Posts By / Rachel Bowen

Conversation article: Police forces must take firm and unified stance on tackling sexual abuse of position

Clickmanis/Shutterstock

Fay Sweeting, Bournemouth University

PC Stephen Mitchell of Northumbria Police was jailed for life in 2011 for two rapes, three indecent assaults and six counts of misconduct in a public office, having targeted some of society’s most vulnerable for his own sexual gratification. The case prompted an urgent review into the extent of police sexual misconduct and the quality of internal investigations. One of the recommendations required forces to publicly declare the outcomes of misconduct hearings.

A review of police sexual misconduct in the UK by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary revealed on average 218 cases a year between 2014 and 2016, or around one case per 1,000 officers. A follow-up report from last year shows 415 cases over the following three years, an average of around 138 a year.

But while these serious crimes are still relatively rare, sexual misconduct is a serious matter with implications for the public’s view and trust of the police as an institution. In many cases, the officers’ actions have potential to re-victimise those who are already victims of domestic abuse or rape. Such abuse of position is also likely to be under-reported, with victims fearing they will not be believed.

Compared to other forms of police corruption, sexual crimes committed by serving officers is under-researched, with the majority of existing research focusing on the US and Canada. I am police officer conducting PhD research on sexual misconduct among police officers and barriers to reporting sexual misconduct. In a new paper, my colleagues and I sought to explore the situation in England and Wales by examining the outcomes of police disciplinary proceedings.

Analysing documents from 155 police misconduct hearings, we identified eight different behaviours:

  1. Voyeurism – for example using a police helicopter camera to observe women sunbathing topless in their private gardens.
  2. Sexual assaults, relationships or attempted sexual relationships with victims or other vulnerable persons. While the national figures show some 117 reports of sexual assaults by police officers, the disciplinary hearings we studied featured primarily cases of professional malpractice through consensual but inappropriate relationships that fell below the threshold of criminal behaviour.
  3. Sexual relationships with offenders. Similarly, while the data was heavily sanitised for publication there were only a very small number of cases where assault was involved. In most cases, these were consensual relationships, albeit inappropriate ones.
  4. Sexual contact involving juveniles, including the making of or distribution of pornographic images of children.
  5. Behaviour towards police officers, including sexual assaults on colleagues and sexually inappropriate language and behaviour.
  6. Sex on duty, chiefly between colleagues or officers and their partners.
  7. Unwanted sexual approaches to members of the public – for example, pressuring a member of the public who is not a victim or witness for their phone number and then sending sexually inappropriate messages.
  8. Pornography, such as posting intimate images of former partners on revenge porn sites and, in one case, using a police camera to record a pornographic film.

It’s useful to see how the offences in England and Wales differ compared to the US and Canada. For example, US researcher Timothy Maher defines what he calls “sexual shakedowns”, a category of offence not recorded in the UK, where an officer demands a sexual service, for example in return for not making an arrest.

This is particularly prevalent in cases involving sex workers, and also other marginalised women such as those with low education levels, or those experiencing homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse or mental health issues. In a US study of women drawn from records of drug courts, 96% had sex with an officer on duty, 77% had repeated exchanges, 31% reported rape by an officer, and 54% were offered favours by officers in exchange for sex.

When US officers targeted offenders for sexual gain, it was often for the purpose of humiliation or dominance – an unnecessary strip search, for example. On the other hand, our research indicates the problem in the UK is more of officers targeting vulnerable victims or witnesses in order to initiate a sexual relationship.

Unhappy woman with face in hands
Women who are already suffering domestic violence are often among those police officers have had inappropriate sexual relationships with, considered an abuse of position.
Mark Nazh/Shutterstock

The most common sexual offences by officers

We found the most common type of sexual misconduct was officers having sexual relationships with witnesses or victims, accounting for nearly a third of all cases. Many of these victims had histories of domestic abuse, substance abuse or mental illness, making them highly vulnerable.

In general, the victims revealed many of the same risk factors as those found in people targeted by sex offenders. There are also similarities between the actions of these police officers and similar offences by prison officers or teachers, who are also more likely to select victims they believe are easily controllable and less likely to speak out.

The second most common type involved the way police officers treated their colleagues – most often a higher-ranking male officer towards a lower-ranking or less experienced female officer. Generally, higher ranking officers have less contact with the public and more contact with staff, which may at least partially explain this finding. But in the US and Canada this type of sexual misconduct is more likely to be directed towards a colleague of the same rank.

As in the US, we found that the vast majority of officers involved in sexual misconduct are male. For the handful of female officers in our sample, almost all were involved in sexual relationships with offenders. Hearing documents do not provide in-depth information, and in media coverage – such as that of PC Tara Woodley, who helped her sex offender partner evade police – it is harder to understand who held the power and control in these relationships.

Misconduct hearings, with variable results

The outcomes of sexual misconduct hearings differed, with officers more likely to be dismissed for having sex with victims in forces from the south of England than in the north, while officers having sex on duty were more likely to be dismissed in the Midlands. Officers above the rank of sergeant were more frequently dismissed than constables, suggesting there is less tolerance of misconduct for those of higher rank. Compare this to similar cases in the NHS, where nurses involved in sexual misconduct are more likely to be struck off than doctors.

Our findings suggest that police forces in England and Wales are taking sexual misconduct seriously, with 94% of all cases leading to formal disciplinary actions, and 70% leading to dismissal. But the variation of outcomes across the country is a concern, and there is evidence of misconduct hearing panels not following the College of Policing’s guidance, as seen in a recent case of racist comments by West Midlands police officers.

I believe that the majority of my colleagues uphold the moral and ethical values expected of them, but more needs to be done. The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary’s report from last year argues that police forces are not moving quickly enough to deal with the issue, citing lack of investment, training and poor record keeping. There can be no place in the police for those who would abuse their position.

Fay Sweeting, PhD Candidate in in Forensic Psychology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: #Manifestation – some businesses use this new age spirituality to hold employees accountable

Diana Simumpande/Unsplash, FAL

Melissa Carr, Bournemouth University and Elisabeth Kelan, University of Essex

Manifestation is the latest viral trend on social media, presented as a way to create – or physically manifest – your own reality through carefully monitoring thoughts, beliefs and feelings.

The hashtag #manifest has over a billion views on TikTok alone. In these posts, advice is offered on manifestation as the mechanism to achieve the life you want, whether it is money, happiness, the body you desire, or exam grades. Techniques to manifest involve imagining something has already happened, visualising it, writing it down, and using positive language such as “I have” rather than “I want”. To be successful at manifestation, belief and positivity are key.

For those that believe, manifestation makes everything achievable, and social media users have plenty of advice about how to do this. Popular examples of these techniques include the 369 method where, by writing down a name three times, an intention six times, and an outcome nine times, it is possible to manifest someone back into your life.

This idea of manifestation is based on new age philosophy dating back to the early 19th century. Its influence is found beyond TikTok – it has entered many workplaces under the guise of self-help.

#Manifest the life you want

Manifestation draws on a long-favoured new age philosophy of universal inter-relatedness: the belief that everything in the universe is related in a network without a deity at the centre. This gives rise to the belief that with positive thoughts and visualisation, people can create their own reality through the laws of manifestation, where an external force – the universe – responds to these thoughts.

The idea is that if you are negative, you invite negativity into your life. But if you desire something, by writing it down or visualising it as if has already happened, you can make these dreams a reality. As bestselling author Louise Hay explains: “I believe that everyone, myself included, is 100% responsible for everything in our lives … we create our experiences, our reality and everyone in it.”

Manifestation is more popularly referred to as the law of attraction, which gained a wider audience in the self-help book and associated film The Secret. Now, it has become part of a wider trend within organisations requiring people to see mental, physical and spiritual well-being as a prerequisite to successful leadership, whether through mindfulness, meditation or active visualisation.

Chip Wilson, founder of the aspirational yoga brand Lululemon, for example, has written that The Secret is “the fundamental law Lululemon was built on”. Employee training at the company incorporates aspects of the law of attraction, and its merchandise uses slogans promoting self-empowerment through yoga and spiritual enlightenment.

The movement of new age philosophies into business settings is something we have traced in our research.

