Man of Aran: A Story For Our Times

I started off thinking I’d post on this because it was a thing of beauty, even though it’s not very current – and then I realised, it sort of is current, in a funny kind of way.  (And anyway, why need we always privilege novelty over substance? Shore isn’t the News of the World.) There’s a lot in this film from 1934 that’s very 21st Century.

scene from 1934 Flaherty film
He gets all the credit while she does all the work. Typical Man of Aran.

This video clip is part of the soundtrack British Sea Power made in 2009 to the famous / infamous 1934 Robert J Flaherty short film, Man of Aran. I saw British Sea Power at the Kentish Town Forum (more Irish connections) earlier this year and in the latter part of the gig, they started playing footage from Man of Aran on a huge screen behind the band. I thought it was mesmeric.

As a relative newcomer to British Sea Power I had missed the release of their Man of Aran soundtrack CD at the time. I just watched the full DVD today: the original 1934 film with British Sea Power’s music over it. The beautifully shot black and white images of a small island community eking out its existence on the bare, windswept edges of the Atlantic Ocean – Aran is an island off the coast of Galway – are movingly beautiful. On one level, you can just enjoy this as a piece of cinematography. But for those who don’t know the story, there’s more to Man of Aran than that.

Back in the 1930s, American film-maker Robert Flaherty wanted to make a film about people still living traditional lives in an extraordinary, remote, barren place, in the face of the power of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1934, like today, a tidal wave of modernity was sweeping through the world, while ethnographers and anthropologists were starting to record and study the vanishing traditional ways of life of people left behind by the Brave New World. But Man of Aran was not ethnography, or even documentary at all – it was very much art. What was depicted was as artificial as Tron: Legacy. It was a reconstruction of a way of life that the people in the film no longer lived. They were real Aran Islanders, yes: but the ‘family’ featured was not a real family; and the fishing methods filmed in the basking shark sequences had not been used for decades. The fakery of the hunt anticipated Roy Scheider et al in Jaws by 40 odd years.

Man of Aran was rather a kind of hyper-reality: an intensified, perfected version of the truth as Flaherty and – let’s face it – many viewers would like it to be. Flaherty paid islanders a fiver each to be actors in the drama of their own idealised lives. (Wikipedia on Flaherty\’s Man of Aran.) As Vince Trident put it in the British Sea Power sleeve notes, the effect was “at once heroic, stunning, camp, ridiculous.” Very post-modern and very Irish too. Roy Foster’s book on blarney, The Irish Story springs to mind (The Irish Story by RF Foster – review from The Independent). Mind you, if the current V&A exhibition is to be believed, post-modernism itself ‘ended’ at least two decades ago: (V&A Postmodernism Exhibition). So my writing here about postmodernism as if it’s current is itself as anachronistic as Flaherty’s film – if I can disappear into a vortex up my own arse for a minute.

But Man of Aran has a currency today for another reason. It struck me, watching Flaherty’s stage-directed, fiver-toting Gaels, that their plight dramatises our own. We are between a rock and a hard place, just as they were. We are living through our own kind of austerity, though one that the islanders would sell their beshawled and crooked-backed grandmothers for. But we struggle on, scratching out our existences in the old ways, sensing things are just not sustainable – but not knowing how else to get by. And the waves keep crashing in.

By the time Man of Aran was filmed, the way of life depicted had already passed. And I do sense we may perhaps be on the verge of a step change – over the next 10-15 years – in how we live and work, not just in the UK but in North America and Europe. It certainly felt like it listening to the second part of Michael Portillo’s documentary Capitalism on Trial (Capitalism on Trial (part 2) – Radio 4). The sense of us living through the end of an era is starting to grow. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about some of the interesting thinking from Richard Layard, Will Hutton and others about the need to refocus our societies towards goals we actually believe are good and sustainable. Or will we just trudge on, gathering seaweed from the rocks to help grow our potatoes?

Organ Freeman: Thaler on Nudge

Professor Richard Thaler, co-author of Nudge, is one of the most sought-after people in the world at the moment. His behavioural economics (BE) snowball is now well down the hill, has taken out some skiiers and is about to roll along the valley, chasing people around like that giant bubble thing from The Prisoner. His co-author and fellow University of Chicago professor, Cass Sunstein, is now closely advising the Obama administration on how to frame BE-savvy regulations. Some people claim the techniques developed through BE are helping governments and big corporations manipulate us without our knowing. Should we be scared?

