What happens to groups and societies when a lack of empathy is amplified – some thoughts

We all like a good bit of drama, to have a story told well. It draws everyone in. It’s fascinating for us all to watch. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre had its cheap standing area as well as the balconies for the richer folk. But the drama was staged – the actors use conflict to drive the story forward.

And crucially, when we leave the theatre we don’t copy the script, obviously by not killing and maiming people on our way home, but subtly by using our empathy for others in our social skills.

But today our in-built fascination with conflict and drama has been automated and monetised. Social and media companies and television production companies have employed psychologists to ‘improve’ their audience share by looking for low-cost ways to amplify conflict. By “social and media companies” I mean here those companies who cultivate very large audiences in order to sell their attention to advertisers, whether its Facebook, broadcast TV, online TV, Twitter or others with the same business model.

It’s important to say that this is not all media companies – I’d say that many companies producing video games have shown a great responsibility and service in creating safe spaces for people to explore and experience drama, minority communities and personal development. This often happens during play that is online in social groups with staffed moderation and curation of gaming communities.

But some social and media companies have deliberately used their algorithms and storylines to amplify conflict. For example, we saw in Channel Four’s programme Big Brother, when the initial high audience figures started to fall away, how the practice of “conflict casting” was used to select participants who were more likely to be antagonistic to each other. These days it is called “noisy TV” in the trade, which is meant to catch more people’s attention. Psychologists looked in particular for people who, for whatever reason, had less empathy than others. The Jeremy Kyle show also springs to mind. But so do the many ‘reality’ TV programmes with a divisive narrative, often against poorer people living on benefits.

We see the same dynamic in politics – Donald Trump shows less empathy than, for example, Michelle Obama. Boris Johnson with less empathy than, say, Ed Miliband.

But what might make great TV, might make memorable politics, might make compulsive posting online, is corrosive for society as a whole and for social groups.

Social groups are areas wider than our immediate friends and family where we learn and practice our social skills, including our empathy for people we might not fully agree with, or even strongly disagree with.

However, I wonder if the increasing pervasiveness and amplification of conflict with and indifference to the feelings of the other person, monetised by the larger social and media companies, is causing social harms at the micro level as well as at the macro level. This micro level includes most community, neighbourhood and voluntary groups, societies and associations.

Any one group can only cope with a certain amount of a lack of empathy within it before it must disintegrate and collapse as a social group. Good community development skills can mitigate this to an extent, but everything has its limits.

“We have more in common than divides us” is not just a morally good statement, it is an instruction, a commandment, we give to ourselves to protect our empathy skills against the structures that seek to undermine them for their own gain, both political and commercial.

I feel that the textbook of skills for community development needs a new chapter for the 21st century – something like – Rebuilding Empathy in Communities in the face of Social and Media Amplifications of Conflict.

Tony

Research Notes, June 2021

Somewhat Lame

I was recently encouraged to look at a computer app, Grammarly, which is popular with students looking to improve their writing skills. So, ever curious, I gave it some of my notes of a meeting to see what it might say about my style. It came back with four errors, three of which were style choices (and it was clearly wrong!) and, fair enough, one was an improvement. The software also gives the writing some overall scores, and I was given a good for style and clarity (of course!).

But the kicker was the overall judgement that my writing was “somewhat lame”. Hold my coat, we’re taking this outside chum!

I could bleat on about how committee minutes are maybe not the same as a paperback thriller story. But no, instead I’ve decided to try and up the tempo of my writing. Kerpow!

Ear to the Ground

I’m pleased to say that Anne Plumb’s book on the catalogue of her lifetime archive collection of the voices of mental health service users and survivors is working its way steadily through the drafting stage, aiming for publication in the late summer.

I continue to be struck by the humour of service users, survivors, and indeed inmates. One group of patients in a locked ward at a “special hospital” organised a sponsored bed-push as a fundraiser, and wonderfully called it, “The Great Escape”. Ker-boom!

Hulme Hippodrome

One of the nice features of being involved this year with the Save Hulme Hippodrome campaign is that there are so many very capable heritage and archive researchers already involved. And they are far better at this research lark than I am, so I’m learning lots from them. My role is more on the legal and property side, which makes a change. Splat!

