Guest Blog by Morten Nielsen, Aarhus University, Denmark (1)

Associate professor Morten Nielsen is a Danish anthropologist currently in the Department of Culture and Society at Aarhus University. Based on empirical research carried out in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the UK, his research focuses on land use, house-building and property rights in both urban and rural areas. He is currently undertaking an in-depth study of land relations and property rights among tenant farmers on Islay.

“This is the Scottish Government. Is this Dr. Morten Nielsen?”

I had just come off the Islay ferry and was heading for Inveraray when my phone rang and an energetic woman, who was apparently the living embodiment of the Scottish Government, wanted to know if she was, in fact, speaking with me. I immediately assumed that I had done something wrong. Having spent more than two months doing ethnographic fieldwork among tenant farmers on Islay, my initial thought was that I had probably forgotten to fill out some research permit and now my increasing absent-mindedness had finally backfired.

Much to my surprise, however, the polite state official was not at all trying to expose my academic flaws but, rather, wanted to discuss my on-going research about agricultural tenancies and property rights on Islay. In order to realise comprehensive land reforms in Scotland, she told me, information was badly needed and my research could potentially provide insights into the intricacies of negotiating land rights in the Highlands and Islands. Having an overall interest in the dissemination of qualitative research, I immediately agreed to meet with the polite embodiment of the Scottish Government. As we could not find an available date for us to meet up on Islay, the state official agreed to visit me in Crail, Fife a few weeks later, on a Saturday, when I was visiting some friends on my way back to Denmark.

To Scottish readers, this vignette might not constitute anything out of the ordinary: a foreign researcher being approached by a state official interested in discussing key findings on issues that are high on the political agenda. However, having carried out research on land and property rights in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, I can firmly say that this is the first time ever that I have been contacted personally by a state official interested in the findings from a very short empirical investigation and, moreover, one who was prepared to meet up on a day off.

In both regions where I have previously worked, access to officials at different levels has been paramount to my research but the initiative for making contact has always been mine. The obvious question to ask was therefore why did she feel the urge to contact me apparently out of the blue? In order to respond to this question, we need to discard the tempting but unfortunately unlikely possibility that she was in awe of my research findings. At the time of our telephone conversation I had carried out fieldwork for less than two months and had as yet published nothing in academic journals or in more accessible public media. The likely response to the puzzling question is therefore quite banal. It wasn’t that I was the best of all the scientists doing research ‘on the ground’; rather, I was the only researcher doing research ‘on the ground’!

In Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, research into property rights and access to agricultural land is heavily supported and funded by external stakeholders, such as, for example, the UK Government. Hence, whenever I do ethnographic research in sub-Saharan Africa, I am certain to meet several of my colleagues doing research on exactly the same issues as myself. In Scotland, however, the situation is markedly different. Since I started doing research, I have come across very few colleagues doing what I do (which is to try to understand what people do ‘on the ground’ when, for example, farmers attempt to acquire secure access to tenanted land). To be more precise, I have met none!

Hence, although my conversation with the Scottish state official paved the way for disseminating findings from my research project to relevant stakeholders, it also made apparent a disturbing problem that slows down the realisation of wide-ranging land reforms. The on-going discussion about land and property rights in Scotland is based on very little knowledge about what actually goes on ‘on the ground’ regarding such crucial questions as, for example, how do negotiations between land owner and land tenant take place?; how are rent reviews actually settled?; how do conflicts among farmers and between tenants and land owners erupt and how are they settled?; why do so few tenants use the land court to settle land disputes? The list goes on…

Let me try to flesh out this puzzling predicament a bit further by turning to some of the very interesting issues raised by the Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) in its recently published Interim Report. (2) Initially, it is noted with lucid honesty that,

The first step in any meaningful strategy of land reform must be the creation of data on ownership and land values which    is comprehensive and accessible. Regrettably Scotland lags behind most comparable European countries in providing such data

When discussing ownership of vacant land in Scotland, the disturbing lack of information is further emphasized. According to Professor Adams, University of Glasgow,

“…local authorities have no idea who owns 12% of the vacant and derelict land in Scotland

One consequence being that,

“…too often communities are left guessing who owns the land that they live, work and socialise in”.

Taking SAC’s insights as an apt example of an overall problem then, given the lack of information, stakeholders involved in the ongoing process of trying to improve the existing legislation on land and property rights are often in the dark about what happens ‘on the ground’.