Prof. Richard Thaler: "Make it easy for them to do it."

Thaler was reassuring on all this in his casual 5 minute chat on Radio 4 at the weekend:  Broadcasting House – Thaler on BE. Interestingly, he recognised the potential for manipulation and expressly disavowed BE as a method governments should use – or at least use secretly. Nudge was about getting the right outcomes, “as defined by the people who are being nudged.” This is a crucial point and, I think, one missed in much of the discussion of Nudge in the British political arena.

Thaler puts transparency in government above all. It is essential to ‘nudge’ measures working that people feel they are – and actually are – making a free choice. But when Thaler says the right outcomes are defined by the people being nudged, it does beg a question about how democracy works. Can a government, on the basis of its democratic mandate, then decide that the outcomes it wants are outcomes that the people want, as expressed through the ballot box? This would seem to go against Thaler’s aversion to government nudging and can’t be what he means. Yet how do the outcomes get defined, if not through democracy and some kind of majoritarian approach?

An example Thaler gives of a nudge he is happy with is one I have recently been nudged into doing myself – carrying an organ donation card. The reason I got one was I updated my driving licence. The government set up a system with the DVLA whereby every time someone renews their driving licence, they are asked if they want to carry an organ donor card. It’s called “prompted choice”. All I can say is, it worked on me. It was one of those things I always meant to do and never got around to doing – classic Nudge territory. And I’m not alone, it has apparently been a big success. Moves are afoot, says Thaler, to extend this to interactions with the NHS, so that people may be asked then too if they want a donor card. No harm and it’s a free choice – you can see why Thaler’s happy about it.

But what I don’t get is the difference between this and other forms of government nudging. Most people would agree that having more organs available for donation is a good thing. But how many people need to agree before it becomes a legitimate thing for the government to nudge people towards. 90 per cent? 80, 70, 60? 51? You could say that any government, by the very fact of its being in government, is obliged to have goals that involve impacting upon our behaviour: so doesn’t the government always have the right to set the Nudge outcomes? Isn’t this just what governments have always assumed was their purpose?

Chairman of the Board

I’ve had a really stimulating day today moderating an online community for some NPD work – with more to come this evening and the next three days on and off.

The training from 20/20 in the States was really clear I think, though getting set up is never as quick as people tell you. We’ve set up a few projectives / creative elements to this – and had some amazing dividends from that already. I’m wondering though whether the excellence of the first person’s response to one projective exercise is freaking out the others … she’s the only one to post on that one. We shall see.

The challenge for me is remembering who everyone is, especially as most of them haven’t uploaded profile pics yet. Juggling eight people’s perspectives in a group is one thing, but the slightly bigger numbers in a bulletin board community (we have 14) and stop-start nature of the interaction make it a different challenge. Remembering each person’s angle and narrative can require a lot of reading back. But the great thing with online communities is just that, it’s the ability to read back and cross-compare as you go. This one’s going very nicely so far: rich stuff.

Ken Dodd: he can look intellectual when he wants to

Hassling people to upload profile pics, I started feeling guilty: not everyone likes how they look. I certainly don’t. I wonder if I came across as some sort of body fascist or online creep by insisting on seeing my participants. But they can upload a picture of Ken Dodd for all I care, just as long as I have a visual hook to remember them by. And as this picture shows, even Ken Dodd can exude gravitas and urbanity on occasion (just not this one).

Of course I could just try remembering their names … don’t worry, I’m getting there.

Ancestry: taboos eroded by science

DNA, from Wired Magazine (so probably belonging to some design dude in Frisco)

Branding gets into the tiniest nooks and crannies, doesn’t it? Including our own biology.  For £340 you can buy the “Matriline and Y-Clan DNA Combo” pack from Oxford Ancestry Limited, run by Prof. Brian Sykes of Oxford University (whom you may remember from BBC’s Blood of the Vikings series). You send a DNA sample to their lab people and they can tell you what branches of humanity your ancestors mainly came from and give you a certificate to show your bored and possibly appalled friends. I’d actually really like to do it, I think it’s fascinating – and being married to someone of Eastern European background, I’d be fascinated to see our little boy’s ancestral mix. But a lot of people are quite wary of all this stuff. What interests me is how the taboo about exploring human ancestry is being broken down, apparently by the very existence of the scientific ability to do it now. Radio 4 made interesting listening on this last week: Radio 4 In Our Own Image – Evolving Humanity.