Neoliberal spirituality

Network marketing organisations, sometimes referred to as direct sales or multi-level marketing, are companies where freelance distributors sell products direct to the consumer. The most well-known would be companies like Amway, Herbalife or Avon. We were interested in this form of organisation as they tend to be dominated by women, and the industry is notoriously precarious. Most distributors fail to make a living wage. To be successful, they must both sell volume and recruit other distributors to their teams.

We have been researching one such network marketing company and found that law of attraction was ingrained in its organisational culture. It was used at training events; where distributors were warned that negative thoughts would send out energy into the universe, subsequently attracting poor sales. It was also used by distributors who sold via social media platforms. On social media, the Law of Attraction was explicitly mentioned. People shared how they had manifested sales or new people into their lives, whom they could sign up as distributors.

Distributors were told by their seniors that by being kind and grateful, the universe would reward them. Success was attributed to hard work combined with sending out the right type of energy as a frequency to attract back success. Any negative thoughts in the workplace were discouraged.

We see this as a form of neoliberal spirituality. Under neoliberalism, responsibility moves from the state to individuals, who are held responsible for their own success or failure. Under the law of attraction, individuals – or employees – are held solely responsible for the ability to manifest the future they want.




Read more:
McMindfulness: Buddhism as sold to you by neoliberals


The message in the network marketing company was clear: if you aren’t achieving success, you are not manifesting hard enough. This obscures structural inequalities and, in the company we studied, the reality of precarious labour in network marketing.

Personal culpability

The law of attraction represents a powerful set of “rules” about how to behave and think. This operates as a form of self-surveillance and control, and shifts the blame for lack of financial success away from the employer and on to the employee. But suppressing negativity and being positive means that employees are not able to call out any realities and challenges of their work.

While the law of attraction can, on one level, be seen as a way to maintain wellbeing through encouraging positive thoughts, it also has a toxic side-effect of spiritual rules and self-blame.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a sense of anxiety and instability. There has been a massive increase of mental health issues, particularly for generation Z and millennials.

For TikTok users, believing they can #manifest their goals represents a way to gain control. But if subscribers to this philosophy are unable to manifest their dreams, they fail both in their goals and spirituality through being unable to harness the universal laws. These forms of spirituality are hard to challenge, and as we saw in our research, those that did try were labelled as being negative and toxic.

Melissa Carr, Senior Lecturer in Leadership Development, Bournemouth University and Elisabeth Kelan, Professor of Leadership and Organisation, University of Essex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – Fossil footprints: the fascinating story behind the longest known prehistoric journey

A prehistoric woman with a child have left behind the world’s longest trackway.
Author provided

Matthew Robert Bennett, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Bournemouth University

Every parent knows the feeling. Your child is crying and wants to go home, you pick them up to comfort them and move faster, your arms tired with a long walk ahead – but you cannot stop now. Now add to this a slick mud surface and a range of hungry predators around you.

That is the story the longest trackway of fossil footprints in the world tells us. Our new discovery, published in Quaternary Science Reviews, comes from White Sands National Park in New Mexico, US, and was made by an international team working in collaboration with staff from the National Park Service.

The footprints were spotted in a dried-up lakebed known as a playa, which contains literally hundreds of thousands of footprints dating from the end of the last ice age (about 11,550 years ago) to sometime before about 13,000 years ago.

Unlike many other known footprint trackways, this one is remarkable for its length – over at least 1.5km – and straightness. This individual did not deviate from their course. But what is even more remarkable is that they followed their own trackway home again a few hours later.

Photo showing the footprints.
A section of the double trackway. Outward and homeward journeys following each other. Central Panel: Child tracks in the middle of nowhere. Left Panel: One of the tracks with little slippage.
M Bennett, Bournemouth University., Author provided

Each track tells a story: a slip here, a stretch there to avoid a puddle. The ground was wet and slick with mud and they were walking at speed, which would have been exhausting. We estimate that they were walking at over 1.7 metres per second – a comfortable walking speed is about 1.2 to 1.5 metres per second on a flat dry surface. The tracks are quite small and were most likely made by a woman, or possibly an adolescent male.

Mysterious journey

At several places on the outward journey there are a series of small child tracks, made as the carrier set a child down perhaps to adjust them from hip to hip, or for a moment of rest. Judging by the size of the child tracks, they were made by a toddler maybe around two years old or slightly younger. The child was carried outward, but not on the return.

We can see the evidence of the carry in the shape of the tracks. They are broader due to the load, more varied in morphology often with a characteristic “banana shape” – something that is caused by outward rotation of the foot.

Colour depth rendered 3D scans of some of the footprints. Note the distinctive curved shape which seems to be a feature of load carrying.
Bournemouth University., Author provided

The tracks of the homeward journey are less varied in shape and have a narrower form. We might even go as far as to tentatively suggest that the surface had probably dried a little between the two journeys.

Dangerous predators

The playa was home to many extinct ice age animals, perhaps hunted to extinction by humans, perhaps not. Tracks of these animals helped determine the age of the trackway.

We found the tracks of mammoths, giant sloths, sabre-toothed cats, dire wolves, bison and camels. We have produced footprint evidence in the past of how these animals may have been hunted. What’s more, research yet to be published tells of children playing in puddles formed in giant sloth tracks, jumping between mammoth tracks and of hunting and butchery.

Between the outward and return journeys, a sloth and a mammoth crossed the outward trackway. The footprints of the return journey in turn cross those animal tracks.

The sloth tracks show awareness of the human passage. As the animal approached the trackway, it appears to have reared-up on its hind legs to catch the scent – pausing by turning and trampling the human tracks before dropping to all fours and making off. It was aware of the danger.

In contrast, the mammoth tracks, at one site made by a large bull, cross the human trackway without deviation, most likely not having noticed the humans.

The trackway tells a remarkable story. What was this individual doing alone and with a child out on the playa, moving with haste? Clearly it speaks to social organisation, they knew their destination and were assured of a friendly reception. Was the child sick? Or was it being returned to its mother? Did a rainstorm quickly come in catching a mother and child off guard? We have no way of knowing and it is easy to give way to speculation for which we have little evidence.

What we can say is that the woman is likely to have been uncomfortable on that hostile landscape, but was prepared to make the journey anyway. So next time you are rushing around in the supermarket with a tired child in your arms, remember that even prehistoric parents shared these emotions.

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Principal Academic in Hominin Palaeoecology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bringing change to women’s artistic gymnastics

Over the last few months, numerous stories have emerged from the world of gymnastics which have exposed the darker side of the sport.  Sexual abuse, bullying, harassment, fear and body-shaming are just some of the conditions that gymnasts from around the world have spoken out about.

BU’s Dr Carly Stewart, together with 22 other scholars from a number of countries, have published a manifesto proposing eight actions to be taken.  The manifesto is about changing the culture of women’s artistic gymnastics and seeking to address deep seated power that operates against athletes, often transferred from the coaches and other officials. By doing so, they hope to disrupt and prevent physical, psychological and emotional abuse.

The group of scholars are known as the International Socio-Cultural research group on Women’s Artistic Gymnastics (ICSWAG), which was established in 2016 following an international conference held at the University of Gothenburg.  Research from network members highlights problematic coaching behaviours and practices and the need for change.  Many of the network’s members are former gymnasts and several have coached, judged, and been officials with gymnastics organisations.  The ISCWAG body of research is extensive and has recently culminated in the book ‘Women’s Artistic Gymnastics: Socio-Cultural Perspectives’.

The need for change has been clearly demonstrated over the summer following the launch of the documentary Athlete A on Netflix about systematic abuse and a culture of silence within gymnastics in the USA. National team physician Larry Nassar was one of the perpetrators, sentenced to several hundred years in prison for abusing hundreds of women gymnasts.

“Athlete A” caused women gymnasts from other countries to come forward during the summer, speaking out about similar abuse and is gaining momentum.

Since this summer, this group of gymnastics scholars been interviewed in the international media, including Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden and are in discussion with national gymnastics federations and other organisations to discuss how change can be made possible.

BU researchers contribute to POST report about life beyond Covid-19

In March 2020, the Knowledge Exchange Unit in the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology launched the COVID-19 outbreak database and over 5,500 experts signed up.  With the launch of the House of Lords COVID-19 Committee inquiry on Life beyond COVID, a survey was sent to all of these experts to find out what implications from the COVID-19 outbreak in the next 2 to 5 years they would most want to draw to the Committee’s attention.  366 academics, including six from Bournemouth University responded.

