LSA 2021: Stuart Haw

A Critical Realist Framework of Emergence in the Community Asset Transfer of Leisure Facilities.

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has created a precarious situation for the sport and leisure provision in England. These facilities are discretionary, meaning that there is no statutory obligation for local authorities to provide them. This has meant that when financial savings are needed to be made by local authorities, these facilities are particularly vulnerable to being outsourced. For instance, with a 7% reduction in local authority facility ownership between 2014 and 2018 (Mintel, 2018) the impacts of Austerity in England can be seen. The way these facilities are transferred is through Community Asset Transfer, here the local authority provide peppercorn rent for a leasehold or for freehold transfers of sport and leisure facilities. Given the prescient timing of this phenomenon I will be sharing the findings and key themes from recent review of the use of qualitative methods in researching the CAT of leisure facilities since 2010 in the UK. I will explain how the selection of qualitative methods has been limited due to the sporadic and episodic nature of these transfers, therefore the research practicalities of empirical efforts have resulted in studies being underpinned methodological pragmatism. Examples show that methods have been dictated by the availability of stakeholders and the convenience of local cases.

I will explore key themes including the relations that local authorities have with the community organisations who acquire the sport and leisure facilities, the conceptualisations of these community organisations, and the benefits and challenges this groups face. In sharing these themes, I highlight that theoretically, studies have also been narrow, as there has been a preponderance with Social Capital and aspects of Localism as theoretical focusses. This is despite acknowledgments by researcher of CAT that other theories may provide the requisite utility for understanding CAT. I will provide a critique of these studies that highlights the research pragmatics, and how this commit to a methodological individualism, a reliance on subjectivity and interpretivism, and epistemic fallacy. Additionally, I will highlight how the current use of theoretical frames provides limited understanding of how organisational capacity can be enhanced for these community groups.

Therefore, I propose how methodological positions can be underpinned by a critical realist philosophy. This will cover the epistemological and ontological assumptions and the social theorising that critical realists make, and the methodological implications of these. I will explore the analytic dualism of critical realist social theorising, and how this requires researchers to explore the interplay of structure and agency. For this I make use of Elder-Vass’ Theory of Emergence and Archer’s (1998) Morphogenetic Approach in a novel way of understanding where mobilisation of capital is likely to occur. Secondly, this accommodates the interplay of organisational structure and agency for the individuals involved in the management of facilities. Lastly, this views the macro-level forces impacting these organisations, and whether individuals within organisations can reflexively resist or reproduce such forces.

The presentation is an extension of the literature review and methodological development of the speaker’s own ongoing PhD research. Haw is halfway through his research so cannot share the data, but felt this methodological development provided a novel way of attending to research of transfers, as they increase.

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