What are then the consequences of this worrying lack of information? Why is it that information about what goes on ‘on the ground’ is so crucial for the successful realization of ambitious land reforms? As an anthropologist having working on these issues for the last 14 years, I do believe that it is only through careful examination of how land is actually appropriated, negotiated and distributed that new and potentially revolutionary mechanisms of land distribution can be envisaged and put into action. Let me briefly sketch out only a few areas of concern that I have identified through my three months of fieldwork among farmers in Islay:

  • The need for pragmatic and immediate forms of arbitration. Currently, the only workable mechanism for arbitration is the land court. To many farmers, it is too costly and it is considered as unlikely to reach a viable and positive outcome. Hence, a kind of ‘middle ground’ is needed.
  •  The need for third parties when negotiating rent reviews. The recurrent rent reviews constitute critical and often decisive moments that significantly affect or even condition the relationship between landowners (through factors) and tenants. To many farmers, the need for maintaining a workable relationship with the factor will often prevent them from claiming legitimate rights.
  • The need for transparency when calculating the value of tenanted land. My research indicates that there are no objective standards by which landowners determine the value of tenanted land (e.g. an acre of arable land might vary between different comparable farms).

This is only a very cursory and superficial outline of a few of the many issues that I have discussed with farmers on Islay. Still, as is probably clear by now, I will claim that it is only through detailed examinations of happens ‘on the ground’ that such crucial insights might be identified and subsequently serve as a basis for establishing new mechanisms for a more just system of land distribution.

Let me conclude with an example of what such valuable insights might be used for. During the 1990s, the Mozambican government in collaboration with donors and local and international interest groups managed to involve huge sections of the Mozambican population in widespread debates on the need for a new and democratic land law. Through massive investments, large-scale research projects and ongoing public debates, a new Land Law was finally formulated that was (and still is) the most progressive piece of legislation on land and property rights in sub-Saharan Africa. (3) Today, it is widely acknowledged by all stakeholders involved in the process that the radical and positive achievements could never have been reached if it had not been for the continuous production of information about how Mozambican land was actually appropriated, negotiated and distributed.

In this light, the debate on land and property rights in Scotland is that of a developing third world country that can one day hope to reach the progressive level of developed countries, such as Mozambique.

 

NOTES

(1) Morten Nielsen can be contacted by email at etnomn@cas.au.dk

(2) Scottish Affairs Committee Land Reform Inquiry Interim Report

(3) For a very interesting read, I highly recommend Chris Tanner’s analysis of the process leading up to the approval of the 1997 Land Law.

 

Following the previous blog which highlighted problems wuth the SRUC report “Family Esates and Rural Resiliance”, I am pleased to publish the following letters written by Dr Iain MacKinnon to Professor Bob Webb, Principal and Chief Executive of SRUC and to the Scotsman newspaper in response to its article of 17 October 2013.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

by Dr Iain MacKinnon

Dear Professor Webb,

My name is Iain MacKinnon. I have recently completed a PhD at the University of Ulster on the topic of the Highlands and Islands as a site of colonisation, and am currently working independently as a writer and researcher.

I have pasted into the body of this e-mail for your attention a copy of a letter that I sent this morning to the editor of The Scotsman. It is in regard to the report published by SRUC last week entitled ‘Family Estates and Rural Resilience‘. This report was publicised by The Scotsmanand after reading the newspaper’s article I am concerned that there is a substantial error of reasoning in the original SRUC report which has allowed it to be used to make political claims that cannot be substantiated. I believe this error of reasoning risks bringing the SRUC into disrepute. As these unsubstantiated political claims have been made in a public forum I have chosen to put my concerns forward in that same forum. However, I would welcome your response to my concerns.

le gach durachd / with good wishes

Iain MacKinnon

Letter to the Editor of the Scotsman

Dear Sir

On 17th October you reported on the Scottish Rural Agricultural College’s newly published research on ‘Family Estates and Rural Resilience’. The research concluded that “family estates can support rural resilience”. However, the SRUC provide no tenable evidence for this claim and it risks bringing their work into disrepute.

