Community Experiences of Sectarianism

This study explored community experiences and perceptions of sectarianism, based on in-depth qualitative research within five case study communities across Scotland. The insights obtained provide depth and context to other research about sectarianism, including quantitative survey and national criminal offending data.

2. Methods

2.1 The team visited five case study sites across Scotland to hear from local people in interviews and focus groups. Participants were selected by team members visiting local hubs of social activity and making contact with people engaged in the social life of the community who introduced us to others with a wide range of life experiences.

Choice of case study sites

2.2 Our chosen sites were drawn from across Scotland. We chose five case study areas: Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Lanarkshire, Dundee and the Western Isles. (See Appendix 2 for more information about these choices.)

2.3 Within those five areas, we singled out a smaller geographical community to focus on. We identified the communities partly on grounds of their character (having a historical heritage and social areas where locals meet) and partly on the basis of data gathered from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2012 and the Scotland Census 2011 (with grateful thanks to the Demography Division of the National Records of Scotland for assistance).

2.4 We selected our case studies using several interacting criteria:

  • The samples should engender a high degree of 'social boundedness' drawn from snowball sampling and participant focus groups with pre-existing social ties. This ensures a level of social connection, which is key to understanding the nature of sectarianism as it exists in communities.
  • The locations should offer a diverse selection of Catholic and Protestant populations with contrasting histories to allow for comparison of social distance between various faith groups in communities where they live.
  • The locations should offer multiple routes of access to contacting potential participants who belong to dispersed minority communities (by which we mean minorities of many kinds, across the equalities strands[3] and beyond).
  • The case studies should include a selection of communities affected by a range of religiously-aggravated offences derived from the COPFS (Crown Office) and Scottish Government statistics.
  • The case studies should engage a diverse selection of classes based upon the 2011 Census data.

2.5 The perception of each site as a community was supported in interviews in all the case study areas. Discussion about the precise boundaries has come up regularly in preliminary meetings and in the interviews. We drew each boundary narrowly rather than broadly, to ensure a high level of social connectedness, but were willing to consider participants close by the boundary if they were heavily involved in the social life of that community.

Data gathering methods

2.6 Because of the controversial nature of the topic, all the fieldwork was carried out by the named members of the research team and we discussed every interview and focus group among the team afterwards.

2.7 The research included the following elements:

  • 35 semi-structured interviews of between 45 minutes and 2 hours: a minimum of 8 hours of interviews in each case study site
  • 8 moderated focus groups: 1 or 2 sessions in each case study site

The fieldwork

2.8 The fieldwork was carried out between June and December 2014. Through a combination of planning and good fortune, we reached a very diverse group of participants. The demographic data for our participants are set out in the appendix. We heard from adults of all ages (including young parents), people from many religious and minority ethnic backgrounds, men and women, heterosexual and gay, with and without disabilities and with various levels of educational attainment. Some were on very low incomes living in rented homes and unfortunately experiencing lifelong social exclusion; others were on incomes of over £70,000, owning high-value property or in careers with a high-earning trajectory (e.g. doctor, solicitor). Most were somewhere between these.

2.9 Each of our interviews and focus groups was transcribed and then checked against the recording by a member of the team. We then analysed them using NVivo software, which makes it easy to categorise conversations into themes and helps challenge bias when researchers analyse what people said.


Email: Linzie Liddell

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