isn't it?
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 20)

And now I'd never believe a thing you hear on the television. Nor in the press.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 19)

            For many miners, the strike provided their first experience of the law courts. The way they felt they were treated led to the common conclusion that the legal system as a whole was inherently biased against them; miners were apparently convicted and imprisoned on the basis that they were strikers rather than on the weight of evidence. Green (1990, p. 105) found that 89 per cent of the strikers (54 men) and all fifteen of the women she interviewed no longer saw the law as a politically neutral instrument:

We knew before the News came on that if it was a miner on in court they'd had it.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 46)

The TUC and the majority of trade unionists are law abiding people, they don't know what it's like to be on the receiving end. They automatically assume that if you go to court and are found guilty then you are guilty; you deserve it; you don't get arrested for nothing. You tell them, you say, ‘The courts are bent, the police are bent, the police are very capable liars, they are trained to lie.’ At first, they don't believe you, but the experience of the strike has changed some officials, some now have a more developed consciousness.
(Quoted in Walker, 1985, p. 132)

            Given this constellation of factors - the apparent interest of the police, media and government departments in undermining the strike - plus other ingredients mentioned by the miners, such as the appointment of known union-breaker Ian MacGregor as NCB chairman, many strikers came to conclude that the government did not simply want to close particular pits but to destroy the NUM, or, by extension, the whole trade union movement and working class of the country:

I firmly believe that Margaret Thatcher wanted confrontation with the NUM as a means to beating the trade unions. Her intention is to smash the trade union movement and if she could beat the commandos of the trade union movement I think she was on a good way to doing it.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 126)

            Interestingly, however, Green (1990, p. 127) found that, while among the men the tendency was to discuss the effects of the government's role on just the trade union movement, strikers' wives tended to refer more to the effects on the working class as a whole:

The whole of the working class, she wants down there in the gutter. If she wins, that's what we'll get.
(Women's Action Group Secretary, quoted in Green, 1990, p. 120)

Green (1990) suggests that this may be due to the fact that the role of women in the dispute was largely outside the NUM.
            Finally, there is the question not only of agents thought to be neutral but those thought to be on the strikers' side. A number of those involved report becoming politicized in the sense of joining and becoming active within the Labour Party (e.g. Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 74); but there were also feelings of betrayal in relation to the labour movement, which, at a number of levels, failed to support the strikers in the way that it was expected to do. By not supporting the strike, elements of the labour movement effectively sustained the material and ideological case of the government and the NCB:

You thought that the Labour council was all for you but they wouldn't let us have a strike           centre.
(Quoted in Coulter et al., 1984, p. 201)

I felt anger at the men who should have been supporting us, the Kinnocks and Willises [the then leader of the Labour Party and general secretary of the Trades Union Congress respectively] pompously condemning picket line violence when they had never been on or near a picket line, when openly and arrogantly the state was intent on smashing working class organization. How dare they pretend to represent, to speak for the working class?
(Quoted in Jackson & Wardle, 1986, p. 36)

By extension, if the traditional representational politics of the labour movement are not seen to express the strikers' interests, then direct action becomes seen as all the more necessary as a mode of political intervention:

I thought ‘I voted for someone to do that job for me’. But I would admit that the strike has taught me that if I want to get better things back into the Rhondda Valley then in some way I must be there so I can make my protests. I've got to do it myself.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 74)

4 Relations with other groups
A number of accounts of the strike note a shift among strikers and their families towards a more positive conception of or identification with previously differentiated or despised social categories. In the first place, this kind of change seems to have operated through the support such groups gave to the miners. Meeting members of these groups in the context whereby each supports the other’s opposition to the government enabled the strikers to see ‘them’ for the first time as ‘like us’:

On the last march we went on, just before the end of the strike, there were more different supporters there than I'd seen. There was lesbians and gays, and every colour under the sun... all got their little banners ‘We support the miners’. It was fantastic.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 35)

Before the strike, if I'd have known I was going to talk to some lesbians, I'd have died. But they're only like us. They are normal people. They're just like you and me. And they talk like you and me. That's something I've learned.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 75)

            Secondly, the unexpected antagonism of the police toward the strikers as a group enabled them to see themselves as like other groups in conflict with the police; where before these groups might have been seen as ‘troublemakers’ now it became easy to regard them instead as ‘persecuted’, like the miners:

