Tackling the ethical approval process

Forms over function: Ethics, ethnography and the NHS

by Carol Robinson

At times last year I forgot that I was doing a PhD. It’s not that I was having a wild time as a student. No, by 9am every day I turned up to the office my department has kindly provided, settled down at my desk and worked solidly until some point after 5pm. Some of that time I’d be keeping on top of email, or attending departmental meetings, but mostly, I was working. Twitter doesn’t distract me, I had an organised weekly list of things to do that I worked through, and things were progressing nicely, thank you.

So why did I forget that I was working towards a PhD? Because for most of that time everything I did was aimed at getting ethical approval for my research. So it was almost a shock to look up and remember that wasn’t really my goal. My goal is to do the PhD research, to contribute to human knowledge and understanding, and to do it in a way that improves people’s lives. For a while however, compiling what became 91 pages of ethics forms plus supporting documents and all the bureaucracy that goes with that completely eclipsed the research.

I always knew I’d need to get ethical approval for my work. What I didn’t appreciate was how time-consuming, frustrating and complicated this would be. I used to listen to other people’s stories of wrestling with UK’s Integrated Research Application System, or with the NHS Health Research Authority’s byzantine processes and think either that they were exaggerating for effect or that perhaps their project wasn’t, well, good enough. I’d had approval from the prison service for England and Wales for two previous research projects; how hard could it be? I now apologise whole-heartedly that these thoughts even crossed my mind.

I did make life harder for myself by wanting to research dying prisoners, thus requiring both health service and prison service approval, as well as that of my University. The prison service process was fairly straightforward and familiar. The real trouble was with the NHS processes, and with the relationship between the three bodies. What kept me going for several weeks, as I tried to untangle the mass of acronyms and synonyms involved, was the thought that I was gaining useful experience. At the end of all this, I thought, I’ll be able to put on my CV that I understand the process, know how to fill in the form and could liaise with a health Research Ethics Committee. Not true. The process is so capricious that all such an entry in my CV would prove is that I once had the mental fortitude to see an application through to its conclusion.

Although my colleagues will tell you I sighed out loud quite a bit, I did make it through the time when an overnight update to the IRAS website hived my answers off into two separate forms, one of which I couldn’t see. I didn’t scream when I discovered just before submission that this should be changed back to one form. I stayed cheerful as my participant information sheet, carefully written to suit people not that keen on reading, expanded to yet another page with all the extra information I was asked to include. I only muttered a modest amount when asked to add the (to the participants) totally meaningless IRAS reference number to it. I maintained my outward equilibrium whilst I confirmed I would not be doing things I’d never thought of (wearing clerical dress was my favourite such request, closely followed by audio-recording outside of interviews). But I confess my heart did sink when someone I was relying on to understand what should happen next said this would be a learning process for them too.

Being a reasonable person, I did appreciate that part of the difficulty was that I was having to fit getting approval for sociological research into a process intended for clinical trials. The mismatch only seems to be partly recognised by the bodies responsible. So, whilst there’s a protocol template to complete aimed at qualitative research, I still had to say I wasn’t using ionising radiation or using human tissue samples. And whilst there are ways to amend the project once it’s been approved, there’s no appreciation that good sociological research is often iterative. Instead, there’s the assumption that you will know all possible scenarios in advance. With this comes an assumed relationship to the research participants; they are to be the subjects, not the co-creators of research knowledge. There is no scope for an understanding of ethical research that deviates from a generic (clinical) ideal, and consequently, the best of a discipline’s specific characteristics and of its newer research methodologies can be lost. I say newer, but in practice even my well established chosen ethnographic methodologies sit uncomfortably with the process of getting ethical approval from a health research authority.

There was a tendency in the guidelines provided to use language in unexpected ways. Have you ever had that experience of all the words making sense individually, but being incomprehensible when put together? I found myself trying to draft emails to effectively ask “so if ‘host organisation’ doesn’t mean ‘the organisation hosting the research’, what does it mean?” I struggled, along with my supervisors, and it turned out, the ethics committee staff, to understand what the REC had wanted when it asked whether I had an ‘honorary contract’. Later on, the REC asked if the scientific validity of the study has been confirmed independently of the academic supervisors, giving as an example of how this might be achieved “a University PhD review process”. None of us, not my academic supervisors, not the university ‘sponsor’ that I’d discovered along the way was also needed, knew what this meant. We were stumped, and resorted to gently approaching a professor elsewhere to see if they could provide such an independent scientific review, and quickly. In the end, this was not needed –all that was meant was would the University’s ethics committee be looking at it. Yes, of course.

There were funny moments too. Having had my application reviewed by a Research Ethics Committee that met in Essex, I then discovered how similarly I pronounce ‘Ethics’ and ‘Essex’, on the phone, to a poor, kindly person trying to understand which ethics committee had looked at it. Eventually, I said, “the one that met in Chelmsford” and we moved on. Having three ethics committees look at your work is not fun. As things are, it’s inevitable for research such as this, but unsurprisingly their expectations are not always compatible. The prison service doesn’t want any contact details for external people, such as academic supervisors, included on Participant Information Sheets; the NHS expects this. The University wants email addresses only; prisoners don’t have email. The NHS REC regarded the notices that prison governors would issue to let prisoners and staff know about the research as ‘posters’ that the REC should scrutinise, so needed the final text agreeing before I could get their approval – 6 months in advance of the governor issuing the text. Prison governors are incredibly busy people, so I am indebted to them for having calmly accepted this.

There is, outwardly, plenty of advice available on NHS websites. Much of it is out of date, hard to find, or impossible to understand. There are flow charts describing a parallel world, ‘start here’ guides buried beyond discovery, and directories that are out of date. Lovely, kind and supportive staff within the NHS R&D offices or working with RECs do their best, but if your project is unusual, there are things they can’t be expected to know, such as that there’s a limited number of Health RECs who will look at prison applications, until it’s nearly too late.

I’m not alone in this. In my struggle to understand the process, I came across numerous articles by academics similarly venting their frustrations, including one that fairly calmly reflecting on the problems, before revealing that their own project had spent the entire initial research budget trying to get permissions for research. Wiser people before me have also found that processes designed for quantitative-based medical interventions and clinical trials cannot adjust to the needs of qualitative research. And yet not much seems to have changed. My gripes may seem small, but behind them is a bigger issue, that of the imbalance of power between researchers and research ethics committees and the lack of accountability of the people, some experts, some lay people, appointed to make such important decisions.

So now I have all the ethical approvals I need, 10 months after I first starting filling in the forms, I’m remembering fondly why I’m here. It comes in flashes; the possibility of time to open that new book I’ve been eyeing up, something on the news that reminds me of the relevance of my research interests, a chance conversation with a colleague. Best of all was a recent conversation with a senior manager at one of the prisons I’ll be visiting for fieldwork. We’d not spoken before, but within minutes she’d reminded me why I’m doing this, why it matters that I’ve survived through all these hurdles. Out there are people who are doing their best in tough circumstances, and good quality research may just be able to help them. I’m looking forward to getting on with it.


Emotion Rules in Feminist Book Reviews: An Inroad to Improving Feminist Relationships

By: Lisa Kalayji

WAB 2Swimming through the endless tidal wave of demoralising political think pieces and scholarly jibber-jabber in my mostly academic Twitter feed, I came upon an account called ‘ShitMyReviewersSay’, which features the cruelly scathing comments that anonymous peer reviewers write about the hopefully-to-be-published academic journal articles of their colleagues. The account’s handle? @YourPaperSucks.

Its purpose, other than to give us an opportunity to chuckle at what, under different circumstances, makes us want to either cry or set a university building ablaze, is to highlight the absurd magnitude of the viciousness that peer reviewers will direct at their colleagues when given a chance to do so anonymously.

It’s cathartic to have a laugh at this sort of thing, but when it doesn’t come in the form of a satirical Twitter account, our reaction is a lot different. ‘What the hell?!’ we wonder incredulously. ‘Couldn’t you express your criticism in a less ruthless and petty way? What good does it do you to ruin someone’s day and treat their carefully nurtured brainchild of a paper like garbage?’

ShitMyReviewersSay reminded me of the book reviews in Trouble and Strife, the radical feminist magazine I’m doing my PhD research with.

Trouble and Strife published a fair number of book reviews – feminists write a lot of books! – and over the course of my research I’ve found that there’s a vast deal we can learn about a group of people, be they academics, radical feminists, or any other group, from the way they review each other’s writing.

My research is about emotion culture: the system of rules and social norms that prevail in a society or social group which affect how people feel emotionally and how they express those emotions. Book reviews contain a treasure trove of clues about the emotion culture of the social group that the reviews come from, but in order to see those clues, you need to know some of the things sociologists have learned over the last few decades about how emotions work.

Emotions are relational

As the term ‘relational’ suggests, emotions come up in relationships between people. Because psychology dominates the popular lexicon we use to talk about and make sense of emotions, we tend to think of emotions as states which exist inside of us, are linked to our neurochemistry and our personal histories, and are mostly governed by things like innate human needs for social bonding. All of those things are partially true, but what the sociological study of emotions has revealed is that emotions are actually relational.

Why we feel the way we do in any given situation is constituted by our relationships to the people and things around us and what we understand those things to be and mean.

There isn’t anything in our genetic code that makes us get annoyed when a friend we’re supposed to meet for lunch shows up half an hour late (though our biology is necessary for us to be able to experience feelings), and the feeling of annoyance isn’t something inside of us that emanates outward through the things we say or do (though we do express emotions in that way). We’re annoyed at someone (that’s the relation), and the reason for that annoyance is what we think the lateness signifies. We’re busy people! Don’t they think we have better things to do than sit around waiting? We have to be back at work soon – now we’re going to have to rush through lunch! Our awareness that our friend knows that it’s considered rude to keep someone waiting and that it’s an inconvenience to us is what makes us annoyed – their indifference to our needs and to the agreed conventions of how keeping a lunch date with someone works creates our feeling. Likewise, though, if we found out that they’d been delayed because a stranger attacked them on the street and nearly broke their jaw, our annoyance would quickly give way to concern – what their lateness showed about our relationship to them would have changed, and with it, our feelings about it.

Emotions are subject to rules

Much like there are social rules about how we’re supposed to behave in different sorts of situations, there are also rules about how we’re supposed to feel and how we’re supposed to express feelings. If an adult is audibly crying at, say, a fancy restaurant or a business meeting, that would seem inappropriate, and probably make everyone around them quite uncomfortable. If they were at a funeral, however, that would be considered normal and appropriate, and no one would be bothered.

Even if feelings aren’t expressed, there are rules about how we’re supposed to feel.

If, for example, you’re a bit off your game at work because your sister died last week and you’re in grief, and while not actually admonishing you for it, you get the sense that your boss is annoyed with you for not being your sharpest self right now, you might get upset or angry at them. When someone is in grief, we expect others to respond with compassion, even if that grief peripherally causes some inconvenience to others – it’s a violation of the social norms of compassion and empathy to get annoyed at someone for being grieved, even if the annoyance is mostly hidden and not openly expressed. The rules are also different depending on what the characteristics of the people involved are. If that person crying in the restaurant is an infant, while people might still not be pleased about the noise, it wouldn’t make them feel awkward and uncomfortable, because we consider it normal behaviour for babies to cry regardless of time or place.

These are all some general aspects of how emotions in social life work in ordinary social situations. What my research is about, though, is the specifically political dimension of emotions in social life.

Social norms about emotions are deeply political, even in most seemingly innocuous daily interactions like those I described above. Rules about who is allowed to feel or express what feelings towards whom divides along a lot more political lines than the differences between adults and children. Anger is generally considered more appropriate in men than in women (and in women is more likely to be characterised as histrionics or emotional instability), and vulnerability more appropriate in women than in men (with men’s abilities to be ‘proper’ men called into question if they cry, especially in public). Rules about emotions are also racialised – even very slight expressions of anger from black men are interpreted as very threatening because black men are culturally conceived of as inherently threatening, while much stronger expressions of anger from white men (or women) are regarded as less threatening and are more likely to be considered justified. Our prevailing cultural conceptions about what characteristics different kinds of people innately have give rise to specific, and often strictly socially enforced, rules about who can feel what and how their feelings can be expressed.

Emotions in feminist book reviews

Feminists do a lot of writing, and a lot about how emotions work in feminism can be learned from examining the books, magazines, pamphlets, manifestos, and websites they write. I’m researching radical feminism, a specific type of feminism (there are a lot of them) which emerged during the ‘second wave’ of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s, and continues today. From 1983-2002, a radical feminist collective the UK published a magazine called Trouble and Strife, and a lot of radical feminist political thought from that period can be found there.

WAB 1Because feminist politics is so substantially borne out through reading and writing, one of the central strategies that feminists use to think through politics is by reading and debating one another’s writing. For that reason, unsurprisingly, Trouble and Strife published quite a few book reviews, wherein contributing authors to the magazine reviewed books authored by other feminists. By comparing these reviews, and the responses to them that readers communicated to the magazine through letters to the editors, we can see radical feminist emotional politics in action.

What I’ve found is that the emotion rules in radical feminism are different for relationships between radical feminists than they are when dealing with someone outside that political community. When dealing with fellow radical feminists, they’re more considerate of one another’s feelings, express their criticisms more hesitantly and gently, and are more appreciative of the aspects of the work that they agree with. On the rare occasion that someone breaks this rule and is harshly critical of someone within the radical feminist community, there’s a strong backlash, with others writing letters to the magazine to express strong objections to those criticisms having been published, and some questioning the political identity of the magazine as a whole in light of their decision to publish exacting reviews.