Not Dead Yet UK

It seems that every five years or so some misguided politician, usually in the House of Lords, decides to take a punt and try to get Assisted Suicide (aka Assisted Dying) made legal in the UK. So, here we are again with a private members bill in the Lords doing just that. I’m doing some work in the background here. For all the campaign details please see the NDYUK website, and it’s all hands to the pumps. Wham!

What’s your app of choice?

Apparently once we reach 36 years of age we stop listening to new music. I wonder if there is something similar happening with tech. I come across younger people in various campaigns who these days use apps like Trello to help them in project management. Maybe when they too reach 36 years old they will stick with the same app they started out using? I have done so mostly, and apart from the occasional project spreadsheet I find my app of choice remains Filofax. Zap!

Keep safe, and keep campaigning,

Tony

Research Bulletin – April / May 2021

Hello again all,

Sorry for the delay in this research update from Canal-side Towers, there have been a few busy projects requiring my attention. Sometimes you can only do so much, and these definitely are such times.

The Disabled People’s Archive

One of the recent additions has been the Judy and Paul Hunt Collection. While the pandemic closures have led to a backlog of boxes here in the Towers, the upsides are that there is less carpet to keep clean, and one gets more of a preview than usual. It’s a modest but powerful collection of family papers in five boxes – and such treasures! Then I noticed that Paul Hunt (1937-1979) didn’t yet have a Wikipedia page which I felt was quite wrong, so recently I’ve made a start, based on some of these papers. Please feel free to add and correct it – anyone can, it is open source and a community creation. And many thanks to Judy Hunt for creating this new Collection.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Hunt_(disabled_activist)

Access for all, and hybrid files

This one is a bit more tech-y.

One of my recent interests has been to try and find a single format for a digital file that can be used for sharing copies of archived born-analogue papers in fully accessible manner.

At the moment we often use multiple file formats for the same record to cover different access requirements (usually as PDF and as Word). This isn’t efficient and has the risk of the multiple files about one document becoming separated, compromising their accessibility.

Previously I’ve used OCR (optical character recognition) to try to improve the accessibility of PDF copies, but the accuracy is only around 80% and this isn’t good enough. In time the quality of OCR programs and apps may improve enough, but currently another method is still needed. Born-analogue documents with columns, text boxes and other complex layouts can confuse OCR programs – except some commercial ones (eg as used by Ancestry.com to scan in old copies of city directories while skipping headers, ads, side-bars, etc).

One approach I am testing is to append the PDF document to the Word document, and save the resulting file as one, larger PDF. The Word document is usually created by starting with an OCR version then manually correcting the errors by looking at the original item. This can be called a hybrid file format.

This method works in terms of it being a single file, and for visually impaired people the navigation seems to work best when the plain (from Word) text is at the start of the file, and the imaged pages of the original document follow afterwards.

Another approach to creating a single file is to use a photographic image of each sheet of the archived paper, along with an alt-text description, then adding the plain text (from Word) into this combined, larger PDF. Happily the PDF format retains items such as alt-text descriptions of images. Whether this is an improvement on the first method currently remains to be seen.

Perhaps one of the long-term solutions will be made possible by the screen-reading programs such as JAWS that now sometimes include their own OCR function. However, having a good copy of the digital text already embedded within each file does also help with the search function used as a finding aid by archivists and researchers, and by search engines.

One current drawback with using PDFs for these hybrid files is that JAWS requires the reader to manually command a next-page at every step to read the full PDF, in comparison with Word where JAWS will ignore page breaks and read it out continuously (thanks Linda for pointing this out).

All comments and pointers gratefully received,

Keep staying safe,

Tony

PS – some people may find this of interest:

2020-08-01 CAT – Campaign for Accessible Transport – 1989 and 1990 (Draft v1)

Are we building new hospitals for the 2020s or the 1920s?

