Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Bad social science and sectarianism

A huge problem with social science research is the fact the prejudices of its practitioners heavily influence both what get’s researched and the findings reached. This is further magnified by the self-selecting nature of social scientists; I mean c’mon you need to be a bit daft to do a PhD on something. Finally, some social scientists just aren't that bright.

Thankfully there are good social scientists as well as bad and so it is with the submissions to the Scottish Justice Committee on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill. The good is Tom Gallagher, whose book on religious tension in Glasgow, The Uneasy Peace, remains a classic and more than justifies his submission. The bad is Stuart Waiton whose now got 15 minutes of fame for being a fool.

Now to set the scene here domestic violence in Glasgow increases when there are Old Firm games. Support for the old firm is periodically associated with ABH, GBH and worse. The old firm encourages sectarianism and bigotry. It sucks up vast police resources and time, creates public disturbances on a regular basis well away from football grounds, its supporters – as Rangers in Manchester proved - are periodically a national disgrace and so on and so on. Alongside this the mentality of many old firm supporters is such that when none of these things occur en masse they want a bag of fucking chocolate drops for not behaving like scum.

Anyhoo, back to Stu; “the civil servant defending the Government’s case argued that this was a ‘public disorder’ issue because if the police were not present then disorder would emerge. This is presumptive and denies a difference between words (however unpleasant) and violent actions carried out by football fans”.

Actually Stu you can go and fuck off. When a dozen lads walk past me in the street chanting hello, hello we are the Billy boys I’m intimidated to fuck and I, along with everyone else, avoid eye contact, look away and/or cross the road pronto because I’m pre-emptively just not taking the presumptive chance of any hassle. When there are police there I don’t feel so intimidated, rather it's like going to the zoo to stare at the animals.

This isn’t presumptive, its people actively managing the situation being inflicted on them and it'd be fucking lovely if there was no longer any need to do so. And is Stu actually suggesting that if there were no police minding the fans waiting to get into an Old Firm game there's be no violence at all?

I've no idea because Stu instead says: “Rather than specifically targeting Sectarian or discriminatory behaviour this appears to criminalise potentially any ‘aggressive’ behaviour at football”. Good. See the point above about the links between domestic violence and football games which also apply to other clubs and signals a culture of violence? D’ya see it? Good. Next.

Ah says Stu, “(i)t is undeniable that many fans are offensive at football games. But this is part of the ‘tribal’ nature of the event itself, and indeed is part of the reason why many people love football”. And this is a good or even just an acceptable thing because………………….?

Unfortunately, the next bit doesn’t explain why:“to conflate football chanting in a crowd with one-to-one personal intimidation is to see criminal activity when none exists”. Nope, there’s no conflation going on here judging by my personal experience or that of every other passenger on a train I was on a couple of weeks back who took turns doing the rictus grin, look away, change carriage (but not in an obvious way to avoid grief), avoid eye contact at all cost lambada until the football fans finally got off. Or does Stu thinks young men chanting in the street, in pubs or on trains as bystanders part like waves before them is neither assertive nor aggressive? Nah am sure he’s not that dumb.

Or mebbe he is: “regarding criminalising fans’ actions, there is constant reference in the Bill to … mail bombs and the attack on Neil Lennon. These criminal activities are seamlessly linked with wider … actions of ‘rowdy’ fans and discussed as part and parcel of the same problem. This would appear to be prejudiced in the true sense of the word where people chanting incorrect slogans in an aggressive manner are connected to mail bombers and those who assault football managers”.

No I think the point is football fuelled sectarianism creates for many (not all) a culture and mind set that can fuse seamlessly with such behaviour. Football matches provide a performative space where this can be indulged, inculcated and reinforced, and the offensive, tribal, love Stu is so taken with, magnifies the supporters feelings towards a readymade pantheon of heroes and villans. If that's a bit arty sounding, the ordinary members of the public who just did their best to let off the bloke that assaulted Neil Lennon highlights the fucking obvious fish and water - one can't survive without the other - links between ordinary punters and extreme actions (1).

I’ll give Stu one point though when he says sectarianism isn’t what it was. The thing is though if you take say labour market discrimination, that’s largely due to the law. Elsewhere, it’s because it was identified as a specific problem then actively managed via things like having Catholic and non-denominational schools in the same areas start at different times so there was less chance of the pupils meeting. Unfortunately, the statistical example Stu uses about how a tim would rather live beside a proddy than a smackhead or a poof, doesn’t exactly have me convinced about anything other than his poor judgement(see the next bit for the apparent legitimacy of such terms).

Oh eck tho cos after this Stu goes a bit weird claiming the bill as it stands is “class discrimination” and discriminates against football fans because “the focus on what could be described as crude and rude words – Fenian, Tim, Hun and so on – which are more part of everyday language amongst poorer sections of society, means that these people are again potentially criminalised for simply lacking politeness or using what is deemed to be politically incorrect language”. Then Stu ends by bigging up Voltaire “I may hate what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it’.

Cool. I guess. Except that last bit could be used to support all sorts of discriminatory, aggressive language e.g. racist, homophobic and what no, making the real challenge one of finding the balance between that and free speech. Or is the argument being made here poor people have the right to be offensive because they’re poor? I hope not because that’s deeply patronising and dumb given the reason people shout say tim is because they know damn fine well it’s a term of abuse and we wouldn’t want anyone thinking Stu was ignorant, patronising and/or had no meaningful notion of the impact his chosen subject matter actually has on other people (or non-clients as he might put it).

Personally speaking I’m not sure why discriminating against football fans is a bad thing anyway. Overall, they behave worse than any other sport fans on a consistent basis so its common sense to pick on them. Avoiding that issue by saying "class discrimination" simply comes across as using loaded language to avoid dull shit like reality. And to be sure only a minority of fans fuck things up for a majority, but so what given said majority hasn’t been able to sort shit out let alone the clubs or football authorities, which leaves this bill as a last resort.

Alongside that are bigger questions about football in society, like it being bread and circuses writ large with season tickets another tax on the poor. Then there’s the association between it and questionable masculine identities, like have I mentioned domestic abuse spikes after football games?

Whether the bill as it currently stands sorts all that or anything out is doubtful, but contrbutions like tax-payer funded Stu's don't help matters. So yeah, you get some good social scientists and then you get joke figures.

(1) That case in Liverpool where a a jury decided Steven Gerrard had actually given some blerk a right good self-defending (on camera) highlights an interesting broader issue of yer average punter and things like justice when football is involved.

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