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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Options are not really representative of 'choices'

by Swheatie of the KUWG

KUWG placard: Jobcentre options ain't real choices

KUWG placard: 'Lifestyle choices'? On JSA?
I've just been engaged for something like the last hour and more in completing The Co-operative's 'Have Your Say' online survey. It is advertised as taking about 20 minutes to complete, and that does not recognise that some people have considerably slower operating paces than others. To comply with that 20 minutes, it would probably be far more apt for me to decide from the outset that my standard response would be along the lines of the 'Don't Know' boxes provided — but how could that represent my views? Wouldn't it just be 'a box ticking exercise', saying that I had accomplished the task in the time allocated?

That highlights a major difference between prescribed 'options' and real 'choices' as in the infamous statement that people are poor because of the 'lifestyle choices' that they/we make for themselves/ourselves.

It also ties in with my recent thinking about the impact of global inequality on London's housing queues. There is the old nonsense/lie that "teenage mum get pregnant to jump housing queues." That sort of villification diverts attention from the fact that there are people with more than one house in London, say, and that parts of London are being bought up by Chinese billionaires who were or had family links with ruling Communist Party big bods. (That tie-in between China going to an extreme capitalist model and the 'who stood to benefit' in the process, as Naomi Klein points out in 'The Shock Doctrine', was the real issue issue that led to the Tianment Square rebellion and cruel crushing of public dissent.)

As an example of how this 'Have Your Say' survey questions do not really represent my views, there is a stream of questions about attitudes toward The Co-operative's financial support given to The Co-operative Political Party. The starter questions around that are to do with whether it is right for big businesses to sponsor political parties. Nowhere does it seem to consider that members of a political party other than The Co-operative Political Party might wonder about how to get The Co-operative to sponsore their political party, or about how the chosen political party is chosen for sponsorship.

Computerised surveys tend to be more about controlling respondents than listening to their viewpoints, and in that sense engaging in a survey methods training course that outlines the differences between 'quantitative research methods' and 'qualitative research methods' can be a vital educational experience in the field of citizenship, as also can training in producing a computerised survey form.

Later, defining questions along the lines of 'who are you that is filling in the survey' appear such as this on main occupation:

Which of the following best describes the occupation of the main income earner in your household? By main income earner, we mean the person with the largest income, whether from employment, pensions, investments or any other source.
There is not an option for, say, "My main occupation is as a family-based carer engaged in more than 35 hours per week of caring for a sick or disabled person who is on middle or higher rate Disability Living Allowance." [That is the criteria for qualifying for Carers Allowance.] My main occupation is trying to change myself and the world around me toward making a society in which 'work' boosts health and well-being rather than sickens.

I'll leave it at that for now. I still have not completed the survey that I am reportedly 79% of the way through at the point where I have not specified my 'main occupation'.

Now, if I ask you, "What do you think about all this?" the comments and maybe even guest blog pieces that emerge are more like 'choices'. So, what do you think about all this?

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