This will ring true for many feminists who currently engage in online activism, who are familiar with the more receptive audiences within their own political communities, and harsher (and sometimes outright vitriolic) criticism from feminists who have a fundamentally different set of political values.

This has profound implications for the future of feminism: if feminists who disagree on crucial political issues are more willing to upset one another, and less desirous of understanding where others are coming from, then we’re likely to see a continuation of the entrenched infighting that has plagued feminism for decades. I’m not suggesting here that we should return to the ‘happy sisterhood’ of yesteryear (which, as many feminists have pointed out, never actually existed). What I do want to highlight, though, is that if we want to understand why conflicts between feminists get so heated and can be so divisive, understanding the emotion rules which give shape to feminists’ relationships with each other is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Once we become more aware of these rules and how our own feelings are shaped by them, we can act to change them, and while this won’t solve all of feminism’s problems, it can go a long way toward generating more fruitful dialogues between feminists who belong to different political communities.

This strategy can be extended to other social movements as well, and it has rarely been a matter of more urgency than it is right now for social movements to be able to prevent the breakdown of their political projects due to irreconcilable conflicts from within their communities. During the currently ongoing period of rapid and disorientating social and political change, understanding the emotion rules of social movements can help us to ensure that efforts to enact positive social change are successful, and examining the way we speak to, speak of, and write about one another is one tool we can use for making sense of our emotion cultures.

You can find all issues of Trouble and Strife on their website at troubleandstrife.org.

Women are literally boring….

By: Laurie Winkless

Tunnels, that is. All over the world, Tunnel Boring Machines (or TBMs) are chewing their way through the packed subterranean network of your nearest city. But something you might not know is that they’re all given women’s names. Naming a machine after a human isn’t that weird, right? Many of us have named our cars after all, but it goes a bit deeper for TBMs. According to tunnelling tradition, a TBM cannot start work until it is officially named. But exactly where we got the tradition of naming them after women remains a bit of a mystery.

Some sources suggest that it comes from the 16th century, when miners, armourers, and artillerymen prayed to Saint Barbara. Legend has it that Barbara’s father had locked her in a windowless tower when he found out about her conversion to Christianity. Later, a flash of lightning struck him dead, and since then, all trades associated with darkness and the use of explosives have recognised Barbara as their patron saint. Today’s tunnel engineers see themselves as fitting that description, and so give TBMs women’s names in Barbara’s honour. Others suggest that the tradition comes from the link between miners and ship-builders – their physical strength and similar skills often saw men switch between trades as the need arose. Boats have long been given the pronoun ‘she’ (again for reasons unknown), so perhaps using women’s names for tunnelling machines started there?

Regardless of its beginnings, this tradition is carried out throughout the world today, as a sign of good luck for the project ahead. And, perhaps surprisingly in our increasingly secular world, most tunnelling projects still erect a shrine to Saint Barbara at the tunnel entrance.

I am a massive fan of TBMs. Here I am looking very excited in a TBM- tunnel under the streets of London. If I lived my life again, I think I’d be a tunnelling engineer. (Credit: Laurie Winkless)

Anyway, before we meet some of the First Ladies of the Underground, let have a quick look at how they work. First off, TBMs are huge. Bertha, the largest TBM in the world, is currently working her way under Seattle. She has a diameter of 17.5m, is 99 m long, and weighs over 6,000 tonnes. If we measure her in units of ‘double decker buses’ – she’s as tall as four parked on top of one another, as long as eight parked nose-to-tail, and weighs as much as 467 of them. So it’s no surprise that she’s usually referred to as ‘Big Bertha’.

So what do TBM’s like Bertha do with all that…girth? In their simplest form, TBMs are cylinder-shaped machines that can munch their way through almost any rock type. As I mentioned in my book, Science and the City, TBMs are generally referred to as ‘moles’, but I prefer to think of them as earthworms. Worms eat, push forward and expel whatever is left over, and while there are lots of different types of TBM, they pretty much all do those same three things.

Image credit: Crossrail

At the front, TBMs have a circular face covered in incredibly hard teeth made from a material called tungsten carbide. As the cutter-head rotates, it breaks up the rock in front of it. This excavated material is swallowed through an opening in the face (some would call it a mouth) and it is carried inside the body of the TBM using a rotating conveyor belt. There, it is mixed with various additives (rather like saliva or stomach acid in some animals) that turn the rock into something with the consistency, if not the minty-freshness, of toothpaste. After digestion, this goo is expelled out of the back of the TBM, and it travels along a conveyor belt, until it reaches a processing facility above ground. There, the goo is filtered and treated, with much of it reused in other building projects.

Because of their shape, TBMs produce smooth tunnel walls, which can then be lined using curved segments of concrete. TBMs manage this part of the process too – many metres behind the cutter-head, large robotic suction arms called erectors (stop giggling) pick up and place the concrete panels, to form a complete ring. As the TBM moves forward, more and more of these rings are put into place, until the tunnel is fully clad. In this way, cities across the globe can produce fully-lined tunnels at the rather impressive rate of 100 m per week.

Enough background. Time to meet some of the TBMs boldly going where no machine-named-after-a-woman has gone before.

London – Ada, Phyllis, Victoria, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia, Jessica and Ellie

Crossrail is Europe’s biggest engineering project. Since 2009, they’ve constructed two brand-new, 21 km-long tunnels across London, running east-west. To do this, they used eight TBMs, and as tradition dictates, each was given a woman’s name, selected by members of the public. The first six machines were named after historical London figures, whilst the final two machines were named after ‘modern day heroes’. Because two TBM’s excavate parallel tunnels at the same time, they’re also named in pairs.

Image credit: Crossrail

– Mary and Sophia: These two excavated Crossrail’s new Thames Tunnel, between Plumstead and North Woolwich. They were named after the wives of Isambard and Marc Brunel, the famous engineers who constructed London’s first Thames Tunnel over 150 years ago. The women were a lot faster than their hubbies though – the original tunnel took 16 years to construct. This one was completed in just eight months.

Victoria and Elizabeth: Can you guess which women from history these TBMs were named after?! Yep, Queenie #1 and #2. In the citation, the reason given was that “Victoria was monarch in the first age of great railway engineering projects and Elizabeth is the monarch at the advent of this great age.” Victoria and Elizabeth excavated the tunnels that run between Canning Town and Farringdon, finishing the job in May 2015. As an aside, the Crossrail route itself will appear on tube maps as ‘The Elizabeth Line’, which is disappointingly predictable. I was rooting for ‘The Brunel Line’ myself, but hey.

Ada and Phyllis: These may be my favourites – named after the world’s first computer scientist, Ada Lovelace, and Phyllis Pearsall, who single-handedly created the London A-Z. Lovelace was a woman before her time – without her work, Charles Babbage and his ‘analytical engine’ would have been nothing more than a rich-man and his hobby. Pearsall, on the other hand, got lost on the way to a party in 1935, and decided the maps were inadequate. She walked a total of 3,000 miles to compile the first comprehensive street map of the city. Their Crossrail reincarnations drove west from Farringdon station, laying the groundwork for the second stage of the project.

Jessica and Ellie: These names were selected by primary school children from East London, and they come from heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and swimmer Ellie Simmonds, who won gold medals at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics held in the city. Like their human counterparts, these TBMs were hard-working, each excavating two sections of Crossrail’s route.

London has two brand-new TBMs too, which will be working on the extension to the tube’s Northern Line – the line I spent almost all of my 13 years in London living on. Like Crossrail’s Jessica and Ellie, the names of the newbies – each weighing in at 650 tonnes (or 50 double-decker buses) – were selected by schoolchildren. They drew inspiration from pioneering women in aviation. One is named Amy, after Amy Johnson, the first female pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia. And the second is Helen, named after the first British astronaut, Helen Sharman.

Seattle – Big Bertha

What more can I say about Bertha? Well, she was named after one of Seattle’s early mayors. In fact, Bertha K. Landes was the city’s first and only female mayor…. And she’s still widely regarded as one of the best they ever had. She fought against police corruption and dangerous drivers, and advocated for municipal ownership of the Seattle City Light and street railways. In 2013, Bertha-the-TBM started her long journey across the city, excavating a multilevel road tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. But just six months into the project, Bertha ground to a halt. Investigations showed that some of Bertha’s cutting teeth had been severely damaged by a large steel pipe embedded in the ground that hadn’t shown up on surveys. Over the next two years (yes, really), construction engineers dug a recovery pit, so that they could access the machine’s cutter-head, and partially replace it. Bertha resumed tunnel boring in late December, 2015. As I type, she’s also on a pause because of some misalignment, but this stoppage is expected to be temporary. Poor Bertha.

Image credit: Washington State Department of Transportation

Auckland – Alice

Since moving to New Zealand in December, I’ve had a bit of rail-infrastructure-shaped gap in my life. Thankfully, Kiwis are also fans of TBMs, but they tend to use them for road tunnels. The latest one to finish her work is Alice – a 3200 tonne (246 buses) TBM that spent the last two years carving a path between Auckland’s major transport routes. Alice’s tunnel connects State Highway 16 and State Highway 20, and once it opens in April/May 2017, it will complete the city’s ring road. Having recently spent more than an hour in Auckland traffic heading to the airport, I can attest to how much the road is needed! Since finishing her tour of duty, Alice has since gone to a farm when she can roam free amongst all of the other TBMs…. Oh if only this were true. In reality, the largest sections of the machine are being shipped back to her German manufacturer. There, her components will be used to build another TBM. So it’s not been a bad life, I guess.

San Francisco – Mom Chung

Mom Chung is another TBM that has already done her job and is now ‘in retirement’. She is named after Dr. Margaret Chung, the first American-born female Chinese physician, who practiced medicine in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. During World War II, she took lots of American servicemen under her wing, earning her the nickname ‘Mom’. Legend has it that when one of her ‘sons’ became a congressman, he filed the legislation to create a female branch of the Navy, in response to pressure from Mom, who was a firm supporter of women in the military. Mom Chung-the-TBM built the southbound central subway tunnel in San Francisco, and even had a Twitter account for a while.

Of course, actual, real-life women work alongside (and inside) these machines. As more women are attracted into engineering, tunnelling is no longer solely a male pursuit. Women still make up a small percentage (around 11% of the UK construction sector, for example), but those numbers are slowly growing. So no matter which way you look at it, women are literally boring. Tunnelling is awesome.

*** You can follow Laurie on Twitter @laurie_winkless. She also wants to say thank you to Dr Jess Wade for inspiring this article. If you love science and very cool doodles, you can also follow Jess on Twitter – she’s @jesswade


Austerity, women and health inequalities in the UK

by Amy Greer Murphy, Durham University

My PhD is part of a five year research project entitled ‘Local Health Inequalities in an Age of Austerity: The Stockton-on-Tees study’. It’s a mixed method case study exploring the localised impacts of austerity on health. My role is examining the experiences of women living in Stockton using qualitative research.

A few key terms

Austerity refers to attempts to reduce government deficits through spending cuts and sometimes tax increases. Across Europe, austerity was implemented in many countries, such as Greece and Ireland, as a precondition of receiving bailouts in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. In the UK, a major restructuring of the public sector and welfare system has been undertaken since 2010.

Neoliberalism refers to the application of free market principles to public policy. It has been enacted in the UK since Thatcher’s Conservative government came to power in the 1980s and has comprised of deregulation (e.g. of the banking and financial system), privatisation (e.g. of bus and rail services) and, more recently, austerity (e.g. extensive welfare reforms).

‘Health inequalities’ refer to disparities in life expectancy and years of health life (‘mortality’ and ‘morbidity’) within and across nations. There is a gradient in all countries – those with more socio-economic resources also have better health (Marmot, 2010). In the UK, health inequalities are widening since austerity began. Schrecker and Bambra (2015) have referred to the process of widening health inequalities and liberalised economic and social policies as a ‘neoliberal epidemic’.

Austerity and inequality in the UK

The UK is a large country, and one of great social contrasts. The contrasts that are relevant to my research are related to inequality of opportunity, resources, health, and the government policies, political decisions and historical legacies that bring these about. The North East has experienced a huge restructuring of its’ social landscape in recent decades. Mining, heavy industry and manufacturing have all but ceased to operate there. The jobs that once provided decent incomes and rooted people to their communities, providing clear routes through the lifecourse and class allegiances, have slipped away. In their place are zero hour contracts in care homes and nurseries, seasonal work in factories and as agency staff providing security in shopping centres.

Through this research process I have tried to understand what neoliberalism and austerity feel like if you’re not on the winning side of them, focussing on gender and class. I’ve then tried to see the wider connection to globalised economies and deregulated financial markets.


One of the ways austerity is affecting places and people differently is through health. In Stockton-on-Tees, the gap in life expectancy for men is the largest in all of England, at 17.3 years, and one of the widest for women, at 11.4 (Public Health England, 2015). If you are a man born in one of the wealthier, typically less urbanised parts of Stockton you can expect, on average, to live 17.3 years longer, and more of those years in good health, than a man born just a short walk away, in a more built-up and less well-off part of town. You are also at a higher risk of cardio-vascular disease, obesity, cancer, mental health issues, suicide, alcoholism, to be more socially isolated, have a worse paying, precarious job or no job at all, and to be at the mercy of an increasingly retrenched welfare state for your income and livelihood. The picture for women is similar, but different in crucial ways I will explore later.

