Remembering My Hat

25th November 2016

Reproduction, Sexuality and Sexual Health research group symposium

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The Open University, Camden, London

My usual partial and incomplete liveblog from a seminar, focusing only on things I was particularly interested in, rather than a representation of what people actually said. Also, I forgot my laptop charger, so I’ve only got two hours of battery so I’ll probably not get to the afternoon sessions at all. You can see the whole programme here. [My own thoughts in square brackets like this].

Introduction to the conference: Alison Hadley, Univ of Bedfordshire

Entitlement to sexual health services services, although paid lip-service, isn’t enough to get services funded and commissioned – you have to demonstrate that there is a problem. And this then leads to services focussing on negative outcomes (avoiding teenage pregnancy, reducing STIs) and the only things that get counted are negative outcomes. Services don’t usually count positive outcomes (increased knowledge about sexual health, increased pleasure). We need measures and metrics for positive outcomes too.

Having the right targets is key – you should never have a target of X% uptake of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) because that runs counter to the principle of choice.

Safeguarding has become the over-arching lens through which everything to do with young people’s sexuality is read. This distorts other important issues (pleasure, development, intimacy).


(cc) velo_city

Panel 1: Pleasure and intimacy

Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS

Birth control, pleasure and intimacy: a matter of personal choice or public health?

Gone back to using the old-fashioned term ‘birth control’ because it covers both contraception and abortion and her sense is that young people increasingly see them as ends of a continuum. A less-effective contraception method with abortion as a back-up plan may be what people want, rather than LARCs.

If you frame it as women’s choice to have as few children as they want, or even, increasingly to have no children at all, you generally get quite a sympathetic response in the UK these days. But if you start talking about women’s choice to have as many children as they want, people start judging you – environmenal reasons about over-population are increasingly invoked for everyone [as well as older classist/racist ones] Marie Stopes racism and classism

Free contraception on the NHS is bound up on it being seen as a health issue. If you make it about women’s autonomy, does this become about risk?

Family ‘planning’ – but of course ‘unplanned’ doesn’t equate to ‘unwanted’.

Every service they have has an imposed target for LARC uptake from women who have had an abortion. What women want is entirely different. They are concerned about effectiveness but they are equally concerned about lack of side-effects (‘your erratic bleeding will settle down after about a year’ is not acceptable, especially to young people).

Me: Positive visions of queer ageing and sexual relationships

[A talk about my Imagining Bi Futures project, focusing on the positive visions].

Peter Keogh, Open University: Pleasure and intimacy in HIV research


(cc) Jo

First job in sexual health 25 years ago was ethnographic project on gay men and public sex – mostly about cottaging and cruising. Project was framed as ‘what is this weird behaviour, how can we stop it?’ No consideration that it might be fun. Pathologising framing of it as about sexual compulsivity and the ‘bisexual bridge’.

Trying to find out ‘who are the people who are really driving this epidemic’. Over the years, the groups that are thought to be driving the epidemic have changed, but the focus on identifying the problematic group has remained the same.

Folk devil 1 was cottagers

Folk devil 2: By about 1994 Backroom and super-saunas (as they opened up in London, especially). Focus on venues for sex, and whether some were more risky than others.

Folk devil 3: Internet users! For hook-ups.’Meaningless virtual sex’. Would lead to huge increase in number of sexual partners and somehow not ‘real’ sex – re-emergence of compulsivity and addiction framing.

Folk devil 4: Early 2000s onwards. Barebackers, bugchasers, seeders etc. Barebacking becoming an identity.

Folk devil 5: Sero-sorters (having sex only with people of the same HIV-status as yourself). This one comes from researchers – as an explanation of barebacking – it’s not reckless after all. But also taken up by communities as well as a way of promoting safer sex. But researcher’s then got worried about people acting on less than full knowledge ‘sero-guessing’ as a risk.

Folk devil 6: Now. Truvada whores – pre-exposure prophylactics –

Folk devil 7: Now. Chem sex

Two overall tendencies in all these stages

Pathologising – reckless, compulsive, in deinal, deluded, promiscuous

v. Rationalising – risk-taking, inventive, calculating, liberal, transcending social differences, sexually open

Can we move away from the latest hot topic and think more widely about the ways HIV has transformed sex for men, now that we are late in this epidemic?