The research report, which according to your newspaper was co-authored by the head of SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre Dr Sarah Skerratt, interviewed the landlords of 23 Scottish country estates, asking each one whether they thought their estates could contribute to rural resilience. The interviewees were all members of the landlord’s representative organisation, Scottish Land and Estates, and the research acknowledged that SLE had filtered which of its members were chosen for interview.

The SRUC report concluded: “Based on the findings of the 23 interviewed estates across Scotland, we are able to state that a vibrant and strong family estate can contribute to the on-going vibrancy of rural communities, both on or near these estates.”

However, this headline conclusion cannot be sustained by the evidence in the report. As the only evidence presented in the report came from interviews with landlords, the strongest conclusion that it could have drawn was to say that landlords themselves believe they can contribute to rural resilience.

In order to validate the report’s more general claim that a “family estate can contribute to the on-going vibrancy of rural communities” much more evidence is required. The researcher would need to investigate the perspectives of the broader range of rural community stakeholders, as well as conduct a detailed, multi-disciplinary analysis of development in rural Scotland.

The report published last week did not seek out this broader base of rural opinion and it did not offer any critical analysis of the limited range of opinions it elicited. There was no meaningful evidence in it to justify its headline conclusion and, as a result, that conclusion is at risk of becoming a propaganda tool for landowners.

Indeed, the propaganda potential of its conclusion has already been utilised by Douglas MacAdam, the chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates. Immediately on its publication he described the report as “exactly the sort of independent recognition landowners and estate owners have been looking for”. He added: “It is clear from the findings of the report that estates make a significant social, economic and environmental contribution to the communities of which they are a part.” [1]

The report found nothing of the sort. No general conclusions about rural resilience can be drawn on the basis of its interviews and, for the sake of its own reputation, the SRUC should acknowledge their serious mistake and disown this untenable conclusion.

In terms of best practice in research the report should also have stated that SRUC director Luke Borwick is also the chairman of SLE, the landlord’s representative organisation that acted as filter for the research interviewees. [2]

Yours,

Dr. Iain MacKinnon

NOTES
[1] SLE chief executive Douglas MacAdam’s comments are available online

[2] Details of Luke Borwick’s roles at SRUC and SLE are available on the SRUC website. However, the report itself gives no indication that a prominent member of SRUC is also the leading figure in the organisation that acted as gatekeeper to the research participants. Lord Lindsay of the Byres and former NFU president and Perthshire landowner Jim MacLaren are also members of the SRUC board.

UPDATE 24 October 2013
Scottish Farmer has covered this story in its 26 October edition.

UPDATE 31 October 2013

Below is the reply by Dr Sarah Skerratt to Dr Iain McKinnon and Dr MacKinnon’s subsequent reply. This correspondence is now closed.

24 October 2013

Dear Dr MacKinnon,

Many thanks for taking the time to express your views to our Principal concerning SRUC’s recently-published report: “Family Estates and Rural Resilience”. As the editor of the report, I am contacting you in response to the points you have raised.

Sampling

Firstly, given that there is no complete database of private (family) estates, any database is, of necessity, partial. Secondly, our focus was on private family estates. Given the need to maintain the confidentiality of SL&E’s members’ details contained in the database, it was necessary to identify those estates in our anonymised selection which were or were not family estates. This sampling process was robust.

Report conclusions

Firstly, as you rightly highlight, the report states that: “a vibrant and strong family estate can contribute to the on-going vibrancy of rural communities”. It states that family estates “can contribute” rather than “are contributing”. This is an important distinction, since this means universality of findings is not being claimed. Further, in the conclusions it is stated: “Given our research focuses on a sub-sample of family estates, it will be important to identify the extent to which these findings apply across the wider estate sector” (p.14). Secondly, as you will see from the report, it is made clear that: “these findings represent the views of the interviewees.” (p.4). Therefore, as with phase one of the research, where I interviewed the Trust Boards of Community Land Trusts (not the wider communities of which they are part), it is clear that our focus is on these distinct decision-making ‘units’. This is because we are examining how and why decisions are taken, and the perception interviewees have of the influence of their decisions on wider rural resilience and vibrancy.

Critical analysis

As stated in the report, Thematic Analysis was carried out on the data from the interviews. The analysis was “critical” in the academic sense of the word: complexity and diversity are outlined; differences in views, perceptions, values and motivations are identified; instances where landowners do not see it as their role to engage with wider development and those factors which make them less likely to do so, are also emphasised.

