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The Invitation: To Whom It May Concern

The Reply

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26 October 2007

Dear Person Who Writes To Whom It May Concern

I'm the father of Iris (28 months old). She attends the Nursery you visited for a day-and-a-half a week. From a note you displayed by the front door, I saw you were interested in men who were primary carers, so I made a phone call (your mother?), and said I was interested in helping your research. I adore taking care of Iris, but it's also fascinating to reflect on what I've been doing for the last two years, and I don't get that many opportunities. I'm interested in being that oddity, a male primary carer (though I don't like that word you used, "manny", yech!). Most of the parents I meet at drop-ins, rhyme times and playgroups are female (at least on weekdays), so the gender issue is something I think about occasionally. I'm 51 years old, and feminism was a very big thing for me - and everyone else! - in my youth. Between the ages of 18 and, oh, about 36 (i.e. between 1974, when I went to college, and circa 1992, when we all became postmodern and ironic/cynical again) gender and gender roles were discussed every day. So I was intrigued by the idea of talking to someone about my experience of childcare. Zehra at the Nursery handed me your questionnaire last night. But I can't fill it in. I'm writing to you to explain why.

It's your quantitative methodology, basically. You come from a school of psychology which suffers under the delusion that statistics are a guarantee of "objective" data. Unfortunately, as the Frankfurt School theorist Theodor Adorno pointed out many moons ago, no amount of statistical "hard fact" can alter such extremely subjective and politically-driven concepts as "belief", "affection" and "conscientiousness" (to name just three concepts employed in the first three questions of your first questionnaire). Abstracted from the specific contexts in which these words might have meaning - a particular religious practice, a love affair, a work culture - they mean next-to-nothing as descriptions of an individuak's personality. Presented in questionnaire format, they are about as scientific as asking someone for their star sign (I also think - in common with Robert Carter's "Marxism and Theories of Racism" in Jacques Bidet & Stathis Kouvelakis's Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism, Leiden: Brill, 2008, pp. 431-452 - that the category of "ethnicity" is unscientific, although I recognise that many worthy anti-racists working for Camden Council believe the "ethnic monitoring" they do helps disadvantaged people, although many are beginning to wonder).

Your questionnaires are reductive and - I want to put this gently but I can't - insulting. I can't answer the questions because the restrictions of the format - the old "when did you stop beating your wife?" trap - keep making my blood boil! Issues of "fairness" and "favors" [sic] and "truth" (to list the first three concepts of your second questionnaire) beg so many questions! Context again. To answer properly, I'd need to explain to you when and where I think people should tell the truth or tell a lie. Now you're probably thinking, Oh no I've hit one of those over-educated "problem" answerers, best ignore him. But wouldn't that be admitting that your research is really designed to treat people as manipulable objects? People who can't talk back? I shall include with this letter an investigation I did on Capgras Syndrome and read out to the Plymouth Writers' Group. It contrasts the genuinely dialectical (listening!) French psychology of the 1920s to the authoritarian scientism (and dubious findings) of presentday psychology stemming from the USA. What I object to is that contemporary methodology amounts to a shield protecting the researcher from engaging with her subject, in this case men doing childcare. You pick your "interesting" (or was that "oddball"?) social group, and then fling them standard questionnaires formulated in California in 1963 and 1978 (must be "scientific" then). I mean, just borrowing a nephew or niece and attending a rhyme time at St Pancras library with me would give you infinitely more insights. Of course, that wouldn't be "objective" ... but then people are subjects and they DON'T LIKE being objectified! That's what the wage system does to us all the time, and which childcare gives us an (all too brief) opportunity to escape from.

I hope you at least found this letter interesting. Of course, taking my arguments seriously might be dangerous for you, since they question both the value and the morality of what you're doing (whatever the UCL Ethics Committee has to say!) and imply your discipline is worthless. What especially irritates me is that the questions in your questionanire weren't pitched towards the topic in question (eg "As a man, do you feel comfortable in playgroups where all the other parents are female?"), but used instead to establish some putative "character type". Surely this is unscientific - and incredibly lazy. You expect me to think along your prescriptive lines without once making an effort to imagine my situation yourself. I have to do all the work! The idea of such research being used to determine government policy fills me with dread.

If you'd like to discuss ways out of the frightful discipline you're embroiled in, I'd be happy to supply you with a reading list.

Yours sincerely

Ben Watson

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