Applied Social Studies - Doctoral Theses

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    Discretion at the frontline of homeless service administration: primary and secondary rationing by street level bureaucrats in Irish local authorities
    (University College Cork, 2022-11) Murphy, Niamh; O'Connell, Cathal; Finnerty, Joseph; Irish Research Council
    The number of people experiencing homelessness in Ireland has increased significantly in recent years, with almost 11,000 currently using homeless accommodation. In order to access services, people are required to present to their local authority as homeless. Subsequently, frontline workers are required to make decisions around whether a person is considered homeless, as well as the level of service that they will be offered. Despite the high numbers of people presenting as homeless, little is known about this process of assessment and placement. To guide determinations of eligibility, the statutory definition of homelessness is outlined in the Housing Act, 1988. However, owing to the legislation’s ambiguity, local authorities can widen or narrow the definition as they see fit. As the definition is based on ‘the opinion of the local authority’ to determine whether someone is in accommodation which they can ‘reasonably occupy’, assessment staff must use substantial discretion when determining eligibility for services. In addition to the ambiguous statutory definition, the opacity of this area of welfare administration is compounded by the lack of additional formal guidance around determining eligibility. Likewise, this informal approach extends to decision-making around the type of accommodation offered to those who are eligible. Due to the informal work environment, a high level of discretion is granted to these frontline workers. Accordingly, Lipsky’s (1980) conceptual framework provides a useful means to examine the use of discretion among assessment and placement staff. Lipsky (1980) coined the term ‘street level bureaucrat’ to describe public service workers who have direct interaction with citizens and substantial discretion in the execution of this work. Through in-depth qualitative interviews with frontline workers based around Ireland, the research examined how discretion is used by these street-level bureaucrats to make decisions around rationing of homeless services at both a primary (assessment) and secondary (placement) level. The research found that although the frontline workers had a high level of discretion available to them in making decisions, management could influence how this discretion was used in some circumstances. This was mainly done through applying scrutiny when discretionary decisions resulted in offers of services to people whose eligibility was unclear, and through inattention when discretion was used to gate-keep services. Additionally, the research found that a narrow interpretation of the statutory definition of homelessness is being used by most of the frontline workers involved in the research, with rooflessness constituting homelessness that they described as genuine. People who presented to the local authority from living situations described as grey, for example couch surfing, were more likely to experience gatekeeping and denial of access to services. In some cases the frontline workers avoided the need to deny access to services through using an approach of covert deterrence. This involved presenting emergency accommodation in a negative way to an applicant so that they may be deterred from entering it, thus rationing demand for these services. Furthermore, significant differences were found in the approach of frontline workers towards homeless families and single people. Singles were more likely to experience gatekeeping behaviours than families were. This was most notable with regards to access to private emergency accommodation which the frontline workers stated was no longer available to single people except for in exceptional circumstances. As the first piece of research in Ireland examining homeless service administration from this perspective, the thesis is a starting point to fill a gap in knowledge around this subject. As such, it has begun the process of making an opaque area of public service delivery more transparent and therefore makes a significant empirical contribution to knowledge in the fields of streetlevel bureaucracy and the administration of homeless services in Ireland.
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    Sustainable development and participation in estate regeneration: a mixed methods case study
    (University College Cork, 2022) O'Leary, Seán A.; O'Connell, Cathal; O'Sullivan, Siobhan
    The concepts of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘participation’ share much in common, and, though contested, they are normative features of estate regeneration. This thesis explores how both concepts are understood and have influenced regeneration policy and practice and whether opportunities exist to integrate them further. This is achieved through a case study of the regeneration of Knocknaheeny, Cork, Ireland, utilising a novel exploratory sequential mixed methods research design with qualitative (22 interviews and a focus group) and quantitative (content analysis of 18 multi-scalar policy documents) components. The thesis shows that given sustainable development’s long term focus on policy coherence and integration, effective governance, and careful use of resources to address social, economic and environmental issues, there is clear potential for its closer integration in regeneration, with participation necessary to ensure equitable, locally relevant and practical outcomes. However, overall, it was found that this is not reflected in national and local regeneration policy and practice. Sustainable development is interpreted in a limited way in the regeneration of Knocknaheeny, with little attention to the vision of residents, while several barriers to community participation exist. The thesis finds that Irish policy has not provided a firm conceptual foundation for either sustainability or participation in regeneration, and regeneration policy is biased towards physical regeneration, which limits the possibilities for holistic sustainable development. The thesis shows how sustainable development and participation present challenges and opportunities for Ireland’s traditionally centralised and managerial regeneration institutions and decision-making processes. To address this, an empiric reflexive, multi-level regeneration governance taxonomy for Knocknaheeny is proposed. The thesis concludes with four interrelated recommendations, proposing (1) the reorientation of local government regarding regeneration, (2) increased attention to sustainable development as a foundation for regeneration, (3) review of ‘traditional’ consultation methods and (4) the adoption of reflexive, multi-level regeneration governance. It represents a possible reform agenda for further operationalising sustainable development and participation in regeneration and is relevant to communities, policy makers and the academy.