I used to have a very immature attitude to black people. When the riots went off in Brixton, I thought that black people were to blame. My view has definitely changed on that: I now know that it had to do with the policing.
(Quoted in Coulter et al., 1994, p. 200)

I'm starting to have sympathy for those in Belfast [Republicans] who I've no love for, because I was shot and wounded in Belfast.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 75)

Women have become aware of a wider political arena... They draw comparisons with Northern Ireland. Those police have been trained over there to use their tactics on us here. To keep us down. They realise that the black communities in London have been harassed for years and years and years by the police and they know what it's like now themselves
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 76)

5 Women's experiences
The experiences of women during the strike are discussed here in a separate section because they not only changed in relation to the police and government in the same way as the men (above) but they also changed in relation to the men.[1] Green (1990, p. 188) found that, for the miners' wives she interviewed, the break with old ideas was more dramatic than the break experienced by the miners themselves. Others also observed this dramatic change which in all cases seems connected to feelings of confidence (e.g., Loach, 1985; Salt & Layzell, 1985):

When I look at myself now, I just can't believe I'm the same person. I've grown so big with the knowledge I've got from it. I've never been so motivated to get on with things before. Now there's nothing I can't do, I don't think. Absolutely nothing!
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 9)

            Coulter et al. (1984, p. 203) note how for many of the women it was their first involvement in a strike and in politics. They got involved on two levels: firstly in giving moral support to their striking husbands (in fact many of them insisted that their husbands take part in the strike, and were important in resisting returns to work; Goodman, 1985, p. 90); and second in providing practical support, including raising funds and participating on picket lines and demonstrations. Coulter et al. argue that their involvement was crucial to the strike, but also that it enabled them to create an identity for themselves different from the one given to them by society:

I feel I've changed a lot during the strike. Before, I was a quiet housewife, staying at home and looking after the children... Now I feel I can have a say in what happens in the community.
(Quoted in Coulter et al., 1984, p. 203)

            The women's support groups entailed a shift from the privatized home to a new, collective sphere. Coulter et al. argue that the way the servicing of the men was made a public and joint enterprise provided the means for women to look with a fresh perspective at their own roles as housewives:

Being here, I see what women have to put up with. We're just unpaid bottle washers and cooks. I won't go back to staying in the home after the strike - it'll be different. I feel as though I want something totally separate from the home.
(Quoted in Coulter et al., 1984, p. 211)

At a meeting at the Easington Miners' Welfare, Mick McGahey, the Vice-President of the NUM, addressed an audience which contained a large number of women. He swept his arm across the front row and referred to the ‘housewives in the country who understand the problems.’ The first question was asked by one of the women. She made the situation plain: ‘we no longer regard ourselves as “housewives”; we are soldiers in the struggle.’
(Beynon, 1984, p. 109)

within weeks of the strike starting, South Wales women threw off all that garbage about being ‘behind’ their men and began occupying coal board offices, blockading steel-works' gates and touring Europe putting the case for the defence of their communities.
(Howells, 1985, p. 139)

            The support groups - as women-only groups, independent of both the men and the NUM - gave the women confidence in themselves as women:

Linda who lives down the road, we took her to London and she hardly opened her mouth. She does now. If she hears anyone pullin' us down she'll stand up to 'em. Her mam has said, ‘God, this has really brought you out of your shell.’ We'd have all cracked up if we'd not had the group.
(Quoted in Loach, 1985, p. 177)

            Green (1990, p. 189) notes that many miners' wives refused to believe their husbands' stories about police brutality until they joined them on the picket line and experienced it first hand. Two of the first all-women picket lines at Ollerton and Beavercotes collieries were arranged because those involved felt that the police would be more gentle with them than with the men; this would then give them a better chance of talking to and persuading the working miners to join the strike. The fact that these expectations of the police response turned out to be mistaken strengthened their solidarity with the men on strike (Green, 1990, p. 190) and led to same reversal of opinion towards the police as expressed by the miners themselves (e.g., Evans et al., 1985, pp. 192-3):

when the women got there and started singing, the [working miners] were embarrassed and one or two did turn round and go back. So the police surrounded the women so you couldn't see the women at all. And the men started going in again.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 49)

Before the strike I used to think the police were all right, I thought if I was burgled I'd phone them and I was under the impression that they'd come and help me. Now I hate them. I'll never talk to a policeman again.
(Quoted in Green, 1990, p. 48)