Claire de Than, City University: Supporting the human right to have fun

Disabled people’s right to sex is being routinely denied by families and care homes [see the OU’s Sexuality Alliance for lots more resources on this especially in relation to people with life-limiting conditions].

Current plans for compulsory sex education for children explicitly exclude disabled people.

Cannot legally give sex education to deafblind adults (although can to deafblind children!)

Her summary:

Adult? Non-carer (of anyone in the room)? Can communicate (in whatever way)? Consenting? Has capacity? Private? All these present, it’s a human right to have sex. Anything missing? Possibly criminal, so check and work through the guidance.

Helping or supporting someone to do something that is their own choice (if they have capacity) is not a crime.

Biggest reasons needed changes haven’t  gone through in care services is the Daily Mail fear factor.

People think they have duty to protect vulnerable people from risk. But they don’t, they have a duty to protect them from known, real and immediate risk to life or safety. Most consensual sex doesn’t have these kinds of risks.

[Battery perilously low at the end of the morning, so no more from this].


3rd August 2016

EuroBiReCon16: Workshop on ageing

This is some notes from a workshop that I co-organised with Sue George and Nickie Roome, as promised to the participants. Our abstract said:

Growing older and being bisexual

What is it like to grow older as a bisexual person? What issues and needs are likely to become more important? How can bisexual and LGBTQ communities be more inclusive of older people? How can research best serve the needs of older bisexual people? This open discussion session will discuss these and other questions related to bisexual ageing. People of all ages are welcome to attend but those who feel these questions have personal relevance are especially welcome. The facilitators of this session are: Sue George, long-time bisexual activist and author of Women and Bisexuality, Nickie Roome, founder of the UK’s first group for older bisexual people and Rebecca Jones who researches and campaigns around ageing and bisexuality.



(cc) photoscarce

It was great to have a room full of people all wanting to discuss ageing – about 25 people in total, I think. We started off with some introductions from Sue, Nickie and me, about why we had wanted to run this workshop. Then we generated some possible topics to discuss and each person voted for their favourite. There were two topics that only one person wanted to talk about (‘being ‘younger’ older’ and ‘working with existing organisations for older people’) so those people chose a second topic. This left us with four topics:

  • Making bi space more age-inclusive
  • Identity and history
  • Sexuality, sex and ageing
  • Inter-generational issues

I took some brief notes while listening in on the groups, and also as each group fed back to the whole group. But if anyone who was in one of the groups would like to add more detail so we have a better record, that would be great – just let me know.

Making bi space more age-inclusive: This group talked about recognising the resources that older bisexual people can offer to bisexual communities and individuals. These resources include both personal experience gained through having lived a relatively long time and also, sometimes, long experience of activism and organising community events. This group also talked about the importance of recognising and acknowledging different choices of identity labels.

Identity and history: This group talked about painful personal experiences of their bisexuality not being accepted by others. They commented that it seemed to be very different for (some) young women now, with ‘bi-curious’ and similar identities seeming to be much more common. They noted that this new acceptability of female bisexuality is often very sexist and thought that we would really know that bisexuality had become acceptable once more men felt able to claim it.

Sexuality, sex and ageing: This group discussed the invisibility and taboos around later life sexuality and sexual activity. They felt that this did harm to both ageing individuals and to younger people and communities more widely. They also talked about significant age differences between partners seeming to become more taboo in later adult life, and about the possibility of intimacy becoming more important than sex for some people. They also discussed coming out in later life, dating apps and the impact of parenting on sexuality.

Inter-generational issues: This group started off by discussing some hurtful personal experiences of being excluded from an LGBT group on the grounds of age, because older bisexual men were seen as sexually predatory. It then went on to talk about experiences of ageism in both directions – from older people towards younger as well as vice versa. The group talked about the way in which someone’s ‘length of being out’ age may not match their chronological age. It suggested running workshops on inter-generational issues at future BiCons and other bi gatherings.


smaller sunset amsterdam

“Sunset over Amsterdam” (cc) by Peter Eijkman

30th October 2015

CABS/CPA seminar on Social Media & Research in Ageing: Part 3

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Ian Watson, Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services

Research unbound: Finch, open access and social media

Examples of ways new technologies always disrupt existing social norms and business models (telephone: people bothering you right in your house! Uber and taxis. Air B&B. High street travel agents. Napster and now Spotify)

Academic publishing is no exception. Except possibly more stuck in the past to start with.

