The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces

Silhouette of figures wearing baseball caps with the sunset in the background

This cartoon below by Charles Barsotti is a good illustration of the social construction of group deviance in public spaces. This cartoon points out how some social groupings can be given negative labels, such as a “cult.” The beliefs or the practices of particular socio-economic groups can are treated with suspicion by a dominant group where they do not conform to society’s norms, values, behaviour or appearance. Non-conformity can lead to the creation of stereotypes; that is, labels that simplify specific qualities of some people as typical of the group they belong to (hence the cartoon, where one wolf says to another, “We’re a pack, not a cult.”).

In most circumstances crowds that “blend in” and meet society’s standards of “acceptability” escape the stigma of social deviance. Cases where “ordinary” groups might be negatively labelled by authorities might occur during times of civil unrest, such as during political protests, or due to other political cycles, such as the lead up to an election.

Racial minority youth are often labelled as deviant simply for being in public. In the case of Aboriginal youth, even something as routine as being in a shopping centre is mired by harassment by security (Perry 2018: Powell 2018). In another example, Muslim girls have been forced to leave a school excursion at a public exhibition centre because other visitors felt “uncomfortable” (Foster 2017).

Let’s take a look at this problem of stereotyping racial minority youth in public spaces, focusing specifically today on migrant minorities. We’ll examine how labelling these youth as “deviant” keeps society from paying attention to pressing social problems, such as structural inequality and interpersonal gender violence.

Continue reading The Social Construction of Migrant Youth Deviance in Public Spaces

Thelma: Film Review

Let me tell you about Thelma, screening at the Scandinavian Film Festival. A young woman, the titular Thelma, has led a sheltered and conservative Christian upbringing in the country. She rocks up to university having never really partied, including no alcohol or drugs, and without experience with dating. While she has a strong bond with her parents, especially her dad – with whom she shares all her deepest thoughts – she is very lonely in her new environment. That is until she meets the vivacious Anja.

As it turns out, Thelma starts to be attracted to Anja, who promptly breaks up with her boyfriend. It seems Anja begins to fall in love with Thelma too. Thelma struggles with self loathing and tries to deny her sexuality and at the same begins to have inexplicable seizures that baffle doctors. Around this time, I was thinking: if I have to watch another ‘internalised homophobia’ horror (oh, forgot to mention it’s promoted as a horror), I’m going to throw my popcorn at the screen. (Except not really as someone would have to clean it up.) But the film goes in an unexpected direction.

Thelma is exquisitely filmed. It’s not really a horror in the classic sense, as there is more intrigue than gore and shock, but the twists have you on tenderhooks. There are some answers along the way for the vexing Thelma, but not everything is resolved neatly.

Intersectionality: Anja is a woman of color and bisexual; no other people of colour live in Scandinavia apparently. Depiction of disability (mental health, epilepsy, paraplegia, suicide) is ableist. Warning; there are multiple scenes with strobe lights. LGBTQIA themes are mixed: ultimately, this is a story about seeking self acceptance (great) but the resolution is terrifying if you think about it long enough. The sex scenes mostly about women finding self pleasure and slightly less driven by the male gaze than usual, but then again, there’s also snake symbolism which is phallicspeak for men should stop writing about lesbians. Depiction of religion is xenophobic (religiosity as ‘backward’ and punishing).

These themes of otherness are not well-handled but as a film about loneliness and finding empowerment (albeit through weird paranormal happenings) Thelma is top notch. The film is recommended to those who love cerebral horrors; these are the best kind. Score: 8/10

Indigenous Women’s Leadership

This past week, Australia celebrated NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), a time to recognise the leadership, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Originally standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC Week has historically reflected the ongoing resistance to genocide, assimilation and land dispossession, famously culminating in the annual Day of Mourning in 1938 (a protest against Australia Day on 26 January). The NAIDOC committee emerged in 1956, and has in recent decades coordinated local and national events and awards to promote Indigenous excellence. This year’s theme is Because of Her We Canpromoting the multiple leadership roles of Indigenous women for their families and communities, as they push for social justice and human rights at the local community and national levels.

I share with you two events I attended that highlight the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in academia, journalism, business, law and social policy. Continue reading Indigenous Women’s Leadership

How to Increase Voluntary Participation in Programs Using Behavioural Insights

Reducing reoffending is a state priority in New South Wales. New sentencing reforms will increase referrals to behaviour change programs or other support services for people who are at high-risk of reoffending. Yet non-mandatory programs can often have low participation rates, particularly when programs are new.  

We set out to better understand the social context affecting voluntary participation in programs for people at-risk of reoffending. Here’s how we used behavioural science to promote better service delivery for this vulnerable cohort.