I’ve always been quite interested in human origins but for a long time, it wasn’t much debated or discussed in polite society. The disaster of early 20th Century flirtation with eugenics, epitomised (but not exclusively owned) by the Nazi “racial state”, cast a huge taboo-shaped shadow over this whole area. People agreed, for the greater good, that exploring human differences was just not healthy, with the inevitable popular misunderstandings of any science done potentially feeding racist agendas. So I suppose it must have been a tough time, for 40 or 50 years, to be an anthrozoologist, if that’s the term, piecing together the jigsaw of what our ancestors were up to.

Now we have books like Out of Eden and the Origins of the British by Prof. Stephen Oppenheimer, based on new DNE evidence as well as the archaeology and linguistics we were previously reliant upon. His work is captured nicely in this site, where you can click on a timeline showing the broad patterns of how the world was peopled: The Bradshaw Foundation: Human Journey. Meanwhile National Geographic is carrying out something called the Human Genographic Project around the world, which has attracted controversy. Its aim is to map the ancestry of the whole of humanity using DNA. NG have been particularly keen to gather DNA from remote groups with little outside contact, for obvious reasons of anthropological interest. But it’s been condemned by some as exploitative and potentially damaging these cultures through exposing them to a Western scientific understanding of themselves.

But using DNA to trace your ancestry is going to be huge business, I feel. Most people are fascinated to link themselves to ancestors, whether through the human interest angle taken by programmes like Who Do You Think You Are? or the tribal past explored by programmes like A History of Ancient Britain with the ubiquitous, neolithically-maned Neil Oliver. But tv and books can only tell you generalities about what happened to most people, the big picture stuff. What will have huge appeal, as more and more people become aware of services like Oxford Ancestry Ltd, is that it is personalised – it is uniquely you, your DNA. It carries tiny bits of the stories of each and every ancestor you have had. Quite how to understand all the information they give you may be another matter.

I am glad science is finding a way around this taboo. And so far, the results have already shown our greater understanding should actually bring people together rather than divide them. Realising how recently our entire species was contained on the continent of Africa brings humanity closer. By exploding many of our myths about national origins – for example showing that Anglo-Saxon invaders provide only about 5 per cent of the gene pool in England – they are doing us a service. The old grand assumptions about unique national origins and national destiny weren’t so great for inter-ethnic relations – my own home province of Northern Ireland being a prime example of how such beliefs can poison relations.

The new science is showing is how intermixed we all are – and how we can expect to be even more so in the future. A taboo then that we can let ourselves lose, as long as we are careful to remember the real lessons of the eugenicist and Nazi nightmare: not to stop scientific enquiry, but to regard equal respect for our fellow people and their human rights as overriding and non-negotiable.

Did I mention I am descended from generations of Yorkshire hat makers, among others? But also from people who crossed the Red Sea …

Summer’s Almost Gone

Audi on fire: this almost happened on our street, but didn't

… as Jim Morrison once sang, rather miserably. I’m not in that mournful place yet, but I have been away for what seems like a whole season, physically and mentally (and no, I haven’t been sectioned yet). So, a quick list of the highlights of the summer, in no particular order:

  • Britain has been torn apart by rioting, including the barely reported attempted torching of an Audi on my street in Oxford. I’m convinced there was a media conspiracy after about Day 3 to hide minor incidents from the public in order to besoothe the nation’s over-excited criminal underclass. A friend of mine dubbed it The Chav Spring. It made me laugh, so I’ve been repeating it to anyone who will listen. This is not to say there are no issues with the word “chav” – some of which I concur with – just that (1) there are also issues with the issues; and (2) IMHO, it just has an irresistible ring to it.
  • going way back here, it seems the world’s erstwhile leading media mogul is actually a kindly and vulnerable old man, who occasionally thumps his fist on the table in frustration with modern life, while axing titles for the wider public good.  His senior staff meanwhile have been recording a series of Celebrity Come Dine With Me, featuring most of the upper echelons of the Met and the Conservative and Labour Parties. So in recent years it’s been MPs, then the City, the Met, then journalists … all these people we, um, trusted and looked up to for their, um,  impeccable moral credentials … Once again, it will be left to market researchers to save the nation. Same old story.
  • I holidayed in Sicily, where I stayed in a mouse-infested house. When I remonstrated with the local agent in charge of the house, I started off being assertive, telling him we shouldn’t have to pay the full whack for the house. I then remembered I was effectively getting into an argument with a Sicilian over money, in Sicily, and we still had two nights to see out. In light of the phrase “Luca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes”, I backed down pathetically.
  • England won at cricket.
  • The bloke out of the Arctic Monkeys broke up with Alexa Chung. I always thought he was too good for her. Still, she has the Monkeys’ superb Suck It And See as a breaking up present. If you want to date acerbic indie stars, you’re going to get to end up on the wrong end of a lyric or two.
  • Wayne Rooney has acquired hair but lost my seven-year-old son’s affection for good, along with Ryan Giggs, “because they have both done adultery”. He now favours the chaste (seeming), home-spun Mexican child-man Chicharito.
  • As I write, a bemused and appalled John Humphreys is appearing on Shooting Stars – the pinnacle of anyone’s career – and forced to look at an erotic, if inaccurate, drawing of a rear view of himself by Vic Reeves.