Dame Janet Finch – Finch Report 2012. How to make publically funded research free to the public who funded it. Promise was all available by 2014. Has it happened?


(cc Mark Colllton)

New scheme ‘Access to Research’ from Feb 2014 for 10 million academic articles. But you can only see abstracts online, have to go to a physical library which is part of the scheme to actually download the article. Old fashioned business model.

Adding ‘google juice’ – blogging about your research increases impact [indeed]. But doesn’t help if people then can’t get the article. Institutional repositories are not easy to search [I think the OU’s is okay, but I’m very familiar with it, of course] [Also, I think another problem is that the form of many academic articles is so unfriendly to non-academics]

Their project ‘Research Unbound’ – blogging platform using WordPress. Peer support, improving quality from feedback en route.

Who? What? What? = Who are you communicating with? What do you want them to hear? Then what you do you want them to do about it?

Brevity is really important. The Economist magazine has really useful style guides.

Will be written up later today here with links:

[This is all getting very meta]

12th March 2015

Beyond Male Role Models? Gender identities and work with young men. End-of-award conference

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My usual partial and incomplete liveblog from a conference. My own reaction in square brackets.

Kate Mulley

Director of Policy and Campaigns, Action for Children (Joint project between AfC and OU)

This group of young men is invisible to policy, except as villains.

What sold the project to them:

  • Understanding better something that is usually thought about in a stereotypical way
  • making unheard voices heard
  • fitted their strength-based approach – avoiding deficit models (e.g. support that lone dads give their kids)
  • chance to use research in inform policy and practice

Martin Robb – PI

Relationship with Action for Children has been vital – involved in drawing up the bid as well as once fieldwork. Also ‘Working with Men’ group.

Background rationale for project:

‘Male role model’ discourse has become a kind of taken-for-granted explanation and solution to the ‘problem’ of boys and young men. Problem boys lack good male role models (absent dads) and the solution is supplying alternative good male role models

  • Little evidence to support this. Some on education – does the gender of the teacher matter? Answer: can’t tell – too complex an issue.
  • What about the role of women in young men and boys’ lives?
  • Isn’t that a bit reified about gender?
  • What do these young men and boys think about these issues?


(cc) Frank M. Raflk

Mike Ward – Researcher

Individual and group interviews with 93 people at Action for Children and Working with Men projects, UK-wide, range of locations, rural and urban

  • 50 young men
  • 14 young women
  • 12 male staff
  • 17 female staff

Projects recruited from:

  • Young offenders
  • care leavers
  • YP with additional needs
  • young carers
  • care council (young Insepctors)
  • respite centres
  • young fathers mentor scheme


  • Family both a source of support and trouble
  • Many have strong relationship with mothers and grandmothers but ambivalent ones with fathers and step-dads
  • Becoming a father often a catalyst for transition to a more ‘responsible’ masculine identity [supports strength-based approach, not deficit in relation to yound dads].
  • Locality plays a huge role in shaping masculine identities for young man
  • ‘at risk’ young men often involved in hypermasculine cultures
  • Routes to ‘safer’ masculine identities varied by location – west of Scotland often fatherhood and work (traditional working-class masculine jobs) whereas in London it was much more through education.

Sandy Ruxton – Consultant on project

Support services provide safe spaces to help make the transition to a less risky masculine identity. Avoids being on the street, being stopped by the police or engaging with other young men they wanted to avoid. Many of the young men were actually very underconfident about engaging with the outside world.

Practical activities were helpful to building relationships (round the Pool table) or walking and talking.

Qs didn’t mention ‘male role models’ but some young men and staff did use the term but they weren’t clear as what it meant – people close to them but also people they looked up to and didn’t know.

They didn’t look up to ‘celebrity’ role models

The people they meant by role models were more like mentor or guides – people who helped them negotiate and co-construct new identities and futures. Not a passive transmission of values/masculinity (as ‘role model’ implies) something much more active and dynamic. Women were really important in this.

Sense of shared experience and social background between young men and staff was very valuable for some (especially in the west of Scotland projects). Class and race especially (although not named by participants as this).