New Park House will be a new-build mental health hospital in north Manchester, opening in 2024 for 150 people. Every person will have a single room en-suite with a locking door, and there will be treatment areas for therapies such as ECT – high voltage electric shocks to the brain – which is outlawed in some countries such as Slovenia. As many mental health activists and campaigners have pointed out, building a new centralised mental health hospital flies in the face of all modern best practice in dispersed, community-based mental health services. The only aspect of this hospital design that is missing from the 1920s is a library room for books on eugenics. To be replaced with daytime TV screens dressed up as therapy.

New Park House (M25 3BL) gained planning permission in January 2021 and with £72m of government money from the national programme for election-promised new hospitals towards its £105m total cost, it is politically very likely to be built despite its antiquated nature in terms of international modern mental health practices.

So what happens next?

There are already talks of the new building being better suited for use as general medical wards, or maybe as routine surgical wards for elective items like hip replacements. More of these wards are desperately needed after the austerity reductions in the NHS in the 2010s.

But maybe the single room design could also be used to flex its future use into a regional biosafety hospital. Covid-19 has taught the UK what other countries with experience of SARS-1 already knew, that epidemics and pandemics are increasingly likely and need to be robustly prepared for.

Biosafety levels internationally, known as the Containment Level in the UK, have the following examples:
CL-2 – campylobacter, Dengue
CL-3 – rabies, bird flu
CL-4 – Ebola, Lassa.

So a regional hospital with biosafety or containment level 4 facilities would be a great regional asset in the early-days management of an outbreak of any novel unknown pathogen.

It would be perfectly possible today to “future proof” the construction design of New Park House, for example with including a ventilation system that is cellular and not mixed, with ducting for oxygen to each room, and with safe waste water treatment before its discharge into public sewers and waterways.

But, sadly, the silo thinking of being a Mental Health Trust Board will not allow even the thought of “future proofing” for a wider benefit – one NHS, one public health.

So we will probably have to pay another construction company more millions of pounds in a few years time to rip out much of the pipework that is only suited to a 1920s design to make the hospital fit for purpose for the world we live in today.

Research Bulletin, March 2021

Hello all,

Some more research musing from Canal Towers, which I hope you might find interesting …

1. Workload

You may know that awful moment when you realise you have made a massive, colossal mistake. A total howler. It happened to me this month.

I’m now involved in around seven different projects and campaigns – and then it dawned on me why that was. Recently I had described myself as "semi-retired" and as a result all kinds of work was finding its way to my door. It started to feel like, "sadly we’ve had to make four people redundant, but now there’s Tony …" (almost!)

I think before my big mistake I was quite well protected because, basically, no-one was really sure what I did in my paid work. Compliance manager, programme manager, resource procurement, and even project manager, they were all a mystery because the projects were things like supporting small enterprises making video games. It’s a family joke that I’m really a spy, made all the more fun in that my fervent denials just confirm the matter.

So, a lesson for any younger readers, don’t let on when you start to retire! Seriously, it’s under control now, but the surge in interest did take me a bit by surprise.

2. Another collection for the archive

It’s been a great privilege and pleasure this month to receive four large delivery boxes with 48kg of materials from Judy Hunt, being the Judy and Paul Hunt Collection, to be added to the Disabled People’s Archive overseen by GMCDP with the good people at Archives+ in the Central Library in Manchester. The extent (size) is two archive boxes (33 litre type) of books and five more archive boxes of papers. The papers are in 42 file wallets plus a lever arch file.

Some gems from this collection include a newsletter in the format of a folder leaflet, of the National Campaign for the Young Chronic Sick (NCYCS) from 1966 campaigning for independent living. The wording at the bottom of page one says, "We seek no charity, no special privileges. We seek social justice, equality of opportunity." Seeing the details of this newsletter explains more about the close links between NCYCS and the Chelsea Labour Party – essentially the constituency identified fully with the campaign, and were not just seeing it as an arm’s length operation.

Another gem is a letter from 1972 by Paul Hunt which was printed in a charity newsletter. This was probably circulated just weeks before his landmark letter in The Guardian which started UPIAS, the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation. It’s interesting to see his ideas develop as we watch, the expression of disabled people as consumers coming soon afterwards. The UPIAS Collection is already in the Disabled People’s Archive, and this is the letter:

****

Dear Editor,

During 17 years of living in various institutions for the disabled, and in the 2 years since I left, certain questions have nagged insistently at me. What can be done to improve residential centres, homes and hospital units for the physically handicapped? What alternative forms of care might be devised which would prove more satisfactory? What changes in society are required if severe disability is either to be eradicated or to become no bar to full social participation?