POST have now analysed all of the responses and has summarised patterns and trends in the data under the following themes:

  • Work and employment,
  • Health and social care,
  • Research and development,
  • Society and community,
  • Natural environment,
  • Education,
  • Economy,
  • Arts, culture and sport,
  • Built environment,
  • Crime and justice.

The full analysis can be read here.

Conversation article: Nurses are on the coronavirus frontline, so why are they being left out of the response?

More than 600 nurses worldwide have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. This should not be a surprise: we are the largest group of healthcare workers in the world, dedicated to preventing the spread of coronavirus, and we are also engaged in caring for those who are suffering.

But although we are on the frontline of this crisis, nurses are too often being left out of responses to the pandemic.

Uniquely at risk

In the UK and other countries with high rates of coronavirus deaths, there are increasing inequalities in health outcomes for different income groups. In England and Wales, the mortality rates from COVID-19 in the most deprived areas are more than double the least deprived.

In general, the risk of ill health increases for people who live on a low income. Common health issues that affect these groups include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, lung disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. All of these put people at higher risk of becoming sicker and dying from COVID-19. Death rates are highest among people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

These communities are also disproportionately represented among nursing staff some of whom are living on the lowest wages.

Lacking equipment

Nurses working in hospitals, care homes and within communities are often put at greater risk from COVID-19 because they have not been given adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE.

A study of nearly 100,000 health workers in the UK and US found that people working on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic were three times more likely to test positive for the disease than the general community. Health workers from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background were found to be five times more likely to test positive than white people who did not work in healthcare. Workers who reported a lack of adequate PPE in their healthcare institutions were at greater risk still.

Another study by the UK’s Royal College of Nursing, meanwhile, found that more than half of Black, Asian and minority ethnic respondents have felt pressure to work without the correct PPE compared to just over a third of other respondents. These groups were also asked to reuse PPE more frequently than their white counterparts.

Denied a voice

It’s a painful irony that as nurses battle against the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 is the World Health Organization’s Year of the Nurse and Midwife which was supposed to raise the profile and perceptions of nurses globally.

But the response to the pandemic in the UK has starkly shown that our expertise and experience as a profession is not being called upon and our potential is not recognised. We are the biggest work force for health in the UK working in hospitals, care homes and community settings to care for those with COVID-19 and help prevent its spread yet we have no representation on the official scientific advisory group (SAGE), which advises the government on its coronavirus response. Nor are we represented on the rival Independent SAGE group.

Our role in policy development and planning is negligible despite the invaluable insights our unique position in health systems gives us. Our lack of representation and reward means that we are also suffering from the impacts of inequalities along with those we care for.

Given the chance, nurses could help guide coronavirus policy in a number of ways. First, by being a witness to the health impacts of COVID-19 on our local communities and staff, recording and researching inequity of access to services. Second, we can advise on how to provide prevention and treatment resources to those most at risk. Finally, we can set a positive example in terms of equality of opportunity, fair working conditions, protection from infection and pay. This could start with ensuring equal provision of PPE for all staff.

Nurses are at the forefront of trying to reduce existing health inequalities which are being made worse by COVID-19. We are also victims of those inequalities – a feminised, racialised workforce dealing with poor conditions and lacking a political voice. Care and prevention of disease are not perceived as being as important as finding a cure or a vaccine, but in the global recovery from COVID-19, all these elements are equally vital.

We have already lost too many colleagues in the fight against this disease. It’s time our work is recognised and we are given an official voice to help us all recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Ann Hemingway, Professor of Public Health, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: How Airbnb got its IPO plans back on track

Airbnb is gearing up for its long-awaited IPO.
Shutterstock.com

Michael O’Regan, Bournemouth University

It’s been a rollercoaster year for Airbnb and its much-anticipated plans for an initial public offering or IPO. The home sharing platform had planned to file back in March to go public but then coronavirus hit and its revenue nose-dived.

Now, it looks like plans are back on track. Airbnb confidentially filed its IPO paperwork with the securities and exchange commission in mid-August. None of the financial specifics were revealed but the company was valued at US$18 billion in its last funding round in April, which is a long way down from its previous 2017 valuation of US$31 billion.

Of course, like the entire tourism industry, the coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous effect on Airbnb’s finances. New bookings stopped, cancellation rates soared, refunds to hosts and guests cost millions and revenue fell, even as cost cutting measures like layoffs were implemented. To help mitigate this, it was forced to fundraise US$2 billion in debt and equity securities in April 2020 with onerous terms.

So the decision to file its IPO paperwork and potentially list in 2020 was surprising to some. Critics point to the ongoing pandemic and the many issues it continues to throw up: the hosts and guests that have been angered by changing cancellation policies, new laws and regulations in cities seeking to reclaim housing for locals, as well as the falling revenue and ongoing losses. Others point to the lacklustre IPOs from sharing economy bedfellows Uber and Lyft in 2019, not to mention WeWork’s fall from grace.

Reasons to IPO

But there are lots of reasons to go public, including pressure from employees (shares held by early employees will expire this year). But another big motivation is the fact that Airbnb has rebounded better than its competitors from coronavirus. Booking rates were above expectations from June 2020 onwards and the Airbnb model could take advantage of changing host and tourist behaviour during the pandemic.

The company’s overheads are far less than the hotel sector due to its limited fixed costs. It also took advantage of the rise in domestic staycations in rural locations across the globe, and the increased demand for countryside retreats where people could safely socially distance. Unlike hotels, short-term rentals tend to facilitate longer stays and can offer full-service amenities, living space, and gardens. Research shows that the more spacious environments of short-term lets have been popular with holidaymakers and people wanting to work from home elsewhere.

Despite broad marketing cuts to reduce losses, Airbnb has strong brand recognition through past campaigns like “Don’t go there. Live there” that tapped into people’s desire to not just visit a place but have a more authentic experience of it. This helped it become the go-to platform for short-term rentals during the pandemic.

Hosts in rural areas also responded to the demand by listing. Meanwhile urban hosts responded by switching their properties to private rental, or dramatically reducing prices.

Airbnb logo held by a hand in front of wooden hut in countryside.
Rural retreats have risen in popularity.
AlesiaKan / Shutterstock.com

While the broader tourism and hospitality sector is weak, perhaps Airbnb sees this stage of the pandemic as its time to shine and push ahead with its IPO. Plus, stock markets in the US are on a record high, fuelled by stimulus from Washington.

Questions remain

Questions remain for Airbnb, however. In particular, when will travel behaviour revert to business as usual, if ever? This will determine whether current bookings growth will lead to profitability.

Then there are the safety issues that have dogged the company for years and played a big role in Airbnb’s loss of profitability in 2019. It spent US$150 million on safety initiatives, including verifying the accuracy of listings, creating a 24/7 safety hotline and even tied employee bonuses to safety.

There is also the threat of more tax and regulation in major markets, which could emerge as authorities seek new revenue to pay for the effect of coronavirus on their economies. The basis of the favourable market conditions are also open to question, as there is concern that the current strength of the stock markets isn’t based on strong economic fundamentals and is a bubble that’s waiting to burst.

Success in the tourism industry is never a given. Airbnb will be all too aware of this, having totally disrupted the hotel industry. Airbnb has more than 7 million listings – dwarfing the largest hotel chain, Wyndham Worldwide, which has 8,000 hotels. But rather than seeing this as a burden, Airbnb is capitalising on it.

But for all its market positioning as a different kind of travel provider – one that offers unique, authentic and personalised experiences – Airbnb still sits firmly with the tourism sector. Like its competitors, its success still depends on post-pandemic travel rebound.

Michael O’Regan, Senior Lecturer in Events and Leisure, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Why the UK government is paying social media influencers to post about coronavirus

biD LTasgY/unsplash

Elvira Bolat, Bournemouth University

Social media influencers are often seen as lazy freelancers who make a living being paid to pretend they like products. But these “celebrities’” are more than just marketing vehicles. If used properly, they can be effective agents of positive social change.

Yet the UK government has taken a bold step by working with influencers to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. It has paid several social media influencers and reality TV stars to promote the NHS test and trace service – the system used when someone tests positive for COVID-19 to work out who else might be at risk after coming in contact with them. The service relies on local public health teams contacting those that may be potentially infected to ask them to self-isolate and test for the virus. However, to date, the service is failing to deliver. This is for many reasons, one of which is the public’s reluctance to share their contact details.