This, of course, isn’t the picture for everyone in Stockton; I don’t want to paint a doomsday caricature (Benefits Street, the Channel 4 show, made a noble attempt at that in 2014 with their ‘poverty porn’ foray into life on Kingston Road). Stockton is steeped in a proud industrial legacy, is surrounded by beautiful dales and hills, has a vibrant town centre, and is home to thousands of people of all kinds who are creating thriving and enduring communities. Undeniably, however, government policy is making the lives of an increasing number of its residents tougher.

The research topic

Women face a distinct set of risks under austerity, as their lives, choices and opportunities often play out differently. This led me to develop my research project, to be carried out with mothers from across the borough. I wanted to understand what the experiences are of being a woman living in a place like Stockton – what can they tell us about other similar places that have experienced stark deindustrialisation and withdrawal of resources and traditional routes to employment and social stability? What does it feel like to live through welfare reform, as a mother, with enough money or very little, in an area with lots of different inequalities?

The methods

The research design was informed by the work of Sociologists who have used their skills to bring to the academic and policy world narratives that are otherwise silenced – quite often the voices of women. Berverley Skeggs (1997), wrote about class and gender and respectability in an area of England not so far from Stockton, Ann Oakley (1979; 1993) spent years with mothers asking them what they thought about housework, women’s health and becoming a mother, and Arlie Hochschild (1989) delved into the lives of women trapped in the double- or triple-bind of work, caring for children and elderly relatives. The methods I used are similar to theirs, and ‘qualitative’, meaning they are designed to explore diverse social worlds and understand why certain groups of people or individuals make choices or live in certain ways, or why their lives are presented in a certain light. I had a methodology (system of methods) and sampling strategy (idea of why I wanted to contact, and why). Unlike some quantitative social research or scientific experiment, or the research wasn’t designed with representativeness or generalisability in mind.

I used ethnography, or participant observation; I spent 16 months at a women’s group where I gained friends and mentors and learned about being woman living on a low income in Stockton. I also interviewed 15 women, 14 of whom are mothers, from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds and from many different walks of life. I recruited participants through the local Sure Start centres, Twitter, Thrive, the anti-poverty charity I spent a lot of time at, and through snowball sampling (asking people I met if they could recommend someone, or pass on my details). I offered a voucher as a thank-you and recorded my interviews.

Some findings

Continuing austerity and the decline of opportunities: For respondents and their wider networks, there is a huge concern about the likely continuation of austerity and what that might mean for families and communities. We spoke about diminishing opportunity and prospects, the long-term decline of services, the quality and availability of housing and work in the area.

The desire to ‘just be a mam’: Respondents found their roles as mothers and carers increasingly devalued, with the expectation that caring work should be provided by the market and that they should seek formal work as a primary source of income. However, quality work is unavailable, childcare unaffordable, and an important source of identity formation, their role as carers and mothers, diminished under austerity.

Mental health: It became increasingly obvious as I spent more time in the field that the deterioration of participants’ mental health and sense of wellbeing was stark. Discussions of everyday struggles with depression, anxiety and serious bouts of post-natal depression were worryingly frequent. Furthermore, long-term physical health and chronic pain issues were part and parcel of life for many of the women I spent time with, symptoms of a lifetime of stress, poor quality housing and other inequalities (Mattheys et al. 2015).


Underpinning my research is the understanding that women, particularly mothers, face a set of distinct risks under austerity, through labour market changes, reliance on the welfare system and the public sector. They are employed in higher numbers in the public sector, and so more vulnerable to job losses there, and more likely to be underemployed or in low-paid work in ‘feminised’ sectors. They may also face maternity discrimination in their workplace, experience a large gender pay gap and are absent from the labour market for extended periods while they take care of young children. Women also make use of public sector services in high numbers, the very services being cut back during austerity. They rely on the welfare state for many reasons to a much larger extent than men. Welfare reforms like the benefit cap, bedroom tax and sanctions, closures of community centres and privatisation of Sure Starts and lone parent conditionality hit not just women in large numbers, but children and families too. This research is trying to illustrate how austerity is regressive and contributing to growing inequality, and how this group, like many all around the UK, are finding it a challenging time to live through.


  • Blyth, M. 2013. Austerity: the history of a dangerous idea. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Hochschild, A. 1989. The Second Shift: working parents and the revolution at home. Viking Penguin, New York.
  • Konzelmann, S., 2014. The political economics of austerity. Cambridge Journal of Economics 38 (4) pp. 701–741.
  • Marmot, M., Allen, J., Goldblatt, P., Boyce, T., McNeish, D., Grady, M., and Geddes, I. 2010. Fair society healthy lives. The Marmot review executive summary. The Marmot Review. UCL Institute of health equity, London.
  • Mattheys, K. Bambra, C. Kasim, A. Akhter, B. 2015. Inequalities in mental health and well-being in a time of austerity: Baseline findings from the Stockton-on-Tees cohort study. SSM -Population Health 2 Pp. 350–359.
  • Oakley, A. 1979. Becoming a mother. Martin Roberston and Company Ltd., Oxford.
  • Oakley, A. 1993. Essays on women, medicine and health. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
  • Public Health England, 2015. Stockton-on-Tees Health Profile 2015.
  • Robson, S., and Robinson., J., 2012. Findings and recommendations from interim case study: the impact of austerity measures upon women in the North East of England. The Women’s Resource Centre, London.
  • Rubery, J. and Rafferty, A. 2014. Gender, recession and austerity in the UK. In: Karamessini, M. and Rubery, J. 2014. Women and Austerity, the economic crisis and the future of gender equality. Routledge, Oxon. pp. 123-144.
  • Schrecker, T., and Bambra, C., 2015. How politics makes us sick: neoliberal epidemics. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  • Skeggs, B., 1997. Formations of class and gender, Theory, Culture & Society. Sage Publications, London.


Improving future asthma care

L0040548 Flyer and advert for "Potter's Asthma Cure"

5.4 million people in the UK have asthma, and every ten seconds, someone in the UK has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. On average, three people a day die from an asthma attack in the UK – in 2014 (the most recent data available), 1216 people died from asthma. Many of these deaths are preventable, and continued use of asthma medication is an important factor in this (Asthma UK, 2017). But many people don’t stick to their asthma medication routines. Kathy Hetherington writes about her research into a new method of asthma treatment which is significantly reducing the risks associated with severe asthma.

My PhD investigates patient’s response to inhaled steroids using novel monitoring technology. I have spent the past year coordinating this project throughout the UK, within the Refractory Asthma Stratification Programme-UK, (RASP-UK). I work alongside Professor Liam Heaney and Professor Judy Bradley in Queen’s University, and Professor Richard Costello in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland. As a young researcher in Northern Ireland I am excited in the knowledge that my PhD has the potential to improve future asthma care.

The Problem

Many asthmatics do not use their inhalers correctly. As a result, they don’t receive their prescribed dosage of inhaled steroid. Within Queen’s University Belfast and the Belfast City Hospital, we have developed and implemented a new method of observing and monitoring how patients use their inhalers. This revelation is significantly reducing the risks associated with severe asthma.

In RASP-UK severe asthma centres we record Fractional exhaled Nitric Oxide (FeNO), which is a measure of lung inflammation. An elevated FeNO is a predictor of worsening asthma symptoms or even an asthma attack. Those who continue to have an elevated FeNO are usually considered high-risk patients who need daily oral steroids alongside their inhalers. This elevated FeNO could be due to steroid resistance, or not continuing to use their inhaler (this is known as non-adherence). Determining inhaled steroid response in a difficult asthma population is a major problem in a clinical setting.

The Intervention

Within RASP-UK, we have established and further validated a clinical test using daily FeNO measurements (using a Niox Vero machine – Figure 2) alongside some additional inhaled steroid. The remote monitoring technology we use alongside this test is called an INCA™ (INhaled Compliance Aid) device. The INCA™ (Figure 1) was developed by Professor Richard Costello in conjunction with Vitalograph and is designed to work with the diskus inhaler. The INCA™ device records a time and date when the microphone inside it is activated, and records a sound file of the inhaler being used; these sound files can then be transferred to a computer. The sound files are then uploaded onto a server via a data compression utility programme where it is analysed by an automated and validated sound analysis algorithm. This combination allows us to create a remote assessment of inhaled steroid response and thus identify non-adherence to inhalers. We then communicate this information to the patients to try and improve their adherence to their inhaled treatment.

With further development, we created a web-based interface (Figure 3) to deploy FeNO suppression testing across the UK though our established RASP-UK Severe Asthma Centres. Here, we examined the utility of FeNO suppression testing to predict inhaled steroid responsiveness after a further 30 days on a normal inhaler. This period of prolonged monitoring provides further feedback on patient inhaler use and technique, using the unique presentation method below, enabling us to identify facilitators and barriers which may be involved in optimising inhaler adherence. We are constantly increasing the precision and user-friendliness of this hardware and software so that the data is easily interpreted and demonstrated to the patient.


Figure 3 Data from the Vitalograph server following upload of one week FeNO suppression data and INCA™. The Vitalograph server shows activation and usage of both FeNO machine and INCA™ device (A) and depicts the FeNO data as precentage change from baseline as originally described (y1-aixs figure A).  The INCA™ device time and date stamps the number of inhaler uses (y2-axis – Figure A) and this is shown alongside technique analysis (B). Possible technique errors which can be identified and reported are shown in Graphic 3.


The Future

Though we are only a year into our project, 250 patients in severe asthma centres throughout the UK have carried out FeNO suppression testing. Many have gone on to improve their inhaler usage and asthma control and decrease the inflammation in their lungs. We have presented our UK multi-centre data at conferences all over the world and interest in our project is increasing. In the past 6 months I have had the privilege of being a key note speaker at Severe Asthma Masterclasses and Specialist Asthma Meetings. This summer I have been invited as a symposium speaker at the European Academy of Allergy & Clinical Immunology in Helsinki, Finland which will undoubtedly be the highlight of my career to date!

My PhD has given me the opportunity to be able to work with a wide range of fantastic professors, clinicians, patients and co-ordinators. This PhD has convinced me that we can use this unique test and methods of presentation to improve asthma care throughout the world. I can’t express how much this thought excites and drives me; it is with great humility and privilege that I will continue to contribute to this extraordinary field.

Part 3: Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rape Cases – the Ched Evans case

This is the third and final post on the Ched Evans case (Follow the links for Part 1 and Part 2) and the use of evidence of a complainant’s sexual history in rape trials, Molly Joyce examines the consequences of the Court of Appeal’s decision to give Evans a new trial and the impact his “not guilty” verdict in that retrial may have on the future handling of rape cases and the treatment of complainants in these kinds of cases.


Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rape Cases: The Ched Evans Case, Part 3

by Molly Joyce

Consequences of the Evans Case

The immediate consequences of the Court of Appeal’s decision (discussed here) was that Evans was granted the right to a retrial. His retrial started on 4 October 2016 and lasted two weeks, with a “not guilty” verdict handed down by the jury on 14 October 2016. The jury deliberated for three hours.[1] This conclusion was reached after a five-year campaign by Evans and his supporters, throughout which he maintained his innocence. The case involved two criminal trials and two appeal court hearings as well as investigations into contempt of court allegations and the prosecution of nine people who named X on social media.[2]

While the matter itself is essentially now concluded, the wider impact of the case remains to be seen. It is clear that it has caused quite a lot of controversy and debate around issues including: the admission of evidence about a complainant’s sexual history; the behaviour of footballers off the pitch and the question of their return to the field if they are found guilty of criminal offences; how complainants in sexual offence cases can be fully assured of their anonymity in the social media age; the wider impact of Twitter and other social media on criminal investigations and trials; and the role of alcohol in these kinds of “he said, she said” cases. All of these issues throw up difficult questions about how we investigate, prosecute and respond to sexual offence allegations, particularly in situations involving high-profile people. In this post, however, I remain focused on the legal implications of this case in regards the issue of admitting evidence of sexual history: I will not discuss the other issues outlined above although they are undoubtedly of equal importance.

Legally, this case does not change anything. The processes used by Evans’ lawyers to get him a retrial have been long established and the exception under which Evans’ lawyers were able to get evidence of X’s previous sexual behaviour admitted and considered by a jury has been in place since 1999.

And yet, there has been considerable commentary suggesting that this case puts the law back “probably about 30 years”.[3] The former Solicitor-General Vera Baird has questioned whether the case is in fact a rarity: she suggests that the Court of Appeal has lowered the bar of what is “admissible and relevant” evidence, thereby encouraging defendants to “check out” Evans’ defence and see if they can find other men who have had sex with the complainant in a “similar” way as with the defendant.[4]

40 female Labour MPs have further written to the Attorney-General to ask that the law be amended so as to stop any move towards the more routine use of a complainant’s sexual history in sexual offence trials. Specifically, the Labour MPs have asked that section 41 YJCEA 1999 be amended so as to specify that sexual history evidence can only be used, under the exception used in Evans’ case, where the similar conduct is unusual and out of the ordinary.[5] In advocating this amendment, the MPs have argued that the Court of Appeal’s decision creates a precedent for the increased use of such evidence in circumstances where such evidence was only ever intended by Parliament to be used in cases involving unusual sexual behaviour. The MPs further emphasised that this particular exception, prior to Evans’ case, had only been used once, in a case where the evidence of the complainant’s sexual history concerned bizarre and unusual sexual conduct with the defendant (namely sex standing up inside a children’s climbing frame).[6] The Attorney-General has acknowledged the legitimacy of these concerns and has suggested that reform of the law could be appropriate. He stated, however, that before it can be decided what changes are needed, a number of things need to be looked: “[w]e need to understand more about the decision in this particular case, we need to understand whether a change in the law is appropriate and, if not, whether it is sensible to look at the guidance that is given to judges about when this evidence is admissible and the guidance that judges give to juries about how that evidence should be used.”[7]

Given that the proposed amendments to section 41 YJCEA 1999 only relate to amending the provision under which the Court of Appeal actually allowed the evidence of sexual history to be admitted in Evans’ case, it may of interest to note that the Court of Appeal also suggested in its judgment that the evidence may have been admissible under another provision, namely exception 1 outlined above. Exception 1 states that evidence of a complainant’s sexual history may be admitted if it relates to a “relevant issue” in the trial and that issue is not an issue of consent. The Court of Appeal accepted that the evidence from Mr O and Mr H regarding X’s sexual behavior may have also been “relevant and admissible” as it related to the relevant issue of Evans’ reasonable belief in X’s consent (“reasonable belief” is not an issue of consent in the sense that it is not about whether X actually consented or was capable of consenting, but rather whether Evans reasonably believed she was consenting).[8] It may therefore be the case that the sexual history evidence used in Evans’ case would have been admitted even if the Court of Appeal had considered the relevant provision as applying only to “unusual” behavior.