In discussion recently a friend suggested that what was needed was to have the views of people who are themselves actual or potential recipients of institutional care. Their ideas on the situation are more important than anyone else’s, but are often least taken account of by administrators, planners and politicians. If severely handicapped people were able to get together to work out proposals for change, they would obtain national publicity and a say whenever their future was being discussed.

I should be very glad to hear from people who are interested in this proposal. The intention is to form a group, made up of past, present and possible future disabled residents, together with their friends and eventually to hold a national conference to decide on policies, priorities and methods of achieving change.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Hunt.

****

Keep safe everyone, we’ll be back in that café soon enough.

Research Bulletin, February 2021

Hello again,

Well now, it is a year since I started these monthly updates on research interests, a month before the pandemic was first responded to in the UK. And here we are in Lockdown 3 and it’s no secret that living alone has had me climbing the walls at times. Not least in the urban north of England where hospitality closed last summer. And being in a modern flat where the ceilings are not that high, that pastime soon loses its appeal. The local Italian restaurant is doing take-aways at weekends with a sign, "44 days to go". I hope so.

But February is nearly over, spring is coming, the crocuses and daffodils on my walks are joining the snowdrops – and in keeping with the season I’ve had a couple of new projects breaking ground…

The first project, new to me if actually 120 years old itself, is Hulme Hippodrome. The call came from friends to get involved in a great campaign to save the listed heritage building, so I’m in. There are heritage researchers and scholars in the group from the nearby universities, so I’m learning a lot from them as well as helping with the typing! Actually, it has been the legal aspects of the building in recent months that have been intense – more details if you’ve the time for them at – www.hulmehippodrome.org including weekly updates at the moment.

The second new project is CHARM which is a campaign for better mental health policies, services, and institutional behaviours in Greater Manchester. CHARM stands for Communities for Holistic, Accessible, Rights Based Mental Health. The trigger for this campaign is the proposal to spend millions of pounds building a shiny new ‘hospital’ with about 140 locked rooms and a nurses station. The official blurb calls them secure single rooms with ensuite facilities. You might know them better as prison cells. All this at a time when the current mental health services are collapsing under strain, so we are making plans with the trade unions on a united approach for change – health workers, service users, families, carers and other activist allies. The historic research on Radical Mental Health Projects from 1960s, which I helped a different group of us to write up over a year ago, has proved very useful now for the CHARM campaign to show that we are not asking for the impossible – it has already existed in small and fragile ways, but these ground-breaking mental health projects were consistently ignored by senior health managers instead of being mainstreamed. Our research has protected the lessons from these projects, at least in part.

In terms of the Disabled People’s Archive, expect some exciting news in March. My lips are sealed!

For International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March, the good people at Manchester’s Central Library have said they wish to include details of Lorraine (Gradwell) as a notable local person in their Memory Box – which is lovely.

For the Not Dead Yet campaign against assisted suicide possibly being made lawful soon (like Canada, Netherlands, etc), it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy year, and we are tightening our seat-belts in preparation.

After a long lull from Manchester city council, there is some short-notice re-engagement with the Peterloo Memorial Access Campaign – but it looks pretty grim at the time of writing – the proposal is for temporary access for disabled people once a year. For updates please see this public group page: www.facebook.com/groups/382131302394700

So, various campaigns are hotting up.

And finally, one reason I’ll be glad when lockdown ends is that I have over 120 archive boxes waiting to leave the flat. Still, if I arrange them carefully there’s a pop-up climbing wall.

Stay safe, things can only get better (!),

Tony

For earlier editions of this bulletin please see – www.tonybaldwinson.com/research-bulletins/

Research Bulletin, October 2020

Hello all,

Well, it’s still a strange world for us all at the moment. Here’s my monthly update in case there’s anything new here that might help or be of interest to you. This month has been mostly works-in-progress rather than shiny new ‘outputs’.