When the system failed to reach its target for the ninth week in a row, the government decided to change strategy. This is when it brought in social media players such as Love Island stars Shaughna Phillips, Josh Denzel and Chris Hughes. Phillips, who has 1.5 million followers on her Instagram, posted a photo of her with a friend, reminding her followers that “the best way for us all to get back to doing the things we love” is by getting tested for coronavirus. She reminded fans that the test and trace service is “totally free, quick and is vital to stop the spread of coronavirus” and told them about her experience of using the testing service.

Phillips, just like other influencers involved in this campaign, was paid for her posts. While the government hasn’t revealed how much was spent on the campaign, it claims “over 7 million people have been reached” with the messages.

Typically a mega influencer who has more than a million followers will be paid around £10,000 per post so, of course, there was a debate about whether taxpayers’ money should be used in this way.

However, the right public health messaging doesn’t always reach young people. They are often less engaged with mainstream traditional communication channels such as TV, radio and press. Paying popular influencers to promote credible public health messaging is a genuine alternative if the government wants to reach young people.

Powerful but ordinary

The impact social media influencers have – on young people in particular – is beyond doubt. And their clout is particularly strong now that we’re spending more time at home online.

Of course, their power is most readily associated with commercial interests. The rise of the influencer has transformed the beauty and fashion industries beyond recognition. Finding the right star to endorse your product on their Instragram or TikTok feed, can make or break a brand these days.

They achieve these results by presenting themselves as an approachable “friend” to their social media followers. They have a greater than average potential to influence others because they build a special, intimate bond with their followers by posting content very regularly and communicating with their audience directly. When a fan leaves a comment on an influencer’s post and receives a reply, they feel like they have a relationship with them, which reinforces the influencer’s ability to market products.

In our survey of 465 young people, we found that social media influencers’ content and their “authentic” behaviours are linked to consumers’ tendencies to buy products spontaneously without reflection.

Unlike traditional celebrities, who often keep their private lives behind closed doors, social media influencers discuss personal experiences, good or bad, with their followers. They see such sharing as more sincere and trustworthy than content coming from elsewhere.

Beyond these commercial activities, however, influencers have more recently been seen pushing followers to engage with social issues. Audiences are interested in influencers who engage in activism and who take a stand on issues. This has been particularly in evidence during the Black Lives Matter movement, when fans looked to social media stars for meaningful statements and positions and even demanded it of them when they were not forthcoming.

In our work around relationships between influencers and followers, we have found that many young people are interested in social media stars who seek to drive change rather than just sell products. This, combined with the personal approach, is what makes influencers an attractive prospect for a government trying to reach young people. If someone like Phillips talks about test and trace on Instagram, young people are likely to react and act.

The World Health Organization has been using influencer marketing techniques in its coronavirus messaging since April. It has gone a step further by using a CGI influencer called Knox Frost to “get accurate, vetted information about COVID-19 in front of millennials and Gen Z”. The computer-generated 20-year-old has been posting to just under a million Instagram followers about coronavirus safety and raising funding for the WHO.

In times when the economy is suffering, many might question why the UK government is paying social media stars to promote test and trace services. In reality, spending of this kind has enormous potential to deliver a positive impact. As our studies show, influencers are powerful in shaping the behaviour of their followers. Until now, this was mainly done in the commercial sphere to drive consumption, but now we are seeing more positive uses for their high profiles.

Elvira Bolat, Principal Academic in Marketing, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: the PPI scandal is far from over – here’s why

Shutterstock/kamui29

Julie Robson, Bournemouth University

The PPI scandal led to the largest consumer redress scheme in British history, with over £38 billion paid to claimants to date. The deadline for customers to submit their claims was set at midnight on August 29 2019. But, almost one year later, hundreds of thousands of registered claims remain outstanding. And to make matters worse for the banks, a swathe of new claims have started rolling in.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) hoped the deadline would bring the scandal to an orderly conclusion and offer protection to consumers while helping to restore market integrity. The banks hoped it would enable them to draw a line under it and move on. But the situation seems to be getting worse.

The problem now comes in the form of unfair commission payments. PPI commission rates were deemed to be unfair for two main reasons: when they were too high or when they were kept secret.

When they were too high they accounted for, on average, 67% of the PPI price. In the most serious cases they accounted for 95% of the cost of a PPI policy.

When secret, they were (obviously) undisclosed to the customer. That customer – had they been better informed – may have queried the value of their PPI policy. Especially if they had they known that the majority of the price was not going to the product provider (for example, the insurer underwriting the protection cover for the loan or credit card) but to the bank who sold the PPI policy to them.

Court judgements

Awareness of the unfair commission payments on PPI policies is not new. But recent court decisions mean that customers can potentially claw back all of the commission they have paid and claim after the 2019 deadline.

The issue first came to light in the November 2014 Supreme Court case, Plevin v Paragon Personal Finance Ltd, after which the FCA changed its guidance on what could be claimed as part of the PPI redress scheme. This change enabled customers to claim commission that accounted for over 50% of the price of the PPI policy and became known as the Plevin rule.

Payments to customers were however restricted to commission that was in excess of 50%. In other words, successful claimants only received part of the commission that had been paid to the banks.

A series of other court cases saw the position change again, as claimants were awarded the full commission where the bank failed to disclose large commission payments to the customer. As almost all PPI policies earned high commission rates, this change was significant and opened the floodgates to new claims.

Customers who have received a partial payment, have had their claims rejected or have not claimed so far can now claim, citing the unfair compensation. Even customers who were not mis-sold PPI and were happy with their policy can potentially claim as the high commission payments may not have been disclosed to them.

The potential for new PPI claims based on the unfair commission payments could not have come at a worse time for the banks as they are still facing a backlog of existing claims to process. A survey conducted in March this year found that 60% of PPI claimants had not heard from their bank about the progress of their claim and half of these had not even received an acknowledgement letter.

Banks were overwhelmed by the volume of claims and although the expected time for banks to respond to such claims is typically eight weeks, the FCA managed this expectation by predicting that most claims would be resolved by summer 2020.

Coronavirus disruption

But this deadline was set before COVID-19 disrupted the world and it now appears unlikely to be met. Now many customers remain frustrated that their cases have not been resolved as the new unfair commission charges issue further aggravates and complicates the issue.

The original PPI scandal severely damaged consumer trust in the banks as a lack of integrity was at the heart of the case. PPI mis-selling was something that the banks could have controlled and was an intentional act as the banks placed profits above their customer welfare.

My own research has shown that when trust is damaged by a lack of integrity, it is difficult to restore. The banks needed to display clear evidence of an intention to get rid of negative influences.

For a start, all banks should have immediately apologised for the mis-selling. Some did, but this was only after they lost a high court case trying to overturn the FCAs ruling on PPI mis-selling. The banks really needed to signal to employees the importance of a customer-centered culture and change employee incentive systems to align with long-term performance, rather than short-term profit.

Banks need to embed ethical values into their routine actions and decisions. So far, the evidence is that not all banks have bothered to take such steps.

Julie Robson, Associate Professor Marketing, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Going green dramatically benefits businesses

Yoyo Dy/Unsplash, FAL

Jagannadha Pawan Tamvada, University of Southampton and Mili Shrivastava, Bournemouth University

The onset of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have imperilled businesses worldwide. It will be tempting for firms to put any commitment to the environment in the back seat as they attempt to recover, especially as some governments reduce requirements and undermine environmental protection.

This is short-sighted: businesses do not have to sacrifice their environmental goals for protecting their growth. Greening initiatives like offering green products or services, introducing green processes internally, hiring employees to promote sustainable practices, or going beyond compliance requirements, can actually help firms.

Using data on 9,236 small and medium businesses in 35 countries across Europe and the US, our research suggests that on average, businesses benefit from going green, although the type of greening that gives the most significant benefit may differ between firms.

Here are four main ways that greening can benefit businesses.

1. Innovative market niches

By offering new green products or services, a business is more likely to cater to an emerging trend or niche market, which can make it more competitive. Frugalpac, a UK-based company that makes paper-based packaging for liquids that cut carbon footprints, received a £2 million investment during the pandemic – a time when most other companies were struggling for finance.

Already seeing widespread success for their recycled paper coffee cup, Frugalpac’s innovative paper wine bottle, also made from 94% recycled paper, has led to new opportunities and partnerships.