The concerns voiced by Vera Baird, the Labour MPs and the Attorney-General himself all highlight the possible negative effect that the Evans case could have on reporting of rape and sexual offences. The concern is that victims will be deterred from reporting these offences to the police for fear of having their private lives and previous sexual activities investigated and scrutinised by lawyers, judges and jurors. This is undoubtedly a very valid concern, although it is interesting to note that the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Criminal Bar Association have suggested that the “over-reaction” of women’s groups and others to this case could in fact be what discourages victims from coming forward. Specifically, the Chair suggested that statements to the effect that the case puts the law back 30 years or creates a “rapists’ charter” is actually what is going to “make people think they daren’t report what’s happened to them.” The Vice-Chair added that the Evans case is wholly exceptional and does not change or relax the law, which continues to state that the introduction of evidence about a complainant’s sexual history is forbidden except in “highly unusual circumstances where the trial would be unfair, and a wrongful conviction might result, if the evidence was not given.” [9]

It is my view that the full impact of this case is not yet known. There is undoubtedly a valid concern that the Court of Appeal’s judgment could indicate a relaxation on the part of the judiciary in allowing the use of evidence about a complainant’s sexual history. On the other hand, the Court of Appeal explicitly acknowledged in their judgment that such evidence should be admitted only in rare cases: it was simply their opinion that this was such a rare case. It is therefore unclear at this point whether the Evans case will in fact result in the increased admission and use of complainants’ sexual history in sexual offence trials. Monitoring how often section 41 YJCEA 1999 is successfully invoked in sexual offence cases would undoubtedly help in determining whether complainants’ sexual history is being considered too often in these kinds of cases and thereby help in deciding whether or not the law needs to be changed.

As regards the concern that the Evans case will discourage victims from reporting sexual offences, this is undoubtedly a very real fear. By all accounts, X’s life was destroyed by the constant abuse she received both online and offline: as a result, she has been given a new identity and has moved from the North Wales area.[10] In addition to this, she has had to endure two criminal trials as well as the humiliation of having two previous sexual partners reveal intimate details of her sexual behaviour. There can be no doubt that serious consideration needs to be given to how we protect complainants in sexual offence cases from having their identities illegally published on social media: one possibility is to introduce harsher penalties for those who engage in such conduct.[11] As regards the sexual history aspect, as the above discussion indicates, it is a rare case in which such evidence is admitted and it should be made clear to the general public and potential victims that such evidence is not routinely admitted and that the Evans case was a rarity which should not discourage anyone from reporting suspected rape or sexual abuse. Having said this, if a trend does emerge that indicates the case has resulted in an increased admission of such evidence, that will need to be looked at and potential reforms may need to be introduced in order to ensure complainants are protected from overly-extensive and unwarranted intrusion into their personal lives.


I wrote this blog in order to explain the legal rules that allowed Evans his retrial and allowed him to introduce evidence regarding X’s previous sexual history, eventually leading to his acquittal. The fact is, Evans was acquitted of the allegations of rape made against him and the process he undertook to win this acquittal did not occur by any exceptions made for him particularly. He followed the normal legal processes in order to obtain his appeal hearing before the Court of Appeal and he utilised existing legislative provisions in order to use evidence about X’s previous sexual behaviour as part of his defence. At his retrial, the prosecution was simply unable to persuade the jury, so as to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt, that X had been unable to consent or that Evans had not reasonably believed she had consented. He was acquitted fairly and in line with our criminal justice rules and standards. While his retrial and eventual acquittal would undoubtedly have been much harder to get had he been a poorer man without the significant funding needed to hire private investigators and a top legal appeals team, it is no great surprise that money often can make the difference between conviction and acquittal in the criminal justice system.

Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of this case then, alongside the impact it has had on X’s life, is the fact that its high-profile nature, and the confusion around the legal intricacies of the case, has confirmed many people’s suspicion that rich and powerful men will get away with sexual crimes they have committed. In my view, the Evans case should not be taken as an example of this: he was acquitted squarely in line with the rules of criminal law and the admission of evidence about X’s previous sexual behaviour was exceptional and pertained to the specific facts and circumstances of this case. It should be made clear to the public that this case does not change the law on sexual offences or the laws around consent, and potential victims, although they should be aware of the potential impact any criminal trial could have on them, should not be deterred from reporting sexual offences as a result.

A Note on the Women Are Boring blog

Women Are Boring is dedicated to disseminating interesting research, opinion and analysis by interesting women.  As with all things worth doing, we are aware that research is debatable and worthy of contestation. This is something we encourage. As such, the opinions and views shared are those of each individual article’s author.

[1] See “Timeline of rape allegations against Ched Evans” ITV News 14 October 2016, available at: http://www.itv.com/news/2016-10-14/timeline-of-rape-allegations-against-ched-evans/.

[2] See “Ched Evans: Will footballer’s rape case change anything?” BBC News 14 October 2016, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-37624008.

[3] See “Law for rape victims could be amended after Ched Evans case, Attorney General reveals” The Telegraph 27 October 2016, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/27/law-for-rape-victims-could-be-amended-after-ched-evans-case-atto/.

[4] Vera Baird, “We cannot allow the courts to judge rape by sexual history” The Guardian 17 October 2016, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/17/courts-judge-rape-sexual-history-ched-evans-case.

[5] Rowena Mason, “Female Labour MPs call for legal change following Ched Evans retrial” The Guardian 23 October 2016, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/23/female-labour-mps-write-to-attorney-general-over-ched-evans-case.

[6] The letter sent to the Attorney General is available to read here: https://twitter.com/jessphillips/status/790541138939744257/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw.

[7] See “Law concerning use of sexual history in rape trials ‘could be reformed’” The Guardian 27 October 2016, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/oct/27/law-concerning-use-of-sexual-history-in-trials-could-be-reformed.

[8] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [72].

[9] See “Barristers say ‘over-reaction’ to Ched Evans case counterproductive” The Guardian 18 October 2016, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/18/criminal-barristers-over-reaction-ched-evans-counterproductive-victims-sex-assault.

[10] See “‘A DIRTY LITTLE B****’ Ched Evans’ supporters troll his accuser as footballer is found not guilty of rape” The Sun 14 October 2016, available at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1980032/ched-evans-supporters-troll-his-accuser-as-footballer-is-found-not-guilty-of-rape/.

[11] In regard the people who published details of X’s name on Facebook and Twitter, they were charged with publishing material likely to lead members of the public to identify the complainant in a rape case, contrary to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, and each fined £624: a fine was apparently the harshest penalty the court could impose for the charge. See “Ched Evans rape case: nine fined over naming of footballer’s victim” The Guardian 5 November 2012, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/nov/05/ched-evans-rape-naming-woman.

Part 2: Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rape Cases – The Ched Evans case

Following on from Part 1, which introduced the case of Ched Evans and the issues around admitting evidence of a complainant’s previous sexual history in rape cases, this post continues the discussion of the case and specifically addresses the legal provision that allows a complainant’s sexual history to be admitted as evidence in exceptional circumstances. Similar to Part 1, this piece will continue to refer to the complainant at the centre of the Evans case as ‘X’.


Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rapes Cases: The Ched Evans case, Part 2

by Molly Joyce

Admission of Evidence About a Complainant’s Sexual History

Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (YJCEA 1999) sets out the basic legal position regarding the admission of evidence about a complainant’s sexual behaviour/history in sexual offence trials. That position is: such evidence is not allowed unless the accused person gets the court’s permission to admit it.[1] The court will only give this permission to an accused person if one of four specific exceptions is met. These exceptions provide for limited situations in which evidence about a complainant’s sexual history/sexual behaviour can be brought into a trial and considered by a jury.

These four exceptions outlined in the legislation are complex. In essence, they provide as follows:

  1. The evidence relates to a relevant issue in the case and that issue is not one of consent.
  2. The evidence is produced in order to rebut or explain any evidence brought forward by the prosecution about the complainant’s sexual behaviour.
  3. The evidence relates to the issue of consent and the sexual behaviour of the complainant to which the evidence relates took place at or about the same time as the incident which is the subject matter of the criminal charge against the accused (i.e. this other sexual behaviour of the complainant took place within hours of the incident that is the subject matter of the criminal proceedings).
  4. The evidence relates to the issue of consent and the sexual behaviour of the complainant to which the evidence relates is so similar to either

(a) the complainant’s sexual behaviour at the time of the incident, or

(b) to any other sexual behaviour of the complainant which took place at or about the same time as the incident,

            that the similarity cannot reasonably be explained as a coincidence.

The third and fourth exceptions outlined above essentially relate to situations where the accused alleges the complainant consented to the sexual activity in question and wants to bring in evidence either about the complainant’s other consensual sexual conduct at the time of the alleged sexual offence (the third exception) or the complainant’s similar consensual sexual conduct at other times (the fourth exception).

In addition to the above, before giving permission, the court must:

  • Be satisfied that, if it doesn’t give permission for such evidence to be admitted, there would be a risk the jury or court would reach an unsafe conclusion on a relevant issue in the case.
  • Consider whether it is reasonable to assume that the purpose or main purpose of introducing this evidence about the complainant’s sexual behaviour is to dispute the credibility of the complainant as a witness: if it can be reasonably assumed that this is the purpose or main purpose, the evidence will not be allowed.
  • Be satisfied that the evidence relates to a specific instance (or specific instances) of the complainant’s sexual behaviour i.e. it cannot just be wide-ranging evidence about the complainant’s general sexual behaviour.

Evans argued that the testimony of Mr O and Mr H (two men who had had sexual relations with X before and after the occasion on which Evans had sex with her) about X’s sexual behaviour should be admitted on the basis of the fourth exception i.e. that her sexual behaviour on the occasions she had had sex with Mr O and Mr H was so similar to her sexual behaviour on the 29 May 2011 (as described in evidence by Evans), the similarity could not be explained as a coincidence and tended to suggest X actually consented to the sexual activity with Evans.

Mr O gave evidence that he had had sex with X approximately two weeks after the incident with Evans on 29 May 2011. Mr H indicated that he had had sex with X on a number of occasions between March and May 2011. The core elements of Mr O and Mr H’s evidence was that: on the occasions on which they’d had consensual sex with X, she had been out drinking; she had engaged in sexual intercourse in a particular way; she was an enthusiastic participant and directed her sexual partners to have sex with her in particular positions including “the doggie position”; and she used the distinctive expressions “fuck me harder” and “go harder” with both men.[2] Evans argued that X’s sexual behaviour described by Mr O and Mr H was extremely similar to Evans’ own description of X’s sexual behaviour when he spoke to the police, that this similarity could not be reasonably explained as coincidence and that this evidence supported Evans’ defence that X was capable of consenting and did consent to having sex with him on 29 May 2011.[3]

Whether this evidence of Mr O and Mr H should be admitted was accordingly the key question for the Court of Appeal in considering Evans’ appeal against his conviciton.