1. Sian Vasey

Sadly, Sian died this month, a very good friend of many of us. Tributes have been given in DNS and in Facebook, and when the time is right we can start to think in detail about her legacies. One aspect I’m interested in is her work as a disabled TV producer at ITV then at BBC. I feel that the representation of disabled people in ‘the business’ has improved in front of the camera more so than it has behind the camera – the crews – where most of the jobs are. I’d welcome any thoughts, whether private messages or public postings.

https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/tributes-paid-to-irreplaceable-and-irrepressible-sian-vasey/

2. Rachel Hurst Library

As well as kindly donating her extensive collection of files to the Disabled People’s Archive, Rachel has also kindly donated her personal library of books – 13 boxes of rare treats. I’ve added another three boxes of books to that set from Lorraine Gradwell, Pam Thomas, and myself. It’s far too soon to say where these will end up finally, so they are being safely stored meantime. Ideally it would be in a public reference library, but no-one is underestimating the cuts and pressures that local authorities face at the moment, from the pandemic but also from 10 years of austerity cuts. The news yesterday of further planned cuts within Manchester City Council do not bode well for us all.

3. BBC documentaries

I seem to have become a (willing) props department for two documentaries being made for BBC Two to be broadcast next year – some DAN drinking mugs with “Piss on Pity”, and some original UPIAS documents from the archive boxes.

DAN – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disabled_People%27s_Direct_Action_Network
UPIAS – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_of_the_Physically_Impaired_Against_Segregation

4. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

It was a pleasure to be asked whether one of my photographs of disabled activists campaigning at a march could be used for a banner on the website of the new Disability Research Group at the University of Strathclyde.
https://www.strath.ac.uk/workwithus/healthwellbeing/researchcentres/disabilityresearchgroup/

5. International Day of Disabled People (3 Dec)

Nothing is yet finalised, but lots of work is underway in Manchester to produce the usual packed programme of events as an entirely digital experience this year. Happy to be playing a small role in the background.

6. Nothing About Us Without Us and PHM

Similarly not yet finalised, lots of work underway with the People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester to continue with a physical exhibition for 2022, plus some virtual items in the meantime. Also (no promises) some very early discussions on whether the exhibition could also be toured across England including London, as well as across Greater Manchester.

7. TV in 1980s

I’ve had an interesting chat last week with a TV producer in Manchester who first came across GMCDP in the 1980s and from there worked with the Hearing Voices Network. The work was sadly abandoned mid-production by BBC at the time because another channel (C4) was also interested.

Stay safe,

Tony

Research Bulletins, back copies: http://www.tonybaldwinson.com/research-bulletins

Research Bulletin, January 2021

Hello everyone, and a Happy New Year

Thank you everyone for your kind comments about these research bulletins, a year old next month, and on the calendars.

It was only a few weeks ago when we were sending cards wishing each other a better year in 2021 … seems a slow start, to be honest.

1. A BBC2 documentary early next week

On Tuesday 19 January, 9pm, BBC2, (and Weds 11.30pm) there is the broadcasting of the documentary "Silenced: the Hidden Story of Disabled Britain". Look out for some interviews with the likes of Alia Hassan, John Evans and Jane Campbell. I assisted in the background with some research. I’m told disabled people encouraged the producers to also interview people in the north of England … we’ll see.

2. Ian Stanton

By some good chance someone asked me in December what songs I might have from Ian’s recordings, which got me searching some old home-made CDs to find some cover versions he had recorded, including one of "Fairytale in New York". It was lovely to be able to circulate it, a true gift.

3. Handwriting, 83 full pages of

There are some jobs you just put to the bottom of the pile. In 2016 I was sorting through the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People’s archive boxes in a storage unit in east Manchester. The collection had grown over the years, and with it had grown a combination of spreadsheets and some loose handwritten sheets listing the contents. Eighty-three sheets, which I didn’t really want to type up. Again, an enquiry from a friend took me back to these lists. The spreadsheet has details of about 5000 items (rows) in the archive, and the loose sheets probably has another 2000 or so.