Companies focused on sustainability can rapidly expand by catering to new niche markets internationally. Consider D’light, a company that offers innovative lighting solutions for people who do not have access to electricity. The company has transformed the lives of more than 100 million people across 70 countries through its green product offerings while raising US$197 million (£150 million) in investment.

Earlier this year, the Danish energy supplier Ørsted, formerly known as Danish Oil and Natural Gas, was named the most sustainable company in the world. This success followed from its transformation to a green energy supplier – which went hand in hand with accelerated profits.

By catering to new niche markets using green products and services, these businesses have emerged as future leaders in their sectors. Of course, not all companies are suited to finding such niches. But sustainability can be promoted in other ways like green working practices and processes, for example.

2. Employee motivation

Job seekers are increasingly attracted to companies that care for the environment. The employees of firms that promote sustainability are more likely to believe that their employer will care for them, and are more satisfied with their jobs.

Such companies create a higher sense of personal and organisational purpose that makes work meaningful. A recent poll shows that millennials and Gen Z’s are more concerned about the environment than any previous generation. This means they prioritise employers who put sustainability at the forefront.

Millenials and Gen Z’s are more worried about the environment than any previous generations.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator/Unsplash, FAL

By some estimates, companies that follow green practices have a 16% boost in employee productivity. Although establishing a direct causal link can be difficult, some of the greenest companies, such as Cisco, Tarmac or Stantec, are also considered the greatest companies by employees.

3. More engagement

Greening initiatives signal to external stakeholders, such as investors and customers, that a business is committed to doing good. This can lead to increased investment, customers and stakeholder loyalty. This is pertinent in the aftermath of COVID-19 as there is heightened awareness about the need to protect the environment.

For example, highly sustainable companies benefit from superior stock market performance in the long run, according to research looking at American companies in the period 1993-2009. Investors are increasingly questioning firms on their commitment to sustainability, and expecting meaningful steps from them for integrating consideration of such issues into their investing criteria. This is reflected by the tenfold increase in global sustainability investment to US$30.7 trillion by April 2019 since 2004.

More recently, Polysolar, a company that makes glazed windows that generate electricity, has secured more than double the investment it sought on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. And large companies such as Unilever have benefited from increased stakeholder engagement and loyalty by adopting greening practices and products, addressing a dark history of environmental exploitation.

4. Increased efficiency

Greening processes can result in efficiency gains by reducing energy costs, allowing businesses to secure green tax credits, improving operational efficiency, and embedding circular economy principles internally.

Such gains directly translate into commercial benefits. As many as 75% of UK businesses that invested in green technologies subsequently enjoyed commercial benefits, even if financial concerns pose barriers to making these green investments in the first place. For large companies such as Proctor & Gamble, these gains can run into billions of pounds.

Conversely, in cases where businesses harm the environment, they have to be prepared to incur significant costs. A prominent example is the famous case of Volkswagen, which has even adversely impacted the performance of other German car manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes Benz.

For all these reasons, time is ripe for business to go green.

Jagannadha Pawan Tamvada, Associate Professor in Strategy and Innovation, University of Southampton and Mili Shrivastava, Senior Lecturer in Strategy, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: The hidden impact of coronavirus on Gypsy, Roma Travellers

Studio 2/Shutterstock

Vanessa Heaslip, Bournemouth University and Jonathan Parker, Bournemouth University

We know well by now that coronavirus does not affect everyone equally. In England and Wales, Black people are four times more likely die from COVID-19 than white people, while people from a Bangladeshi background are twice as likely. Coronavirus has also had a disproportionate effect on people experiencing poverty.

It’s clear that this disease heightens existing inequalities. Some of the most marginalised people in the UK are Gypsy, Roma Travellers, yet they are often left out of research and outreach programmes.

We do not currently know the rates of death and severe illness among these communities. And without better data about their experiences of COVID-19, the true impacts of the pandemic on Gypsy, Roma Travellers could remain dangerously hidden.

Health inequalities

Gypsy, Roma Travellers are not a homogeneous group, but rather consist of different communities with diverse needs. Even within the same community group, there can be many varied experiences of living through the pandemic depending upon personal, social and environmental factors.

That said, research indicates that the continuing COVID-19 pandemic will be extremely challenging for many individuals within the disparate communities.

The last census in 2011 noted that 76% of Gypsy, Roma Travellers in England and Wales lived in houses or apartments. This offers the least challenging experience, as people have access to basic amenities such as electricity, gas, sanitation and water supplies.

Those living in caravans, however, are likely to experience more difficulties. A 2019 Houses of Commons briefing paper noted there were 22,662 Traveller caravans in England, of which 57% were on private sites, 29% were on local authority sites and 14% were on caravan sites. There are increased challenges for those living on these sites during the pandemic, including accessibility of gas bottles, sewerage and obtaining fresh water. Those living on unauthorised sites experience the most significant problems, especially in accessing suitable sanitation and waste disposal.

Discriminatory policies towards these communities have meant that sites, whether they are provided by a local authority or privately run, are more likely to be located close to motorways, major roads, railways, refuse tips, sewage works and industrial estates, all of which are damaging to the health of people who live there. It is perhaps not surprising therefore, that Gypsy, Roma Travellers have a worse health status than the wider community average, dying between seven to 20 years earlier than the rest of the population.

A review across five regions in England and Wales noted that 66% of Gypsy, Roma Travellers had bad, very bad or poor health. Poor air quality, proximity to industrial sites, asthma and repeated chest infections in children and older people were noted in around half of all interviews undertaken for the review. Health access is incredibly difficult for people in these communities, which means that such problems are often not picked up until much later in the illness trajectory, leading to poorly managed chronic conditions.

As COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, this places Gypsy, Roma Travellers in a precarious position – many will meet the criteria for high or moderate risk.

The impact of social distancing

As well as physical health impacts, we also know that there are mental health consequences that come from the COVID-19 pandemic. These too are likely to disproportionately affect Gypsy, Roma Travellers.

These communities often have a very strong family culture, and many live in large, extended family groups. This culture is an important protective mechanism against the harsh stigma and discrimination they face in wider society.

A desire to roam and travel is also deeply embedded as a core part of the identity of Gypsy, Roma Travellers. The distancing measures enacted in response to coronavirus reduce social contact within communities as well as people’s ability to be nomadic and roam. Both of these factors have implications for the long-term mental health and well-being of people within these communities in which mental ill-health is on the increase.

A lack of data

As well as widespread stigma, a major difficulty in truly understanding the impact of coronavirus on Gypsy, Roma Traveller communities is a lack of systematic data collection.

While Gypsy, Roma Travellers were recognised as a distinct ethnic minority category in the last census, the NHS does not currently incorporate this category into their ethnicity data. As such, individuals are not identified in health services as originating from these communities. Nor are they included as a specific ethnicity in Public Health England’s reports on COVID-19 health disparities. Instead they are merged into the category of “any other white background”.

Unless this is addressed at a national level, the health impact of coronavirus on these marginalised communities will remain hidden.

Vanessa Heaslip, Principal Academic Nursing, Bournemouth University and Jonathan Parker, Professor of Society & Social Welfare and Director of the Centre for Social Work and Social Policy, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Link between autism and eating disorders may be due to an inability to identify emotions

Alexithymia is a personality trait characterised by an inability to identify and describe emotions.
Rawpixel.com/ Shutterstock

Rachel Moseley, Bournemouth University and Laura Renshaw-Vuillier, Bournemouth University

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. They don’t discriminate, affecting people of all ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, ages and backgrounds. However, one group is disproportionately affected by these disorders: people on the autism spectrum.

Eating disorders in autistic people are poorly understood, but they tend to be more severe and long-lasting. The longer a person lives with their eating disorder, the harder it is to recover. This may partly explain why some studies suggest autistic people have a poorer prognosis in therapy.

Longer-lasting eating disorders are associated with a greater likelihood of death. The fact that autistic people are vulnerable to chronic eating disorders, alongside other mental illnesses, may be one reason why they die one to three decades earlier, on average, than non-autistic people.

So why are autistic people more vulnerable to eating disorders? A couple of reasons have been suggested.

Dieting

One general and major risk factor for developing an eating disorder is dieting. For people who might already be genetically vulnerable to eating disorders, dieting seems to kick-start something in the brain that can develop the disorder.