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    The Atlantic Philanthropies – a study of the enactment of philanthrocapitalism in Ireland
    (University College Cork, 2022-05-16) Feely, Naomi; Edwards, Claire; O'Donovan, Orla
    This research is concerned with the contemporary manifestation of philanthropy known as philanthrocapitalism. Characteristics of this model include the application of business language and methods to philanthropic giving and the assumption that government alone can no longer solve social issues. Of central concern to this study is the argument that the rise of philanthrocapitalism is undermining democracy, whereby certain philanthropic organisations have ‘taken on the role of the state – essentially setting and implementing policy through their independent funding choices’ (Eikenberry, 2006a: 588-9). Irish philanthropic giving operates at a comparatively lower level to other European countries. To date there has been little research on the operation of foundations within the model of philanthrocapitalism in Ireland. One foundation, which adopted this approach, The Atlantic Philanthropies (AP), disbursed $1.3 billion in funding to Irish organisations over a period of three decades. The enactment of a philanthrocapitalist model of giving by AP, in its operating characteristics and its use of discourses, is the focus of this thesis. Selected texts written by AP about its funding for prevention and early intervention approaches to children’s services forms the empirical research conducted as part of this study. An analysis of the discourses used in these texts identifies children and parent’s individual behaviour as problematic and this is the cause and result of wider social problems. Previous responses to the identified problems, by other actors, are framed as insufficient and the support of philanthropy (i.e. AP) is required. In its self-representation of its own role, AP adopts the triple role of helper-investor-governor. As a governor, AP exerts philanthropic governing capacity by shaping not only their own but the Irish government’s response to these identified problems.
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    Using digital storytelling with Irish farmers as an arts-based methodology to understand sustainability
    (University College Cork, 2021-12) Bowen, Maeve; Ó Tuama, Séamus; Mullally, Gerard; Environmental Protection Agency
    The thesis investigates the ways in which sustainability is understood by farmers in a part of Southern Ireland. The central innovative methodology adopted for this study is the use of digital storytelling as an arts-based methodology for data collection. The concept of caring and connectedness, particularly to nature, to family and to a continuity between generations are the key themes of the stories, along with farmers viewing themselves as stewards of the countryside and being custodians of the land. The focus on the economic aspects of sustainability (cost factors, both from an expense and a savings perspectives), although included in the stories, does not come across as one of the key themes. The second strand of the research proceeded to undertake a profile of a wider group of farmers in order to infer the results of the story-makers to a wider group. The profile shows a high degree of similarity between the story-makers and the wider group of farmers. A third strand of the study asked farmers what needs to happen for farmers to adopt environmentally friendly practices. The findings show that farmers need a better understanding of good environmental practices and its benefits, more advanced practices need to be costed and the rewards for implementing them explained fully so farmers can adopt them quicker. But farmers do not believe that changes should come at a cost to them as they believe that with the current price of milk and the hours that they work, that they are already not adequately rewarded. The fourth and final part of the study, showed the digital stories to a wider group of farmers and the findings of the research show that farmers are positively disposed towards the digital stories as a method of communication. Importantly, the majority found the stories to have a positive influence on their attitude to making environmental change. The main reasons for their willingness to implement pro-environmental practices related to the cost benefits of implementing change and identifying with the storyteller (being able to relate to the storyteller and to his farming circumstances). The thesis finds that conducting research using arts-based methodologies, can produce extremely valuable insights into how people experience the world and what they place importance upon and that the first person narrative, which is often emotional, can have an impact on viewers, in terms of their engagement to the themes of the stories and their readiness to adopt changing practices. This research bears true of the literature review in which peer to peer communication, bottom-up, visual and emotional material can connect strongly with the audience. It also highlights how communication technologies can be used as facilitating tools for participation and engagement. It is hoped that this research reveals farmers’ deeper understandings of sustainability and that it further adds to the lack of research on the construction of environmental communication in new media and the importance of how environmental communication is framed.
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    Risk, responsibility, and power in the regulation of Ireland’s financial services industry, 2004-2017
    (University College Cork, 2021) Cashman, Conor Joseph; O'Sullivan, Siobhan; Skillington, Tracey; Irish Research Council
    As the Irish financial crisis of 2008 unfolded, public deliberation focused on the treatment of Ireland’s ‘bailed out’ financial institutions and the social and economic impact of austerity. Meanwhile, Ireland’s regulatory actors sought to update a regulatory framework to better ‘protect’ citizens facing financial hardship and escalating mortgage arrears. Using Ireland’s financial consumer protection regulations from 2004 to 2017 as an empirical source, this thesis examines the underlying nature of Ireland’s pre-crisis regulations, their evolution on foot of the crisis, and the manner in which regulatory and industry actors responded to Irish civil society debate regarding the role and effect of regulations. A theoretical framework using concepts of power, systems theory, neo-institutional theory, and financialisation studies is developed. This highlights neoliberal justifications underlying regulatory approaches that seek to empower citizens (as consumers) and trust industry (to self-regulate), while offering insight as to how regulatory and industry actors avoid responsibility for risks posed and revealed to citizens as crises unfold. The thesis applies thematic coding and frame analysis research methods to financial consumer protection codes and related publications. The research is supported by semi-structured interviews with civil society actors involved with regulatory processes and in assisting people in financial difficulty. By so doing, the thesis highlights the normative foundations of Ireland’s regulatory approach, locating this within the context of Ireland’s financialisation story. The thesis finds that such an approach responsibilises citizens availing of financial products (and debt) to meet their social needs – protecting the act of consuming, not citizens – while simultaneously framing risk and deflecting responsibility away from regulatory and industry actors. The financial crisis compelled debate within Irish civil society regarding the nature and effect of power operating within Ireland’s regulatory approach. However, the thesis finds that, through repeated framing of risk (posed to market-focused ‘solutions’ to the crisis) Ireland’s financial services industry dictated the terms of regulatory responses to the crisis, avoiding meaningful acceptance of responsibility and accountability as articulated within Irish civil society.