What a summer. Can’t remember the rest.

Back to work in earnest this week and the first job is on … incontinence.

The life of a diplomat awaits

Play for the badge son

This is one ambassador’s reception where a handful of Ferrero Rocher is about the best the guests can hope for. I have agreed to become an “AQR Ambassador” – hoping it will be more like “Ambassador to the United Nations” than “Austin Ambassador”. Thanks Rose Molloy and Andrea Higgins for suggesting this, though Andrea explained there are no actual benefits to doing it. I think the idea is just to be general AQR helper. It sounds like a good way for me to start getting a bit more involved with the AQR. I strive not for glory, riches or immortality but for more sitting down opportunities at conference buffet lunches. Join my struggle.

Needless to say, my vision for this role will take a week or two to crystallise, so may have start properly on my return from this summer’s Mediterraneo-Adriatic wanderings.

Interesting Q Festival on 16th June. Sod’s Law operates on my diary after any learning event and, true to form, I hit a busy period immediately after it – so I’m only looking back over my notes now. I will post some thoughts, perhaps on the behavioural economics or semiotics talks, shortly. That last sentence was an example of the behavioural economics of self-control: by “publishing” this commitment I increase the chances of me doing it.

“Countries” and the UK: who do we think we are?

Location of Northern Ireland in the UK and Eur...
Image via Wikipedia

I was of course thrilled, as an Ulsterman, at Rory McIlroy‘s first major title win last night. Brilliant for what many Northern Ireland football fans call “Our Wee Country”. I’m always amused and intrigued by the semantic fog we disseminate, though, when we refer to parts of the UK as “countries”. It is common usage and therefore can’t be incorrect as such – but I do wonder how it must sound to non-British ears.

To most people around the world, their country in the context of international sport is an uncomplicated thing – it’s their actual country, a nation state, with international borders, an army, a seat in the UN and that kind of thing. I can only think they must be baffled when they hear a Welshman, an Ulsterman or a Scot talking about playing for their country and then realise they are playing for what in any other nation would be called their region – or some other word which is a different from the word they use for the whole nation. And God knows what they make of an Ulsterman talking about playing rugby, hockey or cricket for Ireland – an entity made up of one independent country and one province of another country combined. In Ireland, we get to play for a “country” that not only isn’t a nation state but hasn’t even been a country in the intra-British Isles sense since 1921. Curiouser and curiouser.

In football, the UK operates as four separate “countries”. Every other international team in the world is a nation state team. We have this for historical reasons: the first “international” football fixture in the 19th Century was England v Scotland. International football’s genesis was in matches between parts of the United Kingdom.

It’s easy to forget now that we’re all crap how central Britain was to the start of organised football, especially in the years before FIFA organised and British, more specifically English, pre-eminence in the game until after World War 2. England did not lose to a non-British team at home until 1954. So British football was able to negotiate separate nation status within FIFA for its four associations, the FA, SFA, WFA and IFA. We got in early and so have been able to keep this arrangement. Catalunya doesn’t get an international team; nor Bavaria; nor Bohemia. We are incredibly lucky to have this and we have to acknowledge we have it on the basis of history, not fairness.