While autistic people aren’t more likely to diet than the average person, certain features of autism – including attention to detail, determination and intense fixated interests – may make them better able to maintain the restrictions needed for long-term weight loss when they choose to diet.

The cognitive rigidity that we see in autistic people may also make it easy for them to get stuck in patterns of eating behaviour, while their preference for sameness may cause them to have a limited diet to begin with. For some autistic people, insensitivity to hunger, gastrointestinal problems and sensitivity to tastes, smells and textures make eating difficult anyway.

Paper bag with frowning face next to empty plate and cutlery.
Certain autism traits may already make eating difficult for some.
ChameleonsEye/ Shutterstock

Moreover, because autistic people are often bullied and socially isolated, dieting and weight loss may give them back a sense of control, predictability, reward and self-worth. Eating disorders may even numb feelings of anxiety and depression.

Alexithymia

A core feature of people with eating disorders is that they find it difficult to identify and cope with emotion. As autistic people struggle with emotions in similar ways, our research team wondered whether this might help explain why they are more likely to have eating disorders.

The personality trait characterised by an inability to identify and describe emotions is called alexithymia. Being alexithymic is like being emotionally colour-blind, and it ranges from subtle to severe. While one alexithymic person might find it hard to pinpoint what emotion they’re feeling, another might notice physical signs such as a racing heart and be able to identify they’re feeling angry or frightened.

Alexithymia is associated with many negative outcomes like suicide and self-injury. In part, this may be because people who cannot identify or express their emotions find it hard to soothe themselves or get support from others.

To see whether alexithymia might contribute to eating disorders in autism, we looked at eating-disorder symptoms and autistic traits in the general population. Autism is a spectrum disorder, so everyone has some level of autistic traits – it does not mean they are actually autistic. Nevertheless, these traits can tell us something about the nature of autism itself.

In two experiments with 421 participants, we found that higher autistic traits correlated with higher eating-disorder symptoms. We also found that higher levels of alexithymia wholly or partially explained this relationship. Our results suggest that having higher autistic traits alongside difficulties identifying and describing emotions may make these people more vulnerable to developing eating-disorder symptoms.

Interestingly, we found differences between male and female participants. While alexithymia was related to eating-disorder symptoms in women, there were no links between alexithymia and eating-disorder symptoms in men. Since the male group was small, however, we couldn’t be sure these findings would hold up in a bigger sample.

Next steps

This research can’t show conclusively that alexithymia causes eating disorder symptoms in people with autistic traits, or indeed autistic people. It might be that the relationships work backwards, and eating-disorder symptoms give rise to alexithymia and to autistic features.

However, first-person accounts from autistic people are consistent with the idea that alexithymia might play a role in their eating disorders. One participant even described how restricting her calorie intake reduced internal sensations that – unknown to her, being unable to identify them – caused her much anxiety.

If supported by further research, these findings have potential implications for treatment. Clinicians already know that therapies need to be tailored for autistic and non-autistic patients, but how best to achieve this is still uncertain. Preliminary research like this may offer some clue by highlighting alexithymia as a potential target. Alexithymia is currently not addressed by clinicians either in autistic people or in those with eating disorders

As there are many negative outcomes associated with being autistic – such as high suicide rates and greater risk of eating disorders – it will be important to explore how much alexithymia, not autism itself, actually contributes to these negative outcomes. Focused interventions to treat alexithymia might potentially reduce these risks.

Rachel Moseley, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Bournemouth University and Laura Renshaw-Vuillier, Senior Lecturer, Psychology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Video games affect your moral development but only until you’re 18

Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock, Author provided

Sarah Hodge, Bournemouth University

Young people have probably spent much more of their time than usual playing video games over the last few months thanks to the coronvirus pandemic. One report from telecoms firm Verizon said online gaming use went up 75% in the first week of lockdown in the US.

What impact might this have on young people’s development? One area that people are often concerned about is the effect of video games, particularly violent ones, on moral reasoning. My colleagues and I recently published research that suggested games have no significant effect on the moral development of university-age students but can affect younger adolescents. This supports the use of an age-rating system for video game purchases.

Our sense of morality and the way we make moral decisions – our moral reasoning – develop as we grow up and become more aware of life in wider society. For example, our thoughts about right and wrong are initially based on what we think the punishments and/or rewards could be. This then develops into a greater understanding of the role of social factors and circumstances in moral decisions.

There is a long-standing debate around the effects of video games on moral development, particularly in young people, which typically focuses on whether violent content causes aggressive or violent behaviour.

Yet the moral dimension of video games is far more complex than just their representation of violence, as they often require players to make a range of moral choices. For example, players from the game BioShock have to choose whether to kill or rescue a little girl character known as a little sister.

A player with more mature moral reasoning may consider the wider social implications and consequences of this choice rather than just the punishment or rewards meted out by the game. For example, they may consider their own conscience and that they could feel bad about choosing to kill the little girl.

Plastic arcade game gun pointed at screen.
Video games’ affect on moral reasoning goes beyond how violent they are.
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

We surveyed a group of 166 secondary school students aged 11-18 and a group of 135 university students aged 17-27 to assess their gaming habits and the development of their moral reasoning using what’s known as the sociomoral reflection measure . This involved asking participants 11 questions on topics such as the importance of keeping promises, telling the truth, obeying the law and preserving life. The results suggested a stark difference between the two groups.

Among secondary students, we found evidence that playing video games could have an affect on moral development. Whereas female adolescents usually have more developed moral reasoning, in this case we found that males, who were more likely to play video games for longer, actually had higher levels of reasoning. We also found those who played a greater variety of genres of video games also had more developed reasoning.

This suggests that playing video games could actually support moral development. But other factors, including feeling less engaged with and immersed in a game, playing games with more mature content, and specifically playing the games Call of Duty and playing Grand Theft Auto, were linked (albeit weakly) with less developed moral reasoning.

No effect after 18

Overall, the evidence suggested adolescent moral development could be affected in some way by playing video games. However, there was little to no relationship between the university students’ moral reasoning development and video game play. This echoes previous research that found playing violent video games between the ages of 14 and 17 made you more likely to do so in the future, but found no such relationship for 18- to 21-year-olds.

This might be explained by the fact that 18 is the age at which young people in many countries are deemed to have become adult, leading to many changes and new experiences in their lives, such as starting full-time work or higher education. This could help support their moral development such that video games are no longer likely to be influential, or at least that currently available video games are no longer challenging enough to affect people.

The implication is that age rating systems on video games, such as the PEGI and ESRB systems, are important because under-18s appear more susceptible to the moral effects of games. But our research also highlights that it is not just what teenagers play but how they play it that can make a difference. So engaging with games for a wide variety of genres could be as important for encouraging moral development as playing age-appropriate games.

Sarah Hodge, Lecturer in Psychology and Cyberpsychology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article – Stonehenge: how we revealed the original source of the biggest stones

Stonehenge: how we revealed the original source of the biggest stones

Andre Pattenden/English Heritage

David Nash, University of Brighton and Timothy Darvill, Bournemouth University

Stonehenge, an icon of European prehistory that attracts more than a million visitors a year, is rarely out of the news. Yet, surprisingly, there is much we don’t know about it. Finding the sources of the stones used to build the monument is a fundamental question that has vexed antiquaries and archaeologists for over four centuries.

Our interdisciplinary team, including researchers from four UK universities (Brighton, Bournemouth, Reading and UCL) and English Heritage, has used a novel geochemical approach to examine the large “sarsen” stones at Stonehenge. Our results confirm that the nearby Marlborough Downs were the source region for the sarsens, but also pinpoint a specific area as the most likely place from where the stones were obtained.

Two main types of stone are present at Stonehenge: sarsen sandstone for the massive framework of upright stones capped by horizontal lintels; and a mix of igneous rocks and sandstones collectively known as “bluestones” for the smaller elements within the central area.

Part of Stonehenge casting shadows.
Inside the sarsen circle.
James Davies/English Heritage

Research in the last decade has confirmed that the igneous bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, over 200km to the west. The sandstones have been tracked to eastern Wales although the exact outcrops have yet to be found. However, the origins of the sarsen stones has, until now, remained a mystery.

Stonehenge is a complicated and long-lived monument constructed in five main phases. The earliest, dated to about 3000BC, comprised a roughly 100m-diameter circular enclosure bounded by a bank and external ditch. Inside were various stone and timber structures, and numerous cremation burials.