What we did

Our project involved three stages of fieldwork, which included a total of 46 interviews with service providers (35 interviewees representing 18 organisations); two experts on recidivism; nine interviews with clients; and site visits to five sites across metro Sydney and regional NSW.  

What we found

The key approaches to overcoming behavioural barriers to engagement are:

Reduce overly-complicated steps in signing-up clients. Sign-up process for voluntary programs can be protracted and cumbersome for both clients and case workers, introducing challenges that make a program unappealing (friction costs). Use default settings to make signing up easier and reduce hassle by consolidating appointments.

Increase a program’s appeal by clearly highlighting its unique benefits that are relevant for the individual participant. Eligible clients perceive that there are too many programs seemingly addressing similar rehabilitation services. This makes services of new programs seem less valuable (scarcity heuristic). Personalise delivery, giving clients a choice for specific services tailored to their needs.

Reduce the cognitive load (by reducing the number of options, or chunking information), and make the decision-making process motivating for clients. Due to past negative experiences with other services, and because there are too many decisions to make when considering new services, clients are put-off joining a new program (choice overload). The behavioural science tool of commitment devices and the intention gap can help clients make useful goals to keep them motivated.

Use simple communication tools, such as a script, to draw attention to important details. Program aims are not always clearly communicated, making it hard to respond to program requirements and other information (salience). Make joining attractive using a behaviourally-informed communications strategy. Present information in language that resonates with clients (framing effect). Use a clear call to action. Redress the risks that clients might associate with seeking help (risk aversion).

Positive reinforcement and culturally-meaningful approaches can reduce the stigma of seeking help. Clients often have life-long negative experiences with services which have left them feeling judged, or like they are “failures” (social stigma). Program screening tools and assessment can sometimes reinforce this negativity. Programs using motivational interviewing and other interactive techniques engender stronger engagement. Strengthening client’s self-worth and celebrating minor achievements throughout their program participation can motivate them to stay.

Consider timeliness of messages, tapping into the desire for a “fresh start.” Readiness to get rehabilitated is variable depending on age and life circumstances. However, clients will almost invariably experience a sense of exhaustion at the cycle of reimprisonment. They are especially open to the prospect of taking back control of their lives as they face the uncertainty of a sentencing outcome (fresh start effect). Experts tell us that the first 48 hours of being released into the community after an arrest is an especially pivotal time. A path to reuniting with family (especially children and grandchildren), or making amends with important people, is an appealing reason for change (where this contact is safe for family and others). SMART goals can help engage clients during this period of reflection (that is, setting specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals).

Read our report to find out more about how to increase engagement in voluntary programs.

How to Increase Voluntary Participation in Programs Using Behavioural Insights

Applying Behavioural Insights to Emergency Decision-Making

Flood-related fatalities have been an ongoing problem in Australia since the early 1900s. Deaths during floods rank second only to heat waves in natural disaster fatalities. Approximately 159 people died from flooding in Australia during the last 15 years, with half (53%) due to driving through floodwater. NSW, together with QLD, represent 74% of flood fatalities. Rural and regional areas in NSW are especially at-risk.

Driving through flood water is a pressing issue, and has been a persistent problem behaviour that has been tough to shift.

The following reflects how our team worked through this behavioural issue, and brainstormed problems, during a recent masterclass we ran with NSW State Emergency Service (NSW SES).

Identify behavioural barriers or triggers

There are behavioural biases acting as barriers to the desired behaviour of avoiding the flood water. Drivers who venture through flood water seem to overestimate their ability to survive and underestimate the risk, displaying an optimism bias. Research by Julia Becker and colleagues suggests that this is even more the case if drivers are very familiar with the environment. This same familiarity with the environment and a particular road could also mean that the status quo bias is at work. Deviating from the usual route taken regularly, such as their route home, would require more effort and planning than sticking with the tried and tested.

Drivers may also consider themselves atypical, using the representativeness heuristic. They might think: “only old ladies or inexperienced youngsters get stuck”. Yet research shows the biggest flood fatalities in Australia are men (up to 80%). One of the most devastating floods in NSW in recent times occurred at the Shoalhaven, just over half (53%) of the people who drove into flood water were men, 38% were women, while the rest were unknown (9%).

Based on their expertise, NSW SES discussed how the emotional decision-making was an especially strong pull. It’s not just about driving to a time-pressed situation or the desire to get home, but rather why individuals might feel compelled to continue to reach their destination. If people have children waiting for them, or cattle that need tending, or some other priority they feel strongly depends on them, they will drive through floodwater to fulfil their commitment.

In Figure 1, we modified the work of Irving Janis and Leon Mann to look at critical decisions faced in emergencies.


