Archive for the 'Queer' Category

A missed opportunity: Why the Law Commission got it wrong on hate crime

Jon Garland, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey

Jon GaJG picrland and Neil Chakraborti are co-editors of Responding to hate crime: The case for connecting policy and research, published by Policy Press last month.


Recently the Law Commission published the results of its year-long investigation into the efficacy and scope of hate crime laws. The consultation, a reference from the Ministry of Justice, had the specific remit of examining the ‘aggravated’ offences and incitement to hatred legislation in order to see if these should be extended to include groups that were not previously protected.

That the Law Commission was asked to undertake this review at all was a reflection of the increased social significance of hate crime and also (and relatedly, of course) the heightened importance of hate crime legislation. Supporters of this legislation argue that it has a specific, symbolic importance in that it reflects society’s condemnation of the victimisation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups. However, one of the issues examined in this process was the inequality that exists in the provision for different victim groups within the mish-mash of hate crime legislation. The criminal justice system currently recognises just a handful of different identity communities as hate crime victim groups – the so-called ‘five strands’ of race, religion/faith, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity – about which the police are required to collect hate crime statistics. Surprisingly, though, some of these ‘five strands’ receive more protection from the law than others. For example, the aggravated offences provision within the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 currently covers race and faith groups, but not those relating to disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, in the case of the incitement to hatred legislation, race, faith and sexual orientation groups are included, but not disability or gender identity.

So how has this rather odd situation come about? Well, the explanation is, in some ways, quite simple: there is no single all-encompassing ‘Hate Crime Act’ that covers different types of offences and all identity groups, but instead there exists a number of different pieces of legislation that have been drawn up over time which have, gradually, included one group after another in a rather piecemeal fashion. This has resulted in the disparities of provision that the Law Commission was asked to investigate.

Under a degree of expectation, the Law Commission therefore published the findings from its extensive investigations at the end of May. The Commission concluded, perhaps rather disappointingly, that a further, Government-sponsored review into a wider set of questions surrounding the aggravated provisions was necessary. It also, rather frustratingly for some disability campaigning groups such as the Disability Hate Crime Network, declined to recommend that the incitement legislation be broadened to include the strands of gender identity and disability. The Commission’s reasoning for this was that it had not been persuaded of the ‘practical need to do so’, that prosecutions might in any case be rare and that new incitement legislation might ‘inhibit discussion of disability and transgender issues’.

This verdict means that disabled and transgender communities still find themselves ‘out in the cold’ regarding the incitement laws. It also means that some groups appear to be accorded a more ‘privileged’ position than others within the five strands, which is an unfortunate outcome of the Commission’s work. Although the justification provided by the Commission for declining to make this recommendation  has some logic, it does seem a shame that it failed take the opportunity, in the words of the Disability Hate Crime Network, to extend the law’s coverage to ‘capture a unique, specific and grave type of wrong’.





Diversity in family life: Gender, relationships and social change

Elisabetta Ruspini

Elisabetta Ruspini

by Elisabetta Ruspini, author of Diversity in family life

Families have changed dramatically over time due to economic, demographic, cultural and political factors. Family life is dependent on the culture of the societies of which the family is a part. Since the early 1970s, we are supposed to have been living in a new historical epoch. This epoch has been defined in various ways. Late, second, high, new, contemporary and post-modernity are different terms used to describe the condition of today’s societies. Instead of ‘standard’ biographies, more and more women and men are today in a position to realise a so-called choice biography. Transitions no longer follow a standardised, strict sequence. A large variety of pathways through the life course are both possible and accessible. Starting the adult life course with unmarried cohabitation, followed by marriage, followed by divorce, living alone or as a lone parent, followed by unmarried cohabitation with another partner is broadly accepted.

There is thus a need to understand how family arrangements and models of parenthood are changing. Diversity in family life provides an account of family life in the contemporary society.

One first aim of the book is to discuss, using a comparative and a sociological perspective, examples of the relationship between changing gender identities and processes of family formation in the Western experience: asexual couples; childfree women and men; living apart together (LAT) relationships; lone mothers and fathers; homosexual and trans parents. These new living arrangements are the communes of the 21st century, the century inhabited by the Millennial generation (also ‘Digital’ or ‘Net’ generation). The book helps readers discover the characteristics, advantages and drawbacks of these contemporary living arrangements. It also discusses the political implications—in terms of social movements characteristics and demands—of these emerging dimensions of family life. More specifically, readers will understand: the role played by asexuality in the process of forming intimate and family relationships; what it means to be a childfree man or woman (feelings, motivations, and reasons for staying childfree); the reasons behind the choice to start a LAT relationship; why househusbands and stay-at-home fathers are becoming more and more numerous; the forms and characteristics of contemporary lone parenting; the relationship between parenthood, homosexuality, transgenderism and transsexuality.

One second aim of the book is to describe how the changes in relationships and family life fit into the bigger pattern of cultural change in the last few decades, trying to grasp the reciprocal interconnection between the cultures of the past and contemporary generations. The interplay between past and present raises the crucial question of how the contemporary modernity relates to and interacts with the ‘old’: how institutions, norms, rules and structures of modernity coexist and interpenetrate the new. The book will help readers understand contemporary changes in social institutions and their impacts on family life—one recent change is, for example, the ‘Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill’ in the UK, that allows for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales. It will also assist readers to understand why LGBTTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer) rights are widely diverse in different (European and non European) countries: from legal recognition of same-sex marriage or other types of partnership, to the right to adopt.

