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Kath Hulse and Lise Saugeres Swinburne University of Technology Australasian Housing Researchers’ Conference Brisbane, June 2007 Beyond positivism: giving.

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Presentation on theme: "Kath Hulse and Lise Saugeres Swinburne University of Technology Australasian Housing Researchers’ Conference Brisbane, June 2007 Beyond positivism: giving."— Presentation transcript:

1 Kath Hulse and Lise Saugeres Swinburne University of Technology Australasian Housing Researchers’ Conference Brisbane, June 2007 Beyond positivism: giving a voice to low income renters in research about housing assistance and paid work

2 Overview  Construction of a ‘policy problem’  Positivist social science – abstraction, ‘objective’, and causality  Interpretive social science – history, culture and daily practices  Our research project (with UNSW colleagues)  Observations

3 Construction of a ‘policy problem’ Ongoing process of restructuring the welfare state: reduced social expenditures and individualisation of risk ‘Welfare reform’ agenda –do government policies encourage or discourage participation in paid work? Does rental housing assistance affect participation in paid work – negative or positive?

4 Positivism ‘A term that, through overuse and misuse, has become an almost meaningless term of abuse that can be applied to almost any kind of empirical research that appears not to pay sufficient attention to the complexity of social meanings. In fact, the term has a quite specific and much narrower meaning and should be used only in this sense’ Scott, J. and Marshall, G. (2005) A Dictionary of Sociology, Oxford University Press, Oxford

5 Example: Health/education and labour force participation Objective: To estimate effects of changes in health and education levels on labour force participation 3 models using HILDA survey data Policy context: National Reform Agenda - concern about implications of ageing population Laplagne, Glover and Shomos (2007) Effects of Health and Education on Labour Force Participation, Staff Working Paper, Productivity Commission Comments: Found positive association particularly for mental health or nervous condition averted and for degree or higher education Endogeneity ‘bias’ due to:  ‘Unobserved characteristics’ of individuals eg motivation, innate ability or preferences (esp. women)  ‘Simultaneous determination' of health and labour force participation

6 Mapping connections – an abstraction

7 Some limitations of positivism  Variables are social constructions but can become reified  Problems with aggregation - disguises diversity in social world  Often what is established is correlation, not causality  Risk of misleading interpretations – does not connect to everyday social life and motivations, beliefs, attitudes, understanding, etc

8 AHURI National Research Venture 1 Primary NRV1 research question: ‘How do housing assistance programs impact on economic participation outcomes once we control for the mediating effects that intermediary variables such as ‘health’ and ‘neighbourhood’ have on economic participation outcomes? (Wood and Ong 2005)

9 The ‘qualitative research’ project Difference not so much about methods but about epistemology – interpretivist rather than positivist Interpretivism – knowledge is derived from everyday concepts and meanings – lived experiences and actors’ definitions Methodologically – need to understand the whole rather than component parts (variables) and include time dimension and cultural context Method – in depth themed interviews, biographical

10 ‘Home Life, Housing and Work Decisions’ 105 in depth interviews 6 locations (Vic and NSW) Two thirds women and one third men Living in rental housing and receiving government housing assistance Mixed age group

11 Qualitative research: analysis/interpretation 105 different stories – in their context Established techniques for analysis Immersion of researcher and ‘data’ – looking for common themes and patterns Seek to generalise on the basis of theoretical propositions which relate relevant aspects of the ‘data’ to each other

12 The importance of history – linked histories Patterns in family/employment/housing histories:  Instability in family background - often associated with residential mobility  Low level of education – low parental expectations  Child abuse and family violence (mainly women)  Fractured employment histories – low skill/low wage jobs  Housing patterns: residential mobility with periods of stability; continuous mobility, mobility then stability (public housing)

13 Paid work not just about money…..  Benefits:  Financial (but difficult with part-time work)  Non-financial (contact with people, reduce isolation)  Costs:  Additional expenditure: child care, transport/travel, work clothes, etc  Lack of time (pay more for food and other goods, less time with children)  Logistical problems and stress - effects on health and parenting (exhaustion, poorer health, etc)

14 Many inter-related factors when considering paid work  Mental and physical health  Health problems more prevalent than DSP receipt  Mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety disorders  Caring responsibilities  Strong views on being a good parent (mothering)  Logistical problems in combining paid work and parenting into teenage years  Location/place  Added to difficulties in practical details of daily life - safety  Bad reputation of area/double stigma

15 Safety and security (children) ‘Sally’, 39, sole parent with 3 children, renter, Western Sydney I know some people that do long hours of work and they get their 15-year-old to mind their five-year-old. I wasn’t willing to let my kids mind themselves at 5 in the morning when I had a younger one, and I didn’t even walk around the block at that time in the morning. I wasn’t sure how safe they were in the house. Maybe it was just an involuntary fear, just being a single parent I wasn’t willing to leave them there in case there was an accident or electrical fire or anything. I thought, if I got back and something happened to them … So maybe there’s an inbuilt sort of unreasonable fear when you’re a single parent……..

16 Safety and security (area) ‘Theresa’, 36, sole parent with four children, public renter, Darebin Like I told you, I have nothing against people who live here. I’m just scared for my safety, I’m just concerned for my children. If I’ll be given that opportunity to move to a private house, a private rental house…..That’s what I aim to happen in the future. I want to move out of here. I want to rent privately … I want to be maybe in a more decent place, although you’re not sure, you’re not sure who your neighbour will be. You know, you can have a neighbour from hell if you’re in the private sector. So you’re not really sure.

17 Cultural attitudes (caring) ‘Joanna’, 50, divorce, 2 children, Darebin, private renter There was always some sort of problems going on with the kids and I believed being home when they got home was showing that there was a stable mother, even though financially and food was difficult, I believed that being there when they got home and supporting them was the only option I had as a single parent, because with (son) having learning difficulties came a lot of adolescent behavioural problems and if I was out at work I would have lost my son. ….I don’t have the kids taking drugs, drinking partying, so I have no problems. I do believe that what we’ve sacrificed in the long run has been for the benefit of the kids.

18 Logistical problems (caring) ‘Caroline’, 31, sole parent with 1 child, public housing, Ballarat There’s a home daycare lady down the road now, which I can drop her off to and she’ll take her to school for me if I go to work, and I think it’s $4.50 an hour. But the thing – I had no bus service to take me, because the buses didn’t start until 6.30 a.m. and I had to already have her dropped off by then, and then try to find another bus to get me back to work, to be at work by 7 a.m. So I couldn’t do the three bus trips when there’s none, and I wasn’t going to pay $20 a day in cabs to do that. So now I’ve got the car I’m not so stranded like I was.

19 Stigma (area) ‘ Carl’, 37, single, 1 child, Newstart, public housing, south western Sydney I: Did you ever find your postcode or the fact that you lived in a particular area impacted on your chances of getting interviews? R: Yes, only when I mention (area) I: And what impact did that have on you? R: It was devastating. I became depressed and seemed like every time I turned up for an interview and was qualified for the position I got knocked back. So depression set in and I didn’t want to do anything then, after getting knocked back so many times. So I tried changing addresses, doing a PO box, and that didn’t work neither because stupid me put it under (area name), not the street name. So now when I apply for a job I don’t mention that area at all and it seems to be getting me further in for a second interview or a third interview.

20 Observations Policy makers’ bias towards positivism Research needs to go beyond ‘observed behaviours’ to understand how people construct the world around them and their experiences Framing of the ‘policy problem’ at odds with many women’s experiences and attitudes Can you integrate research from quite different perspectives?


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