Brigid Featherstone – Co-I

The young men valued personal qualities and commitment of staff above gender or other social identities.

Had a keen sense of genuine care from workers (and other workers who were just ‘doing it for the money’). Valued respect, trust, consistency, and commitment highly too.

Really clearly that authoritarian masculinity doesn’t work. Hate being told what to do. That’s a really hard task for workers because you have to not be authoritarian but also help them not do really stupid things! ‘Troops for teachers’ initiative not liked – ‘that won’t work with us’.

Lives very precarious – very easily pushed off their trajectory of building the life they wanted. Very poor, very low chance of getting work, benefits cut etc.

(We used to talk about race, ethnicity and class, now we talk about ‘stories’!)

‘Boys need positive male role models’ is lazy thinking

When young men come to services, it is often because they are seeking to make the transition to safer adult masculine idendities and their asprirations (job, home, family) are similar to other young people.

Services don’t need to have male workers to be able to work with young men (or young women). Gender is not as important as care, trust and consistency.

Gender is still hugely important to young men’s lives and being able to identify with staff along lines of gender, ethnicity and class is also often helpful.

Steve Hicks, Uni of Manchester – Steering Group member

Responding to the project findings.

Gender role models can be a smoke-screen – allows you to justify cutting back the Welfare State. Relationships with fathers is what really matter, so we don’t need all these expensive support services.

Good mums, bad dads dichotomy. What’s that doing and where’s it going? What about extended family and friends too?

Irony of being perceived as too authoritarian as a social worker when SWers currently being criticised for being insufficiently authoritative

Hypermasculinity in other arenas of life too, like the House of Commons! It’s not just a working-class phenomenon.

Black young men in this study described a lot of everyday harassment which limited their options very profoundly. Restricted the subject-positions they could access. Doesn’t determine – they had some very creative strategies for resisting racism and questioning racial identities.

Some young women also drawing on masculine identities – trans, genderqueer and questioning [+ tomboy identities or butch?]

Methodological Qs:

  • How do we know when gender is going on in a situation or a piece of talk? Lots of answers to this are possible! Big can of worms. [I want to know more about how the team are going to handle that].
  • Why is gender only invoked as a problem in relation to these young men? Gender doesn’t cause things. ‘It was gender wot done it’ is not an adequate answer.

22nd October 2013

(a)Dressing the Ageing Demographic seminar: Part 1

Last Friday I went to a seminar at the Royal College of Art about clothes and growing older. It was fantastic. Really stimulating and interesting, and even more fun that usual in the coffee breaks noticing what everyone was wearing! I met up with some people I already knew and am always glad to see and also got to know some new ones, including the journalist who writes the Guardian’s Invisible Woman blog about clothing, body image and getting older. I also admired a very beautiful and stylish older women and said to someone else that I aspired to look like her in 40 years time. Then I discovered she was, in fact, a model (and still working as such, I think) and decided that was probably an unrealistic hope.

What follows is my usual idiosyncratic and incomplete notes from the day, with my own additional thoughts in square brackets.

(cc) Brian J Matis

Julia Twigg

Fashion and Age: Dres, the Body and Later Life

There’s a persistent normative age ordering of clothes, especially for women. Largely expressed negatively – what is not suitable for someone as they grow older

–        More covered up, higher necks, longer skirts, looser cut

–        Darker, duller colours

–        Sober self-effacing, avoiding claims to sexual attention

Can see this in those Scandinavian life stage pictures, as well as nowadays.

But these cultural factors are also in interplay with changes in the body

SizeUK did a literal ‘shape of the nation’ survey. New shape much more realistic for older women. Used by some retailers.

JT drawing on Barnard on ways gender and class are seen as natural but actually ideological, to theorise dress as also ideological.

There’s a dominant cultural narrative that this age ordering is gone or is going or has lessened. ‘60 is the new 40’. In academia sometimes called the reconstitution of ageing thesis. Older people argued to now be nearer the mainstream than they used to be. New pattern of the life course – extended mid-life up to 4th Age. More undifferentiated middle years.

Showed that Posy Simmons cartoon of ‘A lifetime of babywear: The Seven Ages of Man’ – wearing teeshirt and shorts at all life stages.