‘Political’ claims

I recognise that others have made claims based on the research, some of which you have termed as “political” and “propaganda”. SRUC has not made those claims. Our focus, here at SRUC, is to provide impartial, sound, robust evidence, which can then be fed into debate. We cannot, and do not seek to, control how that debate evolves.

SRUC Board

Finally, you are correct in stating that Mr Luke Borwick is a member of SRUC’s Board, and is chairman of Scottish Land and Estates. SRUC Board Members come from a diverse range of perspectives and industries from across the rural sector, in Scotland and internationally. To cease to carry out research simply because it may be of relevance to a Board Member would severely constrain our activities as a research organisation. In addition to this underlying principle, Luke Borwick did not influence in any way the course of this research.

Yours,

Dr Sarah Skerratt

—————————————————————————–

27 October 2013

Dear Dr Skerratt,

(c.c. Principal Webb)

Thank you for taking the time to answer my e-mail to Principal Webb and for your full and comprehensive response to it, breaking my comments down into headed sections. I will respond to your comments in each heading.

SAMPLING

My observations on the research design were not a criticism of the design in itself. Instead they were linked to the fact, expressed later in my letter, that SRUC director Luke Borwick is also chairman of the group that, in terms of the research design, acted as gatekeepers to the interviewees. It was the perception of a potential ‘conflict of interest’ that concerned me in my letter, rather than the design of the research itself.

However, Andy Wightman has identified what he considers to be flaws in the research design and has written about these on his blog, ‘Land Matters’ where there has been an extensive debate on the ‘Family Estates and Rural Resilience’ report. It will be useful for Andy and others who have contributed to this debate to hear your defence of the research and how you have answered their criticisms, and so, in the spirit of the democratisation and dissemination of research, I intend to post your e-mail to me and my response to you on the ‘Land Matters’ blog. Please let me know if you have any objections to this. My view is that Andy’s blog is an important forum for research on land, rural and agricultural matters, and, in general, represents a useful democratisation of these debates.

On his blog you will see that Andy has also addressed the question of how a ‘family estate’ is defined.

REPORT CONCLUSIONS

I should begin by saying that my criticism of the report conclusions did not address the issue of ‘universality’, which you write about in your response. Instead, it addressed the question of the level of evidence that is required in order to validate a particular truth claim.

Your report’s headline conclusion states:

“Based on the findings of the 23 interviewed estates across Scotland, we are able to state that a vibrant and strong family estate can contribute to the on-going vibrancy of rural communities, both on or near these estates.”

As you noted in your response to me, the body of the ‘family estates’ report makes it clear that “these findings represent the views of the interviewees.”

My criticism of the headline conclusion is that this earlier qualification [that the findings represent the views of the interviewees] has not been applied to this conclusion and it leaves the reader with the impression that the claim that family estates can contribute to rural resilience has come from the SRUC itself and not from the landlords whose views, as you have noted, are actually being presented in the report.

From the first sentence of the executive summary to the report it is clear that the rural resilience you are researching extends beyond the landowning family to the wider rural community living on and around that family’s estate.

My criticism is that to legitimately claim that a family estate can contribute to wider rural resilience surely requires the active assent of all (or at least the noted dissent of some) of that rural community and not just the perspective of those who own the land on which that wider community lives. As the report did not include evidence from non-landowning residents on and around family estates, I do not believe you have the evidence necessary to make this more general claim.

In my view what your report has revealed is the more limited claim that some landlords believe that landlords can contribute to rural resilience. I believe its conclusions ought to have reflected that finding and that you may have avoided the present difficult political situation had you worded the conclusion:

“Based on the findings of the 23 interviewed estates across Scotland, we are able to state that some owners of family estates believe that a vibrant and strong family estate can contribute to the on-going vibrancy of rural communities, both on or near these estates.”

I am criticising this conclusion in part because it seems to me that Scottish Land and Estates has sought to make political capital from the lack of consistency between the report’s evidence and this conclusion.

I will discuss this further in a later section but I would like to say that in terms of understanding the nature of the present political dispute over the report I have found very helpful the distinction that you draw in your response to me that the report “states that family estates “can contribute” rather than “are contributing”” to rural resilience. It is helpful because this distinction makes it clearer to me how SLE has drawn on the inconsistency between the evidence in the report and its conclusions, and has deepened it to the extent that it seems to me that SLE has made exactly the unwarranted transition from ‘can contribute’ to ‘are contributing’ that you have written about in your response to me.

