The Truth in Social Research: Rebecca Huntley at TEDxSydney

The Truth in Social Research: Rebecca Huntley at TEDxSydney

July 10, 2019 4 By Kailee Schamberger



good afternoon everyone my name is Rebecca Huntley and I described myself as a writer a researcher and a mum other people would describe me as that chick with a big hair that chick we hear on the radio all the time or that kind of most hateful term social commentator but what I really AM is a social researcher but in terms of what I do every day I almost see myself as a professional eavesdropper it's my job to find out what Australians are thinking and feeling about pretty much anything and the way I do that is I go into people's homes I sit in their kitchens their lounge rooms their backyards and their sheds and I listen to them talk about their lives and then I take that information back to my team of researchers who've been doing exactly what I've been doing and we take all those kitchen-table conversations and we craft a story and we tell that story to clients and sometimes we tell it to the media I think it's one of the more interesting jobs in Australia being a megaphone for the Australian consumer and you probably notice that everybody else is interested in public opinion research as well even at the same time as we're becoming all the more critical of that research how its conducted and how it's used I think we're all fascinated about whether we're in the minority or the majority on a particular issue and we all love to be comforted or outraged by the opinions of others anyway a couple of years ago I was presenting my research to a client and I was asked a question that I couldn't answer immediately and when I present our research to clients I would use the term consumer probably 20 or 30 times consumers are worried about cost of living consumers worried about interest rates consumers are worried about superannuation laws anyway at the end of this presentation Skye got up and he said look he used the term consumer a lot do people really describe themselves as consumers do they really connect with that label it was a great question and I couldn't answer it straightaway but I did think about it my said look people don't connect with that consume consumer they don't really identify with the label and the question made me go back to look at all the research that I've been involved in the last six years to find if there were any other terms other than consumer that people connected with and I couldn't really find any if pressed people identify as being part of the middle class but we all know that that term is now so big it encompasses so many different kinds of people at different income levels that it almost becomes meaningless I have never conducted a group in which people call themselves Butler's it might be surprising to you but people who live in Western Sydney don't describe themselves as people who live in Western Sydney and people who live in the electorate of Lindsey do not describe themselves as the all-important voters of Lindsey sometimes people use the term ordinary Australians if you do a cop if you do a group with a lot of people who are wealthy they describe themselves as not rich which means that they are it sometimes people identify as being part of a generational cohort but in the same time they say well I might be Generation Y but you know I can live without Facebook for a day and I don't live off my parents people don't like those terms either during election times people might describe themselves as voters but never as citizens and when they're really angry they describe themselves as taxpayers you know even a really broad term like Australians is subject to question a couple of years ago I did a research report on Australian identity we asked people what is unique about being Australian and they couldn't really pin it down they recognized that all the traits that we associate with Australian Asst love of the outdoors love of Abia you know love of sport all of that exists in other cultures the only two things that they could really identify were uniquely Australian koalas and Medicare so we know that people don't identify with these labels consumer or voter or battler we also know they hate being marketed to through these labels as well you talk to women about Facebook and they say look just because I put a couple of pictures of my kids up on Facebook doesn't mean I'm only interested in pelvic floor exercises and that is rather than let's say skydiving we all hate the term working families don't we even working families I've sat in groups of older parents with older kids and their late teens and early 20s and they don't think that term applies to them it think they think it applies to younger parents with primary school-aged kids so we know that people don't identify strongly with these labels why is that the case well it has to be because we are so much smarter about how marketing works and even though marketing techniques are becoming a lot more sophisticated particularly in the age of big data marketing appeals fail and when they fail people absolutely scathing of them because they recognize how they operate we feel like we can see through the shiny images to the cogs grinding behind them now I'm part of an industry that helps those cogs grind my job is to get lots of information about people generalize about them aggregate classify and I do that and I don't get paid not as well as I should for it but I hope that while doing it I never lose never lose sight of its limitations that I never saw sighted that it's a problematic process that it's difficult and it often fails so thinking about the problems with these kinds of labels has met made me also think about a little bit about how people in my groups see themselves as the same or different to other people and I've come to a certain conclusion a lot of the time people looking for differences they may hate being labeled but they love labeling other people and I want to share with you a couple little quotes from our groups that I've done in the last couple of years what this one I love we're very homogeneous here in North Curt we are politically you go down to narrow Warren it's just a different world people who live in different areas their problems are different they don't have time for the community spirit and this is my favorite when we were single all the hot boys were real of our BM Park to find the hot boys and there are the hot boys are now be in park anyway so all of those kinds of perceptions around difference are very much based on perception rather than experience but my experience listening to thousands of Australians and hundreds of groups over many years that these differences are largely marginal the group and narrow Warren are just as concerned about cost of living the rising price of petrol just as confused about climate change as the group in Northcote the group in bondi adjusters worried about extreme weather events just as annoyed at the federal government and just in his love with my kitchen rules as their growth in bankstown and the grouping and the boys and Marilla are just as hot as the boy is now Ben park but I say that from perception rather than personal experience so this is actually quite a shocking thing for me to say that the differences between Australians are overstated and it's shocking because I went to university in the 1990s and it was all about difference you couldn't stand up in a political meeting couldn't stand up in a tutorial without saying I'm Rebecca Huntley and I'm a bourgeois straight middle class able-bodied woman and this is what I think and it's not that that was a problem you know we had to work through the way in which our identity and experience really shaped our worldview we have to also recognize how the universe or was often partial it was often the view of the dominant group either ignoring the voices of others or speaking on behalf of others but in the work I do I listen to all kinds of voices they're the voices in my head arguing but also agreeing about what's important to them love security a home meaningful work that doesn't undermine your health and happiness concern about the future belief that it's not going to be as good as the present even stronger belief that it won't be as good if we have the kinds of politicians that we have now so this work has changed me it's turned me from somebody focused on difference to somebody looking for connections I think a little bit too about this whole concepts of connection as well which leads me to think about belonging and about three years ago researchers were all having an argument about if people had a choice between being considered likable or interesting what they would choose because we work for research company we were able to put this question to a national representative poll of a thousand Australians and the results were interesting only thirty percent people wanted to be interesting 65 percent would rather be considered likable and I don't know what that other 5% without a moustache what there's a whole other research report there so what does that tell me it tells me that the needs belong a desire to belong is so much more important that desire to stand out from the crowd so I think now more than ever it's so important for us to find a way to pull together our common causes to address our shared fears to break down the kinds of false divisions that we create between people that get in the way of communication and understanding that requires a certain generosity in our language a certain poetry that we don't find a lot a certain commitment to the language of inclusion a certain resistance to the desire to slice up the community into interest groups and niches and a complete rejection of the Ouiser words that have infiltrated not just marketing and advertising but so much of public language the way that politicians speak to us and the way the media reports on them it requires a certain commitment to we over me and them if you look at the great speeches the ones that have endured throughout generations they use the word we liberally in some speeches we start every single sentence we are met on a great battlefield of war we shall fight on the beaches we took the children from their mothers a commitment to way rather than me and them all those guys on the folk in the focus group on Thursday and in the examples I've given you we encompasses a nation of millions of people it can encompass a nation of million people but it can also embrace a smaller community but it can never be narrow it's not a question of how many people are involved but the spirit of that involvement we reaches out and creates connections between people who on the surface consider themselves to be different because I'm telling you no matter how different we think we are from the guy and the next up herb or the woman behind us in the checkout queue at the supermarket or the guy that just arrived in Australia on a leaky boat I realize now that we are all in this together thank you you