As a Northern Ireland supporter, long may it continue, as long as the rest of the world doesn’t mind. What bothers me though is the home FAs’ unwillingness to take part in a pan-British national team for 2012 Olympics: BBC News: London 2012 British football team. They are apparently worried they will lose their international status if they take part in it. This despite crystal clear statements from FIFA that they won’t lose any such status and that FIFA indeed encourages them to take part in the British Olympic team.

This is a case of football administrators being both blinkered and self-important; and it’s not just them, many British football supporters have this same mentality. But if you see Britain objectively, in global terms, this kind of in-fighting within one small country like ours seems myopic and petty-minded. Imagine Spain not managing a team if they were hosting the Olympics. Who do we think we are?

The Olympics will be hugely entertaining and there will be massive interest in the football. Not to have a UK team representing the host nation would be bizarre in the extreme, especially as we used to enter a British team and indeed have won gold. But it’s also a mark of continued British failure to see ourselves as others see us – a middling Western European democracy and not a titan bestriding the world.

Happily, it seems there will be a team of some sort – as a last resort it could be an English-only team. But how sad it would be if there were no Scots, Northern Irish or Welsh in the squad. We need to get over ourselves: if we are four “countries” (in a sense of the word that is all our own), we have also chosen to be a single country (in the sense of the word the rest of the world understands). This isn’t to play down our strong identities in Ulster (at least two of them there), Scotland and Wales, just to put them in a bit of perspective.

Drive-by shoutings

The greatest living pop lyricists, Half Man Half Biscuit, play Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Friday. Yes, they are still going. And like the Fall, some of the recent stuff is among their best. Their last album, CSI: Ambleside, boasted the classics Bad Losers on Yahoo Chess and Took Problem Chimp To Ideal Home Show.

I could have been like Lou Barlow / But I'm more like Ken Barlow

They are, by any definition, a cult band. As such they have a group of avid followers and they have organised a voting cup competition for fans to vote for their favourite songs – done in a series of knock-out rounds after an initial group phase – the Lux Familiar Cup.

We have now reached the final and it’s time to vote for either What is Chatteris? or A Country Practice.

I could ramble at length about HMHB as the most acerbic and funny lyrical observers of the minutiae of British life and pop culture you could come across. But for now, I have placed my vote and if anyone else wishes to, here’s the link: Half Man Half Biscuit: The Lux Familiar Cup Final


Stewart Lee’s anti-marketing

British comedian Stewart Lee.
10 years in a (poorly selected) open-necked shirt: Stewart Lee – Image via Wikipedia

Really enjoyed this little snippet – actually a trailer shown before the start of the second series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, but I’ve just seen it. (It’s time-shifted media consumption, you understand, not my being a bit all over the shop). Stewart Lee’s Social Network Marketing. The topical element to this is that the series ended last night. A beautiful piece of tv comedy in its own right, but as it touches on marketing and social media, worth a quick line here.

As someone who follows a number of comedians on twitter, I have to agree with the point Stewart Lee made in the FT a couple of weeks ago about the over-hyping of 140 character comedy. Perhaps it is an art form in its own right, but a lot of following comedians on twitter reveals what we knew anyway – that the best comedy is crafted and honed over time. Some comedy of course can be about quick spontaneous wit – the election debates last year were much enhanced by the running commentaries of Quantick, Addison and others. But guess what, comedians aren’t funny all the time. And when they perform, they do the same stuff over and over (as regular comedy goers will know), honing and changing slightly as they go. Often the funniest version is the 10th or 11th iteration of a line. And many of them have settled into a fairly pedestrian stream of “here’s what I’m doing now”. That’s fine, it’s sort of what twitter’s about: but in awe of the comedy greatness I ain’t.

This series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, for example, was basically the material of the Vegetable Stew tour, which Lee had taken around the country over several months. The “IRA – Gentleman Bombers” routine – the best observed put down of those fools I’ve ever heard – was first performed years ago. As a graduate of Marc Blake’s comedy writing nightclass (in the heady autumn of 1998 when the world was young and anything seemed possible) and writer of unpublished comic masterpiece Hit The North, slaving for days to make a single line funny – often without success – I feel I have earned the right to pontificate on this topic. Though not the right to be given adulation and riches by the UK’s leading publishing houses.

