Q-Methodology And Fair Trade Recycling Negotiation - The News

Many readers already know about the E-waste research project, funded by a $469k grant secured by Dr. Josh Lepawsky at Memorial University, Newfoundland.  The project involves research in five countries - Mexico, Peru, Bangladesh, and China. I'm kind of doing Ghana on my own, as is Grace Akese of Memorial U, so I include it even though it's not part of the research funding.

We introduced Lepawsky to Josh Goldstein, a Ph.D. in Chinese History at USC, and Dr. Ramzy Kahhat of Pontifica Universidad Catholica Peru (PUCP).  Lepawsky and some grad students recently completed their first "assessment", based on indept interviews of workers at Retroworks de Mexico in Sonora.

My Dad, Bill Ingenthron (who passed away 3 weeks ago, age 82) earned his Ph.D from Mizzou in Columbia MO, school of journalism.  He kind of revered 2 people, and one was his professor Dr. William Stephenson.  I remember Stephenson and his wife at our home or theirs as a boy, and had to bear with my dad constantly referring to "Q Method".  The other was his grandfather William Freeland, who spent 20+ years as a "social activist" in the US Bureau of Indian Affairs "the Indian Service", which I suppose was kind of equivalent to Peace Corps at the time.  Great grandfather Freeland ended his service to start a newspaper, the Taney County Republican, and brought my dad up with a very critical eye of social problems.  His critique (which gained him a seat as Majority Leader in Missouri state Congress) was basically similar to Peter Buffet's essay on the "charitable industrial complex" - that pouring resources into a geography is a poor way to fight poverty.  He retired and often passed days with his friend John Niehardt (Black Elk Speaks), in a house walled by more history books than the local library.

I was going through photos of Dr. Will Stephenson - a liberal socialist - and "PawPaw" William Freeland, the evolved conservative, while preparing some memories for my dad's wake.  My dad (Dr. Bill Ingenthron, aka "Dr I") was always delighted to retell the story of Stephenson and Freeland's encounters, which he considered to be intellectual bonanzas. He described his two mentors as being keenly admiring of each other, despite their opposing conservative / liberal cultural perspective.

These memories sent me to look for Stephenson's Q-Methodology papers. I came across this website devoted to Q-Method, and I realized it was what I was indirectly trying to describe in the class I gave at Ramzy's PUCP class, and was describing to Josh L's students in Fronteras.  How to define what is "fair" is a research of opinions.  What Jim Puckett describes as "Unfair Trade in Africa" is framed by Jim's perception of the world, whereas my perceptions are based on years of living with Africans.


If you aren't already familiar with Q-Methodology, I recommend the short animated video below.  What I believe (one of the slides I presented to Ramzy's class in Lima) is that people in different societies have different choices, and therefore different opinions, of Jobs.  A student in Bangladesh may see a career flipping burgers very differently than it's seen in Cambridge.  This does create a negotiating environment for an employer to negotiate down - to externalize waste, and take away incentives that were necessary to provide laborers in USA and Europe.  It's also arguably an excuse for boycotts of emerging markets, protectionism, and racial / cultural profiling when American firms (shredders) are competing with those jobs.  Either can be environmental injustice - but Fair Trade Recycling believes that mining jobs are worse than recycling jobs, and repair jobs are better than recycling jobs, and finding a way to work together results in better outcomes.  I subscribe to the Gapminder view of globalism.

So we are hoping that the Memorial University analysis and research will provide unbiased third party review of the trade, identify innovations to make it more fair, and help us translate - to journalists - that their depictions of on set of recycling human beings as "primitive" is quite at odds with the depiction of American recycling jobs as heroic... and most heroic when they deny access to the recycling job overseas.

Q-Sort Methodology would be a good technique to use in examining African, Asian, South American, and journalists opinions of "fair" recycling jobs.  And there is "freeware" available to do it.

In defining "fair trade", we need to describe baseline data on socioeconomic employment in the areas.  Is tantalum mining considered a better job than cell phone repair?  Probably not.

Our interviews of Chicas, Tech Sector Africans, Chinese recyclers, etc. about jobs they had in the past, might have in the future, might have instead, could provide a basis for aspiration - how to make business even fairer to with more training, etc., and to sort and rank those.  This is what Q Method does with these relative opinions -
preparing large sets of statements and having the workers group the statements on a normal curve depending on how strongly they agree or disagree with the statements.

"sorting wire adds value" "sorting wire is boring" "sorting wire is less fun than burning wire" "I only care about the price of wire", "wire should be reused rather than burned" "my mother is proud of my wire recycling job" etc.  

I recall my dad's office and much of the house basement being filled with clippings from yellow legal pads for Q-sort analysis... today there is software to make the task easier.

Anyway the professors don't have time to incorporate Q-method into the research, I think at least the gist of it is important in any trade or employer-employee relationship. Much of journalism is necessarily skewed by grouping of reporters who have the same background, the self-selection of college majors and minors and drop-outs etc. shapes the way the news is presented, interpreted, and perceived... when the journalist groups opinions of jobs, he/she is likely to associate or group with other journalists, and that will influence the way the story gets reported.

My strategy currently is to embed Good Point Recycling, my company, in the Americans With Disabilities Act, for which we won a Governor's Award in 2016.  We employ several people who are current or former members of Vermont's Special Olympics program, as well as a workshop for Middlebury Union High School's career experience program.  People seem to accept my thesis about offering jobs not being exploitation when the "differently abled" are white Americans.  And I can have a brain jolt, a natural high, when I realize that Americans see Africa's best and brightest, geeks of color, MIT woulda-beens, as equivalent somehow to the disadvantaged in our spectrum of Vermont Special Olympics employment.  Either can be exploitation, either can be heroic.

Several journalists who have reported on "e-waste crises" are alums from University of Missouri, which is still perhaps the most respected J-School in the nation, thanks to Dr. Stephenson.  If Q-sorts seem overly intellectual way to study group opinions, we might just find that some reporters "get it". 

I'm going through some quotes of Grandfather Freeland.  I know my Dad would be happiest if I spend this time not reflecting on him, but on the values of the people he revered.  Because he always taught me that the world doesn't revolve around us.  "Take your cause seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously" was my Dad's favorite. “Tobacco and high-heeled shoes may be more injurious to people but that does not justify a law against them,” is another attributed to Wm E Freeland of Taney County.

There are more quotes at Bob Piddy's Missourinet blog which I find appropo in the e-waste debate.
A “ukase” is an arbitrary command.  It’s a word that has slipped from the vocabularies of most of us.  The vocabulary might change from generation to generation but bureaucracy apparently does not.  The difference today is that we have loud voices that pound us daily, hourly, with demands that we consider ourselves victims rather than considering ourselves, like Freeland, bemused observers of a necessary curse of a democratic republic that seeks to serve, protect, and control our diverse and conflicting interests and natures.   There will always be “some sort of a rule, regulation, edict, directive or ukase somewhere in the desk of some glorified bureaucrat.”  

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