Making the point that men’s clothes don’t change across the lifecourse. But you can also see in the cartoon the way that clothes are tweaked by clothes designers to make the same garment age-appropriate – elasticated waists at youngest and oldest ages, not in mid-life

So does age ordering still operate?

Women in JT’s study were aware of age ordering and largely obeyed it – stressed need for caution, avoiding exposing body, over young or girly styles, frilly clothes, anything eye-catching.

‘The wardrobe moment’ when women feel they can no longer wear a particular thing [I had one of those when I was coming up to 40. Not so much since but that could be because I’ve adapted my wardrobe in accordance with age orderings?]

Sense of exile from cultural practices of feminity, or feminity itself

But also evidence of change. Felt wore very different clothes from their mothers. Keen to avoid drab, chintz and crimplene especially!

Clothing retailers also believe things have changed. Asda – 30 yrs ago people would switch to ‘classic’ clothing at a life point, no more. Older women now wear brighter, fresher colours. Ranges for older women marked by use of strong clear colours. E.g. celebs like Mary Berry

Larger retail context to this – arrival of cheap Fast Fashion – late 20th and 21st C. True democratisation of fashion – greater than 19th C or mid 20th C one, arguably. People shop more often – over 75s now shop for clothes as often as teens and twenties in e. 1960s. Clothes are cheaper, still remain accessible if on lowish income in later life.

‘Moving Younger’. Clothes as aspirational – dream of idealised self, younger, thinner, richer, smarter. Consumption of clothes allows this. So retailers persistently portray their clothes as aimed at a younger market than they know their customers actually are.

Style diffusion. Youth has replaced class as the engine for style diffusion. No longer introduced by elites and then abandoned by them as taken up by lower classes. Not so much that older people are dressing younger, but that styles are diffusing older – centre of fashionability is youth, edges is older.

Age norms and age ordering still exist. Continue to encode ageist meanings

But also clear evidence for change – norms are shifting. Fashion industry is playing a part in this shift.


These covered up styles for older women is because of stigmatisation and fear of older bodies

Rise of ‘shapewear’ – new forms of corsetry. Can now get it extending to arms!

JT: one respondent felt could do longer wear girly styles she liked, but always wore coloured, girly underwear as form of secret resistance.

23rd August 2012

NATSAL and older people

One of the difficulties of writing about sex in later life from a UK perspective is the lack of systematic, population-level data. In particular, older people have been excluded, to a greater or lesser extent, from the three existing waves of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL)

This is one of those background facts that I keep using whenever I’m writing about later life sex, but I always find it difficult to check out exactly which waves had which age limits. So I am going to collect it here, for my own future reference, and in case it is useful for anyone else.

(cc) Peter Kaminski

NATSAL I was carried out in 1990. It sampled people aged 16-59

NATSAL II was carried out in 2000. It sampled people aged 16-44  ‘in order to focus survey resources on a group at greater risk‘ though how you know who is at greatest risk if you haven’t surveyed anyone over 60 to start with, I don’t know…

NATSAL III is being carried out between 2008 and 2013.  It will sample people aged 16-74. Two cheers.

I hope there is a NATSAL IV. I’m not a statistician or a survey-expert, so I realise there may be technical reasons why you need to put an upper age limit, to do, I imagine, with getting enough respondents for the findings to be generalisable. But surely there must be ways round that? The danger of putting an upper age limit is that is suggests that sex is not something of relevance to older people.

12th July 2012

British Society of Gerontology conference 2012: Part 1

Here are some more personal notes from a conference. As ever, they are in no sense a representation of everything that was said, just some of the things that struck me as interesting or connected with my own work. Things that are my thoughts rather than what other people said are in square brackets. The conference is the:

British Society of Gerontology

41st Annual Conference

University of Keele

10th-12th July 2012 

The conference got off to a great start for me when my fellow-CABS member, ex-colleague, ex-PhD supervisor and, I hope I do not presume too much to say, friend, Bill Bytheway was presented with the BSG’s Outstanding Achievement Award for his contribution to British gerontology. I’ve written more about that over here on the CABS blog. But it made a very happy start to the conference for me.