The prosecution argued that X’s sexual behaviour as described by Mr O and Mr H was not relevant in this case and that it was not sufficiently similar to Evans’ description of X’s behaviour.[4] In particular, the prosecution emphasised that even if this “fresh evidence” of Mr O and Mr H was credible, it did not reveal any kind of unusual behaviour on the part of X. Rather, X’s behaviour as described by Mr O and Mr H was commonplace and it could be reasonably explained as coincidence that she had used these words while with Evans on 29 May 2011.[5] Alternatively, the prosecution argued that this evidence of Mr O and Mr H was not credible and was not in any regard consistent with Evans’ account. In particular, the prosecution suggested that Mr O and Mr H may have been fed information by people close to Evans in order that they would make statements which would support him in his appeal.[6]

Evans’ lawyers argued in response to these points that the prosecution was isolating each aspect of the sexual behaviour alleged and ignoring the cumulative effect of that behaviour. Specifically, Evans’ lawyers argued that the specific phrases “fuck me harder” and “go harder” were sufficiently similar to satisfy the test of similarity: taking these phrases together with the other behaviour alleged then led to a “compelling” impact and meant this evidence was very relevant.[7] As regards the prosecution’s suspicion of the two witnesses’ motives, Evans’ lawyers responded that if it was the case that these two men were lying to help Evans, they surely would have provided these details at a much earlier stage. Evans’ lawyers further highlighted the two men’s previous good character and suggested that, despite some relatively distant connections with Evans’ friends and family, there was no reason to conclude either man was lying.[8]

In reaching its conclusion, the Court of Appeal noted that this was an unusual case insofar as the only witness to sexual activity and only evidence as to the sexual activity came from Evans himself. In putting forward his defence that X was capable of consenting and did consent, he was therefore able to rely on little more than his own account of her behaviour.[9]

The Court went on to describe Evans’ account to the police of what happened on 29 May 2011 in the hotel room: they emphasised that his account to police described in graphic detail the sexual behaviour of X. This account given to police was extremely similar to the account given of X’s sexual behaviour by Mr O and Mr H, two men who had had consensual sex with X in the days before the alleged rape and the days after it. The Court described this similar behaviour as such: “[o]n each occasion she had been drinking, she is said to have instigated certain sexual activity, directed her sexual partner into certain positions, and used specific words of encouragement.”[10] They concluded that they were satisfied that, on the facts in this case, the evidence of Mr O and Mr H came within the exception 4(a) outlined above i.e. Mr O and Mr H’s evidence related to the issue of consent and X’s sexual behaviour as described in their evidence was “so similar” to X’s sexual behaviour at the time of the alleged rape (as described by Evans), that it could not be reasonably explained as a coincidence.[11]

The Court specifically noted that there did not need to be anything unusual or bizarre about the behaviour in question, despite the prosecution’s arguments to the contrary. Rather, that behaviour simply had to be sufficiently similar that it could not be reasonably explained as a coincidence.[12]

In reaching this conclusion, the Court further found that Mr O and Mr H’s evidence was capable of belief. They noted that the prosecution was unable to point to anything of significance to show that the two men had changed their accounts or been prepared to lie in order to assist Evans and the prosecution was further unable to undermine the two men’s integrity or credibility when cross-examining them before the Court of Appeal. Having said this, the Court noted that the prosecution did possibly have some material that could help undermine these witnesses’ credibility at a retrial and this would allow the two men’s evidence to be thoroughly and rigorously tested.[13]

Before allowing new evidence to be admitted as a basis for quashing a conviction, the Court must be satisfied that there is a reasonable explanation for the failure to call this evidence at the first trial. Here, they found there was a reasonable explanation: Mr O’s existence and potential relevance was not known at the time of the first trial and Mr H, although known to have had a sexual relationship with X, had not given any detail of this sexual activity and this detail and its potential relevance was not therefore known.[14]

The Court emphasised in its judgment that it had reached its conclusion that this evidence was to be admitted with “a considerable degree of hesitation.”[15] The Court further acknowledged that a complainant should be protected from “intrusive and unnecessary questioning” about their sexual history, particularly where that sexual history concerned activity with third parties, and emphasised that such evidence should only be allowed in rare cases. It was their judgment, however, that this was potentially such a rare case.[16]

In these circumstances, and in the interests of ensuring a fair trial in which all relevant and admissible evidence is included, the Court of Appeal concluded that Evans’ conviction for rape should be overturned and ordered a retrial in order that the matter be resolved by a jury.[17] It is quite rare for the Court of Appeal to order a retrial in circumstances where the person has already served their sentence and a retrial is only ordered where the court believes it is in the interests of justice to do so. In this case, the court emphasised that the offence was a serious one and on this basis apparently believed it necessary to have a retrial.[18]

The final post in this three-part series will examine the consequences of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Evans’ case and discuss what the case might mean for future complainants in rape cases.

A Note on the Women Are Boring blog

Women Are Boring is dedicated to disseminating interesting research, opinion and analysis by interesting women.  As with all things worth doing, we are aware that research is debatable and worthy of contestation. This is something we encourage. As such, the opinions and views shared are those of each individual article’s author.

[1] See s.41(1) YJCEA 1999.

[2] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [39].

[3] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [39].

[4] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [55].

[5] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [56].

[6] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [59].

[7] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [58].

[8] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [59].

[9] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [70].

[10] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [71].

[11] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [72]. The Court also noted that this evidence may be admitted on the basis that the issue was not one of consent insofar as it was actually an issue relating to the question of Evans’ “reasonable belief” in X’s consent.

[12] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [73].

[13] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [67].

[14] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [69].

[15] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [74].

[16] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [74].

[17] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [75].

[18] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [75].

Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rape Cases: The Ched Evans case

This piece is the first in a three-part series assessing the Ched Evans case and the use of evidence of previous sexual history in rape cases in the U.K. Click the links to read Part Two and Part Three 

Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rape Cases: The Ched Evans case, Part 1

by Molly Joyce.

 On 14 October 2016 the footballer Ched Evans was acquitted of the charge of rape, and a five-year saga that started in a hotel room in a small town in Wales on 29 May 2011 was put to a close. The case attracted significant media coverage and ignited a fierce debate in the UK about whether or not the complainant’s sexual history should have been considered by the jury. That debate essentially boils down to a question of whether or not section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, a legal provision that was introduced to ensure evidence of a complainant’s sexual history is used in only the most limited of circumstances, is effective in achieving its aim. The tone of the debate as played out in the newspapers and on social media, however, has greatly complicated this basic question and has often overlooked the essential legal issues at play in Evans’ case. This post (the first of a series of three) therefore tries to examine the legal details of Evans’ case in a clear, dispassionate way that helps readers understand why Evans got a retrial and why evidence of the complainant’s sexual history was introduced in his trial. In this way, I hope to contribute to creating a more informed and balanced debate around the treatment of rape allegations, and the treatment of complainants in such cases, in our criminal justice system.  


You would be hard-pressed to find anyone living in the UK who has not heard about the Ched Evans case. When the verdict at Mr Evans’ retrial came out in October 2016, it occupied our airwaves and was covered extensively by both the tabloids and the broadsheets. It caused furore among women’s rights activists and attracted harsh criticism from many prominent people, including the former Solicitor-General Vera Baird[1] and more than 40 female Labour MPs, who called for a reform of the law in this area.[2] While Evans was before this case a minor celebrity, the high-profile nature of the case was perhaps unsurprising: it had sex, money, fame, betrayal and football i.e. all the elements of a good news story.

In the media frenzy that surrounded the case however, something was lost. That something is a clear, dispassionate, accurate explanation of the law which allowed Evans his retrial and allowed his lawyers to bring in evidence about the previous sexual history of the woman at the centre of this case (in keeping with the Court of Appeal’s approach, I will refer to this woman as ‘X’ throughout the remainder of this blog post[3]). This post (the first of a series of three) aims to provide such an explainer that will help readers understand what it is that actually happened in respect of the legal aspects of this case and, in this way, create a more informed debate as to the proper way in which allegations of rape and sexual assault should be handled in the future.


The basic facts of this case are probably familiar to most readers. On the night of 29 May 2011, Evans went out in his hometown of Rhyl, Wales, with his friend and fellow footballer Clayton McDonald. At around 4.00am the next morning, McDonald met X at the Rhyl Zu bar. X then accompanied McDonald back to a room at a Premier Inn in the nearby town of Rhuddlan,[4] which Evans had earlier that evening booked for McDonald (and allegedly another friend) because he thought it would be “more comfortable” than having them stay in his family home. On their taxi journey back to the Premier Inn, McDonald texted Evans to say he had “got a bird.” Evans then arrived at the hotel by taxi around 10-15 minutes later with his brother and another friend. He maintained in his evidence that he went to the hotel in order to tell McDonald that one of their other friends had been arrested following a fight and also to see who the girl was that McDonald had brought back. Evans went into the hotel, alone, and persuaded the receptionist to give him a key card to McDonald’s room, telling him he had booked it for a friend who no longer needed it. When asked why he lied to the receptionist, he responded that he was simply “being juvenile, having a laugh” and that his intention was to “go into the room, see what they were doing.” He didn’t knock before entering the room. Upon entering and the door slamming behind him, Evans observed McDonald and X having sex. At that point, McDonald apparently looked at X and asked “can my mate join in?” Evans stated that she said yes and he proceeded to perform oral sex on her and have full sexual intercourse with her. While this was happening, Evans’ friend and brother were seen standing outside the room (which was located on the ground floor) giggling and filming what was happening until McDonald closed the curtains. After about 30 minutes, McDonald left the hotel, by the reception desk, and Evans left shortly after that, by the fire door. He stated at the retrial that he used the fire door because he wanted to walk directly to the road outside. Evans and McDonald then returned to Evans’ family home.[5]

X woke up the next day at about 11.30am, “naked, alone and confused.”[6] She didn’t know where she was and had only vague recollections of being in a take-away the night before. When she woke up, she “panicked”: her clothes were scattered on the floor and she couldn’t find her handbag.[7] Not remembering how she had arrived at the hotel, X tried to piece together what had happened with friends and later that day went to the police. X did not at this point allege she had been raped; in fact, she has never alleged that she was raped or incapable of consenting to sex. Her evidence has always been that she simply cannot remember what happened in the hotel room.[8]

McDonald and Evans were arrested on suspicion of rape on 31 May 2011. In their police interviews, they both volunteered the information that they had had sex with X. In this sense then, the evidence as to sexual activity on the night in question came solely from Evans and McDonald themselves.[9]

The first trial saw both McDonald and Evans charged with rape. The verdict in that first trial was handed down on 20 April 2012, with the jury finding McDonald “not guilty” and Evans “guilty”.[10] Evans was sentenced to 5 years in jail. He served two and a half years of this sentence before being released on 17 October 2014 (this is a common mechanism that is available to prisoners sentenced to more than 12 months in prison[11]). At the time of his appeal and retrial, Evans was no longer in prison.


It is difficult to successfully appeal a finding of guilt: the Court of Appeal generally dislikes quashing a jury’s decision.[12] The legal test for overturning an appeal is whether or not the Court of Appeal thinks the conviction is “unsafe”. This means that Evans had to persuade a judge his conviction was “unsafe” if he was to be successful in appealing it. The term “unsafe” clearly does not lend itself to a very precise definition and a conviction may be “unsafe” due to a myriad of different reasons. Whether or not the court thinks a conviction is “unsafe” will therefore often depend on its assessment of the individual facts and circumstances of the particular case and whether the court has “real doubts” that the appellant was guilty of the offence of which he was convicted.[13]

The first step for a convicted person in appealing their conviction is to put together the “grounds of appeal” and a “summary of the facts” for the “Single Judge” (one judge sitting alone) to review. That judge will consider the grounds of appeal and the facts as summarised, usually without hearing any oral evidence about the case, in order to decide whether or not to give permission for the appeal to go forward. If the judge decides not to give this permission, the convicted person can “renew” their application for appeal: this renewed application is considered by the “Full Court” (three or more judges sitting together).

In this case, Evans followed this exact process. He immediately appealed his conviction on the following grounds: there had been “inconsistent verdicts” (remember McDonald was found “not guilty” and Evans was found “guilty”); there were problems with the trial judge’s summing up of the case; and Evans had obtained fresh expert evidence about X’s black-out and lack of memory.[14] On 10 August 2012, the Single Judge rejected his application and refused him permission to appeal. Evans then renewed his application to the Full Court: this application was rejected by the Full Court on 6 November 2012.[15]

The renewed application to the Full Court is not, however, the final step in appealing a conviction. In England & Wales there exists an independent, non-governmental body called the Criminal Cases Review Commission (the “CCRC”). People convicted of crimes can submit their claim of innocence to the CCRC and ask the CCRC to refer their case to the Court of Appeal for a full appeal. The CCRC also has the power to investigate the cases submitted to it and can use its various powers to uncover new evidence. The CCRC will only refer a case to the Court of Appeal where it is of the opinion that there is a “real possibility” that an appeal will be allowed.[16] This is a fairly lengthy process insofar as it essentially involves two steps: first, the person has to convince the CCRC that there is a “real possibility” the Court of Appeal will allow the appeal; second, if the person is able to convince the CCRC of this, they then have to convince the Court of Appeal to allow the appeal and quash their conviction.

Evans followed this process and asked the CCRC in July 2014 to examine his case in the hope that they would refer his case to the Court of Appeal. The CCRC fast-tracked Evans’ application (for reasons that are not entirely clear – the decision was made in response to Evans’ defence team’s request for prioritisation of his case[17]) and began their inquiry into the safety of his rape conviction in December 2014.[18] Following a 10-month investigation, the CCRC decided in October 2015 to refer Evans’ case to the Court of Appeal. They made this referral on the basis of “new information which was not raised at trial, and which in the view of the Commission, could have added support to Mr Evans’s defence at trial and therefore raises a real possibility that the Court of Appeal may now quash the conviction.”[19] This allowed a full appeal to be considered by the Court of Appeal.

It cannot be underestimated how difficult it is to get through this first hurdle: of the approximately 21,420 applications the CCRC has handled since it started work in April 1997 it has only referred 625 cases to the Court of Appeal.[20] That means roughly only 3% of all cases referred to the CCRC are successful in making it back to the Court of Appeal.

Evans’ case was referred to the Court of Appeal specifically on the basis of fresh evidence from three people (“fresh evidence” meaning evidence that was not heard by the original jury in the first trial). I will refer to these three people as: Mr O; Mr O’s mother; and Mr H. Mr O and Mr H were two men with whom X had had sexual encounters before and after 29 May 2011. Their evidence was essentially that X had, when having sex with them, used similar language and adopted similar behaviour as that described by Evans in his interviews with the police. This kind of evidence is known as evidence about a complainant’s “sexual behaviour” or “sexual history” and it is the inclusion of this evidence that both formed the basis of Evans’ successful appeal and led to the most controversial aspects of this case. The Court of Appeal essentially found that the evidence from these two men, which had not been available at Evans’ first trial, was “relevant” and “admissible” and its lack of availability at the previous trial rendered Evans’ conviction “unsafe”.