The sarsen structures visible today were erected around 2500BC and comprised five trilithons (the doorway-like structures formed from two uprights joined by a lintel) surrounded by a circle of a further 30 uprights linked by lintels. The trilithons were arranged in a horseshoe formation with its principal axis aligned to the rising midsummer sun in the northeast and the setting midwinter sun to the southwest.

Locating the sarsen source

Conventional wisdom holds that the sarsens were brought to Stonehenge from the Marlborough Downs, some 30km to the north, the closest area with substantial scatters of large sarsen boulders. However, the Marlborough Downs are extensive and greater precision is needed to understand how prehistoric peoples used the landscape and its resources.

Our research has identified what might be termed the “geochemical fingerprint” of the Stonehenge sarsens. We started by analysing the geochemistry of all 52 remaining sarsens at Stonehenge (28 of those originally present are now missing, having been removed long ago).

This phase of the work involved using a non-destructive technology called portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (PXRF). Carrying out the PXRF analyses required access to the monument when it was closed to visitors and included several night shifts and one early morning analysing the lintel stones from a mobile scaffold tower. Data collection is never easy!

Diagram of Stonehenge layout
Most sarsens had the same chemical signature.
David Nash, University of Brighton, Author provided

Analysis of the PXRF data showed that the geochemistry of most of the stones at Stonehenge was highly consistent, and only two sarsens (stones 26 and 160) had a statistically different chemical signature. This was an interesting result as it suggested we were looking for a single main source.

Then came a major stroke of luck. We were able to analyse three small samples that had been taken from one of the stones in 1958, Stone 58, part of the group of sarsens with a consistent chemistry. Using a method known as inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) gave a high-resolution geochemical fingerprint for the Stonehenge sarsen. Like all good detectives, we could now compare our fingerprint with those of the potential sources.

Man examining stone rod.
David Nash examining the core from Stone 58.
Sam Frost/English Heritage

Sarsen blocks are found widely scattered across southern Britain, broadly south of a line from Devon to Norfolk. We sampled stones from 20 areas, including six in the Marlborough Downs, and analysed them using ICP-MS.

Comparing the geochemical signature from Stone 58 against our resulting data revealed only one direct chemical match: the area known as West Woods to the south-west of Marlborough. We could therefore conclude that most of the Stonehenge sarsens were from West Woods.

Our results not only identify a specific source for most of the sarsens used to build Stonehenge, but also open up debate about many connected issues. Researchers have previously suggested several routes by which the sarsens may have been transported to Stonehenge, without actually knowing where they came from.

Aerial view of Stonehenge
Many mysteries remain.
Andre Pattenden/English Heritage

Now these can be revisited as we better appreciate the effort of moving boulders as long as 9m and weighing over 30 tonnes some 25km across the undulating landscape of Salisbury Plain. We can feel the pain of the Neolithic people who took part in this collective effort and think about how they managed such a Herculean task.

We can also ask what was special about the West Woods plateaux and its sarsens. Was it simply their shape and size that attracted attention? Or was there some more deep-seated reason rooted in the beliefs and identities of the people that built Stonehenge?

Revealing that all the stones came from a single main source is also important and accords with the evidence that the sarsens were all erected at much the same time. But what about the two sarsens whose fingerprints differ from the main source? Where did they come from? The quest continues, and the questions just keep coming.The Conversation

David Nash, Professor of Physical Geography, University of Brighton and Timothy Darvill, Professor of Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation – National anthems in sport: songs of praise or memorials that are past their use-by date?

National anthems in sport: songs of praise or memorials that are past their use-by date?

Keith Parry, Bournemouth University; Daryl Adair, University of Technology Sydney, and Jamie Cleland, University of South Australia

International sport has resumed in the UK with the cricket Test match between England and the West Indies. Before play, in addition to a rendition of Jerusalem (the “official hymn” of England cricket), both teams and officals “took a knee” in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Nationalistic traditions, such as playing anthems at sport matches, have been a key part of society for many years but now may be time for change.

Symbols of colonialism, such as statues, place names and rituals, are attracting unprecedented criticism in postcolonial, liberal-democratic societies. That is especially so when memorialised individuals and institutions are viewed as unworthy – by 2020 standards – of such honour.

The most immediate concern, driven in part by BLM, is racism. One aspect of that is whitewashed commemoration, in the way that civic observances tend to sanitise uncomfortable truths.

Nationalistic songs – especially national anthems, which venerate a particular tradition – can both embrace and marginalise. So it’s no surprise that debates around the suitability of anthems – both official and unofficial – are not new. For instance, in 2016 the suitability of the British national anthem was debated in the House of Commons.

Intriguingly, the concept of “the nation” – and anthems invented to represent them are – historically, young. The modern nation state is a product of the 19th and 20th centuries.

So, it is not surprising that many of the ideas and assumptions associated with national identity are rooted in what historian Eric Hobsbawm has deftly labelled “the invention of tradition”. In the context of the British Empire, this process involved both the celebration of conquest and, as is typical of imperialism, the subjugation and control of indigenous cultures.

Given the major role sport played in the establishment of empire for Britain, it is no surprise that the first sporting event to feature a national anthem was a rugby match in 1905 between Wales and New Zealand. Soon after, in the United States, the playing of the national anthem before baseball matches became a feature during the first world war. The Star Spangled Banner, not officially recognised until 1931, carried patriotic weight as the song was already used to honour the nation’s military.

Anthemic activism

Exceptionally, national anthems at sport events have involved athlete activism. More than 50 years ago, the Black Power salute protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos (supported by Australia’s Peter Norman) during the US anthem at the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games received worldwide attention. Smith and Carlos were vilified for highlighting the racism and discrimination present both inside and outside of American sport.

American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, along with Australian Peter Norman, during the award ceremony of the 200-metre race at the Mexican Olympic games.
Angelo Cozzi (Mondadori Publishers)

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem ahead of NFL matches. He stated: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.”

He and fellow anthem protesters were labelled by loyalist critics as anti-American. They received death threats, and were described as “sons of bitches” by the US president, Donald Trump (whose comments often pander to white nationalist sentiments).

But in the wake of BLM, sport has become a site for widespread anti-racism activism. Athletes are increasingly using their profiles to draw attention to social movements that challenge inequalities and injustices – especially those underpinned by structural racism.

In professional sports leagues from Britain to Australia, matches have been preceded by players taking a knee. Players and officials are keen to show their support of BLM and, belatedly, Kaepernick.

Even the typically conservative NFL is now allowing athletes to advocate openly in respect of BLM. The league has also indicated a plan to play the song Lift Every Voice and Sing, widely known as the Black national anthem, during the first week of the season.

Moreover, in another sign of changing times, the Washington Redskins has announced it will review their name – which, after all, speaks to conquest and genocide of Indigenous Americans. The power of BLM to invoke change cannot be underestimated. As recently as 2013, the Redskins’ owner said that the team would never change its name, conveniently ignoring repeated appeals and protests by Native Americans.

Swing low and other stories

In Britain, BLM has catalysed debate about the appropriateness or otherwise of fans singing the “unofficial anthem” for English rugby, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. This song has been sung with gusto at [rugby matches since the 1960s].

Precisely why it was embraced by fans is unclear. But some black players now reveal they are uncomfortable with their sport revelling in what was, originally, a black Christian hymn that combined “spiritual belief with the hardships of daily life as a slave in antebellum America”.

Whether or not it knew of the song’s history, the Rugby Football Union has commercialised and profited from its appropriation of an African-American slave hymn.

In Australia, too, there has been debate about whether the national anthem is appropriate in that it fails to recognised Indigenous Australians. This movement saw a protest by Indigenous Australians ahead of key rugby league games in 2019.




Read more:
Our national anthem is non-inclusive: Indigenous Australians shouldn’t have to sing it


Our recently published research found that protests by high-profile Indigenous athletes can move debates on societal inequalities back into the spotlight.

Making positive change

Formula One World champion Lewis Hamilton has championed BLM activism in his sport. He remarked recently that racism is still not understood by many people, especially by whites who have not experienced it.

In societies where whiteness has long been privileged, the voices of black and indigenous athletes are important in raising concerns about inequalities and maltreatment according to race. In sport, part of that discussion involves nationalist rituals and symbols that – by their colonialist nature – reinforce structural inequities.