More note form from now on:

Opening Plenary

Prof Toni Calasanti

Virginia Tech, USA

Different or unequal? Considering power relations

Existing critiques of ‘successful’ ageing [Katz, Minkler and Holstein, all the stuff I wrote about in K319 LG2 final section] . What happens if you put these critiques together with gender analysis?

Sexualised vulnerable older women in Life Alert ads (call buttons)

Youth based standards of sex. Seeking to show OP have sex too or something ‘just as good’ e.g. non-PIV but still sex. This retains insidious ageism.

Why not see elders’ sex as more valuable? Link w reproduction is broken anyway. More sensual? More pleasure-seeking?

Let old people be old and that be valuable.

Chris Gilleard

Sex in later life: From sex to salvation

Non-sexual nature of later life used to be morally virtuous, because sex was sinful. So a virtuous old age was non-sexual. Inversion of nowadays.

Sexual activity as cause of ageing – using up moisture and heat. Hippocratic theory of humours. Sex is hot and wet (blood and air), ageing is dry and cold (black bile and earth). Continuing influence into the medieval period and up to 17th C

Then 17th C onwards, sex less sinful and less harmful

Harvey’s circulation of blood shows that blood is not used up but continuously circulated so impacts on ideas of sex in old age.

But old ideas continued anyway.

18th C physiology developed, awareness of glands – realisation that sexual activity can be separated from reproduction and that sexual fluids do things other than aid reproduction.

19th C increased regulation of sex. But age related decline in sexual function is noted but not mandated

Lots of interest at turn of twentieth century and early twentieth C in prolonging youth through organotherapy, rejuvenation techniques [like now anti-ageing medicine]

Audience member: presentation blind to gender – it was all about men

CG: could have talked about extract of ova for women in 20th C but before that it was all focused on men.

Ann O’Hanlon

Dundalk, Ireland

Exploring and measuring age-friendliness amongst older people.

Age friendly communities. Dundalk was one of the 35 cities and towns in the 2004 WHO study

Discussion: Ann O’Hanlon’s question: why hasn’t the older people’s movement taken off in the way that feminism did?

Me: because it’s not grass-roots.

Audience member: because of internalised ageism

[I thought: but feminism was partly about excavating internalised sexism through consciousness raising – OP could do that]

Audience member: Group of 50 older feminists, met recently to apply CR techniques to own internalised ageism. But what they are focusing on is supporting one another, not changing the world. Is this something to do with ageing [No! Not if, by that, you mean something inherent to the ageing process]

[Should the question actually be ‘why did the feminist movement succeed (in some ways though obviously not all), when black rights did less well (although don’t forget end of segregation in US), class struggle died with Thatcher / the end of communism in Europe, and other social movements never got off the ground?

What happened to the grey panthers?

There are, at least, activist groups of disabled people.

It is just because the historical moment when movements around identities could make significant impact has passed, because we’ve all (some of us) got so post-modern and fractured in our identities?]

Cassandra Phoenix

Pennisula College

Research design: Attend people’s usual exercise session, take a photo, download to iPad, immediately discuss pictures during interview.

This design proved impractical – turned into too much discussion of the quality of the photos + post exercising participants didn’t want to be interviewed – tired!

So instead researchers selected 8-10 photos and emailed them – look at photos, answer question ‘what is it like to [insert sport]’ then some more prompting questions, including  prompted them to talk about five senses. So got written data in the end.

People didn’t comment on the images very much – tended to do so at end. Whereas researchers intended it to be photo-elicitation. Did caption some photos – doesn’t seem very phenomenological. But actually quite telling, like small stories in identity construction. Captions often about the body rather than life through the body

Some people made references to the pictures in their writing.

Q ‘what it is like to’ was understood as ‘why do you like?’

27th June 2012

Sex in care homes: On the World Service

I got to put my media training to use yesterday, when I did a short piece on the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme at lunchtime.

They only rang me up 30 minutes beforehand, and their starting point was an article which I’d not read (because it was embargoed until that day – you can see the abstract now here). They wanted someone to provide an academic perspective on the issue of sex in later life and particularly in care homes for people with dementia, alongside Jilly Cooper and a non-famous older woman.

I remembered that my media training course had suggested not accepting things at very short notice if you didn’t feel prepared, but actually I felt that I could do this one – the topic felt safely within the domain of things I feel competent to talk about.

