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Disadvantage$

Jonathan Wolff and Avner de-Shalit

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199278268

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199278268.001.0001

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(p.187) APPENDIX 1: Interviews Conducted for this Research

(p.187) APPENDIX 1: Interviews Conducted for this Research

Source:
Disadvantage
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

(p.187) APPENDIX 1:

Interviews Conducted for this Research

Interviews Conducted for this Research Interviews Conducted for this Research

The interviews for this project, which we have mentioned and relied upon at several points in this book, were conducted in Britain and Israel between July 2004 and January 2005, with the help of three research assistants. A second series of interviews was conducted in Israel in December and January 2006. The latter was carried out in order to double‐check the results of the first series of interviews, and indeed we found that the results were largely consistent. However, nearly all the interviews we cite in the book are from the first series of interviews.

In the first round we interviewed thirty‐eight adults (about two‐thirds in Israel and a third in England) on both sides of welfare services, i.e. social workers who take care of unemployed people and unemployed people; doctors at hospitals and patients; teachers and students on state stipends; people who worked at asylum seekers centres and refugees; and so on. In the second round we interviewed about sixty people – so altogether we interviewed nearly 100 adults.

Needless to say, when we decided to interview ‘disadvantaged’ people in order to improve our understanding of the essence of disadvantage, we faced a methodological dilemma. We had to approach some people whom we thought were disadvantaged but only then, and on the basis of what they told us, did we come to our final conclusion of the meaning of disadvantage. In order to bypass this catch we conducted a series of pilot interviews, with colleagues as well, about whom we could be sure were disadvantaged. On the basis of these initial interviews we decided whom to interview to complete the series of interviews.

The interviews in the first round were semi‐structured, in the sense that the interviewee could talk as long as he or she wanted to, about any subject that they thought was related to the interview. We taped them and considered everything they said as an input to our analysis, using our method of public reflective equilibrium. In that sense these meetings were not (p.188) simple interviews but rather discussions with these people, in which we learnt from them, but also asked them to reflect upon our thoughts. At the same time, we insisted that they tried to answer the questions we posed to them, even when they said that this was extremely difficult.

As a preliminary the interviewees were first told about our project. The first phase concerned our attempt to produce a statement of the categories of functioning which contribute to individual advantage and disadvantage. Their first task was to name what they thought the basic categories for essential functionings. They were asked to reflect about each and reason why they mentioned this or that category. Next, they were shown a card with a list of fourteen such categories, which included Martha Nussbaum's list plus four other categories (see below). They were asked to take their time and comment. Only then did we introduce limits (budget, time, energy) and asked whether they had views about priorities, and why. To conclude this part of the interview they were asked to name the three most important categories among their new list, and to say whether there were areas in which the government should spend more than it currently does, whether there were areas in which the government should spend less, and why. We also asked them whether the showcard failed to mention any category they found important.

All second round interviews were conducted in Israel. Unlike the first round, these were not taped, but the results were written up by Avner, who conducted most of the interviews, some assisted by his graduate students in his seminar on equality. One batch consisted of about twenty interviews, following a less structured pattern than the first phase. A second batch, involving about forty subjects, was conducted after a ninety‐minute meeting and deliberation about our research with students of social work who have already had experience of practice as social workers. They were given the questions and asked to answer them in writing. Interestingly, the results of these additional interviews, whether they were conducted as regular interviews or following the above‐mentioned deliberation, supported the results of the initial round. There was no significant difference.

A question might be raised here about why we started with Martha Nussbaum's list, or to be more precise with a revised and extended version of her list. Perhaps the main drawback of Nussbaum's list is that it considers categories which might appear too broad. Indeed, as we show in the book, sometimes part of the ‘trading’ in functionings, when disadvantaged people sacrifice one functioning to sustain another which becomes insecure, happens between sub‐categories within Nussbaum's categories. For example, disadvantaged people sacrifice balanced and healthy diet to secure satiation, but both of these appear under the (p.189) same functioning in Nussbaum's list. However, we had to start somewhere, and it seems to us that Nussbaum's list is both intuitive and well argued, and that it is comprehensive enough. As a matter of fact, while our interviewees had some queries about why this or that functioning was on the list, in general they accepted the list as a reasonable one.