The kind of wit you get on twitter is not what Lee does – the build up of a mood and a narrative, the repetition, the awkward silences. Lee, as a comedy devotee, is at his most passionate and funny when he’s sounding off about other comedians – which he does disconcertingly frankly and unkindly. And he is funny with it. I loved his parody of US stand-ups (You Tube: Stewart Lee on American stand-ups) or British observational humour (his interminable rambling about receipts; or the bit from last night’s show about the way there used to be stuff and now there isn’t stuff).  And he’s noticed something true about stand-up comedy in Britain in 2011. It has become an efficient industry; the quality is actually OK, most of the stuff on tv is fine, it’s not awful. But there is something depressingly samey about the endless merry-go-round of these guys with their trainers and their loose shirts. I don’t hate Michael McIntyre as much as Lee does though. He made it big for good reason, because his own live act really shone a couple of years ago when he made the breakthrough (much to my surprise – I’d hated him on Mock The Week). But when you see a few in a row on his roadshow, it does have you longing for something I used to hate in comedy shows – a musical interlude. An anything interlude.

Lee trashes the marketing of comedy of course. But he realises any performer is part of this marketing. Actually you can’t not market yourself if you’re going around the country performing to the public; even doing nothing is making a statement about who you are. And Lee is a classic case of seeing a crowded marketplace with little differentiation and finding a niche by doing something different. He defines himself as much by what he is not, in comedy terms, as by what he is – and so is a (probably unwilling but almost certainly knowing) purveyor of a “post Naomi Klein” kind of non-marketing marketing.

What I like about Stewart Lee’s approach to all this is the relish with which he welcomes the most vitriolic criticism of his act (see for example Stewart Lee’s prized collection of bad reviews). Lee feeds off the scorn and bafflement of those that don’t get him. He can do this because he knows he is a special comedian and he knows the alternative comedy establishment, the Armando Iannuccis, Arthur Mathewses and Chris Morrises, revere him. This gives him great power. His reputation is so grand now that he can bring critics down just by naming them. When he revealed in How I Escaped My Certain Fate that Robbie Williams hated his show and thought it was boring, it’s Robbie Williams who went down in the estimation (though, with his sub-Elton John fake Texan vocal delivery, he was never very high in mine anyway).

Stampede of the Social Animals – more BE

David Brooks is the latest author to bring the reality of what goes on in the human mind into the public realm and the popular consciousness, with The Social Animal. Here he is talking about it (thanks RSA!) David Brooks video.

Good timing as I’m reading Richard Layard‘s Happiness at the moment (in short, his review of the statistics internationally revealed that what matters are:

  • family relationships
  • financial situation
  • work
  • community and friends
  • health

Two other factors he calls personal freedom and personal values can be added. Factors that make not so much difference to happiness: physical energy, mental energy, IQ, looks, age, gender, educational achievement. Worth a read on why “the current pursuit of self-realisation will not work”. I think he’s especially good on what he calls “the hedonic treadmill” – where we get used to what we acquire and get decreasing happiness returns:

“If we do not foresee that we get used to our material possessions, we shall over-invest in acquiring them, at the expense of our leisure. People do underestimate this process of habituation. As a result, our life can get distorted towards working and making money, and away from other pursuits.”

I am yet to read the Brooks book but am interested to see how someone from, broadly, the American right processes the same kind of insights into human behaviour, habits and motivations. His emphasis on the need to recognise humans as essentially social animals is interesting and could take the political right in the US in the kind of direction Philip Blond and others have started to do with the British right. But this return to civic engagement and community needs more than people believing in it; it needs people to have the opportunity to do it, fairly easily. Cue Thaler & Sunstein’s Nudge.

In much of the West, this means we have to wean ourselves off a long hours working culture. At some stage, we need to stop thinking about all this and just start doing it: go to the PTA meeting, come home on time, ignore the iPhone at the weekend. Easier said than done.

I do think the rise of behavioural science is a huge vindication for the approaches understanding people that we have been taking in qualitative research for a long time now. The recent AQR course on behavioural economics confirmed that. Those present were fired with the need to focus ever more strongly on observing actual behaviour and get away from reported behaviour and research participants’ post-rationalised self-explanations. But I was also struck in Layard’s book, as well as in Daniel Nettle’s Personality, how much leading academics are finding that self-reports on things like happiness levels and personality traits are remarkably accurate. So asking ‘why’ still has plenty of uses in qual. As Wendy Gordon pointed out, we don’t need to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but we do need to look harder at how behaviour changes happen and not fall back on a ‘why’ in a discussion group in quite as reflex a way as we sometimes have.



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