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families affected by counter terrorism


  • http://isw.sagepub.com/International Social Work

    http://isw.sagepub.com/content/55/5/689The online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0020872812447625 2012 55: 689International Social Work

    Surinder Guruthe UK

    Reflections on research: Families affected by counter-terrorism in

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    - Aug 8, 2012Version of Record >> at Cairo University on October 20, 2014isw.sagepub.comDownloaded from at Cairo University on October 20, 2014isw.sagepub.comDownloaded from

  • International Social Work55(5) 689 703

    The Author(s) 2012Reprints and permission: sagepub.

    co.uk/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/0020872812447625


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    Reflections on research: Families affected by counter-terrorism in the UK

    Surinder GuruUniversity of Birmingham, UK

    AbstractFollowing the terrorist attacks on New York and London, the counterterrorism legislation in the UK strengthened surveillance and national security and led to the incarceration of many Muslim men. Whilst the treatment of prisoners and detainees received considerable attention in public debate, the families that are left behind have been neglected by politicians, academics, the media and service providers alike. This article reflects on the experiences of conducting a small exploratory study amongst such families in the West Midlands and highlights some of the ways in which the heightened concerns about national security impinged upon the research process.

    Keywordscounter-terrorism, methodology, personal and political, political conflict, subjectivity

    The political conflict engendered by the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York (2001) and London (2005) culminated in the strengthening of national and international security as well as the demonization of Muslim communities who tended to be equated with terrorism and extremism. Some of the draconian responses of the government to terrorism included

    Corresponding author: Surinder Guru, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK. Email: [email protected]

    447625 ISW55510.1177/0020872812447625GuruInternational Social Work2012


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  • 690 International Social Work 55(5)

    legislation permitting the incarceration of suspected terrorists, without the disclosure of incriminating evidence. Many Muslim men in particular were held in detention and imprisoned, or placed under control orders at home, without having knowledge of the evidence against them. Whilst the treat-ment of men held in these conditions was the subject of considerable politi-cal debate, the plight of their families was largely ignored. This article reflects on the process of conducting a small exploratory study of seven women whose husbands were detained or charged with terrorism offences. The aim of the research was to explore and identify the needs of women and children and to establish the nature and the effectiveness of the support mechanisms available to them. However, the focus of this article is not to report on the findings but to reflect upon the methodological considerations. Issues of objectivity/subjectivity, sampling, access, confidentiality, trust and reciprocity are explored. The article explores how, in the context of counter-terrorism legislation, the researchers subjectivity and identity were impli-cated in accessing respondents; it describes the choice of methodology before looking at the issues of informed consent and confidentiality, the importance of trust and reciprocity in relationship-building and the obsta-cles and opportunities presented by the research.

    The personal, political and the professional

    Ones social identity and the social context in which the research is based are central to the research process and the interpretations of the findings (Atkinson, 1992; Boden et al., 2009; Renold et al., 2008; Shakespeare et al., 1993). The research here was produced in the context of the research-ers political leanings, social networks and level of research expertise. Research amidst political conflict is likely to lead from a biased view-point as the researcher, even if entering the research field from an inde-pendent stance, is recruited into the field on the ground that s/he is not a hostile intruder likely to misrepresent the views, experiences and demands of the particular faction of the political divide. It is by its nature a partisan activity. Yet such partiality is likely to be questioned and perceived with suspicion in situations of political conflict, particularly in relation to coun-ter-terrorism laws.

    As a South Asian woman interested in anti-colonial and Black commu-nity issues and a one-time community worker and activist in anti-racist and Black feminist struggles, I was acutely aware that research is rarely objec-tive and that the lens of the dominant majority viewpoint is as biased as those of the marginalized (Becker, 1967; DCruze, 2000; Hammersley and Gomm, 1997; Mies, 1993; Romm, 1997). Being prepared to take a partisan

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    stance, to advocate for women who had become targets of their own and host communities and who were made vulnerable by subjection to counter-terrorism laws and the incarceration of their husbands (Deacon and Sullivan, 2009) was an important aspect of this research. However, as a belated emerging researcher, since I had no contact with the families themselves this would be a difficult task: the moral panics and the furor sur-rounding the war-on-terror, extremism and the enemy within meant that the population under study feared being labelled guilty by association (Brittain, 2009). It was unlikely that families would willingly subject them-selves to being researched by a stranger. Hence methods detached from respondents, such as structured interviews, questionnaires and observations would be untenable. This required a more personal approach and insider knowledge. As I was not an insider, this was difficult.


    The study was to proceed against the backdrop of the securitization agenda which the counter-terrorism legislation sought to strengthen and which aca-demic institutions had to heed, in addition to ensuring compliance with ethi-cal standards of research.

    An opportunity to gain access to participants arose after a co-incidental (rather than designed) re-establishment of contact with friends who hap-pened to be community/political activists involved in this area of work, helping families to readjust to their new circumstances. I tentatively explored the possibility of making contact with these families through the friends, who in turn confirmed arrangements with the organization (Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS)) for whom they volunteered. It emerged that contact was possible. This improved the possibility of gaining rich data. Access to a purposeful, opportunistic sample (Coyne, 1997) was secured through HHUGS. The research aimed to engage in a deeper level of relationship, in varied settings and contexts and to show some sort of reci-procity in order to build trust and rapport (Emmel et al., 2007) to acquire a first hand feel and to help gain different perspectives on respondents lives (Agar, 1996; Williams, 1993). The methodology would not preclude inter-views but these would be supplemented by other types of richer engage-ments and interactions, building stronger, more meaningful relationships through reciprocity, which might include practical assistance, for example, to help gain access to support services, legal advice and so on. In pursuit of rich qualitative data, at first non-structured interviews would both permit more informal conversational types of environment and capture the breadth of issues that respondents considered important. Once patterns and issues

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    became more clearly identified, semi-structured interviews would be more appropriate.

    The study was not ethnographic in the sense of focusing upon a cultur-ally homogenous community as a participant/observer totally immersed in respondents culture over lengthy periods to examine their norms and val-ues. The women shared a religion, but not a cultural heritage since they came from different countries; nevertheless, their unique shared experi-ences of counter-terrorism were significant enough to treat them as a com-munity. As the establishment of trust would be difficult in the prevalent distrustful environment of political conflict, it was envisaged that there would be a need to adopt an ethnographically-informed approach where the researcher was more than a mere interviewer disengaged from the respond-ent in a one-way exchange without reciprocity (Oakley, 1981).

    In order to acquire a fuller picture of family life and a meaningful under-standing of each of the members, in ideal circumstances it would have been useful to have conversations with all members, including those detained in prisons as well as those on control orders at home. However, wishing to stay clear of any difficu