A further phase of the interview was designed to allow us to see how to define the ‘least’ advantaged in each category, or what it means to be disadvantaged in each category. The interviewees were asked to relate to their specific sphere of disadvantage, as they saw it. With those working with disadvantaged people this was easy: most of them were in charge of a particular project or disadvantage, e.g. homelessness, unemployment, elderly people, and the like. It was more tricky with the disadvantaged themselves, as they had to decide first on their main problem, whether, for example, it was unemployment or being chronically ill, and sometimes they wished to address both, to which we agreed. However, we wanted our interviewees to refer to their ‘own’ sphere, and name the three most important indicators or measures of doing badly. If they found it difficult to answer this, we offered examples with regard to another sphere. Finally, we asked the interviewees to reflect about policy in his or her area.

Interviewees were not paid, but were each promised a copy of the book. We also promised not to reveal their names or any fact that might expose their identity.

A few methodological comments are needed. First, why did we interview people rather than use a larger‐scale survey instrument? As we explain in the text, we use the interviews as a major input into our research, as a stage in the process of public reflective equilibrium. So we wanted people to theorize, not only to offer their first gut feelings or unreflective intuitions. Large‐scale surveys, on the other hand, must be based on closed questions with multiple‐choice answers. This would not allow for such reflections. The notion of disadvantage is vague and problematic and large‐scale surveys face the danger of oversimplifying or giving misleading results. We should note that the interviews were not conducted simultaneously, and this gave us the option to revise questions according to the answers or the emerging information we gathered in the initial series of interviews.

Second, it is possible that a person's status and location affected what they perceived to be the most and least important functionings.1 This, it might be claimed, would yield a biased set or weighting of functionings. But this did not disturb us, as we were not looking to generate an objectively true list based on a statistical survey. Rather, we wanted to discover the range of representations current among our survey group, (p.190) looking for affinities and differences in their own subjective understandings about what makes life go well and badly. As long as they could reason about their intuitions, we were content.

Third, we cannot claim that the interviews bear any statistically meaningful information. The entire empirical part of this research is intended to introduce and demonstrate a method, rather than take it to the point of completion, which would require a huge budget. Ours is empirical research that is meant to inspire rather than conclude. As explained when we discussed the public reflective equilibrium model, it is a springboard from which to philosophize and theorize. However, at the same time there is a lot that can be learnt from it, provided that we keep in mind that statistically this data should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Finally, we are also aware of the potential problem of translating between English and Hebrew. It might be the case that those reading the showcard in English and those reading it in Hebrew interpreted some of the concepts differently; however, we tried to overcome this problem by allowing the interviewees carefully to discuss with us the various concepts listed on the showcard before they started answering. It was not a survey, but a semi‐structured interview.

All the details of the interviews are on tape. If the reader has any query regarding these tapes and the particular interviews, please address your request to Avner at msads@mscc.huji.ac.il.

The following is the showcard we showed to the interviewees:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Below is a list of 14 categories in one's life, which might seem vital for any person's flourishing. They can be described as things which one would like to do or be. Please go through them and comment on them. In particular we would like to know how you would consider failing to achieve each of them.

  1. 1. Life: Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length.

  2. 2. Bodily health: Being able to have good health, including reproductive health; to be adequately nourished, to have adequate shelter.

  3. 3. Bodily integrity: Being able to move freely from place to place; being able to be secure against assault, including sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence; having opportunities for sexual satisfaction and for choice in matters of reproduction.

  4. 4. Sense, imagination, and thought: Being able to imagine, think, and reason – and to do these things in a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education. Freedom of expression, speech, and religion.

  5. (p.191)
  6. 5. Emotions: Being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves; to love those who love and care for us.

  7. 6. Practical Reason: Being able to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one's life.

  8. 7. Affiliation: Being able to live with and toward others, to recognize and show concern for other human beings, to engage in various forms of social interaction. Having the social bases of self‐respect and non‐humiliation. Not being discriminated against on the basis of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, and the like.

  9. 8. Other species: Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature.

  10. 9. Play: Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.

  11. 10. Control over one's environment: Being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one's life. Being able to have real opportunity to hold property. Having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others.

  12. 11. Complete independence: Being able to do exactly as you wish without relying on the help of others.

  13. 12. Doing good to others: Being able to care for others as part of expressing your humanity. Being able to show gratitude.

  14. 13. Living in a law‐abiding fashion: The possibility of being able to live within the law; not to being forced to break the law, cheat, or to deceive other people or institutions.

  15. 14. Understanding the law: Having a general comprehension of the law, its demands, and the opportunities it offers to individuals. Not standing perplexed facing the legal system.