Some information about me
After completing my Ph.D. in Social Anthropology (St Andrews), I held a fellowship at the Institute for the Advanced Studies in the Humanities (Edinburgh University), before taking up my current position at CRESC.
My doctoral research focussed on the implementation, reception, and use of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which came into force in Scotland and the rest of the UK (in the form of separate legislation) in 2005. FOI provides people with access to information held by public authorities and various levels of government. My research involved conducting in-depth participant observation fieldwork working alongside public servants selecting and disclosing information under the Act, with policy-makers, and also with requesters of information.
This research offers insight into how a particular understanding of social and cultural life informs the ‘culture change’ FOI is designed to implement. That is, the legislation appears informed by a particular idea of knowledge and persons as stand-alone entities or whole units that interact with and can be joined to other units. This understanding was challenged by the behaviour of pubic servants disclosing information and members of the public receiving it; ‘transparency’ was not the straight-forward outcome of the disclosure of a document by a subject. Rather, ‘transparency’ was something that was both performed by public servants, and also the result of members of the public perceiving the associations between documents and people.
Rather than confirming a division between a document and a person as that between an object and a subject, the behaviour of public servants and requesters of information instead revealed this division as that which lay within: that is, documents and people had the capacity to appear now as subjects (enmeshed in a network of persons and personal relations), now as objects (as independent, non-social entities). ‘Transparency’ was the outcome of the form that knowledge and people took (as persons or things) in their relations with others. These findings offer an insight into personhood more generally… and its implications for the way in which transparency, openness, ‘culture change’, public and private, and bureaucracy are shaped and expressed in this field.
Since completing my doctoral research I have become interested in the assumptions and expectations underpinning the newly implemented ‘Big Society’. Drawing on insights from my doctoral research, I am developing a new interdisciplinary research project that will focus on the Big Society as a form of socio-cultural change and its implications for responsibility as well as social fragmentation. In whom or what is ‘responsibility’ to be located? And what kinds of divisions emerge as relations are formed between citizens, business, and Government?
Mon, Jun 6th 2011
In this CRESC workshop practitioners responsible for implementing Big Society initiatives will be joined by political commentators and academics to debate its challenges and promises from many positions.