I used to think the police kept you in because you'd really done something wrong. Now I think they hold you to let your bruises go before they let you out.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 45)

            In becoming ‘politically active’ through the strike, the women also extended their conception of ‘the political’ - again the support of groups they would not otherwise have had contact with and the ruthlessness of the government and its agents seem to have played a role in this:

Before the strike, I wasn't involved in politics. It's changed me - now I know a lot more people and it's made me more aware of things. The Greenham Common women came to see us... I hadn't considered what they were doing as political, now I do.
(Quoted in Coulter et al., 1984, p. 214)

I never realised I was politically involved until this. Now it cuts deep and I feel I have to voice my opinion about Thatcher's dictatorship.
(Quoted in Coulter et al., 1984, p. 215)

We thought we could create a better world for all of us, but I don't think we counted on the awesome power of the State or the enemy we were up against.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 77)

My attitudes have changed through the strike. I thought I was a socialist before. Now I know what socialism is - it's a whole way of life, and we're living it in our valley right now.
(Quoted in Evans et al., 1985, p. 188)

            The support groups, as the main source of the women's new-found confidence, were something the women found they wanted to keep in place after the strike. They also wanted to apply the groups to other matters, in effect changing the functions of the structures they had created:

We've got a strong pressure group which we can use to protect our communities and fight for what it needs in all sorts of ways.
(Quoted in Evans et al., 1985, p. 202)

We've been so strong now that it would be pointless not to stay together.
(Quoted in Evans et al, 1985, p. 202)

The Miners Women's Support Groups have progressed from a domestic base in terms of a defence of their husband's or son's jobs to an aspect of what Arthur Scargill called a fight for Socialism.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 77)

            The new confidence meant that new choices became available for the women. Since the confidence was bound up with their identity as women, rather than as just their husbands' wives, the new choices reflected this identity, leading many to understand their actions in terms of feminism, whether or not they endorsed this perspective entirely:

I'm not prejudiced against men but I think that there's a place for women to work together because it adds to their strength. For so long I think women have been seen as second class citizens. I feel now I want to go out and fight with women to get a better place in society so that we can have an equal place... If you don't fight you won't get anywhere.
(Quoted in Coulter et al., 1994, p. 217)

We've become feminists in our own kind of way but we're not true feminists ... I've got mixed feelings because now I want to be equal to [my husband], but I want him to still wear the trousers in the house.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 78)

When we used to go on the marches earlier on, the lads used to say ‘Get tha tits out for the lads’... Then the men stopped saying it because the Camden lasses told them there and then. At first, I thought it were rude. But as the months went by I got to understand their point of view. That it was against women.
(Quoted in Salt & Layzell, 1985, p. 78)

            As these quotes indicate, these kind of changes in identity sometimes meant conflict or at least divergence in relation to their husbands. In interviews Chrys Salt carried out for a BBC radio documentary (‘Striking Out’, broadcast 1992), examples of change among miners’ wives included refusing to shave their legs, changing their styles of clothes, taking up careers and further education, leaving a husband and becoming a lesbian. In other words, out of the long dispute, as it played itself out in the relations between the police and the strikers and their supporters, and within the groups of strikers and supporters themselves, new ways of understanding self and other were being forged, and new modes of expressing selfhood were being developed:

Everybody is finding new ways of saying things. The vocabulary of the women and the poetry that they are producing is amazing. Through the conflict people are crying out with the truth
(Quoted in Searle, 1985, p. 96)


Beynon, H. (1984). The miners' strike in Easington. New Left Review, 148, 104-115.

Coulter, J., Miller, S., & Walker, M. (1984). State of siege: Politics and policing of the coalfields: The miners' strike 1984. London: Canary.

Douglass, D. (1986). Come and wet this truncheon: The role of the police in the coal strike of 1984/1985. London: Canary.

Evans, J., Hudson, C., & Smith, P. (1985). Women and the strike: It's a whole way of life. In B. Fine & R. Millar (Eds.), Policing the miners' strike. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Goodman, G. (1985). The miners' strike. London: Pluto Press.

Green, P. (1990). The enemy without: Policing and class consciousness in the miners' strike. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Howells, K. (1985). Stopping out: The birth of a new kind of politics. In H. Beynon (Ed.), Digging deeper: Issues in the miners' strike. London: Verso.