In sum, the book explains that, today, it is possible to live, love and form a family without sex, without children, without a shared home, without a partner, without a working husband, without a heterosexual orientation and without a ‘natural” (i.e. biological) sexual body. It is thus a useful guide for anyone interested in interpreting and responding to challenges in family life created by contemporary modernity.

Diversity in family life is available to buy with 20% discount from

Mental health service users in research

Patsy Staddon

Patsy Staddon

by Patsy Staddon, author of Mental health service users in research

It is exciting, as someone who is a service user and a slightly off-key academic, to be seeing a book with one’s name on the cover. I had never really expected even to have my research projects funded, or to obtain my PhD at the age of 65, let alone to meet and work with the talented people whose work is presented here.

This unusual book applies a sociological perspective to experiential knowledge and academic research. It celebrates a unique achivemen:’ a series of seminars at the British Library which brought together the work of sociologists, ‘service users’ and ‘service user sociologists’ to stand as evidence of the width and depth of service user research and its implications. The series was organised by the Survivor Researcher Network and the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Mental Health Study Group, and co-ordinated by Lydia Lewis and Angela Sweeney. It included displays of work from two survivor organizations: the Survivors History Group and Recovery.
Eight of the book’s chapters are contributed by presenters in the series: Angela Sweeney; Peter Beresford (with Kathy Boxall); Hugh Middleton; Steve Gillard, Kati Turner, and Marion Neffgen; Lydia Lewis; Patsy Staddon; Jayasree Kalathil; and Sarah Carr. Further perspectives on user involvement are added in the chapters by Katherine Pollard and David Evans, Rachel Purtell and Wendy Rickard, and Hugh McLaughlin. In this way it has been possible to consider the sociological implications of service user involvement both now and in the future.

We see the value, but also the difficulties, encountered in the application of  ‘insider knowledge’ in service user research. We are shown ways of ‘doing research’ which bring multiple understandings together effectively, and observe the sociological use of autobiography and its relevance. We see how our identity shapes the knowledge we produce, and question how voices which challenge contemporary beliefs about health and the role of treatment are often silenced. An imbalance of power and opportunity for service users, and the stigmatising nature of services, are considered as human rights issues. Most of the contributors to the book are service users/survivors as well as academics. Their fields of expertise include LGB issues, racial tensions, and recovering from the shame and stigma of alcoholism. They stress the importance of research approaches which involve mutualities of respect and understanding within the worlds of researcher, clinician and service user/survivor.

Several contributors, the editor included, feared their voices would never be heard if they did not acquire some sort of academic status, and often struggled against remarkable odds to achieve this. Some of them outed themselves from the start, challenging established medical knowledge, as they sought the social perspectives needed to make sense of their worlds. Others have feared that admitting ‘service user’ identity would disqualify them from serious consideration as academics, and even from employment. Yet we are all likely to be ‘service users’ one day and dividing the world into knowers and their subjects obscures and restricts the very knowledge that is so expensively sought in large scale research trials, frequently designed without the benefit of a sociological perspective (McLaughlin, chapter 11).

Mental health service users in research is available with 20% discount at


Why do we need a Census?


Danny Dorling

by Danny Dorling, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield

The Census held in 2011 could well be the last of its kind. There is currently a review underway, but already government has proposed that there be no traditional Census held in 2021. A two-century-old decadal tradition, interrupted only by World War Two, is currently ear-marked to end.

I do not believe it, but I am told that if the current government decision is not reversed during 2013, then there will be no budget for another Census and too little time to reinstate it in the planning, even if there is a change of governing party in 2015. What is so odd about all this is that the Census is a cheap, old-fashioned, rather conservative survey. A Coalition that believes in small government would normally be expected to favour a Census over most of the workable alternatives, unless it would rather there were no reckoning at all.

Other countries have population registers so they know how many people there are and how they are coming and going, but the current UK government is opposed to ID cards and hence a population register. Several Scandinavian countries put their registers on-line including information on the tax paid by each individual so that everyone is able to check and ensure there is no evasion. I don’t think this is what the UK government had in mind when it announced the end of the Census, but maybe I am too pessimistic.

The Census allows social scientists to determine in what direction the trends are going. Within a week of the 2011 results being published, Ludi Simpson and Stephen Jivraj, on behalf of the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at The University of Manchester, had analysed the results and determined that every single ethnic minority group within England and Wales had become more dispersed geographically despite rising in numbers in most cases. The same was true of every religion group except for the Jewish religion [1]. These findings can be downloaded here.

In the week before Simpson and Jivraj’s analysis was complete, the UK press had already decided that the rising numbers of many groups of people born outside of Britain meant that there had to be ethnic polarization within Britain. They were wrong, and because we had a Census and hence data for every local authority, it was possible to show that they were wrong. Without a Census we would not know.

Without a Census we will have no idea about how our towns and cities are changing. We will not know whether we are more all in it together, or if we are polarizing yet more economically while still mixing more by ethnicity. If there is not even an adequate replacement for the basic counts of people by age and sex in small areas then we will not be able to determine whether life expectancy has begun to fall in any area in the years to come. It last fell in particular places for particular groups during the 1930s depression.

Without a Census in 2021 there will be no graphs of the kind shown in the University of Manchester report. The shrillest voices will win over the most informed. Without a Census we will not know if there are actually enough bedrooms for all to be housed and where they are, we will not know who is working at more than one job, for too many hours, and who has too little work. We will not know where children are doing worse at school in a way that allows us to take account of all children (not just those at school and in the state-schools records) and we will not know where their prospects are most favourable when measured more widely. We will not know what it is that we are all together in, and how it has changed.

1.    From ‘ More segregation or more mixing?’ briefing document from The Economic and Social Research Council’s Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE). A pdf can be downloaded here

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