The key question then is how this kind of evidence was deemed to be “admissible”: how did the Court of Appeal come to the conclusion that evidence of the complainant’s sexual history, which has in the past been used to perpetuate the “twin myths” that “unchaste women are more likely to consent to intercourse and in any event are less worthy of belief”,[21] should be heard by a jury? In order to understand this, we need to look at a complicated piece of legislation: section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. This will be examined in Part 2.

A Note on the Women Are Boring blog
Women Are Boring is dedicated to disseminating interesting research, opinion and analysis by interesting women.  As with all things worth doing, we are aware that research is debatable and worthy of contestation. This is something we encourage. As such, the opinions and views shared are those of each individual article’s author.

[1] Vera Baird, “We cannot allow the courts to judge rape by sexual history” The Guardian 17 October 2016, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/17/courts-judge-rape-sexual-history-ched-evans-case.

[2] Rowena Mason, “Female Labour MPs call for legal change following Ched Evans retrial” The Guardian 23 October 2016, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/23/female-labour-mps-write-to-attorney-general-over-ched-evans-case.

[3] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [1].

[4] See “Footballer Ched Evans ‘raped woman in Rhyl hotel room’” BBC News 4 October 2016, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-37551789.

[5] See generally “Ched Evans rape trial: Footballer says sex with woman in hotel room was consensual” Wales Online 10 October 2016, available at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/ched-evans-rape-trial-footballer-12001362. This gives a live feed report of what was said in evidence during the retrial.

[6] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [10].

[7] See generally “Ched Evans rape trial: Live updates as alleged victim describes how she ‘panicked’ on waking in hotel room with clothes scattered around her” Wales Online 5 October 2016, available at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/ched-evans-rape-trial-live-11979395. This again is a live feed report of what was said in evidence during the retrial.

[8] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [10].

[9] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [11].

[10] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [16].

[11] See https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/Documents/Advice%20factsheets/Prisoners/p-early-release-from-prison—serving-your-sentence-in-the-community.pdf.

[12] This can be seen by the statistics of successful appeals: over the past few years only 8-14% of appeals against conviction were successful and in the 2014-2015 period 79% of all applications to appeal against conviction were refused permission, see Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) Annual Report 2014-2015, available at: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/coa-criminal-division-annual-report-2014-15.pdf.

[13] See the judgment of Lord Bingham CJ in R v Criminal Cases Review Commission ex p Pearson [2000] 1 Cr App R 141 for a discussion of the meaning of “unsafe”.

[14] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [2].

[15] See R v Chedwyn Evans [2012] EWCA Crim 2559.

[16] See section 13 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995.

[17] See “Legal watchdog to fast-track inquiry into rape conviction of Ched Evans” The Guardian 18 October 2014, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/18/legal-watchdog-fast-tracks-ched-evans-rape-inquiry.

[18] See “Ched Evans timeline: Key events since player’s release” BBC News 10 January 2015, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/30671836.

[19] See “Commission refers the rape conviction of Ched Evans to the Court of Appeal” CCRC 5 October 2015, available at: http://www.ccrc.gov.uk/commission-refers-the-rape-conviction-of-ched-evans-to-the-court-of-appeal/.

[20] See http://www.ccrc.gov.uk/case-statistics/.

[21] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [44].

The wonders of kelp, and why we need to save it.

‘Deforestation of the Sea: A closer look at valuable kelp forests in shallow seas around Britain’ by Jess Fisher.

 ‘I can only compare these great aquatic forests… with the terrestrial ones in the intertropical regions. Yet if in any country a forest was destroyed, I do not believe nearly so many species of animals would perish as would here, from the destruction of the kelp’

Charles Darwin (1834) Tierra del Fuego, Chile

Kelp forests: the rainforests of the ocean

A few weeks ago, I settled happily into Finding Dory on a Saturday night. Towards the end, the little blue fish drifts through the giant kelp forests, devoid of life, and sadly proclaims ‘…there’s nothing here but kelp!’. Having studied this oceanic plant, I can confirm that this is 100% scientifically incorrect: well done Pixar.

Kelp forests actually have around the same levels of biodiversity as a tropical rainforest. But why should you care?

Because kelp can do everything: it’s home to hundreds of thousands of marine species, it can be used as a fertiliser and a biofuel, it can be extracted to use in cosmetics like make-up and toothpaste, amongst many more uses. In 1908, Japanese biochemist Professor Ikeda isolated monosodium glutamate (or MSG – one of the things that makes Asian food so great) from kelp. Who knew science could be so delicious?!

Why is kelp disappearing?

Unfortunately, kelp is reported to be disappearing. This is mostly because of climate change making the oceans uninhabitable for some species, but also that more people are harvesting kelp from the wild. Lots of people are even beginning to call it a superfood. While its rapid growth rate (up to half a metre per day in some species) suggests that harvesting kelp should not really be a problem, conservation scientists are worried that all the marine life living in kelp forests will take quite a bit longer to return. Britain is especially important for kelp (because of the variation in habitats and rocky shores) which is why I started working on a project looking to test novel monitoring methods for kelp, so we can potentially measure what is actually happening.

How our project works

Kayaking into the open ocean near Plymouth, we fought through choppy waves into a prevailing wind, whilst I continually threw cold seawater with my paddle onto my kayak-partner, who was sitting behind me! Lots of kelp lives in the subtidal zone (beneath the sea surface even at low tide), and so the plan was to beam sonar onto the seabed from a kayak, look at the graph that the sonar gives back, and then use a GoPro camera to visually verify assumptions that we were making about which graphic patterns denoted kelp. For example:


 This was one of four kayak trips the team made to test the method. Amongst some other objectives, the main aim is to ask whether sonar can be used to monitor kelp at a Britain-wide scale. The findings will be given to our funder, The Crown Estate, who manages development on the British coastline (The Crown Estate is owned by the Queen of the United Kingdom). They would like to eventually create some guidelines for sustainably harvesting wild kelp, so that this valuable seaweed resource (and its associated flora and fauna) will be available for future generations for years to come. Some kelp snapshots from the seabed:

Counting the cost of losing kelp forests

Kelp forests are reported to be worth billions of pounds. In the northeast Atlantic, young lobster live in the kelp, and are eventually fished by a lobster industry worth £30 million alone. Is it worth keeping? Certainly. Is it worth monitoring incase of declines? Definitely.

 Inspired? Check out the Big Seaweed Search, Capturing Our Coast, and Floating Forests for some citizen science kelp-focussed initiatives. You can also read about the project on ZSL Wild Science.


What now for UK academia? Twelve academics on Brexit


Photo: Dave Kellam
by Catherine Connolly, co-founder of Women Are Boring

We put a call out on our Twitter and Facebook accounts on Friday afternoon asking for contributions to this special feature on what the EU has meant to women working in academia in the UK, and their thoughts on the referendum result. We received a huge response. But first, some background – I was in London last week, and woke at 6am the morning after the UK’s EU membership referendum to hear Nigel Farage’s voice coming from my friend’s radio, hailing a ‘historic day’ for the UK. My immediate reaction was one of shock – going to bed the night before, it had seemed to all of us in the house that “Remain” was going to take it, albeit by a slim margin. Following the disbelief came the sadness and worry for the friends I have living all over the UK – what would happen now? Four women live in the house I was staying in, located in south London – two of whom are Scottish, one English and one Welsh. All are devastated by the referendum result.

I would not know any of these women had I not gone abroad to Paris on Erasmus during my third year of undergraduate study. One of the Scots was the first person I met when I moved to Paris, and today she is one of my best and closest friends. My Erasmus year set me on my career path and opened up so many opportunities for me, from studying for my MA in London, to living and working in Brussels, and then returning to work in London again in the year before I began my PhD in Dublin. Without the EU, much of this would not have been possible, and so many of the friends I have I would never have met. I am lucky to be from Ireland and to be researching in Ireland – my Irish passport means I don’t have to worry about my freedom of movement or any of the other many benefits which EU membership affords me. But my friends, and many academics around the UK, no longer feel so lucky.

EU funding is vital to the UK’s higher education institutions, as are EU and international citizens. EU and international citizens, whether as students, researchers or lecturers, along with EU funding, have made the UK’s higher education sector one of the most lively and exciting environments to work in, and study at, in the world.

What follows are the words of twelve female academics in different fields, from the UK and elsewhere in the EU, working in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. They demonstrate the massive importance and influence that the EU has on academic research, and elucidate the doubt and worry that many now feel, both in and outside academia.

Professor Fiona de Londras, Chair in Global Legal Studies, University of Birmingham.


“Trying to understand security and counter-terrorism on a national level alone has value, but misses so much of what happens to shape the national story as a result of transnational dynamics and institutions such as the EU.”

All of my university education was in Ireland. In fact, all of it was in UCC where I studied law for seven very happy years. And so, it was a (not unwelcome) shock to the system when I moved first to a chair in Durham and then to my current post at Professor of Global Legal Studies in the University of Birmingham to discover, be challenged by, and ultimately relish in the intellectually diverse and internationally-oriented world of UK higher education. While international and European law had been important in my education and work in Ireland, the richness that Europeanism brought to the student body, my academic community, and the vision and ambition in legal research of the institutions in which I have worked in the UK was energising, challenging and enthralling. That is the first way in which the EU has impacted my career in the UK. It has been a force for diversification of the people, ideas, institutions and challenges with which I try to pursue the key question in which I am interested: what happens to power, law and politico-legal institutions when crises put them under pressure?

For much of my career I have explored this question in the very particular context or counter-terrorism and security, including leading a major cross-national, inter-disciplinary and empirical project entitled SECILE (Securing Europe through Counter-Terrorism: Impact, legitimacy, and effectiveness). With generous funding from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme I led a consortium of researchers, NGOs and SMEs in the UK, Ireland, Norway and Latvia in a project that both mapped and analysed EU counter-terrorism and, through interviews with major stakeholders in the EU’s institutions and the member states, tried to understand their real world impact on everyday operations and the experience of living in the European Union. This could not have been achieved without EU membership: that created the opportunity to secure the funding, the relationships that underpinned and made possible our consortium, and the access to high level officials in Europe that helped us both access information and gain traction for our findings.

Trying to understand security and counter-terrorism on a national level alone has value, but misses so much of what happens to shape the national story as a result of transnational dynamics and institutions such as the EU. If Brexit brings us out of these funding structures our ability to ask ‘big questions’ in ‘big contexts’ will be sharply constrained. And what, then, will incentivise the very best researchers who have other possibilities through EU or other citizenship, to remain with the UK’s universities? Will national funding structures, already so stretched, step in to compensate? Will the UK retain sufficient influence in Europe to secure access to these key actors and institutions? Will our colleagues from other EU countries, whose impact on law schools all over this country has been such a key part in diversifying our enquiries and deepening our intellectual ambitions, move on? Will possibilities for staff and student exchange shrink, impoverishing our everyday intellectual environment? And if so, what will be the motivation for people who, like me, have Irish citizenship to stay?

For now many, like me, will be committed to staying and to contributing to the task of thinking our way out of the corner Brexit has placed higher education and legal research in, but one suspects we will also remain deeply aware of the Irish passport that leaves open possibilities for mobility that we may, reluctantly, find ourselves exercising in coming years.

Dr. Diletta De Cristofaro, Teaching Fellow in British Studies, Harlaxton College.


“Waking up to the Leave result on 24th June felt like a punch in my stomach.”

A few months ago, I was walking on Brighton beach with a fellow EU academic migrant. Reflecting on our academic lives, he observed that mine was a “very European trajectory”. I replied that indeed it was, and I was proud of it.

I feel strongly about my European identity. As part of the Italian diaspora, my family has been scattered in North America, South America, and Australia for generations. My own parents were living and working in the US when my mother got pregnant with me. However, they decided to move back to Italy because they wanted me to be born there – and, thus, in Europe.

Like many others, my academic “European trajectory” began with an Erasmus. I studied for one year of my master’s in Paris, and, thanks to the EU Erasmus Programme, the credits I gained at Paris IV Sorbonne were recognised by my Italian home Institution, Università degli Studi di Milano. Today, 26th June 2016, the homepage of the largest student-led online resource on the programme reads:


EU mobility programmes, to and from the UK, would be a huge post-Brexit lost opportunity for future academics. The idea for my PhD project – temporality in contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction – was born in Paris, when I discovered Michel Houellebecq’s La possibilité d’une île in a second-hand bookshop near my university. The project was then developed in another European country, the UK, where it was funded by the University of Nottingham’s European Union Research Excellence Scholarship. My research also benefited from a period, funded by Erasmus Mundus, spent at the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University. In short, my scholarship was nurtured by the EU and by the education systems of four of its countries.

Waking up to the Leave result on 24th June felt like a punch in my stomach. My visceral reaction was that I would go back to Europe – but even typing this sentence feels odd: the UK is still, technically, part of the EU and is certainly part of Europe geographically and historically. Yet it is undoubtable that the country is moving in a direction I am uncomfortable with, a sentiment shared by that 48% which voted Remain, including friends and colleagues. I have a life in the UK and a three-year teaching fellowship starting on 1st August, but uncertainty looms large: what rights will I have in this country? Can my new institution renege the contract if/when the UK leaves the EU? What happens with my UK-based job applications in the supposed two-year period needed to negotiate Brexit: will they be immediately discarded, as my right to work in this country remains unclear? This is all very imponderable, disempowering, and scary – especially as an Early Career Researcher.