Jackson, B., & Wardle, T. (1986). The battle for Orgreave. Brighton: Vanson Wardle.

Loach, L. (1985). We'll be here right to the end... and after: Women and the miners' strike. In H. Beynon (Ed.), Digging deeper: Issues in the miners' strike. London: Verso.

Northam, G. (1988). Shooting in the dark: Riot police in Britain. London: Faber and Faber.

Salt, C. & Layzell, J. (1085). Here We Go! Women's Memories of the 1984/85 Miners Strike. London: Co-operative Retail Services.

Searle, C. (1985). Book review: Out of the locker: Poetry of the British miners' strike, 1984-5. Race and Class, 26, 85-97.

Waddington, D., Jones, K., & Critcher, C. (1989). Flashpoints: Studies in public disorder. London: Routledge.

Walker, M. (1985). A turn of the screw: The aftermath of the 1984-85 miners' strike. London: Canary.

For pictures, see John Harris's photo-essay at

[1] ‘At a time of unrest and strike actions the proletarian woman, downtrodden, timid and without rights suddenly grows and learns to stand tall and straight ... participation in the workers movement brings the woman close to her liberation, not only as a seller of her labour power but also as a woman, a wife, a mother and a housekeeper’ (Kollontai, 1977; quoted in Green, 1990, pp. 188-9)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Sussex research shows importance of ‘soft skills’ in managing emergencies

Findings from research involving more than 100 student volunteers in a simulated mass emergency at the University of Sussex will be used to help save lives in the event of chemical or biological emergency....
Rest of the article is here: Sussex research shows importance of ‘soft skills’ in managing emergencies

The paper can be found here:

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

In it together: research reveals the joy of the crowd

In it together: research reveals the joy of the crowd

Friday, 1 November 2013

Why do crowds of vigilantes kill innocent people?

I was recently asked by journalists to explain why ‘mob mentality’ occurs. They were referring to the recent tragic killing of an innocent man by neighbours who accused him of being a paedophile. Though I don't know all the details of the case, I was able to comment on a parallel example I had investigated, the ‘anti-paedophile’ crowd events that took place in Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, in the Summer of 2000. What I found in that case was a series of contrasts in terms of psychological process between the dominant representation of the behaviour of the crowd and what actually happened. The dominant representation was one of mindlessness, stupidity and irrational brutality brought about simply by people being part of a crowd. The only alternative to this in the mainstream media was a version which attributed the brutality to the (working class) culture of the individuals making up the crowd – they were already uncivilized barbarians.

As part of the evidence for the supposed stupidity of the crowd, the media cited the fact that the local residents in Paulsgrove ignored information from police telling them that the people they were persecuting were not actually paedophiles. In actual fact, however, these locals ignored this police information not out of stupidity or mindlessness at all but because they simply didn't trust the police. They believed, on the basis of past experiences, that the police sided with paedophiles and others and against ‘the local community’. Where there was trust was within ‘the local community’. So when one local resident seen as prototypical, or standing for ‘the community’, said she had a list of ‘known paedophiles’ they trusted her account over that of the police.

But then, I was asked, why would people go to such extremes? Driving people out of their homes, even killing them – that isn't something perhaps that these individuals would not have done alone. What is it about crowds?

My answer is power. While the lone individual may have a set of beliefs according to which paedophiles are at large in ‘the community’, are dangerous and need to be banished or killed, it is often only in the crowd that they can put these beliefs into practice. When people are with those they trust – others who feel the same way as them and who they believe will back them up when they act – then they can instantiate their values. Shared identity empowers.

Finally I was asked about the beliefs themselves. Aren’t these unreasonable, even wicked? Well, I agree. The ideas that paedophilia is widespread, is primarily located in the ‘other’, is particularly associated with those who are ‘odd’ or ‘different’ in some way, the denial of the family’s role in child abuse, and the use of summary justice without hearing the accused’s defence – these are all deeply ideological. But that ideology is not a matter of crowd psychology and is not specific to collectives. It is a set of beliefs also held by many lone individuals. And in 2000, it was a very prominent individual, not a crowd, who promoted and legitimized these attacks on supposed paedophiles through a concerted media campaign. That prominent individual was the then editor of the News of the World, Rebecca Brooks, who is on trial today for phone-hacking.