The use of AI (artificial intelligence) to recognise handwriting has got better in recent years. My hope was to find a program which would process all the pages at once, but after some emails to academics in the USA I had to make new plan. There is some very good stuff out there, but it has been purchased by private companies. One academic had written an interesting paper, but couldn’t help me because the commercial funders of the research forbade it. For example, consider how companies such as Ancestry can process so many millions of handwritten certificates of birth, marriage and death.

Eventually I found a phone app called "Handwriting Recognizer" which performs quite well. Most OCR (optical character recognition) programs only work with typewritten and computer-printed characters. There is also ICR (intelligent character recognition) and HCR (handwritten character recognition) which can process handwriting, some better than others. The app I used allows three free pages a day, then $1.49 a month for unlimited use. But it does still mean taking 83 photographs, processing each one, and then emailing the result to add to a document. Most research is basically admin but dressed up to feel better.

So I’m now in the process of correction a 120-page Word document which is maybe 70% correct at the moment.

The final product is maybe best called a list of the archive, because a catalogue would have more details. However, it can be very helpful in narrowing down which box to look in for a photograph or a magazine half-remembered. I also like just to browse these types of lists, but that’s me.

4. Access All Areas

This month a book has been published, written by Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder, on diversity in the TV industry in particular. I saw there interview on Channel 4 News and was impressed that LH knew the statistics on how many (so few!) disabled people are currently employed behind the scenes. I’ve written a review of the book, please follow this link:

https://tonybaldwinson.com/2021/01/13/access-all-areas-a-book-review/

Stay safe, April or May onwards should be better,

Tony

For earlier editions of this bulletin please see –
https://tonybaldwinson.com/research-bulletins/

Access All Areas (a book review)

Summary:

This book starts with Lenny Henry’s comments upon leaving the BAFTA TV Awards ceremony in May 2013, abruptly telling a journalist that it was, “all White on the night”. It continues with the story of the campaign to get diversity included in the BBC Charter, and then in creating the Ofcom criteria for monitoring the diversity performance of the BBC. It describes the ongoing campaign for a UK tax credit for diversity in film and TV production. It concludes with the launch in March 2020 of the Media Diversity Centre at Birmingham City University. Both authors are professors there, and LH is also the Chancellor (a position like the chair of governors).

Comments:

Although the book has a “Manifesto” at the end, for me it didn’t cover some of the most interesting points in the text.

The starkest of these was the harm said to be done by ‘special’ training courses, boot camps, leadership development opportunities and such aimed at disadvantaged groups. LH describes the career harm done by such courses, looking at how trust, social capital, and a deficit model within TV companies decides who gets green lit. In short, these courses mark someone’s CV as remedial and cause later career difficulties. A case study shows the drop in salary that was found. By contrast, the best TV companies at promoting diversity were those with a very good general or universal training culture across the organisation – developing staff and not just consuming them.

A second key point was that diversity wasn’t a useful umbrella concept for action. The points about intersectionality are made but without the theory. For example, the authors say that things only start to get better when specific actions are put in place, with their example that improvements for disabled women are needed rather that assuming that an action to assist women will automatically apply also to disabled women.

The authors are more explicit with structural inequalities and with racism. Based on national statistics, they describe a TV and film industry in the UK which is controlled by a demographic found in only 3% of the population, yet still we talk about diversity and minorities whereas the disadvantaged people together are actually a substantial majority.

They state that they are giving their work within the new Media Diversity Centre five years to see if it is effective, and their plan is to use it as a base for new research rather than for campaigning or publicity. An early part of the work programme is trying to prove the wider economic benefits of a diversity tax break (ie it doesn’t just get gamed and trousered by the company owners as some Treasury officials say they suspect).

