Monday, 1 February 2021

A paper I'm very proud of

I’ve not blogged in a while because of 2020, but a paper I wrote with a researcher colleague Chris Poyner is now out in Public Administration Quarterly and I want to summarise it. I’m also extremely proud of it. It emerged from my research on LGBT+ homelessness and housing which I’ve written about before, and in it I valiantly attempt to set a new research agenda based on a very simplistic use of queer theory.

It had a pretty torrid time getting published. It was eventually (after three rounds of revision) rejected by one journal I suspect for disciplinary reasons – I think they had a very fixed idea of what social science theory, and queer theory, which is essentially a collection of ideas and concepts you can use to look askance at society and culture didn’t really fit that model. However, the editor and reviewers for PAQ were extremely helpful and it was published.

The paper focuses in on one particularly finding from the research: while housing and homelessness organisations were never explicitly homophobic, they were implicitly homophobic. To unpack this I used the concept of heteronormativity from queer theory to demonstrate how, in incredibly mundane ways, they reinforced compulsory heterosexuality.

A key way they did this was to completely ignore sexual identity. None of the organisations involved in the research regularly collected sexual identity data. I know this is a very tricky subject. If they had been LGBT+ identifying people talking critically about it, I would have been less critical. But this was cisgender, heterosexuals, saying they didn’t want to put sexual identity on a standard monitoring form for fear of insulting people (straight people). Ironically, these forms of equality then became forms of ensuring heterosexuality: you could be any ethnicity, gender, race, impairment. But you could not be non-heterosexual.

This became a real problem because the organisations then didn’t know if there were problems that needed to be tackled. The most obvious, and worrying, of these would be homophobic or transphobic abuse by neighbours. The tenants we interviewed talked in graphic detail about the impact this had on their lives (as discussed in this paper) but the organisations didn’t think it was a problem as they never sought to ask their tenants.

The bigger point I make in the paper though, is that if you look across the literature on LGBT+ people and politics and policy, quite rightly and understandably, this is focused on achieving basic legal rights, or combating direct discrimination and violence. This is still the case for the vast majority of places in the world.

However, the UK, and many other northern European countries, now have a legal framework that is largely progressive. In the UK, thanks to the Equality Act, this should also mean policy is progressive and inclusive as well. Therefore, we suggest in the paper, the focus on these contexts needs to be turned much more to these everyday ways that policy and administrative processes reinforce heteronormativity and make the lives of LGBT+ people more difficult. Therefore public policy, and public administration research needs more queer theory.

You can read the paper here or drop me an email for a copy of the pre-print version.