The trickiest thing proved to be installing Skype onto my work computer in the timeframe because my landline turned out not to be good quality enough to use. Because I was a little flustered, I couldn’t remember my Skype name, so couldn’t log on to install it. So my personal top tip would be ‘install Skype on any computer you might use, and keep a record somewhere safe of your name and password’.

The actual interview went fine. I didn’t manage to get in one of points I wanted to (that not all older people are heterosexual and that not all older people’s sexual activity is within marriage, as the other speakers were rather assuming) but I got in the others. I was getting some delayed feedback at the beginning – that thing where you hear your own words again about half a second later, which was really difficult to ignore and I presume that’s why my voice sounds rather peculiar at the beginning of the interview, and why I’m leaving oddly large gaps between my sentences. My other personal additional tip would be to take off any dangly earrings you might be wearing if you are going to use headphones – I got slightly distracted by mine scratching against my neck.

Listening to the recording, I’m struck by how much better is sounds when I was smiling and being mildly humourous. I heard a bit of a Radio 4 programme a few weeks ago about smiling, which included an interview with Jenni Murray where she said that she always smiles before she starts speaking and demonstrated the difference it makes. It was really striking. I didn’t remember that at the time, but I’m noting it here in the hope that I might in future.

But overall, a good experience that I’d be happy to repeat.

If you’d like to hear the interview, it’s here, at the beginning of the programme.

25th January 2012

Media tips for academics

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 22:54
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Today I went on some training for academics on dealing with the media. It was very good. The OU organised it but it was provided by inside edge media training. What follows are some of the key things I want to remember.

(cc) tim ellis

The training was called ‘Media training for experts’, which initially gave me pause – it feels over-claiming to describe myself as an expert although I suppose I am on a small number of topics. But thinking about myself as being positioned by journalists as ‘an expert’ was very helpful. As they said, if you’re being interviewed in your role as an academic, they’re not going to treat you as a politician, so they’re probably not going to push you as hard as they would David Cameron. And, as they didn’t say but I thought, being positioned as an expert who is also an academic will usually tend to position your statements as being more reliable and unbiased than other types of expert. Of course, that’s not necessarily true, but it’s an advantage.

But relatedly, you do want to come over as a real human being as well as an expert. So drawing on your personal experiences of whatever you’re talking about (if appropriate) can be a good way of doing this. I, and I suspect most academics, tend to depersonalise and generalise. But, just as in teaching, you often need to start with a concrete example and then move to the more theoretical point you want to make, so that your audience cares about what you are talking. One of the pieces of personalised feedback I had from the trainers from my mock interviews was that I needed to be clearer about why I wanted people to hear my message. I think saying to myself ‘I feel passionately about this because…’ might help with this.

I was amused to hear them talking about news values, which I’ve written about in K319, so that bit made a lot of sense to me. Hooray for teaching and other work synergy! I need to hang on to a sense of ‘now’ness, action, and things happening, especially when I’m trying to create news, rather than responding to an existing news story.

I need to identify in advance of any media work:

  • what my ‘top line’ is – the key message I want to get across
  • what the contrary argument is – journalists (generally) try to appear fair, so I may well need to argue my case. Or there may be a second guest arguing against me (although they should warn me in advance if that is the plan. But they might forget, so it’s worth checking).
  • what the contentious or difficult questions might be. Then try to think of strategies that would allow me to acknowledge the validity of the difficult stuff but then make a link back to the key message. So saying things like ‘yes, that’s true in a small number of cases but the vast majority…’ or ‘but I do want to make the wider point that…’
  • who does my message potentially put me into conflict with?
  • what are the key examples/case studies/anecdotes that will help me make my wider points.
  • what are the areas I cannot or will not talk about, and agree these with any other members of the team who might be doing media work
  • if it links to my personal experiences, whether and how much I am prepared to talk about those.
A particularly empowering piece of advice was that it’s probably better not to take up an unexpected opportunity to be interviewed than to do it unprepared. The trainers said that most journalists will re-order things if you say you’re not available for an hour, which gives you time to prepare yourself. And if they won’t, you’ve only lost that opportunity, not all future opportunities.

A chronological account of a piece of research might go ‘we got some funding to investigate A, so we did B and the results were C which has the implications D’. But to make it news friendly, you need to start with D.