When I was offered my new job at Harlaxton College, I was struck by the irony of a European teaching a module on British identity to US students coming to the UK. Post-referendum, this is a much stronger feeling. And so, in the face of uncertainty, I am working to incorporate in the syllabus Rupert Thomson’s Divided Kingdom, a dystopian novel in which the UK has been divided into four Quarters, each one based upon different humors and personality types. How appropriate.

Diljeet Bhachu, doctoral student, Reid School of Music, University of Edinburgh.

Diljeet photo (c Vivek Vishwanathan)

“I have to ask, will there be anything left to research? If we lose diversity in our music and music education, will I want to be researching it?’

As a very early-career researcher  − mid-PhD − the impact of the UK leaving the EU on my future plans and job prospects hasn’t quite sunk in yet.  I can’t say I’d done much planning, because on Wednesday I felt like the world was my oyster, I could look for post-PhD jobs anywhere, there were options both in and out of the academy. Now? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find work abroad. I don’t know if there will be jobs outside of academia.

While I haven’t looked at the details, I imagine it’ll likely be more difficult to get research funding, travel for fieldwork and conferences, and it’s quite possible that the diversity of staff and students at UK HEIs will also suffer. I don’t yet know exactly what Brexit means for university funding both through core and research grant funding, and income from tuition fees. What I do know is that there will be inevitable change in the demographics of our student bodies, if not from changes in access to opportunity, but from the indirect effects of removing the UKs status as a place where non-UK students are welcome. While Universities and other HEIs have been quick to release statements showing support for all students, particularly those from EU countries, and pledging no change to terms of study in the near future, can we guarantee that the cities and towns in which these students will live will be as supportive?  Never mind the economic impact of living in a country where the currency has faced its biggest drop in value for 30 years.

With the growing visibility of the far-right, xenophobic, racist views in UK society, my concern now turns towards my research interests.  As a #proudchildofanimmigrant (of two immigrants, actually), I question how research that attempts to embrace all cultures, and cater to the increasingly diverse classrooms created by immigration over the past century or so, fits in a country where many, albeit not all, Leave voters are clinging onto an idea of British Nationalism that reads as White British Nationalism. Where is the space in this new reality of an “independent” Britain for post-colonial critique – following a campaign that laughed in the face of many British citizens who are here as the very result of Britain’s colonial past. Why is my curriculum white?  Is this a question “independent” Britain still wants to ask? Only time will tell, maybe I’m over-reacting, but is it really unrealistic to consider that some of this might be a possibility?

This may represent the views of a few, but their fires have been fuelled by this “victory” and I’m not sure they can be extinguished.

As I’ve said, it’s early days – who knows what will happen.  But while I’ve been writing this, a few bits of information have come to light. Education research gets 43.13% of its funding from the EU. This is a sector that already bore the brunt of cuts.  Add to that my position as a researcher of music education. I have to ask, will there be anything left to research? If we lose diversity in our music and music education, will I want to be researching it? We can’t pretend music and music education are separate things. Without the ability to tour easily, are we going to see a decline in the music profession in the UK?

Dr. Jessica Meyer, University Academic Fellow in Legacies of War, University of Leeds.


“24th June 2016 was a very bad day for me indeed.”

February 2015 was a good month for me. On the 3rd I was offered a permanent job at the university where I had been working on a temporary contract for the previous four years.  Two weeks later I received a European Research Council Starting Grant, worth €1.07 million, to undertake a project examining the medical and social care provided to disabled British ex-servicemen of the First World War.  Within a fortnight, I had not only achieved a measure of professional and personal security, but I had also been given the opportunity to pursue a project that I had conceived as a PhD student ten years earlier, a project which I never thought would ever be funded.

This project involves creating a database of information held in 22,8289 personal pension files created by the Ministry of Pensions and now held at the National Archive.  The goal is to make analysis of this archive easier and the archive itself more searchable. In creating the database, my team and I (there are four of us altogether) are also identifying files which contain material suitable for further close reading, including letters from pensioners and their friends and family, medical reports and official documentation. We are particularly interested in the stories that these files have to tell about the roles that families, particularly women, played in providing care to these men, and how these women’s work shaped cultural understandings of medical caregiving as a gendered practice. Eventually, I hope to expand the project to include comparative discussions of the care provided to ex-servicemen in other European nations in the aftermath of the Great War.

This is a huge project, and one which no British grant making body would fund. Neither the AHRC nor the ESRC allow for postgraduate funding to be built into grants, and the remits of even their large individual grants are relatively narrow.  The Leverhulme Trust, which funds projects with a similar sort of boundary-pushing ambition as the ERC, does not have a scheme that enables team building on the scale necessary to complete this project.  If I were not funded by the ERC, this project would not happen.

So 24th June 2016 was a very bad day for me indeed.  The Vice Chancellor of my university put out a reassuring statement to the effect that ‘We also believe that the University’s study abroad programmes and our involvement in Horizon 2020 [which includes the ERC] … will remain unchanged during this period of transition.’ But belief is not certainty, particularly not in a period where nothing feels certain, and the period of transition may not cover the entirety of the period of my grant. The money has been committed, I am told, and so I email my team members to reassure them that their post-docs and PhD studies will go ahead as planned. I hope I am right.

And even if the funding remains, what about the terms?  ERC grant-holders are expected to spend 6 months of every 12 in an EU member state.  Will I have to relocate to Ireland for 6 months of every year after 2018?  I have a young family.  What are the implications for that hard-won personal security that seemed so sure 15 months ago? Everything that I have worked for in my academic career feels directly threatened by the referendum result.

For the moment I carry on, trying to believe that the work I am doing, which I believe passionately in, will be funded for the term and at the terms agreed.  But I don’t know, and that insecurity will shape my research for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Kate Wicks, postdoctoral researcher, University of Manchester.

Kate photo

“Through Erasmus and therefore because of the EU, I learnt my very first lessons about what it means to be a scientist.”

I work on inflammation. To put it simply, that’s one process by which the body restores the status quo when it detects that something’s amiss, whether that’s a cut to the hand or a cold virus in the nose. An army of white blood cells is mobilised to deal with the problem, and when it’s resolved, it stands down again. Except sometimes it doesn’t, and the inflammation becomes chronic. That’s what I’m interested in: uncontrolled inflammation, how it starts, and what happens when it doesn’t end.

Back in 2004, though, I was a second-year undergraduate, and I didn’t have research interests yet.Not really. I was studying Genetics with German (‘Did you pick it for the alliteration,’ people asked), which allowed me to combine studying the finer points of gene regulation with German language, literature and history, and I was about to go off on my year abroad through the Erasmus scheme. A rite of passage for modern languages students, for me, it would involve a year working in a German lab. The application form asked what kind of lab I wanted to be placed in. ‘Genetics. Please not plants,’ I wrote. I ended up at the University of Heidelberg, working on the genetics of diabetes-related kidney disease, and that was my future career settled. Ten and more years later, I’m still researching the complications of diabetes, albeit from a different angle.

Through Erasmus and therefore because of the EU, I learnt my very first lessons about what it means to be a scientist. By that, I mean the lab and analysis skills that I use every day – how to plan, perform, analyse, evaluate and write up an experiment – but also about the importance of the international community to which I belong. The lab I worked in was funded by the EU; we had collaborators in the Czech Republic; I trained a student from Slovakia; my boss was Dutch. My friends in another lab spanned a multitude of nationalities. In the UK, being a British scientist who spoke fluent German was a novelty; in Germany, every scientist had a good command of at least one extra language, usually more.  I suddenly realised how inward looking the UK could be, and that if I wanted to be a successful scientist, I mustn’t be like that. I needed to connect with people, with as many people as possible from as many places as possible, and discuss ideas and plans and visions. That was how to grow.

I am upset about the referendum result for many reasons, but a big one is the thought that future generations of UK-born scientists won’t have the chances that I had. I had the freedom then to go off and study abroad; I have the freedom now to go and work in a lab anywhere in the EU. I worry about what that means for the development of young scientists. I worry too about the future of science in the UK: how attractive will our universities be to the very best, when our immigration policies grow ever more restrictive? And I worry for my country, which has just seen victory for a campaign based on the idea that shrinking our horizons is a positive thing. It isn’t.

In a month or so, my research is taking me to Heidelberg again, this time for a conference. I am sadder than I can say that this might be the last time I go as an EU citizen.

Dr. Arianna Andreangeli, lecturer in Competition Law, University of Edinburgh.

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“After the vote just a couple of days ago, I feel that all of a sudden the country where I chose to build my career and my family has edged away from the Europe I love and was born in.”

The result of the Brexit referendum caught a lot of people by complete surprise.  It left many of us in tears, in deep uncertainty and has led us to question our life choices.  This surely happened to me. I am Italian by birth, live in Scotland now, having moved there in 2011: my husband is Scottish but we actually met in England. I am a proud graduate from University College Dublin, in Ireland, where I read for a Masters’ degree in European Law, and of the University of Birmingham, where I gained my PhD in Law, and my first lecturing post was in the University of Liverpool, in the beating, anarchic heart of the North West of England (sorry, Manchester, but the Scousers win it hands down with me). It is not an exaggeration to say that the “EU made me”, personally, professionally and in some of the aspects of my deepest being. I am a strongly minded European: my birth in Italy has given me the passion for the Classics, the Opera and the boundless love of my wonderful family, yet Ireland and the United Kingdom formed me as an academic.

My area of expertise is also deeply imbued by the European project: I am a competition lawyer. I research market dynamics and how the law ensures that they remain genuine, unhindered by outside pressures, such as monopoly positions that may be abused or concerted behaviour aimed at reaping higher, unjustified profits to the detriment of citizens. Yet, I am not, in the best European tradition, a free-marketer: I think that markets should be protected and cherished to the extent that, and because, they secure best outcomes, in terms of quality and of prices, for individuals and for the societies that they touch with their functioning. Ultimately, they must work to nurture individual freedom, not the pockets of the few: they must function in harmony with the environment, not to destroy it; they must uphold the needs of the communities they affect, not secure lower levels of protection for them.

The health emergency of alcohol abuse in Scotland prompted me to embark on my most recent piece of work: the controversy on whether the Scottish Parliament can enact rules setting minimum prices for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages with a view to pricing out of the market the cheapest, strongest and thus most dangerous drinks seemed to me perhaps the best example of evidence-based policy. Backed by a number of independent studies, this legislation was poised to make a true contribution to addressing alcohol misuse, especially among the poorest and most disadvantaged.  Yet, the snag, which was picked up by none other than the Scotch Whisky Association, who have eventually taken the Scottish Ministers to court in Scotland and also in Luxembourg, was that setting floor prices can actually interfere with the flow of trade among Member States… by making imported goods instantly not as attractive as they could otherwise be in their country of origin, where lower prices than the statutory minimum can be applied.

This instantly made me wonder whether competition on grounds of prices is after all so important: at the end of the day, do the EU treaties not say that achieving goals of high levels of, among others, public health protection is central to the European project? This is what I have been trying to find out, and on Friday, namely the fateful day after the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU, I finished the second draft of this paper. Yet, is it still going to be relevant? Surely, competition law is very much part of domestic law in the UK, and these issues will always remain alive.  They say that the UK economy is an open and market-minded one: yet, it was only thanks to the impact of the European project that mechanisms for the enforcement of the competition rules and the avoidance of the creation of harmful position of market powers eventually were legislated for; the UK Competition Act is also fundamentally influenced by the EU Treaties.

I sit here in Edinburgh, a city with a strong European heart: Mary Stuart lived literally ten minutes away from my front room, and she was French.  Yet, after the vote just a couple of days ago, I feel that all of a sudden the country where I chose to build my career and my family has edged away from the Europe I love and was born in, just that tiny bit more for me to feel comfortable and serene personally, as well as confident in my academic outlook, on the way in which I look at and study markets and try to contribute to public debate with my scholarship.  I had so many plans as to how to bring this agenda forward: the impact of the new EU rules on tobacco trade on competition within the internal market, as well as on the freedom to express “commercial ideas” was up next, yet I am now unsure whether it is now a viable project.  All of a sudden, being on a tiny island does not make it fun for me anymore.

Lucy Greenhill, researcher, Scottish Association for Marine Sciences.

Lucy Greenhill

“Oceans do not respect national boundaries.”

As a researcher into how governance of our oceans can adapt to enable society to respond to the complex challenges of sustainable development, I can only see ‘Brexit’ as a huge backwards step. Simply put, addressing big challenges requires co-operation, openness, long-term thinking and integration, particularly when dealing with issues that are transboundary. These progressive features were supported by the EU, and will be extremely compromised outside of it.

Sustainable development is, by its nature, a complicated concept, and is interpreted differently by individuals according to their values, culture and what they represent in society. How do we protect the environment, but still enable economic development and gathering of resources to support communities? Should we conserve ecosystems for their intrinsic value, or is it acceptable to treat nature as a service-provider for humanity? What if our market-based economy is incompatible with maintaining a healthy natural environment? These questions are not easy to grapple with, but what I have learnt is that we need to talk about it to get anywhere. In my research I am exploring how we start to address these issues on a smaller scale, and related to our use of the seas.