I am not sure that I agree with your ‘universality’ argument, but, as I’ve said, I don’t think that this is relevant to the present discussion.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

I agree that my assertion of the report’s lack of a critical analysis of the limited range of opinions that the research was built on is too strong for the particular academic sense of ‘critical’ that you describe.

However, this may reflect our different understandings of the word ‘critical’. In my use of the word I am drawing on the pre-eminent work on critical theory of the Frankfurt School which, in one recent articulation of it, “seeks to give social agents a critical purchase on what is normally taken for granted and…promotes the development of a free and self-determining society”.

What my claim draws attention to is that there is no critical reflection in the report on the difference between the limited range of the evidence (which is entirely landlord based) and the general nature of the headline conclusion (which applies more broadly to rural society has been affirmed by the impartial SRUC).

To reiterate, the headline conclusion is presented as the opinion of SRUC on rural society whereas, as you note in your response to me, it is in fact merely the collected opinions of the interviewed landlords.

This is a critical point as it means that the report’s conclusion can be interpreted as taking for granted, and arguably therefore contributing to, a power relationship in Scottish society that was recently expressed as “landlords and their communities” (this phrase is from a tweet made last weekend by the SLE chief executive and is recorded on Andy Wightman’s blog which is linked to above – the emphasis is mine). The use of the third person possessive determiner in this tweet indicates the writer’s presumption that private landlords possess the communities on ‘their’ land [‘their house’, ‘their land’, ‘their communities’], and, I would argue, therefore claim a right of representation over them.

In terms of the study of evolving rural power relations over land in Scotland which is focussed around the emergence in some parts of the country of community land ownership as a self-determining alternative to private landlordism (and I regard your own work as important in this field), I would say that the inner dynamics of the relationships between landlords and communities, rather than the range of opinions about development among private landlords, is the critical issue.

My criticism here is that the report’s headline conclusion gives the SRUC’s affirmation to a general claim about the potential of private landlords to contribute to the resilience of rural communities. However the report’s evidence can only allow this claim to belong to the landlords themselves – ‘their communities’ were not asked and remain silent. Therefore, I believe that the report’s conclusion can and has been interpreted as implicitly affirming the presumption of landlord possession of community and of the normative power relationships that this presumption entails – although I accept that such an affirmation is unintentional.

POLITICAL CLAIMS

I find making this kind of analysis uncomfortable and I don’t like doing it, particularly because I value much of the research work that comes out of the SRUC and its rural policy team.

However, it is precisely because, as you say in your response to me, the SRUC intends its work to feed into political debate that I have felt compelled to contribute in this way. You add that SRUC does “not seek to control how that debate evolves”. I would like to challenge you on this statement. I would argue that SRUC has a duty to its research findings beyond the moment of publication, in particular to situations where they are being misrepresented for political ends. I think that SRUC has a duty of control to the extent that it should ensure that such misrepresentations are challenged and corrected. This is a key factor that led me to comment on this report.

In this instance the SRUC sought wider commentary on its report by allowing its communications unit it publicise it. Indeed, it was reported on by many media outlets who ran alongside it the commentary on it by Scottish Land and Estates. If I am right in my reading of your argument in your response to me, the SLE misrepresents your work when it claims that the report shows that landlords “make a significant social, economic and environmental contribution to the communities of which they are a part” – that is, it turns the report’s ‘can’ into an ‘is’.

If I am right, in the interests of properly informed public debate I think it would be appropriate, in a case like this, to defend the integrity of your research by pointing out that it is being misrepresented by a lobbying group – even if you do not acknowledge that this misrepresentation is being done for political ends.

As I said, Dr Skerratt it is for this reason that I have felt compelled to criticise your team’s work in this instance, even though I value much of the SRUC’s work in this area.

SRUC BOARD

It is useful to have on record your statement that “Luke Borwick did not influence in any way the course of this research”.

Thank you also for articulating the principle which guides the SRUC in relation to its directors’ outside interests.

In terms of transparency, and to help to avoid any perception of conflicts of interest in the future, I think that in any research situation where an SRUC representative has an external interest in that research, it would be useful for research outputs explicitly to mention this interest and for the principle you described to me to be articulated in the output.

