Yesterday saw the release of the Casey Review into integration. Commissioned by the Cameron government, its stated intention was to review social integration in Britain. However, it merely added to the already poisonous anti-Muslim narrative, which is tirelessly promoted by the likes of The S*n, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. Was the report properly researched? No.
Let’s start with the most obvious question: who is Louise Casey? As this Guardian article from 2002 notes, there is very little biographical information available. No details of the schools she attended or whether or not she’s attended and institution of higher or even further education. Even her Wikipedia entry provides scant details save for her career highlights. This has got The Cat scratching his head: how and why did she manage to get into a position where she was permitted to produce government reports? In the words of Toyah Wilcox: it’s a mystery.
Casey apparently had a turbulent childhood and once considered sleeping rough. She then worked at a holiday camp. That was followed by a spell in the old Department of Social Security where she handled payments for homeless people. From there her trajectory took her to St Mungo’s and a number of other charities. It was from her last job at Shelter that she was plucked from her relative obscurity to lead Tony Blair’s Respect Task Force. Yet, at no point does Casey appear to have studied a social sciences subject either at school or at tertiary level, nor does she appear to have any experience of peer-reviewed research. Yet, the mass media accepted her review without asking pertinent questions about its validity. Yesterday’s Guardian, for example, was one such newspaper that accepted its ‘findings’ prima facie. As I write this, there is a Commons debate on the Casey Review taking place. Even here, the review is uncritically accepted as ‘evidence’ of “segregated neighbourhoods”. One glaring aspect of the Casey Review is its obsessive focus on Muslims. Indeed, it merely repeats the same kinds of narratives that can be found in any Tory-leaning newspaper on any given day of the week.
At no point in the Casey Review is there any mention of how the research, if it exists, was conducted. There is no mention of methodologies used nor is there any mention of references. This begs the question: how can this review be accepted as the basis for future policy making when it is clearly nothing less than a flagrant example of a confirmation bias? In academia, steps are taken to produce research that is valid. This means that the research must first, be peer-reviewed and second, the researcher must act self-reflexively. Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant (1992) were insistent on the need for researchers to analyse their social and professional positions when conducting research, since objectivity is research or journalism, for that matter, is a chimera. Yet such things are of no importance to ideologues, MPs and tabloid newspapers, who will seize upon any passing ‘report’ as a confirmation of their deeply held biases. They will, however deny any accusations of bias with the weasel words to which we have become so accustomed to hearing.
Casey herself, far from being a researcher, is a civil servant; a role that she found herself in thanks to the grace of Tony Blair. Legitimacy has thus been bestowed on her by the consecrating authorities of the government, Parliament and the mass media (Bourdieu, 2003). Her title of ‘Dame’ also lends an added degree of legitimacy, thus in the eyes of journalists she’s some kind of authority in some field or other.
Casey is by no means unique in producing reports that have little basis in actual research. As I reported in 2011, Localis, a think-tank with connections to Policy Exchange, produced a report titled ‘Principles for Social Housing Reform‘. Rather than propose useful solutions to the housing crisis, it reflected the class disgust of it authors, Stephen Greenhalgh and John JC Moss. Its epistemological assumption rests on the notion of “broken neighbourhoods” (sic) rather than the real issue like the acute shortage of social housing. Instead, social housing is seen as an impediment to penny-pinching local authorities and the report wrongly places the blames on social housing for social problems. Unlike the Casey Review, however, it claims to be peer-reviewed with its peers drawn from like-minded Council leaders to the Chief Executives of housing associations.
Evidence-free reports like the Casey Review rarely ask a research question and tend to be written according to the biases of their authors. They do not offer genuine solutions to the pressing social and economic problems that face the country and do nothing more than provide further fuel for hatred and division. Reports and poorly conducted research can either be useless or worse: downright dangerous. In any case, they exist to flatter the tiny minds of government ministers and their ideological bedfellows. We deserve better than this.
Bourdieu, P. (2003). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Harvard University Press.
Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. J. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. University of Chicago press.