Don’t get distracted by the mistakes journalists make that aren’t really important. In my mock interviews, the trainer described me as the sole author of a report rather than one of many and used some terminology that I wouldn’t. But correcting that would just have distracted from what I wanted to convey in my precious 3 minutes. It’s hard though, because I do care about my co-authors feeling elbowed out and about precise use of language. But I need to ignore those kinds of things in this context.

Use direct and everyday language, keeping it as concrete as possible. Try not to use jargon at all and don’t use complex language unless you explain it immediately afterwards – in the next clause, not even in the next sentence. It just distracts people. For example, while most people probably know roughly what ‘LGBT’ means, if you don’t immediately say what the letters stand for, people start trying to work it out, so stop listening to what you are saying. Also, don’t mention details that are irrelevant to your key message but important to you, like who your funders were or where an event is taking place. They’ll distract too.

Some very practical tips:

  • at the end, don’t hurry to take the headphones off or get out of the chair, even though you really want to. You might still be audible/visible/wired up.
  • don’t wear noisy clothes – things that rustle or jingle
  • feeling at ease is your responsibility – the interviewer is unlikely to have time to try to help you.  Try some breathing exercises or shoulder rolls.
  • journalists are often looking for someone to interview in the 6-7am slot. And if you do that, you may get to set the day’s news agenda.

I’m anticipating doing some media work when The Bisexuality Report is launched next month. I may not actually be asked to do any interviews, but I feel much better prepared than I did.

24th April 2011

Currents in a metaphorical and literal stream

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 16:30
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Back in 2002, when I was writing up my PhD thesis, I came up with an image that helped me think through a sticky patch in some of my theorising. It was of a stream of water, where the general flow is in one direction but local currents and eddies may mean that at some points water is flowing in different directions, including contrary to the main flow.

Today I managed to film a perfect example of this:

You can (I hope, dodgy camera work notwithstanding) see the general flow of the stream from the stick floating downstream. But the polystyrene block has got stuck in a local circular eddy which means it keeps being pushed up against the weir again. I watched if for about 10 minutes and it never moved downstream.

In my thesis, I was imagining the water in the stream to be ‘narratives about later life sex’ and arguing that there was a general flow of what people were able to treat as unproblematic and straightforward when talking about this topic. This was that older people are broadly asexual and less-and-less interested in sex. However, in my own data, and increasingly in the media at the time (and much more so since) there was evidence of a contrary flow, asserting that of course older people remain interested in sex and sexually active. (There were other sorts of contrary flows too, but those were by far the commonest two).

I was interested in the ways that different types of narratives about older people and sex were treated as canonical or not in different contexts. So, for example, I found that, in the context of my research interviews, the idea that some older people are still happily sexually active could be treated as entirely unproblematic and not requiring elaboration or justification. People talked as if they were not aware that the general current of the stream was running in the opposite direction from what they were claiming. I was interested in how they were able to do this (having established to my own satisfaction that my diagnosis as to the general direction of the stream was correct). The metaphor of a somewhat turbulent stream was my idea for how this works.

I argued that some parts of my research interviews were parts of the stream where the current was flowing in the opposite direction from the general flow of the stream. My metaphor of a stream helped me to deal theoretically with the issue, common to the critical discursive psychology I was doing at the time, of reconciling a fine-grained kind of analysis looking at the immediate orientations of participants with a wider interest in general societal trends which may not be visible in the immediate data.

I argued then that some streams were more turbulent than others and it certainly seems to me to be the case now that the ‘older people and sexuality’ stream has got more turbulent in the 10 years since I was doing this research, with features about sexy grandmothers a seemingly regular feature on Channel 4.

I’ve just reused this metaphor of a stream in a paper coming out in the Journal of Bisexuality this month, this time to think about normativity. I argued that there is a general direction or flow as to what gets treated as normative kinds of life course features, but that particular contexts can be parts of the stream where the flows run contrary to the mainstream. In this case, that’s BiCon and I argued that the contrary flow of the stream of normativity at BiCon helps to account for the wackiness (technical term) of the accounts that participants in my research produced.

There must be journals that accept YouTube clips as part of an article, but I don’t know of any in my field. So, in lieu, I will post it here and hope that some people find the elaboration helpful.

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