Two standouts for me:

“However, when it comes to diversity in the media industry it can feel like we have no institutional memory. I cannot remember a time in my forty-plus-year career when women, Black, Asian and disabled people have not been actively fighting for a bigger place at the media table to tell their stories and have their voices heard.
Yet, when I talk to senior industry figures in their fifties, sixties and even seventies, who have been at the front line trying to increase diversity in television, I am amazed how consistently they feel that the present policies rolled out by broadcasters are either repeating the same mistakes or failing to capitalise on what has happened before.” (Henry and Ryder, 2021, p147)

and

“… it is a very personal confession, but a confession that I know a lot of people from ‘diverse’ backgrounds working in television can relate to.
A lot of the time, at work, I am lonely. Very lonely.”
  (emphasis in original) (Henry and Ryder, 2021, p118)

Access All Areas: The Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond
Lenny Henry & Marcus Ryder
Faber & Faber, 2021, 181pp, £7.99
ISBN 978 057 136 5128

Research Bulletin, December 2020

Hello all,

Rather than the usual monthly recap, this edition is a bit is a writers Christmas special, which is about what might be called the Manchester style – or, referencing for everyone.

In my research writings I have been experimenting in recent years with something like an Easy Words style of referencing other works. I’d be interested to know if anyone else has been working along these lines too.

For non-academic readers, a referencing system is an agreed common way to link to the work of other people. This makes sure that everyone involved gets a fair credit for the work they have done.

However, I think that some of the referencing systems have become over-complicated and confusing. Firstly there isn’t one system, but at least six. And secondly, there a variations within each system. And they all use complicated punctuation to try to explain what is going on in each case.

To me, it’s essentially become like a coding system, and one where writers can be criticised and marked down for things like a misplaced semi-colon. And small groups of academics have started to adopt their own particular sub-styles and systems, I feel almost in a cliquish way.

Here are some examples of the main systems.

MLA: Hunt, Paul, ed. Stigma: The experience of disability. London; Dublin [etc.]: G. Chapman, 1966.

APA: Hunt, P. (Ed.). (1966). Stigma: The experience of disability. London; Dublin [etc.]: G. Chapman.

Chicago: Hunt, Paul, ed. Stigma: The experience of disability. London; Dublin [etc.]: G. Chapman, 1966.

Harvard: Hunt, P. ed., 1966. Stigma: The experience of disability. London; Dublin [etc.]: G. Chapman.

Vancouver: Hunt P, editor. Stigma: The experience of disability. London; Dublin [etc.]: G. Chapman; 1966.

(with thanks to the Google Scholar citation system)

My attempts at an Easy Words style of a clearer referencing has produced these types of examples.

Manchester: Paul Hunt, 1966, [edited a book called] Stigma: The experience of disability, [published by] G. Chapman [a company based in] London, Dublin and elsewhere.

and some other examples in the same style are –

Link, [a TV programme broadcast on] 22 June 1986, A form of Apartheid – a profile of Vic Finkelstein, [a television programme made by] Central TV, part of ITV.

Jenny Morris, 1997, Care or empowerment? A disability rights perspective, [a paper published in the journal] Social Policy & Administration, volume 31 issue 1, pages 54 – 60.

Jo Smith, 1 January 2018, [a post on] Twitter, screenshot accessible at www….

Carol Thomas, 1993, Disability and impairment, [chapter 2 in a book called] Disabling barriers – enabling environments, [published by] Sage [reprinted in 2004, 2013].

The basic suggestions so far are:

1. In the main text the common author-date system is still used. This means that the author’s family name and the year of their work are written in round brackets. This give people the credit for an idea or for their words describing that idea. For example, "A letter was printed in The Guardian newspaper (Hunt 1972)."

All the other suggestions here apply to the list of references (credits) at the end of what has been written or shown.

2. Use square brackets to add your explanations that will make the reference clearer.

3. Use people’s proper names, so its "Judy Heumann" and not "Heumann, Judy". Use people’s full names unless a person has deliberately chosen to be known by their initials only. For example, J K Rowling. The list can still be in alphabetic order of the family name.

4. Use bold if you need to emphasise a word or phrase, and do not use italics and do not use underlining. Don’t emphasise too many words. This helps visually impaired people.

5. Use punctuation as little as possible.

Feedback on this Manchester style is welcome, either in social media or directly to me.

Thanks for reading as ever, and with the season’s greetings,

stay safe,

Tony

Research Bulletins, back copies can be found here:

http://www.tonybaldwinson.com/research-bulletins