I focus specifically on an increasingly utilised governance tool called marine spatial planning (MSP), which provides a ‘real world’ situation, where we (as a society made up of the state, NGOs, scientists, communities and others) can look at ‘sustainable development’ in the context of activities that relate to our own situation – our jobs, our view from the house, the fish we eat. Briefly, MSP provides a process of planning ahead for various marine activities and ecosystem protection in a particular region of sea, in an integrated way. This has the benefit of moving away from fragmented management of different industries and interests and explore the most ‘sustainable’ combination of development in an area and involving civil society in the process. Using social science, I am looking at the methods that we can use to explore future possible scenarios through MSP, identify how we manage potential conflicts for space or resources and debate how ecological and social limits are respected. At least that’s the idea…

Conceptually, MSP makes sense, but it faces key challenges, made harder following a vote by the UK to leave the EU. Oceans do not respect national boundaries. Our human activities (shipping, tourism, etc.) and habitats and species operate across boundaries hence the committed drive to increasingly co-operate and integrate between countries of the EU. This includes sharing data and information, aligning our processes, sharing experience and knowledge, collaboratively funding the science essential to improving practice, developing joint ‘visions’ to drive national policy and motivate industries and stakeholders, and many, many more. It saddens me greatly that the UK may now not be a leading participant in such co-operation and which compromises our ability to progress in answering these fundamental questions which define our future. But I am determined to fight for ensuring support for science, to improving the voice of scientists in the political arena and maintaining co-operation with European institutions and organisations on these issues.

Dr. Lauren Redhead, composer and Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University.

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“Free movement and the right to work has been an essential part of enabling the collaborative relationships that form my work.”

I am a practice-researcher: my research includes performing and composing both as its methodology and its outputs. This type of research is different from written research because it can’t necessarily be enacted without its public-facing and collaborative dimensions (this is not to say that these aren’t important to other researchers, but that they are more often central to practice research). My personal research directions involve the performance of sound in space, iterative processes of composition, and the enactment of extended open notation by partly improvising musicians. As my career has progressed this research has taken place on a global, and particularly European stage. I have recently returned from a tour of performances in Germany and Scotland, working with musicians from the UK, Germany, America, and Iceland. My most recent commission has come from an international contemporary music festival in Belgium; the piece will be performed alongside music by other composers from the UK, Belgium and Portugal by a pianist, Ian Pace, who has made his career on the international stage, performing music from most continents.

This serves to illustrate that research in the arts, by its nature, crosses borders. The collaborations that I have made have been central to the development and dissemination of my ideas. Music cannot be realised without musicians and practice research can’t exist without its practice. But these collaborations are not arbitrary either: the musical tradition that I work in (often called New Music (Neue Musik, derived from a definition made by Theodor Adorno) is, essentially, a Central European tradition, albeit one that draws musicians from America, Australia and Asia. The contemporary musical traditions in the UK, outside of key institutions like the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, have not historically supported this music as other EU countries have done.

Free movement and the right to work has been an essential part of enabling the collaborative relationships that form my work: the ability for me to travel to Europe, to have the right to work and play there, and to be able to invite European musicians to work and perform in the UK means that this work can take place without administrative hurdles that would obscure the research aims. I am worried about the future possibilities for my collaborators in the UK, and for the future potential for me to continue to develop my work in Europe. The potential for the arts to flourish without our European partners is narrow, and this will also impact the development of the arts and therefore the development of research in the arts. As a postgraduate student of composition I was advised by my supervisors to look to Europe as my workplace, and this is advice I’ve continued to give my postgraduate students. I now wonder what the future for their work, as well as mine, will be.

Dr. Rita Singer, Research Assistant for the AHRC-funded project ‘European Travellers to Wales, 1750-2010’.

“Without the opportunities given to me by the EU, my life would look very different today.”

Rita photo cropped

Just a little of under three years ago, I moved to the UK as a freshly recruited researcher working on a major project between three Welsh universities investigating 260 years of travel from mainland Europe to Wales. Since then, this all-female team of researchers have unearthed an unanticipated amount of accounts from 17 countries, written in 15 languages. Needless to say, if I coloured in a map according to the countries of origin for each of these travellers, I’d look at something that would not be much different from the EU. We are still in the middle of evaluating our sources, but one thing is clear: the reasons why people come to Wales were as diverse two hundred years ago as they are today. There are holiday makers scrambling across rocky mountain terrain in all sorts of weather; there are refugees escaping political persecution and wars; there are lovers who establish their family lives in this country; there are engineers who marvel at the great bridges and industry of Wales; there are the artists who have painted and sketched every inch of this country; and – this is where I find myself coming into the picture – there are the scholars investigating Welsh literature, history and language. Two-hundred and sixty years of all these different paths of life connecting the mainland with these islands and as of Friday morning, it seems like this proud tradition is coming undone.

My own history as a German in this country is not exclusively tied to this research project but took off in a roundabout manner in Berlin during a night-time press conference in November 1989. That night, a high-ranking East German politician ‘miss-spoke’ in front of dozens of cameras when an Italian reporter pressed him on the status of the East German border. Less than a year later, the GDR was wiped off the face of the European map as it reunited with West Germany and thus joined the European Community.

Fast-forward sixteen-years to my time as an MA student at Leipzig University where I was enrolled in British Studies as my first major and German as a Second Language as my second subject. When I was given the opportunity in 2005 to apply for the ERASMUS programme, I jumped on the opportunity for one of two precious placements available at Bangor University. Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated studying abroad, let alone studying in the UK with its tuition fees way beyond my financial means. If it hadn’t been for the EU, studying English Literature and teaching German to undergrad students at Bangor University would have forever remained a pipe dream. It probably would have also meant that I would not have been introduced to the rich and beautiful literature coming from Wales which formed the basis for my later PhD research.

Without the opportunities given to me by the EU, my life would look very different today. The freedom of movement guaranteed by the EU allowed me to return to the UK during my time as PhD student when I dug my way through the Bangor University Archive and Special Collection, the National Library of Wales and the British Library on multiple occasions. The freedom of movement also meant that I could travel to conferences across Europe while being spared the exasperating experience of applying for visitors’ visas, like my German colleagues who travelled to Russia for their research.

Without the EU, I would most likely not have felt encouraged to pursue work as an academic and I would have missed out on this great international network of intellectual exchange and the building of cultural bridges. Learning Welsh would have been much more difficult, too, as schools providing classes for adult learners are heavily dependent on EU funding. So is the National Library of Wales, one of the main collaborators for the current project, or the museums in Wales with whom I teamed up over the course of the previous two years to create a free travelling exhibition. With the Brexit on all of our doorsteps, it seems these institutions, who already struggle for survival owing to chronic underfunding during these years of austerity, will fade into the inevitable cultural twilight.

I am not a politician and can therefore make no predictions about my future in this country. All I know is that as of Friday, all bets are off and I am looking at setting up a ‘Plan B’ down the road which does not rule out a return to Germany, hoping that I may be able to continue with my research on the culture and history of Wales.

Rena Maguire, Doctoral Scholar, Queen’s University Belfast.

Rena Maguire

“It didn’t take a great deal to convince me, like many involved in higher education, that remaining within the EU was the most beneficial option.”

Had there been a more stable and competent government, I may have voted for an arrangement similar to that of Norway and the EU. I initially kept an open mind on Brexit, and did my research on what the key issues would be for my career, family and quality of life. It didn’t take a great deal to convince me, like many involved in higher education, that remaining within the EU was the most beneficial option. Archaeologists are the international wanderers of academia, with constant global collaboration on shared projects. It’s a facet of the profession I’ve loved – learning and being accepted on a world-wide basis. If anything, all the travel and research has reinforced just how much we all have in common across Europe.

The EU has reciprocated that constant interaction of archaeologists by offering funding to heritage and research sectors. The Times Higher Education supplement of June 24th 2016 placed that funding contribution to UK archaeology as around 28%. Leaving the EU means that effectively we have almost a third less available finance to stimulate new projects, consolidate old ones and create employment. It’s obvious that the Brexit vote will have an extremely negative influence on the education sector of the UK, although with statements from people like Michael Gove, there’s a strong feeling of anti-intellectualism or academic specialisation within those who voted to leave the EU. I can only presume they don’t realise that new research stimulates employment across all sectors, not just academia. Universities have already accepted too many cut-backs and perhaps I am being pessimistic, but cannot see a Far-Right Brexit-led government being far-sighted enough to replace the 28% funding we shall lose from Europe.

I worked in the media before entering academia and if I’m capable of any talent in this, it’s translating the past into something relevant and vibrant for the present, making academic issues accessible to all. People love heritage and archaeology because it is fascinating. But it’s also so important to show how much we have in common. The entire heritage sector feels exceptionally apprehensive at the moment, that we will have no fiscal value under such a Far-Right government. I am lucky in that I am Irish/Northern Irish; my passport is Irish and as such I remain a member of the European Union. I can still work with colleagues in Europe, though I fear I may never be employed in the UK. That 28% will take a terrible toll in jobs, and I suspect my own future waits for me on the Continent – I’ll be one of the new breed of Wild Geese which this political event will generate. I am overwhelmingly sad and angry for UK colleagues who do not have this option. However, I know that universities in the UK will do all they can (especially my alma mater of QUB), so am hopeful – academics are an altruistic lot, and resourceful too. I reckon we just need to keep hoping and teaching to overcome all the vitriol.

Dr. Viviane Gravey, Senior Research Associate, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

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“Overnight, the UK is suddenly not such a great place to build a research career anymore.”

As a political scientist working on EU policies and politics, the European Union is not only a potential funder for both my research and that of my colleagues but also the object of my study. As a French citizen living and working in the UK, the European Union not only shapes my professional life but also my private life: rights to work, access the health service, protection against discrimination, right to vote in local and European election. A Brexit puts all of these in question. It will also cast a long shadow on my teaching EU politics in the UK: how will my students, some of whom won’t have been old enough to vote on Thursday, engage with the EU in the coming years and months?

In the last few months I have been involved in efforts by social scientists across the UK to provide facts to voters, trying to raise the profile of environmental issues in this campaign – I am one of these “experts” Michael Gove argued the public is tired of hearing from.  We studied different Brexit scenarios.  We will now have the dubious privilege of seeing whether the environmental protections and rights which we identified as at risk in case of a vote to Leave, will indeed be weakened or removed.  Great for our research, potentially not so great for the environment in the UK…

That someone like me – studying the European Union – is to be affected by Thursday’s vote is really a no-brainer. And while the impacts on my private life and rights will be negative (if I stay in the UK I will be disenfranchised, lose some protections), the vote could open interesting avenues for further research for public policy scholars, as the UK will have to renegotiate so many international agreements and revise so many of its own laws.

I am far less sanguine for my colleagues working in other fields, both hard and social scientists, both from the UK or long-term residents in this country. On Friday, two senior colleagues shared what would normally have been very good news: they had both secured EU Horizon 2020 funding for their research. These grants would effectively pay their wages for part of the year for the next three years. But then, what next? Would these grants be the last EU funding for which they’d be eligible?

The full force of a Brexit impact on research in the UK won’t be felt for many months or even years. For permanent staff, this could mean losing out on cutting edge research funding. For early career researchers on short-term contracts, for PhD students trying to get their first post-docs, this means an even smaller pool of jobs to compete for in the UK. Overnight, the UK is suddenly not such a great place to build a research career anymore, and as we discussed the referendum over coffee, many started openly contemplating continuing their work abroad, be it to the rest of Europe, the US or Commonwealth countries.

Dr. Roberta Guerrina, Reader in Politics, University of Surrey.


“The outcome is likely to have long-term implications for women across Europe.”

One of the big silences in the recent EU referendum has been the impact of a possible Brexit on British women and European women residing in the UK. Now that the verdict is out, many of us have been left wondering what Brexit actually means for us. Gender equality was never one of the key issues in the Referendum. Now that the UK is facing a new political and economic environment made up of economic and constitutional challenges, it is unlikely to surface at the top of the political agenda. Yet, the outcome is likely to have long-term implications for women across Europe.

 I completed my PhD on the UK and Italian implementation of the 1992 Pregnant Worker Directive many years ago. My understanding of the relationship between national politics and European institutions seems more relevant now than ever. I spent the next twenty years looking at the development of the European equality agenda, and like many others I focused on the shortcomings and unfulfilled promises. This year’s Referendum campaign, however, forced me to look at the EU’s role as a gender actor in a completely different light.

Looking at the relationship between UK equality policies and the EU draws attention to the role and influence of the transnational feminist movement and the importance of finding a platform for women’s rights advocacy beyond the state.  The UK’s withdrawal clearly poses additional obstacles to women’s right organisations seeking to expand the equality agenda at the national level.

The recent economic crisis of 2008 had a detrimental impact on women’s position in the labour market. Austerity policies have weakened women’s position in the public sphere and the official labour market. Key services aimed at women’s activation have been depleted by various rounds of austerity measures.  The crisis allowed policy makers to side-line gender equality in the pursuit of higher political and economic goals.

 The result of the Referendum brings into question the longevity of key equality policies, e.g. maternity rights, introduced to fulfil the requirements of European legislation.  Focus on cutting red tape during the campaign did not address one key issue: equal rights, maternity rights and equal opportunity policies are often seen as red tape by those seeking to liberalise the market.  The UK has a well established body of equality legislation, but in a post-Brexit environment it not clear which institutional structures and mechanisms will be put in place to ensure basic standards are maintained.

 The EU’s role as a gender actor has not lived up to feminists’ expectations. Equality is one of its fundamental values, but there is a growing gulf between rhetoric and reality. The kind of equality agenda produced has been largely driven by economic imperatives. However, it has produced a body of legislation that normalised the idea of gender equality in the labour market. It has provided a platform for feminist organisations to lobby beyond the Member States. It has given space to Femocrats (feminist bureaucrats) to promoting far reaching legislation in the area of pregnancy protection.  The question now for women is: can UK actors/policy agencies fill the void left by European institutions?