A milestone for Emergent Thinkers.com – one hundred pieces published. It feels both special and surprising today, as I succumb to brain strain and cabin fever in my nth lockdown. ‘WFH whilst homeschooling’ back in play, raising stress levels somewhat. Enforced isolation more akin to an ‘institutional lock-in’ with the loudest and busiest brood and menagerie whose antics and mishaps would not go amiss in a new movie release for ‘Paddington’ or ‘Parenthood’. Tension, distraction, a competition of wills…and that’s just training the pup to not to chew the furniture. There was a reason we didn’t opt to work from home full-time, snuggled up with our nearest and dearest: it’s hard.
Sweeping familial dramas aside, I will take a few minutes to smile and savour what has been the most enjoyable experience. No longer the planned sojourn, but a long-haul commitment. Not unlike living to see your 100th birthday, every post is triggered by highs and lows and constructed through many life, work, and societal context lenses. I feel quite passionate about democratic publishing, the access to, and contribution to, a world of diverse opinions. I can only hope to not fall victim to unscrupulous biased or unethical algorithmic filtering. My 100th blog is thus my celebration of freedom of expression as well as connection, exchange of commentary, global reach and community.
I had considered revisiting my very first post from 28 September 2018 ‘Statistics in the dock’, but I thought it my more fitting to revisit the second, which draws me back to the first few months following the day that would change my life forever, my Dad’s passing; a critical factor in developing my ‘voice’ as a blogger. I note my writing style has changed over time. It’s a shorter ‘word-count controlled’ piece, and may resonate with a few, as we witness peaks across hospital admissions.
For now, I say thank you for visiting and sharing my journey. And a nod to Associate Professor Antje Cockrill who encouraged me to take the first steps.
The perils of a narrow view of relationship status
1 1 Nov 2018
In honour of my Dad.
Dad passed away. Within days, Mum fell ill and was hospitalised. In a period of deep distress, my family was immersed in bureaucratic administration: force-fed forms, questionnaires, and registrations. A long line of encounters with badly designed demographic data capture is burnt to my memory. The image of ‘that’ worn pencil, hovering too long over badly prepared paperwork. Single. Married. Divorced. Mum looked across to me. My stomach flipped. A sickening mix of grief, anger, and confusion. A perception of malintent; to obliterate or dissolve relationship bonds by forcing a selection. A guilt-laden choice. Insensitive, distressing, and from a social scientist perspective, packed with potential to cloud judgement.
The debate of how a ‘widower’ should identify remains an unsettled matter; with views varying from the angry to indifferent. Without delving into the association of grief with the stability of responses  I bore witness to the power of question design, its ability to evoke emotion, and impact response. Across academic fields, there is a convergence on the importance of emotion , that it can influence judgment and decision-making . Yet overlooked in day-to-day form generating practices.
Cognitive psychologists claim “an individual’s temporary mood state, the transient feeling state perceived by the individual influence evaluations made” . In my mind, ‘mood congruency’ , at least that which a badly designed demographic can invoke, should be a priority biasing factor for consideration .
Demographics questions are known to be ‘sensitive’ [7; 8]; often ignoring the complexity of identity . As such they may elicit inaccurate answers . The Institute of Educations’ Research Ethics Guidebook  cautions against questions that offend/upset. The justification of inclusion of ‘sensitive data’ variables, however, can present in 3 key ways:
As means to accurately describe samples for the purposes of clarity, which impacts generalization and replication of findings [12; 13], and identification of sampling error .
Sensitive demographic variables can serve as independent variables [12, 15] i.e. “to determine whether identity is causing an individual to do a specific thing” [13, 14] or entered into multivariate models for controlling and confounding effect .
To ensure inclusion and advancing diversity .
Historically, researchers simply asked if one were single or married. Over time this became confusing and/or offensive [17; 18]. Marital status presents as “less nebulous as questions about racial or sexual identity” [19,] but relationships remain deeply complicated. The National Statistics Office  provide guidance on a wider gamut of relationship possibilities [figure 1].
Participants fractured by loss should not need to recalculate identities unfairly . This applies to all “sensitive” demographic variables, in academic or other data generating contexts, to anyone who would feel aggrieved or distressed to be excluded, misrepresented or inappropriately labelled. I pledge to adhere to this promise throughout my research endeavours.
“We know what we are, but not what we may be.”