Is it justifiable to question the nationality or commitment to the nation of anyone that critiques the viability of a national anthem or what it stands for, merely by choosing not to stand or sing when it is performed?The Conversation

Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Events Management, Bournemouth University; Daryl Adair, Associate Professor of Sport Management, University of Technology Sydney, and Jamie Cleland, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Management, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation: How Bali could build a better kind of tourism after the pandemic

Farizun Amrod Saad

Jaeyeon Choe, Bournemouth University and Rick Stafford, Bournemouth University

COVID-19 has hit tourism-reliant destinations hard. The Indonesian island of Bali, for example, where 70% of the population depend on tourism, has seen extensive job and income losses since it closed its borders in April.

The economic impact so far has been greater than that of the Bali bombings of 2002, with losses of around 9.7 trillion rupiah (about £551.3 million) a month.

In the past, the island’s image as a peaceful paradise with a rich cultural and religious heritage has made it a highly resilient tourist destination. Bali recovered swiftly in the wake of past crises, both natural and man made, including the Gulf War (1990), a cholera outbreak (1995), Sars (2003) and bird flu (2007).

But without significant investment and diversification, there are widespread concerns that this crisis could be different.

A different approach may now be needed to save the tourism industry – and to make sure its benefits are more evenly spread. We believe that now is the time to adjust the model in Bali away from surf, parties, and yoga towards rural villages with high poverty rates across the island (especially the underdeveloped north-east).

To do this, government support is required to build small-scale tourism that will provide new livelihoods. This might include everything from dolphin watching and snorkelling trips, to food tourism and “experience tourism” focused on traditional fishing and farming.




Read more:
African tourism has been put on ice by coronavirus – here’s how some countries are reviving it


That support does not necessarily need to be in the form of cash. When we interviewed small-business representatives in Bali last year, they called not for financial subsidies, but for marketing training and access to tourism-research data.

As one entrepreneur told us: “Many local creative businesses are managed as informal family businesses. They lack knowledge in professional management and marketing skills.”

He also spoke of the need for improved collaboration between IT experts, business consultants, local universities and policymakers.

Yet there are important risks to consider when attempting to build a new kind of tourism. “Authentic” experiences can often be manufactured by large businesses, preventing regional economic development (other than occasional low-paid work) in the most deprived areas.

And without investment in tourist infrastructure, it would be too easy for tourists to prefer the manufactured version over the true “authenticity” on offer from local communities. Carefully considered investment, however, could lead to sustainable development.

According to Dr Luh Putu Mahyuni, a sustainable business consultant and economist at Undiknas University: “The pandemic provides a wake up call for Bali to foster […] new types of tourism such as gastronomic tourism.”

She told a webinar we hosted in May: “The tourism sector needs to develop products with other sectors so as to create a more resilient and sustainable economy.”

Reliable visitors to Bali’s shores.
Shutterstock/NattapolStudiO

To boost that economy, the island should also consider a tourist tax, while reducing taxes on small-scale home-stays, and better regulating the presence of Airbnb. It also needs to restrict foreign ownership of property, limit destruction of viable farmland and limit business sizes in the south of the island.

An island of opportunity

Notwithstanding all the devastation it has caused, COVID-19 has given the world an opportunity to pause and reflect on how things may change in its aftermath. The tourism industry in Bali (and many other places) is no exception.

For tourism is often seen as a solution to all kinds of problems, from economics to conservation. But as our research has shown, unless tourist money is kept in the local community, the benefits do not materialise.

And besides the major financial concerns on Bali, and the need for a tourism-led recovery, the authorities must also face up to deeply entrenched levels of structural inequality. Poverty, homelessness and dispossession existed long before the pandemic.

The island must learn from what happened 18 years ago, when the bombings led to job losses and increased rates of depression, alcoholism and crime. And we hope that Bali can use the current crisis as an opportunity to look at the causes of such social problems, rather than the symptoms. To move on and build a more resilient island, where responsible tourism plays a major role in alleviating poverty.The Conversation

Jaeyeon Choe, Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Leisure, Bournemouth University and Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology and Conservation, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conversation article: Sierra Leone faces coronavirus as rainy season hits – local disaster planning will be key

Sierra Leone faces coronavirus as rainy season hits – local disaster planning will be key

Local coroanvirus awareness raising in Funkia Market, Sierra Leone.
Trocaire/Flickr, CC BY

Lee Miles, Bournemouth University

The government of Sierra Leone called a state of emergency on March 25, seven days before the first case of COVID-19 was even confirmed. The virus has spread steadily since then, with 1,272 cases confirmed and 51 deaths as of June 19.

At the same time, the country has begun the rapid countdown to the full onset of the annual rainy season, which raises challenges of its own, especially for the flood-prone local communities in the capital, Freetown. In mid-2019, Freetown and other major Sierra Leonean cities were engulfed in major flooding. Before this, in 2017, more than 1,000 people died in major mudslides in the capital.

This year, there has been recognition that more forthright action is required. My colleagues and I are currently working with Sierra Leone’s Department of Disaster Management and Freetown City Council to create disaster preparedness guides for district councillors, disaster managers and local volunteers. The goal is to have several guides and handbooks available by July 2020 across four major cities of Sierra Leone to improve scenario planning if multiple disasters happen at once.

In recent years, there has been a strong focus among those who plan for disasters to build more robust forms of resilience in local communities. Not least in Sierra Leone, where – like most of Africa – disaster management relies heavily on local volunteers and traditional forms of community leadership.

Across Africa, there are many poverty-stricken slums and informal settlements. These are vulnerable to natural hazards such as flooding, suffer from overcrowding, and often lack running water and electricity.

As past experiences of Ebola in west Africa demonstrated, it’s also important to focus on the local communities. Poor handling of pandemics and other natural disasters by national governments and international institutions can lead to resistance, inertia and non-compliance among communities and influential community leaders. In the case of the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, there were many instances where local communities did not trust or were slow to heed advice that ultimately delayed responses to the disease and ended up costing further lives.

Today, local communities in Sierra Leone could be confronted with a perfect storm when it comes to preparing for future disasters and events. Better disaster management is an imperative, particularly in the face of three inter-linked challenges.

Coronavirus transmission

First, there is the impact of COVID-19. Community transmission is becoming a stark reality. The situation in both Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa remains highly challenging given the fragile state of many African health services and the limitation of bringing external humanitarian assistance on the ground during the crisis. It’s possible that overcrowded urban communities in some parts of Africa will become sources of future COVID-19 outbreaks and even be an endemic source of reoccurring COVID-19 incidents in the future.

Current COVID-19 prevention tools, such as social distancing and the prevention of mass gatherings to reduce the spread of the disease, are highly challenging to administer in such areas. In many ways, the local communities in Sierra Leone – and Africa more widely – often do the best they can with what is available. Yet, the reality is that COVID-19 is likely to have an impact on the local communities.

Climate threat

Second, the practical, discernible impacts of climate change mean that many local communities are already facing worsening dry seasons with increased fires and droughts, followed by more unpredictable and erratic rainy seasons. Cities in west Africa, such as Accra in Ghana or Freetown in Sierra Leone, or central African cities such as Yaounde in Cameroon, now endure almost annual experiences of flash flooding and landslides that threaten to overwhelm poverty-stricken communities.

There is a growing paradox of frequency here. Local disaster managers and volunteers must meet public expectations to handle ever more frequent disaster. But they also recognise there is very little real time to build this local knowledge and review capacity before the onset of the next deluge, flood or fire.

Overlapping disasters

Third, local communities in Africa are increasingly aware that they also face multiple hazards that are very likely to overlap over the rest of 2020.

There will be major difficulties in delivering effective responses to flood and pandemics such as COVID-19 simultaneously. The standard response to flooding in Freetown is to move those affected to the safety of a large stadium or hall or school, placing them out of harm’s way in often large, robust locations. Yet this poses challenges for carrying out measures needed to contain COVID-19, such as avoiding large gatherings or social distancing.

Local communities need to think more deeply through how they plan for these combinations of possible disasters to save lives in the future. And yet, as my own research is finding, this raises a very serious challenge in that the local areas often lack even the most basic and accessible documentation, guidance and training in risk assessment and disaster management plans.

It’s often said that all disasters are local. The rest of 2020 is likely to prove this point more than ever for resource scarce, often poverty-stricken local communities in Africa. There is an urgent need here that must be addressed as quickly as possible.The Conversation

Lee Miles, Professor of Crisis & Disaster Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.