I am sorry to be writing to you in such a critical way and I thank you again for your response to me.

Le gach durachd – with kind regards

Dr Iain MacKinnon

FINALLY
Scottish Land and Estates have commissioned Rural Solutions and SRUC to “undertake impartial research on the economic contribution of landowners across Scotland” based upon a 17 page questionnaire and a selection of face to face interviews.


A report was published today by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) entitled Family Estates and Rural Resiliance. It contains the findings from a series of 23 interviews with landowners of so-called “family estates”. The report contains a few interesting observations but adds little to our state of knowledge about landownership in Scotland.

First of all is the problem of definitions. What is a “family estate”? The report does not say. One presumes it is an estate owned by a whole family but I know of none that meet this definition. The report contains no analysis of whether estates are owned by companies, trusts, individuals or other legal entities. Such structures are important not least because they often constrain precisely who in the “family” is the owner – often this may be a son or grandchildren. But the most important information that is missing is any analysis of gender. Are these estates owned by men or women in the family and what stake do children have? Given the long history of primogeniture and male landowners, this missing gender dimension makes it difficult to understand precisely whose voice is doing the talking and on what basis.

Another problem is that the research in so far as it examines the role played by “family estates” in their wider community, only interviews the landowners and not the wider community. It would have been interesting to see whether the opinions of the interviewees are shared by the community with which most of them seem so enthusiastic to embrace.

For example (and this is purely anecdotal of course), I received this email today from somebody who is dealing with a well-known “family estate” I guess you might call it.

they have a huge influence on life in this area and I personally have noticed a fundamental change in the last 10 years or so where they have gone from being generally a well thought of and benevolant influence in the community to the complete opposite where now they are obstructive, disliked and untrustworthy. You will be hard pushed to find someone who has a good word to say about them.”

The most obvious problem with this piece of work, however is the sample. The findings are based upon interviews with only 23 landowners. That is a very small sample but there are two more serious flaws.

The sample is derived solely from the membership of Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) which immediately biases the sample towards those who choose for whatever reason to join this organisation. The most serious flaw, however, is the fact that Scottish Land and Estates had the final say selecting the 23 owners. SRUC initially selected random estates using codes from an anonymised database provided by SLE. Once selected, the codes were sent to SLE. In the words of the report, SLE “then checked that the ones we had selected were resident family estates. if not, we then re-selected, again from the anonymised database“.

This means that SLE had the opportunity of selecting those data subjects which would show “family estates” in the best light. Whether it did or not I cannot say and neither can the researchers – and that is the fundamental flaw in the research design. We cannot therefore trust that the sample is even representative of “family estates” who are members of SLE (a problem exacerbated by SLE who, it appears, used their own unpublished definition of a “family estate”).

Moreover, knowing the identity of the subjects means that SLE had the opportunity to speak to them in advance of the research. Whether it did or not I cannot say and neither can the researchers.

Not surprisingly perhaps, SLE are very happy with the report and are majoring on the theme at their trade stand at the SNP conference where they are launching a “Community Engagement Programme“.

In a tweet today, SLE Chief Executive revealed the flawed premise upon which much of their argument rests. I will leave you to spot it.

This kind of design flaw has happened before with research undertaken by the Scottish Agricultural College, the predecessor to SRUC. Nine years ago, in a study of nine estates, it was revealed that the subjects were chosen by the sponsor of the research – the Scottish Estates Business Group – my critique of the time is here).

The next report will look at the role played by “charity” landowners. I trust that SRUC will adopt a clear definition and it would be very interesting to see whether they include the Applecross Trust and Mount Stuart Trust in their sample.

This report is based on a seriously flawed sample methodology and cannot be trusted. It tells us little beyond the opinions of 23 individuals whose authority even to speak on behalf of their “family” is never explained. No attempt is made to validate the views and opinions of the 23 interviewees by seeking the views of others with whom they engage. The research amounts to little more than a series of chats with individuals who have a vested interest in findings that can be presented, interpreted and promoted in a positive light.

In the acknowledgements, the author writes, “I would like to thank the 23 interviewees for their time in sharing their views with me“. That about sums up the research.

But please don’t take my word for it. Read it and make up your own mind.