From this decision pathway, the following reflections by the driver could be possible:

  • The first question a driver may ask could be “Is there a serious risk if I do nothing?” To this the answer could be “Yes my kids won’t be fetched from school”.
  • This would lead to the next consideration of whether there is a serious risk if action is taken. “Yes I could get stuck”.
  • This would bring on the question on whether more information would help: “yes it would help to know my kids are safe and it would help to know if it’s safe to cross”.
  • To answer these questions would require time and the driver may decide that there is insufficient time to research and deliberate, and so make a bad decision, venturing into the floodwater.

Each of these decision points offers potential for a behavioural insights solution.

To see how we workshopped these questions, developed solutions for behavioural change, and how you can apply this to your work, head to the BIU website:

Applying Behavioural Insights to Emergency Decision-Making

Police Brutality of Young Aboriginal Girls

Police brutality in Glen Innes, New South Wales, against a group of young Indigenous girls. You can hear one of the girls say she’ll comply with police but she wants to call her parents as they’re under 16. The policeman says no. It seems his partner, a woman’s voice off camera, tells the girls to comply: ‘Don’t make it worse for yourselves.’ Policeman says: ‘It already is worse for yourselves.’

Policeman raises his voice saying he will arrest them and give them a ticket for swearing near a school. He barks at them to get in the police van but has not appeared to tell them why they’re under arrest other than swearing. He says he will throw the girls in the van ‘head first.’

Policeman yells when the girls don’t get on the ground. The girls start crying. He is seen kicking them to the ground. The girls cling to one another. He also threatens to arrest passerbys who also appear to be young women. This is disgusting police behavior.

Police are trained to diffuse public conflict and we’ve seen plenty of evidence they are highly capable of doing this when the public is White. Black people are overpoliced and subjected to brutal force routinely. This conduct is racist and dangerous.

Please share the video.

Police Brutality of Young Aboriginal Girls

‘Our kids need proper water’: Families plead for action over uranium in drinking water

‘Our kids need proper water.’ Racist policies are making remote Aboriginal communities sick. At least three communities in central Australia have levels of uranium in drinking water that exceed health guidelines, with dozens more not meeting good quality.

“It’s an international scandal that this is allowed to happen in a country like Australia — a rich country like Australia… If that was happening in Victoria, you’d have a hell of a row… Because they’re bush people and not a concern to politicians, they don’t worry about it.”

The National Health and Medical Research Council advises: “The main toxic effect of short-term exposure to high concentrations of uranium is inflammation of the kidney. Little is known about the long-term exposure to low concentrations.”

Levels of uranium in drinking water have been exceeding guidelines for a decade. Traditional owners have been lobbying for change with viable solar power option. In 2017 the Australian Medical Association urged Gov to invest in treatment facilities in remote parts of the country.

“Water is not meeting aesthetic guidelines in the majority of the 72 remote Indigenous communities provided by the Power and Water Corporation…”

“This water looks like it’s got rust coming out and [it’s] salty, and looks bad because it’s black, and makes the stomach sore.”

‘Our kids need proper water’: Families plead for action over uranium in drinking water

Resource: Equity and Diversity for Events

Diversity encompasses issues of equity, inclusion, accessibility and intersectionality (the interconnection between gender and racial inequality alongisde other social disadvantages). I’ve created a resource to ensure academic and science events support diversity. Below is a brief version.

Continue reading Resource: Equity and Diversity for Events

Dark Emu by Bangarra

Guess who had front row tickets to Dark Emu by Bangarra Dance Theatre?

Based on Bruce Pascoe’s wonderful and important research into Australia’s pre-history – the agrarian and aquaculture innovation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people people prior to invasion.

“This work cultivates a physical and visceral response to Uncle Bruce Pascoe’s book and our deep Australian knowledge. Whether we embrace it or not, we are this country – we are of the land, the water, the stars & the dark in between.

“As Australians awaken from a kind of collective amnesia, these are stories, ideas and practices we should all be able to access, learn from and respect… I feel like Australia is ready…. Dark Emu is a sense that we are part of something greater.” – Yolande Brown, co-choreographer.

“We’re told every day that the world is falling apart around us, but maybe if we just gripped onto something that was there before all this, it would ground us a little. Dark Emu reminds us to take a breath and cling to our piece of land.” – Daniel Riley, co-choreographer.

You must experience this work. The choreography and music are stellar. The dancers carry large props to phenomenal effect – from large rocks, to wood that is rearranged into shelter for the women and later fences to entramp them. A dizzying sequence centres on blow flies representing the contempt of the colonisers for the traditional custodians and their land, which they tried to destroy.

On in